Monday, 29 July 2013

Memories Of The Marquee Club, London

The Marquee Club. It was a legend long before I'd even dreamt of going to gigs, and drew tens of thousands of people to its main home at 90 Wardour Street, London. It would take me several weeks to list every band to tread those hallowed boards, but the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Ultravox, Sex Pistols, Joy Division, Iron Maiden, Led Zep, The Jam, Genesis and The Police are names that demonstrate the club played an important part in live music on the UK circuit.

The Marquee opened April 1958 in Oxford Street, and established itself as a live showcase for Jazz and R&B with Sonny Boy Williamson and Cyril Davies just a couple of artists to appear regularly. The Oxford Street tenure would last for 6 years, boasting The Rolling Stones and Muddy Waters amongst an increasingly impressive roster of acts. At the fag-end of 1963, club owner Harold Pendleton was given 6 months notice to find new premises by the building's owners. In March, 1964, the club relocated to nearby Wardour Street where it would remain for 24 years. '64 proved to be a pivotal year, with the opening of Marquee recording studios and a long residency by The Who announcing that London had a very important club for music lovers. Over the years, The Marquee played host to the Psychedelic Scene, Progressive Rock, Punk, Mod, Heavy Metal and chart-orientated acts, moving with the times while also casting an eye back to 'old friends' who would often drop in to play 'secret gigs'. Those of you wishing to read the full history of the club are directed to which includes a year-by-year record of most of the gigs that took place there. I was lucky enough to take in scores of gigs there, and the rest of this piece contains some of my memories of this club.
When Punk reared its ugly head, my taste in live music underwent a real sea change. Up to then, I'd stayed firmly put, in and around my home county of Derbyshire, hooking up with friends to see rock bands such as Man, Budgie, Curved Air and Streetwalkers amongst others. Now, it was time to venture further afield; both geographically and musically. I'd read and awful lot about the London music scene in magazines. Sounds and the NME both painted an exciting picture of life in our capital city, with venues such as The Music Machine and The Nashville playing host to a never-ending succession of live acts. So, on 20th July 1977, I found myself London-bound to take in my first gig at The Marquee. I'd already gained a fair idea of finding my way around London via trips to follow my local football team, and had little difficulty in getting to Wardour Street. Before long, I caught sight of that famous exterior and joined a long line of punks queueing for tickets to see Generation X. While Billy Idol's mob were never really on my list of bands to see, I had little doubt that the gig would be a real experience; a feeling that proved to be entirely correct. Just before I entered the club, two doormen turned away a couple of rough-looking individuals who were apparently banned from the club for fighting at previous gigs. Obviously not a place for the faint-hearted but once inside, I immediately knew this was my sort of club.

After paying for my ticket, I soon located the bar where I had my first pint of Marquee watery beer in a plastic glass. From the bar area, I watched drum kits and mic stands being assembled, followed by Gen X running through a couple of numbers for their soundcheck. Soon, it was time to head out from the confined space of the bar and enjoy a tip-top set from The Lurkers. In truth, Howard Wall and his boys took the honours that evening, but my dislike of Gen X certainly receded as I watched them battle through their set under an assault of plastic beer glasses, cans and shower upon shower of spit. I'd already seen a good many bands walk off stage during the same type of audience abuse but Gen X never took a backward step. Respect!

So, my first visit to The Marquee was over but I already loved this small, ramshackle club with its sticky floor and cramped conditions; the bar at the back offering the chance of a quick queue for a drink for those disinclined to barge through the packed bodies en route to the main bar area, and a selection of hot & cold snacks just to line your stomach for the next alcoholic onslaught. With a capacity of roughly 300, the club often crammed in over three times as many, making the nickname of 'The Soho Sauna' entirely accurate. On many occasions, we were dripping sweat and I swear the walls were having much the same problem. Nobody seemed to mind though, and if anything, it added to the atmosphere. Over the years, I noticed the doormen actively contributing to the numbers of folks attending, ushering in extra punters upon receipt of a premium charge. Fortunately, I never had to pay over the odds, preferring to grab a ticket in the afternoon of any gig where I knew demand would exceed supply. Then, I'd sometimes call in at the nearby pub called The Ship where I spied Siouxsie Sioux holding court on a number of occasions. The Banshees were an absolute legend way before 'Hong Kong Garden' shattered the airwaves, and a piece of graffiti on the Marquee entrance wall remained for many months after their vinyl debut: 'SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES. SIGN THEM UP. DO IT NOW!' This impassioned plea greeted me on many occasions until I arrived there one night to find it gone, and with it went a part of the Marquee's character. I know the great lady herself visited the club as performer and audience member but I never saw her there. Lemmy from Motorhead, Phil Mogg, Joe Strummer, Phil Lynott, Howard Wall, Gaye Advert, Vic Goddard, Pete Shelley, Malcolm Owen, Paul Weller, Gene October and John Cooper Clarke were just a few of the faces I saw in the bar (the latter still looks much the same as he did 3 decades ago): a punk paparazzo's dream!

