The Bluetones and their love of fine cinema

As a child, a fortunate trip to my local Blockbuster during a clearout sale meant I was able to blow every last penny I had on four albums that significantly changed the course of my listening habits.

The year was 1997 and I was a mere twelve years of age.

Amongst them were Blur’s eponymous fifth album, Kula Shaker’s ‘K’, Supergrass’s ‘I Should Coco’ and debut The Bluetones album ‘Expecting to Fly’. All four bands are still regulars on my stereo and I’ve followed them throughout their subsequent careers, with all their variously successful (and unsuccessful) side projects.

Of course, as life-changing events go this is quite indicative of my relatively burden-free upbringing. But it stuck with me, so just deal with it.

Fast forward to 2005 and I was writing for my university music magazine. Unbelievably, I managed to secure an interview with Mark Morriss, lead singer for The Bluetones. I will admit I was entirely unprofessional in my approach, basically because I was spending a good hour with one of my idols.

The topic of album track ‘Heard You Were Dead’ came up during the interview, which featured on their second album ‘Return to the Last Chance Saloon’. I hadn’t quite segued into an information-thirsty cinema lover by this point, so the title of the song was lost on me. Mark politely explained the reference to me – a repeated quote in John Carpenter’s 1981 dystopian action film ‘Escape From New York’ – and we had a chat about how much he liked the film.

Another fourteen years have passed since then and it has become apparent that their back catalogue is littered with unlikely references to the films they love. Listening to these songs again with a more complete love of television and cinema history, suddenly the references start to jump out at you.

Here are a few of my favourites.

1. Heard You Were Dead (1997)

As mentioned above, this is a reference to the insanely brilliant John Carpenter sci-fi action film starring Kurt Russell. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s well worth checking out. If you notice there’s a sequel set in LA, simply press play on the New York one again.

The lyrics to the song aren’t steeped in Snake Plissken references, instead focusing on a friend, seemingly lost to suicide (“It was over in a moment, you passed without a sound,
I know that you were shackled, but now you are unbound”). It’s a song that sits well at the end of the band’s second album, Return to the Last Chance Saloon, the lull before the brilliantly explosive and catchy ‘Broken Starr’ that closes that album, and whose name may itself be a reference to Belle Starr, the subject of many western films.

2. Thought You’d Be Taller

Not done with the Snake Pliskin references, the boys returned to the same source material to name this b-side to Autophilia. Somewhat wasted as a b-side, this track made a reappearance on the Rough Outline compilation a few years after its release, making sure it’s a bit easier to get hold of. It’s a tale about meeting a hero and being disappointed, so the lyrics sadly aren’t an out-and-out Pliskin tale.

3. Autophilia (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love My Car) (2000)

This track is one of my least favourite tracks released as a single by the band, but it remains a firm fan favourite. The lyrics are about a man’s overzealous love for his car. The video suitably parodies ‘Greased Lightning’ from Grease, whilst the name of the song title is inspired by the full title of Stanley Kubrick’s film ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’.

4. Zorrro (1999)

Apparently not scared of adding in an additional “r” into the title of their songs, The Bluetones opened their third album ‘Science and Nature’ with ‘Zorrro’. Zorro was a swashbuckling adventure character that has had several attempted reboots over the years, most famously with Antonio Banderas filling the boots in a disappointing 1998 film called The Mask of Zorro.

This track brilliantly kicked off their third album ‘Science and Nature’. If you’ve never heard it, you’re missing out. It’s likely the band were struggling for a name for this song since the lyrics have nothing to do with the Zorro franchise, instead concentrating on some mysterious celebration day. Indeed, it would have made more sense had it been called ‘The Wicker Man’, but then the band never liked to leave the crumbs out in the open.

5. Serenity Now (2005)

In 2005, The ‘Tones released a cracking four-track EP titled Serenity Now. The title track is arguably one of their finest pop singles and certainly one of their most underrated. A couple of years later I was working my way through Seinfeld and got to the Season 9 episode ‘The Serenity Now’. The episode features George Costanza trying to maintain his anger using a calming technique he learned from his father, who was advised to say “Serenity now!” every time he felt his anger boiling over. It’s a brilliant episode of a brilliant season of a brilliant sitcom.

