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Posts Tagged ‘Danny Baker’

I

Fame requires every kind of excess.  I mean true fame, a devouring neon, not the sombre renown of waning statesmen or chinless kings.  I mean long journeys across gray space.  I mean danger, the edge of every void, the circumstance of one man imparting an erotic terror to the dreams of the republic.  Understand the man who must inhabit these extreme regions, monstrous and vulval, damp with memories of violation.  Even if half-mad he is absorbed into the public’s total madness; even if fully rational, a bureaucrat in hell, a secret genius of survival, he is sure to be destroyed by the public’s contempt for survivors.  Fame, this special kind, feeds itself on outrage, on what the counselors of lesser men would consider bad publicity – hysteria in limousines, knife fights in the audience, bizarre litigation, treachery, pandemonium and drugs.  Perhaps the only natural law attaching to true fame is that the famous man is compelled, eventually, to commit suicide.

(Is it clear I was a hero of rock’n’roll?)

Great Jones Street DeLilloThat’s from the opening of Don DeLillo‘s novel, Great Jones Street, published in April, 1973 in the US (and the next year in the UK), that I’d re-read at the start of the year.  It’s a dark sub-culture satire – for Rolling Stone magazine think Running Dog – with a rock musician named Bucky Wunderlick narrating.  It’s pretty good, still one of the best rock novels out there.  At the start Wunderlick opts to, at the height of his success, disappear mid-tour; rumours abound of weird sitings, illness, breakdown, death etc.  Given its period, it’s obvious post-motorcycle accident Bob Dylan is one of the reference points for Bucky – a big deal is made of the Mountain tapes, as opposed to the Basement tapes – and I’ve always thrown at least the self-immolating Jim Morrison and, not having read the book when it first came out, David Bowie into the mix.  That latter supposition has proved to be wrong if somewhat prophetic – fast forward to Bowie’s reported early reckless behaviour in Berlin and that “preferably in a foreign city” over the page in DeLillo’s book …

Anyway, with the announcement of the death of David Bowie and clips of Ziggy Stardust everywhere I remembered that opening paragraph of Great Jones Street and began to wonder who was drawing on whom (is that right, grammarians?).  The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was released June, 1972, and its concluding track, Rock’n’roll suicide, had been recorded earlier, in February.  Given the typical turnaround time in book publishing back then (you know, when they used to proof-read, for example) I guess that rules out any cross-fertilisation either way at the time, that it was a case of – showing my age – as Marshall McLuhan used to say, “it steam engines when it’s steam engine time” (not that I can actually source that quote).

II

When Michael Jackson died in 2009, more than anything I had an urge to read Danny Baker‘s brilliant account of that rare ‘interview’ of his with MJ and the other Jacksons that had appeared in the NME … in 1981 as it turns out – Yes, that good I remembered it 28 years on.  The internet let me down, but it did tell me that The great Greenland mystery (for that is its title) was reprinted in an anthology edited by Dylan Jones called Meaty beaty big and bouncy!: classic rock and pop writing from Elvis to Oasis (1996).  I got a cheap tatty copy via AbeBooks and did not regret it.  Baker’s article was as sharp (and funny) as I’d thought.  An excellent collection it turned out to be, too.  Recommended.

Hunky DoryWhen it was announced David Bowie had died I was not immediately moved that much.  So it goes.  I was, though, surprised to discover – I did have to check – that I didn’t own a single Bowie album.  “Heroes”, of course, magnificent, one of the (slipping into hyperbole) truly great songs of the second half of the twentieth century, always gets to me.  And that movie, The man who fell to earth, continues to haunt.  I admired the accomplished body of work, the intelligence, was animated by a few tracks (Suffragette City and Rebel rebel immediately spring to mind), but there was little I could say I loved this side of Hunky Dory (and not just the gorgeous Kooks), though even that had a touch of the dark about it.

