Thursday 2 April 2020

Still Crazy

"Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais" is a virtual stamp of quality.
They're responsible for The Likely Lads (and Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads), Porridge, Going Straight, Auf Wiedershen Pet, The Commitments, Flushed Away and The Bank Job.
They also wrote this - the story of a defunct 70s Rock Band reforming for a second shot at glory.

In 1977, Strange Fruit - who had achieved moderate success - appeared at the Wisbech Festival with Mott The Hoople and Little Feat.
Original frontman Keith Lovell had died a couple of years previously, to be replaced by Ray Simms.  Relationships with other members - Les Wicks (bass), Beano Baggott (drums), Tony Costello (keyboards) and Brain Lovell (guitar) - were strained, and this Festival was to be their last ever performance.

Twenty years later, a holidaymaker (who also happens to be the son of the original promoter of the Wisbech Festival) meets Tony Costello in Ibiza.  He tells of a plan to re-stage the Festival with the original bands, and asks Tony if Strange Fruit would appear.
Tony's first contact is Karen - their Wardrobe back in the day.  Between them, they set about tracking the others down.
Ray they find in his Rock Star Mansion (with a hidden For Sale sign) - at first he's reluctant to join up citing his work on his solo album.
Les now has a roofing business - and is initially even more reluctant than Ray.  Until he climbs into his loft, finds his old bass guitar, and then has a "why not" moment.
Beano, who now works in a Garden nursery (and lives in a caravan at the bottom of his mum's garden), is more than happy to go back on the road and escape the Inland Revenue who are on his tail.
Their old Road Manager, Soundman, and undying supporter, Huey is brought out of retirement, and brings stories and memorabilia of the band's past.
Guitarist Brian is nowhere to be found - presumed dead.
As Record Company interest has been stoked (sort of) - a tour is arranged for Holland, meaning a new guitarist is needed.  From the auditions a young hopeful (probably half the average of the band) is hired.
The tour has a shaky shaky start, with confusion about the key the songs are in, when to start and stop, and general audience apathy.  And then one night right at the end of the tour - as is the way of films - it all comes together, and they are ready for a return to Wisbech.
Whilst in Holland, Ray falls through the ice on a frozen canal, and sees vision of Brian - he's somewhat freaked (as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who's just fallen off the wagon would be).
Also in Holland, Les starts plying on old song - "The Flame Still Burns" - in a supposedly empty tour bus.  The guitarist hears the song and asks Huey why it is not part of the act.  According to Huey, the song - written by Les and Brian - is no longer played because Les doesn't like Ray's treatment of the song, and Ray won't let Les sing it on stage.
In another fortuitous moment for plot chronology, the day after they return from Holland is the anniversary of Keith's death.  Karen visits the grave and finds a card saying "Love You Man, Brian".
Now this could be a crank, or it might actually be Brian (returned from the dead, or never went there in the first place).  She confronts Huey who admits he has been protecting him.  Huey reluctantly tells Karen where he is, and she goes to visit him - convincing him to put in an appearance with the reformed Fruits.

And so they arrive at Wisbech, all fired up and fully reformed.  The Press Conference starts well enough, and then Brian gets more and more uncomfortable with the constant questioning and walks out, and announces he will not be playing.
A stunned Strange Fruit take to the stage to mild applause, and commence an out of tune, out of time, ramshackle performance.
And then, Tony Costello plays the opening chords to the "Flame Still Burns", Ray allows Les to take the vocal.
The crowd noise dies away, and all eyes are on stage.  At the point of the guitar solo, Brian straps on his guitar, and reluctantly takes to the stage, plays the solo like a pro, and the crowd are in raptures at the return of the greatest Prog Rock band of the 70s that no-one has heard of.
For all it's cliche, it is a truly triumphant ending to a film.
As the credits roll, the voiceover comes in, reminding us, the viewer, that not everything in the world of Strange Fruit runs smoothly:
"and how are they going to bollocks it up this time?"

Just what is it that makes this film so good?
1. It's written by Clement and La Frenais - rarely does anything bearing those names disappoint
2, It has a great cast, and avoids the inclusion of a big name (and a big salary) to pull the punters in - and each and everyone put in a convincing performance
3. Unlike some other period films, this has an original soundtrack where some effort was spent on the songs - rather than just creating a simple pastiche, or just re-cycling old tracks.
The main man on the soundtrack was Chris Difford, ably supported by Clive Langer, Russ Ballard, and Foreigner's Mick Jones.  There’s also a couple of Jeff Lynne co-writes (with Ian La Frenais).

The trailer:

All Over The World:

The Flame Still Burns:


  1. Did you ever see Tutti Fruitti the TV series staring Robbie Coltraine which was along similar lines or was it just a Scottish thing?

    1. Tutti Fruitti was from 1987. I didn't watch it first time round. I think it's now available on DVD after years of contract issues and apparent loss of film masres by th BBC.
      Have seen it now via certain internet methods.

    2. I should add that it was worth the wait - I now understand why a DVD release was so loged for

  2. Great stuff. One of my favourite films and such a great cast.