In 1985, a young student with a love of rock and roll began to regularly travel over from Manchester where he was at university to boost his grant by busking on the streets of Bradford.
Almost three decades later, Mark Kermode has made a name for himself in the field of his other great love – movies – and will tomorrow lunchtime be making a triumphant return to the city... to busk. Though not, presumably, because he needs the money.
Kermode, 48, is one of the country’s premier film critics whose reach encompasses most modern media – he writes for the Observer, co-presents a Radio 5 Live show with Simon Mayo, appears on BBC2’s The Culture Show and Newsnight Review, and writes a film-based blog.
But he’s never forgotten his love of music, and at the Bradford International Film Festival this weekend his two great passions come together as his bluegrass/skiffle band The Dodge Brothers not only entertain the crowds outside the National Media Museum from 1.30pm tomorrow, but also provide a live soundtrack to the classic 1928 silent melodrama starring Louise Brooks, Beggars Of Life.
“I had a semi-professional career as a musician,” says Kermode. “My first band The Railtown Bottlers were the house band on Danny Baker’s TV show. I always wondered whether I’d bring busking and films together, and how I’d do it, and now it’s happening.”
Together with silent film accompanist Neil Brand, The Dodge Brothers will be providing the music for Beggars Of Life from 5pm in the Pictureville cinema.
Kermode says: “Beggars Of Life wasn’t a well-known movie up until recently, even though it stars Louise Brooks. It’s got everything – hoboes, railroads, drinking, murder and even a train crash.” He pauses, perhaps thinking about the book he released last year The Good, The Bad And The Multiplex, in which he offers some forthright views about modern movies, especially 3D and CGI. “If they wanted a train crash today they’d go to some effects studio. Back then, they just got hold of a train. Then crashed it.”
Live soundtracks for movies hark back to cinema’s early days. A century on, has going to the cinema had its day in the face of legal (and illegal) downloading and DVDs?
He sighs. “People have been saying cinema’s dying for a hundred years. First it was TV that was going to kill it, and it survived, then video, then piracy... people will keep going to the cinema because they actually like it.
“People will be able to watch films on multiple platforms, but the ideal way to see a movie is as a shared experience in an auditorium. We talk about film ‘showings’ these days, but they used to be called ‘performances’.”
Which is what Kermode and the Dodge Brothers are trying to recreate with Beggars Of Life. The score for the film is, in Kermode’s words, a very “organic” experience. “We have to all face the movie so we know when to start new pieces for scene changes. We’ve worked out that as long as we can all see each other’s left hands, then we usually get it right.”
As well as the music, Kermode will find time for a bit of the “day job” most people know him for. On Saturday night he’ll be in conversation with Ray Winstone, one of this country’s great character actors, who has been thrilling audiences since he was 20 and uttered the immortal line, “I’m the daddy now” in Alan Parker’s 1977 Borstal drama Scum.
When Winstone turned up to be interviewed by Kermode on TV, the actor was asked to go into make-up. Winstone fixed the unfortunate TV runner with that stare and informed them that, nah, he didn’t think he’d be putting make-up on.
Given time is so limited, what if the world was going to end in four hours? What one film would he watch? “A Matter Of Life And Death,” he says without hesitation. “I could watch it twice in four hours. Actually, though, I’d probably watch it once and watch Peeping Tom as well. Light and dark. That’s what film’s all about.”