That’s the album I shall soon own.  I find now that I miss it; I’d still call it his masterpiece.  Back then my mates and I saw it as an incredibly important album – the wit, the intelligence, the chutzpah (Song for Bob Dylan, “Lennon’s on sale again“), the musical nous – and yet it would appear from the obits it was not a huge commercial success.  Ziggy Stardust just left me confused: Five years is a tremendous song, a great eco-scene setter … but the costumes were a step too far for gritty old authenticity chasing moi.  For me the case was, as Chris Salewicz, another veteran from NME days, put it in The Independent‘s obituary:

The trouble with David Bowie, however, was that it was hard to separate any of his activities from a scent of calculation that seeped into all he did: ultimately there was always something cold at the core of even his greatest work.

But while I hadn’t been particularly touched by the man, it was obvious that many of my younger friends (it’s all relative) had been, and I’m certainly not going to hold that against them.  I’m intrigued at the generational paradox.   Because – I shouldn’t be, I know, because I know all about The laughing gnome and London boys – I am surprised to discover, if that’s the right word, that David Bowie is actually 18 months older than me.  I’ve read a lot about him lately, more than I ever did when he was alive; it’s been interesting to discover that, well …

III

I turned to Meaty beaty big and bouncy! to see who had the Bowie chapter and was delighted to find a piece by Charles Shaar Murray, written in 1993 for Arena magazine, reflecting affectionately on his career till then, and on his creative lull since Let’s dance.  Its title was The man who fell to earth, taken from the compelling Nick Roeg film of the same name that featured Bowie as an extraterrestrial who did just that.  Again, don’t bother hunting for the text on the internet.  Echoing Salewicz he makes no bones about:

The problem with Bowie – as far as trad-rock orthodoxy is concerned – is that, despite his charter membership of the Big Rock Survivors’ Chums League, he is not trusted.  He doesn’t Mean It.

He recalls, rather tellingly:

The first Bowie I ever met face-to-face was Ziggy Stardust […]  I was on my first ever assignment for NME, which suited the strategy adopted by Bowie’s then manager, Tony DeFries of MainMan, of keeping his boy away from journalists who’d known him in any of his previous incarnations.

And while the ‘actor’ schtick is not exactly new news, I doubt it’s been expressed in a more charming way anywhere else:

The first question I ever asked David Bowie was something along the lines of ‘The most commonly used words in current rock writing are “punk”, “funk” and “camp”.  How much do you think you’ve contributed to bringing this about?’  Bowie seemed intrigued by the question – presumably it made a change from ‘Why is your hair that colour?’ and ‘How does your wife feel about you being bisexual?’ – and he denied any connections with funkiness, sidestepped ‘punk’, and suggested there was something camp about anyone who felt more at home on a stage than off it.  ‘No-one ever called Gerry Garcia camp,’ I replied.  ‘Ah,’ said Bowie, ‘but he’s a musician and I’m not.’  And we were away.

Murray met him many times after that and, after a roll call of various Bowie stage personas, tells us:

In private, though, he was a South London Bloke, albeit with highly arty tendencies, and that’s about as close to the ‘Real Bowie’ as any of us are going to get.”

What I find interesting here is that the qualities CSM reports more of in this article from way back are precisely what is coming out from all the anecdotage appearing of late in the social media and endless newspaper tributes – the politeness, charm and kindness, the ability to switch to ordinary when he wanted; I never saw beyond the mask, the video.  The human being, no less.  Vale.

bowie_blackstar_redux

The official Blackstar promo photo

IV

Can’t leave it without  acknowledging, admiring and appreciating the way David Bowie kept his final illness private.  A dignified model for this celebrity driven age (even if the manner of the release of Blackstar was not exactly spontaneous – theatrical to the end, but I’d say he earned that).

I hadn’t realised that John Lennon was the co-writer of Fame – there’s poignancy.  All I could remember about it was the chant, so it crossed my mind that the lyrics might reflect something of the disquisition on fame in the opening paragraph of DeLillo‘s book that kicks off this post, but no – no relation.

Turns out this wasn’t as off the wall notion as it might seem, though.  Bowie was a voracious reader.  Check out his Top 100 Books and there you’ll find Don DeLillo‘s White noise, a book he’d praised in interviews for its ‘edginess’.  It’s a fascinating list, full of good stuff, the expected and the unexpected, ranging from Homer’s Iliad to Viz and back again.

