Monday, March 31, 2014

Documentary Review: A Band Called Death

I've just seen the most wonderful and inspirational music documentary called A Band Called Death.

I watch a lot of docos, they are probably my favourite genre of film. I had not heard of this one, it came through my hands ts work and it sounded interesting.

It was more than interesting, about a 'proto-punk' band called Death that formed in Detroit the early 70s. This is before The Ramones, before The Sex Pistols, really before punk took off, but they are punker than punk and extraordinarily good. Actually, one of the best punk sounds I have ever heard.

The band were an African American trio of brothers, David, Dannis and Bobby Hackney and their roots were in RnB, but then they 'discovered' The Who, and added rock into their riffs. You can hear the genesis of this in their songs, big Townshend guitar sounding riffs. The mix of styles formed this sharp proto-type of punk. Moved by the death of their father, David insisted on changing the bands name to Death. He felt it was the right word, a positive and spiritual thing, but back then it was just too hard a sell. Here were three black dudes, playing a new style of music, and they were called Death!!

Looking back it was authentically visionary.

They cut some demos and made a single of Politicians in My Eyes (which is a fucking fantastic tune, musically and lyrically). Clive Davis was interested in recording them, but on one condition.

They had to change their name!

Dannis and Bobby were like sure. David stuck to his guns and his vision, and refused to have his integrity changed, and so the deal went south.

And that was that for many years...but there's more...

And I really want to write about it all, so if that is enough for you to seek out this fabulous documentary, stop now and go forth and find out for yourself....otherwise, spoilers are coming...

The boys continued to play, write, and record, but not as Death, it was sporadic and mostly gospel then Reggae, and they thought Death was not meant to be. David, always the thinker of the three, was still sure they had something good. He recorded solo work under the name Rough Francis. Time went on, David got lung cancer and died. Ever the visionary, prior to passing he ensured Bobby kept all of their demos, because he felt someday someone would see how good it all was.

And then the Politicians in My Eyes single popped up underground in the vinyl collectors movement, especially among punk collectors, and people started to talk.

Bobby's son, Bobby Jnr, was really into punk and someone gave him a copy. Not knowing the back story, he realised it was his father. Hearing Bobby Jnr talk about this in the film is nothing short of amazing. He approached his father and his father told him the story. Bobby Jnr and Bobby's other 2 sons, formed a punk band and began playing songs by Death and their Uncle David.

They called themselves Rough Francis.

Death had a resurgence, people wanted to reprint the singles and make an album, and Rough Francis were getting asked to tour. Then Joey Ramone's brother found out about it all and asked Death to reform and play with Rough Francis at the annual Joey Ramone Birthday Bash.

David Hackney's vision was on the money...but he wasn't there to share it.

Listening to the brothers talk about David and the bittersweet feelings of joy and sadness, joy of his/their vision finally being achieved but sad David wasn't there to be part of it was absolutely heart wrenching.

By this point I was in tears, who would have thought a punk story would be so bloody sad and yet so incredibly uplifting.

They felt they couldn't really reform as David was their guitarist and it was his riffs and licks that really made the band. However they asked a friend, Bobbie Duncan, to have a go at David's work, and he nailed it. It left them a little broken as it was like a divine intervention. And so they now tour and play and record.

And if that is not a story about following or never really letting go of your dreams then I don't know what is. 35 years later they made it!!

I really need to get their records, I think the music is fucking awesome!!

The documentary goes into a lot more detail, has loads of cool Musos talking about Death, including Jello Biafra and Henry Rollins. It is a well presented documentary and you go ever so willing on this crazy ride with these gentle yet funky family men. It's not just about following a dream, punk music, and redemption, but about love of family and a bittersweet tribute to the vision behind it all, David Hackney.

Even if you are not into punk, but love music or a good story, I urge you to check out this film. It's one of the best I have seen.

No comments: