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words Graham Bendel with intro by Flux
Graham Bendel is a British writer and filmmaker, who has writtern for The Big Issue and New Stateman. In 2005, he directed the documentary Billy Childish Is Dead, and has written novels A Nasty Piece Of Work and Dress Rehearsal Brags: an A-Z of unpopular culture. Described as a creative crackerjack, his latest project is Derailed Sense: a film about Vic Godard & Subway Sect. We’re very pleased that Graham has agreed to write a piece for us at FLUX about the making of the film.
I’ve been aware of the Subway Sect since I was 16 or 17, and have been enchanted by their music for years. In particular, it was the original line-ups from the mid to late 70s that interested me the most.To me, those songs from back then were so ahead of their time and I was compelled to discover more about this elusive band that very few talked about (even in the context of punk, which was bizarre).
This was the band that played with the Pistols and The Clash and heavily inspired the Jesus and Mary Chain; the band that were into the monochrome, understated look way before Joy Division (‘East-European peasant attire’, someone once described their look as).
I’d met Vic Godard previously because I hired him to play at the book launch for the reissue of James’s Young’s masterpiece about Nico, Songs They Never Play on The Radio. Vic, I think, was impressed that I was putting it out and I think he thought I was honest because I paid him £50 more than we agreed. He played brilliantly that night and I didn’t even really get to talk to him, I was a bit in awe of him.
I also appeared with him on a Resonance Fm radio show with comedian Mark Thomas. I still didn’t really talk to him much then.
When I did eventually get to chatting, he was surprisingly into the idea of a documentary about him, and we discussed this for a while.
Originally I was going to make the film with the musician Phil King but he got busy and re-joined the Jesus and Mary Chain.
Note: It seems almost de rigueur to be in the Mary Chain and loyally admire the Subway Sect and Vic Godard. Bobby Gillespie and Douglas Hart came to see the Premiere, and of course, Bobby Gillespie appears in the actual film. Jim Reid was also keen to be in the film too, incidentally. As I’ve said before, Vic Godard is an artist’s artist and revered by so many bands and people (The Pop Group, Edwyn Collins, The Libertines, Keith Allen, Sid Vicious RIP…)
I’d made a film before (about Billy Childish) and swore never to repeat the experience again – despite it being nominated for a British Independent Film Award, and being critically acclaimed. Making a film on my own, without proper funding, without staff, without a Producer – was just too stressful.
But to cut a long story to the quick – here I was again, doing exactly what I said I’d never do. But this time, I had even less help or money than before.
Aside from not having a proper cameraman, a producer or even a runner to make the tea (that’s right, I had to make my own!?) – other low points were trying to film a totally rammed gig in a tiny sound booth – and having the sound engineer’s lumbering mate go to the toilet or bar every two minutes (in the middle of songs mainly), which makes you realise how very unimportant you are in the scheme of things. The venue had already told me “not to get in the way” and you’d hardly expect Julien Temple getting treated like that. Mind you, he once told me not to “let the bastards grind you down”. But sometimes they just do.
Another lowish point was watching the first ever rough cut with my parents (as everyone else was busy). It was a terrible idea.
“Where’s he from?”
“Oh, he’s from Primal Scream”
“No, where’s he from?”
“Well he used to be in the Jesus and Mary Chain?”
“NO….Where’s he from?”
Not exactly rock and roll watching with your folks, I know. But there again, Subway Sect’s slogan always was ‘We Oppose All Rock and Roll’…
I was kind of worried that Vic was being so affable all the time and generally really helpful, and – as perverse as it sounds – started missing some of the tension and animosity between myself and Billy Childish that I think fed into my previous effort. I think me and Vic only really argued once, and that was over the question of money – he didn’t want any! But on the subject of wanting tensions to appear – careful what you wish for…. as all that came much later. In spades.
The film was put on the shelf for three years.
With documentaries – I think that Artists sometimes think they are victims of a carefully-worked-out plot to diminish everything they’ve ever worked towards and your primary intention is to reduce their legacy to a bag of very cheap dust. In this case, it’s totally the opposite. It’s clearly flying the flag for Vic and Subway Sect. And the East End Film Festival 2015 Premiere made that very clear. It went down brilliantly. People saw it as a very funny and affectionate portrait of an incredible and versatile artist, who was years ahead of his time and who singlehandedly – it can be argued – invented a host of music genres, and then moved on when he got bored.
Derailed Sense: a film about Vic Godard & Subway Sect features appearances from Irvine Welsh, Luke Haines, Edwyn Collins and Viv Albertine; and is screening on 8.45pm, Friday Aug 14th / BFI Southbank, NFT1, as part of the London on Film Season/Sonic Cinema. Special Guests include: DJs Andrew Weatherall & Andy Lewis (Paul Weller band).