Sunday 29 August 2021

Poem: "You Upset The Grace Of Living"




‘the singing of the song 
sustained an echo of the life…’ 
 (Tim Hardin 1940 – 1980)

you say 
you hear voices 
in your head, 
and that 
one of them, is mine… 

but if poems 
encrypt the lives 
of the poet 
& we write to 
retrieve and revise 
 our self-deceptions 
of the past… 

if memory, 
and the things that 
memory retains, 
are the way we 
make sense of love 

it seems 
this poem I’m writing 
is all about the you 
I hear in my head, 
a poem of that past, 
and the promises 
we failed to keep 

if we listen together, 
the voices we hear 
might help us invent 
new futures

Wednesday 25 August 2021

Interview: Saint Etienne





Sarah Cracknell is the starlet of Saint Etienne. But 
are they just smooth Retro plagiarists? And would 
they smash their guitars in a remake of ‘Blow-Up’?

You out there, reading this Blog, come closer. Closer. Now prepare yourself for a shock. When Sarah Cracknell swears, you tend to notice. 

‘I’m really into the film ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979). That’s one of my favourite films, and it’s based on Joseph Conrad’s book’ she explains brightly. ‘The funny thing is, when I opted to read it on Radio One I didn’t realise how difficult it is to actually read out loud. It’s just m-a-s-s-i-v-e sentences with loads of commas. And you’re trying to find out what the point of the sentence is, in the sentence-structure, while you’re reading it. You end up just going BLUUUURGH. It ended up with me going ‘yes, and blah blah blah – SHIT! BOLLOCKS!!!,’ and they had to edit it out.’ 

She giggles delightfully. Sarah has a fractured innocence you last encountered in a Swinging London movie, where ‘bad language’ still tests out the boundaries of what is daring and what is permissible. She’s explaining how she got to read Joseph Conrad’s ‘The Heart Of Darkness’ on Mark Radcliffe’s radio culture-vulture slot. 

So why choose Conrad? Why not John Braine’s ‘Room At The Top’ or Shelagh Delaney’s ‘A Taste Of Honey’, or at least Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’? Something more evocative of the image Saint Etienne tend to evoke. 

‘We’re deeper than we seem’ says Pete Wiggs darkly. Then ‘if I’d done it I would have chosen the ‘Mr Men’ books. I could just about manage those.’ 

It’s almost like the lyrics of “Pale Movies” – ‘he’s so dark and moody, she’s a sunshine girl.’ 

We’re in the dressing room. Leeds Metropolitan University. The gig was a breathtaking movie of sequenced chart contenders, with Sarah in the lead role. The focal point. She’s still wearing the silver-grey mini-skirt and black leather boots she wore on stage. At her throat is a pink heart choker. 

Saint Etienne are named after a French football team. Sarah’s co-conspirators are Bob Stanley, and the aforesaid Pete Wiggs. Together they write knowing and affectionate, engaging and clever love-notes to Pop’s back-catalogue. They are English Popstrels with Euro-kitsch embellishments. Tone, pace, style, and dance-friendly bass-lines. 

She jokes lightly about getting psyched up for the gig. But seems effortlessly at ease on stage. As though it’s her natural environment. 

‘It is’ says Pete. 

‘It is my natural environment’ agrees Sarah with another throwaway giggle. ‘I love live gigs. No, I don’t get nervous. I wasn’t nervous tonight. But I was worried because my voice has been really hoarse. I thought it was – like, going, and I was worried it was just going to pack up altogether.’ A smile of secret intimacy. ‘And I made the fatal mistake of apologising for not having my voice – two songs in, and then thought ‘why did I do that?’’ 

A little gruffness adds a sexy edge to the voice. 

