Archive for May, 2007|Monthly archive page

History but Not My Story

I’m currently working on a family history project to do with the end of the British Empire, which is how come I found this time-line on a website I stumbled across yesterday called Nations’ MemoryBank. It’s the first part of an overview of the 20th Century, running just over the millennium border up to the present, and what a peculiar overview it is – I thought it was satirical at first glance. The ‘supported by the Daily Telegraph’ logo at the bottom may give a clue as to why the historical landmarks featured have been picked out (I haven’t edited them in any way – there’s nothing between the events listed below). I have taken the liberty of [reading between the lines in square brackets]…

2005 Suicide bombers kill 52 people on London’s transport system [be afraid of foreigners]Civil partnerships give same-sex couples legal rights [uh oh, gays]
2001 Islamic terrorists crash aircraft on targets in New York and Washington [be very afraid of foreigners, they cause disasters]
1997 Labour wins the general election, with Tony Blair as Prime Minister [what a disaster]Diana, Princess of Wales, dies in a car crash in Paris [another disaster, probably caused by drunk foreigners - they're such crap drivers even when they're sober]
1994 First women priests are ordained by the Church of England [uh oh, women]
1992 Channel Tunnel opens, linking London and Paris by rail [oh no, we're connected to foreigners now]
1984 12-month ‘Miners’ Strike’ over pit closures begins [uh oh, workers]IRA bombers strike at the Conservative conference in Brighton [be afraid of foreigners]
1982 Argentina invades the British territory of the Falkland Islands [more bloody foreigners]
1981 Racial tensions spark riots in Brixton and other areas [uh oh, blacks]
1979 Conservative Margaret Thatcher becomes Britain’s first female Prime Minister [a ray of hope]IRA kill the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten [be afraid of foreigners]
1978/1979 Strikes paralyse Britain during the so-called ‘Winter of Discontent’ [uh oh, unions]
1978 World’s first test-tube baby is born in Oldham [uh oh, scientists]
1973 Britain joins the European Economic Community [be afraid of foreigners - they'll rob us of our sovereignity...]
1971 Decimalised currency replaces ‘pounds, shillings and pence’ [...and our heritage - it makes much more sense to count in twelves]

Songlines

patti smith

It’s been a Big Music Week for me. After all the excitement of Madcap’s Last Laugh last Thursday this Thursday was marked by a fabulous performance by Patti Smith at the Roundhouse. I’m nearly on overload now – someone get me a wet flannel to lay across my fevered brow.

I’m a big believer in the importance of connections in creativity, as per the very first post on this blog inspired by Andre Breton on surprising connections. I had this fantastic text book at school in Mr Fitch’s English class – Paradise Lost, Books I-II (edited by John Broadbent for Cambridge University Press) – which was a real inspiration for me at a crucial age. I found a second-hand copy years later. As it says on the back: “The editors’ aim is not simply to inform on points of fact, but by indicating lines of investigation, to stimulate the student’s interest and to encourage him [this must be the boys school version] to find out for himself. Links with subjects not traditionally regarded as concerning ‘English’ are emphasised.” So the footnotes in the book, which make up about a third of the text, range from notes on flies/Golding/Sartre via 16th century polar exploration to Freud. Being taught about Milton also gave me a real love of language and its roots. One of the aspects of Patti’s performance last night which was most enrapturing was her obvious delight in using and playing with language. Her take on Smells Like Teen Spirit – one of those uncoverable songs, covered masterfully – reveled in the simple lyrics: A mulatto. An albino. A mosquito. My libido. She inserted stretches of poetry into the songs by others which make up her new record Twelve bringing an energetic new dimension to great songs – like White Rabbit and Are You Experienced?

Which brings me back to the connections, the whole place was radiating with them last night. She opened with Gloria which I’d seen Van perform just six days before on the very same stage. And perhaps Jim Morrison sang in the same round hall when he famously played the Roundhouse with The Doors in 1968, legend has it doing the longest encore of all time. Patti went on to perform Soul Kitchen.

