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Friday, June 29, 2001

Review:The ConstruKction Of Light

Up at 7.00 a.m. feeling slightly cornswoggled after a marathon phone call last night from Sean Hewitt. Sean and I were kicking around the TCOL's brilliant / TCOL's crap argument - as we do. Obviously, there was no particular agreement between us but as a born-again ConstruKctionist I keep hearing new and wonderful things in the album - almost with every play.

Sean feels that TCOL failed to deliver the on the radicalism which characterised the work of the ProjeKcts. In some respects I know what he means and actually agree with him. Sean's also right when he says the production of the album is curiously indistinct at times and it certainly stands out as the most self-referential of Crimson albums to date.

And yet properly viewed, TCOL is surely a further refinement of the ProjeKcts process. Whereas P1 - 4 was about re-establishing the instrumental vocabulary of the group post Double Trio, TCOL represents the move toward the integration of the vocal / song based aspects of Crimson's personality. It manages this with results that are far more successful and cohesive than anything which the Thrak era Crim achieved during its troublesome tenure.

Of course, it is perhaps too close in time to make any definitive pronouncements about final TCOL's place in the Crimson pantheon. Heavy ConstruKction suggests that a rush to judgement would be premature.

One thing is clear however - TCOL is far from being the last word from the new Crim. The experiment is still very much in process and in the meantime, King Crimson continues to plough its own distinctive furrow, gathering eclectic strands of electronica, rock and what Fripp describes as " Nouveau Metal" as they go.

In the thirty plus years of the bands history, there is a clear pattern whereby the present Crim is ignored during its lifetime but plaudits are heaped upon it with the benefit of hindsight. "Part of the pressure of working with Crim is that it takes so long before what we do is heard and accepted" says Fripp "So, any current Crim works under the weight and burden of what earlier Crims were doing."

In waiting for the critical penny to drop, Crimson have adopted an active strategy of retiring from the big stages - and the accompanying industry badgering - to a smaller niche market, where the band and its business structure can operate relatively unfettered on its own terms.

This necessarily paints Crimson primarily as cult operatives - critically influential but commercially occupying the very margins of the first division. And looking back over Crimson's work, with the exception of the very first line-up perhaps, it was ever thus. Crimson have never compromised and as far as we can tell, so close to events as they happen, they aren't about to start either.

Caught Short In Highgate

Somewhere in Soho. . .

It's hot and close here in London. The streets are busy, busy, busy and my feet are putting. It's been a lovely couple of days away with Debbie. A very quick recap would be that we got into London on Wednesday evening and went straiht over to Southwark to see Kerry and Rob (a couple of old chums of Debbie's when she lived in Birmingham. Rob used to be in a band called the Nightingales (mucho favoured by John Peel) and he then went on to enjoy a solo career releasing a couple of singles and an album on Virgin.

Rob then got into video direction for numerous pop groups. One I remember was They're Selling Jesus Again by Skunk Anansie, in which Kerry played a naughty nun. It was well past midnight when we left and on our way over to leafy Highgate, I was gripped by the overwhelming urge to take a dump. Too far away from any kind of public convenience, there was nothing else for it but to walk with clenched buttocks on tippy-toe in an alternating hot and cold sweat.

Then a series of warning spasm's coursed through the lower parts of my entrails warning me of an impending evacuation. I should add that all the while, Debbie was giving me lots of moral support as she guffawed at my plight. After twenty minutes, I was walking bowed legged like an incontinent John Wayne but still managing to eat my lamb kebab with a modicum of dignity. As we neared Kimber HQ, Debbie pointed out that there was a builder's skip full of rubble. She very kindly offered to hold my kebab while I climbed into the thing. However, the thought of the poor builder's having to face the vile contents of my bowels prevented me from sinking so low. Then she noticed a sign on the lampost whcih said "NO DUMPING". Clearly getting caught short on the streets of London must be more common than we think.

At last we reached Kimber's house and as I fumbled with the keys the world nearly dropped from my bottom. However with a Herculean effort of will, I managed to dash in, take the stairs two at a time, unbotton the breeks and achieve the bliss that of release and relief.

All I could hear from below were the howls of laughter and derision. Even worse was to come. Debbie had helpfully binned my lamb kebab. And boy was I hungry after all that. So, there was nothing else for it but to delve into Kimber's kitchen bin (a topic worthy of a diary entry all of its own) and retrieve the gourmet meal myself.

Thursday . . .

We went over to Croxley Green to meet some of Debbie's relatives who are over from Australia. Thanks to severe disruption on the tube this took us nearly three hours. The normal journey time is around 40 minutes. Once there, it was nice meeting up with members of the extended Raikes family for the first time. Also nice to meet Debbie's friend froim her teens Alo who is married to Debbie's cousin, Gordon. Gordon has three King Crimson albums - Court, Lizard, Islands - and was interested to hear about the book.

Back in Leafy Highgate we cooked food for the Kimberman and sat chinwagging. Up late watching Spaced - a comedy TV series which Kimber has on DVD and then oblivion.

Friday. . .

Spent the morning working through some structural ideas for the book while Debbie was in bed. After a while, Kimber joined me and we kicked some ideas around. Kimber was particularly helpful in getting me to focus on what he called the "helicopter view" of Crimson - that is, looking down from above at the patterns and recurring motifs which are available.

Then into town with Debbie. Tonight we're meeting up with Debbie's sister and some chums for her birthday drink. Yee-ha! Need to make sure I pay a visit before the long walk home though.

Thursday, June 28, 2001


Slept in this morning. This was due to the couple of very late nights I've had I guess. Rounded the boys up and headed off to school. We weren't late in any way or even near it but the carefully established routine by which we prepare ourselves was brutally truncated.

Whilst the boys appeared not to mind, I was left feeling slightly smeared across the morning rather than fully engaged.

