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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Finders Keepers

One of the little pleasures of moving rooms and possessions around is finding things you forgot you had. This is especially true of books. As the boys and I ferried various tomes from boxes to shelves I found myself surprised and beguiled by some of the lost gems that were exhumed; each one a memento of another time and another me.

As a kid some of the very first books I owned were about the space race. My mother spent a lot of money on buying me glossy large format hardbacks that detailed the conquest of space. Tragically my interest in science veered dramatically off course thanks to the dramatic gravity of flying saucers. It was probably seeing The Day The Earth Stood Still and then reading HG Wells’ War Of The Worlds at Wallsend library that got me started.

But what really accelerated the process was finding a section in the library containing books with REAL pictures no less! Flying Saucers Have Landed by George Adamski and Desmond fed my already febrile ten year-old brain with accounts of meeting ski-suit wearing martians called Orthon and travelling to inter-planetary council meetings on Venus.

The regular space race seemed too mundane by comparison. One of the first books I bought at Woolworth’s with my pocket money was Flying Saucers On The Attack. I still love the blunt no-nonsense cover and chapters with loopy titles such as “Colossal Death Ray Aeroform.” I stopped collecting these wonderful American imports when I entered my teens but this one miraculously survived the purges of youth. There's a neat online collection of these books here.

From a different section there came a note book of mine circa 1979 / 80 ponderously titled N O T E S 3. The blokey with all that hair who’d more than likely just stubbed out a cigarette before posing for the camera is someone I used to know very well but can now barely remember. Poverty clearly agreed with me judging by my fresh but keen face and lack of girth. Obviously this was taken before my playboy lifestyle and assiduous gourmandising kicked in. I can state without fear of contradiction that I am now twice the man I used to be.

The photograph was taken in the recording studio of Spectro Arts Workshop in Newcastle where I used to work looking after the live music programme and sweeping up after the engineers. During the downtime I would get a warbling noise running on the venerable synths and get the TEAC 4-track tapes running. Listening back to these sounds after all these years has been a strange experience but not half as odd as seeing myself from that period.

Finding Yevtushenko’s selected poems was interesting. I had no idea that I even had it. Looking inside the cover I discover that I bought it on 4 November 1983.

It was bought second-hand from a shop on Percy Street in Newcastle. I don't remember the name now but at the time it was the book shop closest to the university and as such had a good supply of worthy books being off-loaded by skint students or those having passed beyond academia and out into the real world of hard knocks.

I'd often hang around on the days when they used to put out their "new" old stock in much the way a fly hovers around shit. This one cost 75p and if I ever read it then it failed to make any impression on me at the time. But rather than sling it out at the time, for some reason I must have kept it - albeit buried at the bottom of unloved and neglected boxes of detritus.

With a cup of tea and a restorative ginger snap I sat down yesterday and read the first poem in the collection which I extract here.

Zima Junction

As we get older we get honester,
that’s something.
And these objective changes correspond
like a language to me and my mutations.
If the way I see you now is not the way
in which we saw you once, if in you
what I see now is new
it was by self-discovery I found it.
I realize that my twenty years might be
less than mature: but for a reassessment:
what I said and ought not to have said,
and ought to have said and was silent.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

21st Century Schizoid Band August 2002

Been cleaning all day and only stopped an hour ago i.e. 9.00 p.m. Consequently, I'm absolutely cream-crackered. More tomorrow. . .

Part of the sound track today was Jakko J's solo material and the Schizoid Band - all of which sent my mind back to August 2002. . .

Monday, August 29, 2005

Message From The Country The Move

Message From The Country by The Move

Harvest Showdown by The Move, ELO, Roy Wood and Wizzard

There probably isn’t a week that goes by when in some pub quiz the question is asked “What was the first record to be played on Radio One in 1967”.

The Move’s Flowers In The Rain was part of a distinctive run of hit songs with a bitter-sweet psychedelic tinge the best of which was the Mellotron melancholic Blackberry Way. The man behind the hits was the absurdly talented Roy Wood, a multi-instrumentalist from Birmingham with a deep fixation for the Beach Boys and Elvis and a passion for rocking up the classics; their first chart success in the UK, Night Of Fear, was based on Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

After languishing in the doldrums of cabaret-land, The Move parted company with singer Carl Wayne, recruited Jeff Lynne from the Brummie-based act, Idle Race, beginning the transition that would usher in the Electric Light Orchestra, Wizzard and a productive solo career for Wood.

Released in 1971 Message From The Country was their last album proper and contains several impressive songs including the title track which improbably contrives to mix Neil Young with Jimmy Webb (Don’t Let It Bring You Down and Up, Up And Away). Here, and on the boogie-shuffle of Until Your Mama’s Gone, the guttural bass sound makes me wonder if The Move weren’t a guilty pleasure for The Strangler’s JJ Burnel.

The main difficulty facing The Move was a form of musical schizophrenia which had them investing valuable resources on lightweight filler such as Don’t Mess Me Up, Ben Crawley Steel Company and My Marge; homage to Elvis, Johnny Cash and end of the pier vaudeville respectively.

