『Peter Barakan’s Music Film Festival』
Algerian-born French director Tony Gatlif specialises in road movies featuring the music and culture mainly of the Roma. This is one of his earlier films, from 1997, set in Romania, where a young French man, searching for a female singer who was a favourite of his father, ends up living in a Roma village, and coming into close contact with their culture while dealing with issues of prejudice that cut both ways. The story is secondary, the music magnificent.
Another Tony Gatlif film, this time from 2017, and set in Greece and Turkey, with a background of Rebetiko, the down-home folk music common to both cultures. Djam, the daughter of the operator of a small tourist boat, is dispatched by her father to Istanbul, to acquire a replacement for a broken part of his boat engine. There she also acquires a travelling companion called Avril, and the road home goes wildly astray. As usual story takes second place to great music.
- Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall
CCR’s concert at the Albert Hall on April 14th 1970, part of their European tour which became a hit live album, was filmed, but remained unseen for over 50 years. The first half of this film is a history of the band narrated by Jeff Bridges, followed by the concert footage. One premiere showing only - the film will go on release on September 22nd.
The Concert That Rocked The World
The 1969 Toronto festival that kicked off the rock’n’roll revival of the 70s was famous for hosting the first gig by the Plastic Ono Band. It was filmed by D.A. Pennebaker, and a concert film was released in 1971. This is a different film, a documentary about how the whole comedy of errors miraculously came about. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley and Gene Vincent all appear. One premiere showing only - the film will go on release on October 6th.
When The Specials appeared in 1979, their revival of Jamaican ska with a tinge of punk energy was a shot in the arm to the UK music scene of the time, and within a year a succession of bands debuted via their 2 Tone label. This concert film was shot in 1980, featuring The Specials, Madness, The Beat, The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers and Bad Manners, who each appear one song at a time. A rare chance to see all these bands in action, especially The original Specials with Jerry Dammers.
Dread Beat An'Blood
Linton Kwesi Johnson, or LKJ as he is commonly known, created the profession of Dub Poet, reciting his poems over a roots reggae beat. This short film was made in 1979, when he was on the point of releasing his first album “Dread Beat and Blood.” We see the as yet unknown young poet, who immigrated to London from Jamaica at the age of 11, also working as a writer and editor of Race Today, a magazine combating discrimination.Shown with Babylon.
This Ain’t No Mouse Music!
- The Story Of Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records
Chris Strachwitz, the son of German immigrants, started Arhoolie Records in 1960, and for the ensuing half century proceeded to record and release a slew of records of what came to be known as roots music: blues, cajun, norteño, gospel and more. The common factor is that it isn’t what Chris, who died in 2023, derided as ‘mouse music.’ An iconic label and its founder are lovingly enshrined in this film.
- Revolt Of The Soul
Out of all the music from the African continent, Ethiopian music is perhaps the strangest, and for many years was almost unknown, until a Frenchman called Francis Falceto started a series of compilations entitled Ethiopiques, bringing the hybrid sounds created during a short window of time from the late 1960s to the mid-70s to the world’s attention. This documentary shows how he came across the music in the first place, and introduced us to some of the stars of the genre..
Jon Cleary Trio with Nigel Hall Live in Tokyo, October 21st, 2018
This is a straight performance from the Live Magic festival which (full disclosure) I curate. Jon Cleary is an English piano player/singer/songwriter/ guitarist who has made New Orleans his home for 40 years now, and is currently the foremost protagonist of the New Orleans style of funky piano. He will be making his first trip to Japan in 5 years to play at this year’s Live Magic, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to acquaint more people with his music.
This multi-Oscar winner from 2021 about the daughter of deaf parents trying to make it as a singer, despite its predictable story, has some excellent acting, and also features some great music, especially in the scenes at her singing class in school.
The Bee Gees:
How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
Whether you’re a fan of the group or not, this film tells their story very well, from their youth in Australia to the UK, and then the move to America, predicated, surprisingly perhaps, by a comment from Eric Clapton, who is interviewed here along with many others, including the only remaining Gibb brother, Barry. Were the Bee Gees a disco band? The whole controversy is covered, and will surprise many viewers.
Charlie Is My Darling
- Ireland 1965
1965 was the year “Satisfaction” was released, and the Rolling Stones were enjoying their moment of Stones-mania. This fly-on-the-wall documentary, shot in black and white, follows the band on their tour of Ireland, and includes moments of serenity on trains and backstage, plus some of utter chaos as the fans storm the stage. A rare chance to see the original lineup in their early days playing live.
Crock of Gold:
A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan
An eccentric film about an eccentric character. Ex-Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan, ravaged by decades of drinking but still sharp as a pin, is not the easiest interview in the world, but Julien Temple manages to piece together his fascinating story with input from his parents and sister, and some occasionally radical animation to fill out the gory details. A cautionary tale about the ill effects of a hit record on an epoch-making band.
Once Were Brothers
Although The Band probably achieved their biggest moment of fame with The Last Waltz, featuring their farewell concert in 1976, their early days, beginning as the back-up band for rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins in Toronto, are far more fascinating. This film, shot from the viewpoint of recently departed Robbie Robertson, and loosely based on his book, gives a deep view into how it all came about.
