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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Well, when the January Book Group book turned out to be one of Daphne du Maurier‘s I wasn’t expecting anything like this.  Still set in Cornwall, mind, but …

ddum-the-house-on-the-strandA drug that takes you back six centuries but you maintain the exact map locations as you move about following the fourteenth century action, regardless as you do so of physical changes in the landscape over those centuries; little things like tarmac roads, shifting estuaries, rivers changing course and the coming of the railway.  Fourteenth century wet feet are not magically dry on your return.  And when you’re there, if you actually touch any of the people who can’t see or feel you but whose lives you are observing unfolding and with whom becoming increasingly emotionally involved, you get the most almighty instant and violent comedown in the present.

If you can suspend disbelief in all that, then The house on the strand (1969) makes for quite an absorbing story; I did really want to know how things turned out in both centuries, and things become alarming indeed when for our narrator, Richard, the two worlds start to overlap: “I stared at him. Then I pushed aside my cup of tea. It had happened, oh sweet Christ, it had happened. The confusion. The confusion between worlds …”  He does a lot of heavy sweating.

Richard, slightly adrift in his life, has a few days on his own in a cottage belonging to his absent brilliant old uni chum Magnus (to whom he’s always been a bit of an acolyte), before Vita, his wife – about whom he’s increasingly luke warm – returns from the States (she is American) to join him for a holiday.  Unbeknownst, Magnus has set him up as a fellow drug trialist.   Magnus remains off-stage but he’s never far away in spirit.  It’s not all fun: “Nausea, vertigo, confusion, a bloodshot eye, and now acid sweat, and all for what?” but he’s hooked.  Much drama, manoeuvring and adventure ensues in both centuries, and, without giving much away, it doesn’t end well.  The Cornish landscape remains a winner whenever.

The problem for me was that the fourteenth century leaps off the page more vivid and vibrant than Richard and pals.  Or was that the point?  Their set-up – him bored, she trying to get him to take up an offer with her brother’s publishing firm in the US –  seems a bit cardboard in comparison.  He starts out a classic sci-fi stooge, his wife being American a fictional device.  It is hard for them to compete on a narrative level with the sad love story happening against the brutal background of family and political intrigue in the 1300s that he keeps being drawn back to.  It is probably because of this that his last trip is so devastating for the reader, never mind yer man.

Written and published in the late 1960s, The house on the strand has a distinct whiff of the drug counterculture without its characters betraying any such social allegiance or recognition.  The first two named are C14th characters, Cain is biblical:

       There was no past, no present, no future. Everything living is part of the whole. We are all bound, one to the other, through time and eternity […]
This was what Magnus had not so far understood. To him, the drug released the complex brew within the brain that served up the savoured past. To me, it proved that the past was living still, that we were all participants, all witnesses. I was Roger, I was Bodrugan, I was Cain; and in being so was more truly myself.
I felt myself on the brink of some tremendous discovery when I fell asleep.

The ending is ambiguous.  Look the book up on Wikipedia and there’s a quote from Daphne du Maurier herself saying she’s not sure what happens to Richard.  But she has a good idea, and most of the Book group agreed with her.  We were all a bit ambivalent about the whole thing; had its moments.

The Virago edition of 2003 that I read had a really interesting introduction by Celia Brayfield, pointing out, among other things, the significance of their names – Magnus, the great magus and idealist, Vita as practical life, and Richard as … a Dick.  Brayfield also puts the book in the context of du Maurier’s own bi-sexuality, alongside the homosexual subtext of Richard’s longstanding hero-worshipping of Magnus.  I don’t usually indulge in reading introduction before I’ve started reading – wanting to make my own mind up, thank you very much – but I half-wish I’d read this one.

One last grouch.  I know narrator Richard is meant to be a bit of a dick but there’s one observation – well there are others, but, you know – that sticks out like a sore thumb, and I still find hard to credit that a half decent writer like our Daph would put pen to paper for: “… Vita stretched herself at my side. Her jeans became her – like all Americans she had a stunning figure – and so did her scarlet sweater.” Really?  Oh, come on.

Cultural events closer to home

Alas, one I had to miss but a significant one.

Alas, one I had to miss.

Lillabullero hasn’t been out much this year.  That cough that newspaper articles have been written about – debilitating, demoralising and bloody annoying, never mind disturbing if you’re sitting next to it.  So I had to miss Scribal Gathering returning to The Crown and the mighty Antipoet doing new material. [See below: Mr Hobbs has submitted an amusing comment concerning the spelling occurring on the poster]

bardic-trials-2017Managed the climax of Stony Stratford’s Bardic Trials; or at least, having timed it wrong, got there for the result of the final count.  Having both, I was reliably informed, performed out of their skins, Stephen Hobbs and Sam Upson tied!  Judges gave it to Steve.  So Stony’s got a brand new Bard.  All Hail the Hobbs!  And there was still time for “The glittering frenzy of Emma Purshouse” (© Fay Roberts).  Sparkling – like her top – words of wit and splendour at the speed of sound delivered proud (and tall!) in a Midlands accent of some description; that I remember in particular only an art history tour of tangled rhymes and accomplished wordplay is a reflection on me.

1967MK50: Milton Keynes, where I’ve lived nearly half my life now, is 50 years old!  Tis indeed a thing to celebrate.  Decent exhibition in Middleton Hall, lots of fascinating detail of how it all happened, aerial maps, plans that did and didn’t happen, archaeological finds  and more.  The mystery of architect’s models: studying one of Woughton on the Green we couldn’t work out where Ye Olde Swan was; nor could a couple who actually lived there.
[Click on the photos and then click again for their full glory.]

Bushfield School’s great Wolverton Railway Town collage:
bushfield-school

And waiting for the bus home; in the distance the iconic Point at sunset:
point

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patti-smith-m-train

Patti Smith’s M Train

Roaming around, my title today, comes from a random dip and blind finger point into Patti Smith‘s M Train (Bloomsbury, 2015), a book that opens with the words, “It’s not so easy writing about nothing“, addressed to her by a cowpoke in a dream.  A malaise is upon her and she’s drifting.  Being Patti Smith she has some interesting options, like a bizarre chat with ex-chess champ Bobby Fischer in Iceland, with Buddy Holly (about as rock and roll as the book gets, actually), and, he stipulates not chess on the agenda.  Or slobbing out to Midsomer Murders and other tv crime repeats, which I find wonderfully reassuring, in a London hotel; big fan of Scandi-crime too.

She drinks a lot of coffee – has her spot in a cafe over the road from her frugal New York apartment, mostly furnished with books.  When the coffee shop guys move to Redondo Beach (yup) to set up there, she visits and buys an old wreck of a house there on impulse (I say, impulse, but she’s not a cash buyer); in the storm that comes in hard later in the year the boardwalks are washed away, his cafe is lost but her house survives.  Along the way she writes with feeling about life with her late husband.  She’s more beat and Euro-bohemian than rock and roll in M Train.  There’s an engrossing trip to Japan.

