Now Focus

We were watching the signs go by: Antwerp, Leuven, Amsterdam, Groningen. Felt like we’d been on the road for weeks. Eric asked if I was hungry.

I turned to answer him, expecting to see him gripping a steering wheel. Which would have been odd, because we were sitting on the couch. The film we were watching, “Still Crazy”, about a group of aging rockers who reform and tour the dumps of Europe, had us revisiting the types of places we’d been spending every evening in, only a few short weeks ago.

“Look at us,” I said. “We can’t stop touring. When we’re not out there, we watch other people doing it. We could be watching “The Man Who Would Be King”.

“Is that really much different?” Eric asked.

We started with Saxondale, the brilliant Steve Coogan series about an…ahem, aging roadie who keeps fighting the good fight while running a pest control business in the suburbs. The music of Focus screeches and yodels over the opening and closing credits.

The show only ran for two seasons, so to stretch it out we watched Oil City Confidential, the new documentary about Dr. Feelgood. I knew enough about the band to be interested, but wasn’t prepared to be completely blown away. Wilko Johnson is a complex, entertaining narrator and the way Julien Temple pieced together band footage with old British gangster films (what movies are these clips from and where can I see them?), photos, clippings and some soft fictional footage was clever and imaginative but to a point. One of the best band documentaries I’ve seen.

Then we went back to Saxondale for a few more days, until we’d watched even the extra features a few times. Not ready to move on, we fell back on Still Crazy which is corny as hell but always works for me.

I keep coming back to one scene – there’s this snowy parking lot in the middle of nowhere. The band pulls up to a deserted cultural center and follows a lone set of wet footprints in through the theatre doors. The place is completely dark except for cold blue stage lights. A smoke machine is hissing, the smoke swirling and catching the dim light. Steely Dan is blasting from the P.A. while a shadowy figure sits in silent reverie in the center of the theatre seats, hands folded as if in prayer. The sound man.

They ask him if there’s any way he can get someone to clear the ice away from a treacherous loadin area. Like the Grim Reaper, he points them to a broom closet, where there’s a crude shovel and bag of rock salt.

After the interminable soundcheck, he tells the band about the highlight of his year, no – his life, when a certain Dutch group came to play, only three short months before. He rhapsodizes about their musical brilliance, their humanity, while barely hiding his contempt for the band in front of him – as if to say, “see what I’m reduced to now, working with you losers”.

To emphasize his point, the dressing room has one of those hospital-style TVs mounted high up on the wall, where a video of Focus’ live performance at this very venue plays relentlessly. The group asks if they can turn the TV off, or at least turn the sound down. He says he’ll see if he can find a ladder. But he never comes back.

Shit. That wasn’t in the movie, that was some Belgian venue a few weeks back.

12 thoughts on “Now Focus

  1. D. Jon Moutarde

    Thanks for the heads-up about Oil City Confidential — had a look at the trailer, and it does look stunning (Julian Temple rules OK!)Now it's on my Netflix list for DVD releases. Sorry about the pissant sound man; I'm sure you've had worse, though.My comment word verification word, this time, is "bedisms". Have to remember that one.

  2. Wornoutmorgan

    Hey! the record arrived today – unscathed. Is Tasmania your furthest flung sale? (that looks wrong – is furthest a word?). Anyway thanks, and as soon as Sue and I find the gramophone (long story) it's going on high rotation.

  3. Lindsay Hutton

    Yeah, The Feelgoods doc is great. I thought that Lee's mum was the real star. Looking forward to seeing it on the big screen at GFT in Glasgow on February 2nd with a live link up to a Wilko set from Koko in London. It's on at a bunch of other cinemas around the UK that same day.

  4. amy

    D, the soundman is just one more to add to the pantheon – life would be boring if everyone was courteous and competent, wouldn't it?I think Tasmania must be the farthest we've sent the disc so far, Anthony – glad it weathered the journey ok!I was wondering if you'd seen that Lindsay (I may have missed a writeup on your site along the way). Lee's mother was a treat – when she talked about staying up all night celebrating…what a lovely woman. The big screen premiere is going to be such fun I bet.Ed I hear good things about the Ian Dury film too. It is encouraging, about the music films that are coming out these days (though Telstar was pretty hard to watch…I guess fictionalized versions of musician's lives are harder to pull off)

  5. amy

    But will it come to France dubbed into French Rosie? (The Queen was on TV the other night, VF)I can imagine how it could have worked on the stage Peter – a shame, because now they've "done" Joe Meek will anyone else bother?

  6. Bill

    Helen and I have been hooked on Saxondale for the past few weeks. I find myself wanting to drop phrases like "a certain Mr. Ritchie Blackmore" into my everyday speech. Thanks for reminding me about Still Crazy. I love the scene where he thinks the pizza delivery guy wants his autograph. . .

  7. Mikey O

    Waiting to see that Dr Feegood movie: there is a band playing around Newcastle with the title of the movie as their name.Mick Green of The Pirates, who so influenced Wilko died this week…

  8. Hbrix

    Amy – I've only seen the trailer for OIL CITY but have been obsessed with British gangster flicks for as long as I've been obsessed with Wilko (to the point of never really being able to listen to that band from Chicago with a similar name). The trailer features clips from Sidney Hayers 1961 film PAYROLL Peter yates' 1967 picture ROBBERY, Yates' last picture before heeding Hollywood's call and making BULLITT . ROBBERY is out on DVD in r2. Will happily pop my copy in the mail Monday if you email your address. Don't know about PAYROLL. Google likely reveals all. ROBBERY is wildly under appreciated – produced by star Stanley Baker, shot by Ealing MVP Douglas Slocombe and features an opening car chase that kinda reset the standard for that kind of thing and got Yates the BULLITT gig after Steve McQueen saw it. We're on a Nolan Strong tribute record with you guys, I hear. xoxBruce Bennett

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