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Documentary about proto-punk band Death receives London premiere

By | Published on Friday 26 September 2014

A Band Called Death

The very first Doc N Roll music documentary film festival opened last night with the London premiere of ‘A Band Called Death’ – the tale of an all-black proto-punk band formed by three brothers in Detroit in 1973.

The film begins with the band’s formation, when they were inspired to stop playing funk and switch to rock after seeing The Who perform live. Then follows years of rejection, for playing fast and loud rock n roll in Motown’s city, for being black, and (perhaps most of all) for being called Death – though when Arista boss Clive Davis offered the band a lucrative record deal on the condition that they choose another moniker, it was they who did the rejecting.

They forged ahead for several years, but the band eventually ground to a halt. Two of the brothers, Dannis and Bobby Hackney, formed a reasonably successful reggae band and Death was largely forgotten about – to the point that their children had no idea the band had ever existed – until 30 years later they discovered that their one single release had become a sought after record, selling for as much as $800 a time.

Appearing at a post-screening Q&A, via Skype from Vermont, Bobby told the audience: “At that time Dannis and I were kind of like deer in the headlights. You’ve gotta realise, in 2007 we had been playing reggae music for almost 20 years and we had got to the point where we were thinking, ‘What are we gonna do now?’ And then in 2008 we find out that this whole ‘Death discovery’ has taken place not only in America but in other parts of the world”.

Sadly, his other brother (and band leader) David did not live to see Death finally achieve success – Drag City releasing their debut album, ‘For All The World To See’, 35 years after it was recorded.

Commenting on the making of the film, and the emotions making it brought up for the two surviving band members, Bobby said: “We didn’t know where it was going. We thought [what became the film] was going to be a video – maybe a music video, maybe something for public access. Then, as we got deeper into the movie, we really started to have those feelings that we were stepping outside of ourselves. Some of the things that we had to recall were some painful things, and some of them were very, very joyous things too”.

He added that until that time, the brothers had believed that “Death is gonna be one of the greatest rock n roll stories that only we know about”.

Listen to an interview with Doc N Roll Festival Director Colm Forde about the festival and ‘A Band Called Death’ (courtesy of CMU’s sister magazine This Week London) here, and watch a trailer for the film here: