Sunday, 24 March 2013

Whatever happened to ... the Sam Cooke biopic?


I was watching the interview on BBC 4 with writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais the other night. It's very enjoyable and worth watching all the way through, even if you know the basics (who in Britain doesn't?) but one detail leapt out.

Asked about film projects which hadn't worked out, without too much prompting they mentioned they had completed a Sam Cooke biopic. They finished the screenplay before a director had been chosen; when a director was in place and he said that he wanted his own input they assumed this would mean collaboration, but in the event not a single scene of theirs was left. Did this mean everything they had done was sh*t? La Frenais (I think) asked.

Anyway, I knew nothing about it, assumed that if you are reading this you might be interested too, found it was based on Peter Guralnick's book and is being produced by Jody Klein (daughter of Allen) of ABKCO.

There are several places online which give basic info about this (so why didn't I find out about it sooner?), but here is a piece which is slightly more detailed and cautious about the choice of Clement and La Frenais, citing inconsistency, and fearing that Klein's "rooted financial interest" may lead to a hagiography. Anyway, good or bad, now we'll never know unless their original script leaks out. What makes it odd is the extravagant praise heaped on their screenplay by Klein in Billboard:
"We had been looking for a long time for a writer to develop Peter's book," Klein told Billboard, "and it clicked when we met them. They understood the artist, they understood the times. It's one of those things, like when you meet the love of your life and you know you have met your (future) wife. They have written a fantastic script."
So who knows? I can't find the director's name online - lots of pieces about ABKCO being on the hunt for a director, but no names. Anybody know?

Watch the interview with Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais here, if you can access BBC iplayer, until Wednesday 27th March. The Telegraph's Michael Deacon, reviewing the programme, wrote:
It was fascinating to hear them talk, not just because they’re fascinating writers, but because the format allowed them to be fascinating. Mark Lawson Talks to… is perhaps the least visually enticing format on TV: this was an hour spent watching three men sit still in a barely lit studio, and one of the men was Mark Lawson. But that’s what made it good: interesting talk without visual distraction. TV that aspires to be radio. 
And talking of radio, I cannot avoid mentioning Neil McKay's A City Called Glory, an excellent account of Cooke's life using the device of his friend and sometime Soul Stirrer June Cheeks, as an Ancient Mariner-type narrator and choric figure. Here's part of what I wrote in an earlier post (read it in full here):
Cheeks, who never deserted the gospel field - he became a preacher in tandem with his singing - is the touchstone for Cooke as he wavers between two worlds. First a friend and confidante to the young Sam, Cheeks is then split into two as the play approaches its climax: a voice in Cooke's own head as well as the real man desperate to tell his tale, give his subjective but privileged take on what may have happened on that fateful night Cooke was shot.
Although Cheeks was briefly in the Soul Stirrers, he is best known as the lead singer in the Sensational Nightingales, screaming himself hoarse in performances, so it's a neat idea that he is the polar opposite of Cooke in more ways than one. And although Cheeks had been dead for several years by the time of the first broadcast, so presumably it was less complicated to use him as a narrator figure, the choice of a character who is and is not of Cooke's world was inspired.

I have read the two biographies of Cooke (Daniel Wolff and Peter Guralnick) since first hearing this play; it really does still stand up. Both are good but the Guralnick one in particular brings out the sense of his contradictory, elusive nature as he pursues success: capable of immense warmth and charm yet taciturn and dissatisfied in private (Cooke's widow Barbara contributed to the Guralnick book). You emerge from the book not really knowing him fully, wondering whether it's possible to know him, but Neil McKay's play - and I don't know how much information was available to him at the time of writing - feels right: if it wasn't that way then it's still a convincing conclusion to draw from what is known about his life. 
The play has been repeated a few times on BBC Radio 4 Extra, so it may come round again. However good or bad the finished feature film, Neil McKay's play can be very highly recommended indeed. It was part of a series called All Shook Up, directed by Andy Jordan. The quality of the writing in the series was a little variable, but the two plays by McKay - the other, Take the Night, was about Roy Orbison - were great.

Cuddles IS Vindice ...


