Henry Mortensen’s long rumoured feature-length documentary “Skating Polly: Ugly Pop” got it’s first showing this weekend at the 21st Annual deadCenter Film Festival in Oklahoma.
The good news for those of us who live a few thousand miles and a rather large stretch of water outside of Oklahoma, is that it is also available to watch online internationally, so no need for covid passports, kendal mint cake, swimming lessons or a VPN.
What you do need however is a sense of urgency, the last date to order it is 21st June, and there is currently no firm date set for further showings, so cut to the chase, stop reading this and go and watch it if you know what’s good for you!
Before I watched it, 2 questions sprang to mind: a) Would Skating Polly fans enjoy it, and b) If you don’t know Skating Polly would there be enough there to keep you entertained?
On the first question, as a self confessed Polyholic (currently trying to cut down to 3 Hail Mary’s a day) I honestly thought it was superb. Not simply because they are my favourite band, but because it’s a really well put together documentary.
I’ve read lots of interviews with Skating Polly, so I already knew some of their story, but there was a lot of information that was new to me.
It begins with the story of how the band formed, using presumably family video from the time, some of which is on YouTube such as their reaction to being played on the radio for the first time, along with interviews with the band and their family.
The footage shot for the documentary largely takes place between 2014-2016/7 which covers the Lost Wonderfuls, Fuzz Steilacoom and Big Fit album era with a tour of the US and a tour of the UK supporting Babes in Toyland.
They say “don’t meet your heroes” but as I suspected, the band and their family are really cool, down-to-earth, nice people. Supremely talented, yet remarkably humble. The antithesis of a lot of theses dysfunctional 1970s family bands, because unlike them, it isn’t a case of pushy parents forcing their kids to be in a band when they just want to be colouring in, Kelli and Peyton were clearly the driving force and their family supported them.
It reinforced my view that they are totally authentic and dedicated to making the best music they can.
One thing that often comes up in their interviews but the documentary didn’t touch upon (probably because you can’t really film it) is the amount of sexism the band have had to endure, even when they were really young. Between creepy guys trying it on at gigs, people they work with mansplaining, stalkers/nutters, you name it.
I must admit that before I started following the band, as a naive male I’d no idea just how bad it is for women in music (and indeed in general). I recently read an interview with Kelli following a link on the band’s website, where she talks about some of the shit they’ve had to deal with, and right there at the top of the comments is a vile, threatening, sexist comment. Probably some sad excel or whatever they call themselves these days, but why does the site not moderate comments? It’s not some hobbyists blog, they have 1.2 million followers on Facebook. I’m guessing guys run the site and don’t see it as a big thing.
When I posted a thoroughly deserved glowing review of the band’s Manchester gig, I received a direct message from some half-wit saying “that’s a long winded way of saying you fancy them”. What really boiled my piss was the fact that you’ve got 2 hugely talented women (as is Kurtis, but I suspect he wasn’t referring to him) who have achieved so much, but no matter what they do, for some Neanderthal men, it still boils down to how they look. I’d swear that if a woman finds a cure for covid tomorrow and single-handedly ends the pandemic, some blokes’s response would still be “nice knockers” FFS! Surely as men we can be better than this? A single minded obsession with nookie just screams lack of imagination and intelligence as far as I’m concerned.
I very nearly stopped posting about the band, but then I gave my head a wobble and decided to post about them more often. In the voice of Spitting Image Barry Norman “And why not!”.
I always see guys posting things like “not all men” and “I’m a good guy”. Even if you genuinely think you’re one of the good guys, instead of being defensive we really need to listen, and let women be the judge of whether we are good guys or not!
For example, in the past, when I got my photo taken with female musicians I used to instinctively put my arm around them. Totally innocent but It’s only recently I realised that whilst I know it’s innocent, they don’t know me from Adam, so now I wouldn’t do it unless it’s someone who knows me well. I always thought I was a “good” guy, but looking back I can’t honestly put my hand on heart and say I’ve never made a woman feel uncomfortable with my advances by being so wrapped up in what I wanted I never gave a thought to them. Whilst I despise the homophobic undertones, “don’t do or say anything to a woman you don’t know, that would make you feel uncomfortable if a man said or did it to you in prison” is probably a very good rule of thumb.
We can all learn, we can all improve, no matter how “good” we think we are.
The reason I mention it is I think awareness is the key. When I’ve put on gigs in the past, I didn’t even know gropey guys were a thing. Now that I’m aware, I’ve reached out to Safe Gigs for Women to find out what we can do to make the Liverpool Skating Polly gig (which I’m co-promoting) a safe space for everyone. Liverpool audiences are great and I don’t think for one minute there would be a problem, nevertheless a Skating Polly gig is an amazing experience and I’d hate for someone’s night to be ruined by some little random knobhead.
