Flawed Is Beautiful: These Animal Men/S*M*A*S*H Film Bio
There have been many a great film made about different music explosions; Woodstock, Madchester, House Music, add to them Flawed Is Beautiful which features music faces who lived and breathed the famed New Wave of the New Wave music era and who lived to tell the story of 2 bands that lit up the music scene in the mid 90’s in a way that no one was expecting. I also interview the film’s creator and director Adam Foley.
Much like the Sex Pistols, These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H cause mayhem from the word go. Fuelled by making a ‘artistic moment to express our defence of rock & roll and the ordinary kid’, words from TAM guitarist Julian ‘Hooligan’ Hewings, both bands lit up what was a drab time in the music world which was something that drove on and helped to create the ‘Britpop’ scene.
At the time of both bands existence there was no internet, no Facebook etc… so the national weekly music papers N.M.E. and Melody Maker were at the centre of every UK music fans world of music. Both publications lapped up the controversy caused by both bands, which is picked up in the film. Drinking, drugs, songs about drugs, playing gigs in school, Adidas Samba, archive TV news reports and archive gig footage from the time, it’s all covered in the film to make a tasty mix of punk/pop delivered at 100mph. The film touches on both bands formation, rise and subsequent shenanigans in the studio, at gigs and on the road, included is plenty of brilliant archive footage, much never seen before and pictures from the acclaimed Martyn Goodacre. The film manages to capture a time in British music when it was trying to find it’s way through the thick hair of grunge, that eventually made it’s way out to the birth and popularity of bands like Blur, Oasis and Pulp.
If you haven’t heard the music of These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H then the film is a brilliant introduction to both bands. If you don’t like the bands music, the film is great to watch just to hear each members highs and lows being in each band, with the Music journalists of the time weighing in with their experiences of going to the bands gigs and subsequent rise to fame.
Adam is yet another amateur British film maker that has done more than just make a average film, this is more than worth watching and will get you pogo-ing on the spot from the opening titles. S*M*A*S*H the system and ‘speed’ to get this on your television screens!
Interview with Adam Foley:
When did you first hear/see These Animal Men/S*M*A*S*H?
I first heard the bands in April 1994. I was getting disillusioned with all the grunge and indie stuff. I’d spent far too many hours trying to force myself to like Smashing Pumpkins albums – it was like wading through treacle. There was one moment in particular, the day after it was announced Kurt Cobain had killed himself, I went to see the Wonderstuff and I was looking at the audience all wearing German army parkas, with long greasy hair and t-shirts with ‘Idiot’ written on them. Everyone looked awful – I include myself in that. I just thought ‘I don’t want to be part of this any more’. The next day I was reading through the piles of Melody Maker and NMEs I had stacked up around my room, searching for something, anything new – a new look, some new bands – I saw These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H and thought ‘that’s it – I want to look like that’, I had no idea what they sounded like at that point, I didn’t care. I’d found my new favourite bands.
Did you see all the hype form in the press from both bands rise to popularity?
Yes, I got completely swept up in it. I revelled in it. It’s become unfashionable to say this about that time, but I really got off on the ambition of it all. I liked the fact that the bands went on about how great they were. It was so different to the almighty shrug that sat around the scene at the time. That whole thing ‘We just do what we do, if anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus’.
I also got off on the idea of a complete separation from before. I was looking for something that I could inhabit completely. Before that, I’d sort of inherited bands from older friends – they were like hand-me-downs, I was always on the backfoot. This was the first time I’d found something that felt like it was all mine, that no-one else knew about and not only that, it came from a position that allowed me to reject all the stuff everyone else liked. I was glued to every single piece that was written about them. When they started getting on Top of the Pops, I felt like my team, had won the FA Cup. I thought I was part of a revolution. I sold all my grunge records and used the money to get my hair cut short, get some Adidas tops, chelsea boots, white jeans and eyeliner. It was a strong look to carry off in rural Devon. I got loads of grief about it, but I didn’t care. There was something about those bands that made you walk tall.