I admire Patti Smith enormously.  She goes her own modest, decent and powerful way.  I love a lot of her songs, and she’s a compelling performer (when not shrieking).  She is steeped in culture, with and without a capital C.  I’ll admit don’t really get the Polaroid photos that illustrate M Train – my guess is they bear the same relationship to her friend Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographic work as Samuel Beckett’s prose does to his pal James Joyce’s – but this is an absorbing memoir of a year that in other hands would seem self-indulgent and pseud.  I can see myself reading it again, not least to try and catch that fleeting reference to the actual M train to see where she was coming from in choosing her title.

strange-library-01The strange library

One of the springboards of  Patti Smith‘s actions in M Train is the writing of the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami (hell, I was even prompted to pick up a cheap copy of his 600-page Wind-up bird chronicle that I’ll probably never get round to reading as a result).  As it happens, I’ve had a copy of his The strange library (Harvill Secker, 2014) sitting around for a while now (I used to be a librarian), so it seemed an auspicious time to actually read it.  Which I have done twice now – it’s not a big book – and it’s only a struggling to justify itself better judgement that is stopping me playing the emperor’s new clothes card.

strange-library-02It’s certainly a handsome, fascinating and fun exercise in book design, or even art; that library issue pocket on the cover is three-dimensional, there’s, for example, a full-page illustration of 8 variously decorated ring donuts against a pink background and many other enterprising graphic injections, some of the pages show signs of wear, marbled endpapers etc.  Here’s an example of a double-page spread.  Plot line?  A bit of a swot is on his way home from school wondering about tax collection in the Ottoman Empire.  (I know – why?).  He drops into his local library and is led down into a labyrinthine basement where he is abducted and confronted with all sorts of Borgesian creatures, friends and monstrous foes both, and undergoes various trials.  Or various sillinesses, the sceptic in me says.  “All I did was go to the library to borrow some books” is his complaint.

On second reading I began to wonder if I was meant to wonder about each actual choice of word and phrase, something to do with the magic of the written word.  I was struck by the notion of the boy worrying about his pet starling being fed while he was trapped; ridiculous I thought, until I googled it and, yes, it seems people do keep starlings as pets, especially in Japan.  Fantasy horror has never been a genre I’ve managed to live with, so I’m floundering a lot of the time, though I’ll grant a sense of the young hero’s devastation that haunts.  And I worry about that “After that, I never visited the city library again” line near the end.  But The strange library is a splendid object, that I flip through again now, with a strange affection.  Maybe the charity shop will have to wait, after all.

i-capture-the-castleI conquer the castle

No such ambiguity about December’s Book Group book.  I loved Dodie Smith‘s novel I capture the castle (1949) to bits, all suspension of disbelief willingly surrendered to one of the great opening paragraphs:

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and the tea cosy.

I capture the castle is Cassandra’s journal.  The conceit is she’s 17, wants to be a novelist and is recording family life to hone her writing skills.  Hers is a wonderful voice – naive, moral yet seeking wisdom, full of heart and good intentions, modern even – looking forward to Adrian Mole, backwards to Janes Eyre and Austen : “I kept pretending we were in a Victorian novel” she says.  She has an older sister, Rose – “I know she is a beauty. She is nearly twenty-one and very bitter with life. I am seventeen, look younger, feel older.  I am no beauty but have a neatish face.”  At a certain stage she says of her sibling: “And I regret to say there were moments when my deep and loving pity for her merged into a desire to kick her fairly hard.”

It’s an eccentric family in the eccentric setting of an old ruin taking in a castle tower in the country.  Father – Mortmain – once had success as an avant-garde novelist: “Years and years ago wrote a very unusual book called Jacob Wrestling, a mixture of fiction, philosophy and poetry,”  a novel that critics, whom he scorns, have given the label ‘enigmatism’; “he says the American critic has discovered things in Jacob Wrestling that he certainly never put there“.  He’s written nothing for years, their income is practically nothing.   In response to the family’s urging, “His only weapon has been silence – and sometimes a little sarcasm“.  This neat little nod to James Joyce‘s conclusion – “silence, exile and cunning” – in The portrait of the artist as a young man is a nice example of just one of the strands, a look at contemporary artistic circles, of this splendidly exuberant novel.  Mortmain’s second wife, Topaz, was an artist’s model in London taken to expressing risible attitudes, cavorting naked in nature worship, and capable of kind of Topazism it requires much affection to tolerate“.

Nevermind the plot, which involves a rich American family inheriting the pile, with the two young sons thereof doubling as romantic leads, leading to Rose’s pursuit of financial stability through marriage, Cassandra’s poignant discovery of love herself, and how they get Mortmain writing again, along with the progress of various other characters’ storylines … the joy of I capture the castle is in the playful invention (a village called Godsend with a sceptical priest, pets named after Heloise and Abelard) and the voice, Cassandra’s thoughts and voyage of self-discovery.  Here just three prime examples:

As we walked back to the house he asked if I thought La Belle dame sans Merci would have lived in a tower like Belmotte. I said it seemed very likely, though I never really thought of her having a home life.

The last stage of a bath, when the water is cooling and there is nothing to look forward to, can be pretty disillusioning. I expect alcohol works much the same way.

A year ago, I would have made a poem out of that idea. I tried to, yesterday, but it wasn’t any use. Oh, I could think of lines that rhymed and scanned but that is all they were. I know now that is all my poems ever were, yet I used to feel I could leap over the moon when I had made one up. I miss that rather.

But still capable of “She is a good-looking girl. Enormous feet, though“.  How can you resist?  It has a rather lovely ending too.

Roaming around locally

scribal-dec-2016December Scribal: Brian & Krysstal a sublime old style Music Hall or Variety act for the twenty-first century.  Think Hylda Baker and the ‘She knows ya know’ routine and then forget it.  Krysstal the bored gormless glamorous assistant cum straight woman (but with a killer dead pan delivery when left to her own fill-in devices), Brian musically a shambling long-haired filthier Lonnie Donegan combined with a loquacious dash of Tommy Cooper without the fez just for starters.  “They reckon observational comedy is funny, but I can’t see it.”  Probably the funniest act I saw last year.  Immaculate timing.  Try http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aiSdg0UEc0

we-built-this-cityAt Milton Keynes Central Library until the end of January, and a contribution to the MK 50th anniversary celebrations (yes – celebrations!), We built this city on rock’n’roll is a collage of MK’s musical history – both local and The Bowl as national venue (when we lived on Eaglestone we could hear the guitar lines coming over on the wind) – collated by contemporary local historian Lee Scriven, along with artefacts and a collection of some very fine portrait photography by the man himself of some of the major players in the city’s cultural evolution.  Let’s let him speak for himself:

To some rock n roll is Brylcreem, drainpipes and blue suede shoes, to others like me, it’s a turn of phrase to describe an attitude towards life. The talented, gifted and maverick ensemble of the Milton Keynes Development Corporation, who created this city back in the 1970s, possessed a true rock n roll arrogance.
But as you are about to discover, the real pioneering heroes of Milton Keynes were the local residents and personalities who individually and collectively got off their backsides to create a very unique culture. Their collective efforts left more than just memories, they created the City’s cultural DNA and embodied the true spirit of Milton Keynes; be daring, be original and be brave, in other words be: Rock n Roll.

