‘Flawed Is Beautiful’ A film about These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H.


Just over 12 months ago we reviewed a brilliant DVD dedicated to the bands These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H. We’re pleased to say that after a tremendous amount of work it’s now available to purchase. If for some inexplicable reason you didn’t join the pledge campaign you can now buy it Here

Just in case you still have any doubts then have a read of the review below and our interview with the maker of the film, Adam Foley:

“Flawed Is beautiful” DVD Review

I guess we all have bands or artists that we are convinced, in a fair world, would have been absolutely huge (Enuff Z’ Nuff, Jesse Malin, Butch Walker, Marvelous 3 to name just a few for us!). However, how many of us actually do anything about it? In many ways, http://www.thesoulofaclown.com was set up with the purpose of just giving some exposure to the music we love and that may not be picked up by the mainstream press. However, even our efforts pale in to insignificance when compared to the efforts of Adam Foley. Adam’s the director of “Flawed Is Beautiful”, a wonderful documentary on the scene known as ‘The New Wave of New Wave’ and, in particular, the bands These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H. Adam is a fan who was inspired by the bands and then, years and years later, still had a desire to try and ensure they received the credit they deserved. Having had the initial idea and realising that if he didn’t do it, then maybe no one would, he decided sod it and gave it a go. The fact that he has produced this documentary with no previous filming or editing experience is a huge credit to his passion and desire. It’s something that clearly shines through during the film and we are sure is appreciated by the bands.
In terms of the film itself, those of a certain age will probably read that scene name and the band names, with either a slight smile or a bit of a sneer. If we’re honest, probably only the original fans of the bands will approach it with real sense of joy. That’s a huge shame and we really would say from the outset, if you are any sort of music fan, you need to watch this film, as it’s just a joy and inspiration to watch. It appropriately opens to the blast of “The Sound Of Youth” by These Animal Men, the song title says it all as the montage of rock n roll scenes appear on the screen.

In general, the film tells the story of both bands from the beginning to their far too early, and in some ways tragic, demise. Although, maybe that is how it was meant to be, as the quote that gives the film it’s title states, “Nothing more beautiful than something flawed”. From the start, These Animal Men were all about the ‘defence of rock n roll’ and a response to how they saw other music at the time as ‘hell’. They just loved rock n roll like it used to exist in the sixties rather than the dance dross of the early nineties. The band’s down to earth approach is apparent both then and now and the film is full of loads of humorous quotes like Hooligan’s comment that ‘if someone was going to do something, it had to be someone snidely and a bit of a prick…. And that was me!’ From the outset, his band seemed to encapsulate and enjoy the full rock n roll dream, where the look and image was as important as the quality of the music (but not to it’s detriment).
It is clear from the outset that, whilst comparisons could be drawn, there were still fundamental differences between the two featured bands. S*M*A*S*H were rooted in a somewhat more grimy punk scene and style, right from their beginnings in various squats. They embraced the whole punk DIY ethic which extended from the initial printing of their own t-shirts and flyers, playing grotty London gigs and developing a loyal and passionate fan base through fanzines. The film features some really great footage of both bands. It’s particularly pleasing to see the way S*M*A*S*H made their record company come down to the local youth club, where they first used to play, for them to sign their first recording contract. The arrogance and strength of the band is embodied in the way they swig from the champagne bottle as the label executive shakes their hands.

The documentary also gives a timely reminder of how the music press used to work ‘back in the day’. It’s quite incredible how they even managed to generate the concept of a new scene, New Wave of New Wave. For a limited time at least, it would capture both the music press and mainstream papers attention. It’s questionable if there really was a ‘scene’ given in reality it just seemed to consist of these two bands, despite attempts, both at the time and posthumously, to inappropriately squeeze some more names in. Despite this, for a period, they managed to totally dominate the likes of NME and Melody Maker etc., even if it was just because they ‘weren’t boring, but exciting and ridiculous’. One of the things this documentary does show, is that they really were a necessary precursor to the whole Brit pop scene. This is partly due to the fact they actually generated some press and ‘interesting’ headlines, but also they reintroduced the idea of bands being ‘gangs’ with a particular ‘look’ and a common sense of purpose. The significance of the bands is also shown by the commentators that appear in the film. Along with all the band members, which in itself was probably a great achievement, we also get knowledgeable journalists. It’s not the usual rent a mouth ‘celebrity’ commentators or has been indie stars. Instead, we get knowledgeable people such as John Robb, Simon Price, Matt Everitt and Paul Moody. People who actually know what they are talking about and can give interesting and relevant insights.