‘Ye-eh’ she concedes. ‘Yeah, when it’s sort-of s-l-o-w.’ Like she’s imagining Barry White doing it. ‘But some of the songs we do are very high and very intricate. Like “Avenue” (a seven-minute track from ‘So Tough’). That’s really one of the difficult ones. But then, I’ve got Debsey and Siobahn to help me out on that.’ Debsey and Siobahn Brookes nod enthusiastically. They wear, by turn – a Sonic the Hedgehog T-shirt, and a sequinned ‘Miss America’ tank-top. But glitter ye not… 

--- 0 --- 
Sarah on the rigours of touring: 
‘Actually we’ve got quite a plush 
tour coach. With a video’ 

‘Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a little nervous about the future’ sez Carter USM. ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ agree Blur. What’s the answer? A retreat into the past? 

Saint Etienne’s show leads in on tapes of Kathy Kirby and Dusty Springfield. Their first album – ‘Fox-Base Alpha’ (1991) opens out into a booklet of liner pin-ups of Marianne Faithful, Monkee Micky Dolenz, and Billy Fury. A year later they sample the film soundtrack from ‘Billy Liar’ (1963) on their second LP ‘So Tough’ (February 1993), ‘…a man could lose himself in London…’ Then they quote Brian Clough as a ‘Folk Hero’ on the sleeve of their compilation ‘You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone’ (November 1993). Meanwhile, the B-side of their no.1 Indie single duet with Charlatan’s Tim Burgess is a cover of Billy Fury’s “My Christmas Prayer”. 

And someone mentions noticing the Small Faces in their set tonight. 

‘The Small Faces were in HERE tonight?’ goggles Pete. 

No. Not in HERE! In one of the slides used in the stage backdrop. 

‘Yes. They were on the slides’ confirms Sarah. ‘There’s a few of those slides which I’ve forgotten about. That’s why I’m sometimes standing with my back to the audience – I’m watching our slides. I was a bit worried tonight though when I was watching the slides. They’d put the word ‘EASY’ above my head. It’s a slide from the ‘Easy Rider’ (1969) movie, but I turned round and, there it was. ‘EASY’ written above my head! That’s not very nice, is it?’ 

‘It’s awful when the truth comes out’ gags Pete. 

Pete initially pacted with Bob Stanley in 1988. Bob was a music journalist whose review of the Lightning Seeds ‘Cloud Cuckooland’ once graced the pages of a leading music paper with the initials ‘MM’. Their first single together, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, was a cover of a Neil Young song, with Moira Lambert contributing guest vocals. It was followed by “Kiss And Make Up”, again a cover version – this time from obscure Indie band Field Mice. The vocalist is Donna Savage. It’s not until the third single – in May 1991, that the Ett’s third vital ingredient falls into place. “Nothing Can Stop Us” c/w “Speedwell” is an original Stanley-Wiggs song, even though it samples Dusty Springfield (“I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face”). Sarah Cracknell is the voice, breathy, fragile and pure. 

How many French bands are there named after English football teams? 

‘About twenty’ deadpans Pete. 

Wolverhampton Wanderers? Leeds United? …Chelsea? 

‘Ah – yeah’ joins in Sarah. ‘Don’t dare mention Chelsea. Not in this vicinity.’ She nods at Debsey and Siobahn. ‘I’ll get my scarf out,’ 

‘She’s their no.1 fan!’ 

‘There IS a band called Chelsea’ chips in one of the posse. 

But I know that. It was a joke. 

‘Tiger Bay’ (February 1994), issued in CD, vinyl LP, cassette and digital formats, is Saint Etienne’s best-received album to date. Haunting melodies. Opulent orchestral embellishments. Less scope for the usual press swipes about assorted pastiches and the suspicion of tongues not entirely dislodged from stylish cheeks. The album spin-offs also include a David Holmes dance-floor mix of their Disco-friendly “Like A Motorway”, and a Kris Needs Techno remastering of the “Pale Movie” single – quintessential La-La-La Pop with Spanish guitars and tactile-to-the-touch lyrics about a girl with ‘the softness of cinema seats.’ 

But Saint Etienne are still a ‘concept’ band. 

