Top: David Hemmings and Steve Marriott
Bottom: Jennifer Moss and Heinz Burt
I recently watched two entertaining and important musicals directed by British B-movie maven Lance Comfort called Live It Up! (1963) and its sequel Be My Guest (1964), which are currently available on DVD from Guillotine Films. After my failed attempts at finding any good articles about these films available online I figured I’d try and compile something for Cinebeats. I hope readers will find these films as interesting as I did and enjoy the results of my rather lengthy investigation into the mod musicals of Lance Comfort.
Director Lance Comfort is mostly known for the dark melodramas, crime pictures and low-budget thrillers he made in Britain during the ’40s and ’50s but late in his career he was hired to direct two films that shined a spotlight on some of Britain’s up and coming musical acts. These films also showcased some of the fashions, style and stars that would go on to shape and influence pop culture for decades to come.
I’ve only seen a few other Lance Comfort movies myself so my experience with the director’s work is minimal at best, but from the accounts I’ve read and the informative commentary made available on the DVDs by the film’s executive producer, it seems that Lance Comfort was mainly acting as a “director for hire” on these films even though he also helped co-produce them. Live It Up! and Be My Guest were both low-budget promotional films created by the Film Music division of the British entertainment company known as The Rank Organisation. At the time it was run by producer Harold Shampan who made these movies in an effort to sell more records. Much like the music videos found on MTV today, during the late ’50s and early ’60s numerous bands and musical acts appeared in similar films with the hope that it would give them an opportunity to be heard by a much larger audience. In 1963 BBC Radio ruled Britain’s airwaves with an iron fist and it only offered listeners minimal access to popular music. These films often provided young audiences with their first opportunity to see and hear new recording artists.
Top: The Outlaws (with Ritchie Blackmore)
Bottom: The Nashville Teens
The groundbreaking British record producer and songwriter Joe Meek was the real driving force behind Live It Up! and the film features many of Meek’s original songs as well as live performances by some of the artists he produced including The Outlaws (featuring Ritchie Blackmore), The Saints, Kim Roberts and Sounds Incorporated. The film also features Meek produced recording artists Jennifer Moss and Heinz Burt who both have lead roles in the movie. At the time Joe Meek was rather obsessed with the tall blond German born musician Heinz Burt. Burt had been a member of the Joe Meek produced band The Tornadoes but Meek thought Heinz Burt was worthy of a solo career and he was spending a lot of his time and energy focusing on launching Burt’s career at the time that Live It Up! was made. After Joe Meek’s unfortunate suicide in 1967, rumors about Meek and Burt’s romantic relationship spread but they were always denied by Burt, which probably had more to do with the social pressures placed on both men in the early ’60s than the actual truth.
Live It Up! also features memorable performances by trad jazz artist Kenny Ball, popular singer Patsy Ann Noble and American rock and roll pioneer Gene Vincent. Gene Vincent had recently moved to England after facing tax problems in the U.S. and he was enjoying a sort of career revival there among British youth who were still excited by early American rock and roll. Dave Clark (of The Dave Clark Five) also makes a brief appearance in the film but he doesn’t perform any songs.
Besides showcasing various styles of popular music, Live It Up! also features cutting-edge fashions by important designers of the period such as Mary Quant and John Stephen who had both recently opened up shops on London’s infamous Carnaby Street. Even the hairstyles in the film were provided by Vidal Sassoon whose modern recreation of the “bob cut” would become a staple of sixties fashion. The young people in Live It Up! are also seen driving scooters and motorcycles, which became popular modes of transportation associated with the mod and rocker scenes in Britain.
Live It Up! provides viewers with a brief but unforgettable glimpse of a more innocent time just moments before pirate radio, drugs, shorter skirts, Beatlemania and the merseybeat sound would transform the capital city into “Swinging London.” From pop music to beat, trad jazz and American rock-n-roll, Live It Up! is a fascinating concoction of sounds and styles aimed at Britain’s youth during a pivotal point in pop culture history. Soon after Britain’s youth culture would begin to fragment more into different groups (rockers, mods, hippies, etc.) with different haircuts, different fashion sensibilities and different social concerns and attitudes. Of course most individuals during this period combined their various interests in music and fashion and rarely fell into easily defined categories usually created by the media in order to sell newspapers and magazines.
