Jiving and Dying


The Radio Rats story directed by Michael Cross.

Beautifully edited, filmed and compiled by Michael Cross in lovely grainy monochrome the film immediately hooks one in from the opening scene and doesn’t let go until the final credits ninety nine minutes later.  It is visual audio delight with a superb soundtrack presented in hi fidelity quality pumping loud from the cinema speakers.

For me the story is about guitarist songwriter Jonathan Handley and vocalist Dave Davies with a diverse cast of characters along the way.  Two very different personalities they share a dynamic when they work together.  I knew Jonathan back in the day and I remember him as a lovely man genuinely into artists like Bowie, Iggy and Lou Reed prescribing but not injecting another girl another planet. 

Dave Davies is a great singer in the vein of Jagger or the other Davies Ray.  My wife says that he reminds her of David Johansen and she got it.  He has an animal magnetism charming in interview and nobody seems to know how he earns a living.

It was great to see the early proto glam punk rock pics but the story really kicks in with ZX Dan one of the greatest South African songs ever, Starman with a country twang and Safrican accent.  It was a massive hit in South Africa and it could have done the same worldwide.  The song was written with the aim of having a hit single and it became their defining moment.

It interests me that they describe their music as pop but that song was their only pop hit.  I guess they scupper their chances by singing about strange quirky subjects like Cyanide Lake.  The other Jonathan, Richman springs (sic) to mind as the closest reference.

And so they became a cottage industry writing and recording many songs with continually changing line ups and name changes and slowly refining and defining their sound and art, the comic art of the bands album covers and posters is very much part of the whole thing.

It is great to see the scenes of the old South Africa towns, and venues and country side, it is a lost time strange and quaint and it is interesting how anything alternative or artistic came out of such an environment yet somehow it seems to happen.

The film is probably the most comprehensive documentary of any single South African music artist or act and probably the best.  It is entertaining but it is also art.   A lot of attention has been paid on the editing and the detail.  Some of the interviews are presented in seemingly uncut form of realism reminiscent of Warhol or Jonas Mekas. 

In the middle of the film some songs display a sixties garage psyche feel of English freakbeat particularly the Creation.  That part blew me away as it is quite an obscure reference and they do it very well.

And whilst not the final song in the film but the song that seems like the end song Perlemoen is a strange one.  It is the song where Jonathan seems to finally fully give in to his South African-ness.

The film is available on DVD as a double pack with a great compilation CD and superb cover art and sleeve notes.  It is a quality package.