Thursday, April 12, 2012

And in a Nick of Time...Sham 69!!! Oi!!!

This years CIMM Fest brings a great documentary film to Chicago titled “This Band is so Gorgeous: Sham 69 in China”. Don’t walk into the theater expecting the decadence of the Stones “Cocksucker Blues” or the hilarity of a real life “Spinal Tap”. Neither would apply. You can expect to walk into the theater to see a group of men that have held true to their Punk Rock roots since the late 70’s with no compromise. One may think that men in their midlife would appear to be pathetic at their age mounting a stage and performing punk songs from their much more youthful days but nothing could be further from the truth. The energy of some of the shows captured is impressive to say the least. That is not the point of this film although a wonderful bonus. It is simply one facet of this true gem.
Image © Dandy Films

Sham 69 was the first major Punk band to tour China, a country that is caught in the growing pains of dominating the world in manufacturing of cheap consumer goods and struggling with new political and social paradigms. A large part of this film is how one perceives an alien culture and yet processes that experience into ones own artistic history and life.

Even if one is not familiar with the legendary band, Sham 69, it matters little in the context of this film (although you are REALLY missing out). This is really about a human experience. The experience of middle aged men hanging on to something as heartfelt as their music and art, remaining true to their roots and how transposing their own history over the unfolding of a strange and troubled land can become such an emotional experience. This is all not to say that this film is not without its humorous moments but just like real life, everyday is a full range of emotional experiences…laughter, frustration, sadness and feeling alive in the face of it all. This film IS real life.

After watching director Dunstan Bruce’s film I knew that this was an important document and set out to learn more. I was hooked and reeled in. In several certain aspects this film is about a changing world. It is about a group of men growing older but when validated by a group of youth in China take the trip to tour China at the request of a Chinese youth by the name of Ray of the Chinese punk band “ NoName”.
PhotobucketStill image © Dandy Films

Culled from an email to Ilko Davidov of Cimm Fest, was this quote from Tim V. Man “For me traveling and touring there was amazing and having the life experience and the people we met who took immense risks at times as well and people who pioneered for free speech who were arrested whilst we was there, was life changing...”. Deciding that I would try to uncover a bit more of this story I was able to get a contact for Tim V. Man to pose a few questions…Due to the magic of the internet, here is what transpired.

As I viewed the film I could not help but to be taken in by Ray's enthusiasm as far as booking the tour across China. It seems that would be the first reaction one might have. I am left to wonder, did the band really have any inkling of what a tour of China would mean in the larger scope. This is speaking politically of course but personally as well.

Well I think the point being was a guy who had heard of us but was for his part a lad who was motivated by passion over risk and that spoke volumes to me. For the band well I have always gifted the ideal of ‘if you don’t try you’ll never know’ and so when I approached the band with this idea it was more about pushing the band further to at least trying to get back what cred it had lost amongst the masses. The origin as of this was that I had always been writing to various people around the world in the last 15 years and some in China, be they poets or artists etc and at times I found I had a better perspective of what was going on and how they were dealing with it. It was one artist in China who told me about the underbelly of Punk that was emerging in China and one band was NO NAME. The band SHAM 69 was due to do a tour of Australia and New Zealand and for me that was the link so I set about arranging things with Ray. The band at this point were used to my ‘attack’ approach so with the prospect of touring China it was more a case of aah, ok well, erm.

To rephrase this..did you feel like "liberators" of sorts?

Liberators… Christ no I wouldn’t think that or want to, I think that would be sheer arrogance to. I'd imagine my previous incumbent may have like to have self-adorned that tag but not me. I think the ‘people’ have the rights and ability to liberate themselves if anything I would say we was a very small part of the stick that pokes the world in the back and the balls in the front. The thing is with this kind of venture its very easy for people to snipe and ridicule us for going to China and ‘endorsing’ a regime in their eyes but for me Id rather be the enemy within than a watcher from the woods…. unsavoury to some but Jimmy Hoffa once said its sometimes necessary to get in there and mix it up.

One would assume that since the tour was filmed, this is an experience that has been relived over and over so to speak but speaking from the perspective of today, what is the single largest experience that you feel you have taken away from this?

‘One would assume…’ Blimey Shane we’re make an English man of you yet…. well yes that’s the beauty of film, it captures the greatest and the beautiful moments in peoples lives and imaginations. Yes to relive this time is something that I would love others to enjoy and experience, and though Dave has since left the band to pursue his ideals whatever they are.. I can only hope that he looks back on this as something of a unique experience and one that he wouldn’t have or likely to do again. For me I would say the emotion of seeing a people living in naivety of sorts. The country is so vast and for them as people it would take a huge jolt for all of them the co-ordinate that emotion. I was dumbstruck by the hypocrisy but also the cost of human life to maintain this farce…a free market structure in a police state, Maggie T would have been proud.

