Saturday, 11 July 2020

Jack Charlton RIP

Jack Charlton dead: England World Cup winner and Leeds legend dies ...
Jack Charlton: a footballing giant who was forever a man of the people

The World Cup winner went down the pit at 15 and was loved unconditionally for his impish wit and unbounded generosity

Kevin Mitchell
The Observer
Sat 11 Jul 2020

He was Ireland’s favourite Englishman. He was Leeds’s favourite Geordie. And, with due respect to his illustrious brother, Jack was nearly everyone’s favourite Charlton. On Friday night at home in Northumberland, Jack Charlton died in his sleep at 85 in the embrace of his family after suffering for more than a year with lymphoma and dementia. The outpouring of affection for him in the hours since has been as rich with anecdotes of laughter and mischief as for his deeds in football.

Charlton is remembered largely for his part in England’s World Cup victory in 1966, 23 years at Leeds and taking Ireland to two World Cup finals. There were successful spells of management, too, at Middlesbrough (where he was manager of the year in 1974), and Sheffield Wednesday, whom he rescued from ignominy, and Newcastle, where he and a young Paul Gascoigne worked together for a short time.

But Big Jack was a giant of a different kind. He was working class to his hobnail boots (which he briefly wore as a 15-year-old miner), and was one of the first to join Brian Clough in his unequivocal criticism of the racist National Front in 1977, a time when sport kept its distance from politics and social issues. Both of them would have taken a knee today without thinking.

In 1984, he told Terry Wogan, there was only one other serious option to a career in football. “I would have gone down the pit, wouldn’t I?” The TV presenter pressed him tentatively: “And would you be on strike now?” Charlton bristled and replied loudly, “Of course I would. Those lads, they’re just trying to save jobs and their communities.”

On Saturday, scores of admirers who knew him personally or by reputation showered him with tributes and anecdotes. The former Radio 5 Live presenter Danny Baker tweeted: “Possibly my favourite football story of all is how the morning after the World Cup final, Jack Charlton woke up on the living room floor of a couple from Dagenham he had no recollection of meeting. His winner’s medal was still in his pocket.”

Jonathan Wilson, the Observer’s football columnist, tweeted: “I met Jack Charlton only once, on a train from Derby to Newcastle. He read a magazine for a while, signed a handful of autographs, then made a ball from the foils his sandwiches had been wrapped in & spent an hour flicking it into a goal he’d made from coffee cups.”

There are so many stories of Charlton connecting with fans, from inviting delivery boys into the family house for tea and biscuits to giving one stranded supporter a lift home on the team coach back from Sheffield.

Brían O’Byrne, the Irish actor, remembered him fondly from the 1994 World Cup in the United States: “At the final whistle of Ireland vs Italy at Giants Stadium, instead of celebrating, he came to make sure an Irish fan being rough handled by police was all right,” O’Byrne tweeted.

Jack’s granddaughter, Emma Wilkinson, an ITV reporter, said: “He enriched so many lives through football, friendship and family. He was a kind, funny and thoroughly genuine man and our family will miss him enormously.”

Charlton was also a far better player than his self-deprecation let on and he was loved unconditionally, for his impish wit and unbounded generosity. If he were a tree, it would surely be an English oak. He and Bobby were products of their environment and, in the best way, prisoners of their genes. Their father, Bob, a miner all his life, had little time for football, but their schoolteacher mother, Elizabeth – known as Cissie – played and coached a local school team. The Newcastle legend Jackie Milburn was her cousin.

The Charlton boys – two of four brothers who shared a bed growing up in a small house in Ashington, north of Newcastle – emerged from the Milburn footballing dynasty of the north-east, but moving in different directions. While Bobby’s zest and talent at the arrow-point of the attack for England and Manchester United lifted him alongside George Best, Pelé and Bobby Moore, Jack, older than his brother by three years and taller by several inches, considered himself a grafter destined to toil unnoticed in defence. At 6ft 1in, sharp-elbowed and wispy-haired, he was hard to miss.

He briefly tried the pit when he left school at 15, and didn’t much like it; he also considered a career in the police but, on the day of his interview, chose instead, after being heavily scouted, to head for Elland Road, where his uncle Jim had played and where his commitment was interrupted only by National Service in the Horse Guards.

He met Pat Kemp at the Majestic Ballroom in Leeds and they married in January 1958, a union that not only gave them three children – John, Deborah and Peter – but calmed his night manoeuvres around Leeds with teammates when it looked as if his career was heading for the hard shoulder.

The army shaped his character, too, as he recalled years later. “You could say that I went away to the army a boy of 18, and came back a man of 20. After what I’d experienced away from the club, I wasn’t in any mood to let myself be pushed around.

“Maybe I was a bit too full of myself. I remember one run-in I had with John Charles, of all people, when he came back for a corner against us and started telling me where to go. I soon told him where to go, in a way that he couldn’t have misunderstood. After the game he put me up against the wall and pointed a finger at me. ‘Don’t ever speak to me like that again,’ he said.” He didn’t.

When Charles left for Juventus, Charlton inherited the biggest pair of shoes in football, replicating much of the Welshman’s vigorous spirit. Notoriously forgetful, Jack was said to have a book in which he kept the names of opponents he considered needed taming the next time they met. “We were frightened of nobody,” he would recall. “Everybody was frightened of us – and it was lovely.”

For England, he always gave the impression he was lucky to be included alongside the other luminaries of the game. By the time they had ridden the emotional wave of expectation all the way to the closing seconds of the final against West Germany, Jack was juggling pride and trepidation. When he turned, sweating, to his captain and urged him to “stick it in Row Z”, the calm and regal Moore paused, looked up and passed it to Geoff Hurst, who famously put it in the net one more time. Jack shook his head and, hands on hips, looked as thrilled as a schoolboy in the crowd at what he had witnessed.

But he was nobody’s fool. On his appointment as Ireland manager he recalled: “I told them it wasn’t about the money. It was about the honour. They wrote a number on a piece of paper, put the paper face-down on the table and slid it over to me. I looked at it and said: ‘It’s not that much of a fucking honour.’”

The feud with his brother was less uplifting and, in all the memorials, is perhaps best recounted briefly. In 1996, Jack accused Bobby of failing to visit their mother when she was dying. It seemed like the start of an insoluble split, even more so 11 years later when, publicising his autobiography, Bobby said the row emanated from a clash of personalities between his wife, Norma, “a strong character”, and his mother. For years, the brothers did not speak. “He’s a big lad, I’m a big lad and you move on,” Bobby said. Eventually, there was a reconciliation.