The song is just as good. It kicks off with a twisting, memorable guitar riff from guitarist Adam Devlin, before firing itself into a vocal melody as catchy as anything Mark Morriss has ever committed to record. It has borrowed the title from Seinfeld as a homage, with lyrics focusing on the hatred towards a disruptive person (“Everybody you meet wants to knock your, teeth out”) and regret over not standing up to them sooner. My only issue is seeing George Costanza every time I hear the song now.

6. Hey Schmoopy (2010)

‘Serenity Now’ wasn’t the last time they showed their love of Seinfeld. Their sixth album ‘A New Athens’ featured a secret track. Titled ‘Hey Schmoopy’, it’s a reference to one of the best ever episodes of Seinfeld – The Soup Nazi. In the episode, Jerry has a new girlfriend called Sheila who he keeps referring to as “schmoopy’, much to the ire of George.

The song is a simple ukulele-led instrumental song, so it’s likely that it was finished on the same day as the band watched an episode of Seinfeld and they named it after that.

7. The Fountainhead (1995)

‘The Fountainhead’ was one of the band’s first ever singles, initially finding a home on the Fierce Panda label in 1994. The name is inspired by the novel of the same name, or more likely the film adaptation from 1949 starring Gary Cooperas Howard Roark. In it, a young architect wants to work in ‘modern architecture’, despite the film he works for tending towards traditional designs.

I had always thought this song was about a failing romantic relationship but with the knowledge of the film it is more likely to be about the storyline of the film.

“God knows I’ve tried to bridge the gap,
I’ve tried to be me and time after time I’ve lied,
Just to say the things you wanted to hear”

8. Castle Rock

‘Castle Rock’ is named after the fictional town that provides the setting of many Stephen King stories. They include ‘The Body’ (a.k.a. ‘Stand By Me’), ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘Cujo’.

I can’t see any reference in the lyrics to anything in any of the films. I’m sure the chorus would have been improved with the phrase “I think I might be losing my way” being replaced by “I think that Chopper’s sicking my balls”, even though it wouldn’t have fit tonally.

9. After Hours (2002)

The lyrics aren’t any kind of reference to films (other than a glancing nod to Fred Astaire), but the Edgar Wright music video is a joy to behold.

It’s clearly inspired by 1976 musical comedy film Bugsy Malone. It’s a prohibition-era bar, serving milk rather than beer and starring children as the gangsters. It comes complete with dancing children and a punchline gag involving the band and some cream-firing guns.

Edgar Wright is good friends with The Bluetones and has regularly collaborated with the band throughout his career. He directed the music video for ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’ in 2000. They starred in an episode of Spaced in 2001 titled ‘Mettle’, which centred around a robot wars tournament (in which the band competed). He featured their Science and Nature track ‘Blood Bubble’ in the trailers to promote the series. Later on, Sleazy Bed Track was used his film in Scott Pilgrim vs The World.

Their work together never got any better than the After Hours music video and it’s a real underrated gem.

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Well now I just want to listen to The Bluetones.

Surprising appearances of Walking Dead stars

If you’re a fan of The Waking Dead, you’ll have grown to love the characters and their actors over a seven series story that has drawn us in and kept us going back for more.

That’s why it’s always so unusual when you see one of them appear in a different show or film. We’ve all seen Merle in Guardians of the Galaxy, but what are the weirder appearances? The ones you may have missed.

Here’s a list to get you started.

Norman Reedus (Darryl) as Jeremy in Mimic

A very brief appearance in Guillermo Del Torro’s ‘Mimic’. In fact, the above scene is the entire appearance. Great film though.

Lauren Cohan (Maggie) as Charlotte Higginson in Van Wilder 2

Terrible film, surprisingly good English accent.

Melissa McBride (Carol) selling Nexus Perms in 1994

Getting some practice in early for her fake nice Carol I seasons 6 and 7.

Lennie James (Mogan) in Lost in Space (1998)

Unforgettable film, unforgettable performance, but fun nonetheless.

