Live It Up!

UK (1963) Dir. Lance Comfort

As life changes, the highs and lows of a wannabe pop star trying to break into the music business is one thing that will remain a constant. The music may differ, the opportunities slimmer or wider, but getting the people who matter invested in you or your band will always be the hardest first step to take.

Four friends who all work as couriers for the GPO – Dave (David Hemmings), Ron (Heinz Burt), Ricky (Stephen Marriott), and Phil (John Pike) – have formed a band The Smart Alecs and are saving up to record a demo. Dave’s father (Ed Devereaux) thinks his son is wasting his time and should be looking for a job with a secure future, but agrees to a compromise – Dave and the band have one month to get signed or Dave follows his father wishes.

The band eventually records a song, Live It Up, and it befalls to Dave to shop it around the studios and agents. But during a delivery to a film studio, Dave is knocked out on set by a falling light, which makes the papers but doesn’t mention the band. Dave then notices that the demo tape is missing and tries to find it before having to tell the others he lost it.

Live It Up! – for some reason renamed Sing And Swing in the US – is a rock’n’roll film from the 60s where the parts are greater than the sum. The story by Lyn Fairhurst is as you can tell, as flimsy as they come but functional enough to allow the cavalcade of star performers to draw the crowds to this B-movie extravaganza. That’s clearly the plan but many of the guest artists appearing here will be less “Who’s Who” and more “Who’s that?” for modern audiences.

Basically, the film was a platform for legendary producer Joe Meek to get his acts wider exposure, specifically his pet project Heinz, former bass player with The Tornados and unrequited object of Meek’s affections. The fact Heinz couldn’t sing, couldn’t play, and as witnessed here, couldn’t act, was irrelevant – he also had the personality of a garden shed but he was tall and had blond hair so audiences would love him just like Meek did.

Except they didn’t. Stories tell of crowds throwing baked beans at him on stage which curtailed his career sooner than expected, but at least in 1963 when this film was made, his star was somewhere in the ascendant following the hit Just Like Eddie. Perhaps it was timing thing as The Beatles were in their first year of pop music dominance (they get a mention in the film), rendering most of the music in this film obsolete.

Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen get two numbers in the film, and are the top-billed guests, yet there was nothing really hip about Trad Jazz by this point for the kids. Elsewhere, Aussie singer and actress Patsy Ann Noble bleats out a dated Norrie Paramour arranged ditty, just as a starlet named Kim Roberts does with a bland piece of Joe Meek penned pap, whilst the film opens with Andy Cavell and The Saints (aka Meek’s session band) with another Meek tune.

Slightly sad is the appearance of one of the founding fathers of rock’n’roll, Gene Vincent. Known for his leather apparel and bad boy swagger, Vincent was in the car crash that killed Eddie Cochran in 1960, and now three years later, he is reduced to singing a safe but catchy pop number whilst noticeably limping after a fetching young lady per the theme of his song. Not to impugn Vincent for his lack of mobility, but not only is his name value in a B-movie deemed less than Patsy Ann Noble but this cheesy number accentuates how he was unfortunately a shell of his old self.

In an ironic twist, Joe Meek famously rejected The Beatles because he felt guitar bands were dead yet that is who is at the forefront of this story – a guitar band. At one point, his boys The Tornados were consider top rivals to The Shadows, but only briefly once Beatlemania and Meek’s obsession with Heinz killed the Tornados off, yet it is The Shads who The Smart Alecs base their act on, even perform a Shadows-esque instrumental to boot!

Meanwhile, there are two more instrumental tracks featured – Sounds Incorporated rip off Duane Eddy’s 1958 classic Cannonball whilst the other courtesy of The Outlaws is the real treasure trove of this film. On drums is the legendary journeyman Mick Underwood, on 12-string acoustic guitar is Chas Hodges of Chas and Dave fame, and the moody chap with Gibson ES-355 is none other than Richie Blackmore!

But there is more! Stephen Marriot who plays Rick is indeed Steve Marriot of Small Faces and Humble Pie fame, whilst one of the supporting characters is played by John Mitchell, who a few years later would change his first name to Mitch when he became drummer for an American guitarist by the name of Jimi Hendrix…

Forgive me for not discussing the plot further but most of it is run-of-the-mill fluff, with Dave bearing the brunt of the pressure to make the band a success but fate intervenes. There is American film producer Mark Watson (David Bauer) doing his Hollywood spiel but that is mostly for comic effect. All songs are diegetic with the exception of an excruciating ballad from Dave’s girlfriend Jill (Jennifer Moss, but sung by someone else), who breaks out into this maudlin lament after failing to make Dave jealous.

Yet none of this matters. The line up of star turns might be underwhelming in the grand scheme of things since most would be musical toast within 6 months, but what Live It Up! Offers may be cheesy and lightweight but serves up an enjoyable slice of nostalgia from that interim post-Cliff Richard/Pre-Beatlemania period of British pop, with some cult goodies tucked away in its fabric.