At the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards in 2018, there were tears in most parts of the room when Jack, presenting Bobby with a lifetime achievement award, said quietly: “Bobby Charlton is the greatest player I’ve ever seen, and he’s my brother.”

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Dion: Blues with Friends

Dion: King of the New York Streets

Dion: 'When I heard my album sober, I thought "Wow – heroin didn't touch it"'
He was a street-tough doo-wopper, then a wayward cult legend. Now at 80, Dion is embracing the blues – and his status as one of the last rock’n’rollers standing

Michael Hann
The Guardian
Tue 16 Jun 2020

Dion DiMucci was 13, maybe 14, when he first sang in a club for money, roughly the same time as he picked up a heroin habit that lasted 15 years. He got on the stage and belted out three Hank Williams songs – Cold, Cold Heart, Jambalaya and Hey Good Lookin’ and when he was done “the owners, Yodi and Bart, they gave me $20 apiece, which was more than my parents’ rent that they argued about every day. It was a whole month’s rent and I just sang a couple of songs.”

Yes, says Dion (no one ever uses his surname – he’s been Dion since he became a doo-wop star in the 1950s, and that’s not changing now), the money made music attractive, but it was the chance to say something that made him stick with it, although his career has had highs and lows. Even some of the high points have been lows: Born to Be With You – his dazed, brilliant 1975 album with Phil Spector, which cast teen pop as a spiritual experience – was not released in the US at the time, and was ignored elsewhere, only gaining its reputation two decades later. The dazzling Kickin’ Child, recorded in 1965 and offering a version of “that thin, wild, mercury sound” at exactly the same time as Bob Dylan was inventing it, was shelved by Columbia, only getting released in 2017.

But Dion has never stopped. As well as the doo-wop, he’s sung rock’n’roll, folk rock, Christian music, MOR music and everything in between. And for the past 15 years, he’s been a bluesman, singing in a voice that has barely weathered. Now 80, he’s releasing Blues With Friends, in which an array of superstars (Bruce Springsteen, Billy Gibbons, Joe Bonamassa, Paul Simon, Van Morrison and more, with sleevenotes by Bob Dylan) help him out on 14 originals, including a revival of Kickin’ Child. The presence of Morrison, he says, was the first thing to really impress his wife, Susan, in 57 years of marriage. “I am so in with my wife because I sang with Van Morrison. She’s got 12 Van Morrison CDs in her car. So now I’m in!”

It’s startling that his voice seems almost unaffected by the years, although he can hear differences. “I was talking to Paul Simon yesterday. I was telling him, ‘Paul, I’ve been listening to this record, and I can still sing great. I sing my original songs, in the same key, but I lost that 17-year-old innocence. But you still have that sweetness, that beauty, that powerful purity. I don’t know how you did it.’ And he said basically the same thing I would say. ‘I do well and I take care of myself, but I haven’t focussed on keeping my voice.’ We both don’t smoke or drink. That can make your voice husky.”

Blues With Friends doesn’t sound a bit like his rock’n’roll hits, nor Born to Be With You, nor his folk-rock era. It continues in the direction he began in 2006 on his Grammy-nominated album Bronx in Blue, playing the music that was once the spring from which rock’n’roll began, which saw one writer describe him as a “Catholic blues singer”. That makes Dion laugh. “To be honest with you, if you had to retitle the psalms, the songs King David wrote in the Bible, you’d call them the blues. It’s like the naked cry of the human heart longing to be in union with God. Those guys are crying out in pain. They feel isolated, they feel separated, they just don’t feel good. And they got the blues. Everybody in the Bible got the blues, probably including God, from the travails of overseeing us. God is love, he’s not loving, he is love.”

It’s all basically the same music to Dion, though. “To me, it’s all a slight adjustment. If I sing songs from any decade on my guitar, it all sounds the same. It all sounds like Dion music. People think I change from this to that, but I don’t know how much I change. They put a label on it, you know? But it all comes from inside me.”
Carlo Mastrangelo, a Doo-Wop Voice for Dion and the Belmonts, Dies ...
Dion and the Belmonts – four Italian-American kids who grew up around Belmont Avenue in the Bronx’s Little Italy – were like any of the groups of street-corner toughs who sang sweetly to the girls during Dwight D Eisenhower’s second term as president. Music was how they would all say the things they couldn’t put into conversation, for fear of being kicked around the block.

“I had this song, one of my first records, called No One Knows. I sat on the stoop of the tenement building, and the gang was there. Then we’d go to cellar parties, and I would sing this song that goes, ‘No one knows what I go through / And the tears I cried for you / And when I smile it’s just a pose / My heart is breaking, but no one knows.’ But a lot of that stuff, you couldn’t say. That’s why people go to the bar and put money in the jukebox and put on Only the Lonely, because they can’t tell you they’re lonely. They can just play the song 20 times.

“I realised early on you could bypass somebody’s brain. You don’t threaten anybody by singing, but if you were in a bar and turned to your friend and said, ‘You know, I’m lonely’, you’d get a punch right in the head. It just don’t ring right, you know? But you could relate to a record and identify with the song, and no one feels threatened, and no fights break out. It was kind of like a secret. I could sing about what people were thinking without them feeling threatened.”

But Dion had something else. Listen to some of those early hits – The Wanderer or Runaround Sue – and you hear a personality, someone crackling with life, amused, lustful and with a hint of threat. He sounds like a tough guy who wants to be liked, but who can’t bring himself to entirely conceal his switchblade. The Dion of the late 1950s and early 60s was such an archetype of Italian-American masculinity that Martin Scorsese probably has a shrine to him somewhere.

The heroin, he says, was nothing too unusual around Belmont Avenue, even 60 years ago. “With the guys I was hanging out with, it was the normal thing. There were some that never got involved. I don’t know if I had a propensity for it, or a disposition. But I knew the first time I took it, man, I loved it, so off I went. I was using drugs for about 15 years, from 14 to about 28. In 1968 my friend Frankie Lymon died of an overdose and I got on my knees, said a prayer, and I haven’t been the same since. I haven’t had a drug or a drink for 52 years.”

