He looks disdainfully at the cases of bitter.
He audibly tuts at the wines.
His countenance darkens at the alcopop selection (and I have to say I’m with him on that, alcopops are a disgrace to drink and a symptom of What’s Wrong With This Country. I’d ban them instantly).
Eventually he points at the stack of Carlsberg 18-packs, which bear the enlightening, informative yet succinct slogan, “CARLSBERG – 18 PACK – £10.99”.
You know what’s coming next, don’t you?
“How much is an 18-pack of Carlsberg?”
Keep calm. You need the job. There’s a Global Economic Crisis on, and no matter how much fun it’d be to paint the words “TEN NINETY-NINE YOU COCK” onto a shovel and smack him in the face with it repeatedly, trying to explain it at interviews would be, at the very least, somewhat of a drag. Eight, nine, ten…
“They’re £10.99.” The days of calling them “sir” have long passed, but at least I didn’t swear or spit at him.
“Oh.” Pause, two, three, four… “They’re £9.99 in Asda.”
“But…” I stammer, “we…I…OH MY GOD! A thousand apologies, sir, I realise this must be a distressing time for you. I am but a minion here, but please accept my humblest and abject apologies. I will pass this higher up, to someone who has the power, if not to set things right – what could be right, after THIS disgrace? – then at least to make some gesture in the direction of recompense, to mitigate our shame! General! GENERAL!”
A deep, bass voice rumbles from the back room. “What is it?”
“General, I think you should come and witness it yourself…”
The door flies open, and there he stands – The General. A legend in the low-margin, high-volume retail booze world. Unlike me, he does not wear the 100% polyester polo shirt – he wears a hand-made 100% polyester dress uniform. The light of the lager fridge reflects from the gold braiding on his epaulettes, glistens on his cap badge, coruscates on the row of medals adorning his left mantit – the Croix du Vin, received for valour in the field of sub-£5 Merlot; the Grand Cross of the Knights Of Trampfuel, pinned on him even as he stood, bloodstained and unbowed after a 16-hour shift, by the Duce Giacomo Lambrini himself; the Order of Cider, First Class, awarded after single-handedly shifting 278 crates of tainted Frosty Jack (some apples had inexplicably been involved in its manufacture).
“What is it, boy?” He growls, fingering his swagger-stick and chewing his cigar.
“Sir, I…I’m not sure how to put this, but…”
“Directly, and immediately, is how to put it!” His face darkens. He does not like to be dragged to The Front – he has served his time there, and these days gets, if not pleasure, a grim satisfaction from sitting at his desk, a martyr to gout and dyspepsia, plotting exactly how we will, this quarter, finally put an end to bastard kids nicking the seasonal confectionery.
I swallow nervously. “Well, s…s…sir, this gentleman has told me that…”
“OUT WITH IT!”
“We’ve been undercut by an out-of-town superstore, sir.” I feel a palpable, physical sense of relief at having said the words. What worse can follow? And before my eyes, I see the proud, Grand Old Man falter for perhaps the first time in his long career.
“I…I…Oh sweet Jesus.” Before my eyes, his posture sags. The old man has been through hell in his time – they say early on, as a greenhorn assistant manager in Kilburn, he stared down 200 navvies annoyed about the suspension of the Stormont Parliament, using only three bottles of Jamesons and a Watneys Party Seven – but now, he suddenly looks his age. He turns to the customer, clears his throat, and tries to regain his dignity, but the fire has gone out in his eyes. “I’m sorry, sir,” he croaks, “I never dreamed it would come to this. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen,” his eyes mist over, “whole towns under the sway of MD 20/20…the Vodkat debacle…a tramp who’d shit himself, setting his beard on fire outside a pub called ‘The Shoulder Of Orion’…but I never, NEVER thought I’d see the day when a small, franchised off-licence in a shit end of Preston would be undercut by the world’s largest retail conglomerate. Sometimes, it just seems like it was all a waste of time…” He gazes into the middle distance.
The customer and I bow our heads, knowing, but not wanting to acknowledge what we both know must come next.
The General snaps back to attention. I salute, tears welling in my eyes.