How 'real' was the fear of being taken away or detained by the Chinese authorities for the music or message of the music to you? Was this ever a thought that hovered in the backs of the bands minds?

Haha…well yes I think for me putting the plans in front of the band and that blank expression of yeah…er great and the realisation of things when we descended the stairs at Shanghai airport and the huge pillars that were draped in the red Chinese flags Ian turned to me with a look of total horror and said ‘Christ Tim what have you got us into’…my reply was 25 years in a Labour camp…but that’s me..hahaha.

No it was the expression on Dunstan and John's faces and Ray when we marched through the border gate like true Brits on the piss that calm reined. Seeing the endless designer shops destroyed my logic cells and then the immortal yellow ‘M’ symbol I thought..God even here!!! But when we arrived at the hotel and whilst waiting for the lift seeing strange people go straight up to the reception desk checking our details and pointing I knew it was all simple. The first show I was told not to sing about anything political or anti communist, and so I harked back to when I was in the Chinese visa office and the man reeled off what I could and could do…so like always I said bollocks and just did it. Everything we said was being noted by the towns cultural officer who stood at the back, I was almost expecting him to ask me how do you spell Fuck Off….still in the end it was more about what they were trying to maintain and what the kids just didn’t care about anymore.

But the time we were in Beijing and I said to the guys we must go to Tiananmen Square was for me the key point. Each corner of the square was guarded by security checks and god knows we managed to get into and there was not one westerner. So within seconds we was approached by this woman who asked us questions constantly and so we decided to split up as she hurtled off to this army truck and that was it…I was concerned about my mates but we knew logic would be better suited to leave the square I was clear until I was grabbed and as I turned it was that moment when Richard Attenborough got nabbed in the great escape and the German retort was ‘YOUR HANDS UP’! For me it was a dodgy looking Chinese guy trying to sell me a watch with Chairman Mao’s hand going up and down…no thanks I said and breathed a sigh. The thing was the element of risk and danger out there is high but you need to be in their radar for it to finish you.

In a world that is on a daily basis increasingly becoming globalized and corporate ruled, with individual world governments being 'micro managers'...what would your hopes or advice be to the youth of China after seeing first hand the scenes that you witnessed?

Good question…yes but on a grander scale, but as Dave said out there it takes time for a people to evolve and I think the logic on comparisons is a one to study further to be honest. The social structure is more like the Emperors New Cloths and when you see that they are trying to live a capitalist lifestyle whilst the poor starve it makes you think about the UK in the 70s. The thing is China is a family orientated people and many generations live together but if you don’t have family your fucked. I saw old people on the streets men and women begging and when we moved through the rural parts some towns and villages were incredible.. Third World status in parts. For the ‘peoples’ ideology it wasn’t working. 70s strikes and power cuts was something that lit the fuse for Punk in Britain but I think in China 1 mans desire to live in a house with running water and a bog will be a long time coming to revolt for. I know many villages are becoming more self-governing and that’s great, I think its because the countries so vast it would never spark things like it did in Britain. As far as the Punk scene in China yes I think things can be addressed through their existence and what they chose to sing about, however I think its going to be something that addressed through all streams of Art/Music and the written word.

What , if any parallels, would you draw between the China at the time of the tour and the 'broken' UK that the 70's punks rallied and railed against?

Well they are seeing it first hand and one thing I saw in abundance and that’s a youth who are not blind or silly they know exactly what’s going on but in parts afraid and that’s understandable. For me I’d say to them again don’t give up and don’t accept the facts unless ‘you’ know them to be true.

What message would you (and the band) give to the youth of the world now that you have all gained the perspectives that time has given us all since the birth of Punk?

HAHAHA….well having seen more punk ‘u’ turns than cows have seen grass and that’s no inference to John Lydon’s Butter ad’s*…. I think it would be don’t look at the reflection in the glass…look through it and then smash through it if you want to see the other side…never accept what’s handed to you first see what’s second third and forth…and above all always remember YOU are the master of your destiny no one else!!!

As China experiences the growing pains of fitting into the larger context of the world today and artists, as they have been known to do historically, cause unwelcome waves in the status quo, do you think that China's youth are striving for the better aspects of Western culture or have signals been crossed as China strives for the more decadent aspects of Westernization?
Yes…it’s a mixed up fucked up place in part…but a great and powerful country that’s living a parallel existence. On one hand you have the oppressive state that harks back to a era that is no longer acceptable in this day and age and another that has gigantic power base of a economy that feeds the simmering resentment with tit bits of western culture from Hamburgers to Pop music….one day it will explode when those things are no longer good enough. For me I see it as the generations change so will the old guard and as they and it dies off the youth of china who will become logical economists without the oppression say to the old guard ‘will the last one shut the door on your way out’!!

