Even as a relative newcomer to the Oxford music scene, I’m all too aware of the highs, and lows, which come with the music industry, but nowhere is this better conveyed that in Anyone Can Play Guitar. Tracking the history of a small town, from the heyday of Radiohead and Ride, to the lows of Dustball, The Candyskins and countless others who almost, but never quite made it, the film works chronologically through the rise and fall of the bands who framed the cities current scene.
With the Blessing Force movement and many others on the cusp of becoming more well know, you’d be forgiven for believing this was an uplifting tale of how a town, able to produce more signed bands that most others relative to size, was continuing to set trends. Yet the countless faces of band of those who could have but didn’t, and the memories of venues which failed to retain independence leaves a heavy blot in the minds of many who lived through this era.
The film doesn’t just chart the musical history of the city, but also the inner workings of a scene, which continues even now, to operate under the same rules. Be it the notion that a favourable review in Nightshift is the first step up the rung, or the acknowledgement that newcomers to the scene get looked on scathingly, things changes during the course of the film, but not as much you might expect. Nevertheless until now I had always wondered how the pieces fitted together. How a scene which seems almost impossible to penetrate, even as a gig goer, also fuels a world where bands did, and continue to, boost each other up in an industry fuelled on corruption.
By the end of the film, I’m still not sure I know the answer. What I do notice however is as venues and pubs close down, not only are their gaping holes in the physical landscape of Oxford’s scene, but also that there are many musical faces missing from the documentary. Spira himself admits this is due to a lack of funds for music and footage, no doubt born out of a desire to create the film his way, an echo of the mindset of many bands. Though at times this makes for a depressing vibe, it equally reconfirms why Oxford manages to continue to boast a vibrant and diverse scene and perhaps more importantly highlights that ‘success is being able to do what you love’, a mindset which doesn’t always marry with the methods of the industry.