Latest Record Project

Tim Burgess’s Tim’s Twitter Listening Party has demonstrated during the pandemic that it is possible to generate community, human exchange and excitement about music by combining Music and Live. It is one of the best things to come out of the Plague. 

Last night Van Morrison played, or rather broadcast/premiered, a live gig from Real World Studios , set up by Peter Gabriel in 1987 in Box, just outside Bath. Van has connections with Bath, having lived there and bought his own studio there, Wool Hall in Beckington. Well, the performance was of the highest quality. Very professional, excellent sound, simply but beautifully presented, played with the greatest of skill, sung with a voice almost unchanged at 75. In short, despite being online, despite months of tedious zooming, a great energy was transmitted over the wires and through the screen.

Any shortcomings in the experience? You had to make your own social on the side – not difficult in the age of What’s App. The moment of transcendence (for both Van and his audience, a genuinely spiritual  moment) which marks every great Van concert was only just about achieved, in ‘St Dominic’s Preview’. Van stuck to his new LP, the amusingly named ‘Latest Record Project, Volume 1’, his 42nd album, for the bulk of the performance, only bringing in a few older tunes, with a bluesy bent (his deepest love), towards the end. There have been some really wide of the mark reviews of the record – here is one that gets this provocative record and how it links back right to the outset of Van’s career when he recorded an album’s worth of nonsense songs to fulfil an exploitative record contract without giving the exploiter anything he could use. The only better such record is Marvin Gaye’s searingly honest ‘Hear My Dear’ about the disintegration of his marriage to label owner Berry Gordy. 

To help mark last night’s show for posterity here are a few stills:

 

A rare moment when the dark glasses come off
Dana Masters is a great foil to Van’s voice
Van got stuck in on sax, blue’s harp (his top instrument), electric and acoustic guitar
A really talented band – he’s a great curator of talent
He’s a respecter of age and experience, as well as youth
Real World looking just right

St George’s Day

There’s been a lot of discussion in the UK media about English identity yesterday and today so here’s a take on Englishness worth celebrating…

Shakey’s birthday is traditionally also celebrated on 23rd April
First and foremost a Londoner (which is another story)
The DMs are the Anglo-Saxon roots, the dress the Norman layer
Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-1) by David Hockney, where Yorkshire meets London
A unique sense of humour
Tolerance
Eccentricity & individuality: a South Londoner who believes in more love, less ego (Greentea Peng)
Openness to other cultures
Twiggy by David Bailey
Pauline Boty & Christine Keeler
St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall

This is The End

The End by Heather Phillipson

The 4th Plinth on Trafalgar Square has proved to be a brilliant lens for Britain to look at itself through. The commissions are so varied that taken together they are also a rich record of British identity and state of mind at different times. Each commission takes into account the resonance of the location and its relation to surrounding public art, buildings, environment and the history linked to them. 

Heather Phillipson’s ‘The End’ is a worthy addition to the chain of public art that has temporarily inhabited the free plinth. It looks particularly good against blue sky and the collapsing gobbet of cream topped by the falling cherry matches the colours of the Canadian flags behind it on Canada House / La Maison du Canada. 

On one side is a huge fly, undermining any initial joy at the prospect of some kind of knickerbocker glory. On the adjacent side is a drone, on a different scale, with moving propellors.

a backdrop of the National Gallery

What does it all mean? There’s a sense of imminent collapse. An indication of rottenness. And a strong hint of surveillance.

The stalk paralleling Nelson’s Column

‘The End’ officially took up residence on the plinth on 30th July 2020, the 13th commission there (the first was in 1998). At 9.4 meters height it is the tallest so far and one of the brightest. 

The drone transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square at www.theend.today Here’s what it looks like right now, the eye of the sculpture itself:

What’s the legal status of those two people? Is it legit to spy on them for artistic rather than security reasons?

The artwork reflects Trafalgar Square’s heritage and function as a place of both celebration and protest, as well as its highly surveilled state.

