My new book is out now, a surreal illustrated novella.
BLURB: Watching the Tracks is an illustrated novella by Chris Wade with ideas by Linzi Napier. The story follows Mike, a drifter who's made his way to a small town in England where he will board a train, for reasons he is not quite sure but will soon find out. While travelling he encounters a series of mysterious, nameless characters who reveal their own back stories, though none of them are quite what they seem. This surreal odyssey tells its tale through words and illustrations, revealing new layers as it heads towards its climax.
You can order my book here:
Making a film about Orson Welles is a daunting task. First you have to ask yourself what area of his life and work you are going to cover. Theatre? Radio? Film? His persona? His private life? He's an endlessly rich subject, a gift to any documenter of history. But there are even more important considerations when climbing such a formidable mountain. You also have to ask yourself why. Why make another documentary about a man who's had so many made about him in the past, both while he was alive and posthumously? Why not focus on someone else, someone less sung and praised, an obscure figure that rarely gets singled out? Well the answer to that question, for me at least, is that I am endlessly fascinated by Orson Welles, the man and the artist, the real person and the romanticised figure. I adore his work, yes, but there is a lot more to it than that. I love watching his movies, but I also enjoy reading about him, hearing him speak and learning as much as I can about his marvelous life. Why wouldn't I want to spend some time documenting such a fascinating man?
When I finally plucked up the courage to approach the man in documentary, I realised that the main contacts I had were all men who had met Welles when they were young, which seemed vital to me. Two of them saw Welles as a father-like figure; and he in turn viewed them as sons he never had. For Dorian Bond, Welles' assistant in the sixties and author of a wonderful memoir of his time with him ('Me and Mr Welles', History Press), Welles was a fantastical father who wished to pass on his wisdom, show Dorian the many wonders of the world as they whisked around Europe together, working on exotic film projects that never saw completion. Dorian was kind enough to speak to me for the film and his memories are heart-warming, enlightening and evocative. When he speaks about Welles, I am instantly transported back to the sixties, filming The Merchant of Venice, dining in Harry's Bar, living the life of a movie renegade.
I also spoke to Norman Eshley, who played the young sailor in Welles' spellbinding The Immortal Story, back in the sixties. Again, Norman simply took me back, so much so that I left the interview feeling like I understood Welles and his latter day modus operandi more than before. Then of course there was the essential phone call to filmmaker Henry Jaglom, who was a very important friend to Welles in the last decade or so of his life. They worked on films together, dined endlessly, and Henry even acted as a kind of agent to attempt to raise funds for Orson's cinematic visions.
Deciding to focus on the sixties onward (while also providing a back story for those who need reminding of the classic films and defining moments), I got a very personal insight into Welles' magical and exciting world, with all its ups and downs, its excitements and frustrations. It was one of the most extraordinary and enjoyable projects I have had the pleasure to take on, and I need to thank Henry, Norman and especially Dorian for their kindness and willingness to share such treasured memories.
Get the DVD here:
Here is an interview I did a couple of years ago (I think) with Gloria Norris, who was assistant to Woody Allen on three movies. I thought her insights were fascinating. They come from my book, WOODY ALLEN ON SCREEN, which can be bought from Amazon and other online stores. The Q and A is below...
Gloria was Woody's personal assistant on Stardust Memories, Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy and Zelig. Here she discusses with me the making of these films, and of being close to Woody on three seminal movies.
What were you doing before working for Woody?
I was working on Raging Bull immediately before working for Woody. (And, yes, that film is one of my favourites too.)
How did you get the job as his assistant?
Woody’s previous assistant left and I heard through the grapevine that he was interviewing a few people to replace her.
Do you recall your first meeting with him?
The interview was, in typical Woody fashion, quite brief. I met with him and the producer, Bobby Greenhut. We talked about what it was like working for Scorsese, when he’d be hiring someone, very basic stuff. Woody is able to make decisions pretty quickly about who he wants to hire.
What kind of work were you doing on Stardust Memories?
I was on the set every day during shooting and in the cutting room and mix, etc. during post. I was often the intermediary between Woody and the crew and cast, funnelling information and issues back and forth. Woody solicited my opinions and feedback on a myriad of things.
Do you have any stand out memories from that film?
We shot for a few months without seeing any dailies because Gordon Willis was trying to find a lab that could process the black and white footage to his satisfaction. That was very challenging. Labs weren’t doing black and white much any more (Manhattan being one exception) and it took a lot of Gordon’s finessing to get the process to where he was happy with it. When we finally got to see the dailies, it was a marathon viewing. Woody, as is widely known, likes to reshoot quite a bit, and Stardust was no exception. However, in this case, it was magnified. Having not been able to look at footage and adjust as he went along, there were a considerable number of scenes, including the hot air balloons, which he wanted to reshoot. The shoot, consequently, went on much longer than originally planned.
One of the standout memories was in preproduction, we had these red cards printed up that we could pass out to any stranger we saw with an interesting look, inviting them to an open casting call. Woody was looking for people with unusual faces, and we weren’t going to find them just by calling in SAG extras. So, we really cast a wide net. It got you to really look at people on the streets of NY, on the subway, in restaurants, in a new way. Surprisingly, people were pretty receptive, even though the red cards didn’t mention Woody’s name. It was a different time and people weren’t quite as guarded. They actually showed up!
