Archive for the ‘writing’ Category
I started Day 67 on non-book business in Marylebone to do with my main non-exec directorship – it was a nice change to be immersed in a thoroughly commercial world. I moseyed on though Mayfair in the direction of BAFTA in Piccadilly and briefly immersed myself in the art world courtesy of the Halcyon Gallery which has a big show of Bob Dylan’s iron sculptures and paintings which was fun. Once I got to BAFTA I dived back in to the Music chapter happily. Bumped into a couple of people who were helpful in making connections to interviewees (both for Music chapter). And set up some more interviews. Wandered across St James’s and through the dark park to Channel 4 HQ for Xmas drinks, my first visit to the building in several weeks, only my second since 1st September kick-off day, refreshing.
Day 68 began in the British Library with more tapping away about Tony Wilson. Had a lovely lunch round the corner in St Chad’s Place with Jesse Cleverly of the newly established Wildseed Studios, which he describes as “a content incubator looking to invest in great new ideas”. We talked Book, multiplatform, Royal Court (where he used to work), Nigella, creative process, etc.
Then bee-line home for more writing and to speak to the other protagonist of my Music chapter – Terri Hooley of Good Vibrations. He was totally charming and warm, and I really look forward to heading over to Belfast to hang with him in the next few days. He offered me a tour of Van’s East Belfast which will be a real kick.
And the day ends here in the Adam & Eve on Mill Hill’s Ridgeway – as much my home turf as Cyprus Avenue is Van’s. I’ve got mulled wine, crisps, seat by fire, Sinatra on the pub stereo, and my fresh little Air. Happy days.
The free-flowing form of writing I’ve mentioned over the last couple of days – park up all the research, have a broad sense of structure, rely on what surfaces in your memory, dive in – is a bit like a thick elastic rope attached to your back: you can run for a while and make good progress but at some point it starts to pull you back. At that point you have to cut it and shift to a different approach. The systematic form of writing – work systematically through your research notes and weave them carefully into your text. That’s the switch I did on Day 66 working on the Music chapter. And it really helped free me up from the stickiness of Day 65, the end of my elastic dash, when I started to struggle to marshall the material and uncover the route forward. I got back momentum and enjoyed not having to think quite so hard.
Rewarded the endeavours with a trip to The Phoenix to see the excellent The Way Way Back.
Rounded off a light day with more Sylvia Beach research for the prospective Publishing chapter.
This morning did an interesting Allen Ginsberg-related interview with Kathelin Gray, a close associate of William Burroughs who crossed paths with Ginsberg on a regular basis, initially on the hippy scene in her home city of San Francisco and later in New York in the Lower East Side playground of Ginsberg’s circles. She has impeccable Beat credentials in that her mother was a close friend of Carolyn Cassady and she remembers being bounced on the knee of the elegant blonde. She works across a range of disciplines including producing, writing, directing and curating. She produced a documentary featuring Free Jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman and indeed there’s an Ornette Coleman/Pat Metheny track named after her. She consulted for ECM in the 80s (who have been on my radar for Music case studies) and was involved recently in Godfrey Reggio’s latest film, Visitors, with a soundtrack by Philip Glass (who collaborated with Reggio on the Koyaanisqatsi trilogy and of course collaborated with Ginsberg).
We met at BAFTA (good to be using my membership a bit more during this time) and talked first about Ginsberg and then about Kathelin’s broad-ranging work. We spoke about her involvement in Biosphere 2, a closed ecological system experiment in Arizona, and her current focus, a project based on the Research Vessel Heraclitus, a 25-metre Chinese junk. Since 1975 its multicultural crew of explorers and artists has sailed the vessel over 270,000 miles, in every sea except the Arctic. The current three year expedition is to study the changing port cultures of the Mediterranean. I could do with a bit of Med myself right now under these grey skies.
In the afternoon I wrestled a bit with the Tony Wilson chapter which has reached a treacly bit. I’ll just have to persist and keep writing til I get out the other side…
By way of consolation prize, I popped downstairs to Hatchards and bought myself a signed copy of Robert Harris’ latest novel about the Dreyfus Affair to read as my down-time book over the holidays.
Quand le ciel bas et lourd pèse comme un couvercle
[Baudelaire, Spleen - Les Fleurs du Mal]
Last night Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera played the whole of their 1983 debut LP High Land, Hard Rain at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. At one point he mentioned their break-through gig in Paisley when they opened for Teardrop Explodes. The reference point was that it was the day Ian Curtis’ death was announced. He made it clear that across three decades it remains a landmark moment in the youth and musical lives of a generation.
Doubling up to six decades and we get who stole the show to some extent last night. Frame’s yellow-gold 1953 Gibson 295 ‘Scotty Moore’ guitar. I don’t know anything about guitars but I do know it sounded sweet and distinctive (worthy of the Scotty Moore name) and it looked beautiful to boot. The last time I wrote about a particular guitar in Simple Pleasures pt 4 (back in 2010), The Man with the Boo Guitar, it was Boo Hewerdine’s guitar and the maker, Alister Atkin down in Canterbury, kindly got in touch via comments.