VE Day (8th May 1945)
Anti-Lockdown protest (26th September 2020)

Phillipson came up with the idea in 2016, in the shadow of Trump’s election and Brexit. 

“For me, we’ve been at a point of some kind of entropy for a long time. When I was thinking of this work there was a sense for me of an undercurrent that was already there … this feels like a continuation of that.”

It was unveiled in the middle of Covid19 year, delayed a few months by the pandemic. The perfect temporal setting for the piece. 

This is the end

Beautiful friend

This is the end

My only friend, the end

Of our elaborate plans, the end

Of everything that stands, the end

No safety or surprise, the end

I’ll never look into your eyes again

Can you picture what will be?

So limitless and free

Desperately in need

Of some stranger’s hand

In a desperate land

Jim Morrison & The Doors ‘The End’

Despite the title the artist does not envision the work as a dead end. 

“In the end there is the possibility of something else forming. There’s the chance of radical change inside any ending… there is potentially hope for something else.”

The artist

‘The End’ ends in Spring 2022.

The End

Do they pay you properly? (a memory of Prince Philip)

1992: HRH The Duke of Edinburgh photographed in the Chinese room, Buckingham Palace

I crossed paths with Prince Philip only once. It was in the conference centre named after his wife (The Queen Elisabeth Centre) near Westminster Abbey, where they got married in November 1947. I was there with Barnardo’s for whom I was making films at the time. It was a huge room, conference centre scale. I was standing beside the CEO of the charity, Sir Roger Singleton. Philip entered right at the other corner of the room but I knew from the moment he entered he was going to come up to me. I’ve no idea why, I just knew it. 

And that’s what happened. He gradually made his way across the room and eventually reached us. 

” What are you doing here?”

“I make films for Barnardo’s.”

“Do they pay you properly?” (The CEO is beside me, two feet away.)

“They do indeed.”

The bluntness and inappropriateness is the kind of thing, of course, that people loved about him.

The Angel, Islington this afternoon

When I started my career in Marshall Street, Soho at Solus Enterprises with Jack Hazan, Roger Deakins, Dick Pope and David Mingay, Wheeler’s restaurant still existed in the Cambridge Circus corner of Soho, on Old Compton Street from memory. We went there for the company Christmas lunch one year at a time when Jack and David were looking at making a film about Rachman, the pantomime tabloid villain of the Profumo Affair. They told me that Philip had been a very naughty boy upstairs at Wheeler’s at that time (1963). I was surprised that Wheeler’s got a mention on the BBC TV news tonight, with photos of a couple of bottle blondes I didn’t recognise, starlet types. He was married to the Queen for 74 years so fair play to him, no mean achievement. That, the public service and charity work, his awards scheme for young people – plenty for one life, even a 99 year one.

Camden Passage, Islington this afternoon (solar-powered waving arm)

The boozy lunches upstairs at Wheeler’s were known as the Thursday Club – all lads, lots of drink, don’t think they were that interested in the fish. Members included David Niven and Peter Ustinov (film actors), Larry Adler (harmonica player), Kim Philby (undiscovered Russian spy) and Stephen Ward (osteopath and fall guy for the Profumo Affair). 

Private Eye – Dec 1963 (Christine Keeler in the dock)

Apparently there was a Private Eye cartoon cover showing Philip’s coronation robe cast off in the bedroom of Ward’s young protégée, Christine Keeler. It seems to have mysteriously vanished from the Web. Philip’s wing man at the time was his equerry Mike Parker. Parker’s wife claimed that Philip and Parker habitually tore up the town together using their party aliases Murgatroyd and Winterbotham. 

Wheeler’s was no stranger to alcohol-fuelled bacchanalia – the top-equal artist of the 20th century liquid lunched there (Francis Bacon). 

Wheeler’s the year before Profumo (1962) –
(L-R) Tim Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews
1973 – 19-21 Old Compton Street

Update 11/4/21

I found this among my grandparents’ stuff a few years ago when clearing the house. It is printed on tin – my grandfather was a scientist who specialised in print-on-metal technologies. I liked it for sentimental and ironic reasons but I’ve come to see it in a different light these last couple of days. 

