Graham Reid | | 4 min read
The Cafe Bangla restaurant in London's
Brick Lane isn't too difficult to find - and it's worth the effort.
It's a couple of doors along from the one with Prince Charles' photo
in the window. Which is ironic because the chief feature of Cafe
Bangla - aside from reasonably priced and generously sized Indian
meals - is a mural of the face of Lady Di hovering over a landscape.
It is alarming in its realistic
execution - "See how the fringe follows you round the room?"
- but painted in the same garish colours as its neighbouring murals
which depict idyllic Indian countrysides with temples and orange
sunsets. Kitsch sentiment in spades.
Cafe Bangla is the midpoint between the
homes and workplaces of two expat Kiwis, musician Blair Jollands and
film-maker Marc Swadel. So it is here we meet under the late
princess' baleful stare.
Listening to these two expats speak,
you cannot help but be impressed: Swadel was a freelance film,
commercial and video director in New Zealand (Bailterspace, Tim Finn,
Stereobus, Mutton Birds, Garageland, plus corporate clients and
sports coverage) and in London he is the director/producer of
www.rockfeedback.com, one of the best websites for interviews and
reviews of the London music scene.
He continues to work in film and video,
and one of his commercials for Visa was part of a selection of
highlights in the Cannes Golden Lions awards last year.
That gets you a nice trip to the south
of France, but Swadel has also filmed in Italy, France, Austria and
the States. In London he's shot Ed Harcourt recording at Abbey Rd,
live material for Peaches, the Thrills, Libertines, Serafin (helmed by
former Aucklander and From Scratch member Darryn Harkness), and shot
doco material of Gordon Raphael producing the Strokes' last album in
New York. He went on tour in Japan with Raphael and the band.
He's a busy man - no less so the other
expat sitting by his side over the steaming curries and rice.
Musician Jollands, who has his own
company, Glowb Records, does sound design for film and television,
and was an Emmy nominee last year for his soundtrack to the
television mini-series Shackleton which got him a trip to Hollywood.
"We got a limo to the show, didn't
win and so got a cab back," he laughs.
In addition to sound design - which
means layering in effects and atmospherics on soundtracks - in
Britain last year Jollands also released an impressive album, Violent
Love, under the moniker El Hula.
It's on Boy George's More Protein label
and George describes Jollands' style as "the illegitimate child
of Scott Walker and Jim Morrison with a bit of Desi Arnez and a shot
of tequila". Whatever that means.
But the mix of names he conjured up -
he might have also referenced early Bowie - is understandable because
Violent Love is an embarrassment of musical ideas.
Two outstanding tracks, When the Devil
Arrives at My Door and Beautiful Day, feature Johnny Cash's pedal
steel guitarist James "Sparks" Sinclair and are located
somewhere under a Mexican sun. Hence Boy George's tequila reference
There are swooping strings, stinging
guitars, mariachi trumpets, lyrics which leap out ("we gonna
drill through you, common man" on the title track) and it all
opens with the dramatic, rock-to-mock-testifying soul on Arena of My
However you describe the album - and
the British press went from "David Bowie meets Crowded House and
Willie Nelson" to just plain "awesome" - it is a broad
sweep of styles and a calling card from a major talent.
But it isn't his debut. His first El
Hula outing, the self-funded Hotel, had musicians Simon House (David
Bowie), expat Harkness (whose critically acclaimed Serafin spent
three months opening in Europe for Frank Black late last year), and
Nathan Haines. When playing the album live, Jollands caught the ear
of an appreciative Boy George, who signed him up and took over
Jollands also attracted the attention
of Steve Fargnoli, Prince's former manager and at the time looking
after Sinead O'Connor. Fargnoli set up showcase gigs and all was
looking promising until he developed cancer and headed back to the
Oddly enough, Jollands - who produced
Violent Love in London with the Strokes' knob-turner Raphael - is
hardly known in New Zealand. Admittedly, he's been away for eight
years (playing in LA, New Orleans and New York before settling in
London) but his music CV here only mentions time in Bike and Flat
His profile at home might be about to
change. His show at the Odeon Lounge tomorrow comes in advance of the
local release of Violent Love and he - and Swadel - is also the
subject of an episode of the television series about expats abroad,
The Living Room, which will screen late night on TV3 next month.
The programme shows the two in their
British environment - the rainy streets of London and small studios -
but also offers snippets of their work (Jollands' video shoot in
Spain, Swadel on stage filming Serafin) and their lifestyle. Their
determination to succeed in the tougher artistic climate of London
shines through the grey weather.
"I'm halfway there," says
Swadel. "It's a long way back - and a long way forward."
With Jollands briefly in New Zealand to
talk up his forthcoming Violent Love release and play the Odeon, the
programme is timely. But remember, for each minute of screentime
these guys have put in a year of hard yakka.
And sometimes made it to Cafe Bangla for a warming Indian meal under the watchful, benign gaze of a disconcerting and hilariously po-faced mural.
Blair Jollands 2010 album with his band Lotus Mason is reviewed here.