Friday 24 November 2017

For the record - Sky Atlantic's new series Vinyl

Sky Atlantic's new series Vinyl is a bright, brash homage to the music scene of 1970s New York, says Emily Hourican

Bobby Cannavale and Olivia Wilde
Bobby Cannavale and Olivia Wilde

Emily Hourican

'There's so much excitement about Vinyl that it just might get eaten by its own hype, is GQ's prediction for the latest series from Sky Atlantic, a glorious-sounding mash-up of sex, drugs, music, fashion and 1970s New York; a kind of Almost Famous meets Goodfellas, with a predictably killer soundtrack, one that took up a huge amount of budget, and includes snatches of Led Zepplin.

The idea apparently originated with Mick Jagger, who is executive producer (and presumably real-feel consultant) and who has been suggesting a movie based around the hottest decade of the music scene for years now. "I've had this idea - about a film set in the music industry - for years," he has said. "Then I started working with Marty on a documentary about the Rolling Stones [2008's Shine a Light] and I mentioned it to him and asked him what he thought."

'Marty', otherwise known as Martin Scorsese, clearly thought 'yes', and the project slowly gathered pace. Scorsese directs, with Terence Winter, of The Sopranos, The Wolf of Wall Street and Boardwalk Empire, writing the 10-part series. The fact that it took five years even once the script has been written, is an indicator of the scale and ambition of the show.

Despite Jagger's involvement, and the presence of his son, James, who plays Kip Stevens, lead singer of punk rock band the Nasty Bits, this is not the story of the Rolling Stones. Instead, it is the story of an era, told through the eyes of a record company boss, Richie Finestra (with plenty of the kind of hard-boiled voice-over more usual in mob movies), played by Scorsese's muse-of-the-moment Bobby Cannavale, who, hot in the throes of a mid-life crisis, begins to delve into the exploding scene - a mosh-pit of punk, disco and early hip-hop, in which the characters of Lou Reed and David Johansen of the New York Dolls appear - in order to try and save himself and his company, by then out of touch with the kids, and in big trouble. Still an idealist, a man who believes "it's a privilege to do this job, to introduce the world to new music, to shape the culture," Finestra goes looking for a hot new band to sign, trying to follow his instincts in a brave new world, one that has torn up any rule book he ever knew. Before coming across the Nasty Bits, there is a scene where he tries to sign a young and unimpressed Robert Plant. It's the kind of scene, mixing fact with fiction, that Vinyl tries very hard, with Jagger's hands-on help, to get right in order to create an authentic sense of being there.

Getting to grips with the new energy means, for Finestra, a full immersion in the scene, and with the drugs, sex and groupies that come with it as much as the music - and therefore plenty of conflict with his colleagues in American Century Records, who would rather simply sell up and get out, and his wife, played by Olivia Wilde (above with Bobby), who decides two can play at whatever game he's up to.

Despite the darkness hinted at by the trailer, which includes shots of someone smashing someone else's legs with a baseball bat and plenty of Scarface-style gun action - as well as a sequence that will be eagerly-awaited by film buffs, in which Finestra drives through the city at night that was originally shot for Taxi Driver and never used - the appeal of Vinyl is likely to be nostalgia as much as anything else. The retrospective feeling of innocence and creative enthusiasm; a time when drugs were for winners, girls were groupies or wives, and music was going to save us all. This will undoubtedly be the series that spawns a thousand style references - not that 70s New York ever went away as a fashion touchstone - but expect a sharp rise in shiny suits, sideburns and mini skirts.

Vinyl starts on Sky Atlantic on February 15

Sunday Independent

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