Have just read that Cuddles the monkey is preparing for the lead role of Vindice in a new production of The Revenger's Tragedy. This is his first foray into Jacobean revenge tragedy - and, indeed, his first straight acting role after a career spent largely in variety and panto. It is also his first project away from longtime associate Keith Harris. 

There is no rancour between the two, however. In fact, a few days ago a beaming Harris was happy to talk to press about his friend's progress at rehearsals, and how he is dealing with the new challenge of learning such a substantial part. 

"He's not off-book yet," Harris admitted to a journalist who voiced what appeared to be a general concern about the monkey's lack of formal training, "but the director says he's very pleased with his progress and  he's already got to the essence of his character's motivation: 'I hate that duke.' "


Cuddles will be appearing in The Revenger's Tragedy in June-July at the National Theatre - details here.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Donovan autobiography part two - free download


 Surprising  news: there is now a second volume of Donovan's autobiography, and you can download  the first part of an audio version for free from  his official website here. (The image above is a screengrab.)

Will it also be published in book form? There is no indication on the website. The freebie seems to be a marketing ploy (and why not?), as we're told each instalment relates to a particular album - the first is Brother Sun, Sister Moon - also available for purchase via the website.

The first  part of Donovan's autobiography didn't get universally good reviews, but the most surprising thing about it was that the seventies weren't really covered: it ended, really, with his being reunited with Linda Lawrence,  and there was no indication that there would be another volume. That first book is highly readable – Donovan’s tranformation into a major musical figure is a fascinating story, after all – and sections like his account of the casual beatnik lifestyle in Cornwall are enormously entertaining.

But despite a strong page-turning quality, occasionally it feels like details have been omitted or insufficiently expanded. His eventual reuniting with Linda Lawrence is the overall arc of the book; perhaps as a consequence, other relationships seem to be given short shrift. And when you consider who our troubadour kept company with at the height of Flower Power isn’t there a more complex, contradictory tale - or at least an extra anecdote or three - waiting to come out?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Insight: The People. The Sounds. The Blogpost. (BBC 6 Music documentary series on iplayer)



I've really been enjoying the Insight series on BBC Radio 6 Music. You can find a guide to the currently available epsiodes here; the image above is just a screengrab. But hurry, as some are disappearing in a matter of hours or days.

I don't know when they were first broadcast - I mean originally, presumably on Radio 1 - but the fact that Pete Drummond is doing the portentous opening announcements suggests it wasn't all that recently. Late seventies, maybe? But don't let Drummonds' tones put you off because these hour long programmes are, at least the ones I've heard so far, little gems: very clear guides to musical genres, record labels, groups or individuals.

With the odd bit of quirkiness thrown in. There's a two part interview with Marvin Gaye, for example, where the star's responses remind me a bit of the beguiling - and mildly disturbing - raw footage of Jerry Lee Lewis which can be seen on the extras if you buy the big box set version of Taylor Hackford's documentary of Chuck Berry: both men are delighted by their own wit and not too bothered about how clear their intentions are to the listener. And it's a fair bet that neither has a PR person from their record company hovering within a five mile radius.

Asked if (I think) Mickey Stevenson is a mentor, Gaye professes ignorance of the term, asking if that's "like a tormentor", to which Gambo, perhaps not getting it, replies "That's for you to say." Did Marvin like working with Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol? Fuqua he knew from his time in the Moonglows but as regards Bristol he has difficulty working with people he doesn't respect - not that that applies to Bristol; he's just choosing, he says, to make a general observation at this point. "He's okay, you're okay, everyone's okay, I've read that book (chuckles)."

Monday, 18 March 2013

Two gospel records


I may have to curtail the extended blog posts for a bit, but I'm still going to try to post regularly - maybe even make a virtue of the more limited time available by focusing more on individual songs.

Here, for starters, are two gospel recordings I have known and loved for a long time. They have been posted on youtube quite recently, so what better reason to celebrate them?

Alright, in the time it takes to type this Russell Davies would have conjured up about half a dozen relevant anniversaries, outed a lyricist mysteriously absent from the original sheet music credits and made who knows how many other pertinent observations, utilising his trademark waspish wit all the while, but hey, I can only work with what I've got.