The presence of this fluff undermines the stronger material that includes Wood’s nod to I Am The Walrus, It Wasn’t My Idea To Dance, Jeff Lynne’s elegiac recorder-fuelled No Time and the oddly powerful, The Words Of Aaron. The numerous bonus tracks and latter-period singles confirms that this was a band that wanted to go in too many directions all at the same time. A jack of all trades but master on none.

Their piecemeal evolution into ELO and Wizzard chronicled on Harvest Showdown displays Lynne’s increasing dominance with Do Ya and the cello-friendly retro-psych of 10538 Overture (whose opening riff Paul Weller lifted wholesale for Stanley Road’s TheChangingman). Sawing away on the strings does not make for a successful classical music crossover but it achieved what it was meant to; a novelty gimmick for a band looking to grab a slice of chart action.

Leaving Lynne to successfully develop the devastatingly lucrative ELO franchise, an ever-prolific Wood proved he wasn’t slow in coming forward with a succession of winners, indulging himself with cod-classical rumbles (Buffalo Station), alluring re-enactments of the Beach Boys (Forever) and meticulous rock n’ roll retreads such as Ball Park Incident.

This collection is marred by the inclusion of dispensable unreleased bonus tracks such as Showdown and Roll Over Beethoven at the expense of Wood’s cheeky take on seasonal cash-in culture, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday.

Clever and appealing though they often are, both Message and Showdown is ultimately the work of a precociously talented copyist rather than an old master.

All of which is a pity because, as Dear Elaine from Wood’s effective and underrated 1972 Boulders album shows, it was possible for him to write smart pop without recourse to parody.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

A Lot Of Bull

In the UK there’s a venerable theatrical tradition of the country house farce. In a nutshell these consist of ludicrous formulaic plots involving mistaken identity, unconsummated affairs of the heart and nearly always having someone’s trousers falling down in front of an astonished member of the clergy.

Often with hilarious consequences.

For many years farce was much loved. As British as cricket and warm beer the leading exponent in this country was an actor/producer called Brian Rix who gave up the stage to concentrate on charity work.

And that should tell us something. Overdone and anachronistic, the farce has been beaten back to the AmDram backwaters it should never have been allowed to escape from in the first place. However, not everyone has heeded Brian Rix’s commendable self-control.

In 1992 Spanish director Bigas Luna updated the form and transplanted the unlikely shenanigans to the edge of urban Spain in which everyone’s trousers fall down to reveal their brightly-spotted boxer shorts for all to see. Something must have been lost in translation though as it raised not so much as a titter when Debbie and I watched it last night. Ham-fisted and laborious, it groaned under the ponderous weight of trying to be symbolic – with an emphasis on the bolic.

OK it was nice to look at – great landscape, good skies and a youthful Penelope Cruz without much clothing on but the story was so . . .well here’s an excerpt from the meeting that clinched the deal that got this movie made.

Big framed movie posters adorn the walls. Photographs of movie stars from previous productions smile down on the PRODUCER sitting behind his large sleek desk. He is reading a treatment, his lips almost moving as his eyes follow the words.

Sitting opposite, the DIRECTOR nervously looks around the room. Photographs of the movie stars with the PRODUCER are everywhere. At last the PRODUCER puts the treatment down.

So what’s your movie about?

(disconcerted, looking at the treatment on the desk)
Well, it’s a comedy about love and hate, sex and death, it’s about. . .

Look cut the crap here just tell me the story will ya?

OK...sorry. It’s the story of Silvia and Jose Luis. A young couple very much in love. He’s the son of a family that got rich making a leading brand of boxer shorts. She’s works in the factory cutting out the patterns for boxer crotches. She’s pregnant and wants to get married.

Only playboy Jose wont do the decent thing?

Well, he wants to marry the girl but his rich bitch mother,Conchita, won’t let him. She figures the girl is just gold-digging trailer trash.

I gotta tell you this ain’t ringing my bell so far. Where's the laughs?

OK here’s the twist. When Silvia tells her mother, Carmen, that she’s going to marry Jose, Carmen gets pissed about it.

Why’d she be pissed?

Because Carmen, Silvia’s mother, has been seeing Jose behind Silvia’s back.

Wait - I thought it was Conchita who was the bad guy. Now it’s Silvia’s mother who’s banging Jose.

She’s not banging him. Jose likes to jerk off while Carmen makes noises like a parrot. They’re just good friends. Anyway Conchita wants the girl gone. Now as part of her job as head of the underwear firm, Conchita spends all day looking at male models in posing pouches. BIG studs - you know what I’m saying? So she picks one guy out and tells him he can have a motorbike if he seduces Silvia away from her precious son, Jose Luis.

What kind of guy is this stud - apart from being hung like a bull.

Funny you should say that. The stud - he’s called Raul - gets off on fighting bulls without any clothes on.

Bulls don’t wear clothes! What kind of movies do you think I make?

No, I mean Raul fights bulls in the nude. Now he creeps along to Silvia’s place, fully clothed. Now, they keep pigs and all kinds of country hick shit OK? Raul gets in the pen and sticks a clove of garlic up a pigs ass.

He does what?

To get the pig agitated so Silvia hears the noise and comes out to see what’s happening.