This was one of Woody's most criticised films but also one of his favourites. Was he especially impassioned at all during its creation?
It was a difficult shoot, because of the processing issues I mentioned. But Woody is pretty unflappable on the set, no matter what is going on. Some of the specific criticism the film received was a surprise to him. I don’t think he expected the level of vitriol, the way people took it as a personal affront. Yes, I know for a long time he said it was one of his films that he liked the most. I don’t know how he feels about it now. For me, it was and remains one of my favourites. I think the film really has a lot of complexity to it and gets richer and richer with repeated viewings. And, I think the film in general has become more liked over time.
You then worked on Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy with Woody. The mood must have been a lot lighter...
The mood didn’t seem that different on Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. I wouldn’t say it was lighter. The tone of a film doesn’t necessarily dictate the tone while making it. I do think the crew enjoyed being at that bucolic location, and being at the same location day after day makes things a lot easier, you’re not loading in and out, which is hard work. There was a lot of down time, as Gordon Willis was waiting for the light. A few days, it never was right, and we’d just turn around and go back to the city. Woody famously hates the country so he was always glad to get out of there.
What was a bit difficult was the fact that some of us were working 7 days a week, shooting Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy during the week, and then prepping Zelig on the weekends, scouting, etc. There was only a one-week separation between finishing shooting Sex Comedy and starting shooting Zelig. Essentially, they were shot back to back.
Zelig is one of his most complex pieces. What kind of work did you have to do for Woody on this film?
On Zelig we watched a lot of documentaries as research. I love docs, and Woody likes them too, so that was quite a lot of fun. Another thing, there were a lot of make-up tests. It was difficult to transform Woody’s appearance believably—it would be so easy now with CGI, but it was a big challenge back then!
This was another intense and demanding film. What was Woody like during its creation?
Again, Woody was pretty much the same on this shoot. He doesn’t shout or act out in the way some directors do. In addition, so many of the crew were the same from film to film, so there was a continuity, a fluidity to the process each time that made it sometimes seem like one continuous shoot, with breaks in between to edit. There was such familiarity, such a shorthand between Woody and Gordy (Willis), and that was something to behold. In my opinion, it was one of the most amazing director/cinematographer collaborations in the history of film. As far as Zelig goes, one of the biggest difficulties, other than the supreme challenge of believably recreating old footage and sound, was shooting on the streets of NY during a really cold winter. None of us—including Woody—enjoyed that aspect of the shoot!
How do you think of those three films now, looking back?
Whenever I come upon one of those three films on TV, if I start watching them, I can’t turn them off. I think they’re all great. But, of those three, Stardust is still my favourite.
What are some of your favourite memories of working on set with Woody?
Watching how scenes were choreographed was amazing, and really influenced my own work as a filmmaker to this day. Many times a scene would be entirely done in one moving shot—an incredible challenge for the cast and crew, but a powerful way to cover a scene. It is so totally antithetical to how most material is filmed, with tons of coverage. It’s a brave and beautiful way to shoot. Of course, great editing is a wonder to behold too, but I don’t think any other director so frequently chose to cover scenes all in one shot the way Woody has. Watching Charlotte Rampling, take after take, just silently look into the camera for a few minutes while Louis Armstrong’s Stardust played, was breathtaking.
How did he compare with the likes of De Palma and Scorsese as a man in control of the set? They are two of my other favourite directors I might add...
De Palma spends a lot of time in preproduction doing storyboards, similar to Hitchcock. Thus, a lot of the creative work is already done once shooting begins. With Marty, who came from an editing background, a lot of footage was shot and the film really comes to life in the editing. With Woody, the on set process, with scenes done in one shot, was where a lot of the creative magic happened.
You can get the book WOODY ALLEN ON SCREEN from Amazon...
This post is a sample from Chris Wade's book BUSTER KEATON: THE LATER YEARS, available on Amazon now...
One thing that was unavoidable for Keaton, one of the last remaining silent film stars not only still working, but totally reachable and accessible, was that he would find himself, quite frequently in fact, referencing his own rich and iconic past. As the decades went on, the silent comedy era grew in reverence, and by the mid 1950s, while most of Buster’s classic films were some thirty odd years old, they were firm classics. The silent era was so long ago that it was open for pastiche and parody, not to mention affectionate tribute. Not only that, it was pretty easy for modern filmmakers and TV producers to authentically reproduce the feel and look of the era, even more so when one of its most well known icons was still around, and readily employable.
Of course, Buster didn’t mind self referencing his own legacy at all; in fact, he was often more than happy to, at least it seemed that way. After all, he was proud of that work, and spoke fondly, though modestly, of it in various latter day interviews. He had played a crumpled up parody of himself in Sunset Boulevard (a ghost from the past, a has-been, a waxwork),but there were other times where he got to affectionately reproduce the vibe of his golden years, given free reign to move his well known persona into another era and a whole new medium. He was no longer the maker, the director or the conjurer of illusions, but he could doff his flat hat to the days when he was.
