“Make one amazing album then split up”
Such was the ambition of, an admittedly young, Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai. In amongst a slew of off the cuff comments in this look at the resurgent independent Glasgow music scene orbiting Chemikal Underground in the ’90s, that stands out as indicative of the time, the city and the (qualified) ambition. For every bullish belief in the raw talent, there was the characteristically fatalistic thought that, like a tumbling John Wayne in a clip from The Searchers gone wrong, everything would go gloriously tits up at any moment.
Lost In France features a roll call of raucous – and occasionally riotous – bands including The Delgados, Trout, Arab Strap, The Karelia (forerunner to Franz Ferdinand), the aforementioned Mogwai and many others, as youngsters and the present day. All have a common link in the Glasgow record label set up in 1994 and the film follows them as they reunite in the French town of Mauron, scene of a highly improbable festival that experienced its own flavour of Scottish invasion back in 1997. The auld alliance in full effect, perhaps. All it took was for a local lad to find himself on the streets of the west of Scotland and decide that what rural France was most in need of was some pissed-up musicians with noisy guitars in hand.
That, perhaps – definitely – is where the riotous comes in. For whilst this thoroughly good-natured and thoughtful film follows the somewhat more mature bands as they return to the site of their previous triumph, it certainly does not shy away from painting the borderline carnage of their younger selves. In the retelling of the story, you soon realise all bets are off when the bus driver hadn’t even bothered getting a passport and just breezed over the English Channel with disregard for such bureaucracy. Said driver crops up again later in the film during the recounting of an ill-advised football tournament. Revealing a Rangers top and announcing it was time to, “kick some cunt“, gives a measure of the man…and the joyfully rancorous city. Almost losing a man overboard and being advised to contact next of kin seems par for the course, in that context.
None of that should give the impression this is not a highly musical film, however. It’s not limited to that but, if nothing else it highlights how spectacularly good The Delgados were. How Bis approached pop-perfection with ‘Kandy Pop‘ and what a whirlwind of brash lyrical attitude surrounded the recently reformed Arab Strap.
Whilst the record industry as a whole has morphed incredibly in recent years, it’s been particularly hard on smaller labels like Chemikal Underground. As label boss – and perhaps the film’s most eloquent speaker – Stewart Henderson points out, they have not had the financial wherewithal to send a band overseas for eight years. By no means unique to them, of course. Fifteen, twenty years ago when they could sell 20,000 copies without too much difficulty, it was the norm.
That bare fact, amongst others, does inject an element of ruminative nostalgia into Lost In France. Above all, though, it’s a document of a particularly fertile time in Scottish music. Whilst it does concern the guitar side of affairs – the electronic scene has always ticked along rather nicely – it’s outward looking and not in the least parochial.
Funny, touching, insightful, and some rather excellent noise. Hard to argue with, really. In many ways an all-encompassing evocation of that brilliantly abrasive city.
Screening at the Glasgow Film Festival on Tuesday 21st February (with a gig featuring the protagonists straight after), it will be simulcast on around 40 screens around the UK and Ireland, details here. There is also a showing on Wednesday 22nd of February featuring a Q&A with the director.