I’m not nit-picking about any of that (well not much, and not right now), though I will say that, for all it’s – and ultimately, I guess, ok, excusable – rhetorical power in this context, I’m still cringing from the thought of that horrible Starship song.  I have always run screaming from it.  Seems I’m not alone in my musical fear and loathing either, of what GQ in this article, called “the most detested song in human history”; beware, though – the fucking thing starts playing of its own accord from that page unless you are careful.  How strangely reassuring to learn Bernie Taupin had a hand in its writing.

No photos of my favourites at Stony Stratford’s New Year’s Day Classic Car Show this year, I’m afraid.  It was pissing down.  Did my duty and went – as hearteningly did plenty of others – but kept my camera dry.

Enough!  But just for the record, the launch of the Stony Bardic Trials at the library on Lantern Parade and Lights switch-on day and a Vaultage:

mitchell-taylor-at-bardic-launch

An intense Mitchell Taylor sans guitar. Photo (c) Bardic Council.

bardic-council-of-ss-photo-liam-farmer-malone

Liam ‘Farmer’ Malone. Photo (c) Bardic Council.

vaultage-early-dec-2016


 

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david-gates-jerniganIf I only had one word to describe David Gates‘s novel Jernigan (1992), that word would be sour.  With the amount of alcohol consumed Peter Jernigan has to be that literary beast the unreliable narrator, but at the end we find there’s even more to it than that.  Still makes for a compulsive read though, and I might just read it again (it’s relatively short, 238 pages) some time.  Naturally he’s an anti-hero, albeit with a nicely sardonic sense of humour and self-knowledge – “I had my usual thoughts about everything being debased” – when he’s not being a complete arsehole; not so much a bad man as one circumstances and life choices have made less than good most of the time.  At least he isn’t physically violent.

Jernigan is a tale of the American suburbs.  It tells of a massive bender, its pre-history and its consequences.  After a family tragedy, and engineered by his somewhat problem teenage son and his even more damaged girlfriend, Peter Jernigan moves in with her mum, Martha.  Who has a secret that blows up in her – in all their – faces one nightmare Christmas Eve, which sends him off on a desperate lone drunken drive to a remote cabin in a snow storm, said adventure proving near fatal.  Before he sets out, Martha has offered:

‘You believed exactly what you wanted to believe, Peter,’ she said. ‘Did you actually think there were all these nice wholesome families just ready and waiting for you to come along?  You’re a drunk whose drunk wife killed herself.  And you want to know something really pathetic?  You looked good to me.’

Cheerful, eh?  Somewhere in it all there had been some good intentions – and actions – on both sides, a dab of compassion here and there.  A previous argument, after he’s lost his job:

‘Peter, my only vision was that whatever you did you might get some enjoyment out of your life for a change.  I should’ve – I mean, everything I knew was literally screaming that you were incapable of any sort of joy whatever.’
Should I say figuratively?  Better not.  ‘A trenchant analysis,’ I said.
‘Fuck you too.’
‘Trenchanter and trenchanter,’ I said.  ‘Repartee City around here this morning.’

Ah, that job.  Taken as a short-term measure after graduation and an interesting student existence all those years ago, and challenged about it by his father, an artist, the last time he saw him before his death, to:

… tell me what the hell you’re doing as an assistant vice shoeshine boy at some outfit that’s doing its bit to help squeeze the working man out of New York City.  Not to mention the painting man.’
‘The money is fine … it beats junior professor money.’

OK, his father, who is interesting:

I mean, he was Francis Jernigan and everything, but the real money got made off of stuff he’d let go for a couple of thousand dollars in like 1952.  My mother split in 1956, he boozed from then until ’64 or ’65 … You know, what can I say?  By then it was all Andy Warhol or something …

Peter makes a sort of pilgrimage with his son to the deeply rural location where his father had lived (and died in a fire).  His alcoholic lack of self-worth is relentless:

It amounted to a moral failing not to have learned the names of trees.  It amounted to a moral failing, too, that this landscape looked dead and tattered to me, instead of sternly beautiful.

At a certain point he puts a bullet through the webbing between his own thumb and index finger.  He tells us:

That’s Jernigan all over: first you swallow a bunch of drugstore anodynes and then you want to feel something and then you bitch and moan because it hurts.

Jernigan is – for all its pain and misery – a sustained, unrelenting and compulsively readable literary tour de force.  I have barely scratched the surface of its characters or hinted at the intriguing cultural breadth of references.  It is only in the last couple of pages that the occasion of its composition – of how and why Jernigan is writing it – is revealed, involving a small act of rebellion that one cannot help but acknowledge and semi-reluctantly cheer; I’m not giving anything away.  But so absorbing was Jernigan to me that that ending was an inducement to start all over again.

Where Richard YatesRevolutionary Road documented the sterility of the ’50s American suburbs and signalled the necessity, the inevitability, of the social changes of the ’60s, David GatesJernigan inhabits the toxicity of the same locales in the decades following on after, as Neil Young so eloquently put it, the goldrush.

I may or may not thank David Gates for bringing Wallace Stevens’ long and at first glance difficult though intriguingly titled poem The comedian as the letter C to my attention, and I’ll willingly admit to never having heard of the country singer Webb Peirce, mention of whose music crops up every now and them.  Don’t let this put you off:

Words and music
closer to home

aortas-sept-2016scribal-sept-2016poetical-vaultage-sept-16Conjunctions of the planets in the night sky excite astronomers almost as much as astrologists (or vice versa), but the vagaries of the calendar meant the three premier Stony open mics all happened within the space of 5 days.  Warning: may contain in-jokes.

And now a diversionary dip into cultural archaeology.  I was going to say I was going to do a Friends on this one, you know, the way they gave each episode a title that started either ‘The one where …’ or ‘The one when …’ or ‘The one with …’ but I remembered that maybe that wasn’t necessarily the provenance.  It was a device that Bobbie Ann Mason had used in her memorable In country novel of 1985, about a Vietnam vet travelling across the US to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, when they were talking about episodes of (was it?) M.A.S.H.  (There are always some books you live to regret including in the charity shop cull, aren’t there?).  And it had occurred to me then, when I’d first noticed what they were doing with the Friends episode titles, whether someone involved in Friends had read In country and nearly a decade later thought Yea, let’s go with that.  (Did I mention it’s a powerful novel?)  I’d like to think so, rather than the more mundane explanation that that’s just the way people talk about show episodes anyway; though kudos for adopting it anyway.  It’s just that I like to see the connections.

So, AORTAS – collage ©Dan Plews – mostly the usual suspects (no bad thing), but distinguished by being (at greater length than the classic form): the one when the dog disgraced itself; the one when we had fun at the back injecting the word ‘chainsaw’ into song titles (“For the times, they are a chainsaw”); the one where Stephen Hobbs performed a story about a parsnip (and people listened).

