coach at Tilda Swinton. ‘She‘s brilliant. I wrote it for her.‘ Has he got a thing about redheads.l wonder. thinking of Emma Thompson, ‘I‘m afraid so. And something about Titian.‘
Women are frequently the focus of Byrne‘s drama. ‘The woman‘s dilemma interests me more. Much more interesting things happen to them when they‘re put into situations where they‘re fighting against the odds.‘ Where the real world intruded most sharply into Tutti Frutti‘s shabby dream, was in Suzy Kettles‘ unworkable relationship with her violent husband. In Your Cheatin' Heart, beneath the surface plot of drug-dealing amongst the C&W folk, runs a plangent story about a lost child. ‘The real urge for Cissie (the character played by Swinton) is to get the kid back.‘ says Byrne, ‘If that character was a man it just wouldn‘t work. He‘d give up halfway through. The series wouldn‘t be a six-parter, it would be a three-parter.‘
On the telly at the front ofthe bus, Michael Fish forecasts snow for Aberdeen. ‘Oh great,‘ says Byrne.
You'll cry and cry and try
. Outside, the rain is coming down as only Aberdeen knows how. What looks like a road-accident is lying in the gutter halfway along St Clement Street. Close up, it turns out to be an
ancient fish lorry holding Tom Watson. Ken Stott and a bag of chips. Gathered around it is a damp knot of perhaps twelve or fifteen people. A tarpaulin blanks off one side window, while at the other a camera. protected by a vast golf umbrella, several plastic bags and a shower cap. pokes into Tom Watson’s lined features. It is bitterly cold.
A sweet-faced girl wearing a leather cap. fluffy pink scarf and a voluminous Barbour appears. and turns out to be Katy Murphy. Mr Clockerty would have a fit; she has had most of her hair lopped off. What‘s left is dyed blonde. ‘People talk about the blonde girl, and I don‘t know who they mean,‘ she says earnestly. As Billie McPhail. taxi-driver and guitarist, she is making the most of another Byrne subplot, following her tart performance as Miss Toner. Training for the part has included taking the taxi for a drive to Drymen — with a couple of friends in the back in case someone tried to ﬂag her down.
It transpires she is here for the hell of it. bored ofthe warm, dry interior ofthe Skean Dhu Hotel. and perfectly happy to be standing in the rain along with dressers and sound engineers, the man with the clapper-board and the woman with the walkie-talkie. Eventually. on Take Four. the director is satisfied with the 30 seconds of desultory dialogue, and Ken Stott gratefully
stops eating chips. We stand for two minutes‘ silence; recording the rain.
'But sleep won't come the
whole night through'
‘I wouldn‘t say it hits the heights. but‘
it plumbs the depths: it very much takes the form of a country ballad. That wasn‘t something I set out to do. but it took that shape.‘ Before Your Cheatin' Heart, Byrne didn‘t like Country music. ‘That‘s partly why I wrote the series. It‘s still nice to have a character (Frank McClusky played by John Gordon-Sinclair) who doesn‘t like Country.‘ Now. Byrne quotes Hank Williams‘ as if it were Keats‘. though this isn‘t your sentimental stuff. ‘It‘s quite hard. It‘s real working-class music. It‘s got a story to it. but there‘s nothing phoney and trumped-up about the sentiment.‘ Cathartic rather than escapist, Country is more grown-up than rock and roll; Your Cheatin' Heart perhaps a more mature work than Tutti Frutti.
Whether it is Nashville or Memphis, America acts as a spur for Byrne‘s invention. His Scotland makes constant reference to the States. In Tutti Frutti, his Glasgow reminds us of San Francisco: the Majestics‘ tour to Methil and Pittenweem is comic in its unspoken contrast to the scale of the real rockstar circuit. It remains to be seen whether the musical profile of Your Cheatin’ Heart will sound the same gently satirical note. but the inclusion in the cast of Guy Mitchell. kosher C&W star of the Fifties. suggests a certain seriousness. Byrne remembers passing a friend‘s house in 1951 and hearing a Guy Mitchell record fill the street. For him to agree, forty years later. to appear in a film Byrne has written is, he says. gratifying and a little surprising.