Anyway, Day 64 was immersed once Moore in the world of Ian Curtis, Tony Wilson, Factory Records and Joy Division, key inspirers of the likes of young Roddy Frame, a 15 year old in an East Kilbride bedroom, intent on mixing the Manchester sound with The Clash and Wes Montgomery to come up with a fresh new vibe, which he brought down to London half-way through creating High Land (named after a street in Acton) to a soul-mate of Factory in the shape of Rough Trade records.
In terms of writing process I felt at a fork on this chapter in that I could continue going with the flow of my thoughts and store of research-based memories which is free-wheelin’ but risks losing control, or work my way now steadily through the research notes and integrate them into the emerging structure (which is largely how the Paul Arden chapter was written and yielded a perfectly good structure in the end). I decided to take the High Road of the free-flow and trust its own building logic and form will take it in a course which ultimately works.
Went with the flow. Original plan was to get a change of scene for my writing day by heading off to the RAF Museum just a couple of miles away and write among old planes. But I had to drop the Other Half off in Holloway (near the library where Joe Orton carefully defaced covers and blurbs and got sentenced to 6 months for his trouble). On the way back heard on Radio London about Kenwood House re-opening today after two years of closure for renovation so went with it and ended up having a good, flowing writing session at the end of the Robert Adam library you never used to be able to get to (there was a rope barrier before the restoration). The gilding has been stripped away, which was a later accretion, and the beautifully lit domed room looks just right in its 18C pale pinks and blues with fine detail in pure white.
Sitting on the new leather sofa on its first morning of active duty I wrote five pages of the Tony Wilson chapter, picking up from the emblematic opening scene and intro I wrote earlier in the week. It flowed easily between related moments so that it got well away from any simple chronological account and feels like something cutting the cake in a more individual way.
Lunch break in the cafe in the stable block with a newspaper – revelling in the not-at-work feeling. Then another burst of writing outdoors overlooking the lake and grounds. Plus a bit of reading about Sylvia Beach who could make a good shorter chapter for variety. So a very productive day lifted by an inspirational environment.
After the library session had a look around the restored rooms and the rest of the house. Found a full length Sargent portrait in the old rooms upstairs that hadn’t registered before. Plus a collection of Elizabethan painting which wasn’t familiar – some amazingly modern fashion such as dresses decorated with little rips. Was reminded what an amazing collection is in the house (a vague memory that it was once curated by Cambridge spy Anthony Blunt, he certainly wrote the intro to older versions of the guidebook) – Vermeer, Rembrandt, Turner, Boucher, Reynolds, Gainsborough, and all first-class examples, nothing second-rate. It’s a special pleasure to grow up with your own local set of paintings (as Vanessa Feltz eloquently captured on the show which brought me here) and it’s striking to see how a building/place can weave itself into the fabric of so many lives over such a long time.
Had a child off sick from school so found myself reading Norse myths with him, taking advantage of his recent interest in Thor comics. It was interesting to read that in Norse mythology there are three categories of people: Leaders, Makers and Doers.
Spent much of the rest of the morning preparing for some making by watching a BBC4 documentary on Factory Records, centred on one of Tony Wilson’s last extended interviews.
Then back to transferring notes from books into my draft Music chapter which is an arduous, slow task, often threatened by impatience to just dive in and write. I finished the process in the evening beside the local swimming pool where said sick child ploughed up and down the lanes as his illness declined with distance from the school bell.
But that leaves me with a clear, full-on writing day for Day 63 to get the build-up out of my system…
Hedley Lamarr: My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought, cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.
Taggart: Goddarnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore!
Used the morning to go meet a TV indie to talk about the televisual possibilities of this project on the prompting of a seasoned British commissioner I met by chance on the street in Copenhagen the week before last, who made an unsolicited connection as I explained what I was up to, and because the suggested contact was already a friend of mine from university days I thought might as well, if he’s seen something in it. It was on my plan but for way further down the line but the chat was useful, not least for the insightful questions and perspectives the producer raised.
As I was not far away, I decided to trot over to Parliament Hill and ascend. Did a bit of reading and writing at the top of the hill and in the cafe below, mainly centred on Sylvia Beach and the potential publishing chapter. Then home to return to the world of Factory and tap away in that realm.
Knocked off half an hour early to fulfil a long-held London ambition – to go see The Mousetrap, which has been playing of course since I drew my first breath. It was a charming immersion into the 40s (both on and off stage) and had the added bonus of leaving you with a hang-over of mystery and suspicion as you emerged back into the real life of the city, opposite The Ivy. An Aston Martin with the number plate JUL IIAN. An American family arranged by the father in front of the theatre, or was it in front of the sports car, for a sneaky snap. A man in a top hat shouting at someone. All bathed in red neon glow from the sign above. When a man is tired of London, he must indeed have passed on, be no more, expired, gone to meet his maker, a stiff, bereft of life, pushing up the daisies, off the twig, kicked the bucket, shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible…
When I got back home, a Ginsberg person from the USA had gotten in touch out of the Norwegian Blue.
Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands was the locus of today’s activity. Started with a Channel 4-related meeting with some emerging film talent I met in Leipzig the other week who have a lovely project on the go which deserves some traction and support. Their pitch at Leipzig Dokfest was charmingly English and stood out really favourably in that European context as authentic and bringing beautiful craftsmanship.
Ascended ten floors to interview Rory Sutherland, boss of ad agency Ogilvy, whom I first met earlier on in the process as I got to grips with the Paul Arden/Advertising chapter. We had a thoroughly enjoyable chat at The Ivy, nice and appropriate for the subject-matter, which was a big help as I mapped out the landscape and headed off on the journey. True to form, this time he again not only gave really generously of his time but engaged in an enthusiastic and very well informed manner with illuminating observations from his own industry as well as from his passions beyond.
Spent the rest of the afternoon in Ogilvy’s offices, cracking on with the Tony Wilson stuff.
Ended the day heading due West to BBC in White City for final TX of this launch series of Health Freaks, dropping in the live insert into the pre-recorded show with Dr Pixie on voice-over and the team from Outline Productions.
I’m writing this high above Outline‘s offices (down below in Kentish Town) perched on the top of Parliament Hill. Before me is a beautiful panorama of autumnal trees and Highgate village on the summit opposite, lit in a low yellow sunlight. Behind me is the path my dad took daily in the 50s to his school, William Ellis, as well as the café where he first talked to me about his terminal illness. Beyond the golden trees to my left is the summit where I was born (Whitestone Pond). So I’m feeling right at home. And from up here I can turn round and see Canary Wharf silver-grey on the skyline.
Rounded off the week with a delightful phone conversation with Rosebud Pettet, a long-time, close friend of Allen Ginsberg, who lived with and beside him for over quarter of a century on&off. She was at his bedside when he passed on to the great poem in the sky and wrote a story about that experience which she shared with the likes of Patti Smith, Francesco Clemente and Philip Glass as well as Allen’s brother Eugene and partner Peter Orlovsky. She gave some beautiful insights into life with Allen from their meeting in the 60s when she was a teenager to his final years when he finally moved out of the building they had shared on the Lower East Side for yonks.
At one point in her travels Rose lived in London (not three miles from my end of the call) and at another point she was in Christiania in Copenhagen where I was last week.
I began the day back in the walled kitchen garden of Kenwood researching Sylvia Beach and her relationship with Joyce, with whom she was very close and supportive, not just around the publication of Ulysses but in his Parisian family life too.
In the afternoon I wrote about the legendary 4th June 1976 Sex Pistols gig in Manchester, attended by some 35 people and yet which inspired a great blossoming of music from Manchester including Joy Division and The Fall and their knock-on effects. It’s a good way into exploring the interface of truth and mythology around Tony Wilson, Factory and the Manchester scene of that golden era.
All week I’ve been trying to get in touch with a lead singer from another great band of the time to interview, wracking my brains about who I know who would have worked with him in recent times. Was drawing blanks from that line of inquiry until I was standing at the bread bit of the local supermarket during the weekend when I turned around and there he was. Singer of one of the great singles of all time and a landmark of punk, both of us loaves in hand, both in our silver fox period, face to face over a basket of family shopping. The world works in mysterious ways…
Day got off to a slow start with domestic stuff intruding. The upside was a good chat over lunch at our local favourite with Enfant Terrible No. 1. Putting me in a relaxed frame of mind to kick off the Actual Writing of the Music chapter along the lines that came to me walking down to lunch. I’d been struggling to find the emblematic scene (with which each chapter opens) for Tony Wilson. What finally came to mind was the legendary writing contract in blood scene immortalised in 24 Hour Party People (brought to you by the FineFolk at FilmFour) when Wilson and Joy Division formalise their relationship in a pub one afternoon. I came up with the notion of writing the scene in 3 takes. 1 as captured in the movie. 2 and 3 as told elsewhere by Tony Wilson. Each varies in detail and substance thus capturing the mythologising, self-mythologising and post-rationalisation integral to Wilson and his story. I read it back to Enfant Terrible No. 1 and he liked it.
Then I headed off with Femme Fatale No. 1 to see David and Tom Kelley, founders of IDEO, discuss their new co-written book Creative Confidence at the new Royal Academy buildings beside Burlington Arcade (the old Museum of Mankind, formerly part of the University of London which a distant relative of mine was involved in establishing, a factoid that emerged during a bout of family history research earlier this year). Tom kindly offered to write a blurb for the book (subject to his liking it of course).