Monday 29 October 2018

Bob Dylan: More Blood, More Tracks - review

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The raw, painful birth of Blood on the Tracks
Recorded, scrapped, then hastily revised, the mercurial creativity of Bob Dylan’s most personal and honest album is laid bare in a six-CD set, More Blood, More Tracks

Sean O'Hagan
The Observer
Sunday 28 Oct 2018

On 16 September, 1974, Bob Dylan entered A&R recording studios in New York to begin work on his 15th studio album. He was 33 years old, his marriage was on the rocks and, despite a successful comeback tour that same year, his reputation rested solely on the epochal songs he had produced a decade previously. Having so defined the 1960s, Dylan had become an increasingly marginalised figure following his retreat to rural Woodstock at the close of the decade. The domestic normality he found there had precipitated a run of low-key, creatively unfocused albums that stretched from 1969’s Nashville Skyline to 1974’s Planet Waves. All that was about to change.

The making of the masterpiece that is Blood on the Tracks is as tangled a tale as any in Dylan’s long recording career. A version of the album was completed over four days in the studio in New York, the pace of Dylan’s impatient creativity confounding the hastily assembled band that had been recruited to flesh out his darkly reflective songs. Guitarist Eric Weissberg later recalled: “I got the distinct feeling Bob wasn’t concentrating, that he wasn’t interested in perfect takes. He’d been drinking a lot of wine, he was a little sloppy, but he insisted on moving forward, getting on to the next song without correcting obvious mistakes.” For the second day’s session, only one of the six musicians was retained, while two others were drafted in.

The finished album was scheduled for late December release. A record cover was printed, an advertising campaign finalised and test pressings dispatched to selected radio stations. A dissatisfied Dylan spent Christmas with his brother, David Zimmerman, his closest confidant. On hearing the finished record, David told him that it would fail commercially because the songs were too stark and stripped back to appeal to a mass audience. Rattled, Dylan derailed his triumphant return by insisting at the last minute that the album be withdrawn from the schedules.

Five of the 10 songs were then re-recorded in Sound 80 studio in Minneapolis over two days in the week after Christmas with a hastily assembled group of local musicians. The reworked album was rush-released on 20 January, 1975. Out of these messy and fraught circumstances, a masterpiece somehow emerged. Its gestation is mapped out in often revelatory detail on the imminent More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol 14, a 6-CD deluxe box set released this week, in which the 10 original songs are augmented by every single outtake in chronological order from the 1974 recording sessions. A facsimile of one of the famous red notebooks adds to the allure of the expensive deluxe edition, while the less obsessive Dylan fan can make do with a pared-down version on single CD version and double vinyl formats.

The elaborately packaged album arrives on the back of the recent announcement by film director Luca Guadagnino that he is to follow up the mainstream success of Call Me By Your Name with an adaptation of Blood on the Tracks, which, he says, will be a “a multiyear story, set in the 70s, drawing on the album’s central themes”. Four decades after its release, Dylan’s most personal record continues to cast a spell.

As is the case for many Dylan devotees, Blood on the Tracks has been part of the soundtrack of my life since its release, as constant a presence as classic albums such as Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On?and Dylan’s previous masterpiece, 1966’s Blonde on Blonde. In the mid-90s, I came by a CD called Blood on the Tracks: The New York Sessions, an unofficial bootleg which had surfaced soon after the release of the original. It includes early, spartan recordings of songs including If You See Her, Say Hello and Idiot Wind. Over time, I have come to love them even more than the official versions, not least because, in their raw and still unfinished state, they sound even more intimate and revealing.

A case in point is his stark, acoustic reading of Idiot Wind, his most splenetic song since Positively 4th Street, which sounds even more intense than the more elaborate version on the 1975 original release. The contrast between the two reveals Dylan’s mercurial creativity at that time. Now comes news that the deluxe More Blood, More Tracks contains no fewer than nine versions of the song. (You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go unfolds over 12 separate takes.) This is manna from heaven for Dylan completists. For the rest of us, it provides intimate evidence of his often frenetic approach to recording and rewriting, capturing him in full flow at a pivotal moment on his creative journey. Lines, rhymes and even melodies change as Dylan searches for the shape and core meaning of each song in take after take. “It’s like you’re in the room...” elaborates producer Steve Berkowitz in the current issue of Uncut magazine. “It’s living history.”

The wealth of additional material will almost certainly confirm the critical view that Blood on the Tracks is one of the greatest, and most painfully honest, break-up albums of all time, a by turns bitter and beseeching response to the disintegration of his marriage to his wife of nine years, Sara. Dylan has constantly refuted this interpretation, and, in Chronicles, the first and as yet only volume of his memoirs, states that it was “an entire album based on Chekhov short stories. Critics thought it was autobiographical – that was fine”.

The album may well be Chekhovian in its shifting cast of characters and multiple points of view but there is a deep vein of regretful reflection running through songs such as If You See Her, Say Hello and You’re a Big Girl Now. Their tone suggests a man who realises what he has lost and is self-aware enough to acknowledge his destructive role in the mess that his marriage had become – the reclusive Sara would file for divorce soon afterwards, tired of Dylan’s increasingly blatant womanising.

In contrast, the force of Idiot Wind, particularly in its brutally stark acoustic version, still startles. By turns paranoid, derisory and vengeful, it is a dark masterpiece of venomous intent, a great part of its raw power resting in the very discomfort the listener feels as it gathers momentum and the tone becomes ever more bitter. “Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,” he seethes. “You’re an idiot, babe/ It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.”

Blood on the Tracks may be the most aptly titled of all Dylan’s great albums. Its rush and ragged conception, now chronicled in full for the first time, is testament to WB Yeats’s insistence that the essence of the true artist’s endeavour could best be summed up by the words: “Myself I must remake.”

Saturday 27 October 2018

Stan and Ollie - review

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Stan & Ollie review: Insightful and endlessly touching

Geoffrey Macnab 
The Independent
22 October 2018

Dir: Jon S Baird; Starring: Steve Coogan, John C Reilly, Nina Arianda, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston. Cert: tbc, 97 mins.

Stan & Ollie is a gently elegiac homage to Laurel and Hardy. It’s never quite as funny as might have been expected, but it tugs at the emotions throughout. With beautiful performances by Steve Coogan (as Stan Laurel) and John C Reilly (as Oliver Hardy), it is a film about friendship and loyalty as much as a comedy.

Director Jon S Baird and screenwriter Jeff Pope are exploring the strange process through which the two comedians, in their private lives and dealings with one another, became well-nigh identical to the characters they played on screen.

The film follows Stan and Ollie on their tour of Britain in 1953, very late in their careers. As they travel from Newcastle to Glasgow, they play half-empty halls and stay in seedy boarding houses and hotels. Their slick, double-dealing promoter Bernie Delfont (Rufus Jones) is far more interested in boosting new client Norman Wisdom than in helping old-timers like Laurel and Hardy.

A short prelude, set in Hollywood in 1937, reminds the audience that, only a few years earlier, Laurel and Hardy were the biggest comedy stars in the world. In a single shot, Baird shows the duo in their bowler hats and braces walking from dressing rooms to sound stages. Everybody loves them. In the course of an epic walk, Ollie grabs a doughnut and places a bet. Stan is greeted with affection by passers-by. When they finally reach the set, they are met by their overbearing producer, Hal Roach (Danny Huston).

Stan, far more business savvy than his partner, is well aware they are paid considerably less than Chaplin and other comedy stars – confusingly, the film makes reference to silent era legends Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, whose careers had foundered by this point. The Englishman is threatening to break with Roach and go it alone, but Ollie is too timid to embrace such a plan.

Some 16 years later, the comedians have come to Britain to try to revive their careers. If their stage shows go well enough, they hope to make another movie.

Reilly and Coogan brilliantly capture the physical mannerisms and verbal tics of their characters without resorting to caricature. The make-up department has done wonders in bulking Reilly up and giving him an enormous double chin. Coogan, meanwhile, has that thin-faced, hapless, head-scratching, little boy lost look that Laurel always showed on screen. They sing “Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia” and dance with a comic grace and panache matching that of the real comic legends.

