ROCK FOLLIES (c.1976) film no: 1478
Made by members of the Leeds Movie Makers, this light-hearted film shows children playing at home in their living room. Some of the children dance to pop music while one of the m plays at being a DJ. Also included in this reel is a christening and a first birthday party.
Before there are any pictures, a young girl's voice announces, 'Ladies and gentlemen welcome to our Christmas film show.' A group of children then break into song with 'Silent Night'. The film then starts up with the title, 'Rock Follies', against a background of young children accompanied by the music of juke box jury. Names are given: Katy, Nicky, Clare and Lee, and the children appear playing in a living room. One of the children, with headphones on, puts on a 45 record - the music that accompanied the 'muscle man' on the TV programme 'Opportunity Knocks'. A small boy goes over to ask a slightly bigger girl for a dance and they take to the floor. She is dressed for the occasion, and he gives her a quick kiss at the end. The small boy playing the DJ puts on another record, 'Modern Millie' - the music coming from a reel-to-reel tape behind the DJ - and a different boy and girl take to the floor with enthusiasm, trying out several moves. Next up is 'Nutbush City Limits' and three children dance with even greater vigour. With Slade singing 'Merry Christmas' the children take up guitar and tambourine, before tiredness takes over.
Title: 'The End'
After this the film continues with a small girl tidying up and playing with her toys. There is a microphone under the Christmas tree, and she walks up to the camera and glaring into it close up. Then a baby is bathed and has a nappy put on. There is a look at a cake and buffet before the baby is shown off to the camera by her parents. Next the whole family gather at the church for the baby's christening, followed by the baby's first year birthday party. This is another occasion with some children dancing, with four girls and the baby dancing along to Bucks Fizz.
The final scenes include the baby, slightly older, playing in an inflatable dingy in the garden.
This film was made by an unknown member of Leeds Movie Makers, whose origins go back to 1893 and the founding of the Leeds Camera Club. One possibility of who made the film, and whose front room this is, is a member called Jim Payne, who made a couple of comic films around this time, and appears with his wife in a quite spooky film called The Door (1978). We know that Jim Payne had several daughters. The Club has been extremely prolific over the years, and continues so to the present day. The YFA has a sizeable collection of their films, including many of the Leeds Lord Mayor's Parade, with several of their films online. Around the same time as this film was made they produced many comedy spoofs, from the early 1970s and into the 1980s. An imaginative and accomplished group, they clearly enjoyed making these sorts of films. In this they were like the other sub-group of Leeds Cine Club, Mercury Movie Makers (MMM), who made 16 mm films, rather than Super 8. Inspired by the energetic and inventive late Alan Sidi, MMM more often employed special effects; but both groups made films of an ambition rare among amateur cine clubs. For more on Mercury Movie Makers see the Context for A Vision Fulfilled (1982), and Reg White’s History on their website.
This film might be considered an archetypal ‘home movie’, given that it is filmed literally in the home. In fact in older home movies the filming of families was usually made outdoors where the light is much better – often when filmed indoors the poor light can spoil the film. There are no problems here in this film, and members of cine clubs were usually well versed in the requirements of filming indoors: amateur cine magazines provided plenty of technical information – see the Context for Kelly's Eye (1972). For more on amateur cine clubs see the Context for Justice On Wheels (1968).
As much as the film is a homage to the carefreeness of children and their pleasure in dancing – with the resultant unintentional comedy – it could also be seen as a homage to disco. Although only one of the songs might be considered a ‘disco’ song – Nutbush City Limits (arguably one of the first) – the film was made at the close of the disco decade, the 1970s. Despite the fairly strict definition that is usually given to disco – “a blend of soul music and funk, set to 4/4 time syncopated rhythm”, often crops up – for many who went to discos in the ‘70s disco music was just music to dance to. Music and dance have always gone hand in hand, and all sorts of music is danceable, notwithstanding the plethora of music genres associated with ‘dance’ – in clubs, raves and so on – that have come and gone since the demise of disco. Leeds is a fitting place to celebrate all of this, as it is arguable that, at least as far as pop music in Britain is concerned, it is here where the disc jockey first emerged.
One of the great things about Top of the Pops, and Rediffusion’s Ready Steady Go, which started the previous year, was that anyone could watch, from the comfort of their front rooms, people dancing to music on television. From there it was a short step to dancing at home, especially as better playing equipment came along. In fact the hi fi gear seen in this film is typical of good quality equipment of that time, before the rise of the generally inferior ‘tower systems’. However, it looks as if the music is coming from the reel-to-reel player which were more common in the ‘60s. The child putting on records is doubtless for the camera: anyone who has had first-hand experience of children putting records on would want to keep them well away from both records and stylus!
