Blimey. Done more this last week than since the last time on holiday. So the intention here is for whistle stops, and given that brevity has been conspicuously absent from Lillabullero for some time now it should be good training. Let us first bring on the books …
First thing to say about the edition of Liz Moore‘s Heft (Hutchinson, 2012) I read is: What a great cover, reflecting as it does beautifully the house in which a lot of the novel’s action takes place; and I love the steps leading up to the barcode on the back – take a bow Nathan Burton. Click on the back cover and you’ll get some specifics, but without giving too much away – it says it’s ‘restorative’ on the cover – I’ll just add it’s a story of four lost souls, vividly told alternatively by two of them, one of whom rather annoying never spells out ‘and’, which is represented by an ampersand throughout his testimony. The one who doesn’t make it, a particularly significant one, we only meet by hearsay and in her letters. I zipped through Heft, engaged and moved by their various wretched situations; I don’t think the teenage boy would be out of place in a Donna Tartt novel. It’s a really good read, the more so if you don’t think about it too hard; it suffers, this cynic would say, for all its contemporary New York locale, from a touch of that good ol’ American (modern Dickensian) sentimentality. I read it because it was a Reading Group choice, but I liked it well enough, have no regrets for the time spent.
I’ve missed Charlie Resnick so it was good to see John Harvey had bought him back for a final fling with Darkness, darkness (Heinemann, 2014); Harvey’s other lead characters never came near Resnick’s resonance. No longer a copper but working as a humdrum civilian investigator in the police service – “keeping the stairlift away” – he gets actively involved in a case again when a body is found in the process of a street demolition in an ex-mining village. It’s a case going back to the dark days of the miners’ strike, a political milieu full of perils for the fiction writer which Nottinghamian Harvey treats even-handedly – and cites sources and contacts in an appendix to this end – while hiding nothing:
‘There was a lot of what we did that wasn’t right,’ Resnick said eventually. ‘A lot we should have done differently or not done at all. And a great deal of what happened locally, well, that was taken out of our hands. Not much of an excuse, maybe, but there it is. But I met some good people, no mistaking that. Either side of the picket line.’
Scargill’s tactics – how things could have been different in the Notts coalfields – get a critical airing too. The scars of the conflict are still there as the investigation proceeds three decades on, with the women’s part in the strike an important element of the plot. Chapters describing events concerning the murdered woman at the time of the strike cut intriguingly into the main investigation narrative. The outcome is a long way from what might have been at the start, with the crucial intellectual breakthrough in the case down to Resnick’s passion for jazz, which also gets a familiar airing in passing throughout.
Darkness, darkness is a worthy coda to the canon. His personal situation – ageing, wearied, crotchety, grieving, still interested – is affectionately and adeptly handled, and, fans, rest assured: he doesn’t die.
Pedant’s corner: in the ongoing query as to what editors and proof readers do for their money these days, how do you flick your headlights at someone “waiting patiently to overtake”? And would a pro-strike miner get away with making a speech criticising the “false promises” of the NUM rather than, as it should obviously read in context, the NCB (p221 in the paperback)?
Saw Anais Mitchell at a stupidly un-sold-out Stables on Monday – the side seats were empty – but if anything that added to the intimacy. Support and occasional accompanist Rachel Ries opened with a set of songs that kept the audience fully engaged, and – nice touch – was joined by her friend Anais for her last number. Anais came out and was stunning from the outset. She’s a decent singer, with a neat inflection, and a fine acoustic guitarist with a folksy presence that belies the power of her compositions. She has an endearing habit of – standing with her guitar throughout – fidgeting about on her feet, (mostly softly) stamping or shuffling, the tour de force being a natural/naturalised balancing on one leg temporarily resting the other on the calf of her standing leg. Her voice is much stronger live than heard on previous records, and the spare unaccompanied performances of songs from Hadestown and Young man in America (especially an intense Why we build the wall from the former, where opera-style, it’s sung by someone else, and the title track of the latter) really gripped emotionally; both are on Xoa, the fine new album of re-workings illustrated here. Young man in America is a devastating, concerned song, looking into the void. If she weren’t a song writer she’d be a writer, no question. Wearing pretty new H&M dresses – I’m only telling you this because she told us – she and Rachel, when the latter came out again to add harmonies or piano, towering I guess a foot over Anais, were enjoying each other’s and our company. It was a great night and, icing on the cake, for an encore, lovely touch, unplugged and un-miked they stepped in front of the monitors and gave us a thoroughly acoustic little country ditty. Refreshing (well I’ve not seen it done before) and so satisfying. Audience exit smiling.