After splitting from the Belmonts, he became the first rock’n’roller signed to Columbia – “They were paying me 100 grand a year whether I made a record or not” – and began a solo career. It’s possible some of Dion’s memories of that era have been burnished by the years – he says he and the producer Tom Wilson were the ones who first had the idea of putting an electric band behind Dylan – or by the fact he was then at the height of his heroin addiction. Either way, he quit Columbia when they refused to release Kickin’ Child. “I have no idea why they did it. I’m thinking, ‘What the hell do you want?’ So I just left. I couldn’t care less. I called it integrity; my wife called it insanity.”

It was only a few years ago, hearing the album for the first time since he was an addict, that he was able to separate Kickin’ Child from the time of its creation. “When I heard it clean and sober I thought, ‘Wow. Whatever I was doing, heroin didn’t touch it.’ The art bypassed the drug.”

When Little Richard died in May, Dion was among the first to pay tribute. Recalling all those heroes of 1955 and 1956, he says: “Then I heard Little Richard. That’s got to change your life.” Now, he and Jerry Lee Lewis are the only major figures of the great teenage explosion left standing – and Dion wouldn’t be, had he not refused to pay the $36 it would have cost to board the flight that killed Buddy Holly. Still, he says, he’s not dwelling on mortality. He feels like he did when he was a teenager.

“When I was a kid and I got up in front of a high-school dance with my band and I sang a song, I was taking people on a trip. And I don’t think I’ve changed. I’m still the same. I still like that feeling.”

Blues With Friends is out now on KTBA Records.

Monday, 15 June 2020

Bob Dylan Speaks

Bob Dylan Scores First-Ever No. 1 Song on a Billboard Chart With ...
Bob Dylan Has a Lot on His Mind
In a rare interview, the Nobel Prize winner discusses mortality, drawing inspiration from the past, and his new album, “Rough and Rowdy Ways.”

By Douglas Brinkley
The New York Times
12 June 2020

A few years ago, sitting beneath shade trees in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., I had a two-hour discussion with Bob Dylan that touched on Malcolm X, the French Revolution, Franklin Roosevelt and World War II. At one juncture, he asked me what I knew about the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. When I answered, “Not enough,” he got up from his folding chair, climbed into his tour bus, and came back five minutes later with photocopies describing how U.S. troops had butchered hundreds of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho in southeastern Colorado.

Given the nature of our relationship, I felt comfortable reaching out to him in April after, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, he unexpectedly released his epic, 17-minute song “Murder Most Foul,” about the Kennedy assassination. Even though he hadn’t done a major interview outside of his own website since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, he agreed to a phone chat from his Malibu home, which turned out to be his only interview before next Friday’s release of “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” his first album of original songs since “Tempest” in 2012.

Like most conversations with Dylan, “Rough and Rowdy Ways” covers complex territory: trances and hymns, defiant blues, love longings, comic juxtapositions, prankster wordplay, patriotic ardor, maverick steadfastness, lyrical Cubism, twilight-age reflections and spiritual contentment.

In the high-octane showstopper “Goodbye Jimmy Reed,” Dylan honors the Mississippi bluesman with dragon-fierce harmonica riffs and bawdy lyrics. In the slow blues “Crossing the Rubicon,” he feels “the bones beneath my skin” and considers his options before death: “Three miles north of purgatory — one step from the great beyond/I prayed to the cross and I kissed the girls and I crossed the Rubicon.”

“Mother of Muses” is a hymn to the natural world, gospel choirs and military men like William Tecumseh Sherman and George Patton, “who cleared the path for Presley to sing/who cleared the path for Martin Luther King.” And “Key West (Philosopher’s Pirate),” is an ethereal meditation on immortality set on a drive down Route 1 to the Florida Keys, with Donnie Herron’s accordion channeling the Band’s Garth Hudson. In it he pays homage to, “Ginsberg, Corso and Kerouac.”

Perhaps someday he’ll write a song or paint a picture to honor George Floyd. In the 1960s and 1970s, following the work of black leaders of the civil rights movement, Dylan also worked to expose the arrogance of white privilege and the viciousness of racial hatred in America through songs like “George Jackson,” “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” One of his most fierce lines about policing and race came in his 1976 ballad “Hurricane”: “In Paterson that’s just the way things go/If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street/Unless you want to draw the heat.”

I had a brief follow-up with Dylan, 79, one day after Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Clearly shaken by the horror that had occurred in his home state, he sounded depressed. “It sickened me no end to see George tortured to death like that,” he said. “It was beyond ugly. Let’s hope that justice comes swift for the Floyd family and for the nation.”

These are edited excerpts from the two conversations.

Was “Murder Most Foul” written as a nostalgic eulogy for a long-lost time?

To me it’s not nostalgic. I don’t think of “Murder Most Foul” as a glorification of the past or some kind of send-off to a lost age. It speaks to me in the moment. It always did, especially when I was writing the lyrics out.

Somebody auctioned off a sheaf of unpublished transcripts in the 1990s that you wrote about J.F.K.’s murder. Were those prose notes for an essay or were you hoping to write a song like “Murder Most Foul” for a long time?

I’m not aware of ever wanting to write a song about J.F.K. A lot of those auctioned-off documents have been forged. The forgeries are easy to spot because somebody always signs my name on the bottom.

Were you surprised that this 17-minute-long song was your first No. 1 Billboard hit?

I was, yeah.

“I Contain Multitudes” has a powerful line: “I sleep with life and death in the same bed.” I suppose we all feel that way when we hit a certain age. Do you think about mortality often?

I think about the death of the human race. The long strange trip of the naked ape. Not to be light on it, but everybody’s life is so transient. Every human being, no matter how strong or mighty, is frail when it comes to death. I think about it in general terms, not in a personal way.

There is a lot of apocalyptic sentiment in “Murder Most Foul.” Are you worried that in 2020 we’re past the point of no return? That technology and hyper-industrialization are going to work against human life on Earth?

Sure, there’s a lot of reasons to be apprehensive about that. There’s definitely a lot more anxiety and nervousness around now than there used to be. But that only applies to people of a certain age like me and you, Doug. We have a tendency to live in the past, but that’s only us. Youngsters don’t have that tendency. They have no past, so all they know is what they see and hear, and they’ll believe anything. In 20 or 30 years from now, they’ll be at the forefront. When you see somebody that is 10 years old, he’s going to be in control in 20 or 30 years, and he won’t have a clue about the world we knew. Young people who are in their teens now have no memory lane to remember. So it’s probably best to get into that mind-set as soon as we can, because that’s going to be the reality.