Anyway… the second question, whether people would enjoy the documentary if they didn’t know who Skating Polly are, is much harder to be objective about.
Off course I instantly wanted to say yes, but then as a fan of the band I would say that. So I did a lot of thinking about it, and still came to the conclusion Yes!
Take Sugarman for example, I’d never heard of Rodriguez but it didn’t stop me enjoying it as it was an interesting compelling story (even if it was allegedly, shall we say, a little embellished).
I was a big fan of Factory Records so obviously I enjoyed 24hr Party People, what’s less obvious is that my brother-in-law who’s a top chap but not really interested in music, also enjoyed it because again it’s a compelling, unusual story even if you don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of FAC catalogue numbers and obscure Benelux only releases of Durruti Column B-Sides.
Skating Polly: Ugly Pop is not just a treasure trove of info and backstory for curious/nosey Pollyholics like myself, it’s primarily an inspirational, life-affirming, engrossing story about family, friendship, determination, dedication, being authentic, hope, ambition, chasing your dreams, and above all passion and the role it plays in developing as people. The music is really the icing on the cake for those of us who appreciate it.
A not exactly everyday tale of a 9 year old and a 14 year old who start a band that it actually really good. Yeah in the early songs you can tell that Kelli’s voice is really young, which can be a little jarring, but when you get past that, they are really, really good tracks, it’s certainly a far cry from the St Winifred’s school choir with “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma”.
As Exene Cervenka (from the band “X”) said, when she first saw them play in the early days, they weren’t good because they were kids, they were good because they were good.
They must be unique in that they combine the energy, creativity and passion of a young band, but with the polish, professionalism and skill of a band who’ve honed their skills on the live circuit for 12 years, with a seemingly close family bond. Is there another band in the history of pop music who can boast 5 superb albums and over 30 fantastic music videos in their early 20s without some big corporate label behind them?
It’s no wonder that industry veterans such as Shirley Manson from Garbage/Angelfish/Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, Exene Cervenka from the band X, Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland, and Kate Nash talk so highly of them.
I’ve always hated all those talent shows like X Factor, but obviously a lot of people seem to like them, and they seem to be drawn in more by the contrived back stories than the televised karaoke (I mean the contestants aren’t even pissed – what’s the point of sober karaoke?).
If the masses want interesting back stories, Skating Polly: Ugly Pop doesn’t just have a killer story, it’s the real deal told by the people themselves in their own words. What’s not to like?
Above all they are great role models. Kelli didn’t let being aged 9 and unable to hold a full size guitar stop her from starting a cool band. She was determined to find a way, and despite inevitable ups and downs, she, Peyton and now Kurtis are still giving it their all 12 years later. How many of us think about doing something then think “nah, because…” and make some pathetic excuse? Nothing worthwhile in life is ever easy, we should all take a leaf out of Kelli’s book IMHO.
I truly hope that one of the big networks or the likes of Netflix take up this documentary and it becomes a massive hit. Both because IMHO it deserves to, and also because it would introduce Skating Polly to a much wider audience.
Because in my experience, once people hear Skating Polly they take notice.
For example, our next door neighbour was painting one of our rooms earlier in the year and I was working with my Sonos on, I’d been listening to a lot of good stuff, but when Skating Polly came on he stopped what he was doing and came through to find out who they were.
I mentioned that I was co-promoting their Liverpool date next year, and he said he’s not been to a gig for years, but he will come to this one.
On the last tour when Skating Polly were playing Glasgow, I tagged all my Edinburgh and Glasgow friends into a post saying they should check them out. A guy I know from a band messaged me later to say he’d been watching their videos all afternoon and was really impressed and went with his friend to go and see them and really enjoyed it.
If only MTV still played music videos…
Skating Polly: Ugly Pop is available to stream until 20th June 2021 internationally via the 21st Annual deadCenter Film Festival via their website. There is also an app for Roku sticks.
If you want to have a flick through Skating Polly’s videos to see what all the fuss is about, check out my sister-site NewMusic.Online
Camp Ugly! Skating Polly’s official subscription service where you can get early access to new music and news about the band is available here.
Moonfrog and Live Music Pix present Skating Polly at Jimmy’s Liverpool (note venue change from Phase One) on Friday 25th March 2022. Tickets here.
Check the bands website for other dates.
Main Image © Perceval Pictures