One of the more respectful self-referencing credits (this one being close to self examination even) came in 1955 with a little known TV special called Silent Partner. Made for the Screen Director’s Playhouse series, and produced by Hal Roach Studios, Silent Partner not only gave Keaton a chance to don his trademark outfit, but also perform a more dramatic role with a fair amount of pathos.
The film begins on Oscar night, as the stars hob-nob and natter as a cheesy TV reporter informs us it’s the busiest Oscar night in years. Meanwhile, faded old silent film actor Kelsey Dutton (Buster Keaton) arrives in his favourite bar where the drinkers and the bar man speak of the fakeness of Hollywood. “A bunch of hoke,” says one customer. A rather glum Buster sits by the bar. The barman switches on the TV to watch the Oscar ceremony (Buster doesn’t care either way if he turns the television on or not), and a bunch of rowdy drinkers come in with a sports trophy, all ready to mock the phony award shindig.
On comes Bob Hope, presenting a “new award” for a respected figure, a movie mogul who has given so much to the motion picture industry. Mr Bale, the respected producer, takes the statuette, steps up to the microphone, and begins a rambling speech. Unexpectedly, he dedicates his award to Kelsey, who covers his face in embarrassment back in the bar. There is then a nicely (and authentically) shot flashback to Dutton’s first film role, a chaotic scene involving a ladder and Dutton attempting to save a girl from a house fire. The following scenes illustrate Dutton’s natural comic ability, cutting back to the Oscar speech speaking of the decline of Dutton’s popularity when the sound era arrived. Now it becomes painfully clear that Buster's own career is being referred to,
When he finishes his speech, the drinkers mock the ceremony, and say they’ve never heard of Kelsey Dutton. An ageing customer says Dutton was the biggest star in Hollywood, unaware that she is standing right beside him. The self-deprecating Dutton does not tell the drinkers he is in fact the star, in true Keaton style being a man with no ego. The ceremony continues, and we are shown more footage of Dutton’s classic silent films, with Buster donning a wig for the younger sequences. When the woman in the bar starts to realise Dutton is in the room with her, it takes a completely different turn. All of a sudden the cynicism for the shallowness of the movie world disappears, and Dutton becomes the focal point of the night. When the angriest of the macho drinkers attempts to rough Dutton up, he turns on him and humiliates the half wit. In walks the movie mogul, just at the right moment, to pick up Dutton and take him next door to the ceremony, where they are all eagerly awaiting his arrival. There he will be celebrated as a hero, while the producer hopes to rescue Dutton's flagging career.
Though The Silent Partner is a fun and entertaining quickie, it also has its fair share of sad irony. Buster is playing a variation of himself here, a silent legend long forgotten and tossed aside by Hollywood. There were other ironies too. He just happened to be playing this character, a very Buster creation, on a TV lot owned by Hal Roach, the very man who had led the likes of Laurel and Hardy through the silent glory years. Keaton is excellent in his role, but the silent segments do his legacy little justice. In reality, Keaton’s vintage classics were more surreal, much more sophisticated and accomplished than Dutton's. Still, the Dutton scenes are fun and accurate, but only to lesser silent comics, not reflecting the genius of Keaton. The saddest part of it all, of course, is the end, where the movie mogul expresses his gratefulness, and also his regret that the man responsible for his own current status as a respected Hollywood producer, showered with money, praise and awards, is all down to him. If it were not for this forgotten man, the producer suggests, he wouldn’t be where he is. Finally showing his gratitude for the man killed by the arrival of the sound era, he promises to revitalise his career. In reality, Hollywood had spat Keaton out, and wouldn’t let him near a starring role in a feature film. Guest roles and cameo bit parts were fine, but none of these Hollywood producers trusted Keaton to direct or star in a picture all of his own. The irony cannot have been lost on Keaton, and this egoless genius must have seen how apt it was that he was playing a character in such a predicament on a creaky low budget TV stage.
Still, despite these negative aspects and slightly tragicomic elements, The Silent Partner is one of the best things Keaton did in this era. And to be fair, the sudden appreciation the producer shows him, and promises Hollywood will too, did kind of come true, in a fashion at least. In 1960, he was given an honorary Oscar, a nod of respect to a man who had helped make the movie industry what it was. They would never give him another chance, but could at least pat him on the back and say “Well done, you did good.” Buster was touched by the Oscar, and though they had done him wrong in the past, he was big enough to accept it and move on ahead with the rest of his career; not in Hollywood mind you, but on the small screen and the world of independent film. The Silent Partner silently walked away from Hollywood, taking the hint.
Here is a Q and A I did with a true legend, the Roxy Music cover model, singer and icon AMANDA LEAR. In a sample from my book, ASPECTS OF SALVADOR DALI, I ask Lear all about her time with the legendary Spanish artist.
Singer, model and actress Amanda Lear was close to Salvador Dali for nearly twenty years. The cover model for Roxy Music and one time lover of David Bowie, Lear has been there and done it all, including being the muse of one of the greatest artists of all time during his later years. I was lucky enough to ask her some questions about Dali, and here she discusses her experiences with him, both Dali the superstar and the man he really was, away from the flash bulbs and spotlight.