Of course, the greatest insights come from the band members themselves. It’s great to hear their recollections about the time and their views then and also now, with the benefit of hindsight. S*M*A*S*H clearly have mixed feelings and they are honest in their views that the time was full of people who loved them, people who hated them and a mix of great and shit gigs. Whilst These Animal Men, in the early days at least, seemed to just love it, living a life of drinking every day and having fun, whilst performing raucous twenty minute gigs with fans who shared their own loves and interests.
Alongside all the stories and commentaries, the key thing this film does is remind us just how bloody good the music was. It’s full of studio and live tracks which fill your room with the sense of passion, desire and love of ‘proper’ rock n roll music. Again though, whilst the music may have shared a punky feel, the nature of the song material was quite different. S*M*A*S*H certainly took a far more ‘serious’ approach to the subject matter at least. The personal and emotive content of the lyrics were probably missed by many at the time, with their references to the loss of friends through drink and drugs. Also, how many people got beyond the shocking title of “Lady Love Your Cunt” to appreciate that it was a reflection on both prostitution and the judiciary, or that the title came from one of the band member’s mother and a reference to a publication by Germaine Greer. On the film, we get to hear it as a truly intense live song.

Meanwhile, These Animal Men released “Speed King” and were being featured on the news for their shocking encouragement of drug use. It’s really amusing to see the pompous reaction of the authorities at the time, and compare it to the tongue in cheek way the band tried to justify their stance. It’s a great example of how the mainstream media would build up a state of over the top panic and fuss, resulting in calls for the band to be banned. How did they always miss the fact that giving bands this level of hype actually gave them the attention and success they so badly desired!!

Some of the film’s content and stories are just priceless, such as the scenes of the bands appearing on Top Of The Pops, which in those days aired at peak time on a Friday night. It’s great to hear that the audience were terrified of S*M*A*S*H when they played and so had to be reshot pretending to enjoy it. It’s also remarkable to be reminded that These Animal Men’s debut also coincided with that by a band called Oasis….now whatever happened to them?!?!? Joking apart, it’s an early warning to how the fate of a band can change so easily and quickly. Although, the band themselves are quite reflective about it all and seem to accept that it was their destiny, as they were really a group of attention seekers rather than people with a career plan.

The two bands’ approach to their time in the limelight is also in total contrast. These Animal Men are full of tales of excess, as they accept an offer of £500 to miss their flight (and therefore the meeting with the new US label), before drinking a litre of rum on the plane and almost being refused entry to the States. When they do arrive, on a whim, they get Quentin Crisp’s number out of the New York phone directory and end up having tea with him. Whilst we also get clips from their gig at the Phoenix festival, which is just a totally glorious mess and includes the classic heckle “Taxi for These Animal Men”!!

For S*M*A*S*H, it doesn’t appear anywhere near as much fun. To this day, they are still clearly unhappy and frustrated by the recording process for their album. The sound of the album being nowhere near that which was achieved live. Whilst playing bigger venues and staying in nicer hotels, the joy already seems to be disappearing, not assisted by the growing drug issues in the band. By the time they get to the “Another Love (Song)” EP. They are clearly getting caught up in the worst aspects of the commercial music industry. The world of professional videos and staged photographs was definitely not one for them. The documentary graphically shows a band falling apart and not enjoying themselves. It comes as no surprise when you hear that they have a huge row which results in drummer, Rob, kicking his kit and storming out. The band had become a destructive mess and it would sadly see them losing contact for ten years.