This is NOT Sham 69

To see "This Band is So Gorgeous" check out the trailer and information here at this years CIMM FEST. Screening at the Logan Theater Saturday, April 14th

image © Dandy Films
A heartfelt Thank You to Tim V Man for taking the time to chat and answer questions about the film and to Ilko for making this happen.  

interview (C) Shane Swank and Chatter of Apes 2012 

This is Somewhat of Crossover Interest for Visual and Musical Artists.


It happened again...another of my images went viral. When this happened with the Poe Boy image I was somewhat heartbroken, so to speak. I felt like I was bleeding potential money. While I do not consider myself a greedy person, I do need to live. Living on less than 12 thousand a year is quite frankly Bullshit. Not only is it bullshit but nearly unfathomable to most.

Anyone familiar with my work throughout the years and my start as a Neo-Pop artist could easily & rightfully say that I have no right to bemoan the rapid assimilation of my work back into the creative pool.

The problem with the way that I am forced to work now means that much of my work is P.O.D. (print on demand) and this means a few different things as far as the sales and execution of my work goes. First it means that my work yields little profit to begin with. The sites that offer print on demand work are rather greedy with their profit margins for the artists. It also means that the images on these P.O.D. sites are set up so that the image that you see is the image that you get. There is no real way to watermark or protect the images.

IF and that is a big IF, I had the upfront capital to produce the works (be that plates, shoes, t-shirts ect.) in larger quantity then I would be able to realize better returns on my work BUT this also means that I would have to maintain my own website, shopping carts, shipping and build the web traffic from the ground up. I do at the moment have my own site but that still relies heavily on the print on demand market.

A few well spent dollars tossed into the Chinese economy would certainly mean more profit but much, much more work on my part. I am not afraid of an increase in the workload but it still does not eradicate the fact that with working capital I would fair much better in the economical and profit realization fronts.

Putting this all into one easy to swallow pill is a real task. I am trying to think of this in terms of "Free Promotion" and yet that is buying into the same line of reasoning that every artist has nearly come to believe themselves due to the proliferation of the game of "Screw the Artist". The standard line is "It's good exposure". If you have created anything as an artist beyond your coloring book phase at 8 years old then you have likely heard this before. I tend to reply, "I live in the Midwest, people die of exposure in the winter".

I do not want anyone to mistake this as bitterness but rather I am trying to find my way in this new paradigm where every thought can instantaneously be shared. The age of electronic interconnectedness. Musicians full well have had to adapt and perhaps have even felt the sting of this phenomena called the internet. It is, at once, a blessing and a curse at best. This means that an artist can look forward to sharing their latest creations with the push of a button quite literally but this also means that, in essence that work is no longer the property of the creator with the same push of said button.

As I said, this is not intended to be a bitter diatribe but rather an admission that I am grappling with this amazingly brutal behemoth called the internet and trying to find a way to finally enjoy at least a few of the benefits of a lifetime of creativity along the way. Until I finally figure this out, enjoy the work.

End Notes: Thanks for giving this a look/see. It was reposted from my FACEBOOK page and seemed to have struck a nerve with many of my friends.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter 2012-living with our eyes open

Today at a family gathering, I was reminded, surprisingly so, about a tendency that is now no more unfamiliar to me than the back of my own hand.
While my Uncle played DJ to our gathering, his sister, my Aunt, made a song request and when he acceded, she then proceeded to ask that he play the same song again.
Her daughter then began lightly teasing her about it and jibed her about how she used to put a song on repeat in our younger days and leave it on the spindle for hours.
At this point my cousin brought me into the debate and asked if I also recalled when these occasions happened, which I do and I did.
Now, the song in question was Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You”; judge as you will, I recall hating it by the 3rd go ‘round. And it would go on, and on, and on…
My Aunt then dragged my Mom into the debate by asking if she didn’t do the same thing when I was younger and, I had to admit, while the artists were different, I recalled her doing that as well.
Mom would put on a stack of LPs and let them blare throughout the house, when they were done; she would re-queue and do it all over again.
I now realized, this is exactly the routine I play out when I’m in a mood; good, bad or indifferent. You find a song, or songs, which encapsulate your feelings at the moment and wallow in whatever emotions you’re currently dealing with.
I also remember that Mom’s were typically some very melancholy songs, themes of regret, apology or plain sadness.
Until today, I had no clue; So much for being a clever dick.
When I’m in one of those moods, I too, tend to just tune out everything around me and after the song has done its duty, I want nothing more than to do it again- Sam.
Without getting too interpersonal, I have to admit our family had had its share of turmoil but of all the manifestations I recall, nothing resounds with me today as much as the ‘sad song on replay’ and that I failed to recognize it until this, my 46th year on Earth, bespeaks of how much, so very much, there is for me to still learn.
Today, Mom was happy & dancing, enjoying the company of family, extended and close and reveling in the music that was presented, no harm, no foul.
But – Shame on me, and quietly, on my cousin for not seeing the moments in our younger days when the omnipotent parent was, unbelievably, sad.
As it happens to us, it happens to them – And I officially apologize for my error.
This is my paean to Mom because I refuse to play Leo Sayer –

Easter Sunday 2012-Schatzie Guerra

Friday, April 6, 2012

Joe Angio answers 4 questions about his new film "Revenge of the Mekons, Cimm Fest Info and some other Cool Stuff.