As far as technology goes, it makes everybody vulnerable. But young people don’t think like that. They could care less. Telecommunications and advanced technology is the world they were born into. Our world is already obsolete.

A line in “False Prophet” — “I’m the last of the best — you can bury the rest” — reminded me of the recent deaths of John Prine and Little Richard. Did you listen to their music after they passed as a kind of tribute?

Both of those guys were triumphant in their work. They don’t need anybody doing tributes. Everybody knows what they did and who they were. And they deserve all the respect and acclaim that they received. No doubt about it. But Little Richard I grew up with. And he was there before me. Lit a match under me. Tuned me into things I never would have known on my own. So I think of him differently. John came after me. So it’s not the same thing. I acknowledge them differently.

Why didn’t more people pay attention to Little Richard’s gospel music?

Probably because gospel music is the music of good news and in these days there just isn’t any. Good news in today’s world is like a fugitive, treated like a hoodlum and put on the run. Castigated. All we see is good-for-nothing news. And we have to thank the media industry for that. It stirs people up. Gossip and dirty laundry. Dark news that depresses and horrifies you.

On the other hand, gospel news is exemplary. It can give you courage. You can pace your life accordingly, or try to, anyway. And you can do it with honor and principles. There are theories of truth in gospel but to most people it’s unimportant. Their lives are lived out too fast. Too many bad influences. Sex and politics and murder is the way to go if you want to get people’s attention. It excites us, that’s our problem.

Little Richard was a great gospel singer. But I think he was looked at as an outsider or an interloper in the gospel world. They didn’t accept him there. And of course the rock ’n’ roll world wanted to keep him singing “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” So his gospel music wasn’t accepted in either world. I think the same thing happened to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I can’t imagine either of them being bothered too much about it. Both are what we used to call people of high character. Genuine, plenty talented and who knew themselves, weren’t swayed by anything from the outside. Little Richard, I know was like that.

But so was Robert Johnson, even more so. Robert was one of the most inventive geniuses of all time. But he probably had no audience to speak of. He was so far ahead of his time that we still haven’t caught up with him. His status today couldn’t be any higher. Yet in his day, his songs must have confused people. It just goes to show you that great people follow their own path.

On the album “Tempest” you perform “Roll on John” as a tribute to John Lennon. Is there another person you’d like to write a ballad for?

Those kinds of songs for me just come out of the blue, out of thin air. I never plan to write any of them. But in saying that, there are certain public figures that are just in your subconscious for one reason or another. None of those songs with designated names are intentionally written. They just fall down from space. I’m just as bewildered as anybody else as to why I write them. The folk tradition has a long history of songs about people, though. John Henry, Mr. Garfield, Roosevelt. I guess I’m just locked into that tradition.
You honor many great recording artists in your songs. Your mention of Don Henley and Glenn Frey on “Murder Most Foul” came off as a bit of a surprise to me. What Eagles songs do you enjoy the most?

“New Kid in Town,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” That could be one of the best songs ever.

You also refer to Art Pepper, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson and Stan Getz in “Murder Most Foul.” How has jazz inspired you as a songwriter and poet over your long career? Are there jazz artists you’ve been listening to lately?

Maybe Miles’s early stuff on Capitol Records. But what’s jazz? Dixieland, bebop, high-speed fusion? What do you call jazz? Is it Sonny Rollins? I like Sonny’s calypso stuff but is that jazz? Jo Stafford, Joni James, Kay Starr — I think they were all jazz singers. King Pleasure, that’s my idea of a jazz singer. I don’t know, you can put anything into that category. Jazz goes back to the Roaring Twenties. Paul Whiteman was called the king of jazz. I’m sure if you asked Lester Young he wouldn’t know what you’re talking about.

Has any of it ever inspired me? Well yeah. Probably a lot. Ella Fitzgerald as a singer inspires me. Oscar Peterson as a piano player, absolutely. Has any of it inspired me as a songwriter? Yeah, “Ruby, My Dear” by Monk. That song set me off in some direction to do something along those lines. I remember listening to that over and over.

What role does improvisation play in your music?
None at all. There’s no way you can change the nature of a song once you’ve invented it. You can set different guitar or piano patterns upon the structural lines and go from there, but that’s not improvisation. Improvisation leaves you open to good or bad performances and the idea is to stay consistent. You basically play the same thing time after time in the most perfect way you can.

“I Contain Multitudes” is surprisingly autobiographical in parts. The last two verses exude a take-no-prisoners stoicism while the rest of the song is a humorous confessional. Did you have fun grappling with contradictory impulses of yourself and human nature in general?

I didn’t really have to grapple much. It’s the kind of thing where you pile up stream-of-consciousness verses and then leave it alone and come pull things out. In that particular song, the last few verses came first. So that’s where the song was going all along. Obviously, the catalyst for the song is the title line. It’s one of those where you write it on instinct. Kind of in a trance state. Most of my recent songs are like that. The lyrics are the real thing, tangible, they’re not metaphors. The songs seem to know themselves and they know that I can sing them, vocally and rhythmically. They kind of write themselves and count on me to sing them.

Once again in this song you name a lot of people. What made you decide to mention Anne Frank next to Indiana Jones?

Her story means a lot. It’s profound. And hard to articulate or paraphrase, especially in modern culture. Everybody’s got such a short attention span. But you’re taking Anne’s name out of context, she’s part of a trilogy. You could just as well ask, “What made you decide to include Indiana Jones or the Rolling Stones?” The names themselves are not solitary. It’s the combination of them that adds up to something more than their singular parts. To go too much into detail is irrelevant. The song is like a painting, you can’t see it all at once if you’re standing too close. The individual pieces are just part of a whole.

“I Contain Multitudes” is more like trance writing. Well, it’s not more like trance writing, it is trance writing. It’s the way I actually feel about things. It is my identity and I’m not going to question it, I am in no position to. Every line has a particular purpose. Somewhere in the universe those three names must have paid a price for what they represent and they’re locked together. And I can hardly explain that. Why or where or how, but those are the facts.

But Indiana Jones was a fictional character?

Yeah, but the John Williams score brought him to life. Without that music it wouldn’t have been much of a movie. It’s the music which makes Indy come alive. So that maybe is one of the reasons he is in the song. I don’t know, all three names came at once.

