Chapters and Verse (Phase 2: Weeks 12 & 13)

Danny Boyle Oscars winner

joyful

Took a moment to look back over the chapter titles I’ve fixed so far and enjoyed seeing them arranged together:

  • With a Little Help from My Friend
  • Take A Chance And Say You Tried
  • The Rock of Change
  • Give Away Everything You Know
  • (Everyone you meet is) Fighting a Hard Battle

All but the first are quotes from the chapter protagonist. I was taking stock in a comfy hotel room in Toronto where I headed for a few days peace&quiet. The crappy English-type weather helped focus the mind, and together with the jetlag that had my brain pin-sharp at 2am, meant it was a productive trip. I alternated between processing Joan Littlewood-related interviews (interesting to listen back with a few months separation) and starting my next chapter, the one on Film which focuses on Danny Boyle. He represents a different kind of openness and generosity from what I’ve covered so far – his centres on bringing out talent in others and sharing the praise, very much leadership qualities which is the essence of being a film director.

While I was away I had the pleasure of meeting various directors at Hot Docs, the annual international documentary film festival (billed as the biggest in North America). I particularly enjoyed chatting with Charlie Lyne whose film Beyond Clueless was playing and James Motluk who is working on a really interesting Dylan-related doc.

london 2012 olympics rings

danny boyle london 2012 olympics model

clueful

Trainspotting choose life ewan McGregor renton

beyond clueless still small

beyond clueless

 

 

Songlines #9: The Flower Duet

The Question:

“What song or piece of music means the most to you and why?”

Enigmatic memories of love from Canadian journalist Katie

The Song: The Flower Duet from Lakmé

The Composer: Delibes

Being an opera ignoramus, I consulted Prof. Wiki who told me: The opera includes the popular Flower Duet (Sous le dôme épais) for sopranos performed in Act 1 by Lakmé, the daughter of a Brahmin priest, and her servant Mallika.

The Reason:

What a resonant phrase: “Someone I was in love with once.” I was torn as to whether to try delving deeper or leave it enigmatic and retain its poetry. Decided on the latter. That’s probably why I don’t work for the Daily Mail (and why it doesn’t work for me – world without poetry).

Here’s what it sounds like:

Sadly I know it only from some advert – was it for a bank? or a train?

Songlines #8: I’m Waiting for the Man

The Question:

“What song or piece of music means the most to you and why?”

A coming of age experience from Paul

The Song: I’m Waiting for the Man

The Artist: The Velvet Underground

The Reason:

Paul could remember exactly how the slightly older girl had signed the record for him, with a special pen that raised the letters like embossing. He still has the copy she gave him. The connection with the girl and the connection with the record seem completely intertwined although Paul didn’t think there was a sexual dimension to his choice.

David Bowie performing it with Lou Reed (who wrote the song):

And here are the lyrics, an everyday story of tasting forbidden fruit in the Big Apple:

I’m waiting for my man
Twenty-six dollars in my hand
Up to Lexington, 125
Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive
I’m waiting for my man

Hey, white boy, what you doin’ uptown?
Hey, white boy, you chasin’ our women around?
Oh pardon me sir, it’s the furthest from my mind
I’m just lookin’ for a dear, dear friend of mine
I’m waiting for my man

Here he comes, he’s all dressed in black
PR shoes and a big straw hat
He’s never early, he’s always late
First thing you learn is you always gotta wait
I’m waiting for my man

Up to a brownstone, up three flights of stairs
Everybody’s pinned you, but nobody cares
He’s got the works, gives you sweet taste
Ah then you gotta split because you got no time to waste
I’m waiting for my man

Baby don’t you holler, darlin’ don’t you bawl and shout
I’m feeling good, you know I’m gonna work it on out
I’m feeling good, I’m feeling oh so fine
Until tomorrow, but that’s just some other time
I’m waiting for my man

 

 

 

Songlines #7: Soul to Squeeze

Songlines is a project I’ve been doing for some years (in fact, decades!), recording the answer to the question

“What song or piece of music means the most to you and why?”

from all kinds of people. I am now expanding it to video as well as audio – way back when it started on one of these:

old fashioned dictaphone

No. 7 is a very moving contribution from Morgan.

The Song: Soul to Squeeze

The Artist: Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Reason:

The Song Performed:

And here are the previous Songlines on Simple Pleasures part 4 (these are just a small selection of the Songlines to date)

1 Hammertime

2 Dayenu

3 She Moved through the Fair

4 Rain Street

5 The Blues

6 Born to Run

 

A cool million

Tonight we hit a cool million tests taken on My MindChecker, my first project post-sabbatical at Channel 4. That’s in just 8 days – it launched with the new (4th) series of Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic last Tuesday.

Today it made the front page of the Mail Online.

Today's Mail Online front page

Among the unembarrassing bodies on today’s Mail Online front page

I like the last line of this coverage in the Evening Standard:

Evening Standard 15.iv.14

Evening Standard 15.iv.14

And here’s a neat little piece from The Sunday Times:

Sunday Times 13.iv.14

Sunday Times 13.iv.14

The Autism Test we featured in last week’s show was done 63,000 times during the hour of the show and by 11pm (3 hours in) that had reached 100,000. The total now stands at 350,000 completed tests. These anonymised results will go to the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge for their on-going work at the cutting edge of autism spectrum disorder research.