As far as crowd trouble was concerned, The Marquee was usually a hassle-free night out when compared to The Nashville or The Electric Ballroom. Sure, there were a few flare-ups but the only problem I ever encountered was at a Nine Below Zero gig when someone kicked me and tried to rip my watch from my wrist. A swift right hook to the jaw and he was down, leading to me facing the exit until an onlooker explained to the bouncers that I'd acted in self defence. The Marquee was actually safer than concert halls close to my home in Derbyshire, and I never felt threatened there. Over the years, I spent many, many enjoyable nights there and it remains my favourite venue for live music.

Years after the club shut down, there are still things I miss about my time there. The walk down Wardour Street, past film companies whose window displays were once home to posters for THE CHANGELING, CALIGULA and BLUE VELVET; past strip clubs and brothels where you really did quicken your step in case some over-zealous employee dragged you in, only for the doormen to relieve you of every penny you had, and then catching sight of the amusement arcade just down from Marquee on the right where fuck-knows who was hanging around outside in search of lost souls and their cash. Then, there are many memories of the club itself: the stage barely big enough to contain the band and equipment, the sights and sounds of the gathered masses drinking in the rock 'n' roll stench and finally departing the club in search of a good night's rest before doing it all over again the following evening. I honestly believe I would not be here now if I'd lived in London during the 70s and 80s but am glad I took the chance to visit on so many occasions during holidays from work.
In 1987, time caught up with 90 Wardour Street. A commission undertook a study of the premises and discovered that years of loud music had caused the facade of the building to slip towards the pavement. The last gig there was by Joe Satriani on 18th July 1988. The building was demolished , and it's place was occupied by a restaurant last time I ventured down Wardour Street. The Marquee re-opened in Charing Cross Road in the Summer of '88 and stayed put for 7 years. During that time, I took in several gigs there but it was simply not the same. Since then, The Marquee has re-appeared at several London locations and, at the moment, has ceased to exist. Apart from Charing X, I never bothered to seek it out. For me, it was over.

BFI Autumn Releases

This autumn the BFI will make available a superb collection of rare and previously unseen ghost and horror titles from the BBC archives.

Released as part of the BFI’s Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film celebrations, these long-unseen gems will delight many fans of British horror and classic TV drama.

Highlights in October include:

The legendary Play for Today drama Robin Redbreast (1970) – an unsettling tale of ‘folk horror’ that’s considered a precursor to 1973’s The Wicker Man
The three terrifying surviving episodes of the long-unseen 1972 ghost story anthology Dead of Night
Classic Ghost Stories (1986), five spine-tingling tales from the pen of M.R. James, presented by Robert Powell
An extended six-disc repackage of the best-selling BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas
Highlights in November include:

A Flipside presentation of the BBC’s Schalcken the Painter (1979). This highpoint of BBC arts filmmaking will be presented in High Definition from a rare 16mm source recently discovered in the BFI National Archive
The 1977 BBC gothic horror anthology Supernatural starring a host of British acting legends including Billie Whitelaw, Robert Hardy, Denholm Elliot and Jeremy Brett.

Other Gothic releases include:

A three-disc Dual Format special edition of Rupert Julian/Lon Chaney’s original The Phantom of the Opera (November 2013)
The BFI National Archive digital remastering of Thorold Dickinson’s dark psychological drama Gaslight (November 2013)
Scary Stories – a collection of creepy kids films from the Children’s Film Foundation featuring The Man from Nowhere, Haunters of the Deep and Out of the Darkness (September 2013).

