Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Exercise (a novella)

I'm pleased to announce that the latest anthology from Terry Grimwood's The Exaggerated Press, Darker Battlefields, was published this past weekend and launched at Edge-Lit 5 (see my report here).  Edited by Adrian Chamberlin, it's a collection of six novellas set during periods of war and features my 18.5k word story The Exercise.

Odette, by Richard Farren Barber

The Searing, by Paul Edwards

Winter Storm, by Anthony Watson

The Envious Siege, by Adrian Chamberlin

The Exercise, by Mark West

Descensus Christi Ad Inferos, by Dean M Drinkel

The book is available in print 

An ebook version is forthcoming

This all started in late January 2015 with a message on Facebook from Adrian and Frank Duffy, asking if I'd like to be involved.  Since I've never written a story set during a war and I fancied the challenge - plus Terry produces some lovely books - I agreed.  I came up with the basic premise (soldiers on exercise during World War 2 who find themselves trapped in a building) on that evening's walk and then sat down with Mum & Dad a few evenings later, spending a lovely hour or so chucking around ideas (Dad is a WW2 buff so he was able to answer every technical question I raised, whilst Mum reminded me about the reeds in east Anglia and suggested having someone fall in a stream).

Once I decided to use shell-shock as a means of 'making my monster', I researched it on the web (and discovered that, by 1943 - when my story is set - it was being called "post concussional syndrome") and found some unsettling and distressing films on YouTube.

As a couple of little in-jokes, the hero is called Ray Ward (my Grampy, who served in WW2, was called Ray - I blogged about him here) and the Major who runs the operation is Desmond Boothroyd (I was watching a lot of Bond films at the time).  I also homaged Star Wars, when Major Boothroyd paraphrases Luke by saying "Well, my boy, if there’s a bright centre to operations in this country, you’re at the point it’s furthest from and that would be about three miles east of Potter Heigham.”

I had a lot of fun writing this and set myself the goal of not having any viewpoints (apart from the first chapter) other than Ray - if he doesn't see it or hear it, the reader doesn't either.  It made things tough a couple of times, but I also think it adds to the disorientation when the bad stuff starts to happen, because you're not quite sure what it is you're seeing.  I enjoyed writing the action, I enjoyed the camaraderie of the squad, I loved my monsters and the set-piece in the infirmary - which my friend David managed to make even more vicious with some helpful comments - was great fun to work on too.

Corporal Ray Ward stood at the verge at the crossroads and watched the truck drive away, three squads still sitting in the back and looked at his own men.  His lance corporal, Joe Kelly, stepped up next to him and turned to the squad.
“Right, fall in you lot, first things first, let’s get off this fucking road.”
The men fell into line as Ray surveyed the area.  Across the road was an orchard, the trees widely spaced and heavy with fruit.  The easterly road, coming off the crossroads, cut between it and, a hundred yards down, there was a gateway.  “Down there,” said Ray, pointing, “it’ll get us out of sight.”
“You heard the corporal,” said Joe, “let’s move it.”
The squad fell into step and marched down the road, the noise of their packs and weapons scaring a flock of crows that took off from the trees.  The gate was old and bent, secured to its post with some old rope and beyond it was a concrete yard and the  remains of a stone-built barn.  Ray climbed over the gate and the others followed him into the trees.  The light was muted, the angle of the sun not enough to cut through the foliage and in the first clearing, Ray shouldered his pack to the ground and rested his rifle against it.
 “At ease, boys,” said Joe and waited until they’d taken off their packs before moving to Ray’s left side.  “Fall in.”
Ray surveyed his squad.  He’d only met them last week, at the start of training at Thetford camp and, like most of the other corporals, had thought at first it was a joke.  Fresh off the trucks, the men were given a number and told to stand in the PT yard and over the next couple of hours, as more trucks rolled in, more soldiers gathered until there were five men in each group.
For reasons that weren’t explained, the exercise would consist of five-man squads, smaller than the normal minimum of eight.  Each squad would be led by a corporal, assisted by a lance corporal.
It had been a hard week, for many reasons, but Ray felt quite confident with his men, though Joe Kelly was his secret weapon - perhaps ten years his senior, he had a lot of experience and an authority that made the men listen.  Ray liked him and they seemed to have a mutual respect.
Arthur ‘Gracie’ Fields was the designated navigator.  Tall and thin, with Groucho Marx glasses and sandy hair, he was good-humoured but quiet.  He knew his way around a map and had found the way out of a dense wood for the squad in one of the Thetford exercises - by such a margin that the other squads were sent back in to do it again. 
Alan ‘Porky’ James was balding prematurely though he appeared to be barely into his twenties and so only a few years younger than Ray.  Stocky, taciturn and as hard as nails, he was the radio operator and carried the unit on his back, the antennae waving over his head.  It took Ray a day or so to realise he was called ‘Porky’ because he came from Melton Mowbray.
The last member of the squad was Danny Price, known as ‘Half’.  Tall and handsome, he had the look of Clark Gable and made full use of the resemblence.  It was alleged, during mess break one day, that if Half was posted somewhere for more than a day, he’d find a girlfriend there.  Quick witted and sharp, he was adept at getting things for less than market value, a good skill for the squad.
“Okay boys,” Ray said, “this is the situation.  We’ve had a week of training, a week of getting to know each other and I think we’re going to work together well.  I don’t know any more about the exercise than you do, but I do know I don’t want us to get caught and sent back to Thetford for spud bashing.”
A murmur of agreement.
“What time do you have Joe?”
The lance corporal looked at his watch.  “Oh-eight-fourteen.”
Ray checked and nodded.  “Check your watches men,” he said and waited until they had done so.  “First things first, we need to find out where we are.”
“We’re east of Thetford,” said Half.
“How far?” asked Joe.
“We left barracks at oh-seven-hundred,” said Ray.
“We got here about oh-eight-hundred,” said Half, “so call it an hour.”
“But we had three drop offs before us,” said Gracie, “about five minutes each time.”
“Good point,” said Joe.  “If we assume an average of 40 miles an hour, that gives us forty miles, less the fifteen minutes for the drop-off.  I reckon about 30 miles, give or take.”
Ray looked at Gracie.  “Give us a rough idea,” he said.
Gracie pulled a large, folded map from his pocket, knelt down and spread it on the ground.  Half and Porky knelt on either side of it, holding it down and Ray walked around so he could see the details.
Gracie put his compass on the map.  “We maintained an east-northeast route for the most part, so thirty miles would put us east of Norwich, though we could be as far south as Loddon and as far north as Wroxham, depending on the angle.”  He pointed to both places on the map and people nodded their assent.
“Did you hear the co-ordinates from Sergeant Lloyd?” asked Ray.
“Yes corp,” said Gracie and checked the gridlines.  “We’re getting picked up at a place called Happisburgh.”
“Anybody heard of it before?” asked Joe but nobody had.
“What’s the distance between us, assuming we’re the southern end of where you estimated?”
“If we’re near Loddon, we’re looking at about thirty miles.”
Ray turned to Joe, who bit his lip as he worked it out in his head.  “Pick-up’s at oh-six-hundred tomorrow, so we’ve got twenty two hours to do thirty miles.”
“We need to sleep though,” said Ray, “just in case they hit us with another exercise tomorrow.”
“Okay, five hours sleep gives us seventeen hours to do thirty miles.  Piece of piss.”
“It doesn’t seem so bad,” agreed Ray.  “They’ll probably have plenty of patrols out, trying to spot us.”
“No doubt,” said Joe, “meaning it’s thirty miles across country.”
“Which is going to take longer,” said Gracie.
“Fine,” said Ray and stepped back to face the squad.  “We know what we’re doing, let’s have a piss stop and then get moving.”
As the men moved into the treeline to empty their bladders, Ray held Joe back.  “Listen, I don’t plan to use this, but just so as you know,” he said, “just in case.”  He opened his pack and pulled out a 38 Webley revolver.
“Nice,” said Joe.
“I picked it up off a dead officer at Dunkirk.  It did me proud then and I’m more than happy with  it now.”
“Fine by me,” said Joe.
They went to pee and by the time they got back, the men had pulled on their packs and rifles and were waiting.
 “Plot us a course Gracie,” said Ray.
Gracie checked his compass and at eight-thirty exactly, with Joe on point and Half bringing up the rear, the squad began to walk through the orchard, away from the road.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Edge-Lit 5, Derby, 16th July 2016