A reference to the Rolling Stones makes it into “I Contain Multitudes.” Just as a lark, which Stones songs do you wish you could’ve written?

Oh, I don’t know, maybe “Angie,” “Ventilator Blues” and what else, let me see. Oh yeah, “Wild Horses.”

Charlie Sexton began playing with you for a few years in 1999, and returned to the fold in 2009. What makes him such a special player? It’s as if you can read each other’s minds.

As far as Charlie goes, he can read anybody’s mind. Charlie, though, creates songs and sings them as well, and he can play guitar to beat the band. There aren’t any of my songs that Charlie doesn’t feel part of and he’s always played great with me. “False Prophet” is only one of three 12-bar structural things on this record. Charlie is good on all the songs. He’s not a show-off guitar player, although he can do that if he wants. He’s very restrained in his playing but can be explosive when he wants to be. It’s a classic style of playing. Very old school. He inhabits a song rather than attacking it. He’s always done that with me.

How have you spent the last couple of months home-sheltered in Malibu? Have you been able to weld or paint?

Yeah, a little bit.

Are you able to be musically creative while at home? Do you play piano and tool around in your private studio?

I do that mostly in hotel rooms. A hotel room is the closest I get to a private studio.

Does having the Pacific Ocean in your backyard help you process the Covid-19 pandemic in a spiritual way? There is a theory called “blue mind” which believes that living near water is a health curative.

Yeah, I can believe that. “Cool Water,” “Many Rivers to Cross,” “How Deep Is the Ocean.” I hear any of those songs and it’s like some kind of cure. I don’t know what for, but a cure for something that I don’t even know I have. A fix of some kind. It’s like a spiritual thing. Water is a spiritual thing. I never heard of “blue mind” before. Sounds like it could be some kind of slow blues song. Something Van Morrison would write. Maybe he has, I don’t know.

It’s too bad that just when the play “Girl From the North Country,” which features your music, was getting rave reviews, production had to shutter because of Covid-19. Have you seen the play or watched the video of it?

Sure, I’ve seen it and it affected me. I saw it as an anonymous spectator, not as someone who had anything to do with it. I just let it happen. The play had me crying at the end. I can’t even say why. When the curtain came down, I was stunned. I really was. Too bad Broadway shut down because I wanted to see it again.

Do you think of this pandemic in almost biblical terms? A plague that has swept the land?

I think it’s a forerunner of something else to come. It’s an invasion for sure, and it’s widespread, but biblical? You mean like some kind of warning sign for people to repent of their wrongdoings? That would imply that the world is in line for some sort of divine punishment. Extreme arrogance can have some disastrous penalties. Maybe we are on the eve of destruction. There are numerous ways you can think about this virus. I think you just have to let it run its course.

Out of all your compositions, “When I Paint My Masterpiece” has grown on me over the years. What made you bring it back to the forefront of recent concerts?

It’s grown on me as well. I think this song has something to do with the classical world, something that’s out of reach. Someplace you’d like to be beyond your experience. Something that is so supreme and first rate that you could never come back down from the mountain. That you’ve achieved the unthinkable. That’s what the song tries to say, and you’d have to put it in that context. In saying that though, even if you do paint your masterpiece, what will you do then? Well, obviously you have to paint another masterpiece. So it could become some kind of never ending cycle, a trap of some kind. The song doesn’t say that though.

A few years ago I saw you play a bluegrass-sounding version of “Summer Days.” Have you ever thought about recording a bluegrass album?

I’ve never thought about that. Bluegrass music is mysterious and deep rooted and you almost have to be born playing it. Just because you are a great singer, or a great this or that doesn’t mean you can be in a bluegrass band. It’s almost like classical music. It’s harmonic and meditative, but it’s out for blood. If you ever heard the Osborne Brothers, then you know what I mean. It’s an unforgiving music and you can only it stretch so far. Beatles songs played in a bluegrass style don’t make any sense. It’s the wrong repertoire, and that’s been done. There are elements of bluegrass music for sure in what I play, especially the intensity and similar themes. But I don’t have the high tenor voice and we don’t have three-part harmony or consistent banjo. I listen to Bill Monroe a lot, but I more or less stick to what I can do best.

How is your health holding up? You seem to be fit as a fiddle. How do you keep mind and body working together in unison?

Oh, that’s the big question, isn’t it? How does anybody do it? Your mind and body go hand in hand. There has to be some kind of agreement. I like to think of the mind as spirit and the body as substance. How you integrate those two things, I have no idea. I just try to go on a straight line and stay on it, stay on the level.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Monday, 25 May 2020

Happy birthday, Bob!

A day late, but we hear he won't hold it against us.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Nebula 75 is Go!

Here’s how a Gerry and Sylvia Anderson-inspired puppet show was created and filmed in lockdown
Filmmakers decided they wouldn't be thwarted by self-isolation and made a mini episode of a Thunderbirds-style sci-fi show. And it's proved so popular on social media that they are making more!

By Mark Braxton
Radio Times
27 April 2020

The UK lockdown has stymied the producers of many new and existing TV shows. But even in adverse conditions, it seems creativity will find a way. Calling Century 21 Films..!

While more conventional dramas with human casts and huge crews have become a logistical impossibility for all involved, the puppet heroes of Supermarionation hold no risk of catching the coronavirus from each other.

The result is what they cleverly term a “Superisolation” production, called Nebula-75, a short-form puppet drama that follows in the miniature footsteps of 1960s favourites including Fireball XL5, Stingray and Thunderbirds, while at the same time fashioning something entirely new.

Although members of Century 21 Films live around the world, and were able to contribute remotely to pre- and post-production, all the filming for Nebula-75 was done by three people who already live together in a small London flat: director Stephen La Rivière, puppeteer and post-production supervisor Elliot Pavelin and art department head Géraldine Donaldson.

In the best British tradition of make-do-and-mend ingenuity, their living room was turned into a movie studio, with bookshelves, cardboard boxes and other household objects becoming the inside of the show’s eponymous spacecraft!

The flat was already home to many of the puppets, props and costumes that they had accumulated from previous projects, and, as a short behind-the-scenes film after the episode reveals, the model for the spaceship was built in Preston, then sent to London.

Director Stephen La Rivière explains, “We’ve been making Supermarionation productions of different kinds for several years now – including three brand-new episodes of Thunderbirds in 2015 and a guest spot on Endeavour last year. We’ve wanted to make a new, original Supermarionation series for some time and there’s been much work behind the scenes towards that goal – which the current lockdown situation has partly derailed.”

