Saturday, January 12, 2008

Beats and Bongos

I've been quite enjoying the current Pop season on BBC TV over the past few weeks. It's a mixture of new documentaries, archive programmes and classic films about British pop music.

The films screened so far have been a strange treat, about music and teenage rebellion - Expresso Bongo (1959) and last night's Beat Girl (1960). They both featured contemporary young pop stars, Cliff Richard and Adam Faith, as well as aspects of the London music scene during that period. I found them interesting partly as they were set in London's Soho, where my parents used to go to coffee bars and jazz clubs around that time. I found the unexpected range of surprisingly sleazy themes quite interesting too, as for some reason I wouldn't have associated them with popular films from that period.

I liked Expresso Bongo for it's strange, rather quaint dialogue and slightly grimy night-time sleaziness, though it was really about the rising career of an unknown singer/bongo player. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Sir Cliff Richard's fans don't like it. I'm assuming that's because the main themes of the film are commercial and personal exploitation, with seedy rented rooms, greedy music business people, strippers and prostitutes. There was also a rather ambiguous liaison between a young, naive Bongo (Cliff) and an older female singer. It's presumably not an ideal film to be associated with, given Cliff's subsequent clean-living Christian 'bachelor boy' image as the Peter Pan of Pop, but I think it's curious enough to warrant another viewing.

Beat Girl was a tale of teenage rebellion in the post-war years, focussing on a slightly odd group of 'beatniks' in Soho coffee bars and basement jazz clubs. Great slang (squares and daddy-o etc), though rather stilted in retrospect, or just badly acted maybe? Christopher Lee makes a convincing sleazy club owner, though being fatally stabbed is an interesting precursor to all the times he gets impaled with a wooden stake as Dracula in his future career in Hammer Horror films. The unpleasantly surly teenage female character was supposed to be at art school, while she wasn't 'hanging out' in bars and strip clubs. She mentioned that she was at St Martins (art college) to her stepmum, who said - Oh, that's supposed to be one of the best, isn't it?' to which the ill-mannered 'beat girl' replied 'so it's rumoured...' The Charing Cross Road college entrance featured briefly, though I'm not sure if was real or a part of a studio set. Still, it's nice to get a name check in a vintage B movie about deviant youth!

In case I'm beginning to sound like I'm obsessed with sleaze (which I'm not, actually), I'd better point out that I just happen to like B movies from that period, when it sometimes features as a strand in a storyline. Justification over!


dickiebo said...

You'll have to stop doing these! You make me all nostalgic. Apart from the connection with the 2 I's and the 'lads' there, I also served at Shepherd's Bush for a time. Adam Faith's family lived there - at East Acton - and his mother had a shop in Acton Vale. Happy days!

Claire said...

Ooh, sorry! Good to have been around during a significant time for our pop culture though... Adam Faith sounded interesting on that Pop Britannia documentary, I downloaded the first one and watched it again yesterday.

I'm slightly surprised at myself for getting so interested in a period before my time, though many people do, I guess. I've been going through lots of DVDs on the Amazon rental thing, music, sci-fi, horror, drama, anything unconnected with my PhD really. Maybe it'll lead on to something interesting in the future!

SandDancer said...

I'm annoyed with myself for missing those films. I am rather interested in the 1960s and quite envious of anyone who was there. You might find this film website of interest to point you in the direction of similar things

Claire said...

Sanddancer - Thanks, that site looks good.

It is a really interesting period. I find it quite difficult to imagine what it must have been like living then. Maybe because so many cultural changes have become taken for granted since then, that it's hard to imagine the impact of certain events/music/styles when they actually happened, from a second-hand distant perspective.

Laurie said...

Playing bongos must be really fun based on your blog post. How I wish I myself knows how to play bongos. Can you please create posts on how I could learn it? thanks:D