Gallon Drunk

One for the Ladies

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Originally released on videotape in 1992, One for the Ladies isn't the definitive Gallon Drunk video by any means; however, its DVD edition does have some things about it that any fans of the band should keep in mind. The actual performance itself is a late December 1991 London show that captured the group in a transitional quartet stage, playing material from its first album and early singles. The filming is good enough professional coverage involving multiple cameras, both fixed and hand-held, though the editing is nothing particularly special. As for the band and its performance, the sound mix is a touch muddier than the studio releases, though seeing James Johnston slowly but surely get more frenetic as the show continues is fun, with the tipping point being a roaring take on "Some Fools Mess" and continuing through an amusing Silly String attack on "The Last Gasp" -- if he didn't have the total wild-eyed mania of his early inspirations (Nick Cave most obviously, but Lux Interior runs a close second) at this point he had the defiantly out-of-step spirit. This feeling is underscored by the difference between the band's pompadours and sharply buttoned threads and the venue's psychedelic/baggy logo on the back wall! Max Decharne on drums pretty well steals the show, playing both sitting down and standing up with power while all the while maintaining a cool, rail-thin elegance; it's little surprise he would soon leave to lead his own groups the Earls of Suave and the Flaming Stars.

The extra feature on the DVD, however, is of particular interest -- I Was Dora Suarez, the companion feature to the collaborative album Johnston released in 1993 with future Gallon Drunk member and noted saxophonist Terry Edwards, and cult U.K. crime writer Derek Raymond. Raymond, whose Factory series of novels brought a vivid portrayal of horrifying London crimes and their investigation by a sergeant in the A14 department of the police, had published I Was Dora Suarez, an investigation into a prostitute's grotesque murder, in 1990. Recognized as both a compelling and utterly disturbing piece of fiction -- vivid similes and turns of phrase used to describe utterly revolting events won Raymond comparison to Jacobean playwrights -- the book and Raymond's work in general proved to be a favorite of Johnston's, leading to the collaboration, with Raymond reading from the book to haunting, spare music with ominous feedback drones and echoed, distanced howls, interspersed with perversely pretty keyboards. A live performance of the trio in 1994 was one of the last things Raymond did before his passing later that year, but the film, presumably done in the same year, is not a record of that, instead combining various snippets showing the elegantly downbeat Raymond reading from his text, generally filmed in black-and-white in the studio but towards the end in color in the open air, with a collage of short dramatized segments re-enacting moments in the novel along with general mood-setting sequences. If the rough and slightly amateur straight-to-video feel of the overall film takes away points from Raymond's gripping reading, said reading really is something -- he was a good interpreter of his own work -- while the music remains as ominously powerful, and quite unlike most of Gallon Drunk's work in general, as ever. The interview with Raymond that follows the film is also well worthwhile, with the author's intelligence and awareness on the nature of crime literature (and literature in general) coming across in a series of passionate and often wryly sharp observations.

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