I’m a big fan of Alex Davis’ Edge-Lit conventions (you can read previous reports here for 2014, 2015 and Sledge-Lit) and was very much looking forward to 5, especially since an anthology of novellas I was in - Darker Battlefields from The Exaggerated Press - was being launched.  I was up early, put in my 2m power-walk, had breakfast and left in plenty of time, only to hit traffic on the M1.  Thankfully, the AA routeplanner did me proud and I got to The Quad with ten minutes to spare.
Lisa Childs, Ross Warren, Steve Harris, Phil Sloman, me, in The Box
The first person I met (I hadn’t even got through the door) was Emma Robson, from the Northampton writers group I’ve been to a couple of times.  We said hello and got signed in, grabbed our goody bags and I went into the bar and met up with Adrian Chamberlin (who edited the anthology) and Greg James, then headed upstairs to The Box for the launch.  I met my fellow Crusty Exteriors Phil Sloman and James Everington on the way and it was great to see them both - James got his new novel reviewed in the Guardian yesterday and we decided it was right to spend the day mercilessly teasing him about it (“don’t you know who this is?  He was reviewed in The Guardian!”).  I said hello to Ian Whates, saw Steve Harris and he introduced me to Amanda Rutter, which was a real pleasure and then met up with Richard Farren Barber, who’s also in the anthology with me.  We went in and got settled, Terry Grimwood (our publisher) sitting behind me, happy now the books had finally been delivered.  As we waited for the event to start I had a quick chat with Amanda - I’ve known Steve for years and he joined in a conversation I was having on Facebook with Amanda about the TV show First Dates, which led to them not only going on a date but becoming partners!  Which is great!
Phil, Priya Sharma, me
Terry goes his publisher bit (pic by me), I do my writer bit (pic by
Richard Farren Barber)
Alex Davis led the Boo Books launch and James read first from his novella Trying To Be So Quiet (which I am very much looking forward to), followed by Tracy Fahey reading from her short story collection.  Terry then stepped up and talked about Darker Battlefields - he was followed by Ade and Richard, then me.  As I stood at the podium, looking out at the crowd, I wished I’d written something down but instead I talked about where my novella The Exercise came from and it seemed to go down well.  Simon Bestwick & Cate Gardner had turned up, so I said hello to them and then got a big hug from Priya Sharma and we had a lovely chat.  Ross Warren and Lisa Childs came over to get their book signed, as did Theresa Derwin and then Kit Power came over to say hello, so that was all great.
Peter Mark May and me - the slimline versions...
We finally got shooed out (as we’d gone over time) and went into the dealer room as Gary McMahon was signing copies of his excellent novella The Grieving Stones (which I reviewed here).  After a brief chat, I headed downstairs, saw Anthony Cowin in the foyer, got a big hug from Adele Wearing then met Peter Mark May in the bar.  He’s also been losing weight and looked really well.  We chatted with Richard then I spotted Johnny Mains so handed him a book I’d got for him - Peter Haining’s The Freak Show anthology.  He was sitting with Mark Morris and Sarah Pinborough, so I had a chat with them before heading back into the bar.  We were joined by Steve & Amanda, Phil, Ross & Lisa and James, had a laugh and tried to figure out where to have lunch.  Since nobody could decide, I said we’d head to the deli we discovered last year and set off (joined by Greg and Dion Winton-Polak), filling Amanda in on the Acropolis café story (from 2014) on the way.  Great fun.  Steve & I got served first, so we sat on our bench to eat and catch up, then Greg and Amanda came out before Dion joined us.  Again, great conversation, which is what these events are mostly all about.  When the others joined us, I collared a passerby to take some pics and then led our merry band to the Eagle Books stall in the Eagle market, where we all bought something, with Steve especially thrilled to get a hardback he’d been after.  Everyone else rushed back to make a launch but Steve, Amanda, Pete & I took our time, calling into the retro shop in the smaller market on the way, where I picked up a copy of Live And Let Die.
The glamour of having lunch
(on the bench, Phil, Ross, Lisa - behind them, Pete, me, Greg James, Steve, Amanda, Dion Winton-Polak)
At Eagle Books - Lisa and Amanda have a look whilst Steve guards his treasure (look how chuffed he is)!
Back at The Quad, it appeared the carnival was in town, their sound system so loud you could feel the bass in your chest.  It made for interesting conversation.  Said all too brief hello’s to Penny Jones (“You’re so tall,” I said, without thinking and she countered with “I look smaller on Twitter”), Paul Kane & Marie O’Regan, Jay Eales & Selina Lock, Adam Millard, Kevin Redfern, Ray Cluley and Jan Edwards, but finally got my picture taken by Peter Coleborn.
picture by Peter Coleborn
I had a chat with Lynda E. Rucker and congratulated her on the Shirley Jackson Award win before catching up with Pixie Puddin, who gave me a lovely hug and sold me lots of raffle tickets.  I was chatting with James and said hello to Victoria (V H) Leslie, which reminded me I needed to pick up her book - I got it and 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough, got Sarah to sign hers but didn’t see Victoria again to ask her.
Pixie and me - raffle tickets pictured...
James & I went up to Johnny’s panel - “What Is The Continuing Draw of the Supernatural in Fiction?” - and had to wait outside Cinema 2 for the other session to finish.  I found myself standing beside Kathy Boulton (she of the brief “hello!” last week at the NewCon bash) and so we finally got to have a chat (at this rate, the next Con report will have a picture of us both!) and she introduced me to her mum Susan, who is also a writer.  When we got in, we saw Pete and Steve Lockley sitting near the back so joined them and the session went well, with Victoria in particular holding her own with some very smart answers - and anyone who recommends The Silent Land is always going to be a favourite of mine.  After it was over, James & I chatted with Johnny for a while, met Holly Ice and Angelina Trevena and then headed for the bar, where we were joined by Tony and Phil.  Saw Ian Whates again and went to get a copy of his collection from Adele, which he duly signed and I chatted with Tracy Fahey for a while.  I saw Conrad Williams, said hello and shook his hands, didn’t see him again.  Back in the bar I chatted with John Travis and Terry Grimwood, talked Star Wars with Ross (mainly about the fantastic Rogue One behind the scenes video) and we all agreed we’d nip across the square to have pizza for our early dinner, since Phil and Pete were heading off on the 7pm train.
me, James Everington (he's been reviewed in The Guardian, don't you know...), Pete, Steve Lockley
Gathering everyone up - Ade Chamberlin came along too, as well as Holly - we headed across the square (the music throbbing in our bones) and went into Ask Italian who, despite having empty tables, decided they couldn’t cater for 12 people.  Oh well, their loss.  Amanda searched for curry houses on her phone and we found one a seven-minute walk away that was more than willing to accommodate us (it looked posh from the outside, we were worried) and they had a fixed price “theatre menu” which suited us down to the ground - starter, main, rice or naan and a drink for £14.95!  I sat next to James, he ordered the naan, I ordered the rice, we had half each and it was more than enough.  Although it didn’t feel like it, time whisked by in there, so much so that Peter and Phil had to leave early to catch a train and we ended up missing the raffle, even though we’d all bought tickets (and Ross and Lisa had bought a LOT of tickets).  Very enjoyable meal though, great food and even better company.
Having a curry (from left - Phil, James, me, Amanda, Steve, John Travis, Ade, Terry, Pete, Lisa, Ross, Tony, Holly Ice)
Back at the Quad, we got drinks (thanks Tony!) and sat outside chatting, enjoying the warmth of the evening and talking about lots of different things (including the etiquette of how to get away without making it seem like you're trying to get away).  Edward Cox was sitting at the next table, so I finally got to meet him in person (it seems we’ve been at loads of the same events but never seen one another to say hello).  I had a chat with Gary McMahon, said my goodbyes to everyone (“Man hug,” said Steve, grabbing me and James jumped into my arms) and headed back to the car park with Ross & Lisa (who chased up the roadway after me to give me a copy of Gary Fry’s Dark Minds Press novella).
My book haul
I drove home in a happy, positive mood, bubbling with creative energy.  Edge-Lit 5 was another cracking event, well organised (thanks Alex, Pixie and team) and great fun, with some wonderful company and excellent conversations.  Roll on Sledge-Lit!

