Manchester based punk producing legend Mike Bennett (The Fall, Fat White Family, Fuzzbox, Ian Brown, The Specials) has made a B movie in California called Vegan Vampires From Zorg. What started out as a movie, turned into a madcap documentary featuring music from a host of notable stars from Peter Hook and Melanie Williams to Daryl Hannah!
I caught up with Mike on a balmy night in Media City over a couple of sea bass and a sharp, dry white!
NC: How did Vegan Vampires from Zorg come into fruition?
MB: “I was living in California and got myself into a scrap with the law on tenuous charges. I might add, after requesting to see a lawyer, Terry Marsh appeared. He looked at the case tenaciously with his beady legal eye and spotted a glut of discrepancies embedded within the charge sheet, and I found myself leaving LA county jail a free man!
After much deliberation, discussing the aftermath of the witch hunt that culminated in my momentary incarceration, we found common ground. As I found out to my delight, that this man was not only an award winning lawyer in the field of the convoluted and cataclysmically, mind corroding wild west world of copyright. He was a like minded record producer and general protagonist and instigator of artistic endeavour coming in from a left-field perspective.
He was soon to realise, I was not only a producer of music but a script writer working with the likes of Rik Mayall, Phil Cool, The Muppets, Jim Bowen and other mercurial characters. At this point he invited me to Namm Festival at Anaheim Stadium where he was presenting a copyright conference denoting, and depicting various points of law pertaining to various blurred lines in both well known and fledgling copyright disputes.
As an example of similarities in various tracks, I was commissioned to create a mash up of David Bowie’s classic Glam track Jean Genie and Sweet’s blockbuster, which if you think about it are so similar it was deserving of a mix containing both tracks.
Although I overlooked the project which was blasted out gloriously at Anaheim Stadium. I got Vince Vega, the onstage DJ for Happy Mondays, to finalise the mix and what a great job he did.
Anyhow, during the process I discovered that Terry and his film making cohort Steve Watson were vehemently passionate vinyl junkies. After a meeting at the crab shack in Anaheim, we went on a vigil to vinyl solution. As Terry pointed out it was, and still is the oldest record store in California, so it was an exciting idea that culminated in the suggestion that I should write a documentary about the antiquated store. I initially turned the idea down as I did not consider myself qualified to devise a documentary of this nature.
However, on discovering that the owner was called Drak – I surreptitiously suggested that we could place venomous vampiric vegans in the vaults of the store! I set about injecting a dose of comedic B movie caper into the documentary, thus changing the format and giving me a vehicle to put a circumspect spin on the precipice of the proceedings.”
NC: After this conversation how the hell did you get a release on Amazon Prime?
MB: Well, we regrouped at Media City in Manchester and put together an eclectic cast of actors and interesting technical crew – sympathetic to the format I had bolted together. Before going back to California, Steve Watson and I interviewed a fascinating roster of cutting edge artists about their feelings in regards to vinyl via face-time. They were interviewed by Drak himself who is to this day didactically opposed to the squashed uncompressed sound that emanates from the MP3, which of course is very practical and provides instant gratification for the fast food generation!
People like 808 State collaborator and Nicky ‘Tunes’ Locket.. who despite being a renowned DJ and mixer, surprisingly went against the grain, and using his gargantuan and robust personality, argued fiercely with Hacienda legend Melanie Williams in regards to vinyl being the ultimate vehicle for sound and vision. I backed her as I love the experience of the gate-fold sleeve and the thick grooves, or ‘veins’ as Drak would call them, that provide that authentic sound, whilst accompanied by imaginative artwork, sleeve notes and a piece of art that is something that is to have and to hold.
Happy Mondays’ Judy E Gordon was clearly passionate about the vinyl experience as was Mathew from Henge, whose bespoke vinyl releases are something that cannot just be found in record stores, but perched on the merch stand where fans can enjoy the experience!
Blue Monday by New Order was arguably the most expensive and well thought out vinyl release of all time. So when Peter Hook got involved with the project performing a glut of tracks with Melanie Williams we were of course over the moon!”