October also sees the long-awaited Blu-ray premiere of Seven Samurai – presented as a steelbook exclusively at

Rescheduled releases for December include the Dual Format editions of Stromboli, Journey to Italy, Trans-Europ Express and Successive Slidings of Pleasure.

Titles are available to pre-order at all good internet retailers.

Coming Soon To Blu-ray: Schalcken The Painter

The BFI are doing great work with their wonderful 'Flipside' series, and I discovered last night that Schalcken The Painter - another great ghost story from the BBC - will be released on 18th November.


A film by Leslie Megahey

World premiere of this highly sought-after ghost story from the BBC, released in the BFI's acclaimed Flipside series.

Based on a short story by Sheridan Le Fanu, Schalcken the Painter was originally shown in the Omnibus strand on BBC 2 during Christmas 1979. The story follows a young seventeenth century Flemish painter Godfried Schalcken, who forsakes love for ambition, but discovers that there is still a terrible price to pay for his choice.

One of the most frequently requested programmes in the BBC archive, Schalcken the Painter is an exquisitely shot, atmospheric horror film which explores the uneasy, dark relationship between art, commerce and erotic desire.

The superb cast includes Jeremy Clyde, Maurice Denman and Cheryl Kennedy.

Newly transferred to High Definition from the film materials preserved in the BFI National Archive, the release includes such as the rare, experimental Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, The Pit (1962), assistant directed by Peter Collinson.

Special Features

- World premiere release on DVD and Blu-ray
- Part of the BFI's celebrated Flipside series
- Interview with Director Leslie Megahey
- The Pit (1962, Edward Abraham, 25 mins): experimental film based on the classic Poe tale The Pit and the Pendulum
- Fully illustrated booklet

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Blu-Ray Review: Dressed To Kill

Set in New York, Brian De Palma's psycho sexual thriller opens with a day in the life and death of frustrated housewife Kate Miller (Angie Dickison). Bored with the lack of bedroom excitement in her marriage, Miller visits a museum where a tense game of cat and mouse begins with a fellow visitor.
This beautifully shot 8 minute scene (shot without dialogue) culminates in a rather eventful taxi ride to an apartment where Kate gets the expert attention she craves, courtesy of her one afternoon stand.After leaving her sleeping partner, Miller checks out for the final time when a blonde knife wielding psychopath launches a bloody attack in a lift, with
classy hooker Liz Blake (Nancy Allen)
a prime witness to the carnage. Blake is subsequently accused of the murder by a police detective (Hill St Blues' Dennis Franz) and joins forces with Miller's son (Keith Gordon) in an attempt to unmask the killer, while suave shrink Dr Elliott (Michael Caine) refuses to divulge the true identity of a possible suspect.

It's a stylish, beautifully crafted ride and far more of a homage to the Italian Giallo thrillers of Dario Argento and Mario Bava than a flat-out Hitchcock imitation as has often been opined.
Witness the gory elevator murder which is beautifully shot, and has to be one of the finest sequences in De Palma's career. Here we have a razor slashing black gloved killer reminiscent of the aforementioned Italian thriller, though we'd better say that Dressed To Kill anticipated Argento's Tenebrae by two years.

I was lucky enough to catch Dressed To Kill during its opening week at UK cinemas in 1980 and, in my opinion, the film hasn't dated. It's well nigh impossible to pick out a single performance that didn't deliver straight down the line, and the film's tone and scenes of violence which really did push the envelope back then, are just as hard hitting today.
Add to this a haunting score from Pino Donaggio that is memorable in the extreme, and you have a film that easily repays multiple viewings.
Arrow Video's Blu-Ray presentation seems faithful to the original source material. Colours are often muted and some scenes are a little on the soft side, but the image is generally sharp, exhibiting good detail.
On the bonus material front, Dressed To Kill is blessed with the participation of all the main players with the regrettable absence of Michael Caine.

Symphony Of Fear.

This featurette sees producer George Litto discussing problems that beset the film, from finance to its controversial subject matter and the difficulties experienced in finding shooting locations.
It's a fascinating piece which also covers the involvement of Samuel Z. Arkoff.