‘In a way. But that’s because we were all Pop fans. Because we were all into the musical heritage, as it were. We like things that are good from certain periods. And we incorporate them into our music. We don’t go all the way. We don’t want to be a seventies group. Or a sixties group. But there’s certain things about those periods that were really cool. And we can adapt them to modern usage. I think most bands are probably the same to different degrees. Everyone always has. The Rolling Stones – they were using Blues. You use things you like. You try to get elements of what you like into it. We get criticised a bit more than others for that. Just ‘cos we’re not a traditional four-piece group. In the old days it was just guitars and drums. But now – with the technology, it’s more easy to replicate things. Now you can ape things really easily. Rather than just incorporating ideas you can end up copying things totally, perfectly. But we’re never going to do that. We’re just taking certain elements from each particular style.’ 

‘In a way it makes me laugh that the Press has had a bit of a ‘pop’ about how we’re retro and how we’re post-this and post-that’ smiles Sarah. ‘Yet now they’re heralding the New Wave Of The New Wave, and that’s the best thing since sliced bread. I mean – you can’t get more retro than that. But that’s what they’re into at the moment. The Music Papers today. They love all that.’

--- 0 --- 
Pete Wiggs on why Saint Etienne have yet to tour 
America: ‘Lack of support from our American 
record company. They’re a bit crap.’ 
Sarah: ‘They’re very crap.’ 

Live, Saint Etienne do “Nothing Can Stop Us Now”. An anthemic declaration of intent. Think Positive – ‘there’s gonna be a storm soon, get ready, ‘cos we’re coming through.’ Then there’s material from ‘Tiger Bay’ – Sarah’s compositions “Marble Lions” and the Poppy seventies-flavoured “Hug My Soul”. She says ‘thank you, you are too kind.’ 

It’s a smooth, flawlessly textured set, opening with the scene-setting instrumental “Urban Clearway”, a track that ‘Q’ magazine describes as ‘wordless sub-techno soundscapes (of) mythical late-nite London’ (April 1994). There’s “Cool Kids Of Death”, a title that’s allegedly a typing error for ‘Cool Kinds Of Death’. But one of the most fascinating titles – “Western Wind”, is a kind of medieval poetry set to (what ‘Select’ calls) an ‘ambient trance Folk ballad.’ Stephen Duffy – of Lilac Time, shares the vocals with Sarah. Then there’s orchestral follies of oboes and cellos chiming with electric guitars of “Former Lover”, a Paul Simon-esque ballad with intriguingly oblique lyrics about ‘Milan, when I was a kitten.’ And there’s more. “On The Shore” has Shara Nelson returning a favour; the Ett’s collaborated on her hit “One Goodbye In Ten”, she sings back-up on ‘Tiger Bay’

Coming off stage Sarah confesses ‘I tried to mention everyone in the band tonight. But I didn’t get everybody.’ As we settle into the dressing room, the omission seems to bother her. Because ‘everybody in the band are friends, ultimately. They begin as friends. And then they end up playing guitar or keyboards.’

We talk more movies. Antonioni’s surreal ‘England Swings’ classic ‘Blow-Up’ (1966). ‘It’s kind of pretentious towards the end’ judges Pete. ‘Though it’s still very good. I like the Yardbirds sequence, where Jeff Beck is smashing the guitar in that Club scene.’ 

Could you see Saint Etienne doing that? ‘What? Smashing our guitars?’ 

No, playing in a film sequence of that nature? ‘It’d be great. If there was a movie sequence in a film in the same vein, I’d love for us to do it. But smashing your guitar is a bit corny in a way now, isn’t it? Although back then, in ‘Blow-Up’, it was still a curiosity. Paul did smash his guitar after one of our gigs. And regretted it ever since.’ 

‘Yes’ enthuses Sarah. ‘Instead of being all Rock ‘n’ Roll about it, he was ‘EEEEK, look what I’ve done!!!’ 

‘He burst into tears, ‘WAAAAAAH, what have I done? WHY?’ 

But talking futures, some Saint Etienne pieces sound exactly like music for unmade movies. “Highgate Road Incident” would not sound out of place on the ‘Blow-Up’ soundtrack. Would they like to work in that direction? ‘Yeh’ from Sarah, ‘We’re just waiting for somebody to ask us.’ 

