Monthly Archives: November 2014

Peaky Blinders

This is a rave (no spoilers) about Peaky Blinders, the BBC period drama set in post-WW1 Birmingham. It’s a beautiful, brain-tinglingly fresh historical recreation of an over-looked part of history (one which I especially love as it’s the time my grandparents were teenagers).

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The Shelby Brothers

Set around a street gang on the up, it pulls a world of travellers/Gypsies/Tinkers, Fennians/IRA/Loyalists, Anarchists/Communists, London Italian/Jewish underworld (and post-War gender politics) into a strong narrative that is compelling and exciting.

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The family discuss business around the beer bucket

It pits Cillian Murphy as the leader of the Peaky Blinder’s against Sam Neill’s weirdly sinister Ulster copper (complete with weirder accent) who has been sent by Churchill to sort him out (and what a great Churchill, always sitting in a chair and still talking down to everyone).

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Battle of the film actors

It’s part of the BBC’s stated intent to resist continually humping the corpse of Jane Austen (no matter how productive she continues to be), and it works so well as costume drama.

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Illegal bookshop at work

The clothes are just amazing, the sets (virtual and actual) rich and gorgeous, even when they are showing grinding industrial poverty. And the hair cuts… I want one!

As for the soundtrack… wow. Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, The White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys, Johnny Cash, while anachronistic, all fit perfectly (I believe PJ Harvey and Flood are in charge) both adding to and opening up the story, showing Baz Luhrman how it should be done (his unforgivably ham-fisted butchering of the 1920s classic The Great Gatsby has earned him a special place in period drama hell).

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Industrial horseflesh

The theme song, Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, fits the story/themes/feel in ways which continually unfold as the series progresses, with lyrics and instrumentation that seem to have foreseen the story even though the song is from the 1990s (that the song references Milton’s Paradise Lost is perfect for post-Apocalypse 1919).

With only six episodes per season (there have been two with another coming next year) it cracks along but never feels rushed, and the acting and characters are outstanding.

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Aunt Pol on the pull

As Thomas Shelby, the always wonderful Cillian Murphy leads the show with an impenetrable calm, while Helen McCrory as Aunt Polly (who ran the gang while the boys were at war) is more than a match for his acting chops (and may surpass him).

Tom Hardy as Jewish gangster Alfie Solomons also stands out on the intriguing filmic acting front. I could watch all of the scenes between Aflie and Tommy again and again.

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Alfie Solomons, scary London ‘baker’

And while Sam Neill is mad fun, that accent… I just can’t be sure if it adds or detracts (I suspect it adds).

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Sam cleans up the mean streets

There’s so much more I could rave about/discuss (the love interests are great actors, too) but best you enjoy it yourself.

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The curious Grace

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Horsey-girl Toff and Bit of Rough

Anyways, if, like me, you’re a history buff, love period/costume drama (and great storytelling) then give Peaky Blinders a try.

It’s great fun and you’ll get a killer Brummie accent to boot (probably best to avoid the haircuts).

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Real Peaky Blinders

Needles and Plastic

For the last few weeks I’ve been suffering from a particularly persistent (and infectious) earworm. It’s Needles and Plastic by early ‘80s Flying Nun 3-piece DoubleHappys. It’s a song I’ve loved since the first time I heard it back in 1985 when I was a sneering (and insecure) 18 year-old bashing away in the Christchurch music scene.

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Instruments of joy and terror

The singer, Shayne Carter, was the king of sneer and, to be fair, there was plenty to sneer at in the world of 1985 which tends only to get appreciated in a jovially mocking manner, or as dewy-eyed nostalgia (big hair, lame rock, the ‘protection’ of the nuclear umbrella, Reagan selling drugs to fund terrorists while skipping merrily towards dementia, Thatcher tagging along in shoulder pads).

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High fashion c.1985 How high? Ask Ronnie Reagan

1985 was also a time when every mainstream radio programmer claimed all New Zealand music was ‘shit’, and much of the public agreed. But, like Reagan and his dodgy mates, they were wrong.

There was heaps of good music happening in NZ and the fact that those scraped-together recordings and ropey pressings continue to hold high value in the USA and Europe is testament to that (even 2nd hand copies of the insignificant FN E.P. I played on in ’87 have reached $400).

