Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
Can you imagine the looks on the two teenage faces when their mother tells them that she is going to invite people round to the house every eight weeks to sing in the back room …and say poems …and read stuff? WTF?! And she wants you boys to join in. You can just listen but you’re to be there. WTFF?!! On Saturday night the second such session took place. Enfant Terrible No. 2 engineered a sleep-over. No. 1 actually showed his face at the end after a no-show eight weeks earlier.
Here’s what was on the menu…
Una opened with a Spring theme reading Wordsworth’s Daffodils. The next morning this Wordsworth quote arrived by serendipity in my InBox (7th April being his birthday, in 1770):
The best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.
Later she read one of her own poems, Bodies, a moving and intimate Heaneyesque account of dressing her father’s body for his wake. Towards the end she read another of her pieces, Underground, inspired by a Northern Line encounter and written on the spot.
Here are two of my own recent Northern Line encounters:
For my contribution this time I read one of my favourite posts from this blog, Starless and Bible Black, and then the passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses to which it refers. It’s when the two protagonists have an outdoor piss together under the night sky, all done in the form of a catechism, and containing that very special line:
THE HEAVENTREE OF STARS HUNG WITH HUMID NIGHTBLUE FRUIT.
At the first session I read the opening of the first chapter of my book in progress, When Sparks Fly, about Allen Ginsberg. I concluded with a Ginsberg poem referencing the same incident mentioned in the first line of the book.
Joyce linked nicely to the next person up, an actress specialising in Beckett (who was Joyce’s secretary) - she read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot (whose masterpiece, The Wasteland, was published seven years later in 1922, the same year as Ulysses).
She also recited from memory a brilliant poem of her own about her days as a ballet dancer and how that went down in the Midlands of Ireland. And as if that wasn’t delight enough, she sang a powerful Sinead O’Connor song (from Universal Mother I think). And then a song in Irish about a boy from Loch Erne (Buachaill ón Eirne).
All the music and much of the rest of the singing came from our friend Patmo and his gee-tar. Highlight for me was a song about the potboy in the Dorset Arms in Stockwell where we used to go to watch Patmo and his band The Stone Rangers play. It’s called Put one in the tank for Frank and celebrates plying the late lamented Frank Murphy with beer to get access to the storeroom with all their gear in it. He also played Una’s favourite of his songs, A Little Bit of Lace (as immortalised on Adie Dunbar and the Jonahs’ Two Brothers), as well as some classic singalongs from Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon to John Denver’s Country Road (some painful, submerged teenage memories there from the height of the punk era but surprisingly enjoyable all these years later).
Our old friend Roddy read from a great early 60s first edition he has of Brendan Behan’s Island, a beautifully illustrated (by Paul Hogarth) travelogue around the old country. His other half, Alex, also by coincidence a former ballet dancer, read some Yeats love poetry (it was an evening of the Irish reading the English, and vice versa – perfect to herald the week which sees poet and president Michael D Higgins making a state visit to London, on the very day (8th April) Gladstone presented his first Home Rule Bill to Parliament in 1886). Alex closed proceedings with a parting shot of Dorothy Parker.
All in all, a pretty darn good evening (and that’s not counting the Connemara whiskey and fresh homemade soup).
Dorothy Parker, when asked what she’d like for breakfast…
Just something light and easy to fix. How about a dear little whiskey sour?
Just hanging in at the moment. Been working on the Joan Littlewood/Theatre chapter tonight but really fallen out of any kind of regular routine and slowed way down. The day job is pretty demanding and I get home knackered most days. Chuck in some child stuff and that just about does you in. Occupational hazard of the part-time writer of course.
That said I feel another burst of activity coming on. Maybe I needed a bit of a break. My plan is just to work steadily through Stuff I Have to Do til I get back into my flow. Carry on with the Theatre chapter until I get some real momentum going. And, as a motivational treat, I’ll watch the interview with Joan Littlewood on the BFI DVD of Bronco Bullfrog, a 1969 black & white film featuring some of the teenagers who hung around the Theatre Royal in Stratford East with Joan. I need to immerse myself back into this world.
