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Rock History Revisited in HBO's Vinyl | reviews, news & interviews

Rock History Revisited in HBO's Vinyl

Rock History Revisited in HBO's Vinyl

Scorsese and Jagger shine a light on the Seventies music business

Bobby Cannavale as music mogul Richie Finestra

It was 20 years ago that Mick Jagger suggested to Martin Scorsese that they should make a film "that spanned four decades of the world of music in New York City". The idea has finally come to fruition as Vinyl, HBO's new 10-part series that kicks off on Sky Atlantic on Monday 15 February.

The two-hour pilot show is directed by Scorsese and co-written by Terence Winter, who has previously worked with the director on Boardwalk Empire and The Wolf of Wall Street. It's a riotous ride through 1973 New York, a city then awash in debt, crime and sleaze, but also a seething musical melting-pot of punk, glam, R&B and the dawning of disco and hip hop. Since 1973 also happened to be the year when Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets was released, it's a happy hunting ground for the director, who has rendered the city in all its derelict, delinquent glory (Scorsese and Mick Jagger, pictured below).

The story centres on record company mogul Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale, another Boardwalk Empire alumnus), who runs American Century records. This seems to have a pretty weird roster, running from Donnie Osmond to Grand Funk Railroad, but Finestra and his squalid crew of executives are in the process of selling the company to the PolyGram conglomerate. Thus we find them in a boardroom full of strait-laced German executives, hoping they won't spot the gaping holes in the balance sheet.

The fate of the label is tied up with Richie's personal identity crisis. He's been sucked into a world of rip-offs and payola and hideous low-lifes like radio mogul Frank "Buck" Rogers (Andrew Dice Clay), but deep inside he yearns to find the kind of "real" music that first inspired him (mostly classic blues and R&B). Late one night, fuelled with cognac and coke, he stumbles into a New York Dolls gig and is blinded by the light...

Vinyl is so earnest in its quest to pay homage to classic rock'n'roll that it sometimes feels like a study course in music business history (there's a synchronised campaign of soundtrack compilations from Warner Bros to go with it). The makers have also adopted the dubious tactic of including real artists portrayed by actors, so you get a pretty good copycat New York Dolls, but a ridiculous impersonation of Robert Plant. On top of that there's Mick Jagger's son James playing Kip Stevens, lead singer with the Nasty Bits who seem to be a British punk band teleported back from 1977. But if you have any interest in rock's golden years, you'll have to watch it.

  • Vinyl begins on Sky Atlantic at 9pm on Monday 15 February

@SweetingAdam

It's a riotous ride through 1973 New York, a city awash in debt, crime and sleaze

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