Portland Ware manufactured by Metal Box

The Watergate Scandal game (1973)

Following up the recent post on Irish Free State Monopoly here’s another game with historic resonance preserved for posterity. The Watergate Scandal dates from 1973 and cost a less than scandalous $2.99 at the time. It is a card game with political points made in a mild satirical fashion. 

The cast of characters
The penalties
Strictly Confidential Instructions: Enhanced by playing in an echoey carpark
Made in 1970s paranoid USA

This (Washington) post is dedicated to Alfie Dennen, creator of Evil Corps game, which features thinly veiled portraits of the likes of the current owner of the Washington Post. A post on the excellent Evil Corps will follow shortly. 

As with the vintage Irish Monopoly set, this card game also features in Google Arts & Culture thanks to The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. 

For the youngsters among us, a brief reminder of what the Watergate Scandal was all about. It was the mother of modern political scandals, unravelling in Washington DC from 1971 to 1974. So it was ongoing when this game came out. It took down the grim administration of U.S. President Richard Nixon and led to his resignation.

The scandal was rooted in the administration’s hopelessly inept attempts to cover up its involvement in a break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Office Building in D.C. on 17th June 1972. The five burglars were arrested and then the press (noticeably Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post) and the Justice Department connected the cash found on the perpetrators to the Nixon re-election campaign committee. Witnesses at the subsequent Senate Watergate hearings testified that Nixon had approved plans to cover up administration involvement in the break-in and that there was a voice-activated taping system in the Oval Office hence all the tapping/bugging references in the game.

Later in 1973 the House commenced an impeachment process against Nixon. The Supreme Court ruled that the President had to release the Oval Office tapes to government investigators. The tapes cooked Nixon’s goose. The House Judiciary Committee charged him with obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. Nixon resigned on 9th August 1974 before the house could impeach him and the Senate remove him from office. Tricky Dicky remains the only U.S. president to have resigned.

The name Watergate came to stand for a variety of clandestine and illegal activities by the Nixon administration, from bugging the offices of political opponents through ordering investigations of activist groups to using the FBI, CIA and IRS as political tools. Between Nam and Watergate the good ol’ US of A lost its trust and became the cynical and conspiracy-crazy place we know & love today.

Inspired by fork-tongued Nixon, The Watergate Scandal is basically a game of lying and bluffing (like many card games – and political activities). To see how to play it, this recent episode of Game Board Archaeology featuring Hunter and Rob Mattison captures it pretty well.

The game was produced in Illinois in Elk Grove Village, 20 miles northwest of Chicago, next to O’Hare International Airport. Its current population is some 35,000. Its original population were Potawatomi, speakers of an Algonquin language. They were booted off their land in the 1830s and relocated to Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Stepping into the void created by men right up there with Tricky Dicky on the evil stakes came pioneer farmers from New England. Their civilisation reached its zenith when Elk Grove became the largest industrial park in the United States. The Watergate Scandal card game was the jewel in the crown of that mighty industrial estate.

Three years after the game we got the real silver lining of Watergate, William Goldman (scr.) and Alan Pakula’s (dir.) All The President’s Men, a film practically guaranteed to turn young viewers into journalists. 

All the President’s Men (1976) Dustin Hoffman & Robert Redford and a typewriter (youngfolk, it’s like a PC & printer, just no screen and often no electricity and if you get it wrong you just have to start all over again)

Latest photographs in the ArkAngel collection

ArkAngel has a small but perfectly formed collection of photographs and these are the latest additions. Three of these four come from Magnum photo agency which offers small signed or estate-stamped prints. The fourth is direct from the photographer (Danny Clifford) with whom I had a fascinating chat in Marlow, Buckinghamshire before the plague hit.  