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

25 years on from Summer XS

Following the huge international success of their album Kick, INXS toured it extensively starting in August 1987 and running through to November 1988 (including five UK dates during June).  Understandably burned out by the end, the band took a year off during which most members started musical side projects, before reconvening to record X, which was released in September 1990.
INXS, 1991
from left - Jon Farriss (drums/keyboards), Garry Gary Beers (bass), Tim Farriss (guitar), Michael Hutchence (vocals), Andrew Farriss (keyboards, guitar, harmonica), Kirk Pengilly (guitar, saxophone, vocals)
On the strength of Kick, the profile of the band had been steadily rising and it’s perhaps difficult now to remember just how big INXS were at that time.  Kick peaked at number 2 in Australia, number 9 in the UK and number 3 in the US album charts and was certified Platinum in Australia (x7), the UK, the US and Switzerland, was a Gold record in France, Germany and Hong Kong and Diamond in Canada (a category Tim Farris later admitted he didn’t even know existed - it apparently represents sales of 1m).  Total sales to date are approximately 12.8m copies.

X had a lot to live up to and opened well, reaching number 2 in the UK and number 5 in the US charts, racking up plenty of sales along the way - Platinum in Australia (x2), the US (x2) and the UK, hitting Gold in Germany and France.  Combined with the X Tour, it managed to spend an aggregate of eight months on the UK chart, returning to the Top 40 in July 1991.

In 1988, Michael Hutchence met soap-opera star and singer Kylie Minogue and when they ran away together in 1989, it brought the band to a whole new audience and level of publicity.  In 1991, INXS received a Grammy nomination for 'Best Rock Performance by a Group', whilst USA Today reported they were tied for second place as 'musical artists with the most videos played on MTV' (at the time, they had 37 different clips).  At the 1991 Brit Awards in March, INXS won 'Best International Group' (having previously been nominated in 1989) and Hutchence won 'Best International Male'.  They were also recognised as 'Best International Band' at the first Australian Music Awards.

The X Tour kicked off in October 1991 at the Mackay Entertainment Centre in North Queensland.  It hit the UK on November 25th with two nights at London Docklands Arena, a four night run at Wembley Arena, four nights at Birmingham NEC (where Alison & I would see them in 1997 as part of the Elegantly Wasted Tour), one night each at SECC in Glasgow (should have been two but the first was cancelled by weather), Manchester GMEX, Brigton (The Brighton Centre) and Bournemouth (Bournemouth International Centre) before two nights at The Point Theatre in Dublin.  The UK dates ended in January and, in all, the tour played to 1.2m fans through 80 cities over four continents.

After a successful ‘homecoming’ leg in Australia during April and May, INXS returned to Europe for a series of headlining festival shows from 28th June through to 16th July, the highpoint of which (according to most band members) was the 13th July sold-out show at Wembley Stadium.

So the stage was set, with Summer XS taking place six years to the day after Live Aid had been staged at Wembley Stadium, as INXS continued to enjoy rock giant status both in the UK and around the world.  And I was there.
My now slightly sun-bleached ticket - look at that price!
Saturday 13th July 1991 was warm but overcast.  I’d stayed up late the night before to watch the excellent Dogs In Space, which starred Michael Hutchence and was written & directed by Richard Lowenstein, who directed a lot of INXS videos from Burn For You onwards (his latest was Suicide Blonde, from the X).  I was quite excited, since my then-girlfriend Liz (who seen INXS at one of their Wembley Arena gigs in late 1990) had talked me into going to see the show and raved about them - slightly older, she was a fan of long-standing.  I knew of them, of course - I started going to nightclubs in 1986 so I was around as Kick broke out - and I bought X on vinyl a couple of weeks before the gig and really enjoyed it.

Me & Liz, 1991 - I wore that t-shirt a lot!
I picked up Liz and then her friends teenaged daughter (who took her friend), we piled into my Fiat Panda and took off down the M1, listening to an INXS mix-tape Liz had made.  By the time we reached the North Circular, we were all singing along as the signs for Jellyfish, one of the supporting bands, started to appear.  In fact, they were on pretty much every lamp-post we passed.

We parked in the multi-storey next to the stadium, crossed the bridge, found our gate and settled down as we waited to be let in.  The girls were chatty, Liz & I talked and watched the world go by, we went on memorabilia buying sprees and ate our lunch.  Finally the gates opened and we legged it - it was the first time I’d ever been to Wembley so of course I took the opportunity to run onto the (covered over pitch) and pretend I was representing England.  As did so many other blokes my age it became silly.

