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Posts Tagged ‘AORTAS’

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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Catherine O'Flynn - What was lostA lot of things are lost in Catherine O’Flynn‘s debut novel What was lost (Tindal Street, 2007), not least the Midland’s engineering heritage.  Set mostly in Green Oaks, a modern shopping centre, wasted lives, obsession, lost souls and disappointment crop up all over the place.

What was lost is full of good ideas but they don’t quite gel together satisfactorily.  Embracing comedy and tragedy, it hints at genres – a ghost on the CCTV, a major unsolved crime at its heart, a child’s diary, urban romance – that never quite add up to a coherent whole.  This is a shame, because there is much of promise going on here.  I wasn’t the only one of our Book Group who had to actually turn back to the opening chapters to confirm what seemed to be just tacked on at the end, which was only the core irony around which the important mystery element of the novel revolves and is resolved by.

So, What was lost is the sort of novel the phrase “it’s a curate’s egg” was made for.  It’s good enough to conjure up thoughts of Charles Dickens and what he would have made of the modern retail complex – the openings of Bleak House and A tale of two cities spring to mind, just for starters.  It doesn’t happen, though.  While convincing in some aspects – particularly the depiction of days in the life of Green Oaks, in the malls and behind the scenes – What was lost fails in others, particularly the main male characters most of the time.  Apart from a 10-year old girl who disappears in 1984 – the opening section of the book is her infectious aspiring detective Adrian Mole-style diary – and the deputy manager of a music store in Green Oaks in 2003, the woman whose experience parallels, presumably, that of the author’s before she got out, no-one else exactly has a life off of the page.  This makes a change, of course, from women saying that men can’t do women characters.

There’s an energy at play that strikes me as fairly typical of both provincial publishing and first novels, but which is also typically prone to simply trying too hard.  So:

Kate was frightened of dogs, though as she’d been bitten eleven times she couldn’t see that it was an irrational fear.

Eleven times?  Then there’s her latest research project with her 60-year-old statistician dad (another story):

This week’s had been a wide-ranging Which-style report on pear drops. Kate and her father shared a passion for them and had visited fifteen different sweet shops to compare size, sugar coating (or smooth), price per quarter pound, degree of acidity.

Fifteen – even in 1984?  Having said that, I find that most of the passages I have bookmarked are positive sparks, showing enough invention to make me interested in the author’s later work.  And the increasingly undisciplined and bitter blind shopper reports tagged on to some chapters certainly made me laugh.  Anyway …

There’s lovelorn Kurt, festering in the Green Oaks’ security team, keeping his old live-in girlfriends’ letters and bank statements, who still “curated the collection, though he didn’t know who for” – as desolate a short passage as you can find this side of poetry, for love had died a while before she literally did.  Lisa in the record store’s ending of her relationship with her slacker partner is nicely done too, after this bit of self-revelation:

It occurred to her that she felt the same about Ed as she did about her job – a kind of numbed acceptance. She thought how rarely you saw the words ‘numb’ and ‘acceptance’ on Valentine cards, and thought maybe she’d buy one for once if they widened their vocabulary a little.

The passages describing various goings on in the shop are particularly rich in nuance.  “Freddie Mercury was assuring everyone that they were champions. Lisa and the lost guy knew differently“; meanwhile the cramped staff room is littered with “Kentucky Fried detritus …”; back in the shop, record store nostalgics will recognise the Classical Department:

Sealed off behind its glass doors, with fake walnut walls, leather armchairs and soft music playing, the department gave the impression of a refuge. Somewhere to soothe the jangled nerves after a day spent on the singles counter. It was, however, a false impression. The truth was that the Classical Department was hell in a box.
The other departments attracted the odd eccentric, the occasional trying customer, but Classical drew the elite like some powerful catnip emitting its scent across the city.

One of our Book Group attested to – having recently been (commendably) doing some charity Christmas present wrapping in Milton Keynes shopping centre, she had had access to the bleak breeze blocked corridors and back-runs behind the shiny scenes of one of Mammon’s showpieces – What was lost‘s description of what it called the keenly felt “apartheid” of the shoppers’ and staff’s experience of such places.  This book has enough going for it to make one’s occasional wanderings in those marbled boulevards never feel quite the same again.

Musical adventures …

… so old they are practically ancient history.  But worth recording.

Vaultage Dec 10 15Vaultage Dec 23 2015Early December Vaultage saw Woburn singer songwriter Steve Gifford’s set increasingly strident from delicate picking beginnings, while The Fabulators (well, two guitarists therefrom) started with a storming Sweet home Chicago and proceeded to deliver an eclectic bunch of covers ranging from Teenage dirtbag (evoking memories of a friend’s dismay at her sub-teen daughter’s ability to sing along to Wheatus word-perfect on the radio) to Ace of spades, and beyond.  The Bogoff Brothers also performed after much discussion as to what they were going to call themselves.  The more literary option of The Brothers Bogoff, after Dostoyevsky, was considered, but rejected in the light of their country-heavy repertoire.  That’s them on the other poster.

Given he never features in the Aortas photomontages he puts together, here's a photo of Dan Plews.

Given he never features in the Aortas photomontages he puts together, here’s a photo of Dan Plews.

The last Aortas open mic at the Old George was a bit special with the cream of the usual crop: Dan Plews himself, of course, and others including Mark, Naomi, and Pat ‘the Hat’ Nicholson – the best I’ve seen him (he put it down to DADGAD tuning, starting with Dylan’s lilting Tomorrow is a long time). Hey, not forgetting an early bonus of Roddy Clenaghan’s dulcet tones not often heard here.  And a solo David Cattermole hitting his effortlessly spellbinding groove: somehow simultaneously relaxed and driving, hinting at revelation.  He joined Dan for a triumphant Heard it through the grapevine to finish the evening off.

The Christmas Eve Eve Vaultage – in a crowded Vaults Bar – was a splendid affair too, graced as it was with (it’s that man again) the David Cattermole Band, on this evening comprising Tom on cajon and another Dave contributing some beautifully lyrical phrasing of the alto saxophone; his first appearance in public for nearly two decades apparently – not that it showed.  We were treated to the extended Can’t find my way home among other delights.  Earlier the – I guess – creative heart of accomplished new young sort of folky-soul band, Reeds, impressed with some originals and then had us grinning and singing along to I wanna be like you from Jungle Book.