A beautiful sunny day and very hot.

Tuesday, June 26, 2001

More Detail Than You Need

Greetings from the late night line-up. . .

Worked through till the wee hours on various amendments, re-writes and tune-ups. And so did Sean Hewitt (not to be confused with Sean Body from Helter Skelter). Sean has been pro-tooling some of the chapters. The last e-mail I got from Sean was timed as being sent at 2.35 a.m. I called it quits not long after as the commas were beginning to dance.

Robert rang last night to chat over some details concerning factual corrections I'd asked him to take a look at. He seems very excited by the new music Crimson are producing and even more excited to be going off to see Tool in the next couple of days.

After we'd finished talking I continued with the food and after that trudged and limped my way unwillingly upstairs to the yellow room. Sitting down at the PC I proceeded to stare at the screen for a good hour. I hate it when I do this and I do do it - a lot. Instead of getting up and doing something different, I sit and stare waiting for inspiration. Instead I just got lots of perspiration. It was very hot yesterday and last night a gorgeous warm breeze drifted lazily through the window.

As Late Junction fizzled out I was about to throw in the towel when the approach to Larks' Four appeared and like a greyhound out of a trap, I was off, up and running. Then the next thing I knew it was gone 1.00 a.m. In the ether e-mails between Sean and I passed each other. He too was up indulging in what he likes to call "Disciplinary Action", nipping and tucking my tenuous grasp on the English language.

A very timely and useful e-mails from Pat Mastelotto arrived to make the job a whole lot easier. When I got to bed I fell straight to sleep.

This morning (and I appreciate this may be more "demystification" than anybody who reads this diary needs or wants) I farted so loudly and explosively that I woke myself up. This clarion call from the depths of my bowels was the good lord's way of letting me know that despite the fact that it was only just gone 5.45 a.m., it was indeed time to get up. Quickly.

Download performed, 15 minutes of back stretches done, tea made, showered and dried, Cats fed, Guinea Pigs changed and fed, the bins put out, Debbie kissed tara, I make my way upstairs in a stiff kind of way to the yellow room and in the wise words of Samuel Beckett, begin again.

Sunday, June 24, 2001


Well we got the shelf up.

Get the shelf to the wall, use a marble as a spirit level to make sure the thing is straight, mark out the spots where the screws will go, watch Debbie drill four holes in the appropriate space, heavy duty wrist action getting the screws in place and Bob, could indeed be your mother or father's brother. Nothing could be simpler right ? Wrong.

Holes drilled, shelf held up by the collective team at Victoria Avenue, the screws will clearly not hold the thing in place. As a joke I'd put some opera by Mascagni and Leoncavallo on the player to accompany our efforts. I laughed that the music would heighten the drama. Little did I know. . .

There's an assumption in many quarters that men are good at DIY. This is only equalled by the other supposition that as a gender we are all interested in sport. When I went around to the local DIY to get some advice on the erection of the shelf, the two blokey's immediately started asking me about who I thought would win the race that afternoon, whether or not the team would go up or down in the league and whether or not there'd be any chance of this country ever hosting the world cup again.

Now I've been around the block enough times to know that the way to get along in these circumstances is to answer a question with another question. Thus -
Blokey: Well, they aren't playing too well at the moment are they ?
Sid: Well. . .(eyes rolling up in my skull whilst shaking my head) what can you expect ?

Of course I haven't a clue how they are doing or even who "they" are but it's usually enough to get things moving along in a non-specific, friendly kind of way. No, where I fell foul was by walking into the shop and admitting I was there with a problem and in need of advice. Now don't get me wrong, I love DIY shops with their shiny, exotic objects and tools and the summer sweet fragrance of creosote and sawdust. I'd happily spend an age wandering up the aisles and pondering on the potential uses of all these odd looking items. Indeed some of my favourite words in the English language belong to a world which is largely alien to me. "Spokeshave" is one such word that I'm particularly fond of. But having to ask for help in a DIY shop is an admission that you are suddenly deficient in testosterone. This is confirmed when you tell them what the problem is. "Err I can't get it up."

The two blokey's looked at me in a sad, overbearing way - the kind of look you reserve for an errant child to convey regret and unhappiness. I explain the problem. "The rawlplugs keep turning in the hole." I say politely.
"Your drill was too big" said one.
"You should use a smaller drill" offered the other.

Whereas a minute ago I had been their comrade in sawdust and the joys of medium density fibreboard, indulging in sporty badinage, my admission of dysfunctional DIY acumen has converted me into a freakish pariah, a fish out of water. I am, to use the parlance, well and truly kicked into touch.

I wade through the pain barrier of their derision and throw myself at their mercy. One of them smiles.
"You need a plastic nail"
The other readily agrees. "Yes . . .plastic nails will sort you out."

Of course, I'm suspicious. In the once busy shipyards of my home town, Wallsend (so named because that was where Hadrian's Wall ended), an apprentice on his first day would be asked to go and fetch a tin of elbow grease. Another might find himself being sent to an unfamiliar shed and tell the chap behind the counter that he'd been sent for a "long stand". The chap in his dutt would tell the hapless lad to wait there and wander off, chuckling as he went. An hour or so might pass before the young apprentice realised he's just had his "long stand."

As my two blokey's talked of plastic nails I began to wonder if this wasn't also some kind of cruel trick designed to provide them with a good story for that night in the pub. But now a tube with plastic nail written on the side was proffered.
"Have you got a gun ?" said one pointing at the tube.
"No." I said.
"Then you'll need one" said the other, a big grin on his face.
Altogether the two came to a tenner. I didn't have a tenner.
"Can't I just buy some bigger rawlplugs and screws ?"
They laughed in unison. But somewhere in the deep recesses, some humanity still lurked and they took pity on me.
"Just fill the holes with some Araldite and set the rawlplugs in the hole. That should sort it out. "

Seeing my chance, I smiled and went for the door. Emerging from the woody gloom and into the sunlight, I re-entered what I took to be a less cruel world. Back home, Debbie barracked me. "Why didn't you just get some bigger rawlplugs and larger screws." "That's easy for you to say" I said.

