Monday, December 19, 2011

Film Review: Anyone Can Play Guitar

What constitutes a scene? If Madchester and Merseybeat were defined by a restricted time period, the argument put forward by the makers of Anyone Can Play Guitar that Oxford had an identifiable flowering of talent – enough to define a city – seems unconvincing. A tradition maybe – after all, the bands that made up this grouping operated over a good ten to fifteen year period. Nonetheless, as a Berkshire boy trained to be suspicious of anything from the shadow of the dreaming spires (Joey Beauchamp included) , I was a little cynical on pressing ‘play’ – this despite having recently moved to the city and been talked into purchasing a copy of the DVD by the salesman at the marvellous Truck Store.

Add to that the paucity of the goods on offer. Radiohead? OK – genuinely good. Ride? Decent also – the commercial end of shoegaze they may have been and not a patch on My Bloody Valentine, but in retrospect a clear link between C86 and Britpop with some rattling good wig outs. Talulah Gosh? Vilified at the time for overdoing the tweeness – I liked them but then again I was a saddo. Supergrass? A sugar rush of singles but ultimately a trifle cartoonish. Foals? A ‘haircut band’ as Pitchfork would sniffily define them. As for the others - the acts that form the lion’s share of this documentary – the Candyskins, Swervedriver, The Unbelievable Truth, Rock of Travolta and some band called Dustball whom we were led to believe could have altered the whole course of musical history – footnotes surely.

But the brave attempt to start a record label in Shifty Disco, the establishment of the Zodiac as a premier live venue and club and those mainstays The Wheatsheaf and Jericho Tavern playing the Eric’s/Boardwalk role all provided a focus for Christminster’s disparate musicians to huddle around, and the thesis gradually becomes more convincing as the film continues, lugubriously narrated by Stewart Lee and starring a bevy of talking heads.

The result is a satisfying exploration of twenty years of indie music – a microcosm of the world at large with all the musical styles represented. Ed O’Brien represents Radiohead and there are engaging interviews with Mark Gardener of Ride and Gaz Coombes of the ‘Grass, as well as the movers and shakers from Shifty Disco itself. Sure, there’s no Thom Yorke but the movie ends up navigating the shark infested waters of copyright law rather well – Radiohead’s choicest cuts were presumably too expensive but other classics are present and correct. Fascinating too is the portrait of an eighties and nineties Oxford of a more down at heel tinge – not at the doorstep of the Bodleian I’ll grant you, but along the now suffocatingly gentrified Walton Street in particular.

But even more fascinating are the extra on the DVD with Andy Bell talking regretfully of his decision to allow The Sun to use Hurricane No. 1’s music and Mark Gardener trying to conceal his financial jealousy at his mate ending up in Oasis. Then, the Young Knives are wheeled out for a eye poppingly embarrassing interview – having initially refused to take part in the piece, they had a change of heart and treat us to half an hour of explaining why they are an Ashby-de-la-Zouch band as well as bemoaning the fact that their countryside homes disallowed them from properly exploring the Oxford nightlife – Keith Moon probably wouldn’t have let that stop him.



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