One pissed off pig is what’s happening

Exactly - so she bumps into Raul who saves the day and falls in love with him.

With his finger smelling of pigshit? This girl don’t have no sense of smell?

Well she falls in love with him later. Anyway, he reports back to Conchita that all is going well on the seduction front. Only this time they meet Conchita is horny and the two of them end up fucking like rabbits.

Hey - Wouldn’t it be great if Conchita tells Raul to stop seducing Silvia because she’s falls in love with Raul and is jealous of Silvia?

That’s exactly what happens. Only Raul is now in love with Silvia and doesn’t love Conchita.

But he wants the motorbike right?

Right - so he keeps fucking Conchita.

What about Jose Luis, Conchita’s son. I thought you said Silvia loved him and was pregnant with his child?

Yes but now she loves Raul so she doesn’t care. Jose Luis is a broken man - especially when the family boxer short business reject his idea for boxer shorts for dogs - that’s not a plot point or anything it’s just a bit of character definition thrown in for free.

(looking at watch)
Look were out of time here. Just cut to the resolution.

Jose follows his mom Conchita to Raul’s place only they both see Raul and Silvia worrying the woodwork. Raul and Jose end up fighting each other using big legs of cured hams as clubs. Eventually Raul winds up killing Jose Luis. Conchita is naturally heartbroken that her son has been killed by her lover Raul.

What about Silvia?

Well, she’d ran off and gone to the Jose Luis’ parents to get his old man to come and sort it all out, only before he does he ends up banging Silvia as well. Anyway, they turn up at the scene of the duel bewteen the two lovers only its too late. Oh and Carmen, Silvia’s mother who may or may not have had an affair with Jose Luis’s father, she also turns up to see the fight to the death.

OK you got yourself a deal. I know it’s art but can we make sure Silvia gets her hooters out a lot?

Normally I wouldn’t compromise my artistic integrity but if we give Jose and Raul a tit fetish as some kind of metaphor about maternal rejection then I think we can make it work!

The scene ends with the two men, now firm friends, lighting up big cigars and signing the deal.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Sparrow Squatting After Effect Mayonnaise Notwithstanding.

A lot of the time when I’m working at the screen my brain will freeze as I try to grasp a phrase or remember a reference. The boon and the curse of having the internet is that one can dart from one thing to another as happy (and as mindlessly) as a fruit fly in an orchard. I confess that in this case I am a serial clicker.

As my brain struggles to form a sentence my fingers do the walking and off I go into a world of associative chaos just waiting to drag the undisciplined person (aka me) under. Of course it needn’t be all bad. It can be like refreshing the intellectual palate or an invigorating brush with megaculture But one person’s resource can be another person’s distraction. And with me I realise it’s the latter.

I started off at around 6.00 a.m. writing about an old album that was sent to me a couple of weeks ago called And It Came To Pass by Warm Dust. Somehow that got me to search out an online map of lost tube stations in London. If I think of London then it’s inevitable that Iain Sinclair won’t be far behind. Wasn’t there an article in the Guardian about him? Well their might be but I never got that far. I got knocked sideways by an interview with Tony Parsons in the same paper instead. I’ve never read any of his books and don’t care much for his rent-a-yob quips on capital punishment but I do like his wilfully antagonistic appearances on BBC’s Late Review.

From Tony it was into the BBC’s news page. A recent houseguest , Gordon, told me I should look at Reuter’s news service. Soon enough I’m lost in a blizzard of connections and forgetfulness. I can lose hours this way.

And in the spam filter I got a message headed Sparrow Squatting After Effect Mayonnaise Notwithstanding. You know you’ve been on the computer too long when messages like that somehow make sense.

Meanwhile . . .somewhere near(er) planet Earth. . .

A quick public service announcement: Is there anyone out there who is blogger-code savvy and willing to help me work up some changes to the current template? With all the spring-cleaning that's been going on lately I want to customise the look of the page and add some swanky features. If you can help then please drop me an email (the address is at the top of the page over on Krimson News).

Elsewhere. . .

I don't know about you but when someone takes out full page adverts in two national newspapers to say that are NOT obsessed about solving a murder that happened well over 100 years ago then I can only conclude that there's a rabbit off somewhere.

Elsewhere again. . .

This morning Tom and Joe have put up a brand new bookshelf from you-know-where. It took them hardly anytime at all and I was really grateful for their hard work. As they assembled I made the tea and pretended to help. It was going fine until a mutiny loomed when I took a phone call from Sean H. We were nattering about the new Yes box set (which Sean thinks has some cracking moments) as well as the Steve Hackett when the workers downed their Allen Keys and demanded I rejoin them.

Someone else who joined us was Min. She's the oldest cat in the house and doesn't take kindly to any kind of change. The other two just doofed off at the first sign of upheaval, figuring that if we are all busy in here then we can't be chasing them off our beds or out of the laundry basket. Not the Min-Min Moog-Mog (sometimes so-called because of the weird noises that emit from here general direction.