Scribal Gathering: the one when Jonathan was stuck on the M25 and Mark had to kick things off totally acoustically; the one when both members of the Straw Horses managed to be in the house at the same time (exquisite and immaculate harmonies); the one when Ian Freemantle returned to fight the good fight of the working men of England, rhythmically and righteously in his own distinctive way; the one when Stephen Hobbs explained why for him August is the cruellest month and moaned about not getting a mention lately here on Lillabullero (but I’m not falling for that one, oh no) (though the temptation to spell his name wrong is great); the one that finished with the accomplished James Hollingsworth delivered a mesmerising and rousing paen to Thomas More’s Utopia (another 400th anniversary of 2016) aided by a tape delay (or was it just a big echo) on his guitar.  And that wasn’t all; yes, it was a good one.

The Antipoet at Vaultage was always going to be interesting.  Fully costumed bassman Ian striding down the High Street double bass in hand in his high-heeled platforms evoked a cheer from some builders on tour before he’d even reached the Vaults. “We’ve done these all better,” said a ‘slightly tipsy’ Paul Eccentric (I’m quoting the Antipoet management here) through the giggles at one stage.  Not exactly entirely their usual crowd  but they had a good time – “an audience you want to take home with you” (ibid) as did we.  Raucous, anarchic, with a skillful element of crowd control on display.  Ian in full gimp mask for the start of Sign of the times, which must have been hot.  Stony Bard Vanessa Horton stood in for the ailing Fay Roberts (archivists please note – get well soon, ma’am), with her own salty set, then adding a fresh contribution and slant to the annals of the Antipoet’s I like girls.  Hot and knackered I’m afraid I left early – apologies to those performing after the Lads.

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WNOWNO MOF2I’m sorry, I see that logo and just think: wino.

Last time I saw the Welsh National Opera I was dipping a toe into Wagnerian waters with their Flying Dutchman, which was set on … a spaceship in outer space.  Not great.  That was a few years ago, but you can’t go wrong with Mozart, can you?  No, not really.  It was fine, glad I went – for all the spareness of the set, it was a nice spectacle, fine ensemble playing and voices, some fine melody lines and a real orchestra.  Still comes as a surprise to me how rhythmic Mozart can be; had a good beat.

The WNO Marriage of Figaro started off all Brechtian with the main performers just sauntering on with the lights still up, ‘doing’ their stretches and other prep stuff, which has a certain charm the first time it’s done.  Then there was the shock of them singing in English – a first for me.  I didn’t like it; still had the sub-titles over the top of the stage, because it remains difficult to actually hear the words being sung, but where you could some of the rhyming was treacherous.  And I was thrown by the wedding coming in the third act of a four act opera, and, to tell the truth, didn’t have much of a clue as to what exactly was going on in the forest in the fourth, given they were all in black cloaks and distinguishable only by the colour of their masks as the intrigue unfolded.  Should have done some homework.  No, really: I had a good time.

Mrs Hemingway

Mrs.Hemingway

There are four Mrs. Hemingways in Naomi Wood‘s beautifully constructed novel Mrs. Hemingway (Picador, 2014), though no actual marriage ceremonies feature in the action.  The cover’s a superb piece of book design – subject, period, delicate visual balance: great job.  And what is inside is up to it – a lovely, compelling piece of work.

Mr. Hemingway is writer Ernest Hemingway.  If it were a movie you’d say starring four women and featuring a man.  You don’t get inside his head, but, of course, it’s more than a bit part.  On one level you could say it’s a case study of the old chestnut: how come strong intelligent women fall for selfish bastards?  But there are plenty of good times, and this is no hatchet job.  Nevertheless, from the time when he and Hadley got together in the ’20s to the distressing end with Mary nearly half a century later, he never spent a single day as an unattached single man.

It’s Mrs.Hemingway number 3 – fellow war correspondent and writer Martha Gellhorn, the one who was able to get over him – who, at the house in Cuba, in 1944, is allowed a judgment:

He sat down by her; his T-shirt smelled of the cocktail.  “What can I do for you, Marty?”  His words were gentle now.  Poor Ernest.  He had never loved another more than he himself was loved.

But it was still her who describes him, in August in Paris later that year, during a caddish episode that does not show him at his best:

A man stands with his hands deep in the garbage cans.  Somehow, among the empty wine bottles, broken wooden crates, slimed scraps of food, Ernest still has the air of a man in touch with the gods.

Mrs. Hemingway is arranged in four sections, arranged chronologically by wife as each of them picks up the narrative baton, though it jumps around, criss-crossing in time and place within and between those sections, taking in Chicago, Paris, Arkansas, Antibes, Florida, Havana, London and, finally, Ketchum, Idaho, and ranging over the years from 1920, when Hadley first met Ernest in Chicago (which is not the opening chapter), to 1961 and Ernest’s suicide.  It’s quite a story, skillfully and stylishly handled.  “My wives,” he tells Mary, the last wife, who stayed with him longest, to the distressing end, “They have a way of finding each other without me being involved a jot.”  It is precisely the discovery of this aspect of it all that, the author says (in a bonus afterword in the Richard & Judy Book Club edition I read), prompted her to write the novel: “I was swiftly realising that though the wives and mistresses of Ernest Hemingway were enemies, they were also, quite often, friends.

The end – Mary witnessing his physical and mental deterioration – is painful to read:

Sometimes she walks out to the woods: the leaves of the cedar and birch are just on the turn.  fall has come so quickly, and the forest is all mustards, rust and blood.  Having loved its beauty so intensely, it amazes her that Ernest is blind to it now.

Ernest and Hadley in Pamplona 1925

OK, it’s Spain 1925, not Paris, but you get the drift. That’s Hadley in the middle.

This is a tremendous, ultimately sad, novel.  It’s clear an enormous amount of research went into it and, again in that afterword, Naomi Wood admits “… sometimes, in the midst of love letters and torn-up photographs, I felt like the fifth mistress.”  Mary Chapin Carpenter has a song called Mrs. Hemingway; it’s Hadley looking back on her time with Ernest in Paris in the mid-1920s, the time celebrated in A moveable feast, Hemingway’s memoir of those times which was assembled by Mary from his manuscripts and notes, and published after his death.  It’s a lovely piece of work that is on YouTube with an atmospheric slideshow of photographs, mostly from that era, including some of the couple.  Here’s the link; have a hankie ready: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j68s-C1ikO0

Scribal April 2016Vaultage mid-April 2016Another Scribal goodie.  We got a full complement of Roses and Pirates, previously mentioned in despatches minus a cello player, and mighty fine they were too.  The cellist (“Amy Farrah Fowler” said my companion) kicked off with some charming pizzicato and added a lot to the mix, even when, “relegated to percussion” (and I quote a fellow band member).  Three women with some decent songs and stirring harmonies, delivered with humour and zest.

Lee Nelson – the Lutonia poet, not the alleged London comedian – gave us a great set.  We had the Human League’s Don’t you want me completely re-written in sonnet form, which worked delightfully; the recognition of the sentiments re-imagined in a different lingua franca, without any resort to easy laughs (the concept is wry enough), was illuminating.  Lee has published a slim volume giving each track on the Dare album the treatment, so he asked for requests; inevitably someone asked for the instrumental.  Lee, you should get that slim volume a mention on the Dare Wikipedia page.  He’s now working on Abba, and he gave us one of those too.   Highlight of a varied set, though, was the epic 97, a funny and ultimately moving memoir of his father, written in part as a response to a request for something to go in a prime numbers-themed anthology, leavened by beautifully crafted tangents concerning the writing of the piece and other things on the way.  Outstanding.