So does she see Saint Etienne as a long-term project? ‘Until we run out ideas. Until we become boring old buggers.’ 

When Sarah Cracknell swears, she does it delightfully… 

Pete Wiggs on Kim & Kelley Deal’s band, the Breeders
‘They’re a bit more of a traditional Rock band, aren’t they? 
I think we’re a bit more like accountants.’ 
Sarah: ‘STEADY…!’

Monday 16 August 2021



Album Review of: 
‘IN RETROSPECT 1966-1969’ 
(vinyl 1986, Atlantic SD 365391, 
CD 1990, Raven RVCD 14)

‘Life could be ecstasy, with you and me endlessly,’ in that debut Summer of Lurve, sniggery psychedelic brats who deliberately miss-hear the Rascals “Groovin’” for the first time argue whether vocalist Felix Cavaliere closes the second line with the word ‘endlessly’ or ‘LSD’. Later Ravers would make the same sniggery joke by capitalising the ‘E’ of ‘ecstasy’ that closes the opening line. Felix – an ex-Twist Kid from Joey Dee & The Starliters, disclaims all such druggy inferences. As well he might. The luscious Afro-Cuban glide of “Groovin’”, he confesses, is about sweet erotic not stoned narcotic indulgences. Whatever – bird-song, congas and sunshine harmonica, it remains a high-velocity bullet through the brain of a record. 

The Young Rascals started out as one of a million American answers to the British invasion, better and more fortunate than most. They played to an audience of 56,000, supporting the Beatles at Shea Stadium just six months after forming. From their debut chart nibbler, “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” in January 1966, as journalist David Hepworth later noted, ‘it opens with a sneer and a drum-roll… as (he) rehearses the polished put-downs he intends to call down upon his wayward lover’ (‘Q’, October 1993), with its stinging guitar-break, it becomes track one here. To be followed by the exuberantly attacking blue-eyed Soul no.1 “Good Lovin’”, all the way through to “Carry Me Back” in September 1969, they log fourteen straight U.S. Top Fifty hits for Atlantic, dropping the ‘Young’ prefix roughly midway as their style and status matures. 

They’d started out as a Wop-Bop New Jersey-Italian four-piece playing convincing R&B, while wearing Little Lord Fauntleroy choirboy shirts and knickerbockers in order to visually imprint a ‘rascally’ identity onto a basically unpretentious and non-extrovert band. But, as this twenty-five-track compilation (twenty on the vinyl edition) effortlessly proves, they were no musical slouches. Drummer and co-vocalist Dino Danelli was a graduate of the Lionel Hampton school of swing, blending the Latin and cool Jazz tinges into “Groovin’”. While strong group compositions such as “Heaven” and “People Got To Be Free” show an evolving verve at matching social-aware lyrics to radio-friendly melodies, the latter a rousing plea widely interpreted as a Martin Luther King tribute which sold a clear million singles two decades before U2’s “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”. Whatever its provenance, with non-obtrusive horns and gospel-fused energies, it’s perfectly attuned to the restlessly impatient mood of the times. 

They only went Top Ten once in the U.K., although “A Girl Like You” narrowly grazed the fifty. But ‘in a world that’s constantly changing,’ probably their finest single – “How Can I Be Sure”, treated with waltz-time swirling strings and French accordion, fell foul of cover versions, first done acceptably well by Dusty Springfield, then more successfully and ineptly by the wretched David Cassidy. The Rascals ‘NME’ review at the time said ‘when I tell you that it’s largely waltz-time with an accordion in the backing, you’ll probably shudder. But don’t! Because there’s also a sensitive solo vocal, unmistakeable West Coast harmonies, a strong jazz feeling blended with the waltz rhythm, and deep-throated cellos weaving in and out of the backing.’ 