Appendix:

Two other references I’ve found particularly interesting:

  • Neil Spencer’s acute overview of Bowie’s impact and career in last week’s Observer
  • and another one you won’t find on the internet, the late Ian MacDonald‘s fascinating take on The Thin White Duke’s notorious fascist salute at Victoria Station and the Station to station album – White lines, black magic: Bowie’s dark doings – written in 1999, which also harks back to some of the homo superior stuff on Hunky Dory and looks forward to personal salvation in Berlin; it’s not a knocking piece, I hasten to add.  Reprinted in Ian’s exemplary collection,  The people’s music (Pimlico, 2003).

 

 

 

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Giant Roman candles at Paraffinalia

Giant Roman candles at Paraffinalia

Paraffinalia

Glad to have gone to Paraffinalia in Milton Keynes’s Campbell Park on Saturday.  Weather stayed dry and there were braziers to warm by if you felt the need.  The Parks Trust and local community arts organisation Festive Road were running a Midwinter Fire Festival.  Hope there were enough of us there to make it happen again next year, because as an event in the social calendar it could well grow.  The lantern parades approaching from higher ground, the fire-play and the climatic conflagration, the music and modest fireworks made for some transformative psycho-geographical moments that will linger.  Might have helped to have known more about what was going on.  Was the Lords of Misrule tradition, apparently, with the phoenix arising from the ashes of the tall wooden figure of the Dark Knight – that’s the structure emerging from the fire in the photo.  Clever stuff, how the Dark Knight burned from the inside up.

Bassoon tubaThe music alone was worth the price of the ticket; it was free.  Punning pathetically there, it needs to be said the music was improvisational and a delight.  The Kettle Band, a brass, woodwind and percussion performance collective, describe themselves as, “The Bonzo Dog Doodah Band meets Steve Reich in a Balkan market place on Fiesta day.”  No Viv Stanshall, of course, but otherwise a reasonable summation; I was thinking the more approachable bits (with a touch of New Orleans marching band) of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra – stirring and fun.  That’s the tuba player’s illuminated instrument in the photo on the right (unless it’s a bassoon) (or maybe a sousaphone).

First bohemiansThe First Bohemians

Now here’s a sentence I’d like to have written, whether it be Erudition (with a capital E) beyond parody or not: “Posterity’s immense condescension nowadays seems wearisome in return.”  This from Vic Gatrell‘s fascinating The first bohemians: life and art in London’s golden age (Allen Lane, 2013).  He’s talking about the dismissal by two centuries’ worth of critics of the coarseness of the subject matter of a lot of Thomas Rowlandson‘s work.  That sentence is preceded by “Only very recently has there been serious discussion of the relationship between his erotic prints and the values of his age.”  (p.320)  We don’t get to see any examples of said prints in Gatrell’s book, but an easy Google search reveals material akin to Robert Crumb’s ’60s priapic underground output; I suppose I should put in an explicit warning here, but Rowlandson’s The concert would seem to marry the two eras and could have made a noteworthy album cover for someone if they’d dared.  Such work was, of course, but a small proportion of Rowlandson’s work.  Gatrell champions Rowlandson’s position in the pantheon of British art: “In a sense there was a magnitude to him that no other eighteenth century artist matched.  He was rather like a Dickens before his time – a Dickens without sentimentality or sexual reticence.

Scholarly though it is – with just over 100 pages of a list appendix, note apparatus and index – The first bohemians is a hugely entertaining and vivid take on English cultural history.  His focus is one small area of eighteenth century London – Covent Garden – where, over a number of crucial decades, owing to the circumstances he outlines, there was a significant concentration of creative endeavour, no less than “the primary expressions of Georgian art and literature were hatched.

