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Claudia Leisinger




WHAT ABOUT… TONY HENDRA AS IAN FAITH IN THIS IS SPINAL TAP?

November 2004

No sex and drugs for Ian, oh no. Not when your job is babysitting a hard-rock band who ‘start screaming like a bunch of poncey hairdressers’ at the slightest setback… By Leigh Singer

Spinal Tap, Britain’s loudest rock band, purveyors of eardrum-bleeders like ‘Sex Farm’ and ‘Big Bottom’, are idiots. Hardly front page news, true, but struggling to understand the difference between ‘sexist’ and ‘sexy’, or an inability to find a Cleveland stage pales next to their senseless snubbing of the one man who stuck with them through thick and thicker. When it comes to biting the hand that feeds them, they’re more tank of piranhas than Shark Sandwich. Nothing else can explain the hopeless lack of charity displayed towards their loyal svengali, manager Ian Faith.

Faith comes from the old school of rock: legendary kingpins like Led Zeppelin’s Peter Grant or hustling chancers like the Stones’ Andrew Loog Oldham. Larger than life, brandishing his trademark cricket bat like Test match slogger, he’s more fifth Beatle than spare wheel. Tap trio David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel (lead guitar) and bassist Derek Smalls may be the fire, ice and lukewarm water of the band, but Faith provides the tub they all splash about in. No easy role when the band seems intent on flushing itself down rock’s great plughole.

Obstacles emerge from the moment Tap launch their American tour; after all, it’s hard to promote something that doesn’t exist yet, namely new record ‘Smell the Glove’. Head of Polymer Records Sir Dennis Eton-Hogg (or the ‘****ing poofta’ as Faith calls him) isn’t sold on an album cover depicting a greased, naked woman on all fours, tethered by a leash and forced to, well, see the title. ‘Money talks and bullshit walks,’ advises Polymer Artists Relations’ spokeswoman Bobbi Flekman. No, Faith has no idea what it means either, but he gets that on a 1-10 scale, problems are about to go up to eleven.

His compromise solution: a glossy, ebony-hued album sleeve with no text or pictures of any kind. None more black, in fact. ‘It looks like death,’ sniffs St.Hubbins. ‘Death sells,’ hits back the tenacious Faith. ‘I frankly think this is the turning point.’ Despite constant troubleshooting, he always aims to accentuate the positive.

Not that it’s noticed. Fixing bodged hotel bookings, fending off critics - is the band’s popularity waning? ‘I’d say their appeal is becoming more selective’ – or locating mandolin strings in the middle of Austin, none get any credit. He’ll even sort out the necessary props to resurrect the ancient ‘Stonehenge’ number. To a point. When the mistakenly micro-size triptych is nearly crushed onstage by a dwarf, how is it Faith’s fault? ‘I do what I’m told by the creative element of this band,’ he counters. ‘Whether [Nigel] knows the difference between feet and inches is not my problem.’

Every man has a breaking point; Faith’s comes when St. Hubbins’ squeeze Jeanine – the yoga-loving, Essex version of Yoko Ono, who’s master plan thus far involves dressing the band up as animals - offers to co-manage with him. The implications are too much for a man of Faith’s pride to take and he quits. He doesn’t want applause, people, just some respect. Hey, would you partner up with someone who ‘dresses like an Australian’s nightmare’?

Inevitably, without him, Tap topples: second billing to a puppet show; a radio-uncontrolled gig at a military base and an ill-fated jazz odyssey. Then, salvation. Japan turns on to ‘Sex Farm’ and the rock band are rolling again. Guess who’s back in charge? That’s right. In the topsy-turvy world of heavy rock, having a good solid willow-wielder in your corner is more than quite useful.

OK, Faith isn’t perfect. For all Jeanine’s faults, he does appear to have a minor issue with women (and probably Jews and homosexuals) but St. Hubbins, Tufnel and Smalls’ character assassination on their vituperative DVD commentary for the film, branding him a ‘smug, self-satisfied’ crook, is wholly unjustified. Worse, they’ve also claimed Faith died from a three-week drug binge in 1990 and that they danced on his grave at the funeral. Yet, in the tradition of mysterious Tap deaths, Faith gave an interview in 1992 to Spy magazine, then edited by comedian / writer Tony Hendra. So now what? To quote his one-time band’s lyrics, no one knows where he came from, or what he was doing – but his legacy remains…


“It’s a totemistic thing…” Ian Faith’s cricket bat and other screen power symbols."

The Bride’s Hattori Hanzo samurai sword – (Kill Bill)
If it’s so all-powerful, how come she doesn’t use it to kill Bill?

Gandalf’s staff (The Lord of the Rings)
Get the old geezer a Zimmer frame because this ain’t no walking stick.

Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum (Dirty Harry)
Most powerful handgun in the world, will blow your head clean off. No wonder he feels lucky, punk.

Luke Skywalker’s lightsabre (Star Wars trilogy)
Force, schmorce. Use the cool looking luminous space sword, Luke!


Additional Information: ‘This is Spinal Tap: The Official Companion’ by Karl French, Bloomsbury books

'© Highbury Entertainment 2004. No material may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.'


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