Stan & Ollie is one of a number of recent movies – including Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, My Week With Marilyn – that follow the downbeat experiences of big-name Hollywood stars in Britain at difficult times in their careers. The film becomes progressively gloomier as Laurel and Hardy are forced to perform publicity stunts – judging a bathing beauty contest, helping kids cross the road – to boost ticket sales. Some of the gags are crude. At one stage, in clear reference to their Oscar winning short The Music Box, we see the comedians trying to drag an enormous trunk up a flight of stairs. Stan is humiliated when the British producer supposedly set to finance their comeback movie won’t even take a meeting with him. One of the comedians is shown looking bewildered beneath a giant poster for a new Abbott and Costello movie.

Midway through the film, the comedians are joined by their wives. Shirley Henderson plays the shrewish but affectionate Mrs Hardy while Nina Arianda is Ida Kitaeva, Stan’s headstrong partner, a former dancer and movie actress who tells everyone she meets the same stories about her once glorious career. Henderson and Arianda are a double-act in their own right, and have their comic moments, but they fade into the background whenever Stan and Ollie are on screen. The only relationship that really matters in this film is the one between the two principals. As in all buddy movies, the old pals have their rocky moments. Stan accuses Ollie of being a “lazy ass” who got lucky because he met a partner who would do all the work for him. Ollie dismisses Stan as emotionally “hollow” and not a real friend at all. The more the two bicker, the more apparent it becomes that they can’t do without each other.

Director Baird, whose previous film was scabrous Irvine Welsh adaptation Filth, wrings every last drop of pathos he can from his material. This is very much a case of the tears of the clowns. Laurel and Hardy, two of the best-loved figures in film history, are seen here at their lowest ebb. They’re getting old. They’re no longer bankable as movie stars. However, as the film also shows, the magic between them never dissipates. They can’t be split either. Stan & Ollie won’t ever have you in hysterics, but its account of the comedians in their twilight years is insightful and endlessly touching.

Friday 26 October 2018

More Blood, More Tracks - now streaming

First Listen: Bob Dylan, 'More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14'
Stream a 10-track sampler from the 'Blood On the Tracks' sessions

Tom Moon
25 October 20185

When can a song be considered "finished"? When, if ever, can a song written by Bob Dylan be considered finished? And what to make of tracks that were greenlit for release and then discarded – after the auteur decided they somehow didn't quite capture the totality of what he was trying to express?

These are among the questions that hover over the multiple versions of "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" and really everything on More Blood, More Tracks – a massive trove of outtakes that documents, in chronological order, every utterance from the New York sessions that led to Dylan's 1975 opus Blood On the Tracks.

"You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome" is a tender, straight-up declaration of anticipatory loneliness, and when Dylan begins working on it, during the second of four days of tracking, he envisions it with full band support. He and the studio veterans of the Deliverance band settle into an easygoing, L.A. country-rock pulse, and over the course of a brief rehearsal and multiple tries, they develop a working understanding about what the song needs, when to surge forward and when to leave space for Dylan's vocal flourishes. There are slight variations in tempo and arrangement, and unlike some early renditions of a few of Dylan's other new tunes – notably the howlingly raw New York recording of "Idiot Wind" that was replaced by a version (with a different band) from a late-December session in Minneapolis – these renderings are solid, professional, respectable.

Something apparently still troubles Dylan, however. He revisits "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome" the next day, initially with just his guitar, piano and bass. Then, at the end of the session, he records two versions using only guitar and bass. The second of those, which has a slightly looser feel and some wild-eyed singing, is the one we know by heart. (It's unknown if Dylan made further attempts at the song in Minneapolis; the box set's producers were only able to locate master tapes for the five tunes from the session that appeared, with the musicians uncredited, on the original Blood On the Tracks. They are identified on this release.)