At first she glowered. Then she went for the sit-down protest and when that didn't work she snitted off doing that backleg kickback which in cat-language probably means "I'll have my revenge on you all." Even as I speak she's probably laying cat-cable in some innocuous place which we'll discover only when it's too late. And now. . .I'm going to play house and re-arrange the book shelves and CDs. What fun!

A portrait of the cat as an obstacle to progress

Progress sans feline

"Curse you puny humans. You'll rue the day you crossed the mighty Min."

Friday, August 26, 2005

Leader Of The Pack

Although I’m about as politically active as a pumpkin seed these days I still find my attention drawn to the decorous push and shove of the Conservative Party leadership contest. This vestigial interest can probably be put down to nostalgia, a time when the leadership of political parties actually mattered. Conviction politics, as it used to be called, meant you knew where things stood.

The consensual fog that had obscured the divisions in British politics was dramatically blown away when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979. Jim Callaghan, the Labour leader who lost the election that year was a kindly old uncle, wanting to keep everyone in the house happy.

Thatcher was like a strident aunt who wanted to clean the place from top to bottom, throw out the old world chintz in exchange for a Formica-topped future that was clean, glossy and simple. Good and evil. Black and white. Dead straight. No more complex ideology to navigate and hand-wring over.

Compared to the sleek suited, power-dressing PM who appeared to be always sweeping ahead with some policy spring-cleaning adventure or another, the very best the Labour could do was stumble around in the wreckage of their defeat. This was political ground zero as far as parliamentary politics was concerned. Lost in a wilderness of internal recrimination Labour wandered around, dazed by the flash and concussion that had blasted them out of office and credible politics.

The succession of internecine power struggles for the soul of the party and the voting public’s indifference to it merely confirmed that by and large as a nation we don’t care to intrude on private grief. For a long time, if you weren’t directly involved with the cut and thrust of politics, then it simply didn’t matter who was clinging to the wreckage of the good ship Labour.

Even when Blair gained control of the helm, hurling the central principles of the party overboard like so much surplus ballast, people weren’t suddenly persuaded of his sincerity nor anodyne palliatives.

By 1997, people had grown weary of the shrill stridency of Thatcher’s convictions and were profoundly unconvinced by the slow-hand nullity of John Major’s grey façade. Discredited, shop-soiled, tainted by sleaze and revealed to have a reckless streak when it came to the economy, Labour didn’t win so much as the Tories lost the plot. What got Tony Blair into Downing Street wasn’t what he stood for but rather who he wasn’t. And all things considered, not being John Major can nearly always be regarded as being a good thing. Or to put it another way, they could have put a monkey up against Major at that point and there would have been a rush on banana imports after polling day.

So now contenders picking over the corpse of the Conservative body politic are in much the same position as Labour were all those years ago. Having argued that the choice of leader in such circumstances barely matters I would have to concede that having someone who gave the appearance of leaving an unctuous trail of slime in his wake cannot have been good for trade. That’s why watching the contest exercises a morbid fascination; the choice of front-runners is so bad it’s inadvertently funny.

David Willetts, who proves that people can survive the charisma by-pass operation and lead fruitful and almost fulfilling lives afterwards, is mulling on his chances. A backroom boy from the Thatcher-era, he at least has the virtue of not reminding anyone of the bad old days by dint of his academically-appointed physog.

The same cannot be said for the avuncular Thelonius Monk-loving Ken Clarke and Malcolm Rifkind, both remnants from the seventies and about as well-thought of as dealy boppers, Noel Edmunds and tie-dye tank-tops. Doomed to be bridesmaids at the leadership wedding this leaves the young pretender, David Cameron to slug it out with David Davis.

Whilst Davis may be the plain-speaking cab driver to Cameron’s nouveau riche passenger at a policy level there’s precious little to choose between the two. Both spout the same vacuous platitudes which Blair raised into an artform; the need to be inclusive, caring, resolute, vigilant, prudent and whatever else they can muster from the grab-bag of slogans.

None of it however will matter at the next election and certainly not enough to swing a result their way. The only significant factor that will resurrect the flatlining Tories will be the extent of the voting public’s disaffection with Blair’s successor. The rest, as they say, is just so much hot air.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Street Life XII

This is the coastal town
That they forgot to close down. . .
(taken and chosen by Tom)

The Transmigration Of The Soul

There are many accounts of near-death experiences which talk about seeing a great white light. Yesterday I saw that awesome sight myself. You know those old Amicus or Hammer movies where a bunch of people end up on train or in a house but can’t recall how they came to be there? You know the ones I mean? Peter Cushing usually provides a hint that things might not be turning out as they would have hoped.

Well, yesterday was like that. I found myself in the company of strangers wandering round and round, lost in a limbo of soft furnishings, translucent plastic, meatballs, little pencils and products with bizarre names like Muck. How had I got here? What happened to my family? Would this torment ever end?

And then after an eternity – the light, the blessed clear white light.

