Visit the majority of the major cities in the UK, (London, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Sheffield or Leeds) and you’ll find a rich and varied musical heritage. Although everyone knows Radiohead are from the area, it’s not a place that springs to mind when you think of suburban music scenes.
Dig a little deeper however, and you’ll find it’s not all Inspector Morse, Oscar Wilde and Boat Races to come out of Oxford. Jon Spira has just made a film about some of the great bands past and present from the area. Flush the Fashion took a punt and found out more.
What exactly is the film about?
Well, there’s a division between subject and theme. The subject is the local music scene in Oxford, England. An incredible community which has thrived for the past 30 years, producing some of the most respected and influential bands in modern music – Radiohead, Ride, Supergrass, Foals, Swervedriver, Talulah Gosh, The Young Knives to name just a few. Thematically, the film is about the reality of the industry.
It’s as much about the amazing bands who didn’t make it as the ones who did and it makes the point that the best music in the world isn’t the stuff you get to hear on the radio, it’s the stuff that gets played in small local venues by brilliant musicians who aren’t fated for commercial success and will probably give it all up and get on with their lives. It’s not like any other music documentaries. It’s not the same old rags-to-riches story, this is the story of a whole scene – the promoters, journalists, venue owners, gig-goers AND many bands.
Why did you decide to make the film?
The biggest and most beloved venue in Oxford (where I have lived for most of my life and been a part of the music scene for many years) – The Zodiac – got bought by the UK’s biggest music venue corporation – The Academy Music Group. This sent a shockwave through the scene and it got people in quite a reflective mood as they realised the proud history of the venue was to end. I’d always wanted to document the entire scene as a project and that was the catalyst. I knew it was a story I could construct a film around.
How long did it take to make?
Well, 4 years. I was basically working alone and it was a big job with no budget and I had to fit it in around the day and night jobs I had to work to pay the bills.
What do you need the money for to finish the film?
The actual film was fairly inexpensive to make but to finish it to commercial standards, it needs professional post production work on the edit – a full sound mix and picture grading have to be done professionally and aren’t cheap processes. Then there’s the matter of footage and music clearances. These cost a fortune, far more than any other part of the budget. Licensing music by a bands like Radiohead and Foals is expensive, as is using clips from TV shows from the BBC and Channel 4 archives.
How can people become a part of it or donate?
By going to www.indiegogo.com/anyone-can-play-guitar and I want to stress that we’re not some charity case asking for donations. The donations you make are actually pre-orders on the very limited edition DVD. This is the only way you can get the special edition DVD which will feature material that will not appear on any other release. It’ll come in special packaging and will be hand-numbered.
It’ll have a list of all the donors in it and we’ll only produce as many copies as there are donors. Basically, if this is a film that you could imagine buying on Amazon, we’re saying cut out the middle man, give your money directly to the film-makers a couple of months early and you’ll get a far cooler product for the gesture.
Who is your favourite Oxford band?
Of the current scene, my favourite band is called Dive Dive. Post-punk angular pop with amazing lyrics and brilliant musicianship. Their new album ‘Potential’ just came out and it is a stunning piece of work. You should also check out The Family Machine, their album ‘You Are The Family Machine’ is one of the most perfect albums I’ve ever heard.
My favourite Oxford band of all time? Well, there have been so many but ultimately it’s hard to stray from the general opinion round here which is the greatest Oxford band ever would have to be The Candyskins. A stunning band with an incredible story which forms the spine of the film. They could sell out The Zodiac many times over. Brilliant band.[nggallery id=12]
What is the story with Radiohead and the American radio show?
The press seem to be focusing on this, when it’s one of the less interesting stories from the film but, essentially, Radiohead weren’t successful straight out of the gate. When Creep was first released, it was a bit of a flop in the UK and one of the biggest music magazines even described them as ‘a lily-livered excuse for a band’. It was through hard work and perseverance that they made good. A radio station in San Francisco picked up Creep on import and played it a lot, it was voted their listeners’ single of the year and that’s where the heat started to spread in America. Radiohead’s success started over there, not in the UK.
Where is the best place to see good new music in Oxford?
The Cellar – a subterranean venue in the centre of town is a good, grimy, sticky venue with a low stage so you’re right in the thick of the action. then there’s The Wheatsheaf, which is the upstairs of a pub with a high stage and narrow walls, it’s sweaty and loud and always good. The Jericho Tavern is where it all started and where it all still happens. Radiohead, Supergrass and Ride all played their first gigs there. It’s a bit more comfortable and relaxed these days but there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
Are there any good Oxford based record labels?
Alcopop, Vacuous Pop, Quickfix, Shifty Disco, Truck, Big Red Sky there’s a lot of labels round here.
Who do you think were the one band from Oxford that should have been big, but for one reason or another never quite got there?
The Candyskins would be the obvious answer here – they’re the greatest pop band you never heard. The first time you listen to one of their albums, you’ll be hooked for life. They worked hard too, they deserved it. Suitable Case For Treatment should have been HUGE. Dustball should have made it… I should stop listing them, if you watch the film, you’ll find a whole load of bands who should have but didn’t.
You can find more information on the film here www.indiegogo.com/anyone-can-play-guitar
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