Dylan's pursuit of the singular "truth" of this song across so many takes is not about studio perfection. He's chasing a particular balance between narrative and background accompaniment; when there's too much musical information flying around, the spell is broken. His holy grail isn't to simply document the arc of a love affair: Dylan's searching for a specific tone and temperament to enhance the scenes he'd written – scenes set in the messy aftermath of all-consuming romance, when all that's left of a noble love is empty-room echoes and not-entirely-trustworthy memories. The six-disc box (and a single-disc sampler) shows how virtually everything that ended up on Blood On the Tracks underwent similar transformation. From typical songwriterly confession to austere, harrowing expression.

Dissected by generations of songwriters for their metric precision and structural concision, these songs had to be rendered cleanly, with little ornamentation, so that listeners couldn't escape the nuance – or, conversely, the brute force – of the delusions and deceptions and dissolutions Dylan describes.

One protagonist confides he only knows of careless love; another follows a cold trail in vain hope of reconnecting with the woman who made things make sense. Several songs share what happens when the angry words of a former lover reach into the psyche at the cellular level, coiling around the valves of the heart until they change a man's perspective, his sense of identity. One song is bitter and astringent; others are wistful, tender, nostalgic. Heard front to back, these pieces form an inquiry into the shifting dynamics of relationship that has no parallel anywhere in the history of popular song.

What's more, everything on the final Blood On the Tracks – five songs cut in New York, five in Minneapolis – share one singular animating trait: This almost haunting visceral energy. These songs vibrate at an emotional pitch that's hard to reach, let alone sustain; More Blood, More Tracks underscores this feat. The multiple takes show Dylan framing and interpreting the words to shade or alter their meanings. He conjures the corkscrew to the heart, then finds ways to turn it further.

Wound up and sometimes bursting with fury, Dylan sings with such immersion that he renders the eternal speculation about the origins of this work – "is it autobiographical?" – pretty much meaningless, at least secondary to the achievement of the art. Unspooling his detail-rich narratives differently each time, Dylan brings the abstract into focus, conjuring the taste of a sudden rejection, the chill of the wind blowing through the buttons of a coat. Each image works a particular magic that has eluded so many poets and songwriters: He's translating the messy and mysterious into music with universal resonance.

Listen here: 

Thursday 25 October 2018

Last night's set list at The Habit, York

Da Elderly: -
Need Your Love So Bad
Never Let Her Slip Away

On a 'relatively' (see later) quiet night at The Habit, it was mostly musicians playing to musicians, with a smattering of punters. The duo pictured above made their musical debut with a couple of Marvin Gaye songs...Ain't No Mountain High Enough and I Heard It Through The Grapevine, with The Zutons' Valerie as the filling in the musical sandwich. It's not often that we get sax on a Thursday night!

Ron was on holiday so there was no Elderly Brothers set for the third week running!

The good vibes were temporarily shattered (literally) when, just before midnight, a late-comer who had been out far too long, was refused service at the bar and kicked in the door on his way out, splintering the thankfully laminated glass. Apparently he was apprehended by the boys in blue at a nearby establishment where he went on to cause a similar ruckus. Thankfully no one was harmed and the last hour passed without further incident. The staff deserved medals.

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Michael Palin: Erebus: The Story of a Ship - review

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Erebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin – review
The TV star’s vivid memoir of HMS Erebus and its epic polar expeditions is lively and diligent

Sara Wheeler
The Observer
Sun 30 Sep 2018

Biographies of ships are very much of the moment – volumes on Endeavour and the Japanese battleship Yamato have appeared recently – and now Michael Palin heaves into view with another one. His book tells the story of HMS Erebus, pioneer of both polar regions. This lively account reveals much about both exploration and the Royal Navy in the 19th century.

In September 2014, marine archaeologists discovered HMS Erebus, her snapped stern furred with algae, on the Arctic seabed. Palin starts there and works back. Labourers at the Pembroke dockyard built the broad-hulled warship and sent it into the waters off Milford Haven in June 1826. It was named after the son of the mythological Chaos; not a big ship, at 32 metres (104ft) it was less than half the length of a standard man-o’-war, and, as Palin says, “at 372 tons she was a minnow compared to Nelson’s 2,141 ton Victory”. Erebus was the last but one of the warships known as bomb vessels, able to fling shells over coastal defences.