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Pure 1985

Why is it still valued? (beyond obvious nostalgia value). I believe it’s because it was fresh and real, with an energy akin to the first rock ‘n’roll that swept away the manufactured crooners in the ‘50s, or the British Invaders of the early ‘60s who made the processed US ‘rock’ acts irrelevant, or the US/UK punks of the early/mid ‘70s who popped the bloated balloon of Led Zep and pomp rock.

It spoke to me not just because of the subject matter but because the music sounded real. The drums, the guitars, the keyboards weren’t pumped full of processing in $200 an hour studios, they were noisy and nasty, grabbing your attention as if you were in the same room (or garage) as them.

And Shayne Carter wasn’t just a snotty young punk standing in the corner of the room; the lyrics also had a clever poetic quality. original_Double_Happys_Cut_It_Out_cover_image

It starts with a wonderfully blunt snark at a bogan:

Fat cunt in a studded belt, my god I think he thinks he’s something else
When he’s just another zombie probably made out of needles and plastic

And moves to a brilliantly economic couplet describing a pissed goth girl:

White, white girl in a black, black dress
She’s only pretty as in much of a mess
She’s just another zombie, probably made out of needles and plastic

Musically, it chugs along like you’re in the room watching it all

Everybody’s watching everybody else
But everybody’s watching out for themselves

It’s a shallow
Sickening sideshow
I don’t think I’m right, I don’t think I’m right, I
Know that I am!

It’s the nature of earworms (songs in your head you can’t get rid of) that they’re hard to escape. One method is to listen to the song repeatedly to kill it (I learned this from an article about earworms where, ironically, Shayne Carter said he had once been tortured for many weeks by Achey Breaky Heart). So, with this song continually on my mind I decided that I had to buy a copy from iTunes and thrash it to death. After all, even though I own Needles and Plastic on two original vinyl releases (the E.P. it first appeared on, Cut It Out, and the Flying Nun compilation, Tuatara) I haven’t owned a turntable in 15 years (I also have it on a mix-tape… but my last tape deck died 5 years ago and has not been replaced).

Never mind, I thought, I’m more than happy to pay $1.97 for a single (which, ironically, is the same price singles were when I started buying them in 1979).

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King of style, Steve Jobs 1985

The problem is Needles and Plastic is available on iTunes only in the form of two ‘album only’ album downloads. And I already own both of those pieces of plastic… I just don’t have the needle.

Which led to much frustration as the earworm continued to eat away at my brain.

But in the 21st century there is always more than one way skin a cat, so to speak (thank you interweb).

I ripped the song from YouTube and whacked it onto my iPhone and have been singing along again and again, chewing away at the tail of the earworm.

It’s every bit as good as I remember. So full of life and energy.

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Had this poster on my wall for years

It makes me wish I had seen the DoubleHappys live. I was still at school when the Looney Tour went through town in 1984, a 16 year-old in a time when you had to be 20 to enter a pub or risk the wrath of the police. Sure, I looked 20 but my school boy band All Fall Down had just started playing in pubs, and I knew that my gigging would be in jeopardy if I was nabbed.

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DoubleHappys hanging out in Dunedin: John, Shayne and Wayne

Aspiring to be on Flying Nun we recorded our best songs in a scraped-together studio for the always friendly and approachable Flying Nun supremo Roger Shepherd. We (unknowingly) took them to him the day after Carter’s DoubleHappy’s band mate (and childhood friend), Wayne Elsey, was killed after climbing on top of a train while on tour.

Back then, in 1985, 20 seemed so much more mature than me. Now it seems so young to die because of an ill-considered action born of youthful high spirits.

As L. P. Hartley wrote, the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

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Long-lamented (and banned) Double Happys

You couldn’t drink till you were 20 and they kicked you out of pubs at 10pm (or 11pm on Friday and Saturday). You had to get your money for the weekend from the bank by 4:30pm on a Friday. There was no internet or cellphones, bin Laden and Saddam were good mates of the CIA, and all NZ bands were shit. Double Happys and sky rockets were legal for Guy Fawkes, and they played music with needles and plastic.