Meanwhile, after a brief acid phase, the Rascals withdrew. Danelli became a ‘Disciple Of Soul’ for Little Steven Van Zandt’s ‘Men Without Women’ (1982) album, Cavaliere scored a one-off solo hit with “Only The Heart Sees” (in April 1980), Danelli and Canadian guitarist Gene Cornish enjoy a slight revival as half of smooth power-chord rockers Fotomaker, while percussionist Eddie Brigati recorded a “Groovin’” à la Disco, then vanished. But this set is really all that matters. John Cougar Mellancamp tributes the (Young) Rascals as influences, alongside Frankie Lymon and the Shanri-La’s on his hit single “R.O.C.K In The USA”, and in such company is a mighty fine place to be. 

Ecstasy, endlessly. 

Track By Track By Track...

(1) ‘I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore’ (2:46), US no.52, written by Kori Burton & London-born songwriter Pam Sawyer, with Eddie Brigati’s lead talk-vocals 

(2) ‘Slow Down’ (3:14), B-side of (1), cover of the Larry Williams song 

(3) ‘Good Lovin’’ (2:31), US no.1, written by Artie Resnick & Rudy Clark. Originally recorded by the Olympics, and ineptly covered in the UK by Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, the Rascals is the definitive version. 

(4) ‘Mustang Sally’ (4:01), B-side of (3), cover of the Wilson Pickett hit 

(5) ‘You Better Run’ (2:27), US no.20, written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere. Covered in the UK by Listen, an early Robert Plant group. 

(6) ‘Come On Up’ (2:45), US no.43, written by Felix Cavaliere 

(7) ‘Love Is A Beautiful Thing’ (2:31), B-side of (5), written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere 

(8) ‘What Is The Reason’ (2:24), B-side of (6), written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere 

(9) ‘I’ve Been Lonely Too Long’ (3:02), US no.16, written by Felix Cavaliere, stabbing keyboard with Motown drum-snap and call-back vocal responses 

(10) ‘Baby Let’s Wait’ (3:20) from 1966 LP ‘The Young Rascals’, written by Kori Burton & Pam Sawyer 

(11) ‘Groovin’’ (2:32), US no.1, written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere, bass by Chuck Rainey 

(12) ‘A Girl Like You’ (2:51), US no.10, written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere

(13) ‘How Can I Be Sure’ (2:54), US no.4, written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere 

(14) ‘It’s Wonderful’ (2:35), US no.20, written by Eddie Brigati & Felix Cavaliere 

(15) ‘A Beautiful Morning’ (2:35), US no.3 – first as by The Rascals, written by Brigati & Cavaliere, chiming intro and something of the ‘Groovin’’ groove, ‘there will be children with robins and flowers’ 

(16) ‘It’s Love’ (3:13), B-side of (12), written by Brigati & Cavaliere 

(17) ‘Easy Rollin’’ (2:56) from 1968 LP ‘Once Upon A Dream’, written by Brigati & Cavaliere 

(18) ‘Rainy Day’ (3:43), B-side of (15), written by Brigati & Cavaliere 

(19) ‘Silly Girl’ (2:45) from 1968 LP ‘Once Upon A Dream’, written by Brigati & Cavaliere 

(20) ‘People Got To Be Free’ (3:00), US no.1, written by Brigati & Cavaliere 

(21) ‘A Ray Of Hope’ (3:42) US no.24, written by Brigati & Cavaliere 

(22) ‘Heaven’ (3:24), US no.39, written by Felix Cavaliere 

(23) ‘See’ (5:01), US no.27, written by Felix Cavaliere 

(24) ‘Carry Me Back’ (2:50), US no.26, written by Felix Cavaliere 

(25) ‘Glory Glory’ (3:20), US no.58 written by Felix Cavaliere

Eddie Brigati (born Edward Brigati Jr., October 22, 1945, Garfield, New Jersey) – vocals, percussion 

Felix Cavaliere (born November 29, 1942, Pelham Manor, New York) – vocals, keyboards, Hammond organ with Leslie Tone Cabinet 

Gene Cornish (born May 14, 1944, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) – guitar, vocals 

Dino Danelli (born July 23, 1944, Jersey City, New Jersey) – drums

Saturday 14 August 2021




Album Review of: 
(1987, Native NTVLP29)

It’s tempting, and easy as 1-2-3, to suggest that when Stephen Singleton quit ABC he took with him the spirit of effortless innovation that made ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ (1982) the most breathtaking audio fix of the early-eighties. It’s just as tempting to see in this first long-playing product from Sheffield’s latest makers and shakers, evidence of that same inventive audacity. But although Singleton co-produced this lushness of seductive strings over-dubbed on high-speed sampling and surgically precise editing, Sean Maloney and Mark Swancott (collectively: Screaming Trees) are their own men, and more concerned with creating next waves than recreating previous ones. 

