Posts Tagged ‘Supergrass’
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).
This featured on the Clash site last week.
Although the most famous music scenes of recent music history revolve around Manchester and Seattle, Oxford has provided more notable bands that one would expect from a city with a population around the 150,000 mark.
Narrated by Stewart Lee, the likes of Radiohead, Supergrass, Foals and Ride will prove to be the main attractions for Jon Spira’s debut documentary but it’s the city’s also-rans and cult favourites that provide much of the film’s soul. Spira takes a streamlined approach to unearthing the history of the local scene, using contemporary interviews, retro footage and a consistently engaging soundtrack to address Oxford’s musical lineage.
It’s hardly the most radical approach to documentary making, but it works so well – from Ed O’Brien’s evident love of the bands that preceded Radiohead to Dustball’s Jamie Stuart’s mixed opinions on local indie label Shifty Disco, Spira’s 300 hours of interview footage has uncovered a story both insightful and truly funny. Given the breadth of the bands involved, there’s a huge range of emotions on display: Talulah Gosh’s Amelia Fletcher looks back fondly on the early days of the band, but others seem visibly haunted by their various close brushes with stardom.
Beyond the bands (also including, to name but a few, Swervedriver and Unbelievable Truth), Oxford’s story is given further depth by examining the other key players (local promoter Mac, journalist Ronan Munro, Shifty Disco’s Dave Newton) and the history of The Zodiac and Jericho Tavern venues.
Completed on a shoestring, the film’s lack of budget occasionally shows – the resolution sometimes isn’t as sharp as it could be, the sound very sporadically lacks clarity – but it’s hard to find fault with what is clearly a labour of love for Spira. Sure, it would’ve been nice to seen more of the legendary Mac given that almost every band involved mention him, while the scene itself seems to be a continuous trickle of bands rather than a sudden flourish of breaking talent. Essentially, however, Anyone Can Play Guitar is a brilliantly executed slice of musical history that should be appreciated by music fans beyond those with a connection to the city itself.