And I moved towards it daring to hope that my time in purgatory would soon be at an end. Other hapless souls treaded wearily ahead of me carrying the burdens of their material lives with them. I watched anxiously as the light swallowed them whole. At the moment of their crossing over, glimpses of Elysian fields briefly flared into view; a green oasis in a sea of blinding white light. Spurred on by this fleeting sight of the paradise beyond I felt the pull of this mortal world losing its grip upon me and I floated away.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Gentle Rain

For whatever reason, a good night’s sleep and I are parting company at around 4.30 a.m. Quite why this should be happening to me is hard to say. Sometimes it’s because I need to take a piss after a hard day’s tea-drinking. Sometimes it’s because the curtain isn’t up to scratch on the light-blocking front. Sometimes it’s the worry of being overweight and underpaid and all of that there stuff. Not quite one thing but combinations thereof.

Once awake I can’t lie in bed due to my habit of tossing and turning which is fine if you’re on your own but given that most night’s of the year I happen to share the bed with Debbie, I feel bad about waking her so early.

So up I get and enter the day just a little before it’s properly begun.

This morning I sat in a darkened yellow room listening to the rain; nothing too hard but it drummed away for a good twenty minutes. Water falling. Tears. It’s a sound that seems designed to make one reflect on the undertow and understains of life. This isn’t being maudlin. Actually it feels very positive. It makes me realise how many things I have to be thankful for.

So many of us whine and moan, wallow in negativity. I sometimes bump into a bloke I’ve known for a couple of years. All he talks about is how bad everything is. I see it on several internet message boards. I wonder why people feel the need to snipe and gripe. Maybe it’s all done in fun, in a “just kidding” kind of way but I don’t have that much energy that I can afford to waste it on something as unproductive as that. This morning, as the rain falls, the glass is half-full and that’ll do me just fine.

Elsewhere again. . .the news this morning carries a story that Warner Brothers are to launch a net only label designed to give new bands a break from the quick-buck treadmill. Interestingly Warner chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr, says “perhaps most revolutionary, artists retain ownership of their masters and copyrights while signed to this label." Well, doesn’t that sound like a good idea?

Elsewhere one more time. . . One of the books I’ve always come back to time and again is Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. If I had to list my top ten books then Gravity would be one of them – it’s like being in the company of some brilliant but scatty professor whose lecture you know you’re only catching a tenth of but somehow it still manages to be totally engrossing and educational.

I started reading the book when I was unemployed for a while in the 70s. I couldn’t afford to buy it so I used to stand in the bookshop reading it until one of the workers would start tidying the shelves around me – a clear sign that they were fed up at my blatant freeloading. When, after two weeks of in-store reading, I purchased the damn thing, the woman who usually huffed and puffed around me as I ploughed through the baffling but compelling text couldn’t quite believe that I was standing at the till shelling out on it.

Last night I stumbled across this tribute site which is mind-bogglingly good. If you only know Pynchon as the guy with the paperbag over his head in The Simpson’s then take a look inside the world of The Zone, Tyrone Slothrop, Teddy Bloat, Enzian, Katje and the mysterious A-4. Sex and death – the undertow and understain.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Just A Perfect Day

An early start to the day (circa 5.a.m.) but I was amply rewarded by a wonderful sunrise. Something about this one drew me out of the house and down the street to the look out over the promenade. (see Street Life XI)

There was a light cool breeze and the air had that tang of seaweed that rather improbably mixes up summer and autumn for me.

A few hours later I eventually get my email open. I seem to be going through the wars at the moment as far as communication goes. Various diagnostics are run and it seems everything is back on track. I blame the boys who were last on the macnine. They hotly deny any wrong-doing (downloading) of any kind. I suspect I’ve lost a couple of emails but don’t have any proof other than the inbox has been suspiciously light. When I do get in there are several emails from Roberto about guestbook issues and one from Pat M about the KTU article I’m working on.

My morning’s work is listening through to the Double Trio play-in shows in Argentina 1994. Although the gigs at The Broadway are better all-round performances, the one that really gets me going is the last warm-up show at Prix D’Ami on September 30th. The audience on this show are fantastic, almost competing with the band who responds by giving up an incredibly energetic gig. Whatever it lacks in the terms of polish it more than compensates for panache and spirit.

Later in the day a phone call from Jakko; his attempt to set up an interview for me with a progular personage has come unstuck. It’s back to the beginning again.

Later still, a phone call from my sister who’s just spent a weekend in Harrogate visiting friends. Fortunately I’ve remembered Ms.Top Banana-Niece’s birthday time and so can proudly tell her that Tom and Joe and I popped a pressy in the post.

An exhausted Debbie gets in from a hard days’ shopping with Alys. There are no breadmaker’s with the spec we need to be had in our usual haunts. Debbie and I will go hunting tomorrow.

And finally – I had the novel experience of watching Channel 4’s property-porn programme, Location, Location, Location. I say novel because the first house featured was none other than Jakko’s in West London. It was odd seeing that familiar kitchen and front room on the box. They didn’t go into Jakko’s studio although he tells me when we talked afterwards that the crew did shoot in there. The people who were looking to buy turned down the Jakko Ranch on the grounds that it was “too perfect.”

Jakko unveils a cunning plan that should have me enjoying his “too perfect” place in the next couple of weeks; it’s bold, it’s audacious and its success depends on me coming across like I might be able to string a sentence together and not chew my food with my mouth open. Time to go and practice.

Street Life XI


Monday, August 22, 2005

Where's The Ladybirds When You Need Them?