Their early vinyl stabs and forays – “Beaten By The Ugly Stick”, a debut EP concocted without Alphabet Soup nutrition, and “Iron Guru”, a ‘NME’ Single Of The Week, set them firmly into their own continuum, which ‘A Fracture In Time’ takes to the limit. It shimmers with the kind of awesome image-density that it took Trevor Horn banks of mega-£££’s/Music Computers/Fairlights to achieve, but which here pours painlessly through an Indie album that’s come up like three cherries on the great fruit-machine of life. Even where the vocals lack flexibility, they’re fixed into soundscapes of shocking beauty and constant surprise, filching tracts of movie dialogue from the days before Netflix had Talking Pictures – Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s ‘Spellbound’ (1945) for ie, and welding them into teasing snatches of everyone from the Jackson Five (“The Love You Save”), through Earth Wind & Fire horn stabs, Run DMC, and an explosive mesh of artfully-contrived hard-edged dance rhythms to choreograph the brain’s most sensual pleasure centres. ‘motives are like reptiles, that crawl in the mind’ Mark voice-overs on the stand-out “Understand”, but “Guru-ed Up” and “The Big Hitter” are equal contenders. Then there’s “M1L35” and “Asylum”. 

It’s tempting to recall ABC’s ‘Radical Dance Faction’ phase, and suggest that this is even more Radical, even more Danceable. It’s tempting, and easy as 1-2-3. 

Side One: 
(1) ‘Fractured Time 1’ 
(2) ‘Asylum’ 
(3) ‘Understand’ 
(4) ‘Balance’ 
(5) ‘Coliseum’ 

Side Two: 
(1) ‘Guru-ed Up’ 
(2) ‘Fractured Time 2’ 
(3) ‘The Big Hitter’ 
(4) ‘M1L35’ 
(5) ‘Don’t B Afraid’ 
(6) ‘Fractured Time 3’ 

Sean Maloney: bass, guitar 
Mark Swancott: vocals, guitar, drum programming 
Mary Ryan: additional vocals 
Production: Stephen Singleton & David Lewin 
Editing & engineering: Alan Fish 

‘Screaming Trees’ was the name of a guitar effects pedal, hence it was no surprise that other bands also adopted the name, and when Mark Lanegan’s American Screaming Trees broke big, it became apparent that the UK variant was no longer viable. This album was later reissued as a Cherry Red CD. While the duo reappeared as Success, with an album titled ‘World Crash’. Probably their biggest claim to fame was being sampled by Trent Reznor for the first Nine Inch Nails album, ‘Pretty Hate Machine’

Friday 13 August 2021

Cult Movie: The Earth Dies Screaming




Movie review of: 
With Willard Parker, Dennis Price and Virginia Field 
Director: Terence Fisher. 
Producer: Robert L Lippert & Jack Parsons. 
Original Release: Twentieth Century Fox, 14 October 1964 
DVD: Region 1 September 2007, and Region 2, August 2011

Some slight degree of hyperbole here perhaps? 

A train derails. A car explosively impacts into a brick wall. A bowler-hatted commuter collapses on the station platform. A plane plummets from the sky. There are inert bodies littering the street. Sundogs break loose across the sky behind the credits. Pay attention… it doesn’t get more apocalyptical than this! The Earth doesn’t actually die. In fact, what could be described as the action never strays far beyond the limits of the picturesque Surrey village of Shere. And the only screaming that happens in this modest little film is of the kind that the female of the species were prone to in movies of this nature and vintage. ‘This apocalyptic science fiction thriller will scare the living daylights out of you!!!’ screams the DVD blurb. Well, perhaps not.