At the same time i picked up a copy of ‘England’s Dreaming’ by Jon Savage and just became obsessed with the Sex Pistols at the same time. Again, no-one I knew was listening to them. There was no YouTube of course, and no-one had any videos of them, so I just went over and over the photos in England’s Dreaming and listened to ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ endlessly, until I could get hold of the S*M*A*S*H and These Animal Men records.
What did you most like about the bands?
The main thing was it felt like they were looking up rather than down at their shoes. Indie music was apologetic at the time, shuffling and hiding behind its fringe. With grunge the default setting was to pretend to be depressed. With S*M*A*S*H and These Animal Men, it was proud and defiant. You felt like you could swagger. It was confrontational. It felt good to feel a bit cocky. The music was just life affirming – it just fizzed with energy. When you’re 16 or 17 and looking for an identity – it was all there for you. I was also into a lot of dance music and hip hop – there was a similar attitude, it felt like having a good time was a statement in itself, a total rejection of this dull grey shroud that indie music seemed to be wearing.
Did you ever them both live? Any crazy stories from seeing them live? Both bands were pretty controversial would you say?
I saw These Animal Men live twice. Once at the Exeter Cavern in 1994, just before ‘High Society’ came out – it was mind blowingly good. The ticket was £3.50 and I couldn’t sleep for days before I was so excited. I thought I was going to meet the rest of the tribe, the other people like me who had been turned on by the bands. I thought maybe I would meet some people I could form a band with. Sadly that didn’t happen and I ended up leaving before the end though as I got lucky! The second time was at the end of their career, in Birmingham, around about November 1996 at the Foundry. it was the leather and pin-stripes era – they looked amazing and they were better than ever as a band, but there was only about twenty people there. I remember going in the dressing room and they were so despondent, it was heart breaking.
I never got to see S*M*A*S*H at the time, I think I wasn’t allowed out the night they played, maybe I had a GCSE exam the next day or something. The first time I saw them was in 2011 with Thee Orphans supporting them. I thought it would be the closest thing I could get to seeing S*M*A*S*H and These Animal Men play live again together….luckily it didn’t turn out that way.
What are your fav songs by the bands?
You’d think, after spending about forty thousand hours listening to pretty much everything they have ever done while making the film, that I would have an answer to that by now, but I still find it impossible to choose. Today, I would say it is ‘Time’ by S*M*A*S*H and the song ‘High Society’ by These Animal Men. If you asked me tomorrow I would give you a different answer.
How did you start to formulate the making of the documentary? Where did the idea to do the film come from?
I’d just written a book called ‘Straight Outta Cullompton’ which was about growing up in Devon and getting into music, so I’d spoken to Ed and Julian through that. After I finished it I thought ‘what shall I do now?!’ – that same night I was lying and bed and thought about doing a biography of the two bands. I dismissed the idea quickly as they were so visual, that a book wouldn’t be the right way to do it. It was immediately obvious that a film was the only way to approach it. I didn’t have a camera, I’d never filmed or edited anything but I could see it in my head from the moment I had the idea. I plotted the narrative in a book I kept by my bed. I didn’t even know how to start, but I couldn’t bear the thought of someone else doing it, so I got in touch with Julian and Ed that day and told them that I wanted to do it. It was a total blag and I think they knew it.
Did you know any of the band prior to making the film? Were they easy to interview?
I had spent a night out with Julian and spoken to Ed on the phone. Julian brought Boag to a pub in central London. I was pretty drunk, but I got the book out with the plot I’d written and just ranted through it until they believed that I could do it. After that, I arranged to interview Julian in Brighton – I bought a camera on my way down and he had to show me how to use it. As soon as he started talking, I just knew that the whole thing was going to work out great. It was just soundbite after soundbite. That day, he rang Stevie who came down to meet us and we ended up going back to his house, where he just produced a box with a ton of archive footage which I’d never seen before. It felt like the stars aligned on day one.
