In rock and roll nobody grows old, but the generation who grew up with the music are now having to face up to middle age. Still Crazy is a wry commentary on how a bunch of ageing rockers dealing with their impending mortality, try to capture the spirit of their youth and learn to take the odd risk again.
Strange Fruit had it all: fame, money, groupies, bickering band members and a singer who overdosed. As Hughie puts it, the reason lightning struck at the Wisbech open air festival to stop their set, was that God was sick of 70s excess. When a public request to reform and play their final venue comes they find themselves back on the road again.
Tony Costello [Stephen Rea] is the keyboard player, nobody’s quite sure what he’s been up to swanning about Ibiza with a metal case in hand — turns out he’s been running the condom concession at a major resort. He is one sets out to put the band back together, and his first hurdle is tracking them all down. Tony is the stablising force in the band, solid and dependable, he is all that held the band together in the past and may be all that keeps them together in the present.
Karen Knowles [Juliet Aubrey] was a Strange Fruit groupie who was, and still is, in love with Brian. She was adept at managing the band — currently using those skills as a hotel clerk — and so becomes Tony’s first port of call in getting the show on the road once more. Knowing that one show and nostalgia won’t be enough convince the other members to come along for the ride, she organises a potential record deal at the end of a European tour.
Les Wickes [Jimmy Nail] is the bass player. Now running a successful, if boring, roofing business, he jumps at the chance to relive past days. Along with ex-singer Keith, he was songwriter and soul of the band. Himself a frustrated singer, he frequently came to blows with the new singer Ray, who just didn’t get rock. While he has the talent and drive to make a reunion a success, his dislike of Ray could signal an early end to the venture.
Ray Simms [Bill Nighy] is the singer and front man for the band — although the position of front man is assumed and not earned. He is an unmitigated poser, living beyond his means to keep up appearances while trying to put a solo album together. With band rifts over direction, the only glam element is Ray whose more misogynistic urges are kept in line by his wife, Astrid [Helena Bergström].
Astrid: Karen will get plane tickets, just give her your credit card number.
Ray: I don’t know my credit card number.
Astrid: It’s on your credit card, Ray.
David ‘Beano’ Baggot [Timothy Spall] is the drummer. Discovered in a nursery — working with plants, not kids — he is on the run from the tax man and being doggedly pursued by a mysterious woman in black. For him, Tony and Karen’s arrival is serendipitous and he can’t wait to play again. Beano is the band clown, a little slow on the uptake at times, but always there for his mates. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then drummers are from Pluto.
Hughie [Billy Connolly] is the band’s roadie. More of a spiritual protector for group — if Karen is their mother, then Hughie is their father. He was in it for laughs in the beginning and things haven’t changed now. He is something of a chronicler of the band’s adventures and narrates much of the movie.
Beano: Are you still a road dog, Hughie?
Hughie: Nah. The last tour I did was ten years ago. It was Aerosmith, but they’ve gone and cleaned up their act. It’s all wheatgrass juice and fuckin’ pumpkin seeds. I hope you guys are still crazy, or I’m outta here.
With their guitarist Brian [Bruce Robinson] unaccounted for, Karen insists on a younger replacement to give the band more of a connection with the younger audiences they’ll be playing to and the talented Luke Shand [Hans Matheson] is hired on.
So piled aboard a tour bus that last saw the Psychedelic Furs, the Fruits hit the road once more. The gigs are small, the crowds unappreciative, the band rusty and, predictably enough, Les and Ray are still getting up each others noses.
Even though she ended the relationship because she didn’t want to see him kill himself with drugs, Karen is still deeply in love with Brian. Tony has always loved Karen and determined to protect her. Meanwhile, Karen’s daughter Clare [Rachael Stirling] is along for the ride and finds herself repeating her mother’s actions in falling for Luke.
Strange Fruit were cut short as the worst of the 70s glam rock excesses were about to be overshadowed by punk and still seem searching for some kind of closure. This reunion is a wonderful tribute to the days of classic rock.
The film works due to the care and attention of the people behind the scenes. Brian Gibson directed What’s Love Got To Do With It, writers Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais co-wrote The Commitments and the songs were co-written by Foreigner’s Mick Jones. Also thrown into the mix is singer Jimmy Nail, who created, wrote, produced and starred in Crocodile Shoes, a series about the music business. These people have a love for music, know what they’re talking about and, in several cases, have collaborated in the past.
The drama is a little iffy in places, but is nicely propped up the great music, fine writing and the amazing cast. As a reunion film, it is far more sophisticated that Spinal Tap, but also far more light hearted — witty, yes, but biting satire it isn’t. This isn’t comedy, for comedy’s sake, it is a complete package deal and very British in its execution — so don’t expect a laugh-fest of one liners.
If you loved the music, you’ll get a kick out of Still Crazy. Even if you don’t, this is well worth checking out for the amazing cast alone.
Published Epinions — 05.12.2000
DVD available from Amazon US, Sendit UK and DevotedDVD AU.