By Nigel Pandemonium – Inside Celebrities
On the 26th of September in London, movie-goers both laughed and cringed as the documentary SkumROCKS! made its global premiere at the Raindance Film Festival. During seventy-seven minutes of unadulterated, crazy fun, the true story of Skum delivered a winning charm that completely captivated the sold out crowd. Thanks to the charisma of the band members and the innovative story telling of award-winning director Clay Westervelt, Skum Rocks! is being hailed by many as the most important rock and roll film in decades. Entirely original in texture and format, Skum, the band that burned brightly for eight years before its tragically hilarious implosion, totally rocked the big screen. But the path to their success was not an easy one.
When I sat down with Skum’s Hart Baur, I learned it’s was a long and winding road that led to the documentary, SkumROCKS! “The project started more than five years ago,” Baur said. “When the band broke up in 1991, I never completely got over it. So I put together some ideas, and then called Todd Mittlebrook. He obviously felt like I did, because he flew to Miami and we stayed up for two days straight writing down everything we remembered about Skum’s twisted history — the good and the bad times.”
It’s that combination of good and bad times that make this film so dynamic. As their origins are revealed, the viewer is captivated, among other things, by the unparalleled audaciousness of Skum. It all began in Virginia in 1984, when the band was a “party-band-for-hire” punching above its weight at the College of William and Mary. The brainchild of three soccer players – Hart Baur, Todd Mittlebrook and Canadian Scott Bell – Skum came into existence for one reason, according to Bell, which was “to meet girls and have some fun.” But enthusiasm doesn’t long hide lack of talent, and in order to cover up Baur’s inability to play the guitar, the soccer threesome soon invited Jon Tarrant into the band.
According to the documentary, the musical results weren’t much improved after Tarrant’s addition, but it didn’t matter. Skum managed to lie, manipulate, and trick its way into talent shows, local gigs, and newspaper headlines. After a few years of playing the party circuit in Virginia, Skum left in order to reinvent itself in Miami. By 1986, Bell and Tarrant dropped out as the band brought in more musical muscle in the form of guitar virtuoso John Eaton and self-proclaimed “band quarterback,” bassist Pat Burke. The Burke-Eaton combination, along with a series of different drummers, proved to be a winning combination for Baur and Mittlebrook. Baur explained. “Playing with Pat and John was like learning to run for the first time. It let Todd and I concentrate on the stage show while they held down the musical fort. This gave us a lot more freedom to perform on stage.” The combination of gifted musicians and a killer stage presence resulted in Skum growing into a true Miami favorite during its five year reign.
Along with Baur, Burke, Eaton, Mittlebrook, and current drummer Tommy Craig, the original Skum members were in London for the film’s premiere. Mittlebrook explained, “Hart and I felt it was essential to have Jon and Scott with us. The four of us were together in the beginning, so it was important we were together again when the band’s story hit the big screen.” Also on hand was Skum Rocks! director Clay Westervelt of Imaginaut Entertainment, who began work on the project three years ago. I asked if he was surprised the film sold out at an independent film festival. “Not at all,” he said. “I’ve learned to always expect the unexpected with Skum. When I heard that Raindance had to release twenty emergency tickets to satisfy the large number of American fans that flew to London for the premiere, I just smiled and laughed. Nothing could be more typical of Skum.”
Skum’s week in London was a busy one. Not only did Skum Rocks! premiere at Raindance, they also recorded new tracks at the famous Abbey Road Studio for their forthcoming album, “Lost at the Circus,” as well as additional footage with Westervelt that will be added to the movie. Pat Burke commented, “London, the Raindance Festival, the folks at Abbey Road —everyone we came in contact with was welcoming and gracious. From the reception we received at the Skum Rocks! premiere to the way both the Brits and visiting Yanks embraced us is something we’ll never forget. It was a remarkable, memorable week for the band and the film.”