The four of us made our way towards the front and found some seats to the left of the stage, close enough that we could see people up there (if not clearly), though the huge video monitors would also come in handy as the day wore on.  The festival feel was maintained by having a whole host of bands on the programme which started in the early afternoon (INXS came onstage at about 8.45).  Another of my main reasons to go was the fact that Debbie Harry was playing and I’d been a Blondie fan since the late 70s, though I'd been too young to get to any of their concerts.

The Summer XS line-up was:
Jellyfish - don’t remember anything of their set at all, though they were apparently “a melodic San Francisco rock band” (and got in trouble for plastering their posters everywhere)
Roachford - who were excellent, I went onto the pitch for a dance when they played
Jesus Jones - didn’t like them before I went, didn’t like them any better when I left
Deborah Harry - who I adored.  I left the girls in the seats and pushed my way as far to the front as I could possibly get and then rocked out with the best of them.  She played 11 songs and ended her set with the superb “Atomic”.  Fantastic.
Hothouse Flowers - who were better live, I thought, than when I’d heard them on the radio

The INXS show was being recorded as part of the Live Baby Live project, under the supervision of Mark Optiz and the band’s manager, Chris Murphy decided it should be filmed as well.  In an interview at the time, he said that although he thought X was good “the band had grown lazy, the news songs were too slick and too much like Kick.  I was worried.  I knew I had to do something to bring it back to the basics, back to the strengths of the band.  Doing the film and releasing the live record accomplished that.  It was a way to remind the public of how powerful INXS was live, in case they’d written them off as a band who only released pop songs.”

INXS spent £250,000 filming the concert whilst Murphy convinced Polygram, their European record label, to stump up the rest.  On the night, the fact the band was barely breaking even on the show weighed heavily on Andrew Farriss, though he has since revised his opinion.  “I am so glad we did it,” he said in interview with Anthony Bozza.  “Thank God we did, that same band is not here any more.  Michael is not here any more.”  Andrew was so overcome with expectation of the event, he famously escaped to a bathroom where he spent ten minutes alone, enjoying a beer and smoking a cigarette.  In documentary footage, Michael Hutchence comments that the gig is making £1m and he was only getting £5k of that.

Murphy hired David Mallet to film the concert and he used sixteen 35mm cameras, including two on roving helicopters, to capture everything.  At the time, Mallet was an up-and-coming talent who’d cut his teeth on promo videos for Queen (Bicyle Race in 1978 and I Want To Break Free in 1984, which Brian May credits with the band losing US fans), Blondie (Hanging On The Telephone in 1978), a host of Bowie videos (including the iconic Ashes To Ashes in 1980) and many more.  His work on Bowie’s Glass Spider tour in 1988 and Madonna’s Blond Ambition in 1990 convinced Murphy he was their man.  Mallet also shot the video for Shining Star in 1991 and has since gone on to a strong career in concert films.
By the time INXS came on stage, I was ready.  Opening with two big songs from Kick got me into it straight away and they followed up with a few songs from X that were fresh in my mind but it was Original Sin that locked it for me, vibrant and alive with the all-out jam session at the end.  I do remember loving the rest of the gig, I remember being invigorated by the whole thing though I must confess that most of my memory of the show itself now comes from the DVD.  But no matter - as Mark Opitz said in interview, the band were incredible on the night and they were.  In fact, watching the film again (as I did when I wrote this post), they were clearly on fire and for a first gig by a band relatively new to me, I couldn’t have asked for anything better!
Lately (with a beautiful sax part opening from Kirk Pengilly) followed Original Sin in real life but it was never filmed (it’s an extra on the DVD).  Then came The Loved One, which remains one of my all-time favourite songs and it was launched with an introduction from Hutchence.  “This is a big gig.  Really happy to be here, la-di-da-di-dah - this is the biggest pub we’ve ever played.  Is this what they call a fucking rave or what?
The show is superb - in sound and vision - and Mallet’s cameras catch it well, with plenty of highlights to savour.  During the opening to Mystify, the crowd sing along so Hutchence stops and holds out the microphone towards them and they bounce around once the band kicks in.  How cool must it be to see an audience do that for one of your songs?  There’s the moshpit run during Wild Life, the crowd going mad for Suicide Blonde, Hutchence kissing Andrew Farriss at the start of What You Need (which also includes the "play the fucking riff, Timmy!” incident).  Kick, Need You Tonight and Never Tear Us Apart sound huge and the set concludes with the best version I’ve ever heard of Devil Inside - the band always used to close on Don’t Change and whilst that would have been good, it really works well as it is.

“We had already headlined at plenty of stadiums and festivals, but this was different. Wembley is the most prestigious stadium in Europe - if not the world - and it was going to be magical. There were 16 cameras, 72,000 extremely psyched people and some great opening bands and we were ready to turn Wembley Stadium into the biggest pub on the planet.”
- Kirk Pengilly

“For us as Australians, Wembley was always thought of as one of those place you knew you that you wanted to play - if you were lucky.  To even have the opportunity to perform there was a dream.  There were something like 200 people backstage which was a bigger crowd than some of the pubs we'd played in! It was nuts and I couldn't really take it all in.”
- Andrew Farriss

“This gig was a prize; it meant that all those years of touring, playing gigs the world over paid off this one night.  We had played many concerts that were bigger but selling out Wembley Stadium was a prestigious hallmark for us, especially considering England’s affection towards INXS took years to develop.”
- Jon Farriss

“When we took part in Live Aid in 1985 it was made all the more special knowing that our performance was being projected onto the large screens at Wembley Stadium.  Wembley was the pinnacle of venues around the world, the place you read about in music magazines growing up in the 60’s and 70’s.  To sell out Wembley Stadium was certainly a dream come true.”
- Garry Gary Beers

“It was INXS Day on BBC Radio, MTV, you name it, we were everywhere you looked or listened, it was kind of surreal, which is always a good thing.  The whole gig was kind of like a big pressure cooker of 'let's see just how nervous we can make the band', but the tension had the opposite effect on me. I had to struggle to keep the smile off my face.”
 - Tim Farriss

Selling out Wembley Stadium was a big deal - AC/DC are the only other Australian band to do the same.  INXS had played the venue before, supporting Queen during the “Kind Of Magic” tour in July 1986 (which I didn't see, though had the opportunity to - really wish I had done now).

According to Billboard magazine, the concert grossed £1,426,617 and the audience was a sell-out capacity of 73,791.

The day after arguably one of their biggest gigs ever, the band and Mark Opitz recorded Shining Star (which Andrew Farriss had written on the road) at London’s Metropolis Studios.