The book is full of nice touches, looking backwards and forwards, not least in the sub-chapter heads.  So we get subs of Distressed poets and Distressed artists for the chapter headed The first bohemians, while the chapter Real life kicks off with Fantasies; then there is Clubbing:

No less essential to the artist’s business – and the writer’s – were the friendships and rivalries that waxed or waned through meeting, eating and drinking at several levels of frivolity or earnestness. Artists, print-men, writers, actors, gentlemen or artisans, or all of these together would meet in coffee-houses, or Tom and Moll King’s in the Piazza, or in the Rose, or other taverns, to debate, argue, gossip or sing, cheered on by port, wine or punch. There was amusement to be had in these places.

It strikes me there is a potentially massive classy soap opera to be made from these lives – the high life, the low life, the bawdry, the scandals the rivalries – from this bohemian milieu.

Ah, yes … Bohemia.  OK, Gatrell says: “Only in 1845 did Henri Murger’s stories for what became his Scènes de la vie Bohème apply to the creative demi-monde of Paris“, but look what was going down here long before.  (Apologies if it’s coals to Newcastle, but this was news to me.)

The artist at work - Rowlandson has a dig at the Classical pose and embraces a new joie de vivre.

The artist at work – Rowlandson has a dig at the Classical pose and embraces a new joie de vivre.

His main men, Hogarth and especially Rowlandson, are set against the “fine art’s social pedestalization” of Joshua Reynolds and pals, the snooty and newly instituted Royal Academy crowd and their neo-classicism.  Frowning on the real life approach of the Dutch school, the RA clique persisted with the notion that “… only the history painting of mythological, allegorical or biblical subjects could depict man at his noblest and most exemplary …”  Though hardly triumphant in its time, here in the crowded streets was the development of a metropolitan aesthetic that “chimed better with Londoners’ deepening delight in their metropolis“, an English art “of such genial informality that was rooted in the here-and-now” and grasped the idea that “the common people’s joy in life, could become artistic subjects“.  Though it is the artists and engravers that are the main focus of the book, literature and the theatre are not ignored.

In the often witty telling, final chapter – Turner, Ruskin and Covent Garden: an aftermath – Gatrell looks at what Victorian respectability tried to do to art history.  J.M.W.Turner‘s great champion, John Ruskin, loved his art, had a big problem with his personal life, to the extent that after his death he abandoned a biography and put about the tale that he’d burned J.M.W.’s erotica – he hadn’t – to spare posterity’s blushes.  (“… among the least titillating scribbles in the annals of erotic art,” says Gatrell, and he’s not wrong (not that I’m an expert, you understand)).  Though he’d moved on with his landscapes, and moved across town, seems in matters of the flesh you couldn’t take the Garden out of the man.  Unravelling the tale, with a side-swipe at “the windy tosh so favoured by Victorian sages” on the way, Gatrell writes with a flourish, “In short,” he says of the greatest English painter,  “young Turner came to consciousness in the full razzle-dazzle of Covent Garden low living.”  Which nobody can, now, deny. (For what it’s worth, I’ve not seen the film yet).

The first bohemians is a tremendous read, generously  illustrated.  The vacuum that was my knowledge of the eighteenth century slowly fills.  Two more things before we move on, however.  I was appalled by the inability of the publisher to correctly link plate numbers cited in the text with the numbers actually carried by the coloured plates – ridiculously inept.  And in a lighter if similar vein, this, concerning an early episode in Sir Joshua Reynolds career in fawning portraiture: “He did the heads while another artist painted the bodies.  Output could be hasty.  Once he and his helper managed to portray a man with a hat on his head and another under his arm.”

Going off alarmingDanny Baker

Staying in London, but moving forward a couple of centuries, let us now consider Going off alarming, the second volume of Danny Baker‘s autobiography (Weidenfeld, 2014), which takes us up to 1996.  The quirky chronology of its predecessor, Going to se in a sieve, added to the charm of what was basically laugh-out-loud anecdotage, a lot of it involving the ’70s music scene and life at the NME.  Arriving as it did a year later than it first appeared in the publisher’s schedule, its successor seems laboured in comparison.  And that skipping all over the place now strikes me as downright annoying.  Not that there are still plenty of nuggets to appreciate, but for a narrative that leads up to the supposed cliffhanger end of his first ubiquitous cheerful cockney tv career – replaced by Dale Winton on Pets mean prizes – to suddenly reveal that he’s not bothered because all this time, as well as appearing, he’d also been script-writing for other much bigger names all that time, so no probs – well, to me that is just cheating.  But here’s where you can never dismiss him and the sparkle in his eye: along with admitting one of those little earners was for Jeremy Clarkson (boo), within a couple of pages he signs off mis-quoting – well at least he’s giving a nod to – that fine Jerry Jeff Walker song Mr Bojangles.  (Hooray – so many great versions).