Palin is strong on historical context. After Waterloo, the navy was at a loose end. Erebus spent two years patrolling the Mediterranean “to annoy the Turks”, then its life as a warship ended. In September 1839, accompanied by HMS Terror, it dropped her pilot off Deal in Kent and spent four years on an Antarctic adventure, where the dashing James Clark Ross captained her to the Barrier, or the Ross ice shelf as it was then known. The crew enjoyed a double allowance of rum to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday. It is hard to imagine what the Erebus crew thought and felt as they sailed along the 30-metre (98ft) high ice cliffs of this shelf the size of France.

Erebus and Terror were the first sailing ships to break through the pack and the first to discover that an Antarctic continent existed. They didn’t make their goal of the south magnetic pole but, writes Palin, “never again, in the annals of the sea, would a ship, under sail alone, come close to matching what she [Erebus] and Terror had achieved”.

On its way south, the three-masted Erebus had stopped off at Tasmania, then Van Diemen’s Land, and met the useless Lt Governor John Franklin. It was Franklin who later captained Erebus on its final mission (by then installed with a steam-driven, screw-propeller system), a doomed assault on the Northwest Passage, the fabled trade route to the riches of Cathay, again accompanied by the loyal Terror. That story begins two-thirds of the way through Palin’s book. It is a well-known tale, replete with human bones in kettles, plucky Inuit recounting meetings with starving white men who stagger around after their ships have sunk and the efforts of Lady Jane Franklin (she of the terrible handwriting, to anyone that has researched the archives) to dispatch rescue ships. Palin makes it his own. It is an epic story, full of appalling human suffering (everyone died) and one constantly revised as fresh discoveries float to the surface.

The prose style is fluent, though Palin might have allowed himself more jokes and fewer anachronisms (“on all accounts a bit of a drip”; “there was no plan B”). As always, there are far more officer sources (notably here Robert McCormick and the genius naturalist Joseph Dalton Hooker) than those of regular seamen. But Palin does his best, accessing, for example, the diaries of Mne Sgt Cunningham and the muster books and description books kept by the paymaster and purser on every navy ship.

Erebus: The Story of a Ship is a fugue in many voices. Palin assesses the role of the ship’s various commanders and understands the importance of anchoring his prose in specificity and detail. Who slept in hammocks? What did boiled dolphin taste like? When they suspended joints of beef under the mizzen-top in a bread bag for many months, was it good so far from home? Nautical information functions as ballast for the narrative: “Her hull was strengthened with 6-inch thick oak planking, increasing to 8 inches at the gunwale, to make a 3-foot-wide girdle”, and so on. Seven marines accompanied both Erebus and Terror on their Antarctic missions to guard against insubordination. As Palin writes: “There were no marines on the Bounty.”

Palin is a diligent researcher who has trawled the primary sources and, largely in the course of filming his television series Pole to Pole, has visited many of the key sites here. “I feel the connection,” he writes, “between then and now. Between Erebus and me.” Daguerreotypes appeared in the six years between the Ross and Franklin expeditions and the excellent colour plate sections in this book are revealing.

Friday 19 October 2018

Dead Poets Society #88 Robert Frost: Sand Dunes

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Sand Dunes by Robert Frost

Sea waves are green and wet,
But up from where they die,
Rise others vaster yet,
And those are brown and dry.

They are the sea made land
To come at the fisher town,
And bury in solid sand
The men she could not drown.

She may know cove and cape,
But she does not know mankind
If by any change of shape,
She hopes to cut off mind.

Men left her a ship to sink:
They can leave her a hut as well;
And be but more free to think
For the one more cast-off shell.

