Il Gatto A Diciannove Canzoni: Nell’ Ora Blu By Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats 

Cambridgeshire rockers go full Giallo – with a little help from genre stars Franco Nero and Edwige Fenech. Photo by Karin Hunt

Uncle Acid is not the most avuncular of figures, though for this sixth outing with the Deadbeats he is at least taking us to the cinema. Horror is the chosen genre, and more specifically, the Giallo horror pictures of the 60s and 70s, the sounds of which are recreated meticulously on Nell’ Ora Blu. It’s a remarkable leftfield turn for a metal band from Cambridgeshire best known for their adventures in sludge. Main man Kevin Starrs has often exhibited his taste for the cinematic, though this full s’habiller of the Giallo mantle is still a surprise. 

So is this to be yet another soundtrack for an imaginary film? Not quite, thankfully, for reasons that we’ll come to shortly. But first, the word ‘Giallo’ itself comes from the Italian for “yellow”, specifically in reference to a series of pulp novels published in the 1930s that mutated into horror and sexploitation films a generation later. The scores of those movies will have become familiar: there’s usually a harpsichord, the most spine-tingling of all the instruments, then add some Latin percussion or congas, a smattering of eerie analogue synth, a sporadic interjection of waterphone played with a bow, and bring in some spiky, supernatural Bernard Herrmann-style strings for heightened drama. Composers include the customary big beasts: Ennio Morricone, Riz Ortolani, Nino Rota and Stelvio Cipriani, and not forgetting the Italian progressive rock band Goblin, whose collaborations with slasher auteurs Dario Argento and George A. Romero produced some of the most memorable horror soundtracks in history. 

That winning combination of creepiness, psychedelia and kitsch, usually with buckets of crimson splattered across the mise-en-scene come the conclusion of the picture, has left Giallo movies rife for imitation, and the soundtracks have been spoofed frequently with surprising accuracy. In 2012, the French duo Guess What released Mondo Giallo (The Best of the Giallo Soundtracks 1968–1974) – dated with all the verisimilitude of a latter day Damien Hirst, it might easily catch you out if you’re not paying attention. Better still is Broadcast’s soundtrack to Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio from the following year, which takes many of the musical tropes of the genre and mixes them in with their own brand of hauntology and sampledelica. Being the soundtrack for another imaginary Giallo film The Equestrian Vortex (that we never actually see), only enhances a picture that should be the standard-bearer for British-made films, such is its swagger and fastidious detail.

While there’s certainly room for Nell’ Ora Blu to be interpreted as a soundtrack for an imaginary film – an idea trumpeted so frequently that it has long since become a cliché – the way it has been meticulously created is definitely more homage than pastiche. Moreover, the list of collaborators who were tracked down with admirable tenacity makes it a unique document where fandom meets with historicity. Starrs managed to contact venerated stars of Italian cinema: the prolific actor and director Franco Nero and French-Italian Giallo queen Edwige Fenech, the first pair of names on the list of desired players once it had been decided that the record’s dialogue would all be in Italian. Both agreed to contribute, recording their parts over the phone, or in the case of Fenech, delivering them word perfect via WhatsApp. The lo-fi deliverance of voice messages adds to the grainy quality required, while their participation gives gravitas to the disposable, a pop record that becomes more authentic and more dramatic thanks to the inclusion of screen legends. It’s less an imaginary soundtrack, and more an imaginary film itself – produzione non pasticcio!

Knowing what’s going on will largely depend on your grasp of the Italian language, of course. There are choruses in English to help us on our way (“Watching eyes are everywhere,” for instance, according to ‘Pomeriggio Di Novembre Nel Parco – Occhi Che Osservano’) but it’s largely a mystery if, like me, your Italian only goes as far as recognising people answering analogue telephones with a customary “pronto!” – which happens a lot during Nell’=’ Ora Blu. Nevertheless, you know there will be blood, and that becomes more forebodingly clear as the piece unfolds.

As well as Giallo, there are musical moments reminiscent of Spaghetti western and Poliziotteschi, but like Broadcast before them, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats made the wise decision to incorporate the CAM Sugar sound into their own musical milieu, where bossa nova meets space rock, distorted guitars meet vibraphones, and there’s ne’er a harpsichord in sight. The oscillating synths at the outset of ‘Il Sole Sorge Sempre’ (the sun always rises) suggest that we’re in for a fateful day, though the director elects to brings in piledriving guitars instead of an ominous Morriconian bell in a welcome bid to ward off the obvious. 

At the risk of dropping the odd spoiler, you can almost smell the cadaver of the dead cat and see the horror in the owner’s eyes with the later track ‘Il Gatto Morto’. The cat murder is of such pivotal poignancy that Starrs brought in a horn player for some mournful, muted trumpet. He recently told Shindig magazine: “I wanted a specific type of trumpet playing … but without being able to play the instrument or read music, I couldn’t explain it in technical terms.” He requested that the session player listen to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain all the way through before putting lips to brass: “He nailed it in one go and the take is in the song.” 

The cat killing, one presumes, precipitates the end game, and everything intensifies as the plot, and the blood, thickens. The heavens open on ‘L’omicidio’ and there are yet more telephones, more dialogue, more ominous synths, followed by the moment of dread, all lovingly executed with Argento-like relish. What Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats fans will make of the album doesn’t appear to concern Starrs too much. “I know something like this might have limited appeal, but who cares?” he said recently. “Most of what we do has a limited appeal anyway!” Nell’ Ora Blu might be a bolt from the blue, but one suspects it’s more likely to attract new fans who don’t ordinarily spend their days listening to sludge.

Nell’ Ora Blu is out this week on Rise Above

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