Anyway, as he says more than once – financial planning, radio presenting – his great skill is his ability to wing it.  Career path? – “if you are truly bright and peppy no amount of A levels ought to be needed to convince some dull-eyed job-Caesar on the other side of the desk …  […] Sod the gap year – have a gap life. […] Personally, I consider university a fucking nonsense three-quarters of the time, unless you are after something quantifiable like engineering or medicine.” [his italics].  The man has a point; sort of, the right side of self-delusional, if you really can walk it like you talk it.  This is then followed with some justice by one of many such entertaining rants – more are promised for the next volume – against the dampening spirit of the clueless organisation men who did follow the path most travelled and who seem to have taken over radio and television from the ‘golden age’ creatives.

So, winging it, we get many things, including some stories his mates asked him why he’d left out of the first book; a tangential chronicle of social change and the working class (particularly his dad’s) experience; five pages of other people’s stories about the lifts in the tower block where he started married life; other verbatim accounts of conversations and recitations that display a remarkable facility for memory; five more pages of his attempts at painting a bedroom ceiling which are not as funny as they should be; some stories illustrative of “this relentlessly farcical industry” that was his first radio and tv career; some great tales of encounters with famous people like Kenneth Williams (corroborated, he says with pride, in Williams’s published diaries), Frank Zappa (a disastrous NME interview), Frankie Howerd (and his ‘syrup’ or ‘old Irish’*), a corker of an experience with Mel Brooks and some insight into Paul Gascoigne).

Danny Baker: decent bloke, a quantum mechanic: gobshite, bar bore and brilliant raconteur – I’m pretty sure which part was which would depend on the eye of the observer.  If he had a religion his philosophy (he does actually say ‘My philosophy’ at least twice) would be God/Allah will provide; if he were a character in a Dickens novel (what do mean, if?) it would be, Something will turn up.  Of course I’ll read the next one.
(Oh, and that *: rhyming slang, both used in the same story, for a wig – syrup of figs, Irish jig.)

Funny girlFunny girl

And here we are, back in one of those ‘golden ages’ of television, courtesy of Nick Hornby‘s new novel Funny girl (Viking, 2014), though here Lillabullero‘s run on bringing Dickens into the proceedings will have to stop.  The prose is oddly flat, the characters never quite make it off the page, fail to transcend their non-fiction sources (in the works of Graham McCann on ’50s, ’60s and ’70s British comedy).  Maybe Hornby is aiming for a documentary tone, given the text is occasionally supported by contemporary photos and ephemera, and there are some neat precise cultural moments captured like, “I’m Keith from the Yardbirds” – a failed pick up line in the Scotch of St James and a culture that our heroine never quite gets:

She’d wanted to live in a city that felt young, but now she was beginning to wonder whether there wasn’t something rather shifty about these people, as if they’d got away with something.

So the time is the early ’60s, the black and white tv awakening from the ’50s that preceded the youth explosion – treated fairly sourly by Hornby – that changed everything.  Interestingly, one of the key plot moments is attending the opening of the musical Hair in the West End – when the counter-culture broke into the mainstream arena.  To place things more specifically, the writers of the sitcom that briefly rides the early wave – about a socially and politically badly matched young couple – fear they have been overtaken by the cultural relevance of Till death do us part.