Meanwhile, on telly …

an extraordinarily intense and exciting sequence of music contained in one of those BBC4 historical compilation programmes that are usually littered with stuff you never liked in the first place (step forward among others in this instance in particular Argent’s God gave rock and roll to you – as if).  I speak of Old Grey Whistle Test; ’70s Gold.  With its golden core of Bob Marley and the WailersConcrete jungle followed by the magnificent Captain Beefheart (that triumphant grin!) & the Magic Band’s Upon the My O My; then with only a slight hiatus of (only) Johnny Winter’s relentlessly energetic take on Born in a crossfire hurricane, we got a full-blown full-on Roxette from Dr Feelgood, followed by the (ditto) Patti Smith Group doing great justice to Horses.  Stirred a few cockles, I can tell you.

beefheart3As it happens, the good Captain puts in a redundant appearance in What was lost, the book we started with.  The ultimately tragic Adrian, back from uni and with no great plans, plays the Lick my decals off album when he’s helping in the newsagents owned by his dad near where his young friend Kate lives, in an attempt to musically educate the punters; even she has her doubts.  A world in which Captain Beefheart is mainstream; now that’s an alternative reality.

 

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Reckless - HyndeCan’t say I understand the rationale of that photo on the dust jacket.  Would certainly be a reckless posture for me to try and then get out undamaged, or at least without pain.  Still, as Sheriff Bo Diddley used to say, You can’t judge a book by looking at its cover. Chrissie Hynde has one of the most distinctive voices in rock music.  I was going to say ‘female voices’, but no, it stands unqualified.  Tough without straining the larynx, and yet tender, spare yet tuneful and full of nuance even in recitative.  She’s written some great songs, too.

In the Prologue to Reckless: my life (Ebury Press, 2015), which takes us from childhood through to the making and release of the Pretenders‘ second album, by which time half the band who made the first remarkable album were dead, she simply states, “I regret half of this story and the other half is the sound you heard“.  This is a stark morality tale, economically yet colourfully related, with none of the poor-poor-pitiful-me about it.  There is humility, for sure, but the woman who wrote Brass in pocket is still abundantly in evidence in the writing, for which we must be grateful.

She certainly gives good zeitgeist, which is just as well because there are plenty of scenes to take in the spirit of.  But there is no grand retreat into sociologese or nostalgia; what we get are sights and sounds.  From an idyllic childhood in the leafy suburbs of Akron, Ohio, via counter-culture America and the killing ground of Kent State University, to heady days at the centre of the punk cyclone in London, with side sojourns in Mexico and Paris, it’s an engrossing story.

Akron may have been the ‘Rubber Capital of the World’, but “for all I knew every town had red brick roads and every fourth house was painted blue …” .  It was changing, though, with the coming of the all-conquering motor car and the six lane highway; no more wandering down the shops.  “When I started to realize that the days of walking were numbered, I subconsciously began to plan my getaway.”  She reads Kerouac at an impressionable age – surely the best time to read him – and wants to be a hobo.  As mammon loomed ever larger: “I was alarmed by the trend, but more alarmed by the fact that no one else seemed bothered“.

Naturally, music is of major importance to her and her mates’ lives, and they are not messing around.  She sees the Stones at age 14, there are trips to see and meet the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, a tale about being the only white girls at a Jackie Wilson show.  She puts in a word for Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels to not be forgotten.

Not everyone needed to see the Rolling Stones in the mid sixties, but you could spot those who did a mile off in their modified clothes and carefully studied haircuts. For us elitists it was a chance to catch a rare glimpse of the few who shared our passion …

Reckless‘s back cover boasts this great portrait of the artist as a teenager, caught with guitar and albums in hand: that’s the Rolling Stones’ Out of our heads, and Dylan’s Bringing it all back home precariously balanced there.

CH back coverThe full text the rubric is taken from is a veritable time machine:

We were looking for adventure. We lingered long on Love Street. We had too much to dream last night. We wanted the world and we wanted it now. We were born to be wild. We were stone free. We were stoned. We didn’t think of ourselves as ‘innocent’.

We were taking up philosophies from what we could interpret of the musings of 23-year old guitar players …” she says, (though the Bhagavad Gita has stayed with her).  Then there was the question of her virginity, exquisitely put: It had to be dealt with sooner or later.  And it was getting later.”  Thankfully she doesn’t rub our noses in it, with that or the many subsequent encounters.  (The media storm about rape arose more out of interviews promoting the book, rather than the book itself).

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that I was now 21 and the drugs had worked their magic on me. I was well and truly fucked up most of the time …”  Recognising her situation – “the unwilling tenant in a badly enacted Howard the Duck rip-off: ‘Trapped in a world he never made.’ […] It was all going in the wrong direction … ” – without having any significant contacts there, she escapes to the musical Mecca of London.  

Players No6Where she quickly adapts in matters of language and manners, discovers miniature cigarettes – hey! Player’s No.6! I used to smoke them – and (jumping ahead a bit) suffers acute “cultural humiliation” when asked by Brian Eno to make a pot of tea.  Fuelled with a big Iggy Pop obsession –  there is a lovely Iggy Pop story much later on in the book – she meets the similarly obsessed (and about to be homeless) NME rock writer Nick Kent, who moves himself piecemeal into her flat.  This is not entirely bad, since through the association she gets a gig writing for NME, though ultimately, to his displeasure, she dumps him: “Well perhaps he shouldn’t have presented me with first scabies, then a virulent strain of something even worse, which had landed me in Hammersmith hospital for three days.”  Later, she sells T-shirts made with Judy Nylon, one-offs, using Magic Marker: “One design I was particularly fond of featured a portrait of Nick Kent on the front and a recipe card for how to cook a turkey on the back.”  Ouch.  Revenge for what he wrote in his memoir of the time, one suspects.

It’s this affair that occasions an interesting bit of philosophising that pretty much sums up the story arc of the book:

That’s how we can be sure we’re not animals, this refusal to abide by what we know is good for us. If an animal’s instinct tells him to avoid something he has no trouble keeping a wide berth. We, on the other hand, run in the direction of danger if it offers a thrill or satisfies a curiosity.

