Oxford Rock City: Jon Spira’s Anyone Can Play Guitar
From Clash, December 2011.
Radiohead, Foals and Supergrass are just some of the names to have emerged from Oxford, and members of all three bands feature in Jon Spira’s thoroughly entertaining new documentary Anyone Can Play Guitar which charts the history of the local music scene. Yet it’s the stories and the sounds of the bands that didn’t quite reach the same level – The Unbelievable Truth, The Candyskins and Dustball, to name but three – who give this unconventional rock documentary its identity.
“If you look at most music docs, you have the same story,” states Spira, noting the infamous Anvil rockumentary as an exception. “The stories about those who didn’t make it and why they didn’t make it are far more interesting. I hope what comes across in the film is that the bands that didn’t make it are every bit as talented as the bands that did make it.”
As a filmmaker and scene stalwart who’s absolutely in love with his topic, Spira is perhaps the only person who could’ve made this documentary, with most of interviewees on show either friends, associates or friends of associates. His enthusiasm is surely the reason why so many delicately intimate moments are drawn from the film’s cast of talking heads.
The roots of the film lay in the closure of famous Oxford venue The Zodiac which at the time was about to be closed and later reopened as an Academy venue. Its emphasis, however, is a little different.
“It became really apparent that the reason why the community has been so successful is because the bands inspire each other to greater success,” says Spira, adding that Radiohead’s support for the film was motivated by giving a voice to the Oxford bands that originally inspired them. “You can see how having a community that supports each other really encourages creativity.”
Entirely self-released, the film still carries much of its initial anti-corporate philosophy. While local bands still play the Academy, Spira believes that its 1000 capacity main hall has hindered the aspirations of such bands. “When you got to the point as a local band that you were headlining upstairs at The Zodiac, it meant that you were big enough to go national,” he explains. “Now no local band can play the biggest stage in Oxford and I think psychologically that does have an impact. The Zodiac was the spiritual home of the Oxford music scene and that’s gone.”
(Radiohead photo by Pat Pope).