There’s a biblical-plague kind of vibe going on in the garden at the moment. Lots of tiny black insects gluing themselves onto the windows – lest you forget, newly installed uPVC windows. Maybe that’s what you get for choosing cost over aesthetics? Maybe the black insects would have steered clear had we gone for the boxed wooden sash variety. Who knows? If the black insects know then they’re keeping it to themselves. Debbie tells me the plants are totally covered in the wee beasties.

Maggie Stredder of The Ladybirds (no aphid in sight)

The year I hitched down to see Weather Report play at Hammersmith Odeon the UK was invaded by ladybirds. Not the all-girl backing singers -they’d invaded the world of light entertainment (and GG&F) the previous decade. No, the ladybirds that year were the red-carapace, black spotted variety with a penchant for aphids (a good thing) and my green anorak (a bad thing – in every sense of the word).

For all I know the singing Ladybirds might have had a penchant for aphids as well. I mean it's not the kind of thing you'd tell people about is it? It could be bad for business. You wouldn’t want to be watching Val Doonican on a Saturday night’s television and see a stray aphid leg hanging out of the corner of his backing singers mouth’ would you? No. Didn’t think so.

Street LIfe X

Up on the roof. . .

A couple of shots from the Blue Room. Yes, sadsack dad is teaching his son anorak habits.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Silent Bob Speaks

Our next door neighbour, John D was in a bookshop the other day and bought this here book for me. I haven’t been able to put it down since it arrived in the house. Kevin Smith writes laugh-out-loud stuff that has kept my grey matter in a state of convulsed hilarity for the duration.

I particularly liked the section where Kevin talks about his wife Jen’s realisation after relocating that “the differences between life in Los Angeles, California and life in Red Bank, New Jersey are about as drastic as the differences between life in London and Newcastle. She’d signed on for romance, and she’d gotten a shit-load of coal.”

I like London a lot. I love the buzz and pace of the place. I love the history that seeps out from under the brand new facades and store fronts. I love the cosmopolitan expansiveness of it. Yet whenever I visit the place the air down “the smoke” as it’s called, always turns the snot in my nose black. It takes days for it to turn back to that healthy clear as a sea-breeze colour that comes from living within spitting distance of the North Sea.

And speaking of snot, Simon says


Got sent this link to cd by a C&W artist:
Check out the sample for track 13. There is tea and snot all over my laptop as I write. I am buying this!


After listening to track 13 as requested, I confess there was tea and snot all over my already cruddy laptop. And how about that Long Distance Round Around sample? Yeehaa, pard’ner.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

And Here Is The News. . .

or at least a bit of it as recovered from underneath the floorboards of Dave and Julie’s house. Dated February 21 1938 it’s a partial edition of The Daily Sketch. “Mr. Chamberlain believes that Signor Mussolina is genuinely anxious to come to terms and the psychological moment is now” the paper concludes.

Finished off helping Tom do his room and returned to the comforts of the yellow room to listen to ProjeKct 4 burst into life in Boulder and King Crimson wowing the crowd at The East Town Theatre in Detroit, December 13th 1971.

Our whirlwind week of socialising comes to an end today when we nip around to John and Jude who are hosting a barbie.

Street Life IX

A flower?

Leonie and Julie bloom in the late afternoon sun

Friday, August 19, 2005

Better Late Than Never

Alison and Gordon arrived in Whitley Bay last night. They’d been due to arrive Wednesday but for a variety of reasons were unable to make the trek from Croxley Green to Whitley Bay.

We’d cooked a fab feast in anticipation of A&G’s arrival but following the no-show and left with a mountain of grub we invited Dave and Julie from across the street to join us as stand-in dinner guests. Despite the second-hand invitation they accepted and headed over. I really enjoy impromptu get-togethers and we had a lovely time chatting about life here in Victoria Avenue.

Last night however Alison and Gordon made it up north arriving as I was in the kitchen cooking another fab feast whilst listening to Radio 4s Front Row programme. The show carried a great interview with photographer Don McCullin and a good knockabout interview arguing about the pros and cons of Genesis after Peter Gabriel left. The link is only good for seven days and it’s well worth listening to.

Although I quite enjoyed Trick Of The Tail (in places) and Wind And Wuthering (in fewer places) Genesis were never as good after Gabriel left. I gave up on them completely when I heard And Then There Were Three. In recent days I’ve been listening to all the Steve Hackett remasters due out in September and it’s clearer to me now than it ever was at the time how vital Hackett was to producing the elements of in Genesis’ music that really appealed to me.

Elsewhere. . .part of yesterday was spent listening to some of music I recorded back in the late seventies whilst I was employed at Spectro Arts Workshop in Newcastle. Cobbled together from a bunch of rickety old cassettes sometimes the music is buried under a blizzard of hiss. I’m told there are programs that will clear a path through the sludge and reunite ears and music in a tearful reunion. At least that’s what Tim Bowness told me. Listening to this stuff again I reckon he’ll need a bloody big snowplough of a program to clean this lot up.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Kalmuk by Kimmo Pohjonen

Orchestral Wheezes In The Dark

No stranger to forcing his chosen instrument into off-beat territory is Finland’s accordion maestro, Kimmo Pohjonen. Having cut his compositional teeth studying at the prestigious Sibelius Academy, his musical journey has been expansive and eclectic, taking in Argentina, Africa and pretty much everywhere else.