Looking for Lennon
This documentary deals with John Lennon’s childhood in Liverpool, going into the city’s Irish heritage, Lennon’s own convoluted family setup, his schooldays and short period in art school, with interviews with many people who knew him as classmates. What emerges is a portrait of a complex young man who blossomed into the star that we thought we knew.
Alan Parker’s 1991 film based on Roddy Doyle’s novel about a bunch of Dublin youngsters who anachronistically form a 60s-style soul band, complete with horns and female background singers. By casting real musicians rather than actors in the main, the film retains a sense of reality in the performance scenes. For a generation that didn’t experience the elation of soul music in real time, a chance to get to know some truly magnificent songs, with hilarious dialogue too.
Other Music was the name of an indie record store that operated in downtown New York for over 20 years, and thrived despite being right across the road from a giant Tower Records. The music-nerd staff are lovingly depicted in this low-key film that follows the history of the store right up to its demise in 2016 (LINK >
Though he wasn’t the world’s most accessible musician, Frank Zappa single-handedly broadened the scope of popular music from the late 60s to his death in 1993 at the age of 52. This documentary tells his story with the help of some of the musicians who were instrumental in forging his sound.
Songs for Drella
Even if, like myself, you were not a fan of the Velvet Underground, this duo performance by John Cale and Lou Reed, the band’s erstwhile frontmen, is riveting. This review tells it far better than I could:LINK >
Legendary as the spot that gave birth to the LA music scene of the late 60s and early 70s, it turns out that a lot of young musicians moved to Laurel Canyon because it was cheap and close to Hollywood. Even so, the number of talented and original singers, songwriters and players who congregated there, starting with members of The Byrds and including people like Joni Mitchell, was phenomenal.
Sarvam Thaala Mayam
In this typical Indian film the main character is the son of a craftsman who makes the Mridangam, a percussion instrument used in South Indian music. It’s well worth seeing just for the performance scenes, which are astounding.
Song of Lahore
Sachal Studios in Lahore, Pakistan, dealt in standard film music until the Taliban put them out of work for a while. With the local film industry in disarray, the studio band made an album featuring well-known jazz and latin tunes with Indian-style instrumentation, which skilfully avoided descending into pastiche. In the second half of this film telling their story they get an invitation to Lincoln Center, where they end up showing Wynton Marsalis and his crew a few things.
Brasil Bam Bam Bam - The Story Of Sonzeira
Renowned English DJ and record collector Gilles Peterson travelled to Rio de Janeiro in 2014 and put together an impressive array of Brazilian musicians under the name Sonzeira, to create an album encompassing the many different strands of music in the country. His whole trip was filmed, and the result is this fascinating documentary. Seu Jorge, Ed Motta, Nana Vasconcelos, and the astounding Elza Soares stand out.
A low budget Jamaican film from 1978, which almost looks like a documentary, as it features a number of well known reggae musicians including Gregory Isaacs, Burning Spear, Jacob Miller et al, playing themselves. Drummer Horsemouth Wallace rides his motorbike around Kingston trying to become a record distributor. The story is negligible, but the music more than makes up for it.
It’s hard to believe that it has been 12 years since Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27. Without doubt one of the major vocal talents of the 21st century, who, if she had had better advice at an earlier juncture would perhaps still be with us. Knowing the ending as you watch this film, it starts to feel like a Shakespearian tragedy at times, but the music is superlative.
A fascinating documentary about Linda Kuehl, a young New York writer who spent years researching a book about Billie Holiday, only to die in mysterious circumstances in 1978. Her interview tapes with just about everyone who knew Billie surfaced after several decades, and provide the illuminating basis for this film about Billie, and Linda, which also includes hitherto unseen footage of Billie singing live in her final years.
Monk / Monk In Europe
Two short films made for German TV in 1968, featuring Thelonious Monk. One is set in New York, with Monk playing at the Village Vanguard, recording at Columbia studios, and walking around town. The other follows his European tour of that year. Both are in black & white, and feature some excellent playing.
The Jazz Loft, According to W. Eugene Smith
This film tells the story of photographer Eugene Smith’s loft in New York’s flower district, where all kinds of jazz musicians came and went at will during the late 1950s to early 60s.
Smith had masses of audio recordings which figure throughout the film, including Thelonious Monk rehearsing for his famed Town Hall concert.
This documentary looks at the contributions of Native American musicians to various periods and genres of American popular music, from Charley Patton’s delta blues to early jazz singer Mildred Bailey, esteemed guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, The Band’s Robbie Robertson et al. The title “Rumble” is from the Link Wray instrumental hit of 1958, revered by many guitar players as ground zero of heavy metal! An excellent film which also details the horrendous treatment of native people.
British Rock Born In A Basement
The basement in question is the now legendary Ealing Club, where at the dawn of the 1960s, Alexis Korner and the young musicians who were sucked into his orbit in West London, created what would blossom into the British rhythm & blues scene spearheaded by The Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann, The Animals and the like. Though the club is no more, some of the survivors reminisce about the scene of the time.
This drama from 1980 set in London is a gritty depiction of the reggae scene of the time, starring Brinsley Ford of the British reggae group Aswad as a sound system DJ, working against a backdrop of racism, poverty, and police harrassment. Shot entirely on location by Chris Menges (The Killing Field), with a soundtrack put together by dub wizard Dennis Bovell.Shown with Dead Beat An’ Blood.
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