Dressed In White

Here, Angie Dickinson talks about her favourite role and performance, recalling her experiences with the actors and with De Palma as comes over as genuinely proud of her involvement and accomplishment.
There are a few chuckles along the way (listen out and look out for her museum 'To-Do' list, which includes 'Pick up turkey') and overall, it's a delight to sit through. And yes, she still has the gloves!

Dressed In Purple

This is a wonderful interview with Nancy Allen who lovingly discusses the role De Palma (then her husband) wrote for her, and provides some great memories and smart ideas about her director's influences, with the name of Dario Argento cropping up.

Lessons In Filmmaking

An interview with Keith Gordon - now an accomplished director - who recalls Michael Caine's generosity and regrets they only shared one scene together. Gordon also mentions Dario Argento, along with the late Mario Bava and Roman Polanski as influences on Dressed To Kill.

The Making Of A Thriller.

A 45 minute documentary featuring observations and anecdotes from the aforementioned artists plus De Palma and Dennis Franz. Although some of their memories have been repeated from other sections of the extras, it's still essential viewing.

Unrated, R-Rated And TV Rated

This is a comparison of different takes of the more controversial scenes in this film. It's worth noting that Arrow's Blu-ray is the first time the uncut version has been made available for home viewing in the UK.

Slashing Dressed To Kill

De Palma and Gordon hold forth on the changes made to avoid the dreaded Adult Rating.

As usual, Arrow have generously included a collectors booklet which features work from Maitland McDonagh and an interview with poster designer Stephen Sayadim by Daniel Bird.
Arrow's Blu-ray is locked to Region B, and will prove a rewarding purchase for fans of this film.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Theatre Review: The Woman In Black

Fact. Old fashioned ghost stories are few and far between these days, and haunted house junkies are often forced to reach for well-thumbed blasts from the past in order to get a regular fright-filled fix. Stories by M.R. James, Shirley Jackson and Peter Straub have kept me awake on many occasions during the wee small hours, and I'd nominate Susan Hill as my current chairperson of the 'Sleep Deprivation Society'. THE WOMAN IN BLACK is an atmospheric chiller that never fails to unnerve me, demonstrating the written word can often be as powerful as the moving image. This terrifying story centres on a young solicitor named Arthur Kipps, who is instructed to attend the funeral of one Alice Drablow. Kipps takes the train to the town of Crythin Gifford, intending to carry out a speedy appraisal of her private papers and return to his London firm with all relevant documents.

Situated on the bleached salt marsh beyond Nine Lives Causeway, Drablow's Eel Marsh House can only be reached by crossing the causeway at low tide, and Kipps soon discovers the place is given a wide berth by the locals. Arthur tries to break the villager's wall of silence, but ultimately finds their fear to be something more than superstitious nonsense. Who is 'The Woman In Black', and how does she relate to a tragic event which claimed the lives of three people many years earlier?

THE WOMAN IN BLACK has entered a record breaking 18th year at London's Fortune theatre with the show also playing intermittently on a regional basis, drawing lavish praise from audience and critics alike. Even so, I harboured grave doubts this powerful story would successfully translate to the stage. Surprisingly, the opening minutes are high on chuckles and low on chills. Ian Lindsay took the role of Arthur Kipps who enlists the help of a young actor (Ian Targett) in order to prepare for the opening night of a play. Kipps believes that reliving his nightmare in the company of strangers is the only way to exorcise The Woman In Black. Right from the word go, Lindsay and Targett gel perfectly as the actor berates for his clumsy interpretation of Hill's wonderful opening paragraphs. At times, their witty repartee verges on downright hilarious but guys, if Susan says it's a long corridor than it most assuredly is! Yes, that memorable first page will never read the same again, but the humour does work. Witness the scene where Kipps enquires how a stage play could accommodate all the key elements of the book. This was actually a brave move on writer Stephen Mallatratt's part, raising questions that must have been in the minds of many theatre-goers. Once again, this double-act had us in stitches, this time introducing a series of props and sound effects which represented Kipps' train journey and that eerie pony and trap ride across the Nine Lives Causeway. Targett added that audiences would certainly use their imaginations, and that was made easy by the sheer quality of the production. Thanks to Kevin Sleep's superb lighting and Michael Holt's excellent design work, The Playhouse stage became Eel Marsh House; the haunted nursery in particular truly living up to Hill's blood-curdling description. Ron Mead's sound design was also top-notch, joining hands with some spooky visuals that made the audience jump out of their skins on several occasions. This is certainly not a play for the faint-hearted. It frequently succeeds in recreating the heart-stopping terror of the novel, and the vein of humour running through this production ensures that when the shocks occur, they hit home with considerable force. Robin Herford did a fine job as director, and must have found the two Ian's to be a joy to work with.