Thursday 18 October 2018

Haruki Murakami interview 2018

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Haruki Murakami Says He Doesn’t Dream. He Writes.
“I’m a realistic person, a practical person, but when I write fiction I go to weird, secret places in myself"

Sarah Lyall
The New York Times
10 October 2018

The new novel by the great Japanese author Haruki Murakami, “Killing Commendatore” features (for a start) a mysterious bell that rings by itself; an abstract idea that steals the body of a two-foot-tall man in a painting; and an odd trip to an underworld frequented by, among other things, some scary Double Metaphors. As the author himself writes at one point, “a number of things made no sense.”

But this is Mr. Murakami, whose intensely popular fiction plays at the boundary between the real and the surreal, the mundane and the fantastical, regular life and irregular happenings. “Killing Commendatore” is hard to describe — it is so expansive and intricate — but it touches on many of the themes familiar in Mr. Murakami’s novels: the mystery of romantic love, the weight of history, the transcendence of art, the search for elusive things just outside our grasp.

Mr. Murakami’s works have been translated into 50 languages; in addition to novels, he also writes short stories and nonfiction and translates books from English into Japanese. In town for a few days last week, Mr. Murakami, who is 69, sat for a brief interview in his publisher’s office after an hour’s jog around Central Park. (He is an avid runner and avid music listener.) Sipping from a Starbuck’s cup printed with the word “Emily” — it had been picked up by an assistant — he spoke about the mysteries of the creative process, his love of ironing, and how his disciplined nature and strict adherence to a daily schedule of writing help liberate his strange imagination. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How did you get the idea for “Killing Commendatore”?

I don’t know. I picked it from the depth of my mind somewhere. All of a sudden I wanted to write the first one or two paragraphs. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I put it in a drawer on my desk, and then all I had to do was just wait.

What about the rest of the book?

Then one day I got the idea that I thought I could write it, and I started to write and kept on writing. You wait for the right moment, and it will come to you. You need confidence that you will get an idea. And I have confidence because I have been writing for almost 40 years, and I know how to do it.

Is the writing process difficult for you?

When I don’t write my own things, I’m translating, which is a very good thing to do while I’m waiting: I’m writing but it is not my own novel. So it’s kind of like training, or manual labor. Also, I’m jogging and listening to records and doing family chores, like ironing. I like ironing. It’s not like I have a turbulent mind when I write. Basically, it’s fun.
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Do you read your reviews?

I don’t read reviews. Many writers say this, and they’re lying — but I’m not lying. My wife reads every review, though, and she only reads the bad ones out loud to me. She says I have to accept bad reviews. The good reviews, forget it.

Your books are full of the surreal and the fantastical. Is your life like that too?

I’m a realistic person, a practical person, but when I write fiction I go to weird, secret places in myself. What I am doing is an exploration of myself — inside myself. If you close your eyes and dive into yourself you can see a different world. It’s like exploring the cosmos, but inside yourself. You go to a different place, where it’s very dangerous and scary, and it’s important to know the way back.

It seems to be difficult for you to talk too much about the underlying meanings of your work.

People are always asking me about the books: “What do you mean by this; what do you mean by that?” But I cannot explain anything at all. I talk about myself, and I talk about the world, metaphorically, and you cannot explain or analyze metaphors — you just have to accept the form. A book is a metaphor.

You have said that “Killing Commendatore” is a homage to “The Great Gatsby,” a novel that, as it happens, you translated into Japanese about ten years ago. “Gatsby” can be read as a tragic tale about the limits of the American dream. How did this work in your new book?

“The Great Gatsby” is my favorite book. I read it when I was 17 or 18, out of school, and was impressed by the story because it’s a book about a dream — and how people behave when the dream is broken. This is a very important theme for me. I don’t think of it as necessarily the American dream, but rather a young man’s dream, a dream in general.

What do you dream about?

I don’t dream, except maybe once or twice a month — or maybe I dream more but I don’t remember the dream at all. But I don’t have to dream, because I can write.