Funny girl is the story of one woman’s career in show business and ‘Barbara (and Jim)’, the fresh situation comedy that makes her name.  Barbara Parker wins Miss Blackpool, but resigns when she discovers it means she has to stick around Blackpool for another year, while she wants to be Lucille Ball.  Agent humouring her before setting her up as another Sabrina (shows your age if that means anything, but there’s a photo if it doesn’t) sends her for a tv audition.  Right time, right place and we’re off – almost instantly enthused by her northern ways the writers shed their old school radio skins.  She (now Sophie Straw) seemingly doesn’t have to worry about getting an Equity card; or it’s taken for granted, even though it was a big thing in those days.

The older writers, Tony and Bill, are an interesting pair, and their ultimate split – living on the creative (and gay) edge as opposed to a safe marriage – is the most compelling element of the plot.  The cynic Bill’s take on an invitation to 10 Downing Street in Harold Wilson’s occupancy (one of the show’s characters works there)? –  “How many Beatles records do you think he’d heard before he gave them MBEs?”.  There’s a lot of interesting stuff about what happens in successful character-built shows and the confusions that can arise with public perception  and off-screen lives of the actors – actress becomes pregnant, write it into the plot and so on.  It made me think about the difficulties involved in keeping a tv show going when, really, all the potential angles have been covered and the story lines inherent in the establishing situation have run their course.  (So I do feel The big bang theory‘s team’s pain; and, no … that haircut isn’t working).

The book ends in the present with BAFTA lifetime award ceremonies and a stage revival.  Given the flatness of much of what has gone before, it is curiously moving.

Scribal Dec 14Scribal

Belatedly, December’s Scribal Gathering deserves more here than just Stephen Hobbs’ previously posted Poetry Top of the Pops.  Tasmanian poet Erfan Daliri took us into a dreamtime web and out again into his life.  With an incantatory delivery that brought to mind the didgeridoo played with the hands, lungs and mouth of a master, and a loving message that I paraphrase as being not far from John Lennon’s Walrus – “I am he as you are he as you are me /And we are all together” – but without the yellow matter custard and with a broadening of the gender parameters, he cast a spell.  We were also treated to a marriage proposal, read from his smartphone – to a special someone who hadn’t been sent it yet – that riffed on pigeons being faithful to their mate; thinking of the randy bastards we regularly see in the garden at that time of year I somehow doubted this, but subsequent googling proved that it was indeed another instance of me of little faith.  Here’s a link to Erfan’s website.

Featured singer was Sian Magill,  whose original approach to writing and a delivery that integrated her extraordinary voice (yes another one!) and guitar playing into a bit more than singing with guitar accompaniment. Here’s a video of the actual performance of her song Dressmaker.  Another song caused me to make the note “the missing link between Gilbert & Sullivan and Joni Mitchell, but that was probably the beer.  Pat Nicholson and Monty performed under the band name G.O.D. – growing old disgracefully.

aortas early Dec 14AORTAS at The Old George

I’ve mentioned Dan Plews’s AORTAS Open Mic sessions at the Old George in Stony in passing a couple of times here at Lillabullero, but I’ve had some really good Sunday nights there this year – good company, good music – so here’s a fuller appreciation.  That’s me centre left, in thrall to something Naomi is saying in the photo-collage Dan makes of each evening.  So, without further ado, consider them mentioned in despatches:

  • our musical host, Dan Plews, is an accomplished singer, songwriter and guitarist in his own right, fluent and well-seasoned (that herbs and spices, not necessarily maturity).   Here be links to just a couple of his fine compositions, Apples and Pears, and the outstanding Books and hearts/Hearts and books.  Earworms have lurked in those waters.  And he can get away with a more than respectable take on Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning.
  • Earworms aplenty in the songs of Naomi Rose too, a real original voice both in the writing and timbre. She always performs her sad songs with great charm and a smile never far away.  Here, give them a listen for yourself on her Soundcloud postings.  Fire in the garden is a great Milton Keynes song.  Yes, I did say that; and it’s not the only one (cue Vodka Boy’s Drunk poet blues, but that’s another story).
  • The Last QuarterI’d give you a link to some of Nicky and Mark’s Last Quarter songs too, but it seems another Last Quarter has usurped them on Soundcloud, so here’s an untypical photo instead.  Mark’s been good on his own too this year.
  • Can’t not mention Chris Wesson and in particular his song, Guiding star.  Just don’t ask him who wrote it (he did).  Now an established singalong favourite.  Needs to be on out there somewhere on the interweb.
  • Ernest Herb, mesmeric keyboardist of this parish, has lately also been channeling the blues to great effect (and looking a bit like a Poacher-era Ronnie Lane).
  • and here’s to the poetry of Steve Hobbs and Pat ‘the Hat’ Nicholson in various hats and guises.  And his dog.  And The Plucky Haggis.  And all the (well most of ’em) others.
  • Not forgetting the pub and its well-kept selection of real ales.  Cheers.

