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The Pastels, The Last Great Wilderness (Geographic)

reviewed by anna battista

"I was a Pastels fan and I used to see Stephen at the record shop he worked at in Byres Road in Glasgow. Then I met him on a train four years ago and I asked him if he wanted to do the soundtrack for a film. He must have thought I was some kind of mad guy!" Scottish director David Mackenzie remembers, "He asked me to send him a tape of my stuff and I later realised that in the montage I had sent him I had used a Pastels' track. I had sort of illegally used his music for my thing, so I thought he was going to hate me, instead we became very good friends."

David might have been afraid of being considered quite eccentric and a bit mad, but Stephen remembers the meeting very differently, "I met David in 1999 en route to a To Rococo Rot concert in Edinburgh. He was funny and engaging and we discussed the idea of working together. Originally we were talking of High Tide, a film that then, as now, is 'in development'. By the time he had funding for The Last Great Wilderness we had become friends and I think he felt a certain obligation after all the talking. We accepted to write the soundtrack because we had wanted to make film music for so long we would have been happy to do anything from hardcore porn to a nature documentary. But we really liked David and his showreel and that gave us confidence to devote a lot of time to the project, believing that something worthwhile would occur."

The plot for Mackenzie's film The Last Great Wilderness might be a little bit shambolic, being half road movie, half thriller set in the Scottish Highlands, but its soundtrack is simply beautiful. Stephen defines the movie as "a bit of a mad sprawl" with "some completely magical and special moments," while he describes the soundtrack as "Pretty, dark music. Our best." There are musicians who write the soundtrack for a film after reading the script or watching the reel, for The Pastels it worked differently, "Originally we wrote the music more trying to convey the moods which The Last Great Wilderness seemed to evoke, and then becoming more focused on scenes and characters," Stephen explains, "We got too close to the film at times, and really wanted to control absolutely the use of the music when, of course, the director has to call the shots. But overall I think it came out well and David gave us space to express our ideas about the film. Everyone with an interest in contemporary cinema should definitely see it."

Mostly instrumental, the soundtrack album includes, among the other tracks, the heart rending melody "Wilderness End Theme", the sophisticated "Charlie's Theme", the Sly & The Family Stone hit "Everybody Is A Star" sang by Katrina in her typically heavenly voice, and the poppy "I Picked A Flower", featuring Jarvis Cocker (and his unmistakeable sighs and whispers…). "Katrina and I originated the chords and melody ideas which Jarvis added to," Stephen explains how the writing process worked for "I Picked a Flower", "Of course he wrote all the words, who else?! Working with Jarvis was a special privilege!"

Pastels fans will rejoice in listening to this album, the first one after a few years of silence, and in trying to spot The Pastels & friends such as Eugene Kelly in the film. "I was too stressed to really enjoy shooting the cameo role," Stephen reveals, "Eugene is a long-standing friend and, thinking of someone to front our fictional village group, The Wilderness Seven, in drag and with gusto, led straight to him."

"The music scene in Glasgow is very healthy, The Pastels have great principles and their record label is exciting," David Mackenzie states. And who could contradict him? The Pastels might not be Ennio Morricone yet, but this first effort shows that they're on the right path to become like him.


Issue 14, August 2003 | next article

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