Doc celebrates Scotland's Chemikal Underground label
In 1997, a group of musicians from Glasgow travelled to Mauron, France to play a festival. 18 years later, they have returned – this time with a film crew in tow. That these musicians include members of Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and the Delgados means that we’re in for some wide-ranging chatter as well as strong tunes. “Is this us peering back to the past or gazing hopefully into the future?” asks the Delgados’ Stewart Henderson.
Niall McCann’s film offers a number of different narrative strands. On one hand, it is a historical piece about the social and cultural backdrop that gave rise to the Chemikal Underground label and associated bands. On another, it is a Proustian reverie as these musicians tug their luggage round sites in present day northwest France, revisiting hazy memories.
But perhaps most thrillingly, it is an archival reconstruction of the trip itself from Glasgow to Mauron itself, assembled through archive footage, photographs and fresh interviews. In a time before low-cost airlines, this involves managing 54 people on a lengthy, alcohol-fuelled journey involving assorted modes of transport. A coach, for instance, from Glasgow to the ferry terminal at Portsmouth: “It was bawbaggery times ten,” reveals Arab Strap’s colourful former manager, Tam Coyle. David Sosson, the festival organizer, describes it succinctly as, “Fire, stealing, missing people.” The 1997 trip climaxes with a football match between the visitors and the locals that could have been taken straight from an Irvine Welsh story.
In the present day, there is an emotional speech from Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, Alex Kapranos bring his most Alan Partridge-esque jumper while, at the film’s climax, a ‘supergroup’ named the Maurons is formed involving some of the participants. McCann’s film is a significant step-up from his 2012 Luke Haines doc, Art Will Save The World. This is a warm, rich business.
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