Happy New Year

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Silvia Bachli & Eric Hattan Snowhau video 2003

This is a still from ‘Snowhau’, a video collaboration of Bachli and Hattan, showing “the misadventures of a snowman learning to sledge. I was charmed. Does anyone else see in it an homage to Ignatz Mouse in George Herriman’s celebrated ‘Krazy Kat ‘cartoons?

One returns to that quote from The Ladykillers I used a couple of posts ago about “one of the primary pleasures afforded to the middle classes” being “being fooled by art,” though here we are definitely talking about the bohemian wing.  Walk into Milton Keynes Gallery for the next couple of months and you are greeted by … well, this is how the Exhibition Guide describes and explains it:

In the gallery entrance, Hattan has immediately turned the world on its head by wedging abandoned Christmas trees, upside down, to the ceiling.  His work is often driven by classic sculptural questions, such as ways of countering gravity.

This is by no means – not even close – the worst example of the sort of thing The Antipoet describe as “art wank” to be found in the guide.  Which continues:

The lamppost balancing precariously [yeah, right – blogger’s interjection] on the bannister up the stairs is one of many works Hattan has produced with street lamps.  An homage to his father who was an electrician, the ‘stem’ of this post is roughly coated in concrete as if plucked out of the ground like a flower or weed.

The question at the head of this blog – What would Danny say? – is there because I’ve been reading Danny Baker‘s infectious autobiography (of which more later) and one could surmise that while he is far from being a philistine, it might well be on the lines of “They must be having a laugh.”  But as I wandered around the gallery I’d have to report that among the ‘drawings’ I’d consider inferior to what we’ve got in the loft in scrapbooks of the kids’ (ahem) art practice at primary school, I found myself charmed and amused enough by other stuff to have no regrets about the time I spent at Swiss artists Silvia Bächli ‘s and Eric Hattan‘s “reflections on the everyday” going under the title What about Sunday?
My favourite from Silvia Bachli's Midsummer Ensemble MK 2012

I find something somehow intensely satisfying about Silvia Bächli‘s painting on the left, for example.  The show features both individual and collaborative works by the artists, and while Eric Hattan‘s intriguingly titled De l’obscurité au supermarche (a quote from jazz musician Steve Lacy “who remarked on the incredible journey of Jazz from an underground activity to being played at supermarkets”) can be dismissed as potatoes displayed on a plinth (which is what it is – oh the killing wit) I had a good time with one of the components in particular in his video installation in the Cube Gallery.   The films on the walls come from projectors at floor level so it’s impossible to walk around without your shadow intruding.  The biggest is a loop of a shiftingly focussed walk into one of the many underpasses that feature in Central Milton Keynes.  There’s a black cat strolling along though it’s not featured.  What happens is that you can position yourself and move so that your sharp shadow becomes a part of the scene; your sharp shadow walks into the blurred reproduction of the underpass.  It’s an odd feeling and I had, oh, minutes of fun with it.  Little things.

I may often seem dismissive of what’s on show in MK Gallery – some I’m moved by, some I get, some I don’t want to get – but I’m glad it’s there and of late they’ve been active in getting more people involved in it as a cultural and creative meeting place.  I hope they get the go-ahead for a planned expansion, look forward to getting a decent cup of coffee there when it happens.