S*M*A*S*H were a bit more prickly. I went to see them rehearse that same week and took along the camera. They were taking requests, which was cool, but when I turned the camera on, they asked me more questions than I asked them – I felt like I was being sounded out. The last interviews I did for the film were Salv and then Rob. That was quite nerve-wracking, because the whole time I was making it, effectively half the film was missing, but I had faith that it would all come together.
Where did you source all the archive film/Audio from?
Most of the archive footage comes from Dave Taylor and Simon Hearn who were there at the front with a camcorder at the time. Thank god for them, you know. The film just wouldn’t work without their footage and I owe them a huge debt for handing it over. They could easily have made the film themselves and probably had more a right to.
Was it hard to track down all the bands members?
Not really. Paddy lives in Cornwall, so that took a while. He was initially reluctant to get involved, but we had a long chat on the phone and he was fine. Everyone was still in touch – although most of TAM hadn’t spoken to Steve in a while. One of my favourite moments of making the film was when we did a shoot with Ju, Boag and Steve – it was the first time they’d been in a room together for twenty years. When I left, I looked back out of the taxi window and they were just walking up the street together, laughing. That was good to see.
Are there any stories that didn’t make the final cut?
Oh yes. A lot of them are on the special edition of the set. My favourite was the trip to Japan. I was laughing so much at that, that the camera is wobbling. The first cut of the film was about four hours long, but I tried to cut it back as much as possible. It’s still pretty long – 1hr 40 mins, which for two obscure bands is a lot of take on board, but I just felt that there’s just not that much out there about the bands, so the fans would rather have too much than too little.
Was it a long process bringing the film together? Did you have help from anyone?
Shooting and editing the film took almost exactly a year. It was done by February 2015. Loads of people helped out – people giving up time to be interviewed, coming with me on filming trips, too many to mention really – the whole thing was such a buzz. Getting it released was something else entirely. No film production company or record company would touch it with a bargepole. Universal, who now own Virgin Records didn’t want to get involved, I ended up having to pay them a lot of money for the rights. The period between finishing the film and getting it released was bleak. I didn’t think it would ever see the light of day. I screened it a couple of times in the summer of 2015 but was told I would get sued if I did that again, so there was just this horrible limbo period where I knew there was an audience – admittedly a small one – but that they would never seen the film.
Eventually a guy called Marc Ollington, who came to one of the screenings organised a meeting with Pledge Music who are a crowdfunding company – they seemed like good people and we’d built up a sizeable following on Facebook so it felt like the best way to approach it. It then took another year to get it released,
There were reunion live gigs of both bands to link in with the film. Was this easy to plan and formulate?
Easy is not the word I would choose! The idea was to do the gig and release the film at the same time in September 2015, to concentrate all our energy on creating a burst of publicity, but it didn’t work out that way. Having said that, it was one of the best nights of my life.
I’d never put on a gig before either, so it was another total journey into the unknown. I just felt that putting on a gig at a 1,000 capacity venue couldn’t be much harder than doing one at the local pub. Organising it was a piece of cake and the venue (Heaven) couldn’t have been more helpful. Derek Fudge, and old friend of TAM’s who does the sound for Coldplay and Paloma Faith gave up his time for free and made it sound absolutely monstrous. Shifting tickets was the hardest bit because we had absolutely no advertising budget at all, it was all word of mouth but we ended up nearly selling it out and it was just the most magical night. These Animal Men got the ending they always wanted and deserved and S*M*A*S*H got to play to one of the biggest crowds they’d ever had. It really couldn’t have gone any better.
The film is a great document of the NWOTNW, are you happy how it turned out?
Ahhh thanks. It’s really hard for me to say because I have lived with it for so long and I am all too keenly aware that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. The reaction has been wonderful though. All I wanted to do was make something that did justice to the bands and the love that people had for them and so far the fans seem really happy with it. I just wanted to make them all proud.
More writing by Matt can be found at his Louder Than War’s author archive.