tue 22/09/2020

Everything: The Real Thing Story, BBC Four review - brilliant but long overdue | reviews, news & interviews

Everything: The Real Thing Story, BBC Four review - brilliant but long overdue

Everything: The Real Thing Story, BBC Four review - brilliant but long overdue

The breakthrough Liverpudlian band's story told lovingly and not before time

The Real Thing - life in all its messy ambiguityall pics: BBC / Baker Street

This documentary is bittersweet viewing on quite a number of levels.

This documentary is bittersweet viewing on quite a number of levels. First, it’s got all the glory and tragedy of the most compelling music stories: a Liverpool band struggling from humble beginnings, trying to find an identity, fraternity and fallings-out, coping with huge success and its aftermath – not to mention sex, drugs, mental illness and death. On top of that there’s a constant layer of narrative about the endless pressures of racism on black British musicians, told brilliantly both explicitly and in the micro-details of 1960s and '70s life.

Maybe most devastating thing of all, though, is the stark fact that it’s taken until 2020, and a lot of accumulating cultural pressure, for this band to be given the courtesy of a full-length national TV documentary. Given the level of success they achieved, their musical credibility, their connections to huge names, the rags-to-riches drama and all the rest, you’d think the anecdotes here would be commonplace British music mythology. But no. It’s taken this long, and as the gripping story unfolds, it’s hard not to feel a pang at the injustice of that.

The Real Thing with Joan CollinsOf course, the upside of this story being largely untold in the mainstream is that the stories here feel fresh, and the band, contemporaries, friends and fans extremely happy to tell them. There are none of the usual BBC Four usual suspects reeling off the usual anecdotes, but a wide ranging cast of musicians, DJs and commentators. The fact the majority of these talking heads are black shouldn’t, maybe, even be worth noting – but it does add weight to the story. In particular the commentators’ accumulated memories really bring home how important The Real Thing were in expressing a proud black British – and specifically Liverpudlian  identity at a time when even seeing a black face on UK TV was, as DJ Trevor Nelson says, notable enough to phone friends to remark on.

The story covers a broad swathe of history, from the early '60s when The Chants, a predecessor to The Real Thing, were regularly backed by The Beatles at The Cavern and even briefly managed by Brian Epstein. The Real Thing would be formed in 1972 by Chris, younger brother of The Chants’ Eddy Amoo, clearly inspired by them but also driven on by their lack of recognition compared to their white Liverpool peers.

What happened thereafter is anything but straightforward, with the breakthrough 1976 hit “You to me Are Everything” only being the start of even more hard work to maintain success and still be the band they wanted to be. It’s by no means a hard luck story, mind, and the excellently paced direction of the documentary makes the most of the surprise ups and downs, the camaraderie and alliances, as well as the adversity and industry failings. In particular the band's attempts to find a balance between teen appeal, musical seriousness and wanting to be socially conscious and reflect their background in Liverpool's L8 postcode is deftly handled.

The Real Things in 1986There’s a tragic trajectory throughout in the story of the charismatic but always troubled Ray Lake – known as “One Take Lake” for his ability to nail a vocal first time – but again, this is woven expertly through the programme so even if you know what’s coming, it packs a serious emotional punch. Throughout, the individual characters of the band members and their collaborators shine out, and there’s a really good sense of their complex interplay without apparent romanticising. This feels like life in all its messy ambiguity, the struggle and glory entangled the whole way through.

There are two things that seem a little off. One is purely cosmetic: the endless cutaways to sepia-tinted shots of very 21st century looking actors acting out “1970s” scenes for colour – presumably because this was not a BBC production so archive film was prohibitively expensive  can get wearing. The other is maybe a nerdy complaint: we never hear from the band’s backing musicians, and the amount of music actually played throughout the film is small. But these are minor quibbles. Overall this is a masterful bit of storytelling  about a brilliant band, who, after decades of being all but written out of history, deserve nothing less.

The upside of this story being largely untold in the mainstream is that the stories here feel fresh and the talking heads glad to tell them

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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