Stereophonics Rewind

    Producer and director: Danny O'Connor

    review by Alasdair Stuart

    One of the last bands to hit the great Britpop explosion of the late 1990s, the Stereophonics have had a storied history which has seen their style change with almost every album. From the explosive, minimal Word Gets Around, beloved of indie stations everywhere to Language. Sex. Violence. Other? The band has run the gamut from indie rock to self-indulgent stadium metal and back again. Now, with five albums behind them and a new line up, which garnered nothing but critical acclaim, Rewind examines the story so far.

    The jewel in the crown here is a documentary that follows the band from their roots in the Welsh village of Cwmaman. Countless line-ups and names eventually boiled down to singer Kelly Jones, guitarist Richard Jones (no relation) and Stuart Cable. Starting as little more than a school band and powered by the equally dynamic personalities of Kelly Jones and Cable, the band quickly gained a name for themselves on the indie scene, their work ethic endearing them to fans and promoters alike. Despite this, the film shows that they had to work for every breakthrough they had, with one of the high points being Kelly Jones recounting how every week he'd send out 12 demo tapes wrapped in everything from Chinese takeout boxes to shoes in an effort to get noticed.

    When they did, the result was almost immediate. Winning the best newcomer at the 1997 Brit awards they found themselves catapulted into the world every band dreams of. All three original band members are refreshingly honest about this and the film inter-cuts their recollections with footage shot at the time. It shows the band as exactly what they were, three young men from a small village, catapulted into the international spotlight.

    Ultimately though, the very work ethic that brought them their success would work against them. The band averaged an album every two years, touring the previous album relentlessly within that time and before long, the cracks had begun to emerge. Cable and Jones, childhood friends who were completely open about the mercurial nature of their friendship began to clash more and more, leading to Cable becoming an unpredictable presence on tour. In 2001 he dropped out of a string of Japanese dates only to re-join the band a few days into the tour.

    Later, in 2003, the other two sacked Cable from the band. By this stage the band were at the forefront of the music industry and none of them were having any fun. Again, the unflinching nature of the film really helps here, as both Cable's sacking and the stardom that preceded it are shown warts and all. One particular standout is Jones tuning his guitar, slowly recanting the story of how he played an acoustic set in a boardroom. The disgust in his voice is palpable.

    The film follows the band through the eventual hiring of Javier Weyler as their new drummer, the reinvention of their sound on the fourth and fifth albums and also examines the pressures which led Jones to record a solo album and carry out a solo acoustic tour. On paper the story is pure rock cliché but it's recounted in such a matter of fact, pragmatic fashion that you can't help but admire all involved.

    Whilst at their worst, the Stereophonics were amongst the most bloated and self indulgent of the stadium rock bands, few of their compatriots could be said to have such self knowledge or be prepared to put out such an honest documentary.

    The DVD package is backed up by an intimidating set of extras, including a series of vignettes exploring the band's relationship with luminaries such as Ronnie Wood and David Bowie and an entire disc of concert footage. Whilst the vignettes flirt with self-indulgence, the story told by Tom Jones or 'Tommy Eight Hours' as they call him is again funny, oddly sweet and utterly in keeping with the band's pragmatic worldview.

    However, it's the concert footage that's the real gem, covering the band's complete history. From a savage, hungry performance in Australia in 1997 to the more refined but no less intense Language. Sex. Violence. Other? tour in 2005, the footage charts their evolution and makes for fascinating viewing. Rounded out with a Kelly Jones solo show and a mesmerising solo performance of Just Looking for the Tsunami benefit concert, they show the band's raw intelligence, honesty and emotion as powerfully as the documentary itself. A must have for any fan; this is a remarkable exploration of a band who have looked into the abyss and appear to have returned stronger for it. Recommended.