One of my favourite podcast finds of 2019 is Soundtracking With Edith Bowman. I already subscribe to a couple of soundtrack podcasts, but this one blows everything else out of the water. Presumably using her BBC connections and credentials, Bowman manages to secure interviews with directors and composers, issuing a weekly podcast complimented by score or songs from each guest’s work.
There are currently 161 episodes – yes, I’m late to the party on this one – and so I’ve been making my way through them from the beginning. The other day, I listened to her second interview with director Edgar Wright (episode #47), who threw out this gold nugget of information: the composer and performer of the Bugsy Malone soundtrack, Paul Williams, played Little Enos Burdette in the Smokey & The Bandit films.
It feels like one of those facts that I should have known growing up, one of the things your Dad tells you as you sit in front of the TV watching Bugsy Malone and Smokey & The Bandit back to back on Boxing Day. But if that ever was mentioned to me, and I don’t think it was, it sure has slipped my mind into adulthood. When Wright mentioned it, it was a like a piece of jigsaw connecting in my brain.
Williams has a small roll in Wright’s Baby Driver – one of my favourite films of 2017, hence the mention in the podcast. He also pops up in 1974’s Thunderbolt & Lightfoot, the Smokey & The Bandit sequels and a couple of Muppet movies. I always knew him as one of those ever-present character actors in film and TV; I just didn’t know that he was a musician and that two films of my youth were so connected. After decades of alcohol and substance abuse, Williams has been an advocate of rehab and recovery, co-authoring Gratitude and Trust: Recovery is Not Just for Addicts, with Tracey Jackson in 2014.
His unique voice, all over the brilliant Bugsy Malone soundtrack, is one of the reasons he was selected as a guest vocalist on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories album, co-writing and contributing lead vocals to Touch, and co-writing Beyond. “Back when I was drinking,” he explains, “I would imagine things that weren’t there and I’d get frightened. Then I got sober and two robots called and asked me to make an album.”
Bugsy Malone is such a great film, and one I really need to show my kids. It’s got that weird production design – the film was a US / UK co-production – that you wouldn’t normally get out of Hollywood. The abstract splurge guns, I fear, wouldn’t pass muster with most studio executives, yet it’s a touch of brilliance. Of course, it’s a pivotal role for Jodie Foster who would go on to appear in Scorsese’s slightly more grown-up Taxi Driver the same year.
The songs are fantastic, and that’s coming from somebody who doesn’t really do musicals. Some of my best friends from secondary school went to a different primary school than me, and their school did a production of Bugsy Malone, starring my old friends Lyndon as Fat Sam, and Vini as one of the barber customers who gets splurged. It was always spoken highly of, among students who attended that school, and it’s a production I wish I could travel back in time to see.
Hit: Bugsy Malone
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