NC: So how was your filming trip to California?
MB: “Nightmare form start to finish quite frankly. On one of the trips we took out 13 actors and crew, but due to Machiavellian intrigue of a murky nature we came home with 3.
Our first cataclysmically catastrophic incident involved a UK actor connected with The Who being arrested on the changeover in Chicago! He was accused of… let’s say boisterous behaviour and ended up having guns pointed to his head.
This all happened in Chicago on 9/11 Memorial Day on American Airlines. After many hours in a cell he was deported from America. On his return he allegedly contacted Roger Daltrey through a reference only, to be advised that help was not on hand. On this occasion we were already an actor down on the deal. Compounding the issue, we lost our American leading lady on the second day of shooting. She collapsed on the floor of Vinyl Solution and was rushed to hospital in an ambulance-cum fire engine, and put into a hospital bed for immediate examination. When the team went to her rescue, another horror story presented itself to the already stressed out team of burgeoning film makers.”
NC: Erm… why was that?
MB: “She had signed the contract under a completely different name, age and address. This of course completely convoluted our situation in that our insurance was severely compromised. 2 actors down on the deal. Steve Watson contacted Terry Marsh and a huge effort to resolve the scenario was put into place. During this process, a manipulative dwarf set out to make his own movie on our budget, allegedly in league with a British female performer of sorts, who unbeknown to us was on a mission to pursue photographic endeavours of a very different nature!
After discovering that she was involved in some very nasty work that proselytised the dark church of fake snuff movies, sadomasochism and much more, we were aware that we were being circumvented on our micro budget, so that these mercurial mavericks could pursue a rather sick, endeavour for their own pernicious purposes!
Bedlam ensued! There were, believe it or not, other insidious issues that compounded the problems emanating from our inexperience in making low budget indie films. Whilst we were sorting out all of the problems, actor David Emmons from the incredible UK garage band Kavanagh witnessed an axe murder. You couldn’t make it up!
After being interviewed by American authoritative figures, he ended up having a counselling session conducted by Siamese Twins. During his therapeutic session they allegedly played inappropriate music in the background by The Searchers, Cradle of Filth and the Murder Junkies. All those striking up the semblance of a good relationship with the twins, he insisted that he needed additional counselling back in the UK!
Finally, due to the surreal nature of the bizarre conversations emanating from the counselling he received, and from the unusual twins, he wrote the classic track Citizen 202, which features heavily through the remake of the film, which is now a documentary about a tragic comedic slasher film that went so wrong, that every shot ended up on the cutting room floor!
Speaking of the cinematic footage that was allegedly stolen by the minuscule chap known as ‘Munchkin Man’ and the alleged deviant, alternative UK performer, courtesy of ethical Siberian Hackers, all was retrieved, which led to the next phase of the making of Vegan Vampires from Zorg.”
NC: This is hilarious, How the fu*k did you manage to finish the film?
MB: “During Lockdown everyone had their problems, but it gave me leave to contemplate, and at that point myself, Steve and Terry had an esoteric epiphany that guided us towards interviewing people involved with the film via anything we could get our hands on. The use of Zoom and other such methods such as Facetime, iPads, and actors recounting their tales of despair on I-Phones and such like, proved to form a body of work, that when intertwined with the incredible soundtrack, started to look like we had made a positive out of a negative.
One Media IP, Pinewood Studios, threw their hat in the ring, along with B Movie legends Trauma, who were responsible for the Toxic Avengers. We finally had something titivating and tangible!
Melanie Williams could not make the original shoot as she was touring in Australia with Carl Cox, but finally got to be a Vegan Vampire, and cut some bespoke tunes with Peter Hook, and Mark Refoyd of Spacemen 3 and Spiritualised fame. Then other luminaries laid down tracks, and the amount of labels that gifted us tunes synonymous to the B Movie genre, provided the icing on the ever evolving layer cake!