Much has been written about the Golden Age of the New Musical Express, and Reckless offers an entertaining and more nuanced view than most, I would venture, of “the most intelligently observed and humorous of the music papers” as she justly describes it.  “These English weren’t the same as the wasters I’d been used to. They used words like ‘quintessential’ and the occasional phrase in French. […] It hadn’t taken me long to sniff out British versions of artistic types, the con artists I gravitated towards …”  In the pub with the NME crowd, she goes off on one, and the late lamented Ian MacDonald, to whom she pays proper tribute as a ‘true visionary’, invites her to write for them: “My only qualification, had I required one, was that I was as frustrated as the rest of them – a frustrated musician (the cliché of music journalism), opinionated, hungover, illegal in the workplace, devoid of ambition …”   It didn’t take too long for her presence to be felt:

Little teenagers in the sticks like Julie Burchill lapped up my half-baked philosophical drivel and prepared their own versions of nonsensical tirades for the day when they too could make a ‘career’ out of it. I even sold the darling little Julie my typewriter …

She gets offered a job as a shop assistant by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, whose creativity impressed her, but that falls through and she’s off to Paris, making music, being in a band, hanging with cabaret artistes: “I loved it when life opens its arms like that and says, ‘Yes’.”  But then back to the States and more bad times though, again, more experience of being in a band.

London saves her.  Malcolm asks her back as Punk is springing into life.  She tries writing with Mick Jones – “It was a joy to … walk over the bridge carrying my guitar knowing I was doing it, really doing it” – and visits regularly the 11th floor Westway flat where he lives with his gran, who, “would make us beans on toast while we put our song ideas together […] I really looked forward to it, especially the beans on toast part, my favourite English dish.”  She spends time with a shy, funny, yet troubled Johnny Rotten, “wrestling with his impending fame“.  Over the next few months she has a room in Don Letts’ house; Joe Strummer takes it over when she leaves.  She spends time in Croydon with the proto-Damned, might have joined the Slits.  Things go sour, blames Johnny Thunders: “The moment smack arrived it took approximately three weeks for the whole scene to stall and grind to a halt.”  She’s mates with soul brother Lemmy in Ladbroke Grove, a cultural mix she loves.

I, meanwhile, continued to peer out from under bus shelters in the rain, guitar by my side, looking for a band like a hunter having his prey chased away by animal rights saboteurs. […] … everybody was at it. (p209/10)

(Which reminds me: if you were thinking of reading Reckless but put off by the prospect of a few animal liberation diatribes – you have nothing to fear; PETA is not even mentioned).

Everyone I’d ever met in my whole life was now in a band. I now had absolutely no hope that it would happen for me but I was so used to failure that, like a cart horse en route to the glue factory, I just kept going. (p214)

But every band needs songs to play and a shitty original is still better than a good cover – and I had some shitty originals. (p213)

 And lo, The Pretenders came into being.  Three young men from Hereford – musicians, not punks, not all recruited at once – give shape to the Hynde songs.  She pays special tribute to the guitarist, the late James Honeyman-Scott, “the reason you’re even reading this because without him I’m sure I would have made only the smallest splash with my talents – probably nothing very memorable“.

Pretenders 1st albumLooking for a producer they send a demo to Nick Lowe, who says, “I definitely want to get in on this Sandie Shaw song“.  Which is … their cover of The Kinks’ Stop your sobbing.  (Thanks Nick, that one has stuck – sound like her, indeed it does).  It’s a hit single but Chris Thomas completes the album.  It so happens this was a quid charity shop vinyl purchase of mine a while back that I never got round to playing.  I just had to de-fluff the needle twice in the playing, but, reminded, am impressed by its realative sophistication and classic aplomb; everyone knows Brass in pocket but I’d forgotten what a sinuous epic Private lives is.

It’s a big success, and that’s when the real trouble starts:

All the things we saw happening to other bands were now happening to us. It took us by surprise. The ‘overnight’ success; having to explain ourselves to the press where we were open to be judged, even laughed at – same as we’d so often laughed at others. And the in-band resentments: only a few months in and we were already living the clichés of the trade. (p260)

The temptation for a Dylan quote overpowers me: “She knows there’s no success like failure, and that failure’s no success at all“:

As far as rock bands went, it was all textbook stuff. But the fact that everybody in every band in history had gone through the same things didn’t make it any easier to assimilate the horror show of drug addiction. Alcohol was always in the mix too, the lethal ingredient to the dark side, ever lurking. The only reason we were still standing was that we had youth on our side. But as always, time was running out.

By the time the narrative ends her one time lover and original bassist, fired because of out of control heroin usage, and guitarist James are both dead.  Over 30 years ago, that was.  She still works with original drummer, Martin Chambers.  One of the better rock memoirs, I’d say.  Distinctive, even.

A short postscript in the matter of Ray Davies

Given in the interest of Lillabullero in Raymond Douglas Davies evidenced elsewhere on this site, I’ll parlay a few words about their troubled relationship – “Ours was a battle of wills – as recounted in Reckless.  “We’d always laugh after the facts about the absurdity of our fights, but there was nothing funny about them. […] I kept going back into the ring, so to speak. After all, he was handsome, funny as hell, smart and interesting – he was Ray Davies!”  There’s a nice story about her throwing some new shirts she’d just bought him out of the window of their New York residence in a rage, only for them to be picked up by an old tramp, who secreted them under his mac, stepping lightly away;  Ray, of course, had cast himself as a tramp in his 3-album and stage show Preservation saga.  We also get her version of the Guildford Registry Office ceremony failure, they travelling down on the train: “I was wearing a white silk suit I’d had made in Bangkok, with a skirt (so, as you see, I really was serious).”  They got separate trains back.

Closer to home

Living Archive BandAortas last Oct Sunday 2015Vaultage 29 Oct 15The Living Archive Milton Keynes‘s one-off fund-raiser at York House provided an absorbing, entertaining and, at times, very moving evening.  A multi-media presentation, with the actual recordings of those who had been interviewed – with the old North Bucks accent much in evidence – about their youth and working lives, backed up by archive photographs setting the context before the accomplished Living Archive Band performed some fine songs, many sounding as if straight out of the folk tradition, directly inspired by those reminiscences.