Tuesday was Armistice Day and we joined a small group of MK Humanists joined local worthies and other members of the public at the secular civic act of Remembrance at the MK Rose. A bit blowy, but it was a relief it kept dry. Not exactly massed ranks but everyone pleasantly surprised at the size of the turnout, a genuine gathering, the feeling being that this was now an established event in the civic calendar. A feature of the ceremony, along with all the usual – the Exhortation, Last Post, Reveille, the laying of the wreaths and the Kohima Epitaph – was the reading of Day of names, an apt poem written by MK Poet Laureate Mark Niel for the occasion.
And the theme continued in the evening, with the November Scribal Gathering featuring a moving 20 minute reprise extract from The hell where youth and laughter go, the World War 1 commemoration in poetry put together earlier in the year by the late Scribal regular (and many other things) Dick Skellington. Remembrance of one sort or other became something of a theme as the evening progressed with Alzheimer’s the topic of a Caz epic and touched on by others. Couple of notable first time poets of distinction were blooded (rotten metaphor for a vegetarian, I know, but it is a rite of passage), while Mr Gurner performed a Japan classic, solo on the modern equivalent of Sparky’s Magic Piano, and Mr Frost was back in charge of proceedings (though, if memory hasn’t failed, sans chapeau.
And so to London for a celebration, but first Terror and wonder at the British Library. A wide-ranging exhibition sub-titled The Gothic Imagination had me absorbed for a couple of hours or more. Always a favourite place to visit in London, I was enticed this time by Andrew Graham-Dixon’s three parter on the telly, which for the first time seemed to make sense for me of the relation of Gothic architecture to all the horror stuff, from John Ruskin to The wickerman in easy stages. Not so much of Ruskin and the general architecture here, but there was plenty else to take in. Like Castle of Otranto author Walpole’s Strawberry Hill villa (hence Strawberry Hill Gothic as per Stony’s St Mary & St Giles Church) and Dr Dee’s obsidian scrying mirror that was part of Walpole’s collection. Indeed, many things; I’ll just point at random to a goth adaptation called Jane Slayre (there were more); an aged cabinet housing a similarly aged but impressive ‘Vampire slaying kit’ (no example found older than the early ’70s); original illustrations from Patrick Ness’s A monster calls (which Lillabullero raved about this time last year); and as part of a photographic essay of a goth weekend at Whitby, a goth football team (or is it even a goth football tournament as part of the entertainments?) For the first time in my life the thought occurs that I might actually read Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Different kind of horror show at the 50th birthday ‘celebration’ of the iconic Swiss Cottage Library, which just happened to be the first port of call of my 40 year library career. Missed the first introductory bit because Transport for London deemed it necessary to close Swiss Cottage station for the brief time I needed to use it so had to walk back down the Finchley Road (and nearly got run down by a honking taxi – one forgets about London traffic), but I was reassured later I’d missed nothing. Then a rambling interview all about the building with a surviving member of Basil Spence’s architectural practice, and absolutely nothing about how it was a beacon in the library world for a decade, about the good old days of a thriving library, no recollections of how it felt to use it or work there. Then some sort of performance art/mime performance that nodded to all the library clichés (“shhh…”) while most of us nodded off, culminating in a less than rousing ‘Happy birthday’. Orange juice and crisps! Good to see old colleagues, though, and even better, old friends in the pub afterwards.
Went back for a second look at the An-My Lê exhibition at Milton Keynes Gallery. As a child she was airlifted out of Vietnam near the end of the war to settle in America. Was really impressed with the Events ashore sequence of large colour photographs in the Long Gallery. Her subject is war and the military but she’s not a war photographer; rather she, to quote the leaflet, “explored the myth and memory of war.” There a some stunning compositions here – like the hospital ship in the accompanying photo, and the medics awaiting casualties – beautifully composed in both sense of the word. There is quietness, stillness, vehicle patterns in the snow and other seemingly set pieces, but such is the subject matter there must always be the unstated implication you cannot escape, even in the missions of humanitarian aid, of potential violence, the uniforms, behind the picture. It’s an extraordinary feeling, not so much alarming as haunting. Thought the video installation worked too – on one wall black and white close-ups and middle shots of troops in training being instructed, filmed movie quality; on the adjoining wall at right angles, long-range, less focussed film of a landscape in which a training exercise battle is taking place, the soldiers like ants.