* * * * *
Live Baby Live, the live CD and concert film video, were both released on 11th November 1991 (when I bought my copies). The film, which looks glorious but isn't in widescreen (presumably since TV's weren't set up for that then)  is well-edited and perfectly captures the scale of the event (shots of the crowd and stadium) without missing any of the intimate bits - such as the little nods between Kirk Pengilly and Tim Farriss (plus the fabulous ear signals during What You Need as Hutchence sings “Hey you, don’t you listen” and Kirk gestures to Tim, who had screwed up his riff).  It also captures the sheer energy of the show, the tightness of the musicianship and the real sense of camaraderie amongst the band.  For me, watching it on VHS back in the day was a revelation - I thought I’d picked up a lot from the video monitors (and I thought Kirk was the coolest thing ever in his red suit and black shades) - but I clearly hadn't.  I'm happy to say that even now I still find new bits every time I watch it.

Track Listing:

"Guns in the Sky"
"New Sensation"
"I Send a Message"
"The Stairs"
"Know the Difference"
"By My Side"
"Hear That Sound"
"Original Sin"
"The Loved One"
"Bitter Tears"
"Suicide Blonde"
"What You Need"
"Need You Tonight"
"Never Tear Us Apart"
"Who Pays the Price"
"Devil Inside"

On the re-issue, there’s an excellent 40 minute behind-the-scenes documentary which shows the band in preparation for the gig with a real sense of nervous excitement about them all, which is refreshing to see.

The Live Baby Live album reached number 8 in the UK, number 3 in Australia and number 72 in the US (though it sold over 1m copies there).  Shining Star, the single recorded directly after the concert and the only new material on the album (it’s heard over the closing credits of the DVD), was released on 2nd November.  It reached number 31 in the UK, number 21 in Australia and 14 in the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.  The CD single was backed with live versions of Send A Message (from Summer XS), Faith In Each Other (Sydney 1990) and Bitter Tears (Paris 1991).

The album - produced by INXS and Mark Opitz - featured several songs recorded at Wembley, as well as highlights from gigs in Paris, Dublin, Glasgow, Rio de Janeiro (“Hey, hey Rio?” before launching into Suicide Blonde), Montreal, Spain, Switzerland, Melbourne, Sydney, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Las Vegas.
Track Listing:

"New Sensation"
"Guns in the Sky"
"By My Side"
“Shining Star”
"Need You Tonight"
“One X One”
“Burn For You”
“The One Thing”
“This Time”
"The Stairs"
"Suicide Blonde"
"Hear That Sound"
"Never Tear Us Apart"
"What You Need"

Summer XS memorabilia - taken from the DVD insert

The Radio One broadcast is available on YouTube as are most of the songs, many of them through the official INXS channel.

As I mentioned above, this is the song that did it for me...
Still one of my all-time favourite songs...
Listen to that crowd!
"Play the fucking riff, Timmy!"
This is how to close a show!

Part of the DVD documentary, showing the audience gathering.  I wonder if I'm in one of those shots?

An excellent gig and an excellent memory, a great band at the top of their game and I'm chuffed to have been there.

band interviews from the Live Baby Live DVD re-issue liner notes, no credit (released by Sanctuary Visual Entertainment)
INXS: The Official Inside Story Of A Band On The Road, text by Ed St. John
Gig information from Billboard Magazine
Story To Story: The Official INXS Autobiography, by INXS and Anthony Bozza

Monday, 11 July 2016

NewCon Press Birthday Bash!

I have a long (six years) association with NewCon Press and it’s one I’m very proud of.  The press is run by the great Ian Whates, who’s a lovely bloke, a smart editor (I’ve been in two NewCon anthologies so far, with another on the way and my Hauntings experience is one I treasure) and a dedicated writer with a solid work ethic.  He also runs my writing group (the Northampton SF Writers Group, or NSFWG) and I thoroughly enjoy those evenings, especially the market-gossip we indulge in after the critiques are done.

NewCon Press (you can read more of my adventures with them here) has now reached a landmark anniversary and when Ian decided to hold the 10th Birthday Party in London, I immediately accepted the invite (also swayed, I must admit, by the chance to spend time with writing chums).
The day didn’t start auspiciously, as Midland Mainline had sold five carriages worth of tickets and only bothered to put on four (though I luckily got to sit down and read for most of the journey).  Just outside Luton, I realised the woman standing just behind me was pregnant so offered her my seat and she, her partner and I chatted as we rolled into London.  At St Pancras, talented musicians had taken over all three of the pianos with the last one, by the ticket office, finishing off a rousing rendition of the Match Of The Day theme, which got hearty applause.  I walked through to Kings Cross (spotted Kathy Boulton) and, as is my wont, tubed over to Covent Garden (but, unlike at the writer/blogger do earlier this year, I took the lift up this time).  I wandered around, took a selfie to sate my Frenzy-love and walked to the deli on the corner of Leicester Square, whose chicken-salad-ciabatta is just superb.  I ate it sitting on a wall in the centre of the Square, listening to a young girl sing Hallelujah (very well) and watching the world go by, which is a pretty good way to spend a lunchbreak.  I walked up to Hamleys to pick up a gift for Dude (laser pistols this time) and had a bit of celebrity-spotting success - as I was going up the stairs, Charlotte (who won this years Great British Sewing Bee, a programme Dude & I both enjoyed) was coming down - then, since it was after one, I tubed back to Kings Cross and walked up York Way to the pub, The Star Of Kings.
Ian in full flow - picture by Tasha Jacqueline
The NewCon party was in the basement, which was very hot (damp is probably a more accurate word) with no windows and a very low ceiling.  It was great.  The first person I saw was Kevin, who used to be in the NSFWG but had recently moved away and it was good to see him again.  He was with fellow NSFWG chums Paul Melhuish, Tim Taylor and Rod & Nelli Rees, so we chatted and had a laugh.  I went to get a round in, chatted with Rosanne Rabinowitz as we waited to be served (and wouldn’t you know, the free bar had run out by then), then sat with Donna Scott and had a catch-up.
Part of the NSFWG gang - me, Paul Melhuish, Nelli Rees, Tim Taylor (Rod Rees not pictured...)
Donna and me
On my way to get another drink (they put so much ice in the diet Pepsi I think you only got two or three mouthfuls) I bumped into Neil Bond (Donna’s hubby).  Haven’t seen anywhere near enough of him recently and it was good to catch up, he was talking to Pete Sutton and introduced us, then Gary Couzens wandered by.  Across from us, Kim Lakin-Smith was chatting so I grabbed her for a photo-op and got the lady she was talking to to take the picture.  Kim & I chatted for a while, then she went to find her husband and I chatted with her friend, who - I found out - was Bryony Pearce, who has a story in the latest NewCon antho Now We Are Ten.  We had no idea who the other was but got on well, talking about writing (YA, her field and horror) and how we get our own kids to read.  Great chat, lovely and interesting woman.  Spotted Kathy Boulton again and we got to say "hi" to each other this time.  Andrew Hook and Sophie Essex, who are always good company, joined us and we chatted about writing and conventions until Ian interrupted the room with a NewCon update, outlining the projects the press has ‘coming soon’.  I lost track of what was hush-hush and what wasn’t, so I won’t divulge anything, but it all sounded good.  Then there was cake.  And it was lovely.
Neil Bond, Kim Lakin-Smith, me, Gary Couzens, Pete Sutton
Bryony Pearce, me, Sophie Essex, Andrew Hook
(taken by Tim, who may have been a little unsteady on his feet at the time...)
Bryony went off to the signing line for the anthology, so I sat with Paul and we discussed our latest projects, the state of horror and what we planned for the future.  All too soon, it was time to head off.  I said my goodbyes (thanks for the book, Andrew!), found Ian and his lovely partner Helen (who gives the best hugs), thanked them for organising a great event and made my way out to the warm (but briefly chilly-feeling) outside, saying goodbye to Neil (who hugged me so I wouldn’t go so quickly) on the way.
The cake - picture by Tasha Jacqueline (by the time I got there, it'd been cut up)
An excellent day all round, chuffed to be part of the NewCon family to help celebrate its 10th birthday and, as always, it’s creatively invigorating to spend time with so many writers, poets and artists.

Happy birthday NewCon Press, here’s to the next ten years!

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Grieving Stones, by Gary McMahon (a review)

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book I've read and loved, which I think adds to the horror genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.

A small therapy group arrives at Grief House hoping that a combination of isolation and hard work will help them begin the healing process each of them so desperately needs.

But their presence has awakened something in the old dwelling. Something linked to the ancient stone megaliths at the rear of the property and a terrible crime, committed centuries before.

Before the weekend is over, the group will learn the secrets of the Grieving Stones, and come to understand the true meaning of transformation.

“When she looked at the windows, a premature night had fallen. The house smelled of herbs and butchered meat.” 

Alice, whose husband Tony killed himself, is a member of a counselling group run by the enigmatic Clive Munroe.  When he suggests that a select group spend the weekend at a dilapidated building in the Lake District called Grief House, she decides to go though she has her reservations - namely that she doesn’t really like any of her fellow members and thinks Clive might like her in the wrong way.  On the journey to Ullswater, Clive hits an animal and kills it, which shocks them all even though none of them can properly identify the beast.  Then, when they reach the house, it’s in a lot worse state than they’d thought.

I like Gary McMahon and I like his writing, which always contains a brutal honesty mixed with a dark sense of the elegance to create fear and tension in even the most mundane of situations.   This is no different.  Location plays a huge part and the combined beauty and isolation of the Lake District is wonderfully used, especially over the hill from the house where the Grieving Stones stand.  McMahon also taps into the history of the area, weaving in the perfectly pitched tale of the Staple Sisters from the 1600s, half-believed to be witches but since they helped local folk and farmers they were left alone.  Once Alice latches onto their story - though a clever plot device - things begin to unravel and build themselves up at pace.  All of the characters are thoroughly believeable, with each member of the group - from Moira, who’s lost her son, to Jake, whose sister was murdered; from Steve who lost his wife, to Clive who might not be the person he presents to them all - being well-rounded and human.  Alice is a much more complex creation, whose layers begin to shed early on at the accident and keep falling away as the story progresses - that we feel so strongly for her makes each incident hit like a blow.  The story moves at a measured pace, giving the characters (and the house) time to breathe and this works well, as we uncover each revelation along with the characters, building to an awful sense of understanding about Mag and Meg Staple (“They were not good, they were not evil.  They were just two sisters trying to eke out a living in a world that did not look kindly upon women who lived without a man.”).  The supernatural elements are well used and nicely frightening, utilising the half-glimpsed to paint a bigger terrifying picture - the punch dummy in the attic, the curious reflection in the kitchen window and the apparently backwards girl.

This is an excellent piece of work, genuinely unsettling and frightening, whilst also being spot-on about the human condition in dealing with loss, grief and guilt.  Packed with great lines (“The brakes screeched like frightened birds”), scary set pieces and a sense of foreboding, this is well worth a read and I highly recommend it.

The book will be published on 16th July and launched at next weekend's Edge-Lit.

Monday, 4 July 2016

KettFest 2016 with Sue Moorcroft

Last year, as part of the KettFest Festival, I did my first solo talk/reading (on the history of horror, which you can read about here) and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I was asked to take part again this year and readily agreed, though I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.  After having a conversation with my friend Sue Moorcroft, we decided to team up and talk about our creative processes.  “We love talking about writing,” she said, “why not let’s do it in front of others?”  It was a great idea, I was just worried about how we’d stop after 50 minutes…
Sue had been away in Malta so although we’d planned to meet one evening at The Trading Post and go through our plan for the day, we couldn’t fit it in.  Instead, we met at The Kino Lounge in town at 11, spent fifteen minutes talking about what we could do and the rest of the time catching up.  At 12.15, we got to the library, introduced ourselves and went over to our corner.  The first person we met was Mick Arnold, who’s in the RNA with Sue (and who I met at the first Brum writer/blogger bash) and then my Uncle Philip called in to wish us luck.  After chatting with him, Sue & I set up our tables - one for the books, one for us - and waited for the audience to file in.  Alison & Dude arrived, my old chum Jon turned up with his son, Susan from my writing group was there, Darren Paterson came along - he & I have been friends on social media for a while but, apart from a brief meeting on Rothwell High street, this was our first proper meeting even though we live in the same town - and Councillor Mick Scrimshaw, who supported my event last year.  Andrea, Sue’s friend whose real life experiences provided the basis of the plot of Sue’s next novel, was there as well as half a dozen other folk.
At 12:30, we kicked off.  Sue talked about her forthcoming novel from Avon Books, The Christmas Promise and I shared the story of how Drive came about.  There were a couple of questions from the audience, which we answered and went off at tangents with, we asked each other questions, we took more questions from the floor and the fifty minutes went by so quickly we ended up taking the hour.  Great fun for us and, thankfully, the audience seemed to enjoy it too.
Still talking with my hands...
Afterwards, I chatted with Darren and a lady who was interested in starting writing, sold a couple of books, signed a couple of books and talked more about writing.  What a wonderful way to spend a Saturday lunchtime.

As everyone drifted off, Sue, Mick, Andrea and I went back to the Kino Lounge for lunch.  We chatted - about politics, writing and tattoos - watched the weather change - from overcast to monsoon to sunny - and ate our bacon buttys.  Andrea was surprised Sue & I had never done an event together before, since we apparently synced in well (thanks, no doubt, to all those evenings in The Trading Post and the long journeys to and from FantasyCon and Edge-Lit) and it definitely gave me the taste to do more.  Maybe next year…

Thanks to Jo Selby-Green for organising the Fest, Mick Arnold for the photographs and everyone who came, especially those who asked a question.

Monday, 27 June 2016

For Your Eyes Only, at 35

For Your Eyes Only, the twelfth James Bond film in the official EON series (and the fifth to feature Roger Moore in the lead role), opened in the UK on 26th June 1981.  It was directed by John Glen (the first in his eventual five-film run), produced by Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and written by Richard Maibaum & Michael G. Wilson.  Peter Lamont was the production designer, Derek Meddings supervised the visual effects and Bill Conti wrote the score.  The film was originally planned for release in 1979 to follow The Spy Who Loved Me (it’s announced at the end of that film) but was put back to allow Moonraker to go into production.
UK quad poster
Following the outer space excess of Moonraker (which remained the series highest grossing entry until Goldeneye in 1995), producer Cubby Broccoli wanted a conscious return to the style of the earlier Bond films and, indeed, the novels of Ian Fleming.  For Your Eyes Only, he decided, would be stripped back of gadgets and humour, allowing for a grittier, more realistic approach - a reboot before they were in fashion, as it were.  Broccoli’s stepson, Michael G. Wilson, had been made an executive producer for Moonraker and was given more creative input in the series.  He agreed with the need to get back to basics and collaborated on the screenplay with Bond veteran Richard Maibaum.  The script took key elements from two of Fleming’s short stories - Risico (Kristatos and Columbo) and For Your Eyes Only (the murder of the Havelocks) - and included unused sequences from Live And Let Die (the keelhauling), Goldfinger (the Indentigraph, called the Identicast in the novel) and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the winter sports).  The macguffin of the film - the ATAC - and the villain Locque were both added by the pair.
As the script was being written, Broccoli had a major problem in that Roger Moore was undecided as to whether or not he wanted to continue.  His original three-film contract took him up to The Spy Who Loved Me and following that, he negotiated contracts on a film-by-film basis.  This uncertainty led to other actors being considered for the role, including Lewis Collins (then well-known as Bodie in The Professionals), Michael Billington (who played Anya’s lover in The Spy Who Loved Me) and Michael Jayston.  Broccoli worked hard to persuade his friend and star to make at least one more film and Moore, helped by a substantial increase in his salary, eventually signed on, though he remained uneasy about the tougher character he was being asked to play.  For my part, I think this is probably his best performance as Bond - he still has some quips but they’re toned down from the 70s excesses and his character shows a harder, more vengeful streak.  His age also seems to be acknowledged, especially with the young ice skater Bibi - he rebuffs her advances by saying “You get your clothes on and I’ll buy you an ice cream.”
At work in Cortina - front left - Tony Waye (Assistant director), Bob Simmons (Action co-ordinator), Roger Moore, Cubby Broccoli, John Glen, Michael G Wilson
Further to the back-to-basics philosophy, there were several changes in the key crew.  John Glen, who’d worked as editor and second unit director on a number of previous Bond films, was promoted to director.  Ken Adam, the production designer, was working on Pennies From Heaven in America and when his assistant Peter Lamont was asked who he thought should replace him said “why not me?”  Both Glen and Lamont decided to pull back from Adam’s trademark grand sets in favour of a more realistic design.

Of the old guard, both Desmond Llewelyn (Q) and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) returned but Bernard Lee, who’d played M since Dr No (1962) was hospitalised with stomach cancer and died on 16th January 1981 before he could film his scenes.  As a mark of respect, the part wasn’t recast and his dialogue was split between Q, the Minister Of Defence (Geoffrey Keen) and Bill Tanner (James Villiers).
from left - Carole Bouquet, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Cassandra Harris
Carole Bouquet, who had previously auditioned for the part of Holly Goodhead in Moonraker, was chosen to play the vengeful Melina Havelock and in an interesting twist became the first Bond girl who doesn’t share a love scene with our hero until the closing credits.  She is also only a year older than Lynn-Holly Johnson.  Julian Glover, who’d once been shortlisted as a potential Bond prior to Live And Let Die was cast as Kristatos, whilst Chaim Topol was suggested by Broccoli’s wife Dana for Bond’s ally Columbo (and it was he who came up with the pistachios quirk).  Cassandra Harris, cast as Countess Lisl, took her fiance to lunch with Broccoli and his team, the first time any of them were to meet Pierce Brosnan.  Lynn-Holly Johnson, who played Bibi Dahl, was a professional ice skater Broccoli had seen and liked in the film Ice Castles (1978).  Michael Gothard played Kristatos’ henchman, the hired assasin Emile Locque, who doesn’t say a single word throughout the film (though he screams as he dies).  Unfortunately, the film ends with a cringeworthy sequence featuring then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (played for laughs by Janet Brown) which doesn’t sit with the tone of the film at all, dates it badly and feels like a terrible joke that should have been cut in the scripting stage.  Roger Moore reportedly hated it too.
from left - Julian Glover, Topol
Since John Barry was unable to work in the UK at the time, American composer Bill Conti - best known for his work on the Rocky films - was chosen.  His score, very much of its time, doesn’t really suit the film (though it’s an decent enough listen) and has dated quite badly (though I maintain that the discordant piano during the ski sequence fits the visuals perfectly).  Conti also wrote the music to go with Michael Leeson’s lyrics for the title song, sung by Sheena Easton who maintains the honour of being the only singer to feature in the opening titles.  The song reached number 8 in the UK charts, number 4 in the US and was nominated for the Best Song Oscar.  Blondie were asked to submit a song but it was rejected - it’s available on their album The Hunter and, I think, would have worked just as well.

On a budget of $28m ($6m less than Moonraker), Bond was ready to head into the 1980s.

“We had gone as far as we could into space. We needed a change of some sort, back to the grass roots of Bond. We wanted to make the new film more of a thriller than a romp, without losing sight of what made Bond famous - its humour.”
- John Glen

Production began on 2nd September 1980 in the North Sea, filming exterior scenes with the St Georges (interiors were shot at Pinewood later, as was the explosion which was filmed in the tank on the 007 stage).

The production moved to Corfu and, on 15th September, began filming at the Villa Sylva at Kanoni, which doubled as Gonzales’ Spanish villa.  On a location scout, it had been decided to use the local hills and olive groves for the chase scene between Melina’s Citroën 2CV and the Peugeot 504s driven by Gonzales’ men (Bond’s Lotus was blown up early on to show that he would be relying more on his wits than gadgets).  The chase was supervised by Remy Julienne (who would work on every Bond film up to Goldeneye) and filmed over twelve days, using four 2CVs which were modified for the stunts required.  The scene includes Roger Moore’s ad-lib “I love a drive in the country, don’t you?” which clearly takes Carole Bouquet by surprise and he has since stated that of all the cars he ever drove as Bond, the 2CV was his favourite.
The Citroen 2CV jumps the Peugeot in the olive groves
The crew moved to Kalambaka on the Greek mainland to shoot in and around the monastery that sits on top of a virtually sheer column of rock.  Although permits had been signed and agreed, the monks who lived in the neighbouring monastery of Meteora took exception, complaining that Bond’s reputation for sex and violence was an affront and demanding filming be halted.  To prevent filming, they hung laundry out of windows in an attempt to ruin the shots.  Local people and the government intervened and shooting was allowed to continue, though only exteriors were used - St Cyrils monastery itself was built at Pinewood.  On location, Roger Moore - who has a fear of heights - had to resort to some ‘moderate drinking’ to calm his nerves but the fall was performed by Rick Sylvester (who also did the parachute jump at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me).  Derek Meddings developed a system that would dampen the sudden stop and although Sylvester was nervous - he later said “From where we were shooting you could see the local cemetery” - the stunt went without a hitch.
Bond kicks Locque's car off the cliff, the scene that concerned Roger Moore

The raid on Kristatos’ warehouse was also filmed, along with the scene where Bond kicks Locque’s car over the edge of a cliff.  Roger Moore felt the scene was too cold-blooded - he said it “was Bond-like, but not Roger Moore Bond-like” (though I would argue his killing of Sandor in The Spy Who Loved Me is just as nasty) - but agreed to film it as originally written.  The raid sequence also saw Topol injured, when a piece of debris hit him in the face - the scene is included in the movie, with the actor falling toward Moore.

Could that be Locque, or is it a character from Guess Who?
Returning to Pinewood in Novermber, work began on Peter Lamont’s sets at Pinewood, including the Identigraph scene with Q.  On the DVD documentary, Roger Moore (a known practical joker) said he convinced Desmond Llewellyn his dialogue had been changed and handed him new sheets the continuity girl had typed up.  Desmond spent his lunch-hour learning the new lines only to discover, when he got on set, that it was a joke.  His response is not recorded.

The church in the pre-credits sequence was filmed at Stoke Poges, next door to the golf course from Goldfinger (1964).  The sequence of Bond visiting his wife’s grave was written to provide continuity between potentially different actors, when it was still unsure if Moore would be continuing in the role.
Martin Grace hangs on over Beckton Gas Works
The helicopter sequence was filmed at the abandoned Beckton Gas Works in London (later used as a location for Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987)).  Featuring some excellent stunt work - Martin Grace was hanging onto the Jet Ranger, whilst Marc Wolff was the pilot - it also included an incredible Derek Meddings foreground miniature, which used forced perspective to allow the helicopter to apparently fly into a warehouse.  For footage inside the building, a full-scale mock-up was mounted on a rail, allowing Roger Moore to be filmed inside it.  The bald man in the wheelchair was clearly meant to be Blofeld but ongoing legal battles with Kevin McClory meant the character couldn’t be named or properly seen.  Unofficially disposing of Bond’s greatest villain down a chimney stack was Cubby Brococli’s perfect way of saying the 007 series could survive without Blofeld, who wouldn’t re-appear until Spectre in 2015.
Not-Blofeld at Beckton Gas Works (Martin Grace on the skid)
Whilst the first unit was in England, the second unit, supervised by Al Giddings, shot the underwater scenes in the Bahamas with stand-ins. Since Carole Bouquet had a sinus condition, she couldn’t film underwater so the close-ups of Bond and Melina were shot on a dry soundstage.  Smoke, wind, lighting effects and dubbed on bubbles gave the illusion of the actors being submerged.  Giddings also co-ordinated the logistically difficult keelhauling sequence with John Glen.  The submarine scenes were filmed at Pinewood on the 007 stage tank, where Peter Lamont created two working props for the Neptune, as well as a mock-up with a fake bottom.
Filming the keelhauling sequence in the Bahamas
On 1st January 1981, the production began work at Cortina D’Ampezzo in Italy, where unusually mild weather meant no snow had fallen.  Instead, they had to ship some in from nearby mountains and dump it on the city streets.  Bond veteran Willy Bogner Jr led the second unit there and designed the chase sequence with Bob Simmons to surpass his work in both On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Spy Who Loved Me.  As well as being pursued by two motorcycles with studded tyres (to film them, Bogner used skis that allowed him to go forwards or backwards), Bond is also chased on the bobsled track in a gripping and visually dynamic sequence.  Unfortunately, on the last day of shooting the run, one of the stuntmen in the sled, 23 year-old Paolo Rigon, was killed after he became trapped under the bob.  Although he was an accomplished cross-country skier, Roger Moore wasn’t insured for downhill skiing so Bogner stood in for him.  Close-ups were filmed with Moore strapped to a sled being pulled downhill, as Bogner skied backwards operating the camera.
Locque and his men wait for Bond at the ski jump - from left, Claus (Charles Dance), Locque (Michael Gothard), Erich Kriegler (John Wyman)
Robbin Young, who played the florist, won Playboy’s “Be A James Bond Girl” where her prize was a small role and a spread in the magazine.  The film also marked the last appearance by Victor Tourjanksy, the ‘Man With Glass’ from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

First unit filming wrapped in February.  Back at Pinewood, Derek Meddings and his team created miniatures of the St George (and blew it up), Columbo’s yacht for the approach to Kristatos’ warehouse and elements of St Cyrils (including the basket lift).
top - film still
bottom - Derek Meddings with the foreground miniature exactly duplicating the real building 
A member of Derek Meddings' crew at work on the St Georges miniature, just before the diver explodes (hence the miniatures of Bond and Melina)

For Your Eyes Only premiered at the Odeon, Leicester Square on 24th June 1981 before going on general release on 26th June.  The premiere was attended by the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, for the benefit of the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation.  Topol suggested to Cubby Broccoli that he invite his former Bond co-producer Harry Salzman, which he did, marking the first re-union between the two men since their break up after The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).
left - Concept art for the poster by Brian Bysouth - right - raw photo of Nancy Stafford (the hand and crossbow used in the poster)
The poster, showing a woman standing with her legs spread, was designed by Bill Gold and caused a certain amount of controversy in the US - The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times considered it unsuitable and edited out everything above the knee whilst the Pittsburgh Press painted on shorts.  I thought it was very good and had a copy of it on my bedroom wall for years.  The image is composite from two women Morgan Kane photographed - Joyce Bartle provides the legs (she wore her bikini bottoms the wrong way around) and former Miss Florida Nancy Stafford is the hand holding the crossbow.

Roger Moore presents Cubby Broccoli with his Irving Thalberg Award
Citroen produced a special “007” edition of the 2CV which had decorative bullet holes on the door, Corgi Toys produced die-cast models and a 007 digital watch was also available.  Marvel Comics published a comic book adaption (which I read and quite enjoyed), written by Larry Hama and drawn by Howard Chaykin.

At the Oscars on 29th March 1982, Sheena Easton performed the nominated title song and Roger Moore presented Cubby Broccoli with the Irving Thalberg Honorary Award, in honour of the Bond series.  The script was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay by The Writers Guild of America.

Setting a record for opening-day grosses (£14,998), it went on to made $195.3m ($509.6m adjusted for inflation) worldwide, making it the second highest grossing Bond film after Moonraker.  It was the last Bond film distributed solely by United Artists, as the studio merged with MGM soon after the release.

I like the film a lot though I must admit, at the time, I wasn’t so keen (you have to remember I was 12 when this was released) because after the glorious excess of Moonraker it seemed a bit too pedestrian.  But it’s not - the direction is tight, the set-pieces (especially the car chase and the submarine stuff with the St Georges) are suspenseful and well constructed and the acting is good across the board.  I’m a fan, so happy 35th anniversary For Your Eyes Only.