Mid-month Vaultage saw a fine 30-minute spot to host Pat Nicholson in DADGAD mode.  I knew there was something different about him … he was performing … without a … hat.

Rhyme & ReasonMK HumsRhyme & Reason

The regular Milton Keynes Humanists April meeting was given over entirely to a look at poetry on humanist themes, and an absorbing evening it turned out to be, with featured poets Danni Antagonist (who sold some books!) and Sam Upton in fine form, and members of the group doing their own stuff, reciting old favourites or texts chosen specifically for the occasion.  Of the latter, Abul Al Al Ma’arri, a blind Arab eleventh century poet was something of an eye-opener.  There’s an article by Kenan Malik (The poetry of an old atheist) which is well worth a look, from which this short poem is taken;

Traditions come from the past, of high import if they be True;
Ay, but weak is the chain of those who warrant their truth.
Consult thy reason and let perdition take others all:
Of all the conference Reason best will counsel and guide.

Yup, dateline: 11th century, Aleppo and Baghdad.

 

 

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The strings are falseOne …

This one‘s a cracker, a gem of a book before we’ve even opened it.  Not only does poet Louis MacNeice look like he’s on his way to a local jump-up folk gig, but that cool photo was taken by his mate, W.H.Auden.  The strings are false: an unfinished autobiography (1965) was written in the ’40s but not published until 1965, two years after his death.  It’s a mash-up of three documents, with an appendix featuring extracts from the letters home of a friend of his at school and uni giving a fuller picture of aspects of the man not so evident in his own engrossing text.

It’s fascinating.  Born in Belfast in 1907, the son of a Protestant vicar with Irish nationalist sympathies (not necessarily a contradiction in those days), he’s sent to Sherborne, an English prep school, and then Marlborough, a public school in Wiltshire, where he’s big mates with then modernist champion (and now Fifth Man) Anthony Blunt, joining his vaguely subversive Anonymous Society.  Appendix A – Landscapes of childhood and youth – is a lovely piece of writing giving us the flavour of the natural setting of those places.

At Oxford in the late ’20s – “the only serious activity was poetry” – he’s mates with the left-wing poets of the time, and while a fellow traveller, his scepticism about middle class Communist perceptions of the working classes and the struggle makes for an amusing read.  There are spells as an academic in Birmingham, where he sees respectable working class aspiration first-hand, and in the US.  We also get the story of a tangled courtship and failed marriage, and a distressingly morally muddy propaganda visit to Spain during the Civil War.

What particularly struck me was both how dated it feels – those letters of friend John Hilton’s in Appendix B are to Hilton’s father – and yet how in many ways how the characteristics and feel of cultural change (‘the Art School Dance’) and radical politics transcend time.  I didn’t, as is my usual wont, take notes as I was reading  (this was my bath-time book) but for what it’s worth, this quote stuck in the craw:

From the British public schools come the British ruling classes.  Or came till very lately.  it is from the public schools that our Governments caught the trick of infallibility.  The public-school boy (sic), after a few years of discomfort, has all the answers at his fingertips; he does not have to bother with the questions.  It is only the odd public-school boy who thinks there are any questions left.  This is why the public schools will die like the dinosaurs – from overspecialisation and a mortal invulnerability.

Some hope.  I enjoyed The strings are false immensely.  It is beautifully written, variously funny, bracing, elegiac and thrilling.  I’m guessing the title is a refutation of the ideas of Freud and Marx – puppet strings – that energised the times, though I can’t also help thinking of ’80s bands and the ubiquitous synthesizer*.  Because it’s one of my favourite poems, here’s link to Louis MacNeice‘s cheery An eclogue for Christmas: http://poemplume.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/eclogue-for-christmas.html.

*Sorry, but sometimes it is hard to resist saying something like this.  Especially when you then read William Empson‘s Preface to the 2nd edition of his Seven types of ambiguity (1947):

To be sure, the question how far unintended or even unwanted extra meanings do in fact impose themselves, and thereby drag our minds out of their path in spite of our efforts to prevent it, is obviously a legitimate one …

PapercutsMystery manTwo …

So … with Paper cuts (Head of Zeus, 2016) the author previously known as Bateman (himself the author previously known as Colin Bateman) is back being Colin Bateman again.  I’d say it’s a shame, really, but it’s his prerogative – he’s also got a play up and running, and an important film script in production – so the withdrawal from the manic Mystery Man series of novels is understandable; the author must have feared repetition, and I for one found it hard to distinguish them from those equally wonderful later books in the Dan Starkey sequence.  Lillabullero has already chronicled its love of both series’ boundless energy, sharpness and wit, the endlessly quotable smart-ass one liners, the slapstick and acute social observation, the stark, violent, pacey and painful thriller action driving them along; quite often all on the same page.

In as much as Paper cuts is a retreat into the more conventional comic novel genre those quotes on the cover are a bit of a cheat.  I was disappointed, and it would be interesting to know how someone coming fresh to Bateman appreciates the new book.  It’s a bit corny if the truth be known, the stuff of, in different locales, more than one old movie, and television series.

Rob, a biggish shot Guardian journalist on gardening leave (itself a bit of a mystery, ultimately a bit of a damp squib) and with marital difficulties, goes back to Northern Ireland for the funeral of his mentor from the start of his career in Belfast, who ended his career as editor of an ailing small town local paper.  Proprietor gets him drunk, persuades a reluctant Rob to give the local paper a shot before he probably closes it down.  Cue lots of office politics, some decent office banter, and a potential romance.  Various stories follow, he softens to the place, proprietor learns to love the buzz of local papers & so on.  There is an effective action climax, but, in the fashion of a big American tv series finale, another big plot line is left hanging; so I guess there’s a sequel in the pipeline.  (I had to take some stick on Colin Bateman’s FaceBook page – not from him, I hasten to add, he was suitably droll – for querying whether I’d been lumbered with a faulty copy of Paper Cuts because pre-publicity suggested it had 400 page whereas it only has 375).

There are saving graces.  Bateman‘s spirited prose is still in evidence:

Pete was comfortable and dependable, a worker, a toiler behind the scenes, he believed in family and the church and a quiet life, none of which prevented him from being a two-faced shit-stirrer with a bitter streak; but nobody’s perfect.

… though without the quick-fire rapidity.  Where many authors will give a wise quote before the action starts, in Paper cuts we get:

Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.
Rob Cullen bought curly kale in Tesco’s just to watch it wither.

There’s a nice running joke of his new colleagues not getting Rob’s allusions from popular culture (“ ‘It’s not a conspiracy,’ said Rob, ‘it’s Chinatown.’  ” ‘It’s wah …?’ “), and there’s a useful and sobering reminder that, once upon a time, before the Troubles, there was a Civil Rights movement that pre-dated the IRA really taking off, and it wasn’t just Catholics.

