Archive for the ‘musings’ Category
I’m at my book group. A few more people there than usual. There’s stuff going on around gay issues with some gay people (I think one may be Boyd). We’ve got an hour slot and I’m starting to get concerned we’re wasting too much time. Una is with me. When 45 minutes have elapsed I get up and have a row with Jon, storming out in a huff.
I’m at a party. Jon is leaning against a wall and I approach him from behind along the hallway. I say I must tell you about this dream I had that you were in and I start to tell him…
I’ve made a music documentary about Radio 5. A senior producer tells me I can get it on air but it has to be today or never. The producer I’m working with has the extra material and music needed to finish off the documentary to make it suitable for airing today. Somehow this material and this colleague are impossible to pin down and I pursue them in vain. This brings me to a situation where I am in a bed. Near a river. I’ve taken my shoes off on the river side. They become lost or washed away. The water comes up half under the bed. A huge pike swims under me.
I’m at my book group. [I finished a novel last night and was wondering whether to read a play next or my book group book which I'm not in the mood for.] A few more people there than usual. There’s stuff going on around gay issues with some gay people (I think one may be Boyd). [I was in bed early with the radio on and the legalisation of gay marriage was the lead story in the news.] We’ve got an hour slot and I’m starting to get concerned we’re wasting too much time. Una is with me. When 45 minutes have elapsed I get up and have a row with Jon, storming out in a huff.
I’m at a party. Jon is leaning against a wall and I approach him from behind along the hallway. I say I must tell you about this dream I had that you were in and I start to tell him… [dream within a dream - pretty far out. See Dali below]
I’ve made a music documentary about Radio 5. [Radio 5 was on as I half-slept.] A senior producer tells me I can get it on air but it has to be today or never. [Today is the 20th anniversary of Radio 5.] The producer I’m working with has the extra material and music needed to finish off the documentary to make it suitable for airing today. Somehow this material and this colleague are impossible to pin down and I pursue them in vain. This brings me to a situation where I am in a bed. Near a river. I’ve taken my shoes off on the river side. They become lost or washed away. The water comes up half under the bed. A huge pike swims under me. [This is the interesting bit for me that prompted me to write this post - I came across the word Pike three times yesterday - (1) Yesterday I was finishing off 'New Boy' by William Sutcliffe, a novel set in my old school, which would actually explain why Jon was in my dream. At one point the two friends at the centre of the book walk out of school to a place called Pike's Water. I would have gone there with Jon at lunch breaks very occasionally. (2) Yesterday evening I was writing my book, the chapter about Joan Littlewood. In it I was mainly writing about Brendan Behan. Behan's play The Quare Fellow [quare - queer - perhaps another link to gay issues though I think that mainly came from the radio news item] was originally put on in Pike’s Theatre, Dublin. (3) Actaully I think this one was after the event and therefore not source but Serendipity. The blog post just before this which I wrote Around Midnight last night was Liked shortly after midnight by Timothy Pike, Freelance (Editor? – the text of his name is harshly curtailed by WordPress ironica…) – I didn’t see the Like alert email til this morning, though within an hour or two of the dream. So none of my three pikes were fish as such, though (1) contained fish perhaps.] Fish, staple diet of the Surrealist.
P.S. I once saw this painting, about the moments before waking and the way one dream fragment arises from another, in the same way this memory is arising from my recounting of these dreams, in an exhibition in London – at the Tate or Royal Academy, I can’t quite picture it. A teacher was standing in front of the painting talking about it to his pupils. With a Bic biro in his hand. I saw him point something out with the biro and touch the canvas. No way! I went to check after the group moved on. No shit, that scrufosa just put a blue mark on a Masterpiece! How delicate is even great art…
On Sunday I went to a charming French bistro in Brick Lane (No. 45), Chez Elles, run by two charming French women who have been in Londres for 18 months. The Normandy cider is cloudy and strong – it frappes l’endroit. Round the corner is Princelet Street where a former wave of French immigrants settled in the 17th century, the Huguenots. The other end of Brick Lane has two bagel shops, one now just making up the numbers, the other the real thing. Round another corner (Hanbury St) is the clothes factory where my grandfather used to work and take me as a boy (now All Saints). Round yet another corner is the market where my step-dad had a shop (Wentworth Street, where the bagel places (Mossy Marks’s and Kossoff’s) are now gone or a shadow of its former self respectively). Such are the waves of the human tide… As Sartre said: “You’ve got to be philosophical about it.”
London is now the 6th biggest French city with a population of 400,000+
I’m going to watch Saving Mr Banks later today as I have to submit my first round of votes for the BAFTA Film Awards tonight. I’m all the more up for it as on Christmas Eve I went to see Mary Poppins (1964) on the big screen for the first time since I was a child, at The Phoenix in East Finchley, complete with free sherry and mince pies, the Christmas Eve screening becoming an annual tradition for us.
Watching it five decades after its release (this coming year is its half-century anniversary), it strikes me as modern in a number of ways, such as:
- Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke) has a portfolio career – chimney sweeper, pavement artist, one-man band, etc.
- Bert and his chimney sweep pals do free-running (parcours) on the rooftops of Edwardian London (really, check out some of the moves up and between the sloping roofs)
- Bert does free-style rapping at the gate of the park, making up his songs on the spot in response to the specifics of his audience
- The bank where Mr Banks works is engaged in risky speculation with Other People’s Money and making nothing concrete or useful, and nearly collapses just because a young child speaks out and refuses to invest his two pennies in such supercrappifragileunrealisticexpatrociousness.
