Archive for the ‘musings’ Category
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.
Simple Pleasures part 4 was inspired partly by an Ian Dury song (via my first blog Simple Pleasures) and partly by an article from the pen of the poet Andrew Motion. In that line of heritage, I was reading Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From and was much taken with his thoughts on the ‘commonplace book’, the practice of keeping a scrapbook of quotes and thoughts which he traces from John Locke in the late 17th century through to Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), ultimately linking it to Tim Berners-Lee’s inspiration for the World Wide Web. I’ve kept these kinds of notebooks and notes for any years but being reminded of their value in creative thinking, the repository for the ‘slow hunch’ and the petri dish in which disparate but related thoughts grow together, makes me feel encouraged to write here more often and in smaller bursts. Here’s one I wrote a couple of days ago after reading about the Commonplace Book and then chatting to an old friend of mine from the Universite de Savoie, year of 83…
4/8/13 Mangskog, Sweden: Sitting on the deck outside Bjorksuset (whispering of the birches), my friend Hanna’s house, this afternoon overlooking Mangen lake I was thinking a bit about Swedish neutrality in the War before Hanna told me a story from a documentary she made recently for NRK, the Norwegian state broadcaster. It was about so-called ‘war children’ in Norway (the off-spring of Norwegian women and German soldiers) and the on-going impact of the Second World War on Norwegians. Hanna filmed a woman who recently discovered her father was in fact a German bureaucrat of the Occupation, not the Norwegian man whom she had called daddy all her life, father of what had been her two brothers up to the point of this discovery in her advancing years. When she told her mother she had acted on some bothersome doubts from her childhood and uncovered her true parentage through a specialist agency her mother went nuts with her, majorly upset by having her secret unburied. And the brothers went crazy too, especially the older one who runs a big well-known Oslo-based shopping mall (he threatened to sue). In revealing her discovery the family imploded and she lost mother, (half-)siblings and extended family at a stroke. Although she acquired some half-brothers in Germany in the process. So seventy years after the occupation of Norway the dark forces still swirl, much as in France, like molten lava beneath the crust busting out when cracks appear.
6/3/13 I’m sitting on that same deck behind Bjorksuset, listening to the wind in the canopies of the silver birches. My grandparents had silver birches which fascinated me as a child in their inappropriately named street Cyprus Avenue. Their shiny trunks punctuated the way to the red postbox twenty yards down from their house, which at the age I am recalling seemed a major journey to be let loose on alone. The sound of the rustling leaves is a constant in this beautiful place in the West of Sweden. I think ‘suset’ in Swedish must be related to ‘susurration’ in English. The whispering sea-like sound made me think of the soundtrack of Antonioni’s Blow-Up – the mysterious breeze in the trees of the South London park where the ‘corpse’ lies worked its magic on me big time. And my train of thought then headed off down the line of the sound of wind in films and pulled in to these three stops:
Blow-Up (1966): the wind in the trees makes the park where the photographer (David Hemmings) accidentally photographs a dead body weird&wonderful – I always meant to visit that location, I’ll have to rewatch the movie then make the trip this autumn
Ryan’s Daughter (1970): The eponymous Irish colleen and the English captain make illicit love among the bluebells in the West of Ireland and what David Lean shows us is the strong breeze shaking the treetops above them
Black Narcissus (1947): Michael Powell set nerves on edge in this English Romantic Technicolor tale by having the Himalayan wind blow constantly through the mountain-top convent in which a nun gradually succumbs to an irreligious magic
In all three (the last one in too sparse a landscape for leaves to accompany moving air) the whispering of the wind brings the magical and mystical to the scene.
At the nadir of my teenage years, when I retired to a room with David Bowie and Jane Austen to see me through, just like Renton prepares the room for going cold turkey in Trainspotting, Wild is the Wind struck me as a uniquely Romantic song a bit apart from his others, with a touch of epic, majestic magic.
The song was actually written for a film of the same name made in 1957 and recorded by Johnny Mathis. Bowie was inspired to cover it by Nina Simone’s version. It is to be found on his 1976 LP Station to Station which neatly brings this thought-train to its terminus.
Like the leaf clings to the tree
Oh, my darling, cling to me
For we’re like creatures of the wind
Wild is the wind, wild is the wind
We were only looking for one to succeed the late Tommy Boy Murphy (named after a record label) but as soon as the orange one came into sight he was destined for our house and then the tabby appeared in the background and it turned out they came as a sibling pair. So it seemed right to seek out a pair of names fitting a boy & girl pair and I put out the call in social media. Names flowed in from all quarters. Even since the names have been decided, the Facebook thread has continued to flow, so it feels like the right thing to do to make all the great suggestions people have kindly offered available to future searchers of paired animal names.
In the end we went for two halves of two pairs, Tango (from Tango & Cash) and Ziggy (from Ziggy & Stardust), the former the orange boy and the latter the grey girl. Tango & Ziggy.
Along the way to those chosen names, here are the suggestions people proposed – thanks to all the friends and family who offered names and I hope this list helps other new parents down the line…
Ziggy & Stardust
Ziggy & Dusty
Zig & Zag
Yin & Yang
Ping & Pong
Shelley & Cooper (after Sheldon Cooper)
Marvin & Tammy
Frida & Diego
Ike & Tina
Harold & Maude
Bogey & Bacall
Scott & Zelda
Maria & Tony
Smokey & Bandit
Pearl & Dean
James & Carole (after Taylor / King)
Crosby & Hope – Bing & Bob
Lois & Clark
Nick & Nora (Dashiell Hammett)
Kit & Kaboodle
Fish & Chips
Posh & Becks
Ronald & Nancy
Artemis & Apollo
Starbuck and Apollo
Smith & Wesson
Armstrong & Miller
Butch & Sundance
Cheech & Chong
Hoddle & Waddle (Spurs)
Darby & Joan
Ginger & Fred
Thing One & Thing Two
Fortnum & Mason
Sooty & Sue
Rhubarb & Custard
Gin & Tonic
Tweedledum & Tweedledee
Tom & Jerry/Geri
Crazy Horse & Custer
Sonny & Cher
Boris & Ken
Whiskey & Ginger
Orson & Rita
Tristan & Isolde
Ron & Hermione
Sapphire & Steel
Steed & Purdey – Steed & Mrs Peel
Richard & Judy
Thisone & Thatone
Bangers & Mash
Toast & Marmalade
Bubble & Squeak
Samson & Delilah
Lucille & Desi
Hall & Oats
Dennis & Maggie
George and Mildred
Oberon and Titania
Troilus and Cressida
Micky and Mallory
Bang & Olufsen
S & M
M & S
Gamble and Huff
Frost & Nixon
Jack & Jill
Joseph & Mary
Dido & Aeneas
Thelma & Louise
Pye & Wacket
Lepsy and Tonic (short for Catalepsy and Catatonic)
Black & Decker
Roy & Haylee
Miles & Davis
Miles & Coltrane/Trane
Lambert and Butler
Benson & Hedges
Betsy and Bunty
Heffalump and Woozle
Blackberry and Apple
Gilbert and George
Sponge Bob and Square Pants
Mork & Mindy
Penn & Teller
Sodom and Gomorrah
Vic & Bob
Tango & Cash
Leopold and Bloom
Boswell and Johnson
Gilbert & Sullivan
Turner & Hooch
Terry & June
Dempsey & Makepeace
Rogoff and Reinhart
Eric & Ernie
1 & 0
Sturm & Drang
Mulder & Scully
Sid & Nancy