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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

3 February

Buddy Holly dies, 1959

On this day in 1959, 22-year-old Buddy Holly died in a plane crash. He was in a plane because he had suddenly become insanely popular – his songs That’ll Be the Day, Not Fade Away and Oh Boy! had seen to that – and was hopping between gigs on the Winter Dance Party Tour played with a pick-up band posing as his regular band, The Crickets. With him in the plane were fellow musicians Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson aka The Big Bopper, plus the pilot, Roger Peterson. Peterson was not licensed to fly without good visibility (ie by instruments only) and it was snowing that night. The plane crashed about five miles out from Mason City, en route to Moorhead, Minnesota. Holly’s bass player, Waylon Jennings, had given up his seat on the plane to the Big Bopper, whose song Chantilly Lace had recently been a hit, and had joked with Holly that “I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” It became known as “the day the music died,” a descriptor picked up by Don McLean in his song American Pie. Holly was an early example of the new model of performer who wrote, performed and produced his own songs, and was influential on Bob Dylan and Keith Richards, both of whom saw him perform. His publishing rights are owned by Paul McCartney – the Beatles having been thus named at least partly in entomological homage to the Crickets.

1234 (2008, dir: Giles Borg)

There are plenty of films about bands trying to make a go of it, but Giles Borg’s feature debut gets a lot closer to that spirit of chaotic optimism, hopes being raised and dashed, than many. It is quite simply the story of a band, from first knockings to the inevitable “musical differences” fallout, with Borg capturing brilliantly and at furious speed the process – people meet, they realise they have things in common, they form a band, rehearse, they think they sound OK and so make a demo, they decide to make a proper go of it, even though ego compromises are being made by this point. The band, predictably, lie in that hipster territory that’s been mined by outfits like the Pixies ever since the Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed strapped on a Gretsch, but it isn’t so in-your-face that you need shoegazer cred to go with the film’s unshowy mumblecore flow. Divided somewhat archly into tracks (Track Two: Anyone Can Play Guitar) it focuses largely on the whizz guitarist Billy (Kieran Bew) brought in to give the band a bit of poke, and the extent to which that puts original big noise Stevie (Ian Bonar) on the back foot, even though the Billy thing was Stevie’s idea. Meanwhile there’s Emily (Lyndsey Marshal), the bassist whose more conceptual art-school ideas are given short shrift by the rest of the band. Not forgetting the spacey drummer Neil (Matthew Baynton) who is the butt of the film’s drummer jokes. Let’s not overclaim for this film – it is small but it’s very nicely formed, with Borg giving us the atmosphere of late-night London (buses and tubes), half empty pubs, and using skills of compression learnt making commercials to tell in seconds what other directors spend 20 minutes shambling towards. And he gets a little love story in there too. Something for everybody? Not far off. And the film, like the careers of so many indie bands, is short.

Why Watch?

  • A really good debut by a name to watch
  • Captures, almost better than any film, that “let’s start a band” feeling
  • Mike Eley’s evocative lensing of London in summer
  • Smiles of recognition if you’ve ever been in a band, known anyone in a band or even been to see a band

1234 – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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