We realised that the soundtrack was the cornerstone of the curious quagmire of beats, riffs and drones, that underpinned the maniacal mayhem that engulfed the project from day one. For instance – The Rubettes ft. John Mick and Steve cranked out an infectiously catchy glam punk workout. Rhianna Grey, me, and Melanie Williams scored some, at times, scathing new tracks including Hetrochlomia featuring Peter Hook. We also managed to get Sex Pistols tracks such as Submission and a rare version of Get It On/Bang A Gong by noted epic American new wave band Blondie! So there is a kind of punk-glam connection running through the movie and soundtrack.
Melanie also collaborated with Fat White Family, and we got a new and rare version of Wild Thing by British invasion gods The Troggs… so diversity in music is the order of the day.”
NC: I believe you are bringing out a box set to accompany the film?
MB: Yes, I am delighted to say it is all coming out on vinyl in a box set shaped like a coffin, embossed in Vegan Vampiric Green Blood!
Also in the magnificent box set we have a plethora of trinkets and a scrap book with tales of the unexpected, penned by members of the cast and soundtrack. incidentally, on the soundtrack, courtesy of Terry Marsh, we have Lazy Stars featuring Johnny Kaplan and Darryl Hannah. She sounds amazing, augmented by Foo Fighters cohorts, Rami Jaffy. I mixed it into a kind of Cocteau Twins affair, or as Stephanie Reid, who has worked with the likes of Rage Against the Machine and Oasis says “Enya on DMC“.
I like that comparative, and although the film project is an anti drugs message, when we did the comical crystal meth scene – I am not kidding, the props master in California attempted to introduce real Crystal Meth complete with dirty needles into the scene, much to the disdain of the circumvented director Steve Watson.
Again a track was written, depicting this bizarre incident. Another situation arose whereby Munchkin Man aided by his sleazy UK confidante, switched the contracts so that the production was compromised to the point of a ridiculous scenario. A song in the movie called Contracts Killing sort of says it all. It has the actors caught on camera claiming that an incident whereby her father had allegedly killed a man on a train, was out of his brains on Diazepam and had instigated her misplaced train of thought.
This is where the track Train and Car Crash TV came from, and is belted out magnificently by Manchester post modernist punk band Defreya & the Tank Girlz. She was interviewed recently by Granada TVs Ian Hills and Tre Tre of WFM, and that conversation is utilised to great effect during the shockumentary.
So what we have got is a kind of hybrid that draws in elements of the classic chat show with Talking Heads, Vox Pops, and acrimonious debates between performers who experienced the mercurial menaces, that makes and mars the production in equal measure!”
NC: I believe One Media Pinewood is involved, but who put the movie together?
MB: “A debt of gratitude must go out to Dylan at Friedbanana Design. His observational skills and ability to capture the moment have been as integral throughout the process. He has worked with Ginger Baker, The Stranglers, The Blockheads and many more.
I am considering the low-fi nature in which the movie he describes as, ‘Spinal Tap meets The Great Rock N Roll Swindle’ on a Vegan Vampire level, has given the whole feel a new dynamic dimension. I also have to say that the soundtrack has TreTre from WFM RADIO 97.2 and Hellenic TV on A&R, as opposed to using stereotypical record label pen pushers.
I like to use professional broadcasters who know about what hits the airwaves. This is why I utilise the dynamic skills that are didactically opposed to the erroneously regimented A&R route. TreTre helped sequence the soundtrack beautifully. This mercurial Manchester Mixcloud favourite proved to be an integral linchpin throughout the scintillating soundtrack, that rings the changes between new wave hard core punk, with soundbites that embrace pure pop sensibilities, and essential earworms. Variation had proven to be the key factor embedded within this vivaciously versatile, ephemeral stream of consciousness that forms the body of the concept album and the audio visual aspect!
Trailer for the film:
Peter Hook & Melanie Williams – The Healer (From The Film)
Words by Nigel Carr. More writing by Nigel on Louder Than War can be found in his Author’s archive. You can find Nigel on Twitter and Facebook Listen to Nigel’s show on Radio Alty – Wednesdays 9-11 pm!