Slow start – weather was sunny so began with a jog around St Pancras Cemetery and some faffing with computers (having completely forgotten my work email password) and by the time that was all done the moment had arrived to head across town to The Masons Arms in Kensal Green to watch my nephew drumming with a band. I was planning to pop round to see Ossie Clark’s grave in the cemetery behind but the parking meter got the better of me.) From there headed back homewards and stopped at Kenwood where I sat on a bench overlooking the city and did a little writing as the sun sunk behind the trees. Popped into the caff and did some more marginal research for the Music chapter to do with the Sex Pistols’ landmark gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester in June 1976 which ignited Joy Division among other bands.
Back home I moved on from the Music chapter, which I’ll park up now, back to writing the Theatre chapter which I hope to largely complete before Christmas. Straight after Christmas I’ll be focusing on polishing the chapters I’ve written to date, starting with the Literature one which is to serve as my sample chapter. Not my most productive day but WTF, stuff happened, simple pleasures were enjoyed.
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.
It’s been some week – three significant losses to the world. On Tuesday 3rd I had a previously reported session with The Box. One of the 45s that came up was a copy of Free Nelson Mandela by Amy Winehouse, given me by my friend Farrah. An unusual live recording, very very good but the record itself is strange, no label either side, pressed in a dull golden coloured vinyl. My friend and backgammon partner, Stuart, asked whether I’d heard how Mandela was now getting on and I said more of the same as far as I knew, in recovery to some extent. 2 days later Mandela suddenly passed on. Reflecting on his life, the predominant qualities for me were his peace and calm, focus and joy. This last in the sense that he seemed to take genuine pleasure in everything from winning the Rugby World Cup to dancing to meeting everyday people.
That same Box session had begun with a tribute spin of Police and Thieves (both as performed by The Clash and Junior Murvin) to mark the passage of Junior Murvin that day to The Big Dance.
Then two days ago I hear that Stan Tracey has moved on up to The Big Gig. I went to the excellent Edinburgh Jazz Festival this summer and my main mission was to see Bobby Wellins, who made Under Milk Wood with Stan Tracey. One of my favourite posts in Simple Pleasures part 4 is the one from St Patrick’s Day 2007 about the sublime Tracey & Wellins track Starless and Bible Black. At that performance in Edinburgh it turned out Stan Tracey was feeling unwell and couldn’t perform. I kept the notice as a souvenir. The same thing happened to me a few years earlier with Alice Coltrane – I had the ticket on my shelf but she died in the interim so I never got to see her perform. Likewise seeing Stan was not to be. That track, Starless and Bible Black, is genuinely one of the all-time greats.
So three huge losses to humanity this week, to which we can only respond by counting our lucky stars that they were ever in our lives.
A much more productive day than yesterday though still a tester of resilience with various things going wrong from hardware to software to children to somehow having gotten myself involved in a speaking engagement with some very daunting people on the panel (one of whom recently referred to Channel 4 commissioning editors as wanking monkeys – that should make for a fun encounter). But I set up five interviews with people connected to Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop. And had a good writing burst in the afternoon fuelled by a rather good playlist I made for a party recently.
It’s funny that thing of writing or working to music. I was listening to Daniel Kahneman (the Israeli-American psychologist, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize for Economics) on a Desert Island Discs podcast when jogging the other morning and he was saying how he only discovered in recent years that he worked much better without music, after a lifetime of writing with music playing in the background. In the morning I worked with some tranquil classical music which is the half-way house for me between silence and working to Music – I don’t resort to it often. I generally play non-Classical instrumental music when writing. For years I worked to Kind of Blue on a daily basis when I had my own non-open plan office. Never tired of it, often inspired by it. So yesterday’s session did hit that ‘flow’ state a couple of times on the back of some 60s soul and the like, one of my rarer non-instrumental sessions. This morning I’m going non-instrumental too – Strange Days by The Doors (carefully skipping Horse Latitudes which only a maniac could write to). Let’s see where the spirit of Jim takes us…
In the meantime, any suggestions for music conducive to writing, favourites that work for you?
OK, I admit it – I slacked off yesterday for one of the first times since I started. I read the end of a Joan Littlewood book for research in my outdoor office – i.e. picnic rug in back garden with the cat. And then I started reading a few chapters of the new James Bond book by William Boyd, Solo, which came out recently, enjoying the last of the autumn sunshine. I watched the end of a documentary about Joe Papp and made notes. So that was two loose ends tied. But I never did the other two of the four things I planned to accomplish. I didn’t finish my first pass at the Paul Arden chapter. And I didn’t set up five interviews for the Littlewood chapter. (Though I did set up one for the Advertising section). Then I knocked off early to take the younger Enfant Terrible to see a screening of Monsters University at a plush hotel viewing room in Soho, preceded by some Lebanese grub at our favourite, Yalla Yalla, in an alley off Beak Street. We had fun watching men emerging surreptitiously from the sex shop opposite, we enjoyed sharing the fresh hummous and haloumi, we popped in to say hello to tailor-cum-film-maker John Pearse (whose film Moviemakers was at the Cambridge Film Festival a few days ago) and who made my wedding suit, we enjoyed the buzz of all the girls outside the hotel waiting to see Madonna come in or go out, we mucked about while we were waiting taking selfies. The film was very funny and the Enfant Terrible asked a good question of the director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae from Pixar who did a Q&A after the screening – he was trying to find out why the 12 year delay between Monsters Inc and this one, representing in effect most of his life. I got to have a good chat with Dan afterwards about the process of working with Helen Mirren and the other actors. So it was a well spent day but not very productive. Perhaps that’s part of the point of the sabbatical I’m tending to overlook a bit, there’s an aspect of reward to it and recognition and battery-charging.