Anyway the glue trick did work. Soundtrack wise we moved from the opera of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci to Wild Opera by No-Man. Good chunky upbeat stuff and I was particularly impressed with the use of a sample by Egg. As No-Man did their thang, we did ours and eventually it worked out right in the end. Whether by planning or some unseen supernatural force, the shelf with all its books on it is still on the wall this morning.

As everybody knows, the best part of putting a shelf up is filling it. The best part of filing a shelf with books is getting the ineffable flow from one book to another just right. Organised by subject or romantic associations or alphabetical order or the order in which things were purchased and so on. The shelf in question has five compartments so it meant that I could employ a variety sorting criteria. Lady and Gentlemen - this is the kind of fun I have on a Saturday night.

Suffice to say that I have renewed my long standing moratorium on doing small household DIY tasks. This is perfectly in line with the over-arching policy agreement not to do any large household DIY tasks.

Another beautiful day here in Whitley Bay. The sea is positively Mediterranean in hue and the sky is an endless, eternal blue. The kids are out. Debbie is in typing school reports and I'm off to cook some Chinese food.

Saturday, June 23, 2001

I Don't Believe In God But. . .

on mornings like this I come pretty close. Just after six in the morning, the grass of the garden is awash with dew. Beautiful sunny skies, yellow Iris unwrapping themselves in a brilliant display of tenacity. Debbie and I are finding it a struggle to pay all our bills and keep our head above water and to be frank there are some days when this seems to be an uphill struggle. This morning however as I gaze out over the bay - with George Ted (the cat) acting as a furtive outrider - everything seems fine in the world. This feeling of well-being may be delusion or illusory but for the moment, I'm happy to go with it. I have this abiding sense that things will turn out fine.

The last few days have been very interesting. As various events - some mundane and others less so - have gone past, I've been sensing that something is in the air. . .things are happening and moving for a reason. And then just as I almost sense the answer it seems to flit away.

OK, I know what you're thinking. "Oh ma gawd - 'ee's going all bluey-greeny mystical on me again" (hi there Kimber) but my antennae have been twitching like crazy for the last week. Now if I could only work out why ?

One minor footnote to the commentary on the DGM guestbook. I don't know whether this counts as a download or is more to do with the way the brain works.

Last week I was pushing a problem around on a part of the book. I couldn't get an angle on the thing and found the hours were leaking away as I tried to get the piece off the ground. I was amazingly tired despite a good sleep the previous night. I got up and lay down on the sofa. Fayman And Fripp were playing on the stereo. I stared at the ceiling feeling disgruntled and annoyed. Then I fell asleep. I awoke some ten minutes later and found the angle I'd been looking for on this particular track and this particular musician. It was all there. Pre-formed. I got up and simply typed it up. Probably not inspiration but more the product of getting me out of the way for ten minutes while the brain sorts it all out.

Last night the computer doctor called around and fixed the big PC. Turns out the video card had become dislodged during the minor spring clean. The moral of the story is clear - don't clean.

Numerous children bombing around the place last night in second day birthday celebrations. Tom on party mode and particularly pleased to receive a red Bionicle. In the early stages of the night Sean Hewitt rang - recently returned from his tour of the car parks of Folkestone. Caught up with his views on the recent Roxy reunion and a new book on Bob Dylan.

Much later in the post-birthday scrum Ian McDonald rang from New York. Lovely to hear from him. He's recently returned from Japan where he's been playing with John Wetton. Once all the kids were bedded down (well past 10.00 p.m.) I checked the e-mail and had received a wonderful e-card from Peter Sinfield. It features a photo of Pete taken by Dik Fraser circa 1968 / 1969 - priceless stuff and one I'd love to see included in the book.

It's now 7.30 a.m. and Tom and Joe are swarming around the PC like a pair of hungry vultures. They want to get onto the net to visit And why not ?

Friday, June 22, 2001


Obsession by John Kimber

I'm writing this diary entry not in my usual seat between the two windows but from the vantage point of Debbie's desk. I'm also using her lap top as my computer seems to have given up the ghost in its entirety. The computer doctor has been called and will be coming around later today to pronounce judgement on the said piece of equipment.

So as the anxious hours tick by I get on with other tasks such as filing the myriad of papers which have built up over the last year or so. Getting stuff ready for the trek to the post office later today. E-mails from Tim Bowness and a copy of the latest NO MAN cd in the post arrive more or less simultaneously.

Idea for new book after Crimson: Sid Smith's guide to blagging freebie cd's off people. With an introduction by William Rieflin.

E-mails from Trey Gunn, Tony Marshall, Robert Fripp and a postcard from Kimber featuring one of his new paintings. Very handsome and produced by Markus Reuter's company studioflokati.

An early morning visit from friend and colleague John Sargent. We have a cuppa and ponder on the huge changes going on in our lives. We talk about how our habits define the space of our cages and tell us a lot about who we are and how we live. As if to underscore the point, John and I scratch our respective balls at exactly the same time.

Listening to Who's Next by The Who. People slag Sinfield's lyrics off but give me any amount of purple pipers, seagoats and sable domes over driving cars, girlfriends as commodities and fatuous 6th politicising. I really like a lot of the music but the lyrics make me laugh out loud. Still, this serves to lighten my mood somewhat as I look disconsolately over the to the other side of the room. A much better return is Ice Cream For Crow by Captain Beefheart.

Some drama in the street last night.