The programme was themed, taking in, for the first half, The impact of the railway (including Cotton and fluff, about the women in the sewing rooms at Wolverton Works), and The impact of war (including the unforgettable voice of Hawtin Munday as per the poster).  The second half looked at Local communities during the last 100 years, finishing with The night the Stones rolled into town – one of those legendary gigs, the Rolling Stones at Wilton Hall in Bletchley, 1964 – a lilting refrain about the future being here then, a poignancy enhanced by there being no attempt at employing any Stones licks.  The Living Archive is a very good thing.  Here’s a web link: http://www.livingarchive.org.uk/

Highlight of the second Aortas open mic of October at the Old George was some great fiddle from Nuala Friedman, first accompanying Naomi Rose, whose granddad’s violin it was, on songs that were new to her – such musicianship! – and then having something of a session with Dan Plews.  Earlier Ralph Coates had managed the fine rhyming of “She’s a walking disaster / but I love her pasta“.

There must have been something in the air for Halloween week’s Vaultage, even though Pat was the only one with warpaint, because it was packed for featured sets from quality local stalwarts Mark Owen and Mitchell Taylor, and we got a Dave Cattermole bonus at the end.  Oh, and Ralph Coates played standing up for the very first time and it did indeed make a difference.

 

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SolitudeSolitude pbkWhat with borrowing from the public library and buying a used paperback I think I’ve failed with Gabriel García Márquez‘s celebrated One hundred years of solitude (1967, translated 1970) three times in two decades.  Supposedly his masterpiece, I just could not get with the flow, nor, despite all the plaudits, ultimately care enough about it for my copy to survive the charity shop cull when we last moved.

Love in the time of choleraSo you can imagine my delight when his Love in the time of cholera (1985; translated 1988) was September’s Book Group book.  And lo, I struggled.  Sure, it is written/translated with great charm and wit.  But the initial set-up – suicide of an old chess player and child portrait photographer, and the comic death of Dr. Juvenal Urbino, his esteemed friend and chess opponent – seems to lead nowhere. 

Then there‘s the formalised romance of Florentino Ariza, a young man and Fermina Daza, a 15-year-old girl conducted by dead letter drops.  Spurned at the last minute (nicely done actually) his love for her doesn’t stop a subsequently successful sometimes unsavoury career as a “tireless falconer“, but that unrequited love remains secretly undiminished.  They don’t see one another again for ages.  Meanwhile she marries the distinguished, rich, sophisticated doctor and stuff happens – his previous medical triumph, trips to Europe, children, a temporary estrangement, lots more, not forgetting Florentino’s rise to head up a river shipping company – and then the Doc dies.  Florentino goes to the funeral and it all starts slowly up again.  No spoilers as to the outcome of this second wooing in old age.

It’s all so bloody annoying.  Oi, Márquez, I muttered frequently, Just get on with it.  Lengthy paragraphs of cloying description, a timeline drifting around artificially structured situations, a lack of focus, flowery language and indulgent strained strangeness, revelations un-necessarily held back (with nothing really added), repetition, digressions leading nowhere, a series of shaggy dog stories …

I only persevered because I knew that a couple of women in the Book Group who I’d been sympatico with about previous books thought highly of it and I wanted evidence; not that it didn’t have an enormous reputation anyway.  So, what do you know? –  as the book moved towards its twilight climax, I got involved, was even, in the end, enthralled.  And many of the aspects of the book that had annoyed me so began to take shape in my mind as both a tasty picture of a Latin American community on the continental edge of the Caribbean at the turn of the last century, and, importantly, a mapping, a wise and wondrous journey through all the varieties – romantic, spiritual, physical, distorted, damaging – of relations between men and women and … (Lord above!) … love.  That the paragraphs got shorter and that there was a lot more dialogue on the closing luxury river cruise (complete with ecological observations) might have helped too.  Great way to finish a book is all I’m gonna give away … so this is magic realism!

So yes, from being driven round the bend I have been moved to thinking, in the light of the whole reading experience, that I’ll give it a re-read, soak myself in its sights, sounds, aromas and nuances again one of these days, if the to-be-read piles (never mind the lists) ever diminish.

I’ll throw in a few appetizers, some delicious touches, gleaned even then from the pages of annoyance, to tempt the wary.  Our three main characters are not fooled by the surface of things:

  • Dr. Urbino’s career in medicine: “From youthful enthusiasm he had moved to a position that he himself defined as fatalistic humanism.”
  • the progress of the chess player’s photographic career: “from the time he took his first picture of a child startled by the magnesium flash

  • Dr. Urbino is instrumental in a theatre being built: “opera fever infected the most surprising elements in the city […] But it never reached the extremes Dr. Urbino had hoped for, which was to see Italianizers and Wagnerians confronting each other with sticks and canes during the intermissions.

  • Florentino: “No one described him better than he did when someone accused him of being rich.
            “No, not rich,” he said. “I am a poor man with money, which is not the same thing.

  • Although they maintained a formal correspondence concerning their children and other household matters, almost two years went by before either one could find a way back that was not mined with pride.”  Mined with pride – the spellchecker has just asked me to explain myself!

  • little flourishes like “her astonished breasts” or his hand perspiring ice”.  Then there’s “the sour smell of old age” …  “It was the smell of human fermentation.”  Less viscerally, Marquez is good on the process of growing old.

  • Oh, and Joseph Conrad gets a second degree walk-on part.

Musical adventures

Don-Perera-219x300

Sorry I nicked yer picture; would love to give it a credit.

Another charity gig at Stony’s York House delivered the musical goods.  Pat Allati presented a Musical Fusion, involving her blue-haired self giving her very own folk vocal stylings an outing, and introduced a whiz at the keyboards playing the compositions of Judith Perera and improvising on some jazz pieces from masters of the genre – take a bow the dextrous Geoff Eales, who in passing explained Thelonius Monk’s unorthodox approach to the piano as his being “the thinking person’s Les Dawson”.  Good as he was, it was Perera Junior, bashful contemporary classical guitarist Don Perera who stole the show with a dazzling performance drawing on a varied international repertoire (and taking in Classical gas).  I was mesmerised by the busy fingers of his right hand, never mind what was going on on the fretboard, but the beauty of the music meant much more than technical expertise was to be heard here.  You could speak a little slower, though, Don.  The evening was accompanied by a pint of the Towcester Mill Brewery’s very interesting Black Fire dark ale.