Scott Wilson (Hershel) in In The Heat of the Night

I don’t think many people would make the link between the above scene and Hershel Greene. But there’s Sydney Poitier interrogating Wilson in 1967 when he was just 25 years old.

Andrew Lincoln in Teachers

This video compilation pretty much sums the whole show. Well worth seeking out.

Best Albums 2016

Here’s a quick list of my favourite albums of 2016. In no particular order, although I suspect Gregory Porter edges it in terms of listens for the year, closely followed by Mr Bowie.

David Bowie – Blackstar

Gregory Porter – Take Me To The Alley

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Travis – Everything at Once

Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – Stranger Things Vol. 1

Michael Kiwanuka – Love and Hate

Takatsugu Muramatsu – When Marnie Was There Soundtrack Music Collection

Ed Harcourt – Furnaces

Musical Mistakes #02 – U Krazy Kats

One of the things that sticks out from my childhood is my constant bickering with my brother over who got priority on the much-coveted cassette player in our parents’ cars. My brother had hatched a well-thought-out plan by feigning travel sickness, which for years meant he automatically got to sit in the front seat, no questions asked. He had a massive advantage that was difficult to compete with.

Fortunately, we ran a democracy and our mum and dad did their best to make sure we had a fair stab at selecting the music to soundtrack our long journeys around the UK to various family members.

One particular occasion that sticks out was when we were on holiday in Perth in Scotland. We visited a local record store. I’m going to guess it was Concorde, but I’m not 100%. Our two musical choices were actually released on the same week, though if my memory serves me correctly this would have been the following summer. My brother’s musical purchase that day was the seminal Oasis album “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?”, an album that has cemented itself as one of the greatest of all time, certainly a high point for music in the Britpop era and one that, for my then 12-year-old brother, has proved to be an early indication that he knew what he was talking about.

My purchase that day was PJ and Duncan’s less-than-seminal “U Krazy Katz“, a cassette single that by the time we were in the shop was a bargain at just 29p. 

Needless to say, the history books proved me to be wrong that day in Perth, but my parents did the fair thing and gave us equal billing on the cassette player. Even if it was probably the wrong thing to do.

Musical Mistakes #01 – Football Anthems

As we fast approach the big England v Wales game in the UK, I have a confession to make. I am now the proud owner of a copy of the latest Manic Street Preachers single, “Together Stronger (C’Mon Wales)”, which is the Welsh national team’s anthem for the Euro 2016 football tournament currently making headlines for all the wrong reasons across Europe. For those outside Europe, it might not be obvious how wrong this is for a Englishman, especially when England have been drawn in the same group as Wales. Big rivals, never played each other in a major tournament before, must win match for both.

Hear me out, I have mitigating circumstances. Firstly, there was a signed copy available on the Manics’ website. Secondly, there’s an exclusive remix of “A Design For Life” as the b-side. Thirdly, it’s actually a very good song, especially for a football anthem. That said, there is something distinctly uncool about owning a football anthem, especially one for a rival team, but it’s something I’ll have to learn to live with.

This doesn’t quite compare to something similar that happened to me in 1996. As a newly-discovered supporter of Manchester United, I distinctly remember being stood in the big Woolworths in Burnley, pocket money in hand, staring at two potential musical purchases. It was always a tough decision – I got £2 a week and so I usually only had the ability to buy one single a week at the most. I had to get the decision right to ensure I had something enriching to listen to for the next week or so.

The first option was the official FA Cup Final single released by the Manchester United squad. Its name? “Move Move Move (The Red Tribe)”. It was utter tripe, but had the sole benefit of being the song from the team I supported.

Sat right next to this abomination was the FA Cup Final single released by the Liverpool squad. In hindsight, this was also utter tripe, though marginally less tripy than United’s effort. It was titled “Pass and Move (It’s The Liverpool Groove)”. Bracketed song titles were very popular back in the mid-90s, as were rapping footballers

I faced a tough decision, but it was one I found a way out of. I couldn’t afford both on CD single so I bought Liverpool on CD single and United on cassette. The utter shame. Two terrible songs entering my music collection, plus a betrayal of my team to go with it.