I took Enfant Terrible No. 2 to see Oh What a Lovely War at the Theatre Royal early last month – he liked in almost as much as the pizza marguerita before the show, and was particularly struck by the scene where the countries tumbling into conflict are personified in representative men and women and their fatal manoeuvrings played out like pieces on a chessboard. I’m going to see A Taste of Honey at the National Theatre (which Joan was pretty down on for its lack of accessibility and authenticity and its narrowness) in a month’s time. And I’ll probably go to see Gary Kemp in Fings Ain’t What They Used t’Be at TRSE in May.
A Taste of Honey was written by a teenage factory worker from oop Narth (Shelagh Delaney) who, after seeing her first theatre, reckoned she could do better and banged out a play in a couple of weeks. That Joan took it on and helped build on its youthful energy and naive confidence is testimony to her openness – to new talent, to non-metropolitan perspectives, to alternative voices (a link to Channel 4 I should try to bring out). Fings is similar in that it was written by an ex-con, Frank Norman, who Jeffrey Barnard described in an obituary as “a ‘natural’ writer of considerable wit, powers of sardonic observation and with a razor sharp ear for dialogue particularly as spoken in the underworld.” Joan loved the energy and particularity of that outsider, street voice. She took his play and fused it with music and songs from echt East Ender Lionel Bart to create an unlikely but bang on mix.
In the forthcoming 20,000 Days on Earth – the best music film since Stop Making Sense – a Film4 production (directed by Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard) centred on Nick Cave which I saw at C4 HQ a couple of weeks ago, Nick Cave gives ‘the secret of great songwriting’ – “counterpoint” and the kind of unlikely combination typified by Joan’s bringing together of Norman’s words and Bart’s songs. As Cave says not 5 minutes into the film:
Songwriting is about counterpoint. Counterpoint is the key. Putting two disparate images beside each other and seeing which way the sparks fly.
The title of this book of mine, When Sparks Fly, does not derive from Nick Cave (it actually comes from Andre Breton, which may well be where Cave’s words have their roots) but it was a lovely C4-F4/book coincidence which illustrates well this kind of thinking (from American scribbler Jonathan Ames) which really speaks to me:
I live for coincidences. They briefly give to me the illusion or the hope that there’s a pattern to my life, and if there’s a pattern, then maybe I’m moving toward some kind of destiny where it’s all explained.
I’m not too bothered about destiny or even explanation but I do like the notion that there’s pattern and purpose.
Did an interview today with Gary Kemp, musician and actor, driving force of Spandau Ballet. We’ve only met once before, briefly on Heddon Street, the day he unveiled the David Bowie plaque there. Des Shaw of Ten Alps introduced us. He’s a very well informed man who has thought carefully about music and art, creativity and society, so has interesting perspectives and ideas about various aspects of what I’m working on. We started by talking about the Preraphaelites and William Morris, of which he is a collector and aficionado – I’m thinking about combining Jeremy Deller and one of the Preraphaelites to make the Art case study have an underlying theme of industrialisation. Then we moved on to broader issues of Creativity, openness and generosity which lead us to the theme of Creative Gangs, particularly pertinent to working class boys in bands. When the British Beat-connected poet Michael Horovitz talks about Allen Ginsberg and his circle he often refers to them as a “boy gang”. I will centre one of the ‘inter-chapters’ on Creative Gangs, Risk and Uncertainty. We met in a cafe in Fitzrovia, his home turf these days, not a million miles from his native manor, Islington, where my Day 91 peregrination unravelled. Particularly enjoyable were the insights into the New Romantic club scene around Billy’s and Blitz, and the familial relationships of the Spandau gang and its circle. Gary went off after to the cutting room to finish the forthcoming feature documentary on Spandau Ballet.
The rest of the day was spent slogging through the first draft of the outline document, trying to refine the sales pitch to make clear the book is distinctive without being in any way wide of the mark or too out there, free-flowing without being unstructured, entertaining but with insight.