Eve Arnold – Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses by James Joyce. Long Island, New York (1955)

‘Ulysses’ is my favourite book and Marilyn is an important name in our family (and our Marilyn is blonde too). I read a concise biography of Marilyn Monroe as a teenager and was struck by her intelligence and intellectual aspirations. This image, which was on a poster in Black Gull Books, East Finchley in recent times, says body and mind, natural beauty and artistic beauty, ‘low’ culture and ‘high’, adult and child.

Eve Arnold’s grandson Michael wrote: “This image was made by Eve during her first shoot with Marilyn Monroe. Monroe had shown Eve her down-to-earth, relaxed personality as they worked together. But the photographer had yet to really witness the actress’s candour. The following is an excerpt from a passage in Eve’s book, In Retrospect, in which she recalled meeting with Marilyn a second time, in order to show her the photographs she had taken:

She met me at the door in a diaphanous black negligee. She had a hairbrush in her hand. Would I mind sitting through an interview for a European magazine—then we could talk? Almost immediately the reporter showed up. Marilyn greeted her, and while the woman had her head down, looking in her purse for notebook and pencil, Marilyn asked if she minded if she (Marilyn) brushed her hair during the interview. No, of course not. When the woman raised her head, Marilyn was brushing her pubic hair.

Due in no small part to Monroe’s laidback temperament, the two were to become close over the months that followed.”

Elliott Landy – Bob Dylan in Woodstock, NY (1968)

This is the second Elliott Landy shot of Dylan in the collection. This is the first:

Elliott Landy – Bob Dylan with son Jesse, Byrdcliffe home, Woodstock, NY (1968)

The collection has print 7/100 which is 50 x 35cm.

The new infrared shot is most striking of course for its colour. It derives from a Saturday Evening Post cover image assignment. Landy was just starting out but his work with The Band had impressed one of Dylan’s friends and that’s how they first connected. The connection and subsequent friendship eventually yielded an album cover (Nashville Skyline). The shot was taken outside Dylan’s home in Byrdcliffe, New York state, as was the shot with his young son, Jesse.

Danny Lyon – Bob Dylan behind the SNCC office. Greenwood, Mississippi (1963)

This shot is reminiscent of the brilliant 2019 creative documentary Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan story by Martin Scorsese (to give it its full title) in which Bob takes his guitar out at times in a spirit of activism and solidarity. 

After giving a concert in a cotton field with folk singers Pete Seeger and Theo Bikel, Dylan played behind the office of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC – pronounced “snick”). Bernice Reaon, one of the original Freedom Singers and later the lead singer of Sweet Honey in the Rock, is the woman listening intently in front of Dylan.

The Freedom Singers started in 1962 as a student quartet in Albany State College, Albany, Georgia. Their sound combined  black Baptist church singing with protest songs. They were big supporters of the SNCC during the emerging civil rights movement and they played a significant role in making communal song a key means of empowering and educating audiences about civil rights issues and combatting Jim Crow segregation.

Mendy Samstein is sitting behind Dylan and talking to Willie Blue. Samstein quit his Ph.D. in history at the University of Chicago to join the civil rights movement in the South as a full-time organiser for the SNCC. Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael (previously chairman of SNCC) said Samstein was “one in a million”.

Danny Clifford – Amy Winehouse backstage at 4th BBC Radio Jazz awards, Hammersmith Palais, London (2004)

Amy Winehouse was another one in a million. This July marks the 10th anniversary of her sad passing and I have been working on a documentary to mark the event.

The deliberate choice of such an early image comes down to the way this shot captures the youthful promise of Amy before other pressures intruded. It was exhibited in a church in Hampstead a couple of years ago as part of a Danny Clifford show. 

Danny had a studio set up backstage at these BBC jazz awards. Amy had just come off stage after performing some songs from her debut album Frank. She was reluctant to go over to the press wall and didn’t really give them what they wanted. Danny managed to steer her into his makeshift studio after and got much more relaxed shots including this beauty. Katie Melua came over a couple of minutes later and Danny suggested taking shots of the two of them together. Katie was well up for it but Amy said: “I ain’t having a picture with her. She’s shit. She doesn’t even write her own songs.” Danny thought she was joking at first but there was no sign of that. “I’ll take that as a No then” was his retort.