Further musical adventures
Hey, and Saturday the awesome energy of women dancing at a party (happy birthdays L & S) with three bands – The Outside This, The Box Ticked (Waterloo!), and the impressive Fear of Ray. Which gives me a chance to introduce events the next day with …
… but there was no fear of Ray at this year’s Official Kinks Fan Club Konvention at Tufnell Park’s Boston Arms. And indeed, Ray Davies did turn up briefly to wish us well and lead us through a truncated You really got me (50 years old this year, same as, I suddenly realise, Swiss Cottage Library). Now in the past I’ve given this escapade a big write-up and it’s got flagged in the splendid Kinda Kinks unofficial website and I get more visitors here at Lillabullero in the next couple of days than I get in a month. But I can’t see that happening this year.
But first, the annual pilgrimage to Highgate’s Waterlow Park, where I spent many a pleasant hour when I first moved to London. And down Dartmouth Park Hill to the Boston with cranes much in evidence on the London skyline.
The thing is, the Konvention used to be special. But for the Kast Off Kinks these days it’s … well it’s not quite just another gig, because (apart, of course for Dave) they’re all there, including Deb and Shirlie, and this is hard-core Kinks fans, who come from far and wide. Now they’re regularly gigging throughout the land, not much new is happening on stage. Not that they do not put on a decent show, but the sound is crap. The bass, with either Nobby or Jim playing, is – there’s probably a technical term for it, but – too fucking loud an awful lot of the time. No, I don’t swear very much on Lillabullero. The bass coming out of the speakers is at times serious industrial noise pollution rather than music and it drowns out Ian Gibbons’ fine keyboard tinklings when he hasn’t got said keyboard functioning as an organ – his swirling away behind certain songs was a musical highlight for me.
Dave Clark (the other Dave Clark, the one who’s still alive) puts in his usual sterling performance in the Ray and Dave roles (though thankfully not fighting among himself) and the others were fine. I dunno. Maybe it’s the familiarity, and/or I’m getting old and jaded. Also, there were (no bad thing in itself) backing singers – here’s photographic evidence. I certainly saw three young Swedish women trot through the crowd onto and off the side of the stage more than once, and heard them introduced, and Deb and Shirlie were there too, but apart from the latter two’s solo spots I never heard any of their contributions. The sound improved for the closing rock and roll sequence and the final rousing Louie, Louie was great as ever, with Ian’s percussive Hammond-setting extemporisation outstanding.
And another thing … Oh yes, it was too crowded – uncomfortably so; to quote one of Ray’s songs, “too many people.” To be honest I have to say that the not necessarily worthiest part of me says I preferred it when Ray Davies was an unacknowledged national treasure. Still, you have to pay tribute to the hard work that goes into this shindig, so again, thanks OKFC. It’s always good to greet old friends and Kink community acquaintances. But next year can we have raffle tickets that don’t change colour under the UV lights, please?
The Konvention is an afternoon gig, so I’m back in time for the excellent Dodo Bones at the Old George. Robbyn Snow has an extraordinarily expressive voice – country-tinged soul (maybe) contralto is the best I can describe it. Tonight as well as regular partner, guitarist Stephen Patmore – they often gig as a duo – they are more than ably accompanied by Ian, the one in the Antipoet with the double bass, and the augmented – bass drum pedal attached and one-man band cymbal on the other foot – cajon percussionist hidden in the picture. And a fine time was had. Their own more than decent songs were interwoven with some craftily crafted self-confessed “cheesy” covers. So you suddenly realise it’s a countrified Let me entertain you, they’re playing, and it works beautifully – a better song than you expected. Specific lines in a raunchy Rihanna track with lyrics approaching the status of an instruction manual is greeted with laughter; “I am so pleased you laughed at that,” says Robbyn. Spoiler alert: they close with Hey hey we’re the Monkees. A delightful evening.