I find it interesting that you didn't like the public Dali persona. You'd been around famous people before, so were aware of both public and private aspects of a personality. But in what ways did Dali differ in private?
I never liked Dali as a public figure. He was such a show off, always bragging that he was the best and that all the others painters were rubbish. Since I liked Picasso, I never got into Dali's work, I found it scary and weird.
The first meeting you had with him must have been amazing. Did Dali express instant fondness for you and see how you were to inspire his work?
Our first meeting was a disaster. I told him that I was studying art and that I wanted to be a painter. He told me that women had no talent and that they only could paint bouquets of flowers or crying babies, wishy washy art., real artistic creativity was a male thing, coming directly from the testicles. No balls no art. Then he said that I had the most beautiful skull he ever saw and that he liked my skeleton. I hated him, found him ridiculous and swore never to speak to him again. All this in front of a circle of admirers, parasites who adored him and applauded at his declarations. That was the public Dali. The next day he asked me to lunch and I discovered the private Dali, adorable, witty, educated and magical. And I fell for him. For 16 or so years I was with him and was never once bored or annoyed. He was so funny and inventive.
People describe the energy he had when painting. Is it possible to describe how he acted when painting, how he moved and expressed himself?
Posing for him was fun, he spoke all the time. Made great gestures, explaining what he was doing and being highly satisfied with himself as if he was creating a masterpiece. But mostly he was hurrying up to finish his drawing, throwing ink all over the place, more "action" painting than really caring. I did not like that. I was only impressed when he was carefully working on an oil painting on canvas. Then he was slow, precise, careful not to spoil his work by being too fast to complete it. There was only the two of us then, I was watching him paint and sometimes reading to him some pages of Proust. He was very patient, totally different from the show he put on when he had an audience.
You got to know him very well. How true was the theory that he invented the public Dali to combat the ghost of his deceased brother?
Of course he explained that his paranoia came from his childhood when he discovered that his dead brother was also named Salvador and he was never sure if his parents spoke of him, alive, or of his dead brother... Many psychiatrists were visiting him to study this famous paranoia. But Dali was far from crazy and he just enjoyed fooling them.
I imagine everywhere in the world Dali was famous and gathered a crowd.
Everywhere we went there was a crowd and photographers, journalists, and Dali loved it while I was sulking and hated the whole circus. I was only happy when we were alone.
How do you view the relationship between him and Gala? He obviously worshiped her, but do you believe she loved him the same back?
His wife Gala became my close friend, a sort of grandmother. She was very kind to me. Everybody hated her because she was trying to control the situation; she was tough in business, hard to deal with. She managed Dali business contracts, was greedy for dollars and frightened the entourage. But she liked me, she realised that Dali needed me for inspiration and my presence gave her the possibility to be finally "free". She could travel, go to the theatre with some friend and let Dali show off with me on his arm.
Were you saddened when he started to become ill and frail? The public Dali was no longer a possibility at that stage but the man you knew so well must have been there inside...
The end was pathetic. Gala died and Dali fell into depression. He had Parkinson's, could not hold a pencil or paint anymore. Surrounded by vultures who pretended to protect him and cut him away from his real friends. He told me he wanted to be buried near his father in Cadaques, then with Gala in Pubol. Finally they buried him in his museum in Figueres and visitors walk on top of his grave. It's revolting.
Do you remember where you were when he died, when you heard the news?
I was working in Italy when he died. Of course all the media wanted to interview me. I was the only person left who could react and talk about him. They flew me to Philadelphia for his retrospective, a beautiful show of his work. I felt like his widow.
Do you think a film will ever surface of you and Dali's relationship?
I sold the rights to my story to a Canadian film company, they are actually finishing the script (which I must approve) and we'll start the casting. Nobody can portray Dali. Perhaps Adrian Brody... we'll see.
I see Dali's influence everywhere today, and you must too. Do you think his influence is growing over time more and more, in fashion, art, film and music?
Years after he disappeared he is still very present. People finally ignore the scandals and the provocation; they rediscover the fantastic painter and genius that he is. His influence is enormous.
To read more, buy my book on Dali, ASPECTS OF SALVADOR DALI, on Amazon....
This piece is from Chris Wade's book, THE LIFE AND WORK OF GEORGE MELLY...
George enjoyed his time as a cultural commentator in the 1960s, but even though he had a strong family life, nice house, good job, money, success, the right kind of fame and a generally steady going on, there was an itch that needed to be scratched. Only problem was, Melly didn't know what it was. At the end of 1960s, the mainstream music scene began to open up. The R and B boom of the mid sixties, which had put to death anything that wasn't beaten out by four or five hairy young lads with six strings, had lost its steam, and thanks to The Beatles and other mind expanding groups, more varied musical forms were acceptable once again in the mainstream. Even jazz, often a dirty word in the 1960s, was finding new popularity. George began making the odd appearance in the provinces and singing the odd song in London, not making money he says but just enough to cover expenses. He soon realised that this was the itch that needed scratching. "A performer is very similar to an alcoholic," George wrote, and one can see his point. He pined for the crowd once again, the musician's life style, the lure of the open road.