The records that can be heard in this film would certainly have been played by djs with Radio Luxembourg when they came out. The first record on the film, though it doesn’t seem to get them up dancing, came out in 1960. Rather appropriately, it is the theme music from another pop TV programme, 'Juke Box Jury', which started in 1959 and run until 1967. Those of a certain age might remember it as a rather stilted show, hosted by David Jacobs, where guests would rate whether a new single release would be a 'hit' or a 'miss'. Both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones formed the panel on an occasion, although often it was made up of older celebrities with little feel for modern pop music, and the panel frequently consigned a single as a ‘miss’ which then went on to become a big ‘hit’ – the Everly Brothers’ Walk Right Back, being one (it reached No. 1).
The theme music, titled Hit and Miss, was provided by the John Barry Seven, replacing Ozzie Warlock and the Wizards’ (aka Tony Osborne) Juke Box Fury, used for the first six editions, from June 1st 1959. This was a great age for instrumental singles, and the John Barry Seven had already been having success on BBC shows Six-Five Special, Oh Boy! and Drumbeat. Of course, York born John Barry went on to much bigger things. Coincidently – or maybe not – most members of the John Barry Seven were Yorkshire based – especially from Leeds – apart from the guitarist, Vic Flick. Flick was at the forefront of the innovative new electric guitar sounds of that period – also playing the great guitar riff for the James Bond Theme, the rhythm guitar for John Leyton’s Remember Me and much else.
The next song, Wheels by the String-a-Longs, came out in February of the following year, 1961. However, the version on the film sounds like that made later the same year by Joe Loss, leader of the dance band orchestra of his name – which had among its members Elvis Costello’s dad, Ross MacManus. They had a few hits, including the 1964 March of the Mods. The music is perhaps most associated with Tony Holland, ‘the Musical Muscleman’, when he appeared first on Opportunity Knocks in 1964. It isn’t clear which version was used in that programme, although Tony Holland’s website claims it was the String-a-Longs. It might in fact have been a version provided by the programme’s live orchestra conducted by Ronnie Hazelhurst.
Following on from that we hear the soundtrack from the musical film Thoroughly Modern Millie, which, perhaps surprisingly given its early jazz sound, came out 1967. A single version of this song, put out by Polydor, did appear in 1967 by Aimi McDonald, made famous by her catchphrase from the 1960s TV show At Last the 1948 Show, "I'm the lovely Aimi Macdonald". But what we hear is from the original soundtrack LP. The subject of this film was the so-called ‘flappers’ of the ‘roaring twenties’, which is perhaps appropriate given the dressing up and dancing by the children. To quote the definition most commonly provided on the internet: “ Flappers were a "new breed" of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behaviour.” One of their ways of showing this disdain was through, for that time, rather crazy dancing. The hands over knees dance that the girl performs is one of their moves. See the wonderful collection of twenties dancing on YouTube (References).
Nutbush City Limits was inspired by the small rural hometown where Tina Turner grew up, just down the road from Memphis. The song gives an idea of Tina Turner’s rather mixed feelings about her childhood home. It was released in June 1973, just before she separated from her husband Ike, who produced the record, because of the abuse she received from him – though she disputed the portrayal of herself as a victim in the film What's Love Got to Do with It. Their music of the early 1970s was clearly a part of the huge growth in funk at that time. Funk provides a great beat to dance to, and heavily influenced the disco. In fact the late 1960s and early ‘70s saw a great melting pot of rhythm and blues, soul, gospel, funk and jazz – of which disco might be seen as the ‘pop’ outgrowth.
The film finishes with another record from 1973, the very different Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade, which seems, rather oddly, to put the kids to sleep! This was of course the Christmas number one for 1973 – Slade’s third of that year. It has been reissued umpteen times since, always in the top ten, and many regard it as the best Christmas single ever. According to Slade guitarist Jim Lea, "The Performing Right Society put out a statement saying Slade's Merry Christmas is the most heard song in the world because royalties come in from more countries than for any other song. The estimate is that it's been heard by 42% of the planet, more than 3 billion people, whether they wanted to hear it or not." (The Guardian, References) Now of course, having heard it a zillion times whilst walking around the shops doing Christmas shopping, we might be getting a bit tired of it. But then something would be missing without the inimitable, and indestructible, voice of Noddy Holder cheering us all up at Christmas.
Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: 100 Years of the Disc Jockey, revised edition, Headline, 2006.
This film is an extract. To access the complete film please contact the Yorkshire Film Archive