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 

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