His counterpart in These Animal Men, Steve, is the only one in the band who didn’t seem to share the joy of their fame. He remarks that he was not really part of the gang and it is very sad to hear him say that when he appeared on Top of the Pops, it was the loneliest part of his life. He obviously had a volatile relationship with the other band members and with some irony he actually ends up being replaced by Rob from S*M*A*S*H. Even those events don’t initially dampen the apparent rise of the band, as they go on to record the awesome follow up album, “Accidents And Emergency”, and even see the first single, made single of the week by radio 1!! What could go wrong……other than being unceremoniously dropped by their record company!

Once again the band members accept this with unbelievable good grace, with Hooligan declaring that they ‘didn’t want to be a success, it was meant to be fucked up and it was!’ In the end, the album is released with absolutely no support or press at all and that really is tragic. As a result, the film seems to suggest that the band just seemed to fall apart. Watching the film you just can’t help but feel this is totally wrong. Not that the band should split up, it’s just that you sense they were destined to end with a big and triumphant bang.
It is with some irony that you sense their demise was predominantly due to the phenomenal success of Brit pop, which would bring fame and fortune to bands who didn’t have the talent or energy of either of these bands. Despite all this, the real joy of this film is the sense of love and passion that emits from all those taking part. This obviously resonates from the director himself, the obvious fondness expressed by all the commentators and the authenticity of the clips of the bands from back in the day. Although, the really heart-warming feeling comes from the interviews with the bands now. It’s not a loved up, rose tinted spectacles approach that is adopted. It is clear that many of the band members have been through tough times and, indeed, even at the peak of their fame there were clearly many personal issues and problems. However, despite all of this, they all speak with an honesty and eloquence that you just can’t help admire and respect (two words that perhaps in their early days they might have never dreamed would be written about them!). The scenes of the reformed These Animal Men playing together again, after all these years, and after all they’ve been through, is a surprisingly emotional sight.
When you finish watching this documentary, we are convinced it will make you remember just why you love music and how important it can be to people’s lives, whether you’re in a band or a fan. The two bands may have had a relatively short career but this film makes you realise that the music they produced was brilliant and is just as relevant now as it was then. Indeed, given it was part of an often mocked ‘scene’, there’s a real irony that it has such a timeless feel. It really makes you wish that there were bands like this around now. It has left us hoping and praying that there could be a new wave of new wave of new wave!!!!

Interview with Flawed Is Beautiful maker Adam Foley

Flawed Is Beautiful is a documentary which tells the story of a music scene that was tagged as ‘The New Wave of New Wave’. Although, perhaps more accurately, it is the tale of the two main bands in that scene, These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H. Having reviewed and loved the film (see our review here https://thesoulofaclown.com/2015/11/12/flawed-is-beautiful-dvd-review/) we were delighted when we got the chance to interview the man behind it, Adam Foley.

Before we discuss the film, tell us a bit about yourself?

I am darkening the doors of middle age, living in a village in Aylesbury Vale with my wife and two kids. I grew up in a market town in East Devon called Cullompton, about ten miles outside Exeter and lived there until 1996 when I was 18 – it’s where I had all my formative music experiences. The mid 90s were an incredibly exciting time to be alive and into music, it was transformative for me. I have a real problem with the word ‘Britpop’ because I think it’s become an easy way to reduce this amazingly fertile time for music into a genre of nondescript makeweight indie bands.  It was never a genre for me, more an era – me and my mates loved Underworld, Monkey Mafia, Tricky, Wu Tang and G Funk just as much as Pulp and Oasis and the Prodigy, especially the Prodigy. The idea that Tricky was making hip hop records up the road in Bristol was mind blowing. Every Monday I used to sneak out of school at lunchtime because some amazing new record had just come out that I just had to have. I still spend a lot of time chasing that feeling – I don’t think the era gets the recognition it deserves as one of the most creative in musical history. So, I guess that’s a big motivation behind a lot of the stuff I do.

 Had you always been a fan of These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H?