Lindsay does relinquish his Kips character fairly early in the play, and treats us to colorful interpretations of some pretty sedate literary characters: Drablow's financial agent (Mr. Jerome), a wealthy landowner (Samuel Daily) and the valiant Keckwick who knows better than anyone the terrible truth about Eel Marsh House. Susan Hill's creations are all present and correct, and I roared with laughter at Lindsay's portrayal of, sniff, Tomes the clerk. While Lindsay is busy livening up the population of Crythin, Targett puts himself in Arthur Kipps' shoes, giving a lively performance that never falters. There are times when his exuberance enters the realms of over-acting but his enthusiasm was so contagious, it was hard not to get carried along with him. So far, I've name checked most of the cast and crew but what about you-know-who? Did The Woman In Black appear? Well, I hate to break it to you but Lindsay and Targett were the only actors in this production, and a quick perusal of the programme and front-of-house-stills confirmed this. It seemed that the ghostly lady is confined to the pages of Hill's novel, though I could have sworn that on 3 occasions I saw....... maybe not. Maybe I should put it down to over-imagination. It was that kind of night.

n 1989, the ITV channel screened a television production of THE WOMAN IN BLACK on Christmas Eve. This television drama was directed by Herbert Wise, and Nigel Kneale adapted the story from Hill's novel. On (admittedly) a single viewing, I have to say the TV drama didn't really hit the spot for me with perhaps a few changes too many when compared to the book. However, I attended, some years later, a screening of THE STONE TAPE at London's National Film Theatre and Nigel Kneale was on hand to do an enjoyable Q&A and also screen clips from several films. THE WOMAN IN BLACK was one of them and I have to say the clip shown was enough to give me nightmares later that night. Universal now hold the rights to this drama and it seems unlikely the film will be released on DVD anytime soon. It is easy to find copies on Ebay but, as these copies are illegal, I'm sure none of us would even dream of purchasing one.

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Magic Of John McGeoch: Public Image Ltd

The Magic Of John McGeoch: Motorcade

Amazing playing from John on one of Magazine's finest.

The Magic Of John McGeoch: Switch

Probably my favourite period from Siouxsie And The Banshees, mainly due to magic of John McGeoch.

John McGeoch: A Wizard, A True Star

My memories of ace guitarist John McGeoch go back a long way. January 1978 to be exact, when a band called Magazine released a stunning debut single, SHOT BY BOTH SIDES. McGeoch was born 28th May 1955 in Renfrewshire. He purchased his first guitar at the age of 12, en route to a career that saw him labeled as 'The Punk Jimmy Page'. He moved to London in 1971 with his family, though his stay was relatively short. In 1976, his love of art took him to Manchester where he studied at the local university. One year later, McGeoch met Howard Devoto who was on the lookout for a guitarist. Devoto had just left The Buzzcocks, and wanted to form a band who would be different to the current crop of young pretenders .With fellow members Barry Adamson, Bob Dickinson and Martin Jackson, Devoto got what he was looking for in Magazine and the aforementioned debut single delivered a stunning declaration of intent. That same year, the bands debut album, REAL LIFE came out, with tracks such as MOTORCADE, THE LIGHT POURS OUT OF ME and TOUCH AND GO merging McGeoch's wonderfully inventive guitar sound with Devoto's disintinctive vocal style. McGeoch was still in the middle of his studies when the album came out and with a tour beckoning, he decided to put his uni work on hold and throw himself into the music. In 1979, Magazine released their second album, SECONDHAND DAYLIGHT, exhibiting a slightly mellower sound but still delivering the sort of killer tracks that would retain their loyal following. From Devoto's evil vocals on PERMAFROST through to the majestic FEED THE ENEMY and BACK TO NATURE, this follow-up album really did give us everything, with McGeoch's contribution even more assured and exciting. 1980 saw McGeoch play on the bands 3rd album, THE CORRECT USE OF SOAP, with songs like SWEETHEART CONTRACT and THE LIGHT POURS OUT OF ME further cementing the bands reputation. Shortly after this albums release, McGeoch left the band and joined Steve Strange's VISAGE. McGeoch had worked with Strange and other bands such as The Skids as a 'gun for hire' during his time with Devoto but began to long for things he could never get in Magazine.