“Stand easy, soldier,” he hoarsely whispers, his hand on the hilt of his sword. “It comes to us all. We never die in bed. Tell Rosie I loved her.” With that, he climbs atop the Bitter cans stack, and, left foot on Caffreys and right on McEwan’s Export, raises his sword high, before plunging it into his stomach. I move forward to support him, but he motions me back with his free hand as the other forces the blade sideways, all of nature’s hideous internal, visceral intricacy spilling over his cummerbund. After a few seconds that feel like a lifetime, his enormous bulk crashes atop the stack; the blood pours, then drips, then pools at the base of the Tetley Smoothflow; his drained white face, the eyes staring and empty, takes on a sudden peace as I reach across and close them; and, unable to help myself, I kiss his forehead and whisper, “goodnight, sweet prince”.
I turn to The Customer.
“You don’t have a brother who knows how much everything used to be, do you?”
We never did find out who Rosie was.
The gig started off with the brilliant The Re-Entrants, two blokes and two ukuleles, covering the best pop and rock songs. What makes The Re-Entrants brilliant is that they recreate the songs they play note for note, every nuance, and every solo, perfectly played. They opened with Electric Light Orchestra’s classic hit “Mr Blue Sky”. People’s preconceptions about what could be done with the ukulele were blown out of the water, and The Re-Entrants continued this habit throughout, “Gold”, “Poker Face”, “Thriller” and for their encore blasted out AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell” (or as it’s also known, the A666 to Bolton). Ian Emmerson had the crowd in hysterical laughter during their too short set with his dancing, jokes and general on stage presence.
If The Re-Entrants are the barmcake*, then The Lancashire Hotpots are the chips, gravy and ketchup in this chip barm gig.
Their introduction track, in the style of The Price Is Right, set the light hearted tone for the night. “Mek Us A Brew”, an ode to the humble cuppa char kicked off the proceedings, before bringing out songs like “Ebay ‘Eck” and “Chav”, the latter of which was one of the many songs which got the audience involved with dance moves and singing along.
Bernard (vocals/guitar) briefly disappeared off stage, and returned in his pirate garb for the ever popular “Cinema Smugglers” inciting the audience to yell “kyarrr” and to shiver his Pringles. Dickie (percussion/melodica/vocals) took over lead vocals for “Has Anybody Seen My Dongle?” a tongue in cheek nod to music hall entertainers such as George Formby, which was laden with innuendo.
Things slowed down for The Hotpot’s latest single “I’ll ‘Ave One Wi’ Yet”, a more traditional (for The Hotpots) about getting drunk with your friends down the local boozer. Before they broke into “Lancashire DJ” they have a quick costume change which brings about the best joke of the gig, and then end on the classic, “Chippy Tea”.
The crowd yells out for more, and The Hotpots are more than happy to oblige, and break out their quite sentimental “Carry You Home” which brought a touch of melancholy to the gig, before once again getting the audience to join in with “Shopmobility Scooter”. The Lancashire Hotpots finish their gig on “Bang Bang Thumpy Dance Music”, which is some of the classic dance tracks of my youth, but improved tenfold by being played by Lancashire’s finest comedy folk band.
Many drinks were had by the sizeable audience. It may have been freezing cold outside, but the ambiance was a warm and happy one. The Lancashire Hotpots brought joy to many in this bleak midwinter, and filled Preston with Christmas cheer.
*For anyone outside of Lancashire, a barmcake is also known as : a bap, a bread roll, a teacake, a stottie, a bread bun, a breadcake, or a cob… you’re not calling it the right thing though, it is a barmcake, and if you disagree, you’re wrong.
There’s a repeating trick throughout the video, so if you’ve not yet watched it, here it is. Otherwise, *SPOILERS (& PRETENTIOUSNESS) AHEAD*
Prior to an art exhibition I did in January 2011, Ian (Stitchthread’s mandibly hirsute drum beast) had created the branding for my production company. During the process we got into discussions on Béla Tarr and this led to Ian asking me whether I’d ever considered shooting a music video.