Oh God yes. Seeing those two bands was my Damascus moment. I was disillusioned with indie music at the time – I really struggled with grunge, having spent far too many hours desperately trying to make it all the way through dreary Smashing Pumpkins albums just because I thought I was supposed to like them. The clothes were wretched too, all these DM boots, baggy jumpers and army surplus parkas. I remember going to a Wonderstuff gig and seeing everyone wearing t-shirts that said ‘Idiot’ on them and thinking ‘hmmmm’. Then I came across S*M*A*S*H and These Animal Men in Melody Maker and saw my future. Time to sharpen up. I fell in love before I had heard a single note. I couldn’t find ‘Speed King’ anywhere, but I got the S*M*A*S*H EP and Never Mind The Bollocks. I sold all my grunge and indie records, got a haircut, some Adidas tops, white jeans, an eyeliner pen and chelsea boots. I felt like I had finally found my own thing.

And the gigs, wow. It was like a bomb going off in your town. In the film, John Robb described the gigs as like ‘mini riots in the back rooms of pubs’. It was incendiary, total validation. And for the first time, people started dressing up for gigs. No more shuffling about apologetically. You didn’t have to pretend to be depressed. It was sexy. It gave you a swagger and a strut – that was liberating. It also really really pissed people off, which was even better.

If you met someone who dug those bands, you knew you had a lot in common. They came with a set of values, a style and a way of carrying yourself that just became your mindset. They were a badge that meant you stood apart. It was like a code – you either got it or you didn’t. One of the best things about making the film has been meeting so many people all round the country who had exactly the same experience – it’s like an invisible network.

 What made you decide to make the film? 

I had written a book called ‘Straight Outta Cullompton’ all about those experiences – in the course of writing it I had a phone call with Ed from S*M*A*S*H and a bit of a night out with Ju from These Animal Men. The moment I pressed ‘send’ on the final draft, I was already starting to think about the next thing. The natural next step seemed to be to write a biography of These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H but at the time the thought of writing another book made me feel physically sick, plus it felt like the bands demanded a more visual treatment. Their style and image was a huge part of their appeal. 

So I went to bed that night thinking ‘someone should make a film about those bands’. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought ‘I should make a film about those bands’. In the morning I got a piece of paper and wrote a map of every idea I had for it. The only problem was, as my wife pointed out, that I didn’t have a camera, had never used one, had never filmed anything, didn’t know how to edit and didn’t even have a computer capable of running an edit programme. So there was a bit of a ‘phoney war’ period while I pretended to think about how I might sort that stuff out, while actually just daydreaming.

How did you even get the project off the ground? What was the reaction of the band members when you first proposed the idea?

I sent two texts that morning, one to Ed and one to Julian. It said something like ‘I haven’t got a clue how to do this but I want to make a film about you’. Luckily, a few of TAM had read and liked the book, so they were very open to the idea. Ed was eerily quiet. I met up in a pub with Boag and Ju and pitched my idea over a load of beers. Boag just sat there with his head bowed, taking it in. I thought I had blown it up but then he looked up and said something like ‘yeah you get it’. A month later, he sent me a pack of DVDs with all this archive footage and I knew that I had something straight away. I took a day off work and used Windows Movie Maker to knock together a kind of video demo tape. It was just like this two minute strobe effect of some of the footage interspersed other stuff from the time, like images of the lottery, Noel Edmonds and Power Rangers, all welded to ‘Scream Silent’, the instrumental track off ‘Self Abused’. I wanted to make something which felt like the first time I came across the bands, this overwhelming surge of noise and iconography. Of course, I had absolutely had no idea what I was doing.

Boag and Ju were into it. About two weeks after I sent it out, my mobile went off at work – it was Ed. He said that S*M*A*S*H didn’t want to do the film but they saw the clip and it changed their mind. Suddenly it had all become very real and I needed to sort out all the practical problems fast.

What was the process in making the film?

There was a bit of sucking up to the bank to get the overdraft extended. Then I bought a camera, borrowed a sound recorder and got in the car at 5.30am the next morning to drive down to Brighton with my friend Simon where we filmed a four hour interview with Julian. It was joke really. He’d brought along lights – I had no idea you needed them. He had to show me how to use the camera! I didn’t have a clue. We did some filming on Brighton beach, I was trying to recreate a shot from 1994 and I was using a 99p tripod weighed down with Tesco bags full of pebbles from the beach. Julian later said to me ‘at that point I knew you were the guy for us!’

