UK post-punk vets The Monochrome Set just reissued classic early albums Love Zombies and Strange Boutique last week, and were supposed to tour North America starting May 8. With coronavirus still spreading, that tour has been postponed to late summer and the fall, now starting August 26 in Somerville, MA and wrapping up October 4 in Los Angeles. The new NYC date is August 29 at Mercury Lounge. Tickets for the original 5/9 are still valid and tickets are still available (refunds are available at point of purchase). All dates are listed below.
Meanwhile, we’ve been asking artists what’s occupying their time while staying indoors and Monochrome Set’s Andy Warren (who also played in Adam & The Ants before that and also in The Would-Be-Goods) has given us both a general update and a list of films he found on some old VHS tapes. “I thought the lockdown would give me the opportunity to do some spring-cleaning and decluttering,” Andy tells us. “Unfortunately I decided to start with my old VHS video tapes. They had been recorded from the TV in the ’80s and ’90s. I hadn’t watched any of them for decades and I didn’t even know if I could play them anymore. I started to take them out of the cupboard, I looked at the titles scrawled on the labels, I wondered if it would be possible to watch them again.” Needless to say, he figured it out and his VHS finds — including classic French New Wave, Swinging ’60s films and more — are below, as well as some commentary on what London has been like like during lockdown.
Greetings from Locked Down London – 5th April 2020, Lockdown Day 13!
The lockdown officially started on Tuesday 24th March but we were being encouraged to avoid non-essential social interaction quite a while before then. The pubs, restaurants, cafes and schools were all told to close on Friday 20th. The panic buying started more than a week before that.
I was on the underground one evening and there was a group of dressed up young women in the same carriage. I think they were celebrating a birthday because one of the women was holding two gift wrapped toilet rolls. I wonder if the birthday girl was lucky enough to receive a bar of soap and a packet of pasta too.
The real lockdown started on Tuesday 24th March.
Currently we are allowed to go out for essential supplies – food and medicine, and for one exercise session per day but this must be within 2 kilometres of home. We are also allowed out for medical appointments, which is good news. But all medical appointments except those that are for urgent, life or death, issues have been cancelled. When we are out, we must keep at least 2 metres away from anyone who is not a member of our own household. I guess very similar rules apply in NYC.
Our Prime Minister and the Health Secretary and our Chief Medical Officer, who were on TV every day telling us how the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic can be minimised, have all tested positive for the virus and have been in isolation. Boris Johnson is now in hospital. Maybe we should have been getting our advice from someone else.
This evening the Queen made a very rare broadcast to the nation, only her fifth in 68 years, to reassure us that things will get better and to thank everyone for their efforts.
Before I let you know what I’ve been doing, I should mention that I am a bit old-school. I don’t subscribe to Netflix, I don’t stream films or music at all, I don’t have a cable or satellite TV subscription, and I don’t use a mobile phone.
So what am I doing? I thought the lockdown would give me the opportunity to do some spring-cleaning and decluttering. Unfortunately I decided to start with my old VHS video tapes. They had been recorded from the TV in the 80’s and 90’s. I hadn’t watched any of them for decades and I didn’t even know if I could play them anymore. I started to take them out of the cupboard, I looked at the titles scrawled on the labels, I wondered if it would be possible to watch them again.
So many old favourites to choose from and many that I hadn’t even got around to watching. I didn’t have the time. I do now.
I connected up the VHS machine to my CRT TV, loaded a tape, pressed Play on the remote control. Nothing happened. I went over to the machine, pressed Play, a grainy display and then Margaret Thatcher appeared on the screen. Argh! Fast Forward! I soon reached the opening titles of A Bout De Souffle. I watched this classic from start to finish. 1960, Paris. It still looks so cool. And it felt like a luxury to watch a film all the way through without interruption.
Next up, on the same tape, was another French film. One I hadn’t watched – Le Samourai, 1967. A sixties film noir starring Alain Delon. It’s gripping and beautiful to look at. It’s in colour but there is virtually no colour in it. I’m still pondering the ending. I’ve got plenty of time to ponder.
I’m on a roll now and I haven’t stopped watching my vintage video treasure trove.
Beat Girl – English 1960. Wonderful soundtrack by John Barry – the sleeve notes on the LP tell me that it was the first British film soundtrack to be released on record. A very early appearance by Oliver Reed in a non-speaking role. In the credits his character is called ‘Plaid Shirt’, but this is enough to identify him. Someone else is called ‘Green Trousers’ – this isn’t much help as the film is in black and white and more than one member of the cast is wearing trousers. The film is a kind of English take on Rebel Without A Cause, it’s an interesting period piece.
The film ended and a few seconds later the announcer told me it would be followed by Performance. What? Mick Jagger, James Fox, Nicolas Roeg. Have I died and gone to Cinema Paradiso? No such luck, the tape runs out after 15 minutes.
Next up: Modesty Blaise, 1966, a camp, comic caper with Monica Vitti in the title role and Dirk Bogarde as a super villain living a life of luxury on his private island. The soundtrack, costumes and sets are all terrific. Vitti is imprisoned in a cell which appears to have been designed by Bridget Riley. But this is a Joseph Losey film and possibly, beneath the humour, there is a serious message about what our politicians get up to. I’d forgotten how much I adore this film. I haven’t even mentioned that it also stars Terence Stamp and Dirk Bogarde. That reminds me that I must try to watch The Servant, 1963, again. I’ve been thinking about it ever since Parasite was released last year.
I’ve been putting off watching Wonderwall, 1968, but I finally decided to give it a try. The only things I knew about it were that George Harrison wrote the soundtrack and Jane Birkin is in it, which could be promising. Some of the sets are good, there are some fine swinging sixties costumes, the music is not bad but this film is dross. Jane Birkin is called ‘Penny Lane’, good grief. I feel nauseous. I’m not going to get those 90 minutes of my life back. I don’t mind. I’ve got plenty of time. I’m not doing anything tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that.
I’ll just mention a couple of other old favourites I’ve watched again.
The Abominable Dr Phibes, 1971 – Vincent Price and his young assistant, Vulnavia, wreak revenge on the medics who he holds responsible for the death of his wife. I haven’t been blessed with children but were I to beget a daughter, Vulnavia would be close to the top of the baby names list. I can’t wait to watch Theatre of Blood, 1973, again. It’s exactly the same idea – revenge serial murder but in this version the victims are theatre critics.
The last film I’ll mention is Tampopo, 1986. It was such a treat to watch this film again. A square-jawed, Japanese Clint Eastwood type stumbles into a failing noodle bar. He arrives in a truck, not on horseback. He gets into a fight with one of the customers and then agrees to help the owner to up her Ramen game and rescue the business. The story line is punctuated by a series of vignettes, some hilarious, some poignant, some tragic on the theme of our love of food and drink. There is even a reference to Visconti’s Death In Venice. I had only watched this film once before, and that was a very long time ago, but I could remember every scene. An absolute joy, but some scenes can’t be recommended for vegans.
I’ve been watching a lot of the other tapes. Apart from the films, there are the old commercials, snippets of long forgotten programmes and items of news from a time before 9/11, before Brexit and before COVID-19. The problems seemed smaller then and the world seemed more happy-go-lucky and less fearful.
Anyway, I won’t dwell on that for too long. I’ve got plenty more viewing to be getting on with…
Good luck to everyone in NYC and the rest of the USA and the rest of the world.
I hope we can all get to see each other again before too long.
Listen to The Monochrome Set’s latest album, 2019’s Fabula Mendax, below:
The Monochrome Set – 2020 Tour Dates
08/26/20 – ONCE Ballroom, Somerville, Boston USA (tickets)
08/29/20 – Mercury Lounge, New York City, NY
08/30/20 – TBA, Philadelphia, PA
08/31/20 – Dogfish Head, Rehoboth Beach, DE (free entry)
09/01/20 – Jammin Java, Vienna, VA
09/02/20 – Spirit, Pittsburgh, PA
09/03/20 – Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland, OH
09/04/20 – El Club, Detroit, MI
09/05/20 – Shank Hall, Milwaukee, WI
09/06/20 – Reggies, Chicago, IL
09/25/20 – The Baby G, Toronto, ON
09/26/20 – TBA, Ottawa, ON
09/27/20 – Bar Le Ritz, Montreal, QC
09/28/20 – Fox Cabaret, Vancouver, BC
09/29/20 – Barboza, Seattle, WA
09/30/20 – The Goodfoot, Portland, OR
10/02/20 – Starline Social Club, Oakland, CA
10/03/20 – Til-Two Club, San Diego, CA
10/04/20 – Part Time Punks@Echoplex, Los Angeles, CA