First of all, Joan who lives in the corner house at the top of our street died. She had actually passed away the day before but we only found out last night when her niece told Jude our next door neighbour. Joan was very elderly and Debbie used to help out from time to time with bits of shopping or dealing with some of the less respectful children in the street, for whom Joan's overgrown garden was a magnet. Debbie spent a day with shears cutting the hedge. After she was finished there seemed to be no evidence that anyone had been near the thing in a generation. So goodbye Joan.

It was hot last night. Window open listening to Late Junction on the sofa with Debbie. Suddenly our peace is shattered by the sound of some hard core Jungle going full bore. One shut window and twenty minutes later, there's no let up and turning up Radio Three to the extent whereby the door post begins to vibrate isn't my way of relaxing at the end of a long day. Woken children, inquisitive neighbours, cautiously peer into the street. The house across the street has it's window wide open and a ghetto blaster perched on the sill.

I go across and bang on the door. It's opened by an extremely tense couple with a small baby in arms. "What's going on ? " I ask. They shrug their shoulders and indicate an unlit stairway going up into the house. The place was recently split into two flats. I stomp off upstairs and bang on the inner door which then proceeds to swing ominously open under the force of my hammering.

So I stand and yell "HELLO" as friendly and as reasonably as I can. No lights. I sweep the walls with my hands trying to find the switches. Half way inside I decided it's a better bet to be half way outside. No carpets down, the place looks pretty grim in the orangey half glare from the street lamp outside. No answer but obviously somebody home. I can hear somebody moving around. I walk back down the stairs, go home and phone the police. Not long afterwards, the music stops and not long after that I see a blokey moving around in the upstairs window, raised voices and then some blokey (possibly the same one) leaving the house pronto.

Not long after that the police arrive in response to my call. Eight of them in total. They enter the still open house and a woman's scream fills the night air. Patches of ceiling and wall suddenly visible in flashlight. The sound of a commotion. Voices saying "calm down" met with screaming and angry shouting. Eventually everything goes quiet and all the lights of the house go on. Three officers emerge with a single woman (she's just recently moved in). They go off to the cars parked at the end of our street. Some officers remain behind possibly talking to someone else in the house.

Thursday, June 21, 2001

Tom Is Ten

6.20 a.m.

Beautiful sunny morning.

It's Tom's tenth birthday and we are listening to one of Tom's presents - Korn's album Follow The Leader. Highly excited, Tom said "You'll really like this Dad. It's just like King Crimson." It isn't but I know what he means.

I hear on the news this morning that Tory party chairman, Michael Ancrum has thrown his hat in the ring for the Tory leadership contest. Ancrum is well qualified for the job - he plays guitar and does a good Buddy Holly impersonation.

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

In The Court ...

Had a very useful conversation with Adrian Belew last night. He's taking things easy after the sessions at 12th and Porter. Talked a bit about historical matters but clearly there's a guy who's eager to get to the future. Despite this, Adrian indicated his willingness to take a trawl through some of the KC back-catalogue.

Preparations made for Tom's tenth birthday tomorrow. Various presents have been bought and stowed away but Tom is as high as a kite in anticipation. I sit him down and say to him "Hey Tom, you know a wise old bird of my acquaintance said 'Expectation Is A Prison'". To which he merely rolled his eyes and said "Spare me the homily big-boy and hand over the pressies."

Saw the news on TV last night (something of a treat these days) and watched with interest the ongoing Jeffery Archer trial. American readers of this diary will probably not know who Archer is and not care two figs for his fate. In this country however Archer is a best selling author and at one time a high ranking member of the Tory Party - deputy chairman of the Party and prospective candidate for the London mayoral race.

I was leafing through my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary the other day. I need to find the definition of the word Prig. It read thus

prig noun a self-righteously moralistic person who behaves as if they are superior to others.
priggery noun
priggish adjective
priggishly adverb
priggishness noun.
ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: of unknown origin. The earliest sense was tinker or petty thief, whence disliked person, especially someone who is affectedly and self-consciously precise (late 17th cent.). Next to the entry it had a picture of Archer.

Spookily enough I got this e-mail from Jakko Jakszyk.

Friday June 15th
Woke up and decided, on more or less of a whim, that as today was the first full free working day off that I'd had this year, that I would treat myself. I got on the Central line to St. Pauls, walked round the corner to the Old Bailey and went to the public gallery of court 8. I'd not done this before but always wanted too. I sat in awe and wonder as the arcane legal process clashed with the vagaries of modern life and the kind of nonsense it brings to the court room.

After nearly deciding to leave following some very tedious forensic evidence with regards to photo copying, I held my breath and waited. Boy was it worth it! The next witness for the prosecution was Max Clifford. His nose was immediately put out of joint by the Judge, rather arrogantly suggesting he re read his oath.

This made Max all the more keen to stuff Lord Archer as much as possible. Indeed in response to one question he had to be stopped by the prosecution 'Loathed as I am to stop your enthusiasm to the case at hand, I think it would be preferable if you concentrated on answering the question asked' much laughter from the court room.

A News of the World journalist was next with tales of how, former Archer friend & confidant, Ted Francis couldn't stand the thought of our Jeffrey becoming mayor of London. So a plan was hatched to get Lord A to admit to the alibi allegations on the phone. There were tapes of this conversation and they were played in court. It was as much as I could do to stop my self from laughing out loud. Especially when the prosecuting council told the judge that it would be easier for the court to hear the details of the conversation if they all had headphones.

These were dully distributed to jury and council alike. With the prosecutor saying 'If it please m'laud I would request the possibility of removing my wig to facilitate the optimum headphone appreciation'

Emanating from the court room speakers you could hear Ted Francis say 'There's a jouno on my back he's seen a copy of the letter'
JA: Not the alibi?
TF: yes
JA: Oh Christ! If this ever gets to court we're in big trouble.

Indeed he is and it couldn't happen to a nicer bloke.