Three O’clock …

Luckily for the hat-trick conceit, one of the standout performances for me at the Arts Gateway MK’s Spoken Word Extravaganza, held on the occasion of World Storytelling Day (March 20) and World Poetry day (March 21) was Liam Malone‘s cri de coeur about the plight of the middle-aged man trying to buy a pair of ‘ordinary’ jeans in Top Shop.  Not only was Liam born across the Irish Sea (and, I’m pretty sure, north of the border) but he also – back to where we started – sports a cap not dissimilar to that featured on the head of Louis MacNeice on the cover of The strings are false and, indeed, wears it in the same fashion.

Much to value from the mixed band of poets, storytellers and comedians who also performed, but it was a long time ago now …  Though I will mention Elsie Bryant‘s intense and thoughtful tour de force testament of social, political, emotional  and intellectual development, delivered kinda rap but with rhymes that actually made sense beyond the rhyming dictionary.  Bravo!

The Extravaganza was held at MK11, an excellent licensed small venue with a proper stage and an ambitious programme of all sorts of musics ongoing.  And an undistinguished entrance from the car park, a door that reeks (metaphorically) of speakeasies in prohibition days.

 

 

 

 

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Peter May - RunawayYou could play Swinging Sixties London bingo with Peter May‘s Runaway (Quercus, 2015), even if Del Shannon’s single of the same name doesn’t figure in the soundtrack.  Slightly unfair criticism, you might say, given Runaway is the tale of five Glasgow teenagers – a beat group formed at school called The Shuffle – trying to make it up in the Big Black Smoke in 1965, but the clincher was one of said merry band at a fashionable party, off his head on drugs, diving of a roof with the words “I can fly” not long left his lips.  Eyes down look in for, among other things:

  • a scene-maker and qualified pharmacist to the stars called (of course) Dr Robert
  • who has Bridget Riley originals hanging on his wall
  • picks up a demo tape en passant Abbey Road (“This is where the Beatles record, you know“)
  • helps Pennebaker with the filming of Dylan making that video in a Central London side street (“He seemed to me to be in need of a square meal“)
  • (more interestingly) is involved with a thinly veiled R.D.Laing and his experimental anti-psychiatry Kingsley Hall community
  • and climactically hosts a party where”The air was heady with the perfume of marijuana and simmering with unfettered sexuality.”

Basically Runaway has two timelines:  1965 (though it’s never quite clear who is being addressed with these sometimes very specific memories); something bad happened back there and then, and 50 years later one of the group, dying in a Glasgow hospital, sees a newspaper item that motivates him to gather the two other members of the band who returned to Glasgow to remake that journey (escaping from hospital in the process) in order to clear up what exactly happened back then and exact justice.

To be fair, the two journeys are quite eventful and not a bad read.  Before becoming a full-time novelist Peter May did a lot of television drama and the action sometimes reads more like a detailed shooting script than a novel.  Indeed, with a decent budget it would make a stunning TV drama wherein body language and motion and close-up shots would do away with the redundancy of, say, a discussion about road directions (p104) and various clichés like someone having “the startled look of a deer caught in headlights.”

Again, to be fair, it’s a pretty sour – and probably not without grounds – look at Swinging London, and there is some good stuff about friendship and growing old, but plot twists involving a). revealed adoptions and, b). an abortion that didn’t happen, creak mightily, though the resolution of the crime, of what actually happened on the fateful day in 1965, although a staple of crime fiction, is neatly done.  Which cannot, unfortunately, be said about then 17 year-old narrator Jack, for whom premature ejaculation was obviously never a problem, losing his virginity:

All my primitive sexual instincts wanted me simply to be inside her. But she made me wait for that, teaching me instead that we could give and receive as much pleasure with our mouths. Things I would never have known , or thought to do. But which, ultimately, led to the most heightened moment of release when finally I was inside her, feeling her grip me with her muscles as my hips rose and fell to the most ancient rhythm known to mankind.

Peter May 1955 HotspurI got hold of Runaway because of a recommendation in one of those year-end round-ups in a newspaper.  I discover that Peter May – with a lengthy back catalogue involving crime sequences featuring a Scottish/Italian ex-forensic scientist living in France and another set in Hong Kong – has lately become flavour of the month among crime novelists with his recent highly praised Lewis Trilogy (the island, not Morse’s chum) picking up all sorts of awards.  I’m afraid that for me, though, the name of Peter May will always first conjure up the Surrey and England cricketer of the same name, a big hero of my dad’s.

Ticket to rideHaving said that …

… I am indebted to the novelist Peter May for an insight that I find it hard to believe had never occurred to me before over five decades; the music had just floated by me.  There’s probably a moral to be had in that.  They are gathered at a record shop to hear the new Beatles single.  Yes kids, it really was that exciting.  Rachel has escaped a very bad relationship:

We joined the crowd … in time to catch Ticket to ride for the very first time. Hearing the first play of a new Beatles record was like sharing in a part of history. Our history. A seismic shift from the past and our parents’ generation.

But Rachel was listening to the words. ‘God, Lennon sounds just like Andy,’ she said. ‘Like it was all my fault, or hers in the song. Because, of course, he was bringing her down, and that’s why she had to leave. Couldn’t possibly have been because he was such a shit.’

[There are a couple of Kinks references in Runaway; I’ll write about them elsewhere, in the Kinks in Literature chronicle here in Lillabullero some time soon.]

Out and about

Scribal Feb 2016

For future cultural historians no-shows painted out.

Scribal had a birthday – its amazing sixth – and there was cake.  The Antipoet were doing new stuff, Paul Eccentric dashingly dressed as if – to these eyes – about to collect a well-earned Honorary Degree (“I’d refuse it,” he said).  Mr Hobbs made his debut as a qualified storyteller with a reworking of a traditional tale or two wherein bears did indeed shit in the woods.  [02.03.16: I would like to qualify that statement: after representations made to me by Mr Hobbs’ alter ego Pedantic Pete in the Comments below, I now recognise this was actually the first public airing of his first apprentice piece].  I came to a jarring halt in my stint when turning over the third page of a four page epic trilogy – large font size, mind – only to find a blank sheet staring back at me; last-minute revises freshly printed … and realising … as rationality defeated panic … placed straight off the printer the wrong way round in the plastic.  New Bard Vanessa was everywhere this month.  Another mighty fine show.

Vaultage Feb early 2016Vaultage mid-Feb 2016As per, there were two Vaultages, with the usual suspects and co-host Lois Barrett continuing to deliver up splendid fresh guests, new to most there.  Two thirds of the Roses and Pirates gals impressed with their own powerful songs and delivery; a pleasant prospect indeed to look forward to seeing them entire, with their ailing cellist in full flow.