[work in progress]
The Wolf of Wall Street
The Way Way Back
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Judy Dench – Philomena
Matthew McConaughy – The Wolf of Wall Street
(Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine)
(Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle)
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
Nat Faxon & Jim Rash – The Way Way Back
Love Me Again – John Newman
Down the Road – C2C
Children Go Where I Send Thee – Nick Lowe
Where Are We Now – David Bowie
Get Lucky – Daft Punk
Nothing’s Changed – Tricky (with Francesca Belmonte)
Hang Me, Oh Hang Me – Oscar Isaac
Quality Street – Nick Lowe
Cecile McLorin Salvant – WomanChild
Big Inner – Matthew E White
False Idols – Tricky
(Lee Perry presents – Candy McKenzie (1977 reissue))
Van Morrison at Ronnie Scott’s
Bruce Springsteen at Wembley Stadium (Darkness on the Edge of Town)
The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park
Dexys – One Day I’m Going To Soar – Duke Of York’s Theatre
Othello at Olivier Theatre
All that is Solid Melts into Air (Jeremy Deller), Manchester
Andy Murray winning Wimbledon
My birthday party – incorporating The Box
Pretty much the best day so far. Started out from Terri Hooley’s house in the company of Stuart Bailie, radio presenter on BBC Ulster, head of the Oh Yeah music centre and expert on Van Morrison, having grown up in the same hood. The pair of them gave me a beautiful tour of Van’s East Belfast taking in not only his birthplace in Hyndford Street but all those mythically poetic names like Orangefield, Cyprus Avenue and the like. Stuart really knows his shit, he recently made a radio tour of the place and is making a longer programme along the same lines to be broadcast soon. That’s the pylon where Van arranged to meet, the third one over. That’s where he drunk alone under the bridge, chips in Terri. It was such an evocative way to experience the city.
When we got to Oh Yeah in the Cathedral Quarter, all within spitting distance of Terri’s Northern Irish Punk hub at the old Harp Bar, I took my leave of Terri, a warm hug from a genuinely warm and charming personality, at the entrance to the former whiskey warehouse which is now one of the physical legacies of Terri’s activities over the years, Oh Yeah indeed, and Stuart gave me a really insightful interview, shedding light on some of the more mysterious parts of the Good Vibrations story.
From there I trotted round the corner along the alleyway where Wizard Studios used to be, where Teenage Kicks was recorded. At the end is a red door which marks the new home of Atto Partners, a digital and design agency I work with, having introduced them to the emerging world of multiplatform TV on 4thought.tv . They gave me a bag of Christmas tea – happy days!
Within a literal stone’s throw is the John Hewitt which seemed as good a place as any to hook up with my old friend KVLR, Kev Largey to dull mortals. He’s an artist who does a lot of top class work on the streets of Belfast and Dublin. One of his pieces opposite where we were seated happens to be on page 194 of Terri’s book Hooleygan. It’s beside the Art Deco arcade where Terri’s shop was immolated by the forces of darkness. [see Day 75 post for eejits and incendiary devices].
Kev took me on a splendid tour of the best of the top-notch street art around North Street where Good Vibrations currently resides. He gave me a bag of dried seaweed - happy days! It’s a Belfast favourite, which he picked up as we passed a greengrocer’s stall, to give me my first taste - it brings the sea to you like nothing else, even shellfish and fishfish, the minute you start chewing. It brought back memories of the seaweed baths my beautiful young bride and I visited in Enniscrone, Co. Sligo on our honeymoon.
To round off a perfect day we popped in to the record shop below Kev’s studio where I found some of Malcolm Garrett’s finest work for Buzzcocks [more of him in the new year] and a bootleg or promo album entitled On The Road with, yes you’ve guessed it, Allen Ginsberg on the cover sitting with Bob Dylan beside Jack Kerouac’s grave. Waiting for me or what?
Writing this one in Terri Hooley’s kitchen with Terri at the table sorting out his Facebook and emails. On the fridge door is a magnet saying “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”. The weird thing is that is from 4Talent, a Channel 4 talent development initiative I was in charge of establishing in my first years there. It couldn’t have ended up in a more appropriate place after all these years (it must be a good five years old by now, more probably).
I spent the whole of Day 75 in Belfast with Terri, mainly at his Good Vibrations record store on North Street. I picked up a copy of Teenage Kicks there for a fiver. How could you not? – it was on the wall crying out to me. I also picked up a New Order LP with a Saville cover and not much by way of writing – no title or band name as was the Factory way, just FAC153 on the spine.