Decided not to bother re-queuing for the afternoon session and went to the West end for a wander. Bumped into Jeff Chegwin, Keith's twin brother, and had a coffee and catch up. Don't ask me how I know such a strange and varied selection of the good and the great. He's a successful record plugger these day's. Visited various guitar emporiums and resisted the urge to buy more guitars that I don't need.

I then entered Helter Skelter and bought half a dozen books that will stir memories and nostalgia, not to mention a wish that they had all been written with more skill and insight. Whilst flipping through the ELP biog, which I didn't buy, I found a passage commending Greg Lakes great bass playing on the 'Wake of Poseidon.' Jeez.

Thank you to Jakko - our very own court correspondent.

Listening to ConstruKction Of Light again on the walkman. The levels and layers within this album are incredible. Discovered moments of joy unconfined mixed underneath the one of the main themes on FraKctured. How on earth have I missed this gem ? A lovely point of intricate detail. Somebody should write a book about this band.

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

For Connoisseurs of Connectivity

Unpicking the TCOL era at the moment. Reading my initial assessments of TCOL written not long after its release, I can tell I was comparatively underwhelmed. Several months down the line and a week or so of intensive listening and I keep hearing new associations which up until last week had remained hidden from me.

I don’t normally use the walkman but yesterday morning as the boys and I left the house at 7.30 a.m., I picked up the player popped TCOL in. Once I'd dropped the boys off at school, I put the headphones on and went delving off into the undergrowth. A lot of people I know aren't too keen on TCOL at all but for me (and World Leader David Symes as it turns out) I think TCOL is probably the best album since Beat . . .this week at any rate.

Amazing But True Department . . .

Received an e-mail from Tim Bowness from No Man. As far as I know, Tim and I have never met nor have we ever corresponded until last night and yet we have an association which Thomas Pynchon - that connoisseur of connectivity - would be proud of. Here's part of what he had to say

After reading your diary entry about your old friend who's now based in Norwich, I'm pretty sure that he's the Geordie electrician who installed my cooker when I first moved to Norfolk (in honour of Trisha and Alan Parsons, I decided to 'Go East, old man.'). Basically, being a sucker for any kind of slogan, his 'don't trust the cowboys, call the Marshall' was a hit with me.

Crivens ! I nearly fell off me chair particularly as Tim's e-mail arrived at the same time as two from Tony "Don't Trust The Cowboys, Call The" Marshall. Tony spent the week-end in London. Here's a part of what he had to say

Arrived Friday afternoon, took taxi from station to hotel as Mrs Marshall has extremely heavy suitcase filled with several trees worth of papers as she's going off to Unison conference in Brighton, she's welfare officer and chair for local branch, also member of Labour party, goes to Labour conferences chats with Mo Mowlan, Ken Livingstone etc etc. Disillusioned with New Labour but then who isn't ? but then what's the alternative ???

Interesting fact : Labour's total of 10,740,168 votes was smaller than the number cast for Neil Kinnock's Labour party in 1992. Imagine parallel universe where Neil Kinnock was PM.

Check into hotel, where can we spend the afternoon ? Mrs Marshall suggests London Zoo, can't think of reason not to go quick enough so off we go, buy sarnies from pret a manger to eat in Regents Park, eat sarnies drink recommended amount of water, sky darkens, everything goes really quiet and you just know it's going to rain. Shelter under oak tree, everyone else does same, obviously being British we respect each other's personal space and shelter under different trees, communicating only to point at rain and shrug shoulders with each other, flaming June etc etc.

Rain stops and we continue through park to zoo. £10 each and we're in, the last zoo I went to was a school trip to Edinburgh Zoo. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the animals then and 30 years later I can't help but feel sorry for the animals now. I know that in the future some species might only exist within zoos, but is it really worth keeping them alive if they must be prisoners, I don't know how much space a rhino is used to, and the enclosures are modestly spacious but all that concrete.

One of the elephants is in the feeding enclosure it sways in that alarming way that mental patients have who are deeply depressed etc. I don't mention it to Mrs Marshall because I don't want to upset her, she later mentions that she was going to ask a keeper but will instead write to ask if that swaying elephant should be swaying in that alarming way that mental patients have who are deeply depressed etc.

We try to follow the preferred route as prescribed by the green arrowed stripe but at junctions it splits 3 ways so we see the tiger and the penguins twice and the bears not at all, which is probably for the best, mind you I don't suppose the tiger saw it that way. The expression " Like a caged tiger" comes to mind. Sun shines and we walk back through park to tube station all is well with world.

Sunday, June 17, 2001

Jack Rollo: This Is Your Life

8.40 a.m.

OK so it's bright and breezy. What piece of music do you put on to enhance the day and bring the spirits alive ? Why Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin - what else ? The first movement perfectly captures the soaring birds, rippling flowers and bushes and the swirling pizza boxes and rubbish which glide down our street. I'm not entirely sure that this urban scene was quite what Ravel had in mind when he wrote the thing but this morning, it seems like it was tailor made.

Yesterday's visit to the Hatton gallery went off almost according to plan. Apart from the half an hour where Sam, Tom and Joe got separated from us as we met up with my mother. There were no serious worries about their being lost as Sam is a sensible lad and the wonders of the mobile phone meant that a testy conversation between brother and sister ensured a joyous reunion.

For a good hour or so, we trouped around the Hatton which is situated within the art school itself. The degree show has well over thirty students exhibiting their final work and the entire building is utilised. So, the whole thing becomes akin to a treasure hunt as you wander cautiously around the boiler rooms and storage facilities wondering if the large piece of buzzing machinery in front of you is either the central heating system or the product of three years hard labour by a student. In truth, there was only one artist whose work stood out. Last year there were several. A drop in standards or just the furring up of my art-eries ?