Ten minutes into the interview I knew that it was going to work out. There was clearly a great story to be told and Julian is a master storyteller – that first interview was the framework for the whole thing really, so it was a great first day. I drove home that night with absolute conviction that I was going to be able to make something of it.

 From that point, it was a question of winning everyone’s trust, then we’d sit somewhere comfortable, stick the camera on, try to forget about it and talk for hours and hours. It took a lot longer to get S*M*A*S*H into it. I spent a lot of time just hanging out with them and not filming – at gigs, at their rehearsal studio, working on Rob’s stall flogging a bit of denim….

 Once I did the interviews I would take them home, watch them and look for quotes, the kind of thing you would see in pull quotes in Melody Maker and then fit them into the narrative I had in my head. I knew the story I wanted to tell right from the start, so while we were talking I would be mentally arranging it into the chapters I had built on the edit software.

 My total incompetence did cost me dearly at times – I cocked up interviews with Dave Eringa, the Manics producer who also did High Society, and Derek Fudge, TAM’s sound engineer and early producer who went on to do the live sound for Coldplay and Paloma Faith, largely because I didn’t know what an ISO button did so the light was all screwed up. I have never been one to read the instructions!

 You have some really good ‘talking heads’ in the film e.g. John Robb, Simon Price, Matt Everitt and Paul Moody, how did you get them involved?

 I just asked nicely!! I spoke to Matt for ‘Straight Outta Cullompton’ and he was really helpful so it felt natural to get back in touch. Simon Price was one of the first interviews I did – there was no reason for him to do it, he very kindly gave up his time and had obviously done a lot of preparation, just a very nice guy. It really encouraged me to just ask for people’s help.

Going to Manchester to see John Robb and Ben Myers was one of the most inspiring afternoons of my life. John’s interview was like a force ten punk rock sermon, but a bastard to edit because he talks so fast it’s somehow like each word starts before the last one has finished. You just got the feeling that he is a guy who gets up every day and fills his day full of things he loves. The chat with Ben was eye opening – first of all because he is incredibly articulate and crafts these wonderful, life changing books, which you should all read by the way but secondly because he is part of that invisible network I talked about before. His experience of the bands completely mirrored mine and more than that, his writing career began because of the bands – his first printed work was in ‘Petal Buzz’ the S*M*A*S*H fanzine. I started to find that story recurring a lot – people who owed their careers in some way to the bands and wanted to repay the debt by talking about them on camera.

It’s slightly bittersweet that quite a few of those people got in touch after I had finished filming – Eddie Argos from Art Brut, Johnny from Menswear and Hamish McBain from NME/ Shortlist. I would love to have included them but it was too late.

 At the time, the press were keen to build the idea of the ‘New Wave of New Wave’ scene. However, it only seemed to consist of These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H, was there any more to it than that?

Oh definitely, and this is one of the main things people ask me about – why I didn’t include Compulsion, Blessed Ethel and Action Painting. The main reason is that S*M*A*S*H and TAM were so bound together, with their destinies so entwined – they were on the same label, their records were released within a week of each other – but it’s also the contrasts between the two bands that work as a narrative. The factors around the break up of S*M*A*S*H in 1995 were absolutely tragic, whereas it looked like TAM were going to have this second act. But as S*M*A*S*H disappear, These Animal Men suffer this lingering decline and death whereas S*M*A*S*H are ultimately saved by the deep friendship which is the first thing you hear about in the beginning of the film.

I felt that to introduce other bands into the middle of that story would be really jarring and wouldn’t do them justice. The guitarist from Compulsion went on to produce REM, U2 and One Direction! There must be a film in that alone. Ultimately the film is a love letter to two bands who changed mine and lots of other people’s lives and that’s the story I wanted to tell.

Having said that, I do think everyone should give ‘Mustard Gas’ by Action Painting a listen.

How do you think the music press treated the bands? Seeing the film, it seemed to be the classic, build them up just to knock them down.