So maybe this Wales incident won’t be looked back on with such embarrassment. I guess much of that will depend on the result on Thursday afternoon.

The Music of the Walking Dead

One of the standout elements of The Walking Dead throughout the every series has been the music. Whether it is incidental orchestral music or one of the eclectic choices of alternative rock, there is ample scope to discover new music by keeping your ears out whilst watching.

Jamie N Commons – “Take Me Home”

Perhaps the most memorable track is the Jamie N Commons song “Lead Me Home”. It played over the end of episode 12 of season 3 – “Clear” – as Michone and Rick drive back to the prison after a failed attempt at taking Morgan back there with them. This is quality blues music and the raspy vocals perfectly fit the scene.

Nine Inch Nails – “Somewhat Damaged”

The perfect song for an angry family mourning the death of a beloved relative whilst deciding whether or not to seek revenge for the death, Nine Inch Nails track “Somewhat Damaged” was a genius choice. It featured at the start of the penultimate episode of season 5 – “Try” – and completely altered the mood of the episode. If you aren’t having a great day, why not try to listen to this on full blast?

Emily Kinney – “Hold On”

Wait, is The Walking Dead actually a musical? For this brief moment, it sort of was. Emily Kinney is a singer in her own right and this brief scene allowed her to showcase her talent. Admittedly, it does feel a little wedged in, a platform to promote her album, but when it sounds this good do we care? It’s a beautiful rendition of an excellent Tom Waits song, which fades out to let the main man perform the end of the song over the end credits.

How to Buy

There are a few official The Walking Dead CDs out there, the best of which is titled The Walking Dead Original Soundtrack Vol. 1. Before you rush off to buy it, however, it’s worth noting there are only eight songs on it. You may consider the second release The Walking Dead Original Soundtrack Vol. 2, but that is even worse with just five songs on it. Or you could try the Global Stage Orchestra doing covers of The Walking Dead songs, though they don’t seem overly accurate. My recommendation is that you seek out the individual artists’ respective releases and see if you like other tracks by them before buying.

Film review – Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance (Mark Kidel, 2013)

I’ll throw it out there – I’m a huge, huge Elvis Costello fan. I can’t pinpoint an incident that served as a catalyst to get into him. As a 30-year-old Brit, the only major hit of his I remember is the Charles Aznavour cover “She” from the Notting Hill soundtrack, which, I think it’s fair to say, probably isn’t a great representation of his fantastic and varied body of work. Yet somehow the songs seeped into my psyche and I now rate him as one of my favourite artists.

This documentary serves as a biography of sorts, albeit potted around some key periods of Costello’s life. Aspects covered include his upbringing, his hometown, the politics of his lyrics and a small selection of his songs. Some huge guests are interviewed, including Paul McCartney, Mark Ellen and Nick Lowe.

Each element that is picked out is tended to perfectly. In particular, the collaborations with Paul McCartney really ignited my enthusiasm to seek out more information. Kidel has managed to get all this contributors to talk really enthusiastically about their part in the Elvis Costello journey and I as a viewer found myself swept along with it.

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Unfortunately, the documentary length doesn’t allow too much delving into each topic, whilst the shear bredth of his career means that a lot of his life is skipped over. It’s an impossible balance to achieve because his life and background are both so interesting, and perhaps his story is instead worthy of a series. Or perhaps that’s just the inner fan getting the better of me and I should just make do with what I’ve got.

The one lasting impression you get after watching this film is that Elvis Costello is overly enthusiastic about everything he has done. Be it having a string of top 10 albums, releasing an album of jazz soul music with Allen Toussaint, collaborating with one of the greatest songwriters of all time or creating an ill-received classical string album with The Brodsky Quartet, he has continually done so enthusiastically and been hugely successful in a variety of ways with every genre he has tried his hand at.

If you’re willing to be enthused by one of Britain’s greatest ever songwriters then check this out. Otherwise, the limited storytelling might have you searching for a biography that has a bit more detail.

Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance is available on the BBC iPlayer in the UK until 20th November 2014.