But, he adds, “Rather than sit around moping, we decided we’d have a go at making something brand-new – but from our tiny living room. We decided to see if we could construct a series based around the limited space, settings and money available to us. The result is Nebula-75.”

The theme of Nebula-75 taps into the current Government restrictions. The hero, Commander Neptune, finds himself in his own “lockdown” – inside a spaceship travelling the distant reaches of the cosmos…

Puppeteer and post-production supervisor Elliot Pavelin with the puppet of Commander Neptune

On previous productions they’ve had a full studio to work in, where they operate the puppets from a bridge six feet above the set. Elliot Pavelin says, “The ceiling in our flat doesn’t quite allow for this! Instead, we operated from the ground by leaning over the set walls. Getting the puppets into the right part of the set, performing with them and avoiding tripping over furniture and equipment when crammed into the living room was quite difficult!”

The episode (which you can watch below) made its debut on Facebook and YouTube on Saturday, with instant feedback indicating the company had a lockdown hit on their hands. “Bravo!” said one fan; “A glorious continuation of #Supermarionation,” said another. One enthusiast even mocked up a page from a Nebula-75 annual, done in the style of a 1960s children’s book.

It’s fair to say that the outpouring of praise was a shock to Stephen. “We’re very aware of the limitations we’re faced with and I very seriously considered not releasing it at all. But as each bit fell into place I thought, ‘Oh. This isn’t so bad – we’ll put it out anyway.’ So the reaction has caught me completely by surprise! Not that there’s not an audience that wants to see more Supermarionation. I’ve always known that!”

The plaudits gave them heart to continue with the series. In fact, they’re hoping to start shooting episode two this week. “It took us four days to film episode one… episode two is a bit more complicated. But we’d like to try and get something together within a couple of weeks. We’ll shoot episode three at the same time.”

Adds Géraldine Donaldson, “We’ve got lots of ideas for future episodes. Our imaginations are unlimited, even if the same can’t be said for the space in the living room!”

Stephen La Rivière demonstrates the flat-based puppetry that was necessary for Nebula-75. He wrote the episode with producer Andrew T Smith

While made on the tightest of budgets, Nebula-75 fits neatly into the style and themes of puppet shows popularised in the 1960s by husband-and-wife team Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, in a universe of old-fashioned heroism against a backdrop of race-against-time action and humour.

With the announcement that from 7th May, BritBox will be adding episodes of some of those series including Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Stingray, and Century 21 Films rolling out new product for both the older and next generation of puppet fans, an exciting new era is dawning.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story

Review: ‘Sound of Redemption’ Traces Frank Morgan’s Route From Jazz Musician to Prisoner and Back
Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan StoryDirected by N.C. HeikinDocumentary, Biography, Drama, Music1h 24m

By Ken Jaworowski
The New York Times
1 December 2015

In the 1950s, some jazz musicians believed they couldn’t get that Charlie Parker “happy-sad feeling without using drugs.” So says a friend of the saxophonist Frank Morgan in “Sound of Redemption,” a documentary that revels in the happy despite some seriously sad events.

Mr. Morgan was born into music. His father was a professional musician who used to play his guitar while pressing it against the belly of his pregnant wife, and later played by his son’s crib. Mr. Morgan was an accomplished saxophonist by the time he was a teenager; it’s said that when he performed with Billie Holiday, his music made her cry.

His renown grew, as did an addiction to heroin. His drug habit was soon financed by crime, and for some 30 years he was in and out of prison. After his last stint, he was released and went on to record some of his finest work.

The film, directed by N.C. Heikin, traces Mr. Morgan’s career with beautiful black-and-white photographs and newsreels. Those scenes are intertwined with segments from a 2012 tribute concert at San Quentin prison in California, five years after his death.

“Sound of Redemption,” subtitled “The Frank Morgan Story,” isn’t a hard-hitting exploration. Though Mr. Morgan’s grittier side is outlined, it’s not deeply investigated. (When a former wife says that the only way to love Frank Morgan was to “live in a state of exasperation,” you long to hear more about their marriage, and his demons.) Instead, it’s a fond and forgiving tribute to the man, filled with music that moves beyond happy and sad, and toward something like brilliance.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Little Richard RIP

Little Richard, Flamboyant Wild Man of Rock ’n’ Roll, Dies at 87
Delving deeply into the wellsprings of gospel music and the blues, and screaming as if for his very life, he created something new, thrilling and dangerous.

Tim Weiner
The New York Times
9 May 2020

Richard Penniman, better known as Little Richard, who combined the sacred shouts of the black church and the profane sounds of the blues to create some of the world’s first and most influential rock ’n’ roll records, died on Saturday in Tullahoma, Tenn. He was 87.

His lawyer, Bill Sobel, said the cause was bone cancer.

Little Richard did not invent rock ’n’ roll. Other musicians had already been mining a similar vein by the time he recorded his first hit, “Tutti Frutti” — a raucous song about sex, its lyrics cleaned up but its meaning hard to miss — in a New Orleans recording studio in September 1955. Chuck Berry and Fats Domino had reached the pop Top 10, Bo Diddley had topped the rhythm-and-blues charts, and Elvis Presley had been making records for a year.

But Little Richard, delving deeply into the wellsprings of gospel music and the blues, pounding the piano furiously and screaming as if for his very life, raised the energy level several notches and created something not quite like any music that had been heard before — something new, thrilling and more than a little dangerous. As the rock historian Richie Unterberger put it, “He was crucial in upping the voltage from high-powered R&B into the similar, yet different, guise of rock ’n’ roll.”

Art Rupe of Specialty Records, the label for which he recorded his biggest hits, called Little Richard “dynamic, completely uninhibited, unpredictable, wild.”

“Tutti Frutti” rocketed up the charts and was quickly followed by “Long Tall Sally” and other records now acknowledged as classics. His live performances were electrifying.

“He’d just burst onto the stage from anywhere, and you wouldn’t be able to hear anything but the roar of the audience,” the record producer and arranger H.B. Barnum, who played saxophone with Little Richard early in his career, recalled in “The Life and Times of Little Richard” (1984), an authorized biography by Charles White. “He’d be on the stage, he’d be off the stage, he’d be jumping and yelling, screaming, whipping the audience on.”

