After last week's remembrance of Spinal Tap, time to return to blood, sweat & riffs with Anvil - who've had a tougher ride than the mighty Tap. Formed in 1978 by the trio of Steve Kudlow, Chris Robertson & Robb Reiner, they've subsequently picked up a cult following. Which prompted former roadie Sacha Gervasi to document their story on film.
His 2008 documentary The Story Of Anvil picks up with former singer & guitarist Kudlow, now trapped in a dead end job as a truck driver delivering school meals for Children's Choice Catering, and drummer Reiner similarly stuck in construction.
An email from a European fan offering to help set up a tour offers hope that the dream might still be alive, & indeed the jaunt materialises including a final show at the Monsters of Transylvania festival! Only 174 people turn up for that - the venue holding a capacity of 10,000 with a projected crowd of half that at least. And so time to return to their native Canada with their tails between their legs & financial ruin surely awaiting.
As the Boston Globe recorded close to the film's release,
"Slash of Guns 'N Roses idolized them. Lemmy of Motorhead is a fan and friend. Lars Ulrich of Metallica considered their early albums like "Metal on Metal" - with breakneck drumming and punishing guitar riffs - a vital building block in the foundation of speed metal. So why have most people never heard of Anvil?"Why indeed? To the band themselves it seemed a combination of bad luck, timing & management.
Kudlow would say of Gervasi's cinematic portrait of them that...
"It stands as a prime example of what an industry—particularly the music industry—can put an artist through. At the same time, I take responsibility for our actions in the past. We were just sustaining who we are.The director himself would admit it was slightly surreal into the bargain!
Now someone's come along and brought it to a new level. Now we're getting praise for never selling out and sticking to our guns. It's a celebration. We got our notoriety on our own terms. We've done what we want. Not what someone told us to do."
“When my crew was thinking that it wasn’t real, I knew we had something. If my own crew thinks I’m playing a joke on them, then the audience is going to feel this can’t be real. I encouraged that.There's a sort of happyish ending for Anvil as they get an offer to play in Japan, the scene of what should have been their big break at 1984's Super Rock festival where they'd played on a bill also numbering the likes of Scorpions, Whitesnake and Bon Jovi. Excitedly, the group returns to the site that marked the highlight of their career. Their spirits are dampened, however, when they realise they are the very first act at a three-day festival, taking the stage at 11:35 am!
Remember in ‘Spinal Tap’ when David and Nigel talk about writing their first song, they shoot it in the diner, so I thought that I was going to shoot when they talk about their first song in a diner, and then I ask, ‘What was your first song?’ and they come out with ‘Thumb Hang’ about the Spanish Inquisition, which I’d never even heard.
My job was sort of to press record all the time and then sort out the narrative structure in the edit, but the truth is that the moment I met them again, it was like a walking film.”
Fearing disaster, the group however takes the stage to a large, receptive crowd.
Upon release The Story Of Anvil received praise and high acclaim in many reviews, with The Times declaring it was "possibly the greatest film yet made about rock and roll". The film was named Best Documentary of 2009 at the Evening Standard British Film Awards in London, and won Best Documentary at the 2010 Independent Spirit Awards in Los Angeles. It also won an Emmy for Outstanding Arts & Culture Programming in 2010.
Anvil are still going strong(ish), releasing their sixteenth album in 2016, Anvil Is Anvil, and touring the globe. Kudlow even bumped into one of his heroes, who had found strength in Anvil's documented misfortune.
"One of my heroes is Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull, and he came up to me in Heathrow Airport and told me the movie had completely inspired him to keep playing music, and he just kept thanking me for all of the inspiration my band gave him. I mean, this is Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull—how cool is that?”Very cool indeed! From metal to Mozart next week. Rock me, Amadeus!