She did a cracking version of Are You Experienced? with her trusty stalwart Lenny Kaye on guitar while she accompanied with her mad clarinet playing, which was perfect for the song, properly steeped in psychedelia, a direct link to Jimi Hendrix who played the Roundhouse in February 1967, and who Patti also name-checked during a climactic version of Rock’n’Roll Nigger.

Then there are the links to CBGBs via Debbie Harry /Blondie. To Kenneth Tynan via liberal use of “fuck”. To American beat poetry via The Living Theatre of New York. Connections radiating around that resonant space, 360 degrees of power (it was once a railway engine turning shed) and intoxication (an old gin warehouse) and performance for the people (home of Arnold Wesker’s Centre 42).

Last weekend my younger son had Symmetry as the subject for his homework. I was really taken by how he could see Infinity in the Circle without knowing the word or exactly how to express it – his words were more than up to capturing the amazing concept. I never got round to reading that book Songlines (every one seemed to enjoy it at the time) but I’ve no doubt that last night’s performance was the hub of a rich radiance of music, words and beyond.

Fear of Climate

Pink Floyd

What comes between fear and sex?
Funf
Geddit? Vier Funf Sechs. More of a verbal than a written gag i guess and one that probably appeals to the Modern Linguist in me (French and German with subsidiary Norwegian – but that’s another story). I’ve been thinking quite a lot on and off about Fear over the last few years and have a sense it’s a massively important subject.

Nick Baylis of the Well-being Institute at Cambridge spoke about it the day before yesterday at the Channel 4 Education spring conference entitled In the Wild, exploring informal learning from the starting point of the current state of well-being of children in the UK.

The conference got off to a cracking start with Richard Reeves, author of Happy Mondays, who writes and presents on making work more fun. Smoothly and entertainingly he presented a couple of graphs indicating that beyond a certain relatively modest point money doesn’t make you any happier (apparently the modest point being about the average wealth in Portugal) and showing the comparative duration of happiness prompted by different life events (marriage, etc.).

Then things really took off with a fabulously disheveled, natural, impassioned semi-rant from Nick Baylis. He spoke with great conviction about the way just keeping your head above water is the default state for most of us these days; how the pursuit of happiness (as per the constitution of the good ol’ US of A) is a misleading goal – it’s a question of living life well; how emotions are neither intrinsically positive or negative – it’s how we ride them that counts, pain and anger being rocket fuel for creative expression, by way of simple example; how loneliness (stemming from rampant individualism) and exhaustion underly so much of our being; and how at the core of all this is Fear.

One of the principal antidotes to this fear and isolation he identified as “Beautiful Partnerships”.

His study of Positive Psychology focuses on lives that go well and he encourages us to get better at living life.

“Beautiful Partnerships”. The distance between people within which they can touch, embrace, kiss – really connect. A phrase and space that were the inspiration and focus of the day for me.

A few hours later I found myself only slightly further away – about 12 to 15 feet – from John Paul Jones of Led Zep, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Captain Sensible of The Damned and the great producer of Nick Drake et al, Joe Boyd. A few inches to my right was my best friend from school (from the days when you had a few less than 864 ‘friends’). [The photo above was taken on a phone with no zoom - we're talking close.]

Before I get sucked into psychedelia let me swing by a man who loathed rock’n’roll – Frank Sinatra. He had this to say on fear: “Fear is the enemy of logic. There is no more debilitating, crushing, self-defeating, sickening thing in the world – to an individual or to a nation.” Ol’ Blue Eyes had some real insight (Pete Hamill’s Why Sinatra Matters is a recommended read).

Back on Planet Syd, Madcap’s Last Laugh was a tribute to Syd Barrett who died last year. Joe Boyd (whose Whitebicycles is also recommended reading) helped pull the gig together with added enthusiasm from Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders fame.