Sarah Malleson: reflections © DQ

Dan Plews’s last AORTAS Sunday open mic of the month at the Old George was a bumper bundle of an evening with a lot of the usual suspects.  So we had four singer songwriters, 3 poets (hi Vanessa and Sam), and two duos taking the stage, but only one Sarah Malleson, who brought her uilleann pipes – aka Irish bagpipes – with her.  And then played them.  What a lovely tuneful noise, and great fun when Dan joined her on guitar.  Another more than decent night.

 

 

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20150815-KFK-unplugged-posterClissoldNo, it’s all good …

Standout performance for me at Kinks Night at The Clissold Arms “unplugged” session was a storming Twentieth century man.  When Geoff nailed the bit where the organ sweeps in two young men next to me – mid-20s? I’m not good at this – punched the air and cheered.  (Take a bow, Geoff Lewis).  I’d been talking to them earlier – favourite album Muswell Hillbillies (so men of taste) – and they got no kicks from modern groups at all.  With audience participation expected, these young lads knew all the words, on some songs better than the performers.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon, the way the musical generation boundary lines have faded.  At the annual Official Kinks Fan Club Konvention in November – a shindig graced on stage by a full cast of the Kast Off Kinks, with sometimes brief appearances from Ray Davies (though never Dave) – attendees’ ages range from teens to late seventies at least.

The Clissold Arms in Muswell Hill is where the Davies brothers had their first public performance, in late 1960, over the road from where they lived.  It now houses a room dedicated to The Kinks and their works.  The Kinksfan Kollektiv‘s Clissold sessions had their origins in an evening before the Konvention singalong and grew in scope from that to almost a military operation.  This summer special, outside the usual season, came about because of the vacation arrangements of Jim Smart, over from Hawaii, one of the original movers and performers of the fan sessions.  Was a good evening, heartening to talk to someone you’ve only previously known over the internet (hi Jim).  But … London prices: £4.40 a pint!

Cloud atlasCloud Atlas

Book Group book for August was David Mitchell‘s Cloud Atlas (2004).  I’d read it when it first came out and been impressed enough to give it a re-read.  I wasn’t the only one in the group, this time around, to subvert the subversion of the novel’s original unorthodox format.  It consists of six novellas, all relating to one another by various gestures, arranged like an onion with its layers, as if you were boring through to the earth’s core and then out again on the other side.

The initial nineteenth century diary of an eventful Pacific voyage cuts off suddenly and we’re into an epistolary account of an entertaining scoundrel of an English composer on the run in Belgium in the 1930s, wherein a purloined first (and only) edition copy of that diary figures in one of his personal fundraising schemes.  We move from there to a stylish fictional thriller novel set in post-Three Mile Island America, which breaks off at a genuine cliffhanger, into a very funny comic novel concerning an English publisher, whose experience publishing true crime has him on the run too, set in the present.  Then we move into the future, for a future archive interview concerning the development of artificial intelligence in cyborgs until we hit the core of the book, another kind of science fiction, a (not too difficult) dialect record of life when hi-tech civilisation has collapsed, into which an anthropologist from a surviving remnant of civilisation is allowed to stay for study purposes.  And then we are out the other side, in reverse order, with more links between them floated as the narratives develop, and the eighteenth century diary entries constitute the final part of Cloud Atlas.

But, as I say, this time I ignored the splits in the individual narratives and read each one straight through.  And the links between them became more obvious.  All are fascinating in their own right; he takes you into the working mind of a composer of music, for instance.  And it’s a lot funnier than I remembered and – definite shades of Thomas Pynchon – still just as seriously prescient a decade later.  Beautifully written too, an impressive fluidity of style.  It’s a meditation on human nature, really.  What drives us, makes us great, is what is also likely to be our undoing: “human hunger birthed the Civ’lize, but human hunger killed it too“.  Simple yes, but ultimately there is hope.  Near the end, our voyager comes out of his shattering experience, vowing, “A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson will inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living.”  So over to us.  I thought the notion of a ‘cloud atlas’ was very Yoko Ono, and it turns out Mitchell got it from an actual piece of music composed by her first husband.

Vaultage late Aug 2015Music closer to home

No August open mic hiatus for Vaultage nights in the Vaults, which Pat and Lois have established as a more than dependable full music night out these past few months.  Featured act at the last Vaultage were VHS Pirates,  who describe themselves on FaceBook as, “a new uplifting exciting band from Northampton who play a mix of frenetic Folk Ska with a sensitive sprinkle of 80’s pop.”  Not to mention the unlikely sight of a banjoist supplying the rhythm on the up beat, the owner of one of two fine voices, a subtle keyboardist (the sprinkle) and original material of wit and no little invention.

Meanwhile, over at Aortas in the Old George a sparsity of performers on Sunday gave the bonus of what turned into featured sets from Dan Plews, Naomi Rose, an angry Mark Owen (his driven Getting away with it, a take on the Rebekah Brooks saga, given fresh venom with the news earlier in the day she was getting her job back), and comic verse from the poet Hobbs.  Would have happily paid to see that.  Earlier in the month stand-in host Pete Morton had led what turned out to be a decent night with his own songs and some well-chosen covers, in an evening also notable for an older couple leaving the pub muttering ‘Shouldn’t be allowed’ at Naomi’s most miserable song, Permanent blue.

MK-Calling-11

Keelertornero: Heads of assembly at MKG

MK Calling 2015

This summer‘s exhibition at MK Gallery featured selections from an Open Call for work from local artists, amateur, student and professional.  I went along with someone whose default position on a lot of contemporary art is disparagement, but she stayed the course well enough.  It’s a varied and interesting exhibition.  My favourite piece was Head-of-Assembly-KEELERTORNERO-2014-Vinyl-records1Chin Keeler and Emma Tornero’s Heads of assembly (2014), hanging from the ceiling of the Cube Gallery.  You have to be there: these are heads made from moulding vinyl records over mannequins’ heads, with the labels still in place.  The programme notes suggest the artists deal, among other things, with ‘unkempt fantasy‘.  Here’s an individual head, image filched from the internet (probably their website); click and click again for an enlargement.

