Janus Film Review Cult Special: Buddy's Song (1991)

as reviewed by Tom Bonard.

Format reviewed: VHS/BBC TV broadcast.


There is an old saying that most actors want to be musicians and most musicians want to be actors. For a number of notable personalities, they were both, to varying degrees of proficiency and success. Jagger. Bowie. Garfunkel. Harry. Jett. Starr. Bon Jovi. The list goes on. Among these was The Who frontman Roger Daltrey. Reprising a role he originated in the 1986 TV series ‘Buddy’, Daltrey brings a rough diamond charm to the part of Terry Clark, an anachronistic Teddy boy, reliving his youth vicariously through petty crime and the musical endeavours of his son, Buddy (Chesney Hawkes – more on him later). Terry is out of touch with the ‘modern’ early-90s world, caught up in the criminal dealings of his old ‘mate’ Des King (Michael Elphick), and taking the rap for him in the process. At various junctures, he ends up estranged from his family, in prison, starting bar room brawls, and taking refuge in a caravan on the car breaking site where he works, arm in arm with a younger woman.


Buddy is a sullen teenager, caught between rock and a hard place (sorry), trying to please his dad and live up to his expectations (which can be summed up as 'you were named after Buddy Holly, therefore you should be a rock 'n' roller like him'), and the more down-to-earth wishes of his mum, Carol (Sharon Duce). Carol is exasperated by a husband who lives in the past and is frustrated by efforts to make a career for herself despite Terry’s disreputable associations. With the backdrop of this domestic bickering, (where the chemistry between Duce and Daltrey is virtually non-existent, leaving one to wonder why the characters were together in the first place), Buddy resorts to writing songs in his room and sending cassettes to his dad to listen to in prison. He pours his heart into melodic diary entries, informing his squabbling parents that he feels ‘torn in half’ and that he is ‘a man not a boy’. The songs are fairly mediocre (co-written by original Buddy novelist and screenwriter Nigel Hinton), but for the purposes of the story, serve to convince Terry that his son is a major talent. Upon his release, Terry sets about finding Buddy a suitable band, starting off with a rugged group of men Terry’s age who look like they are auditioning for bit parts in 1975’s far superior Slade in Flame. Navigating a turnstile of musicians, Buddy eventually settles with a band whose members include a stereotypically long-haired drummer Glenn (Colin Peel, complete with a spectacular blonde mane), an early appearance by Nick Moran as guitarist Mike and EastEnders’ Lee Ross as bass player Jason. Terry wants in on the act, jockeying for position of manager against Buddy’s friend Julius (Paul McKenzie) and filming cheesy music videos for the band at the car breaking site.


In a film that was clearly intended to showcase then 19-year-old musician and actor Chesney Hawkes, faring less well in the film is Chesney Hawkes. Despite scoring a major hit with the Nik Kershaw-penned ‘The One and Only’ (which, though only featuring very briefly in Buddy’s Song, is still a brilliant pop song), it remains the very definition of a one-hit-wonder and Hawkes’ subsequent musical ambitions stalled for many years. On the evidence of Buddy’s Song, Hawkes manages to convey the excitement of joining a band and finding camaraderie amongst like-minded musicians, and tentative steps towards romance (though not if the drummer has anything to do with it). Buddy as a character though, is ultimately a petulant teenager with an impressive vocal range, and it perhaps wouldn’t be unfair to say that Hawkes is not a naturally charismatic screen presence and one of the least interesting characters in the film.


Buddy's Song definitely resides in the obscure cult curiosity category. So much so that I had to dig out my 25-year-old VHS TV broadcast recording and dust the cobwebs off my old VHS/DVD combo player in order to watch it again, as it remains unavailable on DVD. It may have come across that I don’t like the film and, objectively, it is not a particularly good film per se, but it lingers in my memory as an intriguing curio and there is a certain nostalgia attached to it. If you like the sound of a musical-crime-domestic-drama starring a one-hit-wonder and a member of The Who, then Buddy’s Song defines that rather niche description. If one were taking proceedings seriously, one could argue it is less a story about Buddy and more a story of Terry’s journey towards redemption, complete with a largely unsatisfying, but very 90s, conclusion. It is ultimately a story about growing up: someone who wants to (Buddy), someone who has (Carol), and someone who refuses to (Terry). In watching it again, it is this aspect of the story and Daltrey's energetic performance that stands out. He gives it his all and raises an otherwise fairly mediocre effort to the status of watchable, and even enjoyable. There is only one song worth having from the soundtrack, though.

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