The place was busy with plenty of visitors. As we ambled around, we were shadowed by four students - one of whom volubly criticised each piece. It was obvious from what we could hear of their conversation (i.e. everything) that he (Jack Rollo) was showing his mates around, setting up the opposition before showing them the fruits of his own enquiries with the muse. His three friends were enthralled by his witty condemnations and critical disection of the work of his fellow students and his opinions seemed to be delivered not so much for their benefit as the imaginary camera crew which he clearly believed was documenting his every word.

Our gang (eight of us) found ourselves in Jack Rollo's part of the show. A dozen or so medium sized boards, each with densely wrought and finely detailed abstracts. However, they all had vertical stripes running down them - suggesting prison bars. I thought they got in the way of the paintings and undermined what would otherwise be an interesting collection. Somebody else thought so and had expressed their opinion by writing on the little price list - "THESE ARE RUBBISH."

As we stood pondering, Jack and his chums entered, one of them saying "Ahhh, saving the best till last eh Jack ?" Jack smiled munificently and bathed in the approval of his admirers. By now only my mother and I remained in the room, the rest of our group having moved on. One of the Jack Clan noticed the comment and nervously pointed it out. Jack exploded with fury. He was outraged. He was angry. He was dismayed. He was disappointed. The anonymous author of the comments was a fool. A charlatan. Stupid. Blind. Ignorant. Incapable of understanding what the paintings conveyed. They were jealous of talent. Jack's entourage readily agreed adding their own tart rejoinders.

As Jack spluttered out of the room, he said, direct to the imaginary camera, "I mean, why would anyone expend so much energy being so negative ? If you don't like something why not keep it to yourself and move on ?"

In his three years at art school, Jack had just had the opportunity to receive his most valuable lesson yet. My guess is that as he stormed out of the building - the sound of banging doors echoing up the long corridors - he'd just missed the point.

Saturday, June 16, 2001

Art Attack


Last night we all had a spontaneous paint in on the big table in the green room. The dishes had been cleared away from the sumptuous Friday Feast (something of a tradition now) when Debbie dug out an old box of watercolours which looked as though they had been salvaged from a nearby skip. The box looked like it had been produced around 1945 and the paints traded under the wonderfully utilitarian name of BRUSHO.

Everyone piled in and for a good couple of hours the house was transformed into a veritable arts factory which Andy Warhol himself would have been proud of - assuming he could have worked up the enthusiasm.

Later in the night Debbie and I treated ourselves by going to bed early and listened to half an hour of Richard Burton and co performing Under Milk Wood. The recording is the original 1950s BBC production which I bought for Debbie's birthday. The play by Dylan Thomas is one of Debbie's favourites and she knows the lines as well as she knows the back of her hands.

This morning I took a look at the six pieces of board I'd done last night and decided that what they needed was red - and lots of it. So as we drank tea and planned our visit to the Hatton Gallery later today, I applied layers of pillarbox to the said boards.

There's always that moment when your not sure how much to apply which seems to last until that other moment when you know you've applied too much. When Debbie and I mentioned the proposed visit to the Hatton, we expected to be met with sneery indifference from the troops. Remarkably, there was a pronounced enthusiasm from everyone concerned. Alys rang her mate Beulah who was delighted with the invite. So, as I write, the house is filling up with numerous children of varying ages, togging up against the inclement weather and getting impatient for the off. We're all meeting up with my mother Doreen and the exhibition is the students degree show at Newcastle University.


Friday, June 15, 2001

Review: BlueJeans & Moonbeams

Listening to Blue Jeans & Moonbeams by Captain Beefheart. This period Beefheart always tends to get dismissed as something of a "sell out" - the Captain goes commercial. Admittedly this is a whole different kettle of fish to Trout Mask Replica and the other more famous cousins in the Van Vliet catalogue. Nowhere near as challenging, etc., etc,. Yet, this album really works for me. Beefheart singing JJ Cale (same Old Blues) might offend the die-hards but for my money, it's a match made in Heaven - sublime Mellotron as well !! If this is Beefheart gone middle of the road then I'm happy to be tippy-toeing along those little white lines in such good company.

On an altogether sadder note my copy of the Frame By Frame scrapbook has finally given up the ghost. It's central staples have long jumped ship, sticky blobs from uninvited little fingers have fused various pages together and a spilt cup of tea (November '99) has given the other pages the appearance of a 3D relief map of the north face of the Eiger. This is an ex-scrapbook. I've gathered up the errant bits and parcelled them up and put them into retirement.

Thursday, June 14, 2001

Mark Wallinger & The Most Bizarre Call Dept.

I forgot to mention that the Iris's made it into bloom. Purple and yellow ones, all got past the snails and slugs. This is thanks to the valiant efforts and vigilance of the various members of the household. It may only be a tiny little garden but it is our little plot that is forever. . .er. . .where's me tablets ?

Talking to Sean Hewitt last night. Almost. Just as we got started to have a natter, Joe came into the room consumed with non-specific gripe. After getting him settled, I tried Sean again but then Debbie urgently needed to use to the phone and told me in a tone which dispensed with any pretence of friendly urgency, to "get the fuck off the phone." So I did.

And then from ten o'clock through to about one thirty a.m. Tom got snared by an attack of asthma. I knew it was coming as I've been very chesty myself over the last few days. This was the worst one he'd had for a very long time. In the end, I moved Tom into the yellow room and he eventually slept on the sofa ("can I do this every night Dad ?").

Oddly enough, this morning he was as fresh as a daisy and the asthma had completely subsided. We all ran for the bus this morning which we missed by a gnat's nadger, the driver having suddenly developed an alarming case of myopia. How else could he have ignored the waving protestations of three people (two of them in school uniform) inches away from the bus stop as he gunned the engine.

