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Hard Times - A Film by Damien Blaylock - Cat Head Records
Reviewed by Andy Hall, Aug 2006

In a nutshell: A documentary film containing interviews and live footage of blues performer Big George Brock.

There have been some classic backstage moments in the genre of the 'rockumentary' - a youthful, chain smoking Dylan goofing around and torturing the 'hip' young British journos in Pennebaker's Don't Look Back... then there's Rob Reiner's Tap of course, all pumped up and ready to rock, getting hopelessly lost on the way to the stage in Cleveland. To these mighty moments, we can now add the opening footage of Hard Times...

Big George Brock is pictured in a small white room, preparing for his grand entrance while various people from his entourage fuss around him. After much build-up and anticipation, an aide finally helps him don his golden cape, and as George starts blowing harp, he finally enters the venue. At this point, I have to confess I was expecting a crowded, throbbing, jumping blues club, but instead George staggers out to what looks like a quiet night at Brian Potter's Phoenix club. It's a bizarre moment. The club looks like a staff canteen or church hall, and it also looks mostly empty.

I'm not trying to knock Big George, or this film, but the opening is a little (unintentionally) comical. However, when you realise that the filmmaker's original intention was to produce a 10 minute promo film, and that they expanded this to an hour long documentary once they met George, you can understand the somewhat low budget production values.

So the rest of the film pans out with reminiscences from Big George interspersed with live footage of him playing with the Houserockers (Riley Coatie's family band) amongst others.

He definitely comes across as a larger than life character. There are tales of cotton picking (George cuts a dashing figure in hot pink shirt and hat / dungaree combination), plus great stories of life as a boxer, club owner and then latterly as blues artist. What comes across is that George is a man who's existed on the fringes of the big time for a long time. He proudly shows the beds where Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed slept after playing gigs at his club, and how he gave Albert King a break as a young and upcoming player. There's even a story from the boxing years, where Big George claims to have floored Sonny Liston!

Whether or not these tales are all 100% true is unimportant, Big George comes across as a decent bloke who's led a colourful, interesting and sometimes tragic life. He now finds himself at 75, with recent albums garnering very positive critical responses and even awards! It must feel pretty strange to have come to this comparitive career high point so late in life.

In conclusion, although a little rough around the edges, this film is entertaining, contains great musical sequences, and the hugely likeable figure of Big George makes it a worthwhile way to spend an hour.

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