And yet, this is not the dominant feeling that stayed with me once the film was over. It was inspirational, uplifting, heart-warming.
The film tells the (to date unfinished) story of the Radio Rats, a little known rock n roll band from Springs, South Africa. The band’s song-writer Jonathan Handley forms the major focus of the film, with additional points of view from band mates, other artists and friends.
The Rats hit the zenith of their fame in 1979 when their song ZX Dan went to number 2 on the SA charts. Nothing they have done since has charted or been anywhere near as successful as that one song. And yet, in 2016, they are still recording and performing.
There is a moment in the film where, during an old interview Jonathan and lead singer Dave Davies say, “We love what we do. We’re not in it for the money, we just love it.”
After 25 years working with a wide range of musicians I had become used to hearing that particular line. It was how bands who were not prepared to do any hard work justified their lack of success. It was how they justified not growing or getting any better and a defence against the disappointment and disillusionment that follows when you realise that your rock n roll dreams are just that: dreams. They will never be real.
But in this film I realised: if the Rats were in it for the money, they would have stopped decades ago and none of that music would be with us. In Jonathan’s case it is an attitude that has kept his love of music and song writing fresh and has kept him writing, recording and performing for around 40 years.
Jiving and Dying has a lot of death and sadness in it. But one thing you will not feel is pity or embarrassment for them. This is a tribute to what just keeping carrying on carrying on can do: you have legacy, an archive, you have done actual ‘stuff’.
In the case of Jonathan Handley and the Radio Rats, that is worth more than any money they may or may not have made in another time and another place. At least it is to us, the people, the audience.
I know in some cases, documentaries like this have led to the resurrection and/creation of music careers. I hope this one does. I can think of no other people who would deserve it more.
Jiving and Dying: The Radio Rats Story
JONATHAN HANDLEY, DAVE DAVIES, HERBIE PARKIN, JAMES PHILLIPS, KOOS KOMBUIS
Rogue Productions/Radium Wreckords