A Land Rover with ‘North England’ insignia corners into the typically quaint ‘Midsomer Murders’ village. There are bodies in the street. The tough no-nonsense driver gets out, searches into the window-display of a small electrical store, and loots a transistor radio. This lone shotgun-carrier is American Test Pilot Jeff Nolan (Willard Parker), assigned to a US/Canada/British aircraft project. After test-flying a vertical rising jet, he’s now trying to make sense of the disaster-strewn world he found waiting on his descent. He enters the Tudor-beamed ‘Manor House Lodge’ hotel bar and tries the TV, but picks up only interference. The same electrostatic he hears on the radio. 

When a man with a pistol enters, holding a woman… 

Producer Robert Lippert had been making low-budget films since he founded ‘Lippert Pictures’ in 1945, mostly westerns and crime drama, with only occasional forays into Sci-Fi with ‘Rocketship X-M’ (1950), and – with Terence Fisher, ‘Spaceways’ (1953). Fisher, who also directed Lippert’s ‘Murder By Proxy’ (1954) and ‘A Stranger Came Home’ (1954), was familiar through his groundbreaking work with Hammer, reliably conflating visually-competent movies from very limited financial resources. Using dramatic lighting and camera-angles to compensate for inadequate sets, he’d launched the entire Hammer franchise by directing ‘The Curse Of Frankenstein’ (1957) and its many sequels. His subsequent freelance ventures include this fortuitous reconnection with Lippert, which also offered him the opportunity of working with close friend Thorley Walters. Once Willard Parker’s American name was added to the cast-list, ensuring visibility across the Drive-In circuit, the project was green-lighted. A solid bit-player who’d not only been talent-spotted by Zeppo Marx, but shared screen-time with some of the major stars of the period including Boris Karloff and Mickey Rooney, he’d achieved more recognition as Jace Pearson in the CBS-TV series ‘Tale Of The Texas Rangers’.

Now the newcomers who promptly help themselves to whiskey from the hotel bar are Peggy Hatton (Virginia Field), who arose from a hospital oxygen tent into the depopulated world, and a smoothly cynical Quinn Taggart (Dennis Price). The faint mushroom smell in the air suggests a lethal gas attack. ‘What happened earlier this morning was no accident’ Taggart coolly decides. ‘Whoever did it, won the war. All they’ve got to do is move in and take over, and then it’s every man for himself.’ 

The trio are joined by two further survivors, who’d been first glimpsed slumped in a crashed car. Dapper drunk Edgar ‘Ed’ Otis (Thorley Walters) and Violet ‘Vi’ Courtland (Vanda Godsell) in a long evening gown, they’d escaped the gas by sharing a little infidelity in an air-conditioned Lab. ‘I thought you were dead’ says Jeff. ‘Maybe we all are’ he grumbles despondently. It’s Vi who first spots the two slow-moving silver-suited figures through the net curtains. Assuming they’re part of a rescue squad she pursues them, teetering on high heels. The nearest figure raises its hand. Her head glows, and she collapses. From the hotel window they open up a barrage of shots at the receding figures, to no effect. This constitutes their First Contact moment with the aliens. ‘They Came From The Heavens… And Sent The World Into Hell’ screams the DVD strap-line. 

Another car brings two more survivors to complete the disparate group, a surly Mel (David Spenser), and young wife Lorna Brenard (Anna Palk). ‘A cheeky kid and a pregnant girl’ snipes a disapproving Taggart. They’d hidden out in an Air-Raid shelter that was likely sealed against radiation. ‘Maybe those little Men from Mars are back again?’ sneers Mel. ‘We know there’s something out there’ agrees Jeff grittily. Later, as Jeff hurtles to the rescue in his Land Rover he smashes into an alien, only to discover that it is purely robotic. ‘Our own space programme has robot devices designed for use on the Moon and Mars’ he explains helpfully. But aliens aren’t the only hazard. As Taggart prepares to sneak away during the night, the dead Vi comes back to life – her blank eyes devoid of pupils, and he shoots her. These marauding zombies are human slaves of the bulletproof alien machines, emitting eerie electro-throbbing sounds. Peggy is menaced by two lumbering zombies on the hotel stairs, there’s no high-kicking martial fightbacks as we might expect today, instead she flounces away to hide in the wardrobe, although the Walking Dead are so scary they could easily be outpaced at little more than a brisk walk! Nevertheless, the group stock up with weapons from the drill hall at the local Territorial Army Regimental Headquarters. 