And so to York House again … three times this February

Fire 350! was a series of readings from eye-witness accounts, including the context of the Great Plague the previous year and the spread of the Great Fire of London in September, 1666 – Sam Pepys, Evelyn et al – interspersed with period music played on period instruments by Mr Simpson’s Little Consort.  By turn entertaining, educational and moving;  surprised at the fire’s ferocity and extent.  The consort juggled lute, theorbo (a giant mutant lute, longer than its player), two viols and recorder throughout the evening, sometimes accompanying a cheerful soprano.  Ferocious indeed was their closer, a twin viol attack (it’s not just blues guitarists who use open tuning) on Purcell’s Ode to St Cecilia with a bass line straight outta AC/DC: “Wondrous machine!

Evie Ladin and Keith TerryEvie Ladin, with partner Keith Terry was a sell-out, and no wonder after their show a couple of years ago.  Can’t put it any better than they do on their website, where there’s plenty to see: ” Energetic and electrifying clawhammer banjo, bass, percussive dance, storytelling songs old and new, with nuanced, emotive vocals.  An intimate, robust evening of acoustic music and dance; a skilled hybrid of American folk arts.”  Great charm and fun too.  Raised in New York, her dad went to a bluegrass concert at Carnegie Hall and was converted; family legend has it he gave away all his Tamla Motown records.  Doesn’t stop her quoting the Stones and Badfinger (“English folk songs”) on one of the songs on the new album.  Which I bought, and holds up very well in the country miserabilism stakes, never mind the breakneck banjo workout on The cuckoo.

Clive Williams on melodeon. Photo (c) Andy Powell.

Clive Williams on melodeon. Photo (c) Andy Powell.

‘Twas another full and hugely appreciative house for S.S.Shanty! 4, and another grand evening it was of it too.  Less of the shanty overall this time, but plenty of maritime songs and hornpipes making up the slack, not to mention Bard Vanessa’s trip on the good ship innuendo and, of course, her paean to the men and women of the RNLI, who the gig was a benefit for.

Due to the pillar in the middle of the room I could only comfortably see four and a half of the six men who make up the lusty and infectious (in the best possible sense …) Five Men Not Called Matt (it’s a local thing) but I had no trouble hearing all those fine voices.  Melodeonist Clive Williams did a lovely tuneful set full of charm to belie what the Doxy from Liverpool (the distaff half of Trim Rig and a Doxy) said about melodeon playing methodology: “You depress the keys and every one within half a mile”.  Mind, she was sporting one herself.  It was to their fine selves that honour of leading the room in Being a pirate; their rendition of a poem about the decline of the Liverpool Docks set to music had a tendency to wet the eye.  Similarly Jenkinson’s Folly, with the sucker punch of a cello, also hit the tear ducts with a sad trawling tale.  Phil Underwood played another melodeon or two – was one of his the spectacular white and gold Russian one? – and sang from the perspective of a canal boat.  Another great evening.

DBDerren Brown …

… deserves a sub-head of his own.  We travel up city to the theatre for Miracle, his latest stage offering.  I think it’s probably fair to say that most of Derren’s audience these days have been to one or more of his shows before; I think this was at least my third.  Consequently there wasn’t so much of a noticeable buzz in the foyer for Miracle, and the audience did seem a bit older (self included).   Audience expectations of WTF moments can’t be easy for the man, but he continues to deliver all the same.  Dramatically, yes – but the WTFF moments weave a measure of contemplative wonder into the head-shaking spectacular.  He’s charming, witty, wise and serious as ever.  His demystification of his craft – the insistence that there is nothing supernatural going on – is a force for good (which is just as well considering his powers of persuasion).  The powerful core of Miracle, involving as per his usual modus operandi, several audience members, is the replication of an American tv evangelist healing extravaganza, in which he shows that something is definitely happening, while making it abundantly clear it has nothing to do with divine intervention; his motif for the evening was the power of the stories we tell ourselves and live by.  I was singing “Stealing in the name of the Lord” on the way home.

Gatsby_1925_jacketOutro

Book Group book for February was F.Scott Fitzgerald‘s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby (1925), a book I found I didn’t have as much familiarity with as I’d thought.  So nice to rediscover the book’s many qualities – as Hemingway said of his friend, he writes “like an angel” – and doubly delightful, at just over 150 pages, to have the luxury of reading something substantial in only a couple of sessions.  Just as Chuck Berry at his peak and his contemporaries  only needed 2 minutes 19 seconds for musical works of great profundity … Poignancy in that Jay Gatsby hardly drank while hosting the drunken revelry at his celebrated parties, while alcohol played a prominent part in his decline.  And I wondered when reading about those “blue lawns” of his … thuse enabling me to get a starter question on University Challenge on Monday.

Good turnout of performers at the Aortas Sunday open mic at the Old George, now a monthly event.  Naomi did a new song in which she rhymes ‘queen’ with ‘nuclear submarine’.

Those who’ve made it this far may have noticed that I failed even to make the deadline imposed on self in the title of this post.  Talk about failed New Year’s Resolutions to keep it short …

 

 

 

 

 

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DomeSunday, November 22:
In Tufnell Park
did the Official Kinks Fan Club a pleasure dome decree as the venue for this year’s Konvention.  (Stately? nah!).  In the Dome – still the Boston Arms but upstairs, entry gained from the edge of Betjeman country at the bottom of Dartmouth Park Hill – a more spacious venue than the more plebeian ground floor function room, entered from the more prosaic Junction Road, which had hosted the gig for a decade or so.  Biggest wrist stamp I’ve ever had, cloakroom £2.00 an item on a dry cleaner’s wire coat hanger and Guinness at £4.50 a pint, which I’m pretty sure was a lot cheaper downstairs last year.

A bit late, I’d foregone my annual mid-day pilgrimage – make that sentimental journey – to Waterlow Park, up on Highgate Hill, a place of succour, respite and inspiration (such trees!) when I first moved to London many moons ago (and lately a place Highgate resident Ray Davies often chooses to do print media interviews).  Turned out I could have made it, such was the amount of time it took for the queue to get in.  So it goes.  But once upstairs, of course, hey – always good to see the usual suspects; you know who you are.

OKFC KOK 1998Muswell hillbilliesThe Kast Off Kinks started off as Fan Club treat.  The first four London Konventions (there had been a couple further afield) were held at the Archway Tavern, where the fold-out cover photo of the KinksMuswell Hillbillies album – my favourite, for what it’s worth – was taken.  The set list was agreed by email and over the phone; no full rehearsals, cassettes were exchanged.  It worked, it was great fun for all.  This was basically the Muswell Hillbillies rhythm section of John ‘Nobby’ Dalton, to whose leukemia charity the profits went, original drummer Mick Avory, and John Gosling (aka The Baptist because Salome cut his head off – no hang on, because of his long hair and beard), with Dave Clarke, a mate of Dalton’s from the Hertfordshire rock’n’roll beat group scene and beyond – no, not that Dave Clarke, this one’s a musician – bravely taking on the roles of both Ray and Dave Davies.  Crucially, without attempting to take on either’s persona, he’s always excelled and has become a firm favourite with the, if you’ll excuse the spelling, the British Kinks fan Kommunity.

Geoff Lewis maintains a website for the band at http://kastoffkinks.co.uk/ with a whole bunch of live videos and some fascinating interviews – variously transcriptions and recordings – with the chaps.