Fits & Starts (Phase 2: Weeks 9, 10, 11)

Lying on the couch in Brighton, balcony doors open, ‘Crescent’ (John Coltrane) playing, Enfant Terrible No. 1 doing his revision at the table, spirit of my dad floating around and seagulls making those seagull noises outside over the water – and I’m feeling pretty fine. Just finished the first full draft of the Littlewood/Theatre chapter. The two of us drove down last night to get a couple of days’ quiet and get some hours in.

We had our lunch break just before down in Rottingdean – a Ploughman’s lunch each in the sun (god knows what the ploughmen ate) and then a walk down to the beach for some chat and stone throwing.

The last three weeks have been bitty but at least progress is still being made.

I hooked up with a couple of writers this week to glean some know-how and advice both around the practice and motivation of writing and the business of publishing. The first of them has a string of factual books to his name, including one really big hit. We did beer and chat, sharing our mutual Hibernophilia, and he gave me a copy of one of his books about Ireland. The second is about to have his first novel published and is just completing his second. He used to work as a TV journalist/presenter and is revelling in his new-found life as a full-time writer. We did blood-orange juice in the sunlit bar of Soho House, welcoming in the Easter holidays. Both encounters were very encouraging and inspiring.

Meanwhile ‘When Sparks Fly’ went in to a Penguin group publisher on Monday and the wait begins…

Last week I got to write some of it in the pleasant surroundings of Juan Les Pins. I was there for the TV market MIP and came home after work to a gueridon (round metal table – that Modern Languages degree comes into useful occasionally, not least for the title of the book which comes from Breton’s first Surrealist Manifesto), a spacious balcony, palm trees framed in the view – a pretty nice place to write.

As is this…

20140417-173214.jpg

Caught in Session

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…

Daffodils

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:

tube couple underground red

double bass man tube

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).

ballerina-ballet-black-and-white-dancer-tutu

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).

pints of stout in a triangle

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.

dorothy-parker

All in all, a pretty darn good evening (and that’s not counting the Connemara whiskey and fresh homemade soup).

<0>

Dorothy Parker, when asked what she’d like for breakfast…

Just something light and easy to fix. How about a dear little whiskey sour?

Dream #311

northern_pike

1

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.

2

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…

3

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.

SOURCES

1

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.

2

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]

3

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.

Salvador Dalí - 'Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening'

Salvador Dalí – ‘Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening’

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…

Mr Mojo Risin’ (Phase 2: Week 8)

I’m firing on all cylinders again. A really productive week’s writing. Was on a real roll tonight writing about Joan Littlewood and improvisation – her openness to the moment and to others’ ideas, from the renowned actors to the fella that swept the stage.

Yesterday had an illuminating chat with the Chief Exec of Channel4, David Abraham, about the nature of collaboration, in connection with When Sparks Fly. He was talking at one point about artists and creatives who are so gifted that they need not collaborate and who can afford to be difficult, rude or whatever. It drew my attention to the fact that I need to be very clear about what I mean by the collaboration which stems from openness and generosity. I’m not really focusing on collaboration in the narrow sense of A and B make a thing together. It’s more about circles of creatives who inspire, support and catalyse one another’s work. Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac – all responsible for at least one work of genius, all arguably good enough to be contrary fuckers, two out of three largely were – but this didn’t prevent a highly productive collaboration giving rise to a movement with influence across the decades. Tony Wilson, Joy Division/Ian Curtis, Peter Saville et al. What I’m mainly exploring is how peers nurture and champion one another to the advantage of all. As Ginsberg recognised, better a movement than a few disparate successes.

Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs (1944)

Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs (1944)

On other matters, had an inspiring evening at Google HQ in St Giles’s last night. It was a National Film & Television School event showcasing their Film Clinic initiative with Google. Producer Simon Chinn, of Man on Wire and Searching for Sugar Man fame, who I last chatted with on a roof top in Tel Aviv at the CoPro documentary festival, explained the genesis of Sugar Man and how he helped get it to happen on a grand scale. Between him and me was sitting former NFTS head honcho Dick Fontaine who was great fun. I was introduced to the founder of the Film School, Colin Young, by John Newbigin – Colin had great anecdotes about its early days. Alcohol seems to have played a key part. And to complete the set of NFTS grand fromages, enjoyed chatting again with Nik Powell, the current head. Seemingly he turned down Billy Elliot twice. The same can’t be said for my esteemed colleague Tessa Ross who execed it, and who yesterday announced her departure from Film4 after 11 years at the helm, culminating in this year’s Best picture Oscar with 12 Years a Slave. She has been very encouraging about When Sparks Fly and was tickled by the premise.

I’m due to go out to NFTS in Beaconsfield in a couple of weeks to do my annual lecture there to the TV students about Multiplatform.

Simon Chinn interviewed by Dick Fontaine at Google HQ London

Simon Chinn interviewed by Dick Fontaine at Google HQ London

 

 

I Ain’t Got Rhythm (Phase 2: Weeks 5 6 & 7)

nick cave rock star singer

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.

A Taste of Honey

A Taste of Honey

I’m not too bothered about destiny or even explanation but I do like the notion that there’s pattern and purpose.

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