The connection, beside the circle of 12 feet and the Cambridge base of both Syd and Nick, is several references during the course of the evening to Syd as “fearless”. He was the experimenter and catalyser of creativity. Roger Waters appeared solo and said without the inspiration of Syd’s fearlessness he would probably have ended up as a property developer.

Dave Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright also pitched up to sing Syd’s Arnold Layne. I remember being introduced to the Relics LP by same said friend on my right in our school daze.

Damon Albarn provided one of the highlights of an evening that still has me high after three days with a rendition of Words from Syd’s Opal record. At the end of the song he handed me the lyrics he had been using – which was nice! The Enfants Terribles were well impressed the next morning – they love Blur.

Among the gals, Chrissie Hynde was her usual charming, laid-back self; Vashti Bunyan had a delightful delicateness as she re-emerges into music (I only came across her a year or so ago at an IDEASFACTORY Northern Ireland workshop on music & film, thanks to Kieran Evans); Kate St John (who I first came across thanks to Van) provided spot-on oboe accompaniment on Words and one or two other songs; Martha Wainwright and her mom (Kate McGarrigle) did a fine See Emily Play, all the more impressive as the former had been on the raz since her gig the night before and the latter only learnt it a couple of hours before coming on stage.

John Paul Jones played mandolin (cue flashbacks to Led Zep 4) – I’m now in awe thanks to having had my eyes opened to the sophistication of Led Zeppelin by Chris Cawte, the Jimmy Page of the impassioned Letz Zep tribute band and the composer of the music on all my films and productions from 1993 on – I never fully realised how talented he is as a musician until I first saw him as Jimmy.

Captain Sensible clearly found Syd a huge inspiration and paid tribute with gusto and joy. Since my sid is more Sid (Vicious) than Syd (Barrett) his contribution was a thrill.

During the In The Wild conference I chaired a session including Pat Kane of Hue & Cry, who in talking about play and its importance in learning invoked the spirit of Punk. At its heart Punk had a wild fearlessness which has provided me and Pat and the Captain with inspiration and Simple Pleasure for 30 years (1977 was the Big Year for me thanks to The Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and The Clash). Next time I hear See Emily Play I’m going to think Syd and Sid – a beautiful partnership free of fear.

Boys & Toys

EbOY web

In honour of hooking up with EbOY today at the Design & Multimedia Inspiration sesh in Birmingham (courtesy of 4Talent West Midlands) here’s the Web through the eyes of the EbOYz.

I first came across EbOY in the studio of designer Paul Smith in London’s Covent Garden about three years ago. He was a big advocate of their work and incorporated it at that time in a diverse range of clothing and products, which was a big break for them, not least in Japan where their approach is so on the same wavelength.

One thing EbOY and Paul Smith have in common is a propensity to surround themselves with inspirational objects. Paul Smith’s spacious office is punctuated with bric-a-brac, books, stuff he’s picked up abroad, things people have sent him (often just slapping stamps on the thing itself and turning it into a bulky postcard). Likewise EbOY have wicker baskets full of toys and masks and other inspirations tidily stashed in their offices – that’s three separate studios across Berlin making up what is in effect a virtual studio.

Two important things I’ve learned from the two design outfits:

Paul Smith speaks about his wife of long-standing with great love and appreciation. She has clearly been a huge inspiration throughout his career – from the humble shop in Nottingham to a global design powerhouse – and he clearly and warmly acknowledges this in public.

EbOY have made their play their work. Their early designs derive from toys and the kind of drawing many seven year old boys imagine their way into. Those roots are still clearly in evidence. I can’t remember who, some old Chinese fella with a long white beard I think, said: if your work is your passion, then you’ll never work a day in your life – or (much neater) words to that effect.

That’s what I strive for and here’s the latest incarnation: the Big Art Mob. What it has, beside the focus on something I love anyway (public art), is one other key element – a worthwhile public/social purpose (recording, discussing, sharing and enjoying that art). Those two components are in my eyes what separates the boys from the men – and long may I be a boy enjoying toys.

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