Female Reporter: Are you a mod, or a rocker?
Ringo Starr : Um, no. I’m a mocker.
– from A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Be My Guest is a little less interesting than its predecessor but it’s still well worth a look. The film’s musical score was compiled and co-written by the celebrated American producer Shel Talmy who’s mostly known now for his groundbreaking work with British bands like The Kinks and The Who. The film contains some worthwhile musical performances from acts that Talmy worked with including The Zephyrs, Kenny and the Wranglers, The Plebs (featuring Danny McCulloch from The Animals) and most notably The Nashville Teens and American rock-n-roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis, who just about steals the show with his performance of “No One But Me.” Like other American rock-n-roll artists such as Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis was enjoying a career revival in Britain at the time and he really kicks the film into high gear with his energetic performance. The talented composer John Barry also provides some of the songs and background music in Be My Guest, including a quirky pop song called “Gotta Getaway Now” that is sung by the singer and dancer Joyce Blair.
Both Live It Up! and it’s sequel Be My Guest star a very young David Hemmings as a guitar playing lad named Dave Martin along with a very young Steve Marriott as a drummer named Ricky. In the films they play friends and bandmates who are trying to form a beat band called The Smart Alecs and make it big in Britain’s burgeoning music scene. Both men started acting early in life and had previously appeared on stage in musicals before making Live It Up! together. David Hemmings’ first role was in Benjamin Britten’s well-received 1954 opera The Turn of the Screw, which was based on Henry James original story. Steve Marriott’s first big break came in 1960 when he got the role of the Artful Dodger in the extremely popular British musical Oliver!, which was later made into a film by director Carol Reed. The role of the Artful Dodger was played by many talented British boys who would later go onto bigger and better things including Genesis’ Phil Collins and The Monkees’ Davy Jones. But it was young Steve Marriott who was asked to provide vocals on the Artful Dodger’s songs for the original stage recording and it’s easy to understand why. Right after filming Live It Up! and Be My Guest Steve Marriott would go on to help form one of the most important and influential bands that has ever come out of Britain, The Small Faces. Phil Collins and Davy Jones are both good vocalists and by all accounts they were also impressive child actors, but neither of them could match Steve Marriott’s powerful vocal talents when he was at his peak.
David Hemmings has been one of my favorite actors for many years and I’ve seen most of the films he made after 1966, but I had only previously had the opportunity to see one of his “pre-Blowup” films (Eye of the Devil, 1966). Even as a young man Hemmings was clearly a better actor than the material he’s working with in Live It Up! and Be My Guest, where he spends a majority of his time arguing with his fictional mum and dad. Hemmings’ youthful enthusiasm is extremely appealing in both films. He projects an easygoing personality on screen, which makes him appear very modern and just plain cool in the role of young Dave Martin. The actor seems to sum up everything that was wonderful, carefree and even dangerous about British youth at the time. It’s easy to see why Michaelangelo Antonioni would cast Hemmings in his seminal film Blowup (1966) just a few years later where the actor’s good looks and natural charm made him perfect for the role of a British photographer working in swinging London. It’s hard to measure the impact that Hemmings’ character in Blowup had on a generation of British youth but it’s safe to say that he’s one of most important style icon of the ’60s. His defining roles in films like Live It Up! and Be My Guest undoubtedly helped shape public opinion about popular music and fashion during that decade. And they also helped make David Hemmings the important pop culture figure he became a few years later after starring in Blowup.
I was unfamiliar with Steve Marriott’s early film roles before watching Live It Up! and Be My Guest, but Marriott is very good in both movies and incredibly cute with his big eyes and wide smile. He seems to enjoy playing comedic scenes and acting like a clown whenever the opportunity presents itself. His natural charisma is impossible to overlook. It’s a shame that the talented singer was forced to act as if he was playing the drums in both films and wasn’t given an opportunity to show the world his amazing vocal abilities. But if you’re a Marriott fan these films are an absolute must see just to get a glimpse of young Steve before he formed The Small Faces and made music history.