Rock ’n’ roll was an unabashedly macho music in its early days, but Little Richard, who had performed in drag as a teenager, presented a very different picture onstage: gaudily dressed, his hair piled six inches high, his face aglow with cinematic makeup. He was fond of saying in later years that if Elvis was the king of rock ’n’ roll, he was the queen. Offstage, he characterized himself variously as gay, bisexual and “omnisexual.”

A Showman With Influence

His influence as a performer was immeasurable. It could be seen and heard in the flamboyant showmanship of James Brown, who idolized him (and used some of his musicians when Little Richard began a long hiatus from performing in 1957), and of Prince, whose ambisexual image owed a major debt to his.

Presley recorded his songs. The Beatles adopted his trademark sound, an octave-leaping exultation: “Woooo!” (Paul McCartney said that the first song he ever sang in public was “Long Tall Sally,” which he later recorded with the Beatles.) Bob Dylan wrote in his high school yearbook that his ambition was “to join Little Richard.”

Little Richard’s impact was social as well.

“I’ve always thought that rock ’n’ roll brought the races together,” Mr. White quoted him as saying. “Especially being from the South, where you see the barriers, having all these people who we thought hated us showing all this love.”

Mr. Barnum told Mr. White that “they still had the audiences segregated” at concerts in the South in those days, but that when Little Richard performed, “most times, before the end of the night, they would all be mixed together.”

Look at those white kids getting it on...

If uniting black and white audiences was a point of pride for Little Richard, it was a cause of concern for others, especially in the South. The White Citizens Council of North Alabama issued a denunciation of rock ’n’ roll largely because it brought “people of both races together.” And with many radio stations under pressure to keep black music off the air, Pat Boone’s cleaned-up, toned-down version of “Tutti Frutti” was a bigger hit than Little Richard’s original. (He also had a hit with “Long Tall Sally.”)

Still, it seemed that nothing could stop Little Richard’s drive to the top — until he stopped it himself.

He was at the height of his fame when he left the United States in late September 1957 to begin a tour in Australia. As he told the story, he was exhausted, under intense pressure from the Internal Revenue Service and furious at the low royalty rate he was receiving from Specialty. Without anyone to advise him, he had signed a contract that gave him half a cent for every record he sold. “Tutti Frutti” had sold half a million copies but had netted him only $25,000.

One night in early October, before 40,000 fans at an outdoor arena in Sydney, he had an epiphany.

“That night Russia sent off that very first Sputnik,” he told Mr. White, referring to the first satellite sent into space. “It looked as though the big ball of fire came directly over the stadium about two or three hundred feet above our heads. It shook my mind. It really shook my mind. I got up from the piano and said, ‘This is it. I am through. I am leaving show business to go back to God.’”

He had one last Top 10 hit: “Good Golly Miss Molly,” recorded in 1956 but not released until early 1958. By then, he had left rock ’n’ roll behind.

He became a traveling evangelist. He entered Oakwood College (now Oakwood University) in Huntsville, Ala., a Seventh-day Adventist school, to study for the ministry. He cut his hair, got married and began recording gospel music.

For the rest of his life, he would be torn between the gravity of the pulpit and the pull of the stage.

“Although I sing rock ’n’ roll, God still loves me,” he said in 2009. “I’m a rock ’n’ roll singer, but I’m still a Christian.”

He was lured back to the stage in 1962, and over the next two years he played to wild acclaim in England, Germany and France. Among his opening acts were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, then at the start of their careers.

He went on to tour relentlessly in the United States, with a band that at one time included Jimi Hendrix on guitar. By the end of the 1960s, sold-out performances in Las Vegas and triumphant appearances at rock festivals in Atlantic City and Toronto were sending a clear message: Little Richard was back to stay.

But he wasn’t.

‘I Lost My Reasoning’

By his own account, alcohol and cocaine began to sap his soul (“I lost my reasoning,” he would later say), and in 1977, he once again turned from rock ’n’ roll to God. He became a Bible salesman, began recording religious songs again and, for the second time, disappeared from the spotlight.

He did not stay away forever. The publication of his biography in 1984 signaled his return to the public eye, and he began performing again.

By now, he was as much a personality as a musician. In 1986 he played a prominent role as a record producer in Paul Mazursky’s hit movie “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.” On television, he appeared on talk, variety, comedy and awards shows. He officiated at celebrity weddings and preached at celebrity funerals.

He could still raise the roof in concert. In December 1992, he stole the show at a rock ’n’ roll revival concert at Wembley Arena in London. “I’m 60 years old today,” he told the audience, “and I still look remarkable.”

He continued to look remarkable — with the help of wigs and thick pancake makeup — as he toured intermittently into the 21st century. But age eventually took its toll.

By 2007, he was walking onstage with the aid of two canes. In 2012, he abruptly ended a performance at the Howard Theater in Washington, telling the crowd, “I can’t hardly breathe.” A year later, he told Rolling Stone magazine that he was retiring.

“I am done, in a sense,” he said. “I don’t feel like doing anything right now.”

Survivors include a son, Danny Jones Penniman. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

Richard Wayne Penniman was born in Macon, Ga., on Dec. 5, 1932, the third of 12 children of Charles and Leva Mae (Stewart) Penniman. His father was a brick mason who sold moonshine on the side. An uncle, a cousin and a grandfather were preachers, and as a boy Richard attended Seventh-day Adventist, Baptist and Holiness churches and aspired to be a singing evangelist. An early influence was the gospel singer and guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe, one of the first performers to combine a religious message with the urgency of R&B.

By the time he was in his teens, Richard’s ambition had taken a detour. He left home and began performing with traveling medicine and minstrel shows, part of a fading 19th-century tradition. By 1948, billed as Little Richard — the name was a reference to his youth and not his physical stature — he was a cross-dressing performer with a minstrel troupe called Sugarfoot Sam From Alabam, which had been touring for decades.

In 1951, while singing alongside strippers, comics and drag queens on the Decatur Street strip in Atlanta, he recorded his first songs. The records were generic R&B, with no distinct style, and attracted almost no attention.

Little Richard in the mid-1950s, around the time his first hit record, “Tutti Frutti,” was released.

Around this time, he met two performers whose look and sound would have a profound impact on his own: S.Q. Reeder, who performed and recorded as Esquerita, and Billy Wright. They were both accomplished pianists, flashy dressers, flamboyant entertainers and as openly gay as it was possible to be in the South in the 1950s.