n 1979, John McKay, together with drummer Kenny Morris, had walked out on SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES, and Sioux started to look for a replacement. Bassist Steve Severin had considered Geordie from Killing Joke or Bruce Gilbert from Wire, before enlisting the services of The Cure's Robert Smith on a temporary basis. Before long, McGeoch was invited to rehearsals and laid down a wonderful guitar track on the HAPPY HOUSE single before making his live Banshees debut in March 1980. John had seen the welcome sign and knew this would be his new home for a while. As a long-standing fan of the Banshee's debut album THE SCREAM, I have to say that McGeoch's time with the group saw them release their most creative work. KALEIDOSCOPE (1980) JUJU (1981) and A KISS IN THE DREAMHOUSE (1982) still hold up today as, I believe, their very best work and McGeoch's sterling endeavours also enabled them to really catch fire live. Siouxsie had long yearned for a guitarist with a truly cinematic style and in McGeoch, she had her man, referring to him as her own John Barry. Indeed, his unique style really established the Banshees as a top singles band and for a while, they matched THE JAM as one of the greatest purveyors of the 45 our country has known. HAPPY HOUSE, CHRISTINE, the anthemic ISRAEL and SPELLBOUND all helped to stamp the Banshees with the mark of true greatness. Sadly, McGeoch had health issues which led to him collapsing at a concert in Madrid and he left the band for a two year stint with Richard Jobson's THE ARMOURY SHOW. In 1986, McGeoch joined PUBLIC IMAGE LTD, attracting Lydon's keen eye for top musicians. PIL had always contained men at the top of their trade (Wobble, Levene and Baker) and this was a natural progression, particularly as McGeoch had turned down a similar offer from Lydon a few years earlier. John Played on 3 albums in his time with PIL, and stayed until the bands demise in 1992. After that, he drifted, switching from training as a nurse to composing music for TV shows.

I was privileged to see McGeoch play live on many occasions, with Magazine, Siouxsie And The Banshees and PIL. My first glimpse of his talents came at a gig at Derby's Ajanta Theatre in 1978 which provided me with the chance to see an emerging band who would eventually become one of my favourites. One year later, I was there at Birmingham's Odeon Theatre to see Devoto and his band support SIMPLE MINDS. I'd never been a fan of the latter, but the chance to see MAGAZINE promoting their SECONDHAND DAYLIGHT album was too good to miss. To be honest, I sat through most of SIMPLE MIND's set in a daze, constantly going over MAGAZINE's performance where McGeoch just kept laying down his own brand of magic, while Devoto plucked his words out of the air clearly relishing every chord. In many ways, my most memorable times with this hugely talented guitarist came during his stint with the Banshees. I'd seen them with Kenny Morris and Robert Smith (the latter being a supremely gifted player), but with McGeoch on board, their live shows were this side of heaven. My final live encounter with this legend came at Nottingham Rock City, where PUBLIC IMAGE LTD played a gig with the house lights on for the duration (only the second concert I've ever seen this happen at). It was so good to finally see Lydon onstage and the presence of McGeoch ( a huge admirer of Lydon) was immense. The band ended with a glorious encore of ANARCHY IN THE UK and that was the last time I saw this great artist.

John McGeoch died in his sleep on 4th March 2004. He was my favourite guitarist, and undoubtedly one of the best in recent times. I think that everyone leaves something behind when they depart this world for the next. Something unique that enables those left behind to remember them by. John McGeoch left us with some truly wonderful music that will still be here when the rest of us are long gone. Thanks for the memories, John.