The most bizarre call Dept. . .
Tonight Jon Bewley from Locus+ (an international arts agency) rang up. Jon and I used to share a house in Heaton back in 1980. Jon was instrumental in helping to fund and co-ordinate a series of RF soundscapes concerts in Durham Cathedral a couple of years back. The concerts didn't happen because Robert became busy with moving house, the affairs of DGM and some bloody beat combo (the nerve !). Anyway, I hadn't spoken to Jon for a while so it was a nice surprise to hear from him.

Turns out he's just back from the Venice Biennale. His chum, Mark Wallinger British artist and 1995 Turner Prize nominee, is one of the exhibitors in the British pavilion. His latest sculpture is a life size chrome replica of the Tardis (the police box shaped time travel device popularised by Dr. Who). Jon told Wallinger that he recalled seeing an episode of Dr.Who where a the Tardis landed in an art gallery. Wallinger was surprised and didn't know of the reference. Jon (aka The Bewlog - I don’t know why) said he knew a man who would be able to tell him which episode this was. Dear reader, I am that man.

In what amounted to a masterclass of arch-anorakery, I was able, at the drop of a hat and without recourse to any reference material OR the aid of a safety net, tell him the episode, the writer, the year of its transmission, the viewing figures, the principal actors and the relevant item of dialogue in which a bemused Eleanor Bron and John Cleese pondered the meaning of the large blue box before them. Phew !

A happy man, although now deprived of more minutes of his life than he bargained for, Jon was off to Newcastle to buy Wallinger a copy of City Of Death.

An e-mail from Bill Rieflin. His e-mails make me smile. Does he have that effect on other people ? And another thing. Put Rieflin's Birth Of A Giant in the machine, press play and then whistle the Peace theme (from Poseidon) over the top of the first track at the appropriate intervals. It's short, it's sweet but the effect is startling and life-enhancing. A bit like the old Willy himself really !

Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Darkness, Despair And A Side Salad Of Doom Drizzled In A Piquant Gloom Sauce

Made contact with Tony Marshall via e-mail at the week-end. Tony and I used to live in the same house in Kimberley Gardens in Jesmond back in the 70s but we'd lost touch with each other for well over twenty years. Tony saw the channel 4 Top Ten Prog Rock programme which I was on and decided to get in touch. He did this by placing an advert in Mojo and Q.

After a couple of lengthy catch-up e-mails along the lines of "so what have you been up to in the last twenty odd years" things have settled down to a more even keel. The bald facts are that Tony is married, now lives in Norwich, runs his own business as an electrical contractor and the really good news is, he's coming up to the Newcastle in September. Expect bigtime nostalneuralgia nearer the time. The bad news is that he gave up writing sometime in the 80's, which is a pity because I always liked his stuff.

On a different topic all together. . .

It's funny how problems get to be resolved. Without going into tawdry details, I've been wondering how to move beyond an impasse in my professional life (I work in the wacky world of local government). The issue in question looks insurmountable. Darkness, despair and a side salad of doom drizzled in a piquant Gloom sauce. And then something changes and the obstacle appears to magically vanish. A look around about reveals that nothing on the surface has changed or altered and yet somebody up there has turned the light on at the end of the tunnel.

Today when I picked the kids up from school, I felt wonderfully happy. A great weight was gone. On the bus home, thinking how did that happen ? An hour later and a phone call from a colleague and the future just got potentially brighter.

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

The Worst Job In The UK

Everybody loves a loser. On Friday morning, William Hague announced that he was now resigning as the leader of the Conservative Party. Within minutes the tributes were pouring in, all sorts of commentators were saying how dignified he was and how much he had done for the Tory party. I had to pinch myself. Was this not the same William Hague who had masterminded a bogus, xenophobic, jingoistic campaign ?

During the four years of his leadership, support for the Tories at a national level has remained unchanged. Well I suppose it could have been worse. Couldn't it ? Err. . .no it couldn't. It can only be a matter of days before the unctuous Michael Portillo announces his candidature for the worst job in the UK.

A week-end defined by and large by the mad weather. Step out the house for a troll along the beach with the kids. Skies all blue and radiant sunshine. Then a few minutes into our stride, we are thwacked by hailstones, assailed by driving rain and caught in wonderment at the appearance of a storybook rainbow.

On Saturday night, I happened to be up in front of a television - thankfully ours rather than anyone else's - and caught Radiohead live in concert. I'm told that the band are the bees knees and the acme of pop experimentation. Noticed how I avoided using the phrase "new progressive" in their company.

Well, I watched for a while and concluded that I must have been given the wrong critical appreciation chip when I left the factory. Whereas just about every human being I come into contact raves about them, I just can't hear what all the fuss is about. Sorry to be so off message about this but there you have it.

Today I received a copy of Matt Seatle's new CD Border Seasons. It's a bit of double bonus as it also features Mr.McFall's String Quartet. Haven't had a chance to play it yet but a swift gander down the track listing tells me that it does include the Tyne Anew piece we commissioned last year. Cheers Matt !

Wednesday, June 06, 2001

Laughter & Joy

E-mails this morning which made me laugh out loud - so much so that Debbie came through to see what was amiss. First up was one from Tom Redmond with a brilliant suggestion for the next book. Secondly, two from Bill Rieflin involving John Cale, aphorisms and pudenda. I laughed like a drain.

A big grin on my face which widened considerably when I walked past the bedroom and overheard Debbie giving her shoes a stiff talking to. Seems they've had the temerity to collapse inwardly at the toe end thus causing her discomfort.

So there you have it. After the whingefest of yesterday, this morning has been one filled with laughter and joy despite the pernicious drizzle which is coming down over Whitely Bay.

Only one day left in the UK general election. In times gone by I would normally have been incredibly busy doing my little bit to try and ensure a Labour victory. So it's strange that this time around I feel so detached and remote from the process.