The Road to DeMaskUs – life after Lockdown

An Anderson shelter in Poplar, East London, 1941 [Photograph: IWM]

Coming out of this third Lockdown following along the government’s ‘roadmap’, it is like emerging from a bomb shelter blinking into the light. As your eyes adjust to the brightness, you look around to see what’s still standing. So with the relief, liberty and happiness, it is natural to feel some uncertainty and anxiety too.

Television quotation

Imitation is the sincerest form of television

Fred Allen, comedian (1894-1956)

Allen’s quip is of course derived from one of Oscar’s:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”  

or to give it its full run:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

Oscar Wilde

 

FRED ALLEN with Cigar – performing into an NBC microphone 1948
OSCAR WILDE with Cigarette

That Interview

‘Oprah with Meghan & Harry’ (ITV 8/3/21 Harpo Productions)

I watched the interview in the same room as I watched the Bill Grundy interview with the Sex Pistols. It was one of those landmark TV interviews that come along only every few years. Of course the Diana Panorama with Martin Bashir in 1995 (An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales) was another such interview, of which Oprah’s is a direct descendent. 

The best piece I’ve read about it was this one by historian David Olusoga in The Guardian – he singles out the wedding of Harry & Meghan and the London 2012 Olympic Games (for which I worked as a volunteer in the media operation, specifically the website – the best summer of my adult life) as two great opportunities to take Britain forwards, two moments when the country projected itself as “effortlessly global and at ease with its multiculturalism” and then argues that the monarchy, Establishment and country have failed to live up to this vision. Frankly the world is better left to the likes of Danny Boyle (creator of the brilliant 2012 Opening Ceremony) when it comes to realising visions.

london 2012 olympics rings

Oprah’s dropped jaw above was in response to the point Meghan Markle made in the interview about race: 

Meghan: “In those months when I was pregnant … we have in tandem the conversation of ‘He won’t be given security. He’s not going to be given a title.’ and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

Oprah: “Who is having that conversation?”

Meghan: “That was relayed to me from Harry from conversations that family had with him.”
 
It’s the main thing that was picked up from the interview, underscored by Oprah’s jaw-dropping. It is quite a nuanced discussion point, particularly with the limited context. However the broad brush effect is to paint the monarchy and by extension the country as imperial racists to the global audience.
 
So it is important to put some perspective around this. Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC), head of the Commission for Racial Equality 2003-2006, deputy chairman of the board of the National Equality Standard, and director of Pepper Productions, did this effectively in a piece in The Times this week.
 
Oprah, who made her name acting in the The Color Purple, would be more aware than most of the fact that she lives in a country essentially built on slavery and genocide. As Islington-born Phillips puts it:
 
“Britain now stands in the dock internationally as a breeding ground for casual racial bigotry. Brits will see some irony here. Most of the finger pointing comes from the United Staes, a country where young black men are frequently gunned down by white police officers; where black families on average have one tenth of the wealth of white households; and where, outside work, people of different colours seldom mix.”
 
He reminds us that:
  • people of colour are more likely to report racial harassment in every other EU country (apart from Malta)
  • rates are twice as high in Ireland, Germany and Italy
  • UK has more people of colour in high ministerial office than the whole of the EU put together
  • The current Cabinet includes Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak & Alok Sharma (making up over 17%) among its number, Sunak being strongly fancied as the next Prime Minister.
Trevor Phillips & his partner Helen Veale of Outline Productions
David Olusoga

The Wrong Wall – quotation

You can spend your life climbing a ladder and then realise you had it up against the wrong wall

Derren Brown (How To Academy podcast 2021)
Derren Brown, mentalist / illusionist / author on Happiness

Derren Brown draws attention to the ‘frog on the lily pad’ (horizontal rather than vertical) model for living – you sun yourself on each waterlily until you’ve had enough and then move on to the next one for fresh experiences and pleasures.

 

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