‘Americans wear anoraks and trainers. They used to wear gaberdine suits and fedoras. We absorbed their culture and made it part ofour own. Now we how the knee to their international pap.‘ The America that supplies Byrne‘s images is in the past. Your Cheatin' Heart ﬂirts with the shades of the Forties and of Hollywood film noir. ‘Lots of cars. Lots of driving along and windscreen wipers going.‘ And. it goes without saying, ‘Lots of rain.‘ Yet. he insists, the film is not nostalgic; it celebrates the great songs that have survived from the past, but it deals very much with the present.
Structurally at least, the new series has a certain similarity to Tutti Frutti. Once again, a band takes to the road and travels north from Glasgow. ‘lt‘s certainly a good way ofgetting in the locations,‘ smiles Byrne. ‘We‘re so used to seeing Glasgow all the time. It‘s nice to see somewhere else.‘ The idea of the itinerant. enclosed society is also appealing. ‘In Tutti Frutti somebody says. “There are three organisations where blood-ties
don‘t matter, the Magic Circle. the Mafia and the Majestics.“ It‘s like that. There are restraints and restrictions; you have to get hold of the right gear and talk right. Since we now supposedly have a freer society.
those things aren‘t there in normal life. but they‘re good to write about.‘
Your cheatin' heart will tell on you'
Parked smack in the centre of the empty timber yard is a paintbox yellow van with the words Chips Pizzas Pies inscribed on its side. Fifty yards in front of it stands the camera. on one side ofwhich a dozen bikers slouch against their machines. They are the real thing. extras brought in for the night from one ofthe few Aberdeen pubs which still welcome the leather-clad. Long-haired or Crew-cut. they wear camouflage jackets over black leather. and jeans rigid with oil. ()ne sports a fine pair ofcow-punchers‘ chaps. When the Grampian police pull up and mosey over. a postponement offilming seems inevitable while a small legal matter is cleared up. But the constabulary aren‘t in arresting mood. They just want to see the stunt.
It is now nearly midnight and the rain has stopped. Dazzling arc lights shiver through the black sky and occasional. confused gulls sail overhead. grey as ghosts. With the demise of the rain. the hoods of a dozen waterproofs suddenly reveal a gang ofgirls whose job it seems to be to dust powder over Tilda Swinton‘s flawless face. struggle with her red snakes of hair. and shout ‘Jackets on.‘ once the filming stops.
The motorbikes rev up with a throaty. echoing roar. then stop. John Gordon-Sinclair and Katy Murphy discuss the dreadful bands they used to play in ten years ago. ‘Okay John.‘ someone shouts. and John Byrne takes up position, leaning over the counter in the brightly-lit chip van. He waggles his fingers at Tilda. who is holding his jacket. She waves back.
More waiting. A man sends jets of white vapour into the air from a smoke-machine. Another starts sweeping the water out of the puddles at the entrance to the yard. The bikes rev up again and wheel round the van. Lights glint darkly off the crash-helmets. and in the confusion ofsmoke and headlights. sinister silhouettes circle.
‘We‘re going for a take.‘ comes the command. Sleek and proficient as performing seals. the bikers execute their interlinking figures ofeight. From the midst ofthe pattern-making. a motorbike and sidecar shoots out. dragging with it a bouncing figure along the cobbled. tramlined ground. The rope breaks. A tired sigh goes up and. beside me. the owner of the fish and chip van laments the passing of the great meal and congenial company he had planned for the evening. The stunt-man brushes down his torn raincoat and walks back to the van. The bikes rev up again. Halfan hour into Monday. it is all over. Nine hours on location and three minutes more of Your ('lteatitt' Heart is safely in the can.
Your Ch eatin' Heart is scheduled to be broadcast by B B C] as a six-part
series in the autumn. _ . _.__i The List 23 February — 8 March 1990 5