What made you want to make a film about Dr Feelgood?
Partly the insanity of it because no-one would finance such a thing I would have thought. So, it was the kind of great lost cause idea, that they were a forgotten band, and it would have to be a movie made with love rather than money. So, on both those counts I was pleased to do it. I had obviously seen them, at an impressionable age, and was really blown away by them. At that time it was so different to what was going on and, with hindsight, they really were the precursor to punk in several ways. It had that sort of excitement about it, when you’re 17/18, and at that time in London it was the only thing happening, really.
They’re associated with this pub-rock scene that was developing on Canvey Island in the 70s. Is that something that you think is underappreciated?
Well I think people like to look down on Essex from high and laugh at it, whereas this is more a case of laughing with it. I think rejected parts of cultures are some of the most interesting parts so in a sense Canvey Island is the Detroit of South East England. And I’m attracted to those places because people are treated with less respect, normally. I always like the underdog, people who’ve been abandoned and they’ve got to do it on their own.
Would you say the film’s about the place as much as the band?
Yeah, place and time. It’s not a film about the music, it’s about the people who made the music and where they came from and at that time what was determining how they felt about things, or their options, and using music to explore the people and social/cultural landscape they came from.
Is that a theme of your work?
I try to make it like that yeah, I mean I am a big fan of music obviously, I don’t think I could really exist without it so that is a big part of it but I don’t think it’s the subject, it’s more like the fuel you put in the car. I studied history and I’m interested in how things turned out in certain ways and I think music is a great way of telling stories. It allows you to be more abstract. If you use music as the organising principle it’s less top down, telling you what to think, than the normal, TV, narrated documentary.
Were you pleased by the reception it received?
Well it surprised me how much people liked it really, it is a very obscure subject. Hopefully it can appeal to people who don’t even know or like Dr Feelgood, necessarily. It is about a part of Englishness so that makes me pleased that people have responded to it. I’m really pleased that Wilko has been rehabilitated from the film, able to do new things. He’s acting now, he’s on the gig circuit playing bigger places, he’s getting what he deserves I think and hopefully the film made that happen.
You’re appearing at Latitude, made the film about Glastonbury, and have been to many music festivals over the years. How do you see festivals now, have they lost their edge?
Well, undoubtedly they probably have. I ran away from school to be at the 1979 Glastonbury and all you needed there was bare feet and a pair of worn out jeans. When I was making the Glastonbury film I was watching people wheeling in washing machines and refrigerators and incredible amounts of bad beer so in that sense people have changed not just festivals.
But I liked the idea of using festivals as a mirror of the wider changes in society. I think most festivals have become more commercialised, they’ve become less pure places. Glastonbury is a great example of at least trying to remain a bit more true to its roots. I had a great time there last weekend and I think there is a sense that you go there to be with other people, primarily, and that isn’t overwhelmed by people trying to sell you beer and other things - like Reading and other festivals.
I haven’t been to Latitude but it’s always got an interesting line-up, not just music, and I’m looking forward to that. I think smaller festivals stand a better chance to keep what the Glastonbury thing was about, in the beginning, alive.
Is it indicative of music as a whole, that music is more commercial and people don’t identify with a particular band, such as they did with the Sex Pistols, in the same way any more?
I think on one level it’s good - people are open to more different things. But to have a really popular band, a commercial band which bizarrely the Sex Pistols were, you have to be a bland band, lowest common denominator, boring shut-down ideas-wise kind of band, if you want to be mega-successful. I think there’s still a lot of great music but it doesn’t have the chance to become hugely successful across the spectrum of society that bizarrely punk did in the 70s or the Rolling Stones, or the Who, or the Kinks did in the 60s. They really were mass popular music but they were also counter-cultural music. I think there is still a lot of good music but it’s all been done before, it seems, and it was probably better the first time round.
That’s a fairly depressing picture, isn’t it?. Where can music go?
Well, it doesn’t have to be music. I’m interested in the ideas and attitudes behind the music and they don’t have to take the form of music there can be other ways of expressing them in other creative outlets that get people excited and bring people together and maybe they have to be more to do with the unexplored, unpredicted future of the internet. There’s got to be other ways of creating art statements rather than regurgitating rock n’ roll endlessly, or dance music. I’m sure there are new things to come from music, but a lot of what I hear wandering round Glastonbury and listening to young bands on the new stages its been done a hundred times before.
You mentioned the commercial side of punk, when you see John Lydon selling butter or Iggy Pop selling car insurance, does your heart sink, or do you see it as inevitable?
Bile rises in my throat. I don’t like it at all, I think it’s an absurd sell-out really. I think they’ve got enough money, anyway. I don’t seen why they need to debase themselves. I know John tries to dress it up as some kind of subversive act but it doesn’t really work does it? It’s just sad really, it makes me angry because they should be remembered for better things than that, you know.
You could argue that the most subversive thing is to rebel against your own fans?
I think there are better ways of doing that than becoming a butter ambassador. I think you’re thinking too much about what you’re doing if you’re doing that, you should be truer to yourself. That sounds very arch to me. You should really believe in what you do, not see it as some sort of game with your fans. But I’m sure they’re not even doing that they’re just taking the cheque.
You must be aware there is an expectation of you as well, because you’re seen as a counter cultural figure. Such as when you take on certain projects – the one that springs to mind on your CV is the S Club 7 video
Yeah, I try to remove them but they keep coming back. No, listen everyone’s got to live, pay the rent. I did those when I was broke, I had to do something. Like now, actually. I think it’s bizarre when you’ve already got money to become a butter ambassador. When someone who’s trying to get a film off the ground, runs out of money, I think that’s slightly different. Maybe it’s a hangable offence, I don’t know.
You wouldn’t do it just to stick two fingers up.
Well I don’t really give a shit. If I’m broke, I will do what it takes to survive. Even including S Club 7. But I don’t think I’d do a movie about S Club 7 perhaps. It might be a bit too long term.
Well, they weren’t all bad.
No, well all things are relative, aren’t they. Not my finest hour though, probably.
I haven’t actually seen it.
Well, don’t bother.
It’s sort of established that you were first inspired by Jean Vigo, is that true?
It is really, in some ways, it’s a part of what interested me in film, certainly. We used to screen films on top of a roof in college. And there wasn’t really enough room so we had a sheet as a screen and we had to put the projector right on the edge of the parapet to get a big enough throw and one of the Vigo films l’atalante we forgot to wind it on to the spool properly so we got totally engrossed in the film and found the film had gone all the way down the side of the building into the river. So we had to fish this film out of the river and I spent two weeks drying the film with a hand-dryer frame by frame, so I got very close to the film and analysed each frame as I dried it, so that’s probably why I got to know it so well. So, yeah I love Jean Vigo again I think it’s an attitude as well, that I think comes through every frame basically, I like that independent idea, you do things with your friends and do it primarily because you’ve got something to say, you know.
And slightly anarchic
Yeah, I like that, it’s certainly what turned me on to anarchy. I try to make punk rock films, that’s what I try and do with an element of anarchy at the heart of them,
So you still see yourself as a punk filmmaker?
I’m not a punk but I think my creative approach was very much born out of the moment I came from, which was punk. And I like the idea of staying true to that. I don’t want to be an old Mohawk guy, you know, old punks are worse than old hippies.
Julien Temple is appearing at the Latitude Festival, at Henham Park in Southwold from 15th to 18th July.