Terri took me on a tour of the area past the site of Wizard recording studio where Teenage Kicks among other Good Vibes things was recorded. We also went by the site of the Harp Bar, hub of Punk Belfast. We ended in the John Hewitt for a swift pint or three. I’d been there in the past, originally with Peter Logue, then Channel 4′s Man in Northern Ireland, and later with Kev Largey aka KVLR, a (street) artist who I first met through 4Talent – then known as Ideasfactory Northern Ireland – and one of whose pieces appears in Terri’s book Hooleygan.
We headed back to East Belfast to Van territory and Terri’s place to do an interview which was quite revealing about the kind of person Terri is and therefore some of what fuelled his catalysing of Punk in Belfast, which proved to be an important act in the context of the bleak days of The Troubles. He has many things in common with Tony Wilson (and some key differences) but the political dimension and the urgency of need to provide an alternative were particular to Terri’s situation and enabled him to help deliver the Needed Thing at the right time.
As we sat up late partaking of some grapejuice, listening to Stuart Bailie’s show on Radio Ulster (with roots in John Peel), news came on about a failed incendiary device attack in Belfast city centre around the time we were in the Hewitt. Some eejit ended up setting himself on fire. Kingdom of the Blind.
By Day 74 there’s a danger of hitting More of the Same – most of my time today was spent working on the Terri Hooley part of the Music chapter. (BTW I’m writing this on the bus into Belfast to meet Terri at Good Vibrations).
I trained it to Brighton for the AGM of Culture24, of which I’m a trustee.
First port of call Breakfast at Tiffanys caff in the Laines for a meeting about a creative enterprise that’s spun out of all this time reflecting on Creativity, with two collaborators of long standing, originally met through the means of personal networks. I chose the venue based on a Sign from beyond (that image of Audrey Hepburn from the movie – linked to my late sister-in-law Bronagh, a natural creative par excellence).
I’m now on the couch at Good Vibrations (current incarnation on North Street, No. 11) waiting for Terri – his morning didn’t work out as planned (unexpected visitors), just as it should be.
Back in Brighton, second port of call Brighton Books on Kensington Gardens where I picked up that excellent book on Ginsberg, Pater Familias, at the outset of all this. This time got a copy of Debbie Curtis’s memoirs (wife of Ian, singer of Joy Division). In the back of it is a list of all Joy Division’s gigs. Yesterday I found my ticket for the one and only gig where I saw them, tucked into a Buzzcocks CD, which is who they were supporting at The Lyceum. The ticket had no year but combined with the book I should be able to confirm it (think it was ’79). I also picked up a Greil Marcus book which Jon King (Gang of Four) mentioned the other day – it was clearly waiting for me. It connects to the other previously mentioned spin-off music project. It turned out this copy belonged to the shop assistant who was very knowledgable on post-punk. I assured him I’d be giving his old tome a good new home.
Port of call three, a Red Injun jewellery shop where, as I picked up a little Crimbo something for the Mrs, Down by the Sally Gardens came on their sound system just as I lifted a particular piece, which I also saw as a Sign.
Port of call four, the beach between the piers where I whipped out the ol’ Mac Air en pleine air and tapped away, sipping fish soup from the Mills’ little ol’ shop.
As the rain started to penetrate the seafront shelter I’d retreated to from the brick wall on the beach when clouds threatened, I retired to a coffee shop for more tapping and thence to Culture24. There are now two publishers among my fellow trustees so good advice/contacts were received as the three of us travelled back to London together.
Day 73 was centred on Terri Hooley, the man behind Good Vibrations record shop and label in Belfast. He’s a complementary case study to Tony Wilson in the Music chapter, also illustrating the underlying theme of creating from where you are and resisting the drag to the centre/capital.
There was an endearing movie released earlier this year about him called Good Vibrations, similar in vibe to Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll and Telstar. My friend Adie Dunbar made a spirited appearance as a Republican gangster in one of the all-time dodgiest wigs, worthy of a series in its own right.
I’m going to see Terri in Belfast straight after this weekend on Day 75 which I’m very much looking forward to.