In the end my enthusiasm for the Labour Politics has leached away due to the increasingly right-wing tone of Party policy. There's the abandonment of the role of the local state in providing public services. More importantly, New Labour now seems to believe in the trickle down approach to wealth creation rather than any real re-distributive mechanism which would make a difference.

Oh and the introduction of student loans seriously undermines the party position which says it wants to encourage more people into education and merely widens the gap between the have and have-not's.

Yet there doesn't seem to be any real alternative. The Tories remain even more shallow and vacuous than ever before. By comparison to both of the big boys, the Lib-Dems appear positively radical with their honest approach to putting taxes up to pay for education and social reforms.

Whichever way I choose to vote, Blair will win. The only interest for me is to see how low the Tory vote sinks.


Urgh . . .hitting a brick wall and feeling bruised. There are times when I truly regret this undertaking and today is one of them - resenting the time spent at the book and away from the book. Slithering about in a fug of self-indulgent despondency. Allowed myself an Oblique Strategy at one point of desperation. It said Courage. Hah ! Courage ! That's all I need.

There are times when it seems to come together and times when the pages fall apart before my very eyes and today I hate most if not everything I've written. This is not intended to be a cue for messages of support. Nor is it a whinge about how hard done to I am. I guess I'm just feeling the pressure both real and imagined of finishing this work and need to let off steam. Of course, "Nobody asked you to do this" as Michael Giles helpfully pointed out to me last week.

It doesn't feel as comprehensive as it should and there loads of information missed out. Just when I think I've got something covered, I find another five things that would improve matters. This is not, I must stress, anything to do with the publisher Helter Skelter - they haven't even seen this section of the book. It's me. Today has not been a good day.

I estimate I'm another ten thousand words from getting the first official draft finished. If I can manage a word count of 1000 good words a day (sounds easy doesn't it ) then it's mid June. If I don't get it finished by then, it's likely that the publication of the book would slip back later into the year. This isn't something I'd want to see happening. Courage. And time. E-mails from Robert and one from Declan which tells me that the Colin Newman mentioned on the new Eno album isn't THE Colin Newman from Wire. Listening to a fabulous track from Max Eastley and The Spaceheads on Late Junction called The Black Drop Of Venus. Groovy stuff indeed. Elsewhere in the day lots of Mahavishnu Orchestra chugging along in the background.

Monday, June 04, 2001

The Plutonium Bike

Beautiful sunshine and vast sweeping blue skies flecked with luminous clouds. Just the weather to be playing Drawn From Life by Brian Eno and J. Peter Schwalm. It arrived the other day and my initial response was somewhat disengaged. A bit too hazy and indistinct. And yet the sensuous swoon of the music stayed with me all morning, gently thrumming around in my head. When Sean Hewitt told me that it was a grower he wasn't wrong.

In the post over the week end was a copy of Everybody Loves A History by Kevin Eden. It's a biography of Wire which was published about ten years ago by Helter Skelter label mates SAF. Wire were one of those bands who burst onto the Smith radar screen with a fizzing fury back in the late seventies. Listening to their album Pink Flag was like chasing a burning fuse, frantically trying to catch it before everything got blown to kingdom come. Mostly we got blown to bits.

Kevin sometimes reads this diary and got in touch a couple of weeks back in a random act of kindness and impressive display authorial solidarity - he's been there, done that and got the book. I've only had time to have a quick flick through it but it looks and reads great. Wonderful picture of Russell Mills in there I'd not clocked before. As I prize Drawn From Life from the player I notice that Colin Newman gets a credit - is this another example of spooky connectivity ?

More stringing and settling, seeing how bits work together. And when that's not being down I get out the Geiger counter out and go searching for traces of the Plutonium Bike. I have nightmares of bursting awake in six months time and there in the dark, the green, ghostly glow of the plutonium bike propped up in the corner of my psyche - the pedal still mysteriously turning. A look through the review section of the latest Mojo magazines book reviews confirms the grim green veins stretch out in all directions.

Now listening to ELP works Volume One courtesy of my good friends at It's the first time I'd ever heard this stuff apart from a snippet one afternoon at Chris Wilson's. The word overblown comes to mind. Everything is so big and coated in a shiny sheen which makes it hard to get a hold of. It also ably demonstrates why the group couldn't stay together.

Sunday, June 03, 2001

Catching Up

A sunny day back in Whitley Bay. Feeling somewhat tired after the rigours of too many late nights in the company of the Kimbrini. On Friday night, Debbie's sister, Dude and her partner Gavin met up with us in a pub off Charing Cross Road. Also along for the night was Jakko who used to attend the same school as Dude and Debbie. Various exchanges about "do you remember Snotty Perkins in year five" and the like ensued. Also present were the conversational talents of Kimber and World Leader Symes.

After closing time we made our way to a nearby Indian Restaurant and carried on the chin-wagging until the wee hours. The Saturday was spent in general relaxation mode with El Kimbo and I getting high on the heady climes of Birds Of Fire and the unreleased Trident sessions album. Wonderful stuff and so involved were we that we almost missed our train back to Newcastle.

A quick dash to Kings Cross and time to pick up a copy of the latest Mojo for reading on the train. Inside I discovered in the personal ads section that Tony Marshall was asking for a contact address for me. Tony was mentioned on the diary a couple of days ago. He's the one who was into the Beats and was also into writing. I've sent him a letter today and hopefully will be able to catch up on what he's been up to since we last saw each other (the late 70's).

Attending to several e-mails from a variety of folks including Paddy Spinks, George Glossop and Tony Levin. Also talked to Gordon Haskell who rang this morning. Gordon had sent a CD-R of his latest album a while ago and is one of the most upbeat things I've heard from him for a long time. Gordon tells me he's just come back from a very successful tour and has recently done an interview with Classic Rock magazine which should be appearing next month.


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