Crossword clues I have loved

Can’t do cryptic crosswords but can appreciate a bad pun when you hear or see it?  Then you’re in with a shout.  Some favourites of old from the Guardian – an occasional series here at Lillabullero – with the compilers credited.  Zen punnery & thinking out(or well in)side the box.  (Crosswords are printable for free from the Guardian website.)

  • From Rufus: Space for army manoeuvres (5,4)
  • From Paul: One’s days are numbered (8)
  • From Pasquale: Call at table, suggesting preference for sirloin or T-bone? (2,5)
  • Paul again: Most adventurous combination of underclothes (7)
  • A favourite of mine, from Paul: Bad quality expensive jewellery? That’s clumsy (8)
  • More from Rufus: No beer left? That’s the limit! (6,3)
  • Arachne spinning: She’s over-groomed (8)
  • From Picaroon: Celebs ill-equipped for dinner parties (8)
  • From Chifonie: Space traveller posed on vessel (6)
  • One more time from Rufus: A loaded statement (8)

Solutions under this picture of some frogs ©moi:

Frogs

  • Rufus: Space for army manoeuvres (5,4) Elbow room [arm-y]
  • Paul: One’s days are numbered (8) Calendar
  • Pasquale: Call at table, suggesting preference for sirloin or T-bone? (2,5) No trump [not rump][a bid in the game of bridge][a US election slogan?]
  • Paul: Most adventurous combination of underclothes (7) Bravest [Bra vest]
  • Paul: Bad quality expensive jewellery? That’s clumsy (8) Bumbling [Bum bling]
  • Rufus: No beer left? That’s the limit! (6,3) Bitter end
  • Arachne: She’s over-groomed (8) Bigamist [women can’t do it too?]
  • Picaroon: Celebs ill-equipped for dinner parties (8) Notables [No tables]
  • Chifonie: Space traveller posed on vessel (6) Saturn [Sat on urn]
  • Rufus: A loaded statement (8) Bulletin [Bullet in]

Sorry.

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And not just in the pound-shops and bus stations.  Been nostalgising about a time when we usually had a Dylan quote to hand.  Couple of novels I’m glad to have read lately, set 90 years apart.  Both involve action of a kind in France, but operate mainly in England’s green and pleasant.

Worthless menWorthless men

Andrew Cowan‘s Worthless men (Sceptre, 2013) is an impressive work of other-worldly provincial realism.  Imagine a dark cross between James Joyce’s Ulysses (but with a narrative stream without too many tributaries) and Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood in the daytime.  It’s a diminished market day in a town that might be Norwich – the novel grew out of an oral history project there – and all the action (with added active memories, giving their back stories) takes place over the period from dawn to dusk as seen through the eyes (though not as first person narrative) of five people.  Except one of these, the main man by page count – Walter Barley, a young private, ‘missing in action’ – is hovering around, seemingly unseen, almost spectre-like.  It’s 1916 and there’s a troop train due as the day ends, carrying local lads back from the front in France,  and, mostly, though, the wounded bound for the temporary hospital set up in the grounds of the local industrialist’s big house on the edge of town.  Also family home to Walter’s traumatised and convalescent ex-commanding officer, and he’s no poet (though he is allowed the Catch-22 of, “A desire to return to the war would be the surest evidence they need that I am mentally unstable and not entitled to go“).

It’s a bleak, disturbing and compassionate set of interwoven stories of civilians and soldiery, a skillfully drawn and detailed picture of the way people lived, and the changes the war wrought.  It is beautifully, quietly, written.  There are a lot of what are basically lists – shops, people, occupations, animals – in the description, the sort of thing that usually has me skipping paragraphs, but such is the sustained tone of the writing that they become compellingly vivid; artists like Brueghel the Elder or Stanley Spencer – his biblical Cookham paintings – spring to mind.

That title, Worthless men, we are told in the Acknowledgments, is taken from a specific usage in the title of a non-fiction book looking at the use of the death penalty in the Great War, and the undercurrent of eugenics thinking that fuelled its application.  The notion of war ‘cleansing’ the gene pool is discussed by one of the characters in the novel – a pharmacist enthusiastically selling ‘contra-conceptives’ (sic) to those he considers below him to the same end – but dismissed by another as “almost certainly dysgenic in the degree to which it sacrificed the cream of the race, even as it effected a cull of the worthless.”  Such chilling period detail is integral throughout; relations between the social classes, between men and women within that context, and the changing role of women are un-showily handled to great effect.  There is symbolism – cattle are being slaughtered, there is a deluge as the day draws on, but, corny as that may sound, it works.  The deluge itself potentially sets up a sentimental bravery narrative that just doesn’t happen, and we are not told what happens to the man and woman (both with their own stories) in the rowing boat on the lake.  The climax of a meeting at the train station is a surprise.  Worthless men is a book that haunts, in the best possible sense.  Dead or alive – is there a definitive answer? – Walter is worthy of your company.

Other people's moneyOther people’s money

The bit of France in Justin Cartwright‘s Other people’s money (Bloomsbury, 2011) is a luxury villa on the Med, though the region’s lost its charm since the Russian oligarchs moved in.  Other people’s money tells the tale of the eleventh generation of a respected traditional English banking dynasty, brought down by “the fucking Gaussian bell curve” an economics professor got a Nobel prize for:

In his heart he knew that the Gaussian bell curve was nonsense and he knew that credit swaps and diced mortgages were chimeras, but he did nothing about it because everybody said that there were huge amounts of money to be made. But how? These derivatives related to no assets, to no worth, to no human endeavour. They turned out to be imaginary. It’s almost beyond belief that a huge industry was in thrall to fables.

And that’s the head of the bank’s inner thoughts as he struggles, kind of honourably but short-term criminally, to save something for their clients.  Not the least of the novel’s moral core is the tyranny and psychological damage a successful dynasty wreaks on its heirs.  He never really wanted to be a banker (how he got stuck with it is a story in itself) … and, without giving too much away, in the end he gets his escape.

Other people’s money is shaping up to be a very good old-fashioned upper middle of the road novel – dying patriarch, fiscal calamity, family fallout, corruption in high places – and then we meet Artair McLeod, aging idealistic theatrical fighting the good fight for Celtic culture down in Cornwall, who adds a nother dimension, and becomes a lot more than just the comic relief artsy fantasist.  As well as producing children’s plays for a living, he’s working on his magnum opus, a film script drawing on the works of the Irish novelist Flann O’Brien (as it happens, a writer who has given me much pleasure in the past), in particular his very funny experimental novel  At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) with its double mantra of:

One beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with.
There are beginnings and there are ends, and there are also many ways of telling the same story.
[And:] People talk about true stories. As if there could possibly be true stories; events take place one way and we recount them the other.

Part of this obsession is that an author’s characters can take over a work, have a life of their own.  It doesn’t actually happen, and this O’Brien fuelled intervention is much more playful than po-faced postmodernism, but Cartwright serves up a rich (and rich) cast characters, the main players given their say, and though the ending is contingent (and unexpected) it could have gone any way, which is the point, I guess.

When Artair’s regular stipend fails to arrive – a footnote of a casualty to the bank’s crisis, a regular pay-off from his ex-wife, now long married to the dying patriarch  – an old school editor of a local paper, whose Fleet Street career had been spiked by the Robert Maxwell scandal, gets a whiff of something big and pursues it with rookie journalist and blogger Melissa, fresh out of uni with a joint Philosophy/Sociology degree the content from which still amusingly (for us) peppers her world view.  His scoop is scuppered by an outrageous corporate move, but it all plays a part in the ongoing saga. This is a depressingly believable and entertaining zeitgeist satire, and the fun in the telling cannot dispel the anger inherent in the book’s title.  There’s a lovely little twist at the end too.

I zipped through Other people’s moneyJustin Cartwright’s prose flows beautifully; he writes with a good eye and has a neat turn of phrase.  Indeed, I feel the need to share some of his goodies.  So when the old man, Sir Harry Trevelyan-Tubal, is in a posh London hospital for tests, Cartwright acknowledges “… the front steps where nurses in their dress uniform sometimes assemble to wave goodbye to recovered members of the royal family”, and there’s the Portuguese cook whose “English, like her cooking, is low in calories.”  Meanwhile there’s the faithful Estelle, the old man’s lovelorn lifelong secretary, who “arrives with piles of paper, enveloped in by her old-lady microclimate,” while elsewhere Artair is complaining, “Until your cheque arrived, I had been living on pasties. I am not complaining, but the life of a serious artist is not easy.”

And then there’s Melissa, now a successful journo in London, and her valediction for her old boss:

        Melissa remembers Mr Tredizzick’s speech, which mentioned Tom Paine and the rights of man: ‘Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.’ Poor Mr Tredizzick. He was fighting a different battle for a different England, an England that no longer exists – if it ever had. Nobody now thinks about reaping the blessings of freedom; instead they hope to win the Lottery or become celebrities.
There are, anyway, different kinds of freedom. (Isaiah Berlin, philosophy, module 12.)

I shall probably be re-visiting At Swim-Two-Birds sometime soon.

Words and music

Aortas AmericaScribal Apr 2015Vaultage aprSunday, Tuesday, Thursday – Aortas at the Old George, Scribal, Vaultage – it becomes a bit of a blur.  It’s all good.  The Aortas pic actually celebrates the previous shindig but you get the gist.  Congrats to Pat for getting his photo-record up so soon (though the tell the truth he hasn’t got much else to do, so I’m not getting at Dan).  At Vaultage someone new blessed with the name Tim Buckley (no relation) impressed with a hatefully funny divorce song and an anthem in praise of Cuba.  Including the featured poet there were remarkably 18 performers in the course of the evening, including at least 3 previously featured artists in the open mic.  Someone called Eric did Misty with an electric banjo.

Leanne Moden - LiaisonsLeanne Moden , ex-Poet Laureate of the Fens, was a delight.  Diminutive in stature but huge in presence and a charm not without the odd barb, she wove spells both sacred and profane.  For the former her incantatory Brixton 2013 was an act of communion, private validation – her and her mate Clare at a gig – as glorious testament to the importance of music in our lives.  Then there was the passionate defence of her unweeded lady garden that is Shaving grace.  And many other joys.  Here’s a link to her blog: http://tenyearstime.blogspot.co.uk/p/about.html ; click on the media tag for a view of her in performance.  She has a slim volume (which includes other gems like the wonderfully titled Kubla Khan’s Bar and Grill) published by Stewed Rhubarb.  I can’t abide rhubarb in any shape or form but I do like the cut of their jib – “fuelled by ginger wine and late nights” – with a cute invitation to ‘befriend’ them on FaceBook.

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Harpole ReportThe Harpole Report

Delighted to find this at the back of a shelf when looking for something else, whatever that was instantly forgotten.  Long ago had convinced myself I’d loaned it out and (understandably) never got it back.  J.L.Carr‘s The Harpole report (1972) is one of those books, one of those timeless you-must-read (especially if you’re a teacher) comic novels of English life that stay laugh-aloud funny no matter how much actual circumstances have changed.  Set in a primary school in a small town, circa 1970, it is presented in the form of a report, from the introduction of which I now quote:

And remember this.  A school is a most complex institution.  Children and teachers, administrators and their minor officials, caretakers, cooks, medical officers, government inspectors, governors.  And parents.  All these grinding away, in and out of mesh.  Is there any wonder then that sometimes – as in the case of Harpole – there is a terrifying jarring of gears, or, worse still, that unforgettable coffin-thump of a big-end gone.

I realise that there is at least one generation of drivers out there for whom that last experience is  something of a mystery, but you still laugh, right?

Harpole takes on a temporary headship and inherits a mixed bag of staff, all with agendas of their own.  What happens to him is recorded in a wonderful chronological collage – delivered with a delightful lightness of touch – of excerpts from the school’s Official Log-book, Harpole’s private journal, a selection of all manner of internal and external communications and memos illuminating his battle with local bureaucrats and politicians alike, supplemented by examples of the children’s work, along with further excerpts from letters from Harpole to his fiancée, and those of Emma Foxberrow – a determined and idealistic progressive young teacher – to her sisterEvents unfold entertainingly.