Little Richard acknowledged his debt to Esquerita, who he said gave him some piano-playing tips, and Mr. Wright, whom he once called “the most fantastic entertainer I had ever seen.” But however much he borrowed from either man, the music and persona that emerged were his own.

His break came in 1955, when Mr. Rupe signed him to Specialty and arranged for him to record with local musicians in New Orleans. During a break at that session, he began singing a raucous but obscene song that Mr. Rupe thought had the potential to capture the nascent teenage record-buying audience. Mr. Rupe enlisted a New Orleans songwriter, Dorothy LaBostrie, to clean up the lyrics; the song became “Tutti Frutti”; and a rock ’n’ roll star was born.

By the time he stopped performing, Little Richard was in both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (he was inducted in the Hall’s first year) and the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the recipient of lifetime achievement awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. “Tutti Frutti” was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2010.

If Little Richard ever doubted that he deserved all the honors he received, he never admitted it. “A lot of people call me the architect of rock ’n’ roll,” he once said. “I don’t call myself that, but I believe it’s true.”

Little Richard onstage at Wembley Stadium in London in 1972, on a bill that also included his fellow rock ’n’ roll pioneers Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry.
Bob Dylan Remembers Little Richard: ‘My Shining Star and Guiding Light’“Of course he’ll live forever. But it’s like a part of your life is gone,” Dylan says of rock pioneer

Daniel Kreps
Rolling Stone
9 May 2020 

Bob Dylan, who dreamed of joining Little Richard’s band as a young musician in Minnesota, penned a short tribute to the rock pioneer following his death Saturday at the age of 87.

“I just heard the news about Little Richard and I’m so grieved,” Dylan wrote. “He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was only a little boy. His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I would do.”

Dylan continued, “I played some shows with him in Europe in the early nineties and got to hang out in his dressing room a lot. He was always generous, kind and humble. And still dynamite as a performer and a musician and you could still learn plenty from him. In his presence he was always the same Little Richard that I first heard and was awed by growing up and I always was the same little boy. Of course he’ll live forever. But it’s like a part of your life is gone.”

In Dylan’s high school yearbook in 1959, then-senior Robert Zimmerman famously wrote that his life ambition was “to join Little Richard.” As the Star Tribune reported, Dylan even attempted to emulate Little Richard’s imitable performing style during his first-ever public performance at a Hibbing High School talent show in 1957.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Peter Sellers: A State of Comic Ecstasy

The Undiscovered Peter Sellers |
Peter Sellers: A State of Comic Ecstasy

Frank Black
10 May 2020

This new BBC life of Peter Sellers, directed by John O' Rourke, is, to be honest, fairly similar to others you may have seen, though lacking the depth of the three-part Arena documentary and with some different talking heads, including an either misplaced or badly used Steve Coogan. There isn't enough on the early years with Milligan and Secombe and, because it spends a lot of time on his romantic relationships, it's pretty selective when talking about his films, which is a shame because he was a tremendously funny, inventive guy and these days seems a largely underrated actor, who squandered his talent in too many poor films, culminating in the Prisoner of Zenda and The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu.

O'Rourke hints at mother issues; explores his often appalling treatment of his wives - and his family; portrays him as one given to bouts of egomania; a romantic desperate to fall in love, yet whose marriages had disastrous consequences for the women involved, except in the case of Lynne Frederick, in whom he had, the documentary alleges, a wife who was controlling and cruel to Sellers' children.

The most interesting parts are lengthy and revealing interviews with ex-wife Britt Ekland and Sellers' secretaries and chauffeur and the way O'Rourke attempts - in places - to show things from the perspective of a grandson who never met him, though the views of his son, Michael, loom large, as do those of Seller's biographer, Richard Lewis, whose magnificent and magnificently depressing book, I read years ago and is not to be confused with the fairly shallow film that it inspired. 

The whole thing is terribly sad. I recall a time as a kid when it was not uncommon to catch Sellers bursting into genius on television talk shows (some of which the documentary uses). Hard to believe he was only 54 when he died.

You can watch the documentary here, for the next 29 days:

Many - though not all - Sellers' better performances were often in the smaller, less-well-known British movies, so, in no particular order, here's my favourite 15:

1. Two Way Stretch
2. The Lady-Killers
3. The Pink Panther (I can't be bothered with the sequels where the schtick is the same but turned up to 11)
4. The Mouse That Roared
5. I'm All Right, Jack
6. The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film
7. Being There
8. Heavens Above
9. Dr Strangelove
10. What's New Pussycat (though I wish I could forget about the last third)
11. The Millionairess
12. The Party
13. The World of Henry Orient
14. The Dock Brief
15. Lolita

How baby Richard became Peter Sellers the world famous actor ...

From the BBC:

Peter Sellers was one of the twentieth century's most astonishing actors. His meteoric rise to fame - from his beginnings with Spike Milligan on BBC Radio's The Goon Show in the 1950s to his multiple Oscar nominations and status as Stanley Kubrick's favourite actor - is equalled only by the endless complexities of his personal life - the multiple marriages, the chronic health problems, the petulant fits of rage, the deep insecurity, the unwise career choices and the long decline in his later years.

This film explores the life of this peerless actor and comedian, featuring interviews with family, friends, colleagues and critics, many of whom have never spoken out before. The film charts Sellers's formative years backstage as part of his parents' itinerant music hall revue group, his wartime service in India and Burma and his journey to global superstardom, where tales of his life backstage with the likes of Sophia Loren, Orson Welles and Alec Guinness were often more unbelievable than the roles they were playing out before the cameras. This is the story of the man who could play any role, apart from one - himself.

With contributions from family members, including second wife Britt Ekland and his daughters Sarah and Victoria, as well as former friends and girlfriends such as Sinead Cusack, Nanette Newman and Janette Scott, the film explores the life of Sellers with candour and affection. Colleagues like director Joe McGrath and actor Simon Williams recall tales of Sellers's extravagant behaviour onset, and famous fans like Michael Palin, Steve Coogan and Hanif Kureishi reveal why they hold Sellers in such high esteem.

This is a film about family and how Sellers's mercurial temperament has affected the generation that followed. His two surviving children Sarah and Victoria recall the challenges of growing up alongside his tempestuous mood swings, while his grandson Will explores the troubled legacy his grandfather left behind.

It'll go down a whole lot better if you also watch this: