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How We Used to Live film still

How We Used to Live film still

Travel back to the 60s and 70s in a Rock ‘n’ Roll Double Bill

Whenever you go down the road in Britain, you travel not in three dimensions, but in four – the fourth dimension is the past. ‘How We Used to Live’ is a new archive film of 50’s and 60’s London from indie-pop band, St Etienne, and cultural commentator and writer, Travis Elborough. Annie Waite speaks with Travis to find out more about the film.

How We Used to Live is one half of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Double Bill showing this Saturday at the Electric Palace, alongside A Message To The World – a profile of 70’s household name, punk and garage musician, Jesse Hector, of The Gorillas. The films were chosen by Hastings-based music journalist and comedy writer, David Quantick, as part of the three events he’s curated for the Electric Palace’s Summer Music Season.

Collaborating with St Etienne

Longtime friends with the band St Etienne, Travis Elborough has written cultural histories of London’s Routemaster bus, the LP record and the English seaside. The original idea for How We Used to Live was to go for something quite historical and spanning the century, “which was really how I became involved,” says Travis.

However, over the five or six years the group spent on the film, it changed in scope and shape and became about the post-war period up to Thatcherism. “It really grew into something much more impressionistic and poetic”, Travis continues.

Delving through archive clips

As St Etienne had previously released some well-received short films using archive footage from the British Film Institute, the group was granted permission to continue with a similar project. They set to work digging out old clips for their profile of London.

The band’s Bob Stanley, Paul Kelly (the film’s director) and Pete Wiggs, alongside Travis, all spent “many happy hours” over several weeks trawling through tapes and tapes of footage at the BFI’s offices just off the Tottenham Court Road.

“We watched the footage in a tiny room, about the size of a cupboard, on the top floor of the building, which appeared to be next door to a storage facility full of reels of highly flammable nitrous film. But we’d simply record the bits that caught our eye, slowly accumulating stuff that Paul then almost magically assembled into the finished film,” Travis says.

Selecting Ian McShane as narrator

#British actor, Ian McShane (best known as TV’s, ‘Lovejoy’) was drafted in to narrate the script that Travis and co had drawn up. “Early on, we had a few people we discussed using, but Ian was the only one we approached and thankfully he agreed straight away,” says Travis.

According to Travis, the starting point for the character of the narrator was Billy Liar. “The conceit was to imagine if Billy Fisher at the end of Billy Liar had stayed on the train and come to London and was, say, now an old man reflecting on his life in the city,” he says.

“But that was really just a starting point for thinking about who the narrator could be; he’s as much the voice of memory as anything, musing on London, recalling a lost time and place and posing the odd question,” Travis continues.

McShane came down to RADA in the early 60s from Blackburn and had lived through the period the film captures. He also appeared in some great British films from the era, says Travis (for example, The Pleasure Girls and Villain). “We thought he would just be perfect for it. And he did an absolutely wonderful job, better than we’d hoped even,” Travis says.

Rock N Roll Double Bill at the Electric Palace on Saturday 23 August at 8pm, will include screenings of How We Used to Live and A Message to the World, plus a Q&A with Pete Wiggs from St. Etienne, Travis Elborough and directors Paul Kelly and Caroline Catz.

Summer Music Season is supported by Film Hub South East with National Lottery funds distributed by the BFI Film Audience Network (FAN).

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Posted 08:36 Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014 In: Film

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