Melly admitted this desired return to the stage was ego driven, but the truth is that in the ten year gap since he had last been performing, his voice had taken on a whole new tone. Not only that, he was older, wiser perhaps, and singing those old jazz standards in a more weathered, world weary tone offered the material pathos, humour and genuine excitement. Melly had lived, no longer a snotty young lad, but a middle aged writer who found himself tempted enough by jazz to return, against all odds, to the dazzling (and often undazzling) world of show business.
At first, George began gigging with Alan Elsdon and his band, but he sought something more tight and reliable. Melly became interested in a band called The Chilton-Fawkes Feetwarmers who played every weekend at Merlin's Cave in King's Cross. They were a killer group, and George wanted in! He loved watching them at the "shabby" pub, where the landlord had split the bar and the live room in half so children could come into the venue, and drinkers could simply carry their pints in from the bar. It was a way of saving money, but as a result George said the atmosphere was grand, and obviously the audience was larger.
Wally Fawkes and John Chilton were up front in the band, as Melly described, blowing their respective instruments with passion (ooer!) and precision. Backing them up was a band including Bruce Turner on the sax, and Melly was tempted then convinced, upon request of course, to sing a few numbers with them. Melly felt a new excitement, with old chums returning to the scene, a buzz he'd not had since the 1950s.
“It was lovely to have some drinks, get high and sing with old friends,” he said. “The audiences began to go cuckoo. The place became fashionable. We were asked to do concerts and to make a record. Suddenly, one day, I decided to take another crack at it. It had to do with the applause. It's like the alcoholic thing—applause is like the first fatal sip of sherry.”
When George Melly seriously (though he was never that serious) returned to the jazz scene in 72, it was Derek Taylor who snapped him up quick and urged him and John Chilston's Feetwarmers to record and release an LP. Gigs had been coming more solidly, and Melly found that the thing missing from his life which he could not previously identify was that old mistress named jazz. With a fabulous band backing him up, and possibly the greatest music PR man in the world by his side, Melly set his sights on fame and mass adoration. Never physically vein by his own admission, he was hungry for the attention, and the best way to get people to look at him was when he was singing on the stage the jazz songs he knew and loved, injecting them with his characteristic individuality and his love of bawdy, good time thrills.
Melly and the band decided to record their first album together live at Ronnie Scott's Club in London. Typically, Melly didn't hold back during the performance and consumed a considerable amount of alcoholic beverages to aid him in his feral outbursts. A gathered crowd of friends - including Melly's very close chum Margaret Anne Du Cane, a countess - thoroughly enjoyed the night, as did Melly and the lads. The next morning however, Margaret advised Melly to listen back to the tapes before getting too excited about the record's release. When he did hear the tapes he was horrified, though also amused, by a rather less than polished vocal performance. The booze was clear in his voice, and it was evident in the general musicianship of the band too. The whole thing, save a few numbers, was in George's words, "an escalating shambles."
"There were hundreds of people at Ronnie's when we recorded Nuts and some very outré behaviour," Melly recalls, going on to describe women undressing and unleashing their inner beasts. "Everybody was terribly drunk, including, alas, us. At the end, I went raving up to a girlfriend of mine who was sober and said, `Wasn't that great?' and she said, `Wait until you hear it in the morning'."
Though the recording was a wreck, Melly and the boys did impress Ronnie enough for him to hire the group for a week, and continued to do so for years, often at Christmas for a festive night of lewd fun ("Here's George Melly," Ronnie used to say, announcing him from the stage, before adding, "God help us all!") and bawdy thrills. With the recorded cuts not being up to scratch, the band and Taylor went into a recording studio in South London to lay down some new renditions. Famously, they ran up an expense bill that consisted of 87 bottles of wine and fish and chips for the whole gang.
As well as its frantic recording, the cover art for Nuts has also gone into Melly folk lore. According to George, Taylor took him to a professional photographer down Oxford Street to get a nice snap of him for the cover. "They airbrushed out every line" Melly recalled, "and hand tinted the resultant bland visage which in consequence resembled the work of an American mortician."
George Melly may have looked reserved and respectful on the album cover, but on the contents of the record he was anything but. In fact, he was more wild and feral than ever before, while holding it all together with effortless cool. One of George's friends, Louisa Buck, spoke to me recently and summed George up as a man who was both out of control but also in control at all times. The Nuts album seems to prove that theory. The recording was done in a studio, but the added audience sounds from the other recording lend it a certain authenticity, while George's charismatic performance keeps a certain level of excitement up at all time, not to mention an atmosphere of camp naughtiness that is very much of its era.
The album is full of crisply recorded, wonderfully played Melly gems, to which the great man brings his effortless charm and relatable approachability. Anyone put off by the J word must learn that there are all types of sub genres within that large encompassing genre, and Melly's music sits on the authentic but accessible border. Indeed, Nuts is an album even a jazz hater might enjoy. The musicianship is, of course, flawless, with the band on top form. Chilton's colourful trumpet, always complimenting Melly's vocals, is continuously solid throughout, and the arrangements by Chilton himself are tastefully well observed.