It’s this musical wanderlust that has given rise to a radical reinterpretation of his native traditional music but that of other cultures.

Commissioned by David Bowie to provide original music as well as cover versions of the Thin White Duke’s own material during the 2002 Meltdown series, he also gave a dazzling appearance at the BBC proms the following year, by then a firm favourite on Radio 3’s Late Junction. When it was her turn to curate the Meltdown series in 2005, Patti Smith asked him to provide an accordion take on the music of Jimi Hendrix. Listening to Kimmo Pohjonen’s astonishing virtuosity this wasn’t much of a stretch.

His taste for experimentation includes the innovative us of effects racks, stomp boxes and looping technology more normally associated with electric guitar. all of which have added to the deft complexity that ripples throughout his music. With Samuli Kosminen on samplers the pair formed Kluster, pushing the envelope with what could be done with accordion, voice and percussion.

With Kalmuk (released in 2002) Pohjonen takes something of a backseat in comparison to his other projects in so much as the accordion isn’t at the forefront of the proceedings. Utilising the 15 piece Tapiola Sinfonietta, percussionist Abdissa Assefa and Kluster collaborator Samuli Kosminen on sampler and percussion, Malmuk is a 40 minute continuous suite moving between a stirring romanticism and querulous experimentalism. Early on, a furious pace is set as thrilling strings and blaring trombones compete against each in a lemming-like race towards an explosive climax. There’s a slightly over-the-top mania in a lot of the speeding lines. The Furies suggest that Pohjonen would be able to carve out a career as an effective composer of dramatic film music. This pounding drum-driven dervish dance is edgy and bold, part Bernard Herrmann, part-Howard Shore.

On Vortex huge washes of texture swirling past the listener in a bewildering dance reminiscent of the abrasive sounds on Robert Fripp’s soundscape album, Radiophonics. Though the orchestration may be a little one-dimensional there’s no denying the lavish grandiosity on Ehtola that leads into the epic endgame of Genesis that grabs passionate swathes of mood and colour; particularly effective is Pohjonen’s singing around the clarinet stated theme. The gradual build-up might be a touch obvious but it’s no less effective; here Glass-like arpeggios briefly dominate before subsiding into a resolution that is effective and understated.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Prototyp by Hurdy-Gurdy

It's Hurdy Gurdy Jim - But Not As We Know It

When it comes to fusion music, forget the po-faced twiddly guitar aces, pitch-bending noodle-jocks or the flash-brash purveyors of the pocket-groove paradiddle.

For the last few years the real action in fusing distinctive and apparently incongruous elements into something new and exciting, has been in folk and world music where the patina of traditional instruments and cultures have been weaved into the sleek digital world often to dazzling effect.

Sweden’s nyckelharpa (or keyed fiddle) has been around since at least the 1300s. Looking like a pot-bellied Chapman stick and sounding like a medieval synthesiser, it’s a hybrid somewhere between a fiddle and keyboard producing a beguiling assortment of drones and tones as well as facility for bowed melodic lines.

When Stefan Brisland-Ferner, hurdy gurdy player with the group Garmarna, combined forces with Hållbus Totte Mattson (from Sweden’s popular quintet Herdingarna) their intention was to create something different and challenging. Trading as Hurdy-Gurdy, the duo spent the summer of 2004 attaching microphones to the body of the instrument coaxing a wild array of grunts, clicks, moans, bangs and booms. With their trusty laptops at the ready, these were processed into rhythm tracks thus providing the foundation upon which Prototyp is built.

Though many of the 12 tracks on offer are based on traditional folk melodies, if you were expecting something quaintly bucolic then think again. Fuzz bass, percussives allsorts, grinding distorted guitars, buzz-saw drones and soaring e-bow style tones, collide in a cut and paste cloud with the already eerie native sound of the hurdy gurdy to produce some startling music. And nowhere is this more evident than on the opening track, Delirium – an insistent pulse-driven kaleidoscope of criss-crossing melody.

Luder Anders/Skuren features a driving beat across which a melancholic tune roars in a fog of ring-modulated fury to unsettling and dramatic effect, whilst the grinding bass delving deep under Skällstyggen adds gravitas to an already dramatic piece.

Both the old world and its more clamorous modern counterpart are evoked during Tok Jöns; the key-fiddle seemingly emulating a set of Northumbrian pipes wailing plaintively in the distance. Ynglingen groans menacingly, suggesting something altogether more industrial and menacing; every now and then a flurry of critical beats lends a hip-hopish, urban feel hinting at a club mix would wow the kids in downtown Stockholm. The spiky blend of old and new culminate in Venjan - a glorious, uplifting stately procession of a tune that is rich and triumphant – much like the album itself.

“For years, Totte and I have been busy trying to make this stubborn instrument work in places it doesn’t naturally belong” writes Brisland-Ferner in his sleeve notes. Given that every beat, melody and atmospheric heard on this CD emanates from the nyckelharpa I’d have to say they’ve succeeded.