As a footnote, some nice intertextualities.  The Harpole Report is set in Melchestershire (who did Roy of the Rovers play for?) and the problem kids from the lower-class family are called the Widmerpools (you know, that bastard who climbs the greasy pole in Anthony Powell’s A dance to the music of time).  There are probably more.

Yesterday's papersYesterday’s Papers

No disrespect at all to Martin Edwards, but I can’t help feeling that Mastermind has rather lost its way these days when something like Martin’s Harry Devlin novels are one of the specialist subjects allowed to be offered up by one of the contestants this week.  Especially when the first question has to spend time briefly explaining to viewers who Harry Devlin is.  (“I even forget whodunnit in some of those books!” the man himself said on his FaceBook page.)

Yesterday’s papers (1994) is the fourth in this particular sequence of novels, all sporting titles borrowed from the annals of rock music.  He’s a Liverpool solicitor who gets easily bored with the day job and who is fully equipped with that attractive crime fiction pre-requisite, of resenting “the failure of the world to match his more romantic notions of what was right and what was wrong.”

This time it’s a miscarriage of justice  – the murder of a young girl, daughter of a rising left-wing academic – dating back 30 years to the heady days of the ’60s Liverpool beat group boom and Harold Wilson’s ‘White heat of technology’.   There’s an interesting set of characters dead and alive (some both in the course of the book).  Faded glories, wasted lives, grudges held and secrets maintained, the broad consequences of a crime; with twists and violent turns, the truth finally teased out:

He had so desperately wanted to know who had strangled her, and why, and now that he had his answers, his principal emotion was sadness rather than satisfaction.  With murder, he reminded himself, there were no slick solutions, just the desolate reality of human behaviour as weak as it was wicked.

Nicely put.  There are plenty of neat touches too.  Harry’s receptionist doing her best to keep his eyes on the jobs that bring the money in  (“… she was a mistress of all the receptionist’s black arts and knew instinctively when he was within reach“), a scene at a record fair (“… and two men in their forties were recalling the merits of Northern Soul with the nostalgic exaggeration of old buffers harping on about the Dunkirk Spirit“), nods to the Golden Age of crime writing (“a time of innocence and charm“), on which subject Martin Edwards is an acknowledged expert.  I’ve read and would recommend all his Lake District Mysteries; another Liverpool novel, Waterloo sunset, is featured here at Lillabullero in The Kinks in literature section, and I am inclined now to catch up with the rest of Harry too.

Further musical adventures

VRW25BRS10456101_791331764280933_5682092596533613996_nScribal Mar 15
Plenty going on.  At the Scribal Sunday session there had been a cello and guitar duo singing the blues quite effectively (lovely instrument, the cello) and lo and behold, there was another one at the Vaultage Re-wired the following Thursday.  Or it might have been the same duo (never caught the names) with added blues harp thing around the guitarists’ neck.  Again worked well.  This Vaultage was a belter – great job, Bard Pat and Lois – relaxed and full of good music, the evening finishing magnificently by The Scrumpy Bastards, a highly accomplished fiddle and guitar duo, who had fun, as did we, and were a joy to watch.

We have lift off! LtoR: Neil Mercer, Michele Welborn, Clive Barrett and, blending in with his surroundings, Andy Powell. Phot c/o whoever took it, treated by me in PSP.

The Beechey Room sessions: We have lift off! LtoR: Neil Mercer, Michele Welborn, Clive Barrett and, blending in with his surroundings, Andy Powell. Photo c/o whoever took it, treated by me in PSP.

 Come Saturday afternoon and – hey – forget the goals going in on the Red Button: music is being made in the cosy new Beechey Room in York House.   Solo and ensemble.  Long may they continue in this vein.

Tuesday and the March Scribal Gathering at The Crown, singer-songwriter Rob Bray a last-minute replacement as featured performer.  Sparkling guitar, great wit.  Demystified open tuning: a decent noise possible “If you can open a crisp packet …”  Finished movingly with a serious song.  Stephen Hobbs played a blinder with his account (financial and narrative) of his lousy week: car serviced at great expense, shit gig at The Stables with an audience of 8 (and one of those 8 cried out for ‘More!’), buying Dylan’s Shadows in the night album; cut to the first time he heard Nick Drake and was not impressed and how 20 years later he saw the light; how he expects similar to happen to him with the Dylan 20 years hence, on his hospice deathbed.  Earlier Monty Lynch got an unexpected cheer introducing his song about the gods of the Zambesi River – Zimbabweans in the house!

StonyFolks2: photo (c) Nick Gordon - not just a bluesman with bottleneck and a Robert Johnson t-shirt.

StonyFolks2: photo (c) Nick Gordon – not just a bluesman with a bottleneck and a Robert Johnson t-shirt.

Another Saturday night and back to York House for StonyFolks:2 and another grand evening’s music-making.  I was going to say ‘All the usual suspects’, but thought the better of it (not all of ’em, anyway).  Broadest of definitions of folk (Louis Armstrong: “I aint never heard a horse sing a song.”) and none the worse for that.  Taken aback, on the 50th birthday of its release (give or take a day), by a confident and committed cover of Donovan’s Catch the wind from a young girl whose name I didn’t catch.  Those ’60s obviously just a passing fad, as the old folks used to say.  Think I’ll be OK joining in with Cotton Mill Girls in the future.

And so to the Aortas session in the George on Sunday.  Dan had his new toy, a – if I understand this right – touch screen wireless tablet digital mixer that meant he could play with the sound by touching the pretty graphs, and also do it standing at the back of the room.  It all sounded fine, better than ever.  There was cake (happy birthday Naomi, who ended with a new miserable song) and for the third time of gigging in the space of this single blog, Mark Owen‘s relentless (in the best possible sense of the word) Getting away with something, his toe-tapping take on the phone-tapping scandal.  It can stand it.

And then there was the murmuration …

… just a couple of miles down the road.  How lucky are we?  Not the greatest of photos, I’m afraid, but tis mine own.
Murmuration

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