His take on the old classic Dr Jazz is a striking cut, with Melly's voice at its most fun and care free, while their rendition of T'Ain't Nobody's Business is fabulous and among the best here. The band swing nice and cool, while Melly holds back a little and stays faithful to the song. He holds the band with his deep tones.
The title track is simply wonderful too, among his most well known numbers and a definite crowd pleaser. Swerving double entendres or subtle innuendo all together, Melly goes all out and enjoys himself shamelessly, unapologetically. One wouldn't think that hearing a middle aged man say "he plays with his nuts every night in bed" would continue to please you after countless listens, but for some reason it does. This is Good Time Melly magic. "I hate Nuts," Diana Melly told me with a smile. "How many times can you hear about a man playing with his nuts?" My answer is a lot.
Elsewhere there are more sombre and bluesy cuts, like a wonderful version of Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out, which Melly gives real depth and weight. Sugar is so smooth it almost hurts, with Melly's vocals more restrained and giving way to a beautiful arrangement. Viper Mad, the energetic closer, is simply marvellous, featuring some great solos and a wound up and rather wild Melly vocal. As a stand alone record, outside the folk lore of Mellydom, Nuts is of its time but also timeless, like all good trad jazz music truly is, and is an all round solid album in its own right. Melly's risqué lyrics and fun loving crooning style might jar with the ears of some modern listeners more used to polished, clean pop and PC lyricism, but for me he gets it right. These are solid interpretations, and some 46 years on from its recording it remains a rich and endlessly enjoyable LP, one which gets spun quite often in my domicile. More music should be like this - unashamedly fun and a little naughty to boot.
The Guardian gave it a glowing review during its 2004 CD reissue. "Everyone should have a George Melly CD in the house, for those moments when life gets a bit too solemn, and this is the one to have. It features the original Feetwarmers, with Wally Fawkes (also formerly of this paper) on clarinet and Bruce Turner on alto saxophone, both playing beautifully, as does trumpeter John Chilton. George excels himself, especially in the title song, a masterpiece of single entendre."
Anyone reluctant to dip their toe into Melly waters, perhaps put off by sniffy, snobby critics who turn their noses up at his habit of making jazz light and full of humour, might want to take on Nuts, because even though it does feature trademark Mellyisms and harmless Carry On style smut, the musicianship is staggering and undeniably good. You never know, even if you're a full time Melly doubter you might find your foot-a-tappin' to this record.
Chris's book is on Amazon now. His film on Melly is at http://wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com/
O Lucky Man was Lindsay Anderson's 1973 follow up to his Cannes Palme D'or winning masterpiece If..., released in 1968. An epic fable of success and acceptance, from the day I first saw it almost twenty years ago it became a firm curious favourite of mine. I wrote a book on the movie a few years back and interviewed Jeremy Bulloch, who appears in three roles throughout the sprawling epic. More well known for playing Boba Fett in Star Wars, Bulloch has a famous scene in a hospital bed, pictured above.
Below is my Q and A with Bulloch, featured in my book, Classic Film Series: O Lucky Man (reprinted this year).
You had had quite a long career by the time O Lucky Man! came along in 1973. How did you come to be cast in the film?
I had worked with Lindsay Anderson before on a commercial as well as being asked to be in the theatre production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
What was your view on Lindsay Anderson when you first met him?
I liked him immediately. I got the impression that he had to be comfortable with the actors around him.
When you read the scene when you would be playing the pig man in the bed, what were your initial views?
I didn't realise exactly what I was going to look like in the hospital ward. Even to this day people remember that scene of me with my head grafted on to a pig’s body.
Where do you think O Lucky Man! stands in Anderson’s career and as a part of British screen history?
Lindsay had already proved himself both in film and theatre. The film was both praised and criticised. I had worked with Malcolm many years before in a soap opera called "The Newcomers." I enjoyed my time on the film with some great actors and I felt honoured to be part of it.
Do you have any funny stories regarding the making of the film?
No really funny stories except at the very end of the film when I had the sandwich board. I stood outside the cinema in Leicester Square as the public came out. The camera was hidden and Lindsay asked me to approach the cinema goers. I was there for hours. I was punched but not hard. What hurt me most was the way the general public swore as I walked towards them. F Off! You filthy F!!cker! Get a bath!!! At the end of the night shoot Lindsay asked me what he thought of the reaction I got. I said that I got the response I expected. Lindsay stood looking at me and finally he said "I think we'll come back tomorrow night just to get the right look when you turn towards Malcolm." I couldn't believe it but Lindsay was right in the end. The final look to Malcolm felt just right. I wasn't looking forward to returning to the Leicester Square Odeon but luckily I didn't get too much verbal abuse.
I was about to ask if it was true that you got punched in that scene…
I was hoping that Lindsay would not entice people to punch me and film it. That would be physical abuse.
Finally, how do you look back on O Lucky Man as a film?
As I mentioned before it was both praised and criticised and my part was the alter-ego of Malcolm McDowell's character.
You can get my book on the film through Amazon. Also wroth getting is the 2 DVD edition of O Lucky Man itself, which is getting more collectible now.
This article is a sample from my book, MADONNA IN THE EIGHTIES, available on Amazon...