Monday 15 October 2018

Laurel and Hardy in Britain, 1947

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Tea and buns with Laurel and Hardy: Derek Malcolm on the day he met his comedy heroes

In 1947, the teenage Derek Malcolm saw the legendary duo perform in London – and was then invited backstage. As the biopic Stan & Ollie premieres, the former Guardian film critic still cherishes the memory

Derek Malcolm
The Guardian
Thu 11 Oct 2018

As someone who met Orson Welles, Luis Buñuel, John Ford, Satyajit Ray, Howard Hawks, Katharine Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin and many others in the course of a long stint as the Guardian’s film critic, I am often asked who was my favourite movie star. The answer is none of them. My favourites are Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Mind you, I was in my mid-teens when I met them, which probably led to the kind of adolescent hero worship I might later have abjured.

My mother had taken me to the London Coliseum to see them perform. It was 1947 and they were in their 50s, with 20 years as a double act under their belts. It was the matinee of a variety show and they were top of the bill; Elsie and Doris Waters, a pair of well-loved comedians – known as Gert and Daisy – and Rawicz and Landauer – famous piano duettists who played Chopin twice as fast as anybody else – were on the undercard.

I can’t say that Laurel and Hardy were at their very best. Maybe the stage was not their natural habitat, although they were still treading the boards together well into the 1950s, as seen in the new biopic Stan & Ollie, in which Steve Coogan and John C Reilly play the pair during their gruelling final tour of Britain. But I was thrilled to bits just to see them and I asked my mother at the interval whether I could meet them. She asked the theatre manager and he came back with a note. It said: “Yes, but don’t bring your mother …”

The manager took me to the door of their dressing room and knocked, but left before Hardy answered the door. “Come in, young man,” he said. “We have tea and buns on the way for you. This is Stan, by the way, as you can see by his hat. He seldom takes its off, even in bed.”

I was tongue-tied. But when the tray of tea and buns came in, I tucked in enthusiastically. Whereupon Hardy took a bun from the tray, placed it on his chair and sat on it. It was, of course, squashed flat. I’m pretty sure he did it to amuse me. But you never knew with Hardy, who preferred playing golf to working.

Laurel looked horrified, especially when Hardy offered the flat bun to me. He was the master of most situations and the pair’s directors invariably deferred to him on set. He was also the British one, born in Ulverston, Lancashire, in 1890, and was once employed by the music-hall impresario Fred Karno as an understudy to Chaplin. Hardy was born in 1892 in Harlem, Georgia and drawn to the movies from his teens.

It was clear that they were ageing. The cheers that welcomed them at the theatre, which was three-quarters full, were not so enthusiastic when they left the stage, which may be why they were prepared to entertain a young boy so anxious to see them. If so, they gave no sign of that to me.

They were determined to entertain me and they did so royally, asking me about my school, the subjects I liked and whether I preferred the theatre or the cinema. When I told them I often went to the newsreel cinema on Victoria station, which invariably had a Laurel and Hardy short, along with the boring documentaries and songs, they were clearly very pleased. And they told me that many countries had different names for them. In Iran, they were called the Fat and the Skinny; in Poland, Flip and Flap; in Germany, Chubby and Dumb; and, best of all, in India, Stout and Worrywart.

We spent almost an hour together before they called for the manager, who took me back to my mother, who was waiting impatiently in the foyer. I will never forget that flat bun, or the stories they told me about appearing on television and being informed that they were being introduced to 6 million people: “That will take rather a long time,” said Laurel. Another of his gags I recall from that day was: “I was dreaming I was awake, but I woke up and found myself asleep.

But it was never verbal jokes that defined the pair. It was the extraordinary way they dovetailed, almost telepathically. No one did double-takes better than Hardy; and few did weeping at fate’s enormity better than Laurel. They once did a short film in which they used 3,000 cream pies, most of which were upended over Hardy.

But it wasn’t the pies that most intrigued me. In another short, the pair sat together in the front seats of an old car that Hardy couldn’t start. And, for a full three minutes they managed to make everyone laugh, just by the various expressions on their faces. It was a masterpiece of comedy I shall never forget, and so was the little dance they did together at the end of their Oscar-winning film The Music Box. Just meeting them was one of the most cherishable moments of my life.

Stan & Ollie is at the Embankment Garden Cinema and Curzon Mayfair, London, on 21 October, as part of the London film festival. It will be released in the UK in January 2019.