Cimm Fest 2012 Information

As many of you in Chicago may already know CIMM Fest 2012 is looming large in the near future with events packed between April 12th to the 15th. Looking through the program this year looking for a writing project for this blog was no simple task as there were so many interesting shows and music related films to choose from. Everything from Scout Shannon’s full color 2-D epic about Gig Posters, ”Just Like Being There” to Old school Punk Legends Sham 69’s trip across China in the world premiere of "This Band is so Gorgeous" directed by Dunstan Bruce and so much more….. No easy choices here.

I finally decided that I would focus on the work in progress “Revenge of the Mekons” directed by former Chicago resident & filmmaker Joe Angio. Even in the eleventh hour Joe was kind enough to grant me a short yet concise interview. Four questions, that’s all I asked (well except that 5th one about the casting couch that he tastefully ignored). Angio will be packing up his director’s chair for the trip to Chicago to attend the screening at the Logan Theater on April 14th at 3pm. "Revenge of the Mekons" is part of Cimm Fests ”Roots-Rock Gods” program.
Photo(c) Victoria Rich

1) Why the Mekons?

There's a short, medium and long version. I'll give you the medium version. Aside from being a fan of their music the thing that makes the Mekons so interesting to me is not so much that they've persevered for 35 years but that they've done so without ever "making it." They've endured and overcome obstacles that would have (and have) made most bands pack it in long ago. What drives a band to keep going when all but the loyal stalwarts have tuned out? Why do they bother? I think it has something to do with staying true to the "punk ethos" (at least as it was understood in 1977). They took this quite seriously and, while they're less dogmatic about it than they were in 1977, they've more or less adopted it as a code to live by, which sounds grandiose but when you see how they scrape to get by while crafting their personal lives around keeping the band together, you see they really put their money where their mouths are, without calling any attention to it. It's really admirable.

Plus, they're the only band from that first blast of punk rock that has endured with what amounts to its core members. There's this myth about how there have been something like 100 members of the Mekons, but that's a misconception because the band's members started using pseudonyms early on (to avoid being thrown off the dole), a practice which continues to this day. And while they've had a number of musicians guest on their records, seven of the eight members of the band most fans know as the Mekons have been together for 28 of its 35 years (and the most "recent" entry celebrated her 20h anniversary this year). So it's not like the Fall, which is basically Mark E. Smith and whoever he recruits to back him. This has been an active, intact band for more than three decades!

2) What was the best/worst part of putting this film together as opposed to your other films?

The worst part is the same old song: the constant hunt to find money. This time I was fortunate enough to find an investor who put up some money early on, which allowed me to continue shooting. And then Kickstarter came along just when I was preparing to edit, so we had ran what turned out to be a remarkably successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign, which paid for the edit. But now we're looking for funds to pay for the licensing of archival footage and the color correct and sound mix. So it's a constant struggle. When I set out on this film I was seriously thinking this was a year-long project; it's now four years and counting. But I'm confident we'll have it finished in time for the fall film festivals. On the bright side, this one has taken me half the time of my last film, the Melvin Van Peebles doc, "How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It)." So it's a good trend line -- the next one should take only two years!

The best part was that it took me to some interesting places, in particular the time I spent with saz/oud player Lu Edmonds in Tajikistan, where he spends a lot of time working with local musicians. I shot him when he was there in 2009, helping to build a recording studio in this small musical-instruments museum in Dushanbe.

3) (If you had kids) What story about making this film would you keep from telling your children?

Probably the crystal meth bender with the Mekons and the model-train enthusiasts in Wales. They'll never hear that one.

4) I always felt like some music seemed to be a personal soundtrack to my own life and I don't think I am alone in this thought. If you picked one Mekons tune that was/is a soundtrack to a time and a place in your life, what song would that be?

I'm actually a relative latecomer to the Mekons -- a colleague at work turned me on to them shortly after I moved to NYC. He gave me a tape of "The Curse of the Mekons" and "I ♥ Mekons," so whenever I hear "The Curse" or "All I Want" it takes me immediately back to that time when I was discovering a new city. And much younger.

An early Mekons single on Rough Trade Records

Mekons doing a dirty and live version of Hard to be Human at the Mean Fiddler in London.