Lost In France
The music industry is full of holy grail moments. A significant, chance meeting that launches a band that goes on to change the world, a landmark album, a legendary gig or the promise of what might have been. It doesn’t matter what band, singer or record label you worship, all of them have these moments woven into their story that are subsequently revered and heavily mythologised by us, the music lovers.
Filmmaker Niall McCann’s movie Lost In France is the story of just such a moment; the Glaswegian record label Chemikal Underground’s 1997 trip to Mauron in France for a festival of Scottish indie music that featured the likes of Mogwai, Arab Strap, Bis, and The Delgados. Eighteen years later, McCann chooses this allegedly seminal moment to hang his film, a biopic and nostalgia-fest tribute to Chemikal Underground and all it achieved, upon. To do so, he stages a reflective return journey back to France for some of the festival’s original participants who recall their memories and discuss their careers and experiences with charm and candour.
But not everyone initially gets it, principally the label’s director and bass player in The Delgados, Stewart Henderson. “I’ve said to you a few times: I don’t know why you’re doing this film. I don’t f*cking get it. Mauron was great but it was just a mad trip. I would never have put it up on a pedestal as being this defining moment” It’s a moment that perhaps defines the different experiences the followers of music have with the creators of music and, because precious little was recorded for posterity of the event itself, McCann arguably presents the perfect elusive, holy grail moment for Glasgow’s music scene, to rank alongside anything that other music-making cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield can offer. Or maybe Henderson’s words serve as remarkably frank, damning and accurate criticism of McCann’s premise and ultimately his movie itself. It depends on your point of view I guess.
What Lost In France undoubtedly does is preach to the converted. Regardless of the esteem you hold the Mauron festival in, McCann’s astute enough to know there’s an audience in their late thirties and forties out there for the story of Chemikal Underground. The film works on the assumption that if you’ve chosen to watch a film about the Glasgow indie scene of the mid to late 90s, you’re clearly a knowledgeable fan and a devotee of the acts that are fondly remembered here. If you’re not, then Lost In France is going to be a somewhat alienating prospect that offers little more than an impromptu boozy football match between the bands, meditations on the fickle finger of fame and success, the cultural benefits of the welfare state, and the social and cultural slump Glasgow found itself in as, shell-shocked, it stepped out blinking in the light as Thatcher’s bitter eleven-year reign finally came to a close and the Tories began to live on borrowed time. Thankfully, I am the right age for this cheery and quietly reflective love letter and feel I am appreciative and well versed enough with this particular music scene (though admittedly not as much as m’colleague from The Geek Show, Graham Williamson, who was set to write “Peloton by The Delgados is one of the best albums ever made” ad infinitum for this review; I wonder why I ended up getting this particular gig then?) But ultimately Lost In France, with its laid-back, honest and thoughtful reminiscences of both the trip and society at the time, is as much about being young and chasing the dream twenty years ago as it is about the realisation of the dream itself.
In the end, maybe the real holy grail is just the past and our lost youth.