The young female stars of these film are often reduced to girlfriend roles or nonspeaking parts, which is unfortunate considering some of the talented women involved with both movies. As I mentioned above, Live It Up! features the talented Australian singer and actress Patsy Ann Noble (aka Trisha Noble) as well as Jennifer Moss who later gained recognition on the popular British drama Coronation Street. Patsy Ann Noble has no dialogue in the film and Jennifer Moss isn’t given much to do as David Hemmings’ girlfriend. Moss spends most of her time moping over the fact that Hemmings’ character shows little interest in her and seems to prefer hanging out with his bandmates. The female actresses don’t fare much better in Be My Guest, which features a little-known cute and spunky American actress named Andrea Monet who doesn’t do much except kiss David Hemmings. Joyce Blair has a somewhat meatier role in the film as a bad girl called Wanda who seems to enjoy using her sexual prowess to get ahead in life but overall the women in these films are reduced to playing stereotypical roles or providing some occasional eye and ear-candy.
Patsy Ann Noble and Joyce Blair
Both films are very formulaic and director Lance Comfort didn’t make many creative directing choices while he was behind the camera. But the movies do include some nice exterior shots and the musical performances have a lot of energy considering that the artists had to pretend that they were performing live. There are also some nice set designs, which should probably be credited to the talented art director Jack Shampan who is better known for his work on films like Modesty Blaise (1966) and popular British television shows such as Danger Man (1964) and The Prisoner (1967). My fellow film buffs might also get a kick out of seeing the outside and insides of legendary Pinewood Studios in Live It Up! since the British studio is used a lot in the film. In the ’40s Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger shot many of their most celebrated films at Pinewood Studios and in the ’60s the James Bond films were shot there. Interestingly enough, the second Bond film From Russia with Love (1963) was being filmed at the studio at the same time that Lance Comfort was shooting Live it Up!
If you’re familiar with Franc Roddam’s film Quadrophenia (1979) you might be as surprised as I was to discover how much Live It Up! and By My Guest may have influenced that film. Quadrophenia was based on the 1973 rock opera written by Pete Townshend and The Who. It chronicled a few days in the life of a mod youth during the infamous mods vs. rockers fight known as the “Second Battle of Hastings” that took place in 1964. Live It Up! and Quadrophenia both feature young men working as mail carriers or company “runners” who want something more out of life and it seems impossible that anyone could watch lanky Heinz Burt playing Ron in Live It Up! and not be reminded of Sting’s character Ace Face in Quadrophenia. The bleached blond hair and leather coats obviously link the two memorable characters together but I seem to be in the minority since I haven’t been able to find any other critical information about these films that connects them to Qaudrophenia. It’s also worth noting that Be My Guest was made in Brighton in 1964 where the real “Second Battle of Hastings” happened. I don’t know if the film’s crew or cast was aware of the events but they must have taken place around the same time that Lance Comfort started shooting Be My Guest. As I mentioned earlier, The Who’s one time producer Shel Talmy helped write and compose music for Be My Guest so I’m sure members of the band must have been familiar with both of these Lance Comfort films before they wrote and recorded Quadrophenia.
Live it Up! and its sequel Be My Guest make for a fun and entertaining double feature if you happen to enjoy music, fashion and pop culture from the early ’60s as much as I do. Both films were released on DVD in late 2005 from Guillotine Films with interesting commentary tracks from the film’s executive producer but they’re currently out of print. You can still find used copies of both films selling at Amazon for about $10 (or $5 a piece) and the movies are also available for rent from Netflix.
Some Recommended Links:
– My Live It Up! Flickr Gallery
– The Joe Meek Appreciation Society
– Steve Marriott’s Official Site
– David Hemmings, Brit Boy of the 60’s
– Tribute to Heinz
– The Mods and Rockers
– Lance Comfort Profile at BFI Screenonline
– The Patsy Ann Noble Fan Site
– The Nashville Teens Official Site
Closing music clip from Live It Up! (1963).
Featuring David Hemmings, Steve Marriott, Heinz Burt and John Pike.
(Note: The music was actually performed by Heinz Burt and his band The Tornadoes).