Released September 19th on Westparkmusic

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Postcards From The Blue Room

All good things must come to an end. N&H left today to drive back to Birmingham. We were both very sorry to see them leave. Tom on the other hand was overjoyed; it meant that he could continue painting his room blue. Roz had been sleeping in there and though happy to see our guests he was obviously happier to see them gone.

I give him a hand with the decorating not because he needs it but because we’re having a good laugh. Although it’s a small attic bedroom it’s his space and he’s keen to stamp his personality on it. Which probably means getting the room looking like it’s been ransacked by a bus load of burglars. He assures me that keeping a room tidy when it’s as small as this won’t be a problem. I tell him that tidy is a state of mind - the size of the room is unimportant. He tells me my hand is covered in paint from the roller and that I’ve stood on the upturned tin lid. Joe peers in with the camera thus averting a quick descent from the attic of accord to the basement of blame.

Monday, August 15, 2005

On The Beach

After leaving Warkworth we drove five scenic miles up the coast to the evn more scenic town of Alnmouth. Little more than a clump of houses and shops on a hillock, it has a wonderful beach . One way or another I have a lot of history with this beach.

Here’s a picture of my sisters Lesley (on the left) and Linda standing on top of the WW2 tank defences circa 1954.

The family used to visit the beach after I was born. Somewhere there’s a photograph of my father and I in our bathing trunks taking a plodge. He’s holding my hand. We’re both squinting in the sunlight, smiling at the camera. I’m three or four years old and the summer seemed endless back then.

The beach retained its pulling power when I had my own children. Here I am with Tom sometime in 1993.

He’s a little over a year old and we’re pointing at the helicopters that regularly used to fly up and down the coast out of RAF Boulmer. The same WW2 tank defences are just visible in the background.

And now today we arrive with N&H. Going for an extended plodge, enjoying the warm breeze and the cool sea, ice cream and lots of laughs.

Here are those same WW2 defences sinking lower over the years.

Off The Menu

We took off to Warkworth today with Neil, Halina and the gang. Always something of a spiritual bolt-hole for me, there’s a kind of recognition and sense of resolution whenever I visit that goes beyond mere familiarity. It’s something far deeper than responding to the creamy sandstone or hanging-basket charm of the place. Rather there’s a restive and restorative quiet that gets inside me, calming all the everyday noise down and smoothing all the wrinkles out.

If you visit Warkworth then the castle is a must. N & H’s son, Thomas, loved the place. What Tom likes to do when he gets into a large space is run around as fast as he can charging off into a world of his own. It looks like great fun although where he gets all that energy from amazes me. When I was a kid I loved being in this castle. Those pillaged walls just cry out for a child’s fantasy world to make it all come alive. Ivanhoe and Errol Flynn’s medieval escapades fuelled intense bouts of internalised gaming that would have involved a lot of running about, skulking amongst the battlements and hurling myself up and down the green shouting “Die you mangy dog!” to no-one in particular.

Heading down into the one street which acts as the spine of the place we head for lunch in The Mason’s Arms. My grandfather used to come here after church on Sunday. Extended inside, it prides itself in providing a superior pub lunch. Whilst the kids settled down at the table we pondered over what to eat. It was all going so well until it came to ordering food for Thomas. He’s diabetic and celiac which means there are limits on what he can have. On the menu there were chips. There was also a dish that has ham in it. N&H ordered ham and chips for Thomas. Flustered, the girl taking the order explained that ham and chips was not on the menu. She accepted that though both those items were listed but only as part of different dishes. Might they be combined? The chef says not she explains with a red face.

Seasoned at eating out with Thomas, N&H were the very model of patience gently explaining his dietary needs. With each none-menu suggestion she would scurry off to the kitchens conferring with the chef inside. Each time she would come out regretfully shaking her head that it wasn’t possible to do a baked potato or whatever basic culinary gauntlet had thrown down by our party.

Eventually the chef burst out of his domain, angry and insulted that his carefully prepared menu was being trounced by uncivilised, uncaring plebs. The menu he aggressively explained was the culmination of years of experience with every ingredient specially selected and balanced to provide something special. In a world of chaos his menu was akin to a sacred text which if followed would lead to enlightenment. Or something like that; I’d peeled away at this point figuring that in an argument like this too many cooks would spoil the broth. N&H asked him what he would recommend off his menu that would be suitable for a diabetic and celiac condition. Of course he didn’t have a clue. Persuading him that they were not bent on wrecking his life’s work, N&H finally got him to accept that although egg and chips were not on the menu in this case a compromise could be made.

Needless to say, after waiting well over half an hour of epicurean uncertainty, the eggs when they arrived were overdone. Thomas didn’t care. He was famished and needed to stoke up the engines for the rivrside walk we had planned. Having brought them into The Mason’s Arms I was very embarrassed at the behaviour of the chef. N&H generously pointed out that it happens all the time. For my part, it seems unlikely that I will never eat there again.

Debbie passes verdict on The Mason's Arms customer care

Street Life VIII

5.30 a.m. and it looks like anything is possible. . .


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