“How was Christmas?” That’s a question no dad wants to be asking. Ian (John Simm) said it in a prison visiting room in Everyday (Thursday C4), the latest sketched drama by Michael Winterbottom, madly prolific author of The Trip, 24 Hour Party People, Jude, Welcome to Sarajevo and others apparently unrelated to each other.
The story of a four children brought up by their mother Karen (Shirley Henderson) while Dad served five years inside was a subtle and gently upsetting rumination on the boring, annoying, desperately precious routines of marriage and parenting. Winterbottom does a film a year without fail, so he doesn’t have time to overthink, but his eye is deadly. He reaches in and plucks out the heart of a tale, without gripping it too tight.
The absent Ian was in more than half the scenes, because most of the film was Karen and the kids visiting or, later on, him on a temporary licence visiting them. Their meetings had the dissatisfied awkwardness of loved ones who don’t see each other enough: silences and questions with one-word answers, everyone involved watching themselves squander another long-awaited chance to stay close. “They’re tired,” said Karen as a carefully planned event went south at the whims of the children. Ian didn’t know where to start.
After each visit, Ian lay on his bunk and closed his eyes. Karen was left to deal with a blur of repetition, and struggle, and kids running off, and kids getting into fights,and school runs, and not having money, and mealtimes, and work. The daily slog was visibly wearing Karen down and even pushed her into infidelity, but all this was what Ian was bereft at missing.
Christmas was mentioned more than once because it was a marker, one of the few things anyone could remember precisely. Time slipped past and the kids’ childhood slipped away – for us too, as they aged before our eyes. Winterbottom cast four real siblings in the roles and shot them over five years, returning annually with Simm and Henderson to film a little more.
This unusual commitment gave Everyday a bedrock of authenticity, but Henderson is so often the soul of whatever drama she’s in. You just believe her. Her eyes and posture told us how close Ian and Karen were to cracking, and how much was left unsaid by the characters and the script. Everyday ended up as a love story, fractured and real.
In the cheapest part of Stockton, next to the Job Centre where there are no jobs, sits the only independent record shop in Teesside: Sound It Out (Friday BBC4), the subject of Jeanie Finlay’s wry but wrenching documentary about outsiders finding salvation in music.
Run by great living Englishman Tom Butchart, Sound It Out is the sort of place that’s familiar in films and books, but is becoming extinct with alarming speed. Boxes of vinyl on the floor, rickety racks of second-hand CDs. Walls covered in rarities, posters and eccentric hand-written signs (“Close t’door, please!”). Tom, a mild, wise man of about 40, spiky hair beginning to thin, was king of the local obsessives. The shop looked chaotic but Tom knew where everything was, and if it wasn’t there he could order it for you and have it next Saturday.
Gradually we met the customers. Finlay’s camera and disembodied voice were clearly becoming part of daily life at Sound It Out, so she was trusted to accompany the regulars home to their musty lairs. Here we saw how, for these lonely, misfit men, music – not music, in fact; specifically records – was their love.
Chris worked as an insurance auditor and had a sparse listening room in his house, where all we could see were the two thousand alphabetised vinyl LPs, one of those specialist hi-fi racks with a separate cushioned shelf for turntable and amplifier, a single armchair, and some Nick Cave lyrics framed on the wall. “It’s a collection of the last 20 years of my music-listening life,” said Chris, standing looking at his albums, wearing a pristine Boards of Canada T-shirt. “There’s some records here that are…”
He started to choke up. “… really important.” Chris brightened when he took us through his Bowie collection chronologically, and on the only occasion he mentioned another human being: Tom. “He sends you texts. ‘I’ve got these records..!'”
Shane’s room full of records was drabber – he’d stopped painting the walls four feet up from the skirting board – and didn’t actually have that many records in it, perhaps because they were nearly all by Status Quo. Shane had seen Quo live upwards of 350 times and spoke, glinting, about six-night Quo binges. He didn’t partake of drink, drugs or women. Tom was his supplier, sourcing re-pressings, re-releases and withdrawn LPs with typos on the sleeve.
Tom was also getting Dire Straits and Meat Loaf for a fruity old goat who kept wandering in from the pub opposite, and Makina – a Spanish techno sub-genre popular in the north-east – for a DJ and his MC who, with nothing else to do in Stockton, relied on music and each other to stay sane. Their intense bromance was one of many in the film: Tom and his diminutive, careful assistant David (James Dreyfus, should Sound It Out become a sitcom) and, most affecting of all, young metal obsessives Sam and Gareth.
Sam was the leader of this two-man gang, funny and garrulous where his friend was gentle and quiet. Sam said they liked “anything suffixed by the word ‘metal'”. Finlay filmed them at home, sitting against a wall with shoulders touching, air-guitaring to something earnest and twiddly. Gareth confided that music kept him going, and he meant it: he’d made several suicide attempts. “If it wasn’t for him [Sam], and the stuff on my iPod, I wouldn’t be here.”
Did Tom know how important he was? You sensed he probably did. “It’s all about emotions. Records: emotions and memories.” The film certainly knew the significance of Sound It Out: it kept stepping outside for static shots of the exterior, lovingly lingering over the retro signage, painted directly onto the wall.
As an independent shop the local community was clinging to, the sanctuary of Sound It Out could almost as easily have been a post office, a grocery store or a cafe – but not quite. These songs were saving lives.
Everyday is available on 4oD. Sound It Out is available on BBC iPlayer.