Dean Gant played synthesizer and piano on the first Madonna album. Here, he recalls his memories of working the young and ambitious Queen in waiting...
Do you remember first hearing about Madonna?
In 1982 when Reggie Lucas called me about doing a new project on “this singer” who had a dance tune that was breaking out in NY.
How did you first meet her? What was she like?
First time was in the recording studio, Sigma Sound. She was very cool and friendly, we hit it off right away.
What are your memories of recording on the first album? What did your job on that record entail?
Kind of a tricky question... I was Reggie Lucas’s go-to keyboardist, arranger, synth guy etc. I was also producing stuff on my own, but Mtume/Lucas were a hot team at the time. So I basically took all the songs and arranged them from demos that Madonna had. My input on some was greater than arranging; for instance Lucky Star, I basically wrote most of the music, (uncredited or paid), but the bridge I totally created and the chord changes. Madonna had the hook line vocal and a 3 note bass line idea.
Did Madonna seem in control and know what she wanted in the studio?
She definitely had her own ideas about what she wanted, but a lot of things weren’t expressed until after we finished and she basically had a disagreement with Reggie. That’s when she brought in Jelly Bean, who changed some of the tracks around, but kept most of the major stuff we did.
Did you enjoy playing on the tracks? Which was the most fun to do?
Yes it was a very enjoyable project, Madonna was a lot of fun, we hung out at different times. Borderline was cool and interesting in that the wonderful bassist Anthony Jackson and I played the bass part simultaneously live in the control room of the studio. Most people don’t know that it is both a synth bass and electric bass. Another fun song was I Know It, for which I came up with a neo-classical synth string intro.
How did you figure out your parts? Did Madonna say what she wanted at all?
I created all of my parts, Madonna never really suggested anything, she like pretty much everything I came up with. We were pretty much in sync.
Do any memories stick out from the recordings?
Yeah, quite a few... Madonna and a male dancer who was around quite a bit, dancing in the studio, really going wild when I put the bass part on Lucky Star; also a girl I was dating who was a model was hanging out and her and Madonna hit it off quite well. Also I went to support her at a live show she had at a club called the Red Parrot, and she was very appreciative of me coming out, as no one else who was working on the project came out to hear her.
How do you look back on the era and working with Madonna?
It was a fun time, a very creative time. We did not have any template for what we did with her. We just created a sound that was dance, R&B, pop and synth heavy, which was my specialty. Again Madonna was great to work with, one of the most fun projects I have ever done. There was no doubt that it was going to be successful, we just didn’t know it was going to blow up like it did.
Here's an article I wrote in March of 2010 for Hound Dawg PDF Issue 5 on lost pin up girl JOI LANSING...
Perhaps now viewed as a minor B movie cult star and classic 50s pin up girl, Lansing started her screen career alongside Orson Welles and ended it in obscure flicks like Hillbillys in a Haunted House. Joi Lansing was born Joyce Wassmandorff in Salt Lake City, Utah, on April 6, 1928. By the late 1940s, she had made her way to Hollywood, where she began modelling assignments and making brief walk-ons in films. She made a brief appearance in the Orson Welles classic Touch of Evil, however, her film career didn't come to fruition, so she resumed her television career in a series of guest spots on the TV series The Beverly Hillbillies. In the fifties and sixties, Lansing was often compared to Jayne Mansfield and seen as something of a pin up, hence her appearances so often being scantily clad in movies. Other notable film roles included Hot Cars in 1956 and starring with Frank Sinatra in Marriage on the Rocks. By the mid 60s Lansing was working as a night club entertainer and singer while still making notable appearances on film. She shot her final film Bigfoot in late 1969, and the film was released in October 1970. Sadly, as her career was winding down Lansing was stricken with cancer and passed away on August 7, 1972, at age 44. She was survived by her fourth husband, to whom she'd been married since 1960 yet the couple had lived apart for years. Frank Sinatra is rumoured to have paid her medical bills after her death. Another interesting fact is that she was a Mormon, never drank or smoked and although she frequently shed her clobber, never posed nude. She is also the subject of Joseph Dougherty’s strange biopic paperback Comfort and Joi.
This interview features in my book The Life and Work of George Melly, as well as in my documentary, George Melly The certainty of Hazard...
It's not often I get to chat to genuine legends, a word used for just about everyone these days. But Wally Fawkes, now aged 94, is one where the word genuinely fits the man in question. Born in Canada, Fawkes always had an interest in comic books and cartoons, but his first job was during the war, painting the roofs of factories in camouflage tones to hide them from bombers. He won an art competition during the war run by the Daily Mail and ended up getting work there providing illustrations from 1945 onwards. He also struck up his passion for jazz, playing in war time bands and eventually joining the legendary Humphrey Lyttelton band. Around this time he took on the pseudonym Trog, and quit professional jazz in 1956 to give the cartooning the full attention it required. He provided strips and caricatures for The Spectator, Private Eye and the New Statesman, with George Melly as his text writer.
I rang Wally's home one Monday afternoon, his wife answering the phone and disturbing Wally from listening to an audiobook on his headphones. He then came to the phone, a gentle sounding and good humoured bloke, very easy and nice to talk to.
