Son of Stiff review

A review of The Son of Stiff documentary film (1980) by someone who was there. Ever wonder what it’s like to see your life pass before your eyes 26 years later?
I don’t anymore. My wife and I just watched “You Can’t Hurry Love” an hour long film documenting the Son of Stiff package tour of 1980 when the played she played in (and I managed) Joe “King” Carrasco & The Crowns, toured the United Kingdom, Europe, and the northeastern United States and Canada with four other bands – Dirty Looks, the power pop trio from Staten Island, NY, The Equators, an all-black reggae/ska band from Birmingham, England; Any Trouble, a folk-rock band from Manchester; and Tenpole Tudor, a punk band from London.

It’s a pretty great telling of a three month rock and roll touring grind even though none of the band really ever made it big – Joe “King” got airplay in England, France, and Switzerland, Tenpole Tudor had a Top Ten hit in the UK, and Clive Gregson, the front man of Any Trouble has enjoyed success as a singer-songwriter who's worked with Christine Collister, Richard Thompson, Nanci Griffith, and Boo Hederwine, once of Austin.

On a personal level, it was Déjà vu all over again. “Do you remember this?” Kris asked when I appeared in a play-acting sequence about buying a prostitute in Paris from Bob on Tenpole Tudor. . “Nope,” I replied as she popped up in the same scene playing the prostitute. “Do you?” She didn’t.

What we did vaguely remember was our wedding reception in Le Palace in Paris following a show. I seemed to recall the promoter telling us the wedding cake was done by the best patisserie shop in Paris but didn’t remember how huge and elaborate the cake really was until I saw the scene.

There’s a pretty great drunk sequence when we offered up a case of Jose Cuervo one night, which was Joe and Kris’ pay for posing for a rock poster the tequila company papered the walls of London with. The Brits were not prepared for agave cactus.

Dave Robinson, the head of Stiff, appears in a scene explaining the tradition of buying rounds while we drank breakfast in a Belfast pub across the street from the Hotel Europa one morning that resembled a church.

There’s also some good drama swirling around the Berlin gig, which is almost cancelled, but which the bands are determined to pull off.

I was also reminded that for all the bands’ subsequent lack of success (there wasn’t a Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, or Madness among us) the music was solid and the musicians were inspiring especially how each band was augmented by musicians from the other bands along the tour. Watching Eddie Tudor-Pole again was electric, affirming the suspicion that The Sex Pistols and Clash had nothing on him (he’s done all right by himself as the actor Edward Tudor-Pole, no surprise since he was a trained Shakespearian). Patrick Barnes of Dirty Looks smokes on guitar. Hearing “Here’s to All the Nice Girls”, I realize Clive Gregson should’ve been bigger than Elvis Costello. The Equators were one big skankin’ groove machine.

If the bands didn’t pan out, the crew did all right for themselves. Tour manager Tony Ferguson went on to do A&R with Interscope Records and is Vice President A&R with A&M Records. Assistant tour manager Len Fico is the owner-operator of Fuel 2000 records. The film’s director, Jeff Baynes, turned out to be a successful director of photography and director of a number of films and television documentaries (his CV is here: http://www.eyeeyeltd.com/cv.htm. The great Johnny Green, the Clash’s roadie and the real star of the movie “Rude Boy” makes an appearance too. Kris and I drawled a whole lot more then. Miguel Navarro, Joe “King”’s drummer who was an illegal alien back then (he’s legal now) does a cool play-acting sequence where a highway patrolman slaps cuffs on him.

Mainly, the film also unleashed a flood of memories along with a bunch of Where Are They Now? musings. We know Marco Sin, the gregarious bassist for Dirty Looks, died back in the 90s. (he asks towards the end of the film, “How am I going to get my kicks? I’m so jaded now”) What’s up with everyone else?

Thanks to Keith of New York for getting a copy of the film to me.

And belated thanks to Dave Robinson for signing Joe “King” and bankrolling the tour and the film. Dave was the one who suggested closing every show with the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” which proved to be prescient since Phil Collins covered the song with great success less than a year later (by the end of the tour, we switched to Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Pt. 2, which eventually became a standard in US football stadiums years later). Sorry the bet didn’t pay off, Dave. But we sure had a hell of a time. For some of us, Son of Stiff was even the experience of a lifetime. It shows in the footage of “You Can’t Hurry Love.”

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