Heavy Load

Heavy Load


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Jerry Rothwell begins his prepossessing documentary by telling us it’s about happiness – and how very far from this he felt when he started filming. Very deliberately he is acknowledging both the journey he personally experiences and the active influence the presence of his camera has on the events he records. It is a touching and sincere revelation that adds further to the affection this film effortlessly generates.

Rothwell filmed eponymous punk band Heavy Load over the course of several years. When he met them they played regularly as a hobby, but then progressed on to their first pub gig, to club venues, recording an album and ultimately to playing at a mainstream music festival. Simon, Mick, Paul, Michael and Jim, some of who have learning disabilities, play raucous cover versions of popular hits. It’s ramshackle at times, but raw, energetic and undeniably fun. The band says they play because it makes them happy and this, and their real rock ‘n’ roll Just Go For It attitude and spirit, makes for inspirational stuff.

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Inevitably the band has a journey to travel and there are numerous difficulties, fractures and frissons to run up against. Whilst there may not be the tour bus meltdowns of more stellar groups, the feelings and emerging ambitions, perhaps provoked by Rothwell’s intrusion, are nonetheless real and tangible. With moments of genuine humour, too, Heavy Load are great company throughout.

People’s disabilities are not the focus here. Heavy Load, its members and its achievements are. The fact that some members do have disabilities simply becomes woven into the texture of the piece as Rothwell provides an awareness of the lives they are living in and around the band. Inevitably, this offers some insights into how people, and their hopes and dreams, can sometimes be treated by the social care system.

The film also takes in the band’s Stay Up Late campaign. After getting really annoyed that other people with learning disabilities have to leave their gigs early due to support staff shift patterns, the group spearheads an initiative for other people with learning disabilities to be able to stay out later, just like anyone else. Their efforts lead them to record a new single for the campaign and they want to have a Kylie Minogue cover on the B-side. Of course, copyright issues lead them to EMI and possibly the Midas touch of the pop queen herself…

Rothwell has followed up his compelling Deep Water (2006) with a moving, entertaining and inspiring documentary that really is about what happiness can be, punk or no punk.

Reviewed on: 03 Oct 2008
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On the rocky road with punk band Heavy Load.
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Director: Jerry Rothwell

Writer: Jerry Rothwell

Year: 2008

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: UK

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