My nephew gave me an early Good Vibrations 45 for The Box – One by One by Ruefrex. He was given it by Terri one day when passing through the shop in Belfast. I think I’ll repatriate it (if only temporarily) just for a sense of poetic completion.
Two really useful interviews today, both with people a bit more dispassionate about my protagonists – Tony Wilson and Allen Ginsberg respectively.
The first was with Jon King, singer and co-writer (with Andy Gill) of landmark post-punk band Gang of Four. He had contact with Tony through appearing on his TV show So It Goes as well as through touring (Warsaw, the early iteration of Joy Division supported Gang of Four). Their paths also crossed at what was billed as the first Situationist conference in Manchester, where Tony, Jon and a worse-for-wear Mark E Smith appeared on a panel together. Jon’s insights into autodidact Wilson’s enthusiastic interest in Ideas was a useful one and helped clarify whether he really was a pretentious ‘twat’ or not, or more importantly what motivated his creative catalysing.
The second was with David Amram, the musician and composer most closely associated with the Beats. He sees Kerouac as the prime-mover in the circle by virtue of the seriousness of his commitment to his art. We crossed paths briefly when the scroll typescript of On The Road came to the British Library a year ago. Again his non-idealised perspective on Allen was a useful counter-balance to the mythologising and smoothing of rough edges over time and retelling.
Both conversations were fascinating and free-flowing, and such encounters are without doubt the highlights of this experience and process. One point of contact between the two interviews is that both interviewees spotlighted Muddy Waters as a key person in their worlds. Jon saw Gang of Four as a blues band in essence with Muddy and Robert Johnson as core figures. David puts Muddy at the heart of American music, even though at points in the 60s it took the Brits to show the Yanks what they had.
As Jon recounted his time at CBGB’s in New York towards the end of his student years in the Fine Art department of Leeds University, another idea came to mind for a spin-off project which I initiated at the end of the afternoon with a friend of mine who works a lot in radio. A good omen was we both came up with the exact same (slightly obscure) working title.
I’m writing this post in the sunlit, leaf-strewn churchyard of St Marylebone Parish Church, with the bells ringing. That’s a stark contrast with where I did most of my work on Day 69 which was in an armchair by a fireplace in the Soho Hotel off Dean Street. I’d been to a meeting at King’s Cross Station, beneath the new fan-lattice glass roof which I’d never looked at before, with a British-based academic/innovation expert originally from Kiel. She is focusing on the shift from the self-centred world of work to a group/team/pluralistic focus, concentrating on corporate contexts. Whilst there is without doubt an interface between her research and what I’m writing about, coming at the subject from the perspective of individual artists or creative catalysts and their immediate (usually friendship) circle is an angle I feel much more comfortable with. Making rewards and performance relate to sharing, open and altruistic behaviour in corporate contexts is not simple and without that in place it is easy to conjure up an exploitative scenario.
So back at the dimly lit fireside I tapped away for several hours on Factory and Tony Wilson. I also landed a class interview with a key member of a prominent band of the era. I was reflecting earlier in the day how many of my teenage heroes I’d ended up meeting and working with during my career. In almost every case it seems a highly unlikely scenario [Word of the Day] from the perspective of those youthful days, which is what always makes it a kick.
Rounded off the day at a film screening downstairs in the hotel (hence the choice of venue) – the Coen Brothers’ latest one, Inside Llewyn Davis. Enjoyed the film, especially the music performances set in 1961 Greenwich Village, though suspect I will be among a relatively small appreciative audience, it’s quite far from the mainstream and I have a particular interest in Dylan and his precursors.
After the movie my Other Half and I had a drink upstairs in the hotel and got a chance to chat with both Oscar Isaac, the talented young star of the movie, who plays a character based on Dave Van Ronk and was very nearly the second Bourne after Matt Damon (finally losing out to Jeremy Renner by a whisker), and T-Bone Burnett whose soundtrack graced the picture. Both of us are fans of T-Bone’s Crazy Heart soundtrack and we had a terrific chat with him about both music and modern day surveillance (a subject he seems currently much bothered by). He was a total gentleman in both his elegant, tall bearing and his easy manner. The perfect person with whom to end a week of writing about Music, openness and generosity.