So Wally, you knew George all those years. How would you sum up his character in the early days of the 1950s?
He didn't really change. George was always larger than life, which made everybody else seem smaller than life. He had a terrific sort of life force with him, incredible enthusiasms. I remember saying to him once, after some outrageous bit of behaviour, 'If only you could overcome your shyness, there'd be no end to your possibilities.'
I'm interested in how you both ended up working on the Flook comic strips together, with you doing the art work and George writing the text.
Well Trog was my pen name. Humph had been writing them for me before then. I had got to the stage that playing in Humph's band, with the increasing amount of touring while keeping the strip going, and other political cartoons emerging, I was finding it difficult to keep all the things together. I knew for a fact that the playing was fun, enormous fun, and I loved it, but it was not a career. I knew my real work was the cartooning. I could do it from home, for a start. You can't play in a band from home, not without the neighbours complaining. So I quit Humph's band in 56 to spend more time with the cartooning. So Humph was doing the Flook strip, and by releasing him from the strip, it enabled him to really get on the road in a big way. So it became more than full time. The manager of the Mick Mulligan band, for whom George was singing, was a friend, and I was telling him about this and he said 'Why not get George in to do the strip?' I knew George as a sort of outlandish and marvellous man, but I hadn't thought of him for the job. But of course he was brilliant. He brought to it the social world that he inhabited, because he liked them but he mocked them mercilessly. He loved the minor aristocracy. And he really bit the hand that fed him, and I am like that too. That was perfect for the strip and perfect for the time. The middle fifties was when the social scene was beginning to unravel. You can't think now, but the Prime Minister was called Sir Alec Douglas-Home. But we accepted all that. Then the whole thing changed. The revolution I suppose, the revolution in the theatre, all before rock and roll and pop took over, to put an end to us (jazzers).
I suppose the jazz thing came back again bigger in the 1970s didn't it though?
Oh yeah. George came back too, but it was different, it was to do with his personality. If he'd been a trumpet player or a trombonist it would have been different, but it was his singing, which was extravagant to say the least. It made me wince every now and again. It wasn't my favourite sound, George's voice. (Laughs)
But you and George were playing with John Chilton for a bit weren't you, in the early 1970s?
Yeah that's right, we were playing at Merlin's Cave, near King's Cross every Sunday, around mid day.
What were those shows like?
Oh, fabulous! Tremendous. They were lovely, absolutely lovely. And children were allowed in too. You couldn't get in unless you had a child with you. They used to blow their coke bottles at us in retaliation as we blasted away. And the visiting Americans used to come in. And then George started coming in, and that put an end to it, in a way and as far as I was concerned, because we were then accompanying a singer instead of having a free time blowing. You had to be accompanying, which still had its own sense of fun, but it became less of an attraction. Then George took the band on the road, world tours, Australia, America, and again I couldn't do that.
You just fancied playing for fun?
Yeah. I was enormously fond of George. But musically I didn't see it as a step forward. And I didn't have the time either. I was just playing twice a week in pubs all within the London area. That suited me perfectly, it was tremendous fun. I played a lot with George and John Chilton. That was a good partnership.
So you knew George for years. What are some of your favourite memories nearer to the end of his life?
My favourite story... (Laughs) I mean towards the end George got slightly pompous. He did that Christmas gig every year at Ronnie Scott's, and then it changed hands and became less of a serious heavy jazz venue and it broadened itself up a bit. I saw him after he'd done the first one under the new management, and I asked him 'How was the new club?' he said, 'Oh it was terrible,' thinking that it was because the principals had all been changed, but he said, ' The doorman didn't know me.' So that upset him more than anything. And there was another occasion when the band and George played an old people's home. He turned up and there was a lovely old lady sitting at the front of the entrance. And she said 'Oh hello!' (very excitedly) and George said 'Oh, do you know who I am?' And she said 'No, but here comes matron, she'll tell you.' (Laughs)
That's a really good one.
Yeah. His ego tripped him up every now and then, but it was colossal and it took a lot to trip it up.
So you think he was kind of a loveable egomaniac?
Yeah! Who said that?
That's very good. But it was great fun doing the Flook strip. We spent a lot of time doing that together. He wrote the stories. We had a conference every week at the Daily Mail and we discussed future lines to explore. Then he filled it all out. He was more wordy than Humph, in fact it got to the stage when there was hardly any room in the frame at all to do any drawing. It was all balloons and words, you couldn't see the people. But we overcame that. You can't keep a good man down. But he had a huge success in later years as a singer. A lot of grey haired old ladies used to go along to be shocked by him. He got a lot of pleasure out of it.
Do you remember him more as a great figure than a musical talent? I think you once said he used to shout a bit too much.
Yes. The more he shouted the more out of tune it went. But some things he did were better when he took it more quietly. He was influenced by Bessie Smith mostly, and in those days they didn't have microphones. She used to sing down a great cone to get heard, to project the voice. Bessie opened it up and hollered away. Fantastic power. George did all that but with a microphone, not instead of. Without a microphone it might have been better.
So it was double amplified!
(Laughs) Yeah! He had such effervescence. I swore that I saw him smile out loud. It was all tremendous fun.