At any given time, there are never more than two alien robots onscreen. This is not a high-budget production. The effects are minimal. No UFO sightings or predatory descending spaceships, although the penetrating electro-sound effects and the effective music score by classical composer Elisabeth Lutyens add to whatever occasional menace does occur. Peggy waking in hospital into a transfigured world strongly recalls Bill Masen (Howard Keel) in ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ (original 1962 movie). While conditioned-human slaves serving robotic alien invaders recalls the widescreen ‘Dr Who And The Daleks’, which – although the movie with Peter Cushing playing the Time Lord did not arrive until August 1965, reprises the BBC-TV serial version of a year earlier. 

It’s essentially a small-group jeopardy plot, depending as much on internal tensions as external threat, in which rugged responsible Jeff naturally assumes control. ‘You’re very sure of yourself’ accuses Peggy. The foppish Ed drinks himself fatalistically into oblivion. While Mel starts out as insolent and rebellious. He has a box of stolen, but useless money. Yet when Peggy helps deliver Lorna’s baby – to aid the human interest angle, Mel paces the floor outside. And fatherhood helps mature him into Jeff’s strong supportive lieutenant. While Taggart – who derisively calls Jeff ‘Prof’, is effortlessly devious. A veteran of Ealing’s classic ‘Kind Hearts And Coronets’ (1949), Dennis Price’s suave elitist pragmatism steals the film. ‘There aren’t any rules’ he says with existential certainty, ‘there isn’t any order. We can make any kind of world we like.’ Before he slugs Jeff and kidnaps Peggy in a flash sports car, taking his ‘every man for himself’ philosophy literally.

Finally Jeff and Mel triangulate the controlling radio signals that are using a local booster transmitter. Just as robots move in to stop the pylon’s detonation, and more aliens – led by a zombie Taggart menace the women. But once the mast is felled they all collapse inactive, and Ed rallies sufficiently to shoot the zombie-Taggart, discovering his own salvation beyond booze through situational necessity. In a hasty tacked-on closing sequence the group commandeer a plane in order to fly south hoping to contact other survivor groups. 

So, although the name will recur as the title of a 1980 UB40 no.10 hit single, in this cinematographic instance, it is not exactly accurate. The Earth does not die screaming. Neither is the film likely to ‘scare the living daylights’ out of anyone, even when it’s viewed from the threadbare stalls of an old-style flea-pit cinema. Although this sharp black-&-white celluloid artifact nostalgically recalls a time when screaming was more fashionable, and scares came with a zero-budget price-tag.



Original Release: Lippert Films, through Twentieth Century Fox, 14 October 1964. Directed by Terence Fisher, in black-&-white at Shepperton Studios, London. Produced by Robert L Lippert and Jack Parsons. Written by Harry Spalding as ‘Henry Cross’, script editor Renée ‘Rene’ Glynne. Edited by Robert Winter. With Willard Parker (as Jeff Nolan), Virginia Field (as Peggy Hatton), Dennis Price (as Quinn Taggart), Thorley Walters (as Edgar ‘Ed’ Otis), Vanda Godsell (as Violet ‘Vi’ Courtland), David Spenser (as Mel Brenard), and Anna Palk (as Lorna Brenard), Jack Arrow (dead train driver). Music by Elisabeth Lutyens, with Philip Martell as musical director. 62-minutes. 
Released as a ‘Final Cut’ Region 1 DVD 11 September 2007, 
and Region 2 29 August 2011. Blu-Ray, Signal One Entertainment, 26 March 2018