Boy’s on film? No, Mark Kermode is heading to Birmingham to talk about music
He is THE voice of film. Mark Kermode’s BBC Radio 5 Live Show with Simon Mayo has established him as the UK’s foremost movie critic. He has worked on The Culture Show, remains the chief critic for The Observer and is a member of Bafta.
And yet his first love is music, not film, and fans will be able to get a rare insight into his life when he lines up at the Birmingham REP on January 21. Rather than talk about his favourite movies, the world’s best actors or incredible directors, Mark will talk about his utterly foolhardy attempts to fulfill become a pop star.
In his spoken word show, How Does It Feel? Mark will explain how he built an electric guitar from scratch while at school before progressing to a tea-chest bass on the kids TV show Utterly Brilliant.
He became the musical director of a major TV show too – all without ever learning to read music. And Black Country legends Slade were the inspiration for it all. He fell in love with Noddy, Don, Jim and Dave as a kid and ended up recording an album in the same studio that Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis used.
Mark wrote a book about his experiences.
“The point about the book is that it’s a book about being in bands. In the past, I’ve written a few books about films. I learned very early on that if you write a book you’re meant to do readings and tours but I never understood that. So I said I’d just stand up and talk about stuff in the book and do Q&A instead, like stand-up comedy. That worked quite well. Every book I’ve done has been toured. I’ve played at theatres rather than just literary events.
“So the book is about music and the message is that anybody can play anything if they give it a go. I can play of instruments quite badly but nothing well. I started doing a version that was standing up and talking about the instruments. It seemed sensible to take along a range of instruments to these shows. So I took along a theramin and some bagpipes and so on. So it’s me talking about the book and ridiculous haricuts and all that kind of stuff. It was either Lennon or McCartney who said ‘I’m no maestro but if you stick me in a room with a tuba for half an hour I’ll get a tune out of it’.”
Mark used to believe that being a pop star was an attainable goal. He became a fan of music after watching Showaddywaddy at the lido on the Isle of Man. He built an electric guitar when he was a teenager, from plywood and chipboard. “It was like something that Dave Hill from Slade would have played. I thought if a teenager could build an electric guitar, how hard could anything else be. I thought it was doable. I’m still playing in bands now. I never gave up on the idea that it would happen. The weird thing is that if you keep doing it long enough, it sort of happens of its own accord. I’ve done Glastonbury and the Royal Festival and recorded at Sun Studio.”
Black Country glam rockers Slade are a huge part of the book and the title comes from one of their songs, rather than something by Bob Dylan. He loved the Slade film, show at the height of their fame during the 1970s, even though many thought it was not their best work. “I loved it. I thought it was the Citizen Kane of rock‘n’roll. It was a tough and gritty story from a band from the north who are bought up by an investment company from the south who sell them to the public for so many fish fingers. Very quickly, they all start to fall apart. It’s an hour and a half long. It has one of the bleakest endings of a rock film I’ve ever seen. They decided it was best to reflect their own experience in a band. It’s a great depiction of what happens to bands when it stops being about the music and starts being about something else.” Mark, who plays in a successful band called Dodge Brothers, fuelled his passion by playing as many gigs as possible. And he also flew around the world, famously visiting Sun Studio where Elvis recorded many of his hits.
“We went there to record the second Dodge Brothers album. The studio is a museum by day and a recording studio by night. This guy who worked with us was a Grammy award-winning producer.
“He took a liking to us. We couldn’t have afforded to do it ordinarily but they liked the sound of our first album and they liked the fact we wanted to record it completely straight.
“We wanted to record something that sounded like it had been made in 1954.
“It’s impossible to stand in the room and not think that Jerry Lewis sat in the corner and played the piano and made it sound like a jet engine, or that it was the room that Elvis used to change the face of rock‘n’roll.”