2015: John Dalton taking it easy. (c) Julia Reinhart. www.juliareinhart.com www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

2015: John Dalton taking it easy. © Julia Reinhart.
http://www.juliareinhart.com
http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

The Konvention moved down Junction Road to the Boston Arms in 2002 and over the years more and more ex-Kinks have become involved, to the extent that whereas early on there were support slots, the Konvention Kast Offs became a moveable feast spanning all eras of the Kinks, filling the afternoon by themselves.  At the peak of all this re-gathering I think we had two back-up singers, (was it?) three bassists, two drummers and three keyboard players leap-frogging the performance area.  Ray Davies has been known to turn up and say a few words, sing the odd verse; Dave Davies has never had anything to do with them.  I won a signed photo of Ray in the raffle one year, put it proudly in a frame and the sun faded the autograph faded out of existence.

As things progressed the Kast Off Kinks started doing the odd gig elsewhere, and this has developed into the core members becoming a regularly gigging band up and down the land.  As The Baptist’s presence has diminished, Ian Gibbons, who continues to work with Ray Davies, has become the keyboards man in residence, with Mark Haley guesting.  John Dalton announced his retirement half a decade ago but no-one believed him, and so it has proved; Jim Rodford took up most of the gigging bass duties when available, though the recent resurgence of the Zombies‘ career may limit his appearances in future.  Jim and Ian’s fellow Kinks-as-stadium-rockers band era drummer, the amazingly well-preserved Bob Henrit, has been known to take a turn too; an interview covering his decades spanning career in the music business (including the introductory cowbells on Unit 4+2’s Concrete and Clay) is one of the highlights of The Kast Off’s website, and is well worth your time; he’s published an autobiography too, titled Banging on).

I've taken the liberty of posterizing Kevin Kolovich's photograph

2015: I’ve taken the liberty of posterizing Kevin Kolovich’s photograph.

So, Sunday before last, and we’re upstairs in The Dome, which is certainly an upgrade from downstairs.  A two tier stage – “I’ve played in pubs smaller than that stage” says Geoff Lewis – and  improved sound from the PA.  Stage left upper tier were back-up singers Debi Doss and Shirley Roden, looking down on Ian Gibbons, who, as Nobby said at one stage, was “on fire”, and indeed he was, a real tour de force.  He also called him “the funky gibbon”, but I never liked The Goodies, so find that regrettable.  Centre, raised at the back, the redoubtable Mick Avory, in front of him Dave Clarke, and to his right, the aforesaid Dalton.  And on the raised dias behind him, it was good to see the excellent Oslo Horns (from Norway!) again, sporting trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone – always adding something to the sound, never intruding.  Even better to hear them properly this year.

Julia Reinhart 06

2015: Messrs Gibbons, Clarke and Dalton. © Julia Reinhart. http://www.juliareinhart.com http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

Over the years, as the Kast Offs have turned into a working band, I’ve got a bit blasé about these performances, and – dare I say it – it had all got a bit routine.  Something today about the special emotions of an OKFC audience – international, spanning three generations – and the tightness that comes from constant gigging, along with the limited personnel which meant not so much chopping and changing, but this year I think it was the best I’ve seen them, really on top of their game and still enjoying it too.  With Nobby and Ian and the gals helping out on the vocals it was a storming show all round.  No-one’s put up a set list on social media yet so I’m running blind here; they probably played for at least 3 hours, doing most of the hits and more.  Almost at random, my highlights from memory: they do a slow and stately Village Green Preservation Society (outsider for new English national anthem, anybody?); Dave excels on the long intro take on a passionate Celluloid heroes; the band are really rocking with the fabulously obscure It’s too late; Debi fronts up for Stop your sobbing; they do a brilliant Better days.

DC & JD.

A delicate touch: DC & Doolin’ Dalton. © Julia Reinhart. http://www.juliareinhart.com http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

John Dalton always makes a point of saying how much he rates Shangri-La and that wonderful Ray Davies song hidden away for years on the Percy soundtrack album, God’s children (atheist that I am, singing along gleefully), and they are never short-changed.  Alcohol always gets full measure too; how I’d love to see him and Ray doing that as a double act, but later for him.

The incandescent Mr Gibbons and pal. © Julia Reinhart. www.juliareinhart.com www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

The incandescent Mr Gibbons and pal. © Julia Reinhart. http://www.juliareinhart.com http://www.facebook.com/juliareinhartphotography

It’s one of those strange inversions that the passage of time brings about, but what could well be The Kinks‘ second worst recorded cover version (nothing can compare with their Dancing in the street) always turns out to be one of the rousing closing climaxes of a Kast Off Kinks show.  I speak of Louie Louie, which is swiftly followed by a Long Tall Sally, to which even I was goaded to dance (thanks … sorry, forgotten your name), and Elvis Presley’s One night, the first song, apparently, that Nobby and Dave Clarke ever played in public together.

Ronny Van Hofstraeten posterise2Ronny Van Hofstraeten posterise4Ronny Van Hofstraeten posterise7Somewhere in the third set yer man Ray Davies came out and said a few words, and towards the end was cajoled into delivering, in fine form, a full reprise of – what else? – You really got me, with Dave Clarke getting the first few bars of Dave Davies’s original guitar solo – something he never normally tries – note perfect. [That’s Ronny Van Hofstraeten’s photo of Ray I’ve mucked about with here]

A fine way to spend a winter’s afternoon.  Thanks as ever to Bill and the Official Kinks Fan Club stalwarts for putting it all together.

Stony Lights Bard launchAnd the next weekend …

… another fine way (with added mulled wine) to spend a winter’s afternoon.

Last Saturday of November is the Stony Stratford Lantern Parade leading up to the ceremonial switch-on of the Xmas lights that brighten the High Street, church Street and Market Square for the season.  Weather was not great – only wet and windy, though, as opposed to the gales and heavy rain at one stage forecast – but that didn’t stop the crowds turning out as usual.  Impressive community dedication.

Gimp night

Gimp night: Photo from the phone of Ray Roberts.

Earlier, a select band gathered in the Library for what has now become an established part of the tradition.  Entertainment and enlightenment from bards past and present, near and wide, poetasters, storytellers and singers, not forgetting the Stony Mummers and local kids’ group Act Out doing a scene or two from their panto.  Excerpts from a new Fay Roberts epic about the child of a mermaid and dragon had us entranced, while, as is now – that word again – traditional, the mighty Antipoet – self-proclaimed Bards of Bugger All – brought proceedings to a splendid end, showcasing new and newish material.  In their quest to alienate as many sections of the community as possible we got another fine atheist piece and a spirited demolition of hipster beards, particularly of a ginger variety; Sam Upton, Bard of Northampton, didn’t seem to  mind.  Then there was Gimp night (was it at the Rose & Crown? – NO: it was, much better, the Fighting Cocks (thanks to my pseudonymous correspondent Pedantic Pete for the correction)), a report on the parlous economic plight of many of the nation’s public houses, necessitating their resort to the promotion of niche nights for all variety of minority interests and perversions, including … poetry.

Here’s a link to Stony’s Bardic Council: http://bardofstony.weebly.com/

 

 

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