The bands were from a different world to the music press – they weren’t part of the London scene and they were genuinely working class whereas most of the journalists were middle class Oxbridge graduates. Having said that, I think they used each other. The bands gave the papers controversy and great quotes and the press got them on to Top of the Pops. That was the deal. I do think that the music press was becoming increasingly powerful as the music industry began to feel the upswing of Britpop, and as a result moved on from the New Wave of New Wave bands quickly so they could try to exert that influence and power on a bigger scale.

Ultimately the job of the music press is to get music in front of people. If they decide not to buy it, then the world moves on. For whatever reason, people didn’t buy the records. If they had, any press backlash would have been irrelevant.

I am convinced, more than ever, that a lot of the music sounds even better now though, especially the ‘High Society’ album. The whole scene definitely deserves a reappraisal but the press backlash was so severe that a lot of people who actually remember the bands are still really angry about it. Some of the comments on the articles around the film and the Heaven gig were pretty venomous, which was perversely great to see. It’s great that there’s still that strength of feeling either way

Having seen the film, what feedback have you had from the band members?

It’s been great actually, which was a very pleasant surprise. My main goal was to try to communicate why so many people really care about the bands and why they were so important to people. A couple of people in the bands feel like the film vindicated their belief in their music which is a phenomenal thing to hear. Don’t get me wrong, I think it was a difficult watch for some of the guys as it deals with some uncomfortable areas of their lives but overall the reaction was unanimously great.

What about yourself, how pleased are you with it?

I have spent many hundreds of hours immersed in it, filming, editing and watching every second of the final film and the dozens of hours of cut stuff, so it is very hard to get anywhere close to an objective opinion. I have very much enjoyed the reaction from people who have seen it at the screenings – people tell me it’s good, but they would say that wouldn’t they? Mind you, I watched the Ramones ‘End of the Century’ documentary again recently and I did think that maybe ‘Flawed is Beautiful’ isn’t a million miles away.

With the benefit of hindsight is there anything you would do differently?

Ideally I would have liked to have included more contemporary footage to recreate the context the band’s were received in. I love what Julien Temple does in his films where he uses unrelated material from the same era to establish a sense of time and place. I wanted to do this whole section where I used scenes of Charlton Heston in ‘The Ten Commandments’ overlaid with These Animal Men’s manifesto – you know, Charlton lugging around stone tablets saying ‘love’s good but not as good as a wank’, but I didn’t fancy a trip to court.

Other than that, no. I made the only film I could have made with what I had – no experience and no money. That feels like the right way to do a film about Smash and These Animal Men.

You’re funding the full release via the pledge scheme, can you explain how that works?

Yeah, so people pre-order the film at Pledge Music so we can get the money to pay for the rights. I need to pay Virgin Records for every song I have used, plus for all the archive footage and videos. The total bill is around thirty grand, and I have no funding so we need people to pay for it before we can package it up. I am not making a penny from this believe me! It’s a labour of love.

So far we have raised more than 40% of the money, but there is a long way to go. If we don’t hit the target, I can’t see another way of getting it out unfortunately. I think anyone with a passing interest in rock music would find it interesting so it would be a shame for it to end up sitting on a hard drive in my desk drawer.

Most importantly, what are the options for people who want to get the film and how can people support the project?

Well, you can buy the film as a single DVD for around twelve quid, and there is also a box set which has unreleased tracks from both bands including the basis of what would have been TAM’s next album as well as the long lost Smash EP ‘Rest of My Life’. The box set also has a book produced by Matt Hill who put together ‘Petal Buzz’, the S*M*A*S*H fanzine – with contributions from most of the band members. Pay a bit more and you get a signed box. A bit more than that and you can come to a special screening event where the bands will be there to hang out and play a few songs.

If you want to see the film we have to hit the target, so cough up!

We would certainly encourage you to follow Adam’s advice and make sure that you support the project. You don’t really need to be fan of the bands involved, any fan of music will enjoy it. It works not only as a guide to a scene that has come and gone, but also as a brilliant insight in to the world of music. The fact that the release of the film is dependent on the support of the public, means that it would be a tragedy if it did not raise enough funds for its release. As good as a recent release like ‘Amy’ may have been, it has nothing on this documentary. So make sure you support it now!!

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