Danny BakerAnd so we turn to Danny Baker‘s highly entertaining Going to sea in a sieve: the autobiography (Weidenfeld & N, 2012).  The autobiography, that is, up to the point when – he’s taken his cards and gone freelance with NME and started on national television – he first gets asked for his autograph in the street.  I look forward to the sequels.  Happy-go-lucky, spontaneous, cheeky chappy – all the cockney clichés – he survives, nay thrives, on positivity and being, with no discernible plan, in the right place at the right time.  A working class throw back, Dickens would have delighted in creating him even if he apologises for having such a happy angst free childhood.

Top of the class at primary school, he chooses to go with his mates rather than the posh school, and leaves at 15.  I had no idea what a short full time he’d had of it, before, with his mate Mark Perry, he started the whole punk fanzine thing with Sniffin’ glue.  Working at One Stop Records in South Molton Street, hip early importers of American stuff you just couldn’t get anywhere else – I can remember buying the first Captain Beefheart album there, before his time – he was acquainted with people like Elton John, Marc Bolan, Bowie and the whole nascent gay club scene.  Bolan gave him a shirt he’d admired – a Chuck Berry duck walk patterned silk affair – only for his mother to ruin it by putting it in the washing machine.  The tremendous anecdotage just flows and flows – his mates, his family, the music biz and beyond – but his personal story is a fascinating one in its own right, with a romantic twist near the end that could have been Hollywood scripted!

There is a welcome debunking freshness to his accounts of cultural events long chronicled in legend – punk, punk musicians, working at the NME – and he was there right at the centre of things.  Hence, on punk hitting the media, “ ‘Bored’ soon became the mantra, but nobody really was.”  He details what a creative musical period the early mid’70s had been, then:

Another entirely bogus piece of received wisdom has it that punk came along to rescue poor old pop music after it had been hijacked by progressive rock bands foisting five-disc concept albums on us all.  This is an out and out fallacy.  […]  Instead it was the airless studio-desk-bound tinkerings of acts like Queen, ELO and Abba that chiefly caused those who sought far cheaper thrills to revolt.  But nobody wants to hear that.  Glossy turns like Queen, ELO and Abba have all long since been given a free pass amid the punk-plot revisionism and now have entire feel-good industries behind them to convince people that their high-end production and corny showbiz styles were as welcome back then as they are aboard the pop nostalgia bus today.

Amen.  He backs that up with a couple of tales about Queen, but some punk musicians don’t get away unscathed either.  There are so many tales to tell; one of the funniest concerns celebrated rock music writer Nick Kent’s insistence to receptionist Danny – before he became a writer NME – to “Under no circumstances let my mother know where I am” and the circumstances in which our man did; another dented icon.

If you know Danny Baker from his tv or radio work it will come as no surprise that this is a very funny book, and that the narrative flow is full of tangents, but you’ll also know that these diversions invariably have a point that adds something with a whiff of folk wisdom.  The sheer love of words and word play he attributes to his father, a docker who was quite a character himself, and who sat Danny on his knee about age 5 for repeated readings aloud of Robert Browning’s rhyme-fest The Pied Piper of Hamelin – as good an advert, surely, as any for the encouragement of parents to read to their children.

As if all the above weren’t enough, we also have to congratulate the author on creating one of the great footnotes.  His musical tastes are broad:

In my lifetime I estimate I have owned around fifty thousand records […] but I don’t regret a single purchase and feel warmly about each and every one of them.

To the word ‘them’ is appended an asterisk, and at the bottom of the page, in the footnote it leads to, that statement is qualified, completely out of the blue, with:

With the possible exception of Patti Smith’s Radio Ethiopia.

That, my friends, is class.  The follow-up to the epic groundbreaking Horses, Radio Ethiopia is quite possibly the worst, most leaden and joylessly uninspired album ever put out by a major artist; I just tried to listen to it again and can only concur.

Finally, an agreeable evening on Sunday as the poetry posse turned up at Dan Plews’ AORTAS Open Mic night at The Old George.  I performed my recent epic, hewn from the bitter experience of three bulbs in the back garden:

2012

Some years
gladioli
are just
not fit for purpose

A bloke came up to me afterwards and said, “You know, I planted 50 gladioli bulbs last year and only one of them flowered.”  Nice to know one is not alone.

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