I’ve had a fair few strange nocturnal experiences, going right back to childhood. I remember, as a toddler, suddenly being woken up by a rooster on the inside of my windowsill. It wasn’t there, of course – I lived on a suburban street and none of the neighbours kept chickens – but I saw and heard it very clearly. Then there was the time – I guess I must have been five or six years old – that I shut my eyes in pitch darkness, only to open them a few seconds later to find my room bathed in daylight. Thoroughly confused, I got out of bed, found my mum and asked her: “Is it morning?” She laughed. Of course it was morning. “I haven’t been to sleep,” I said. “I’ve only just got into bed.”
“You are invited to attend a day in celebration of Shane Briant.” So ran the (A5, stiff and rather good-looking) ticket that I received in the post back in May, after despatching a £30 cheque to Donald Fearney. A newbie to Mr Fearney’s legendary Hammer-themed get-togethers, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that the opportunity to meet Shane Briant – for the actor would be in attendance at this celebration – wasn’t one I should pass up.
The venue was to be the Cine Lumiere in Kensington, where Briant’s final film for Hammer, Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell, would also be screened. However, a couple of months before the big day, some behind-the-scenes kerfuffle led to the event having to be relocated and the screening scrapped. Hence, last Saturday morning, I made my way up to Hackney to visit a church hall called the Round Chapel.
Is that the time? I’d better have another rummage around the giant-ape genre, I think. Today, I’m taking a look at Konga (1961), starring Michael Gough, who died in March aged 94. As always with these in-depth reviews, beware: there are heavy spoilers ahead, including the film’s ending.
A light aircraft crashes in a Ugandan jungle, igniting in a ball of flame. It’s feared that its famous occupant, English botanist Doctor Charles Decker (Michael Gough), was killed in the explosion along with the pilot. One year later, however, a very-much-alive Decker returns to London, explaining that he’d managed to bail out of the plane before the crash, and had spent the past 12 months living with a native tribe while conducting experiments on insectivorous plants. His groundbreaking findings, he claims, will establish a close link between plant and animal life.
Continuing my in-depth look at various giant-ape movies, which began last month with Yeti – The Giant Of The 20th Century, I’m now going to take a peek through my fingers at A*P*E, another mid-1970s production that seemingly hoped to ride the slipstream of the first King Kong remake. Before I begin, though, be warned: hulking great spoilers lie ahead. If this doesn’t bother you, then let’s head straight back to 1976.
A captured giant gorilla is being transported by sea to Disneyland when it shakes off its sedation and escapes, blowing up the ship in the process. After tussling with and killing an oversized shark, the ape dries off on the coast of South Korea, where, in the excitement of its freedom, it destroys buildings, igniting both flames and panic and accidentally alerting the Korean and US militaries to its presence.
One of the pleasures of holidaying in the UK is watching fellow tourists wander around in shorts and T-shirts as they try to convince themselves that the sun has got its hat on, instead of its pack-a-mac.
Another is having, and taking, the opportunity to visit any nearby Doctor Who filming locations – those real-life places that, through their long-term recognisability, act a bit like standing sets. Hence, while enjoying the gentle, picturesque joys of the Isle of Wight recently, I was drawn to Whitecliff Bay, a secluded, sandy beach near Bembridge.
Phew, time travelling really takes it out of a guy. How’s that for a dramatic lead-in to a whinge about the joys of jetlag? Approximately 30 hours have passed since Tara and I arrived back in the UK after a 12-day gallivant on t’other side of t’Atlantic.
Our jaunt began with a week in Tennessee, a return trip (we first visited in 2004) that we decided to make with my parents, who wanted to visit Graceland, the home of Mr Elvis A Presley. The site hasn’t changed much in four years, despite being under new management. The mansion and its grounds, plus a handful of museums across the road, are worthy and moving tributes to the man, his music and his life; the gift shops (both official and unofficial) are, for the most part, giant mountains of tat.
My damned tinnitus is playing up at the moment. I’ve actually had an okay time of it this year. The discomfort in my ears – the blocked feeling – is always there but it’s not something I’ve thought about much; it’s settled into the background. I’ve only noticed the condition when, like now, the noises have kicked off.
When the hammering first started, a couple of years ago, I wondered whether it was ever going to stop. It sounded like someone was continually flicking my eardrum. It irritated me all day and kept me awake at night. For a few days, it felt like my life was over – that’s how distressing I found it. Thankfully, the attacks became more infrequent, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Well, he did it again. Darrell Bath’s ability to pop up in my favourite places never fails to amaze. Ian Hunter, Dan Baird, Dogs D’Amour, Quireboys – he’s cranked it out with ’em all down the years, each new collaboration adding weight both to my enjoyment of these artists, and to my theory that Mr Bath is sneaking round my flat when I’m tucked up in bed, rifling through my fave records, and systematically hooking up with the people who made ’em. Either that or he just has impeccable taste in music.
Get this: a few days ago, I was standing downstairs in the Mean Fiddler watching Big Star (a great gig, by the way), when, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a guy wearing a groovy cap, looking, from that angle at least, like a young John Lennon. My interest piqued, I turned round and had a proper gawp. And, yep, you’ve guessed it, it was Darrell, can of Red Stripe in one hand, cigarette in the other. More proof that the guy knows a good band when he hears one. Oh, and he dances just like he plays guitar (a good thing, obviously).
The camera, in a low shot, glides through the studio door and into the control room. On the floor lies Danny McCormack, curled up in the foetal position, purring like a cat. Pan up over a table strewn with empty beer cans: Special Brew, Guinness, Tennent’s Super, K, Becks.
Nearby, there’s a tray of stewed coffee and a stack of unused mugs.
Tilt up to see Ginger sitting in the producer’s chair, with the engineer they call Fully at his side. They’re both rocking backwards and forwards in an excited fashion. Pan right. Stidi is sitting forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He’s bouncing up and down like someone just lit a firework near his backside. All eyes face forward.
“Stop doggin’ meeeeeee…”
The final note of his vocal goes on forever. Babies are conceived, born and reach school age; governments rise and fall; continents drift. And… relax.
Ginger lights a cigarette with what’s left of the match.
“Aw, he’s too cool, isn’t he?” says a smiling Roger Tebbutt, the engineer for the SilverGinger sessions. I can see his point.
The lights in the recording area are dimmed (for atmosphere, I presume). Ginger is standing alone in front of a microphone. He’s been there for about an hour now, “doing the bastards” as he puts it – recording high harmony vocal lines for a song called Doggin’, a bonus track for the Japanese version of the album and a possible single B-side. It’s not a task that he’s been particularly looking forward to, hence the decision to hold it back until the rest of the album’s vocals had been completed.
“Never again,” he jokes between takes. “It’s a blues album, the next one.”