It’s not something I’d spent too much time considering given that a large amount of them are the video equivalent of fast food and an horrendous waste of talent. Added to this is that I repeatedly see videos for Metal songs with the same lazy horror film tropes- Band performing in a cellar/ woods/ wasteland intercut with some form of chase/ torture/ murder sequence, a lot of lens flare and shaky-cam during the solos. Often a vanity project and masturbatory aid for bands who know just how cool they are.
Ian assured me that this wasn’t the sort of thing they were after, and while I can’t vouch that the video has been safe from Jim the bassist’s onanism, I asked which songs they were considering having a video for. They forwarded an 8 minute song and the 18 minute ‘Last Days’. I was veering towards Last Days, not only because most people don’t make 18 minute music videos, but also because I felt closer to the apocalyptic themes of Last Days given the reading I was doing at the time just after the 2nd Black Metal Theory Symposium.
I’d wanted to start doing long camera takes since discovering Béla Tarr and the look I’ve gone for is lifted straight from ‘Sátántangó’ (the most intense 7 hours you’ll ever spend in front of a screen). SPOLIER- Because of the non-linear story in Sátántangó, there’s a certain scene where for a moment I thought I watching a ghost and this was the most prominent scene in my mind in addition to the overall look of Tarr’s films.
With having the band disappear from the screen, my intention was to have the viewer think about the space the camera is moving through and realising how the band must be moving about out of shot, opening the 2D screen into a 3D perception. This echoes Fontana’s Spatial Concept pieces (currently at Liverpool*spit* Tate)-
and also a sequence from Solyaris by Tarkovsky (who Tarr can be seen as a disciple of).
The video for Velouria by The Pixies was another big influence in terms of intent. At the time of it’s making, bands couldn’t get on Top Of The Pops without having a music video. In order to appear the Pixies shot a 23 second clip of themselves running down a quarry and then slowed the footage to the length of the song. This sort of playing with time strikes me as something quite Deleuzian (see Cinema 2) but was also the playful kind of subversion of form I was aiming for- The Last Days video isn’t a typical representation of a metal band, they keep disappearing from view but are always present, not only in the music, but in the space of the screen world.
As for the repeated disappearing, I’ve been fascinated with illusions and magic tricks since I was very young. The bloke who used to clean our windows showed me that trick where it looks like you’re pulling your thumb off once and I used to ask him to show me it over and over every week. I was totally baffled and it took years for me to work out but led me into learning magic tricks (I only know one decent card trick though). That kind of childhood experience of appearances and absences is covered by Paul Virilio in ‘The Aesthetics of Disappearance’, a book which has become important to my understanding of media.
We shot in early March and green shoots were beginning to show on the trees, a week later they would have been in blossom, so it was really the last possible weekend for a few months to get the video to look bleak. Although it certainly doesn’t come across, it was a glorious spring day and while we started early to minimise the amount of public about, by the last take I was nearly tripping over strangers to keep them out of the shot. Ian and I had rehearsed a few times the week before and on the day I rehearsed once with the band, who’d brought their running shoes.
There are no camera tricks or cuts in the video. The black and white, high contrast image is due to the camera used- a Fisher Price PXL 2000. This was a child’s toy in the 1980s and used to record to audio cassette tape (7 minutes of video on a C90 tape). Mine is circuit bent to allow recording to a digital device.
The use of this camera is another subversion in a world of glossy HD, not attempting to perfectly reflect reality but creating its own image world.
Gerry Fialka, champion of the PXL 2000 and organiser and LA’s annual PXL THIS film festival said this of the camera minimalism- “Giving the viewer less information might mean more involvement by the viewer…” This is something I go along with, not trying to spoon feed the meaning of the image (that’s what ‘making of’ blogs are for) but asking to viewer to bring themselves to the piece and opening up tmie and space in the piece to allow this. I was delighted when a viewer said they’d had an apophenic experience of it, seeing faces in the trees, their mind trying to create meaning from chaos.
Enough from me, what do you think?
Last Days by Stitchthread screened at Sync 4, Preston, March 2011 and will screen at PXL THIS 21, California, December 12th 2011