Monday, 19 June 2017

Mental block

Oh dear, this is odd, I seem to have lost the ability to write a blog post.   Even typing this feels like an upward struggle and I’m not sure why but, of course, the more I think about it the harder it gets. I’m thinking about it far too much now, I know, aargh.   Can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried and then scrapped an idea . How many times I’ve backspaced - even now when I’m writing about it – I mean, I just backspaced there without anyone knowing and took half the original sentence out.  There have been those paragraphs I’ve composed in my head in that sort of stream of consciousness way when I’m doing the washing up or brushing my teeth which seem to make sense – “Yes!” I think, “quick, write it down! ("Yes, when I've dried my hands!") but then when I try, the words just won’t co-operate.

So really, just to say – after a disproportionate amount of time and effort to even string this much together - that I’m still here and all is fine but I’ve come up against a bit of a block at the moment when it comes to blogging.  As soon as I can kick it out of the way, I’ll try again.  Sort of hoping that just saying this will be a start. 

Fuck that backspace and....  


Orange Juice: Rip It Up

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Did you see butterflies?

So excited to get the new Jane Weaver album 'Modern Kosmology' last week - I'm indebted to a couple of fellow bloggers for pointing me in her direction (so a BIG thank you, I think you know who you are!)

It's great (sorry for such an unimaginative adjective) - one of those that just gets better the more you hear it, the more you tune into the detail, the mood, the femininity.

Whilst I'm not a music blogger as such, I don't have a lot to say on other subjects right now, so will just keep to the song and keep it brief today.  'Did You See Butterflies?' is the new single; it's gorgeous (shades of Lush and Stereolab, as mentioned by others before) and I know that because I'm in love with it, I just want you to be as well!  Funny how music has that effect, but it's a good thing.

I did see a butterfly yesterday too.... not many around here just yet.

Jane Weaver: Did You See Butterflies?

Thursday, 25 May 2017


Long-time friends of this blog will know that I lost a very dear friend, who also happened to be a close neighbour, last year.

Whilst personal memories live on in our own minds, when someone is as creative and special as he was, it's really meaningful for those who knew them to see their talents continue to be celebrated and shared in their absence with a wider audience

So I just wanted to spread the word, as I'm aware many of you may already know his sleeve artwork from your own record collections, that there is a lovely feature about him/interview with brother Matt in the new edition of Classic Pop (issue 29) - available from all good newsagents from today.

In loving memory of Andrew ('Andy Dog') Johnson

Wednesday, 24 May 2017


As I'm drifting off to sleep Monday night, Mr SDS joins me having stayed up a little later, and tells me the breaking news he’s just read online.  Details are still sketchy, but it’s bad.

Oh no.  Your heart sinks, just sinks.  The world is a flawed, fractured place, full of twisted, tortured souls.  You shield yourself from it as much as you can, you try at least to be kind, caring, in everyday life.   It’s not hard to be those things, not really - is it?  To just get on with your own life and let others get on with theirs, peacefully?  We're lucky here, imagine life elsewhere... but still.  I slip back into a restless slumber, these thoughts swirling around, wondering what nightmare reality I’ll be reading about on Tuesday, things most of us will never be able to understand.

I’m due to go into central London in the morning too.  “Don’t go”, Mr SDS pleads.  “Don’t go if you don’t have to”.  But I do have to.  I’m very aware that I live much of my life – out here in the quiet countryside - inside a cosy bubble.  There’s the irony:  probably the biggest danger I face on a daily basis is that of an insidious, creeping paranoia about the world outside it.   I must defy that paranoia as much as anything else, I must go because I want to go.  

So I get on the train to London, and on the tube, mingle with travellers in crowded carriages; there are extra police around, there are serious faces, I don’t think that Manchester is far from anyone’s mind this morning.  But there are smiley faces too - cities are gutsy places and they remind you: most people are alright, most people want the same basic, harmless things.  In the city of strangers I’m one of them, not going to give in to fear.

I have such a good day, meeting with lovely friends I haven’t seen in years – catching up over tea and cake and paintings.   I’d have missed all this had I let stupid paranoia win.  It's over too soon, and I walk back to catch my train through the metropolis, lapping up its sharp contrast to my usual habitat, here where the sirens are my screaming swifts and starlings, and office blocks and cranes pierce the sky instead of oak and poplar.  

“This train does stop at Colchester, doesn’t it?”   My solitary daze is broken as the woman with two huge pieces of luggage, almost as big as her, asks me this.  I've just boarded too.  Yes, it’s the right train, so she sits across the aisle from me and continues to talk. 

“I’ve been travelling all day...,” she says,  “...come down from Manchester…”

Weird how one particular word, on one particular day, can carry so much weight and meaning and, right out of the blue, it unites us. 

I’m drawn to her face, and in a split second of silence I’m reading her expression.  I need to talk, it says.  I need to talk about something. She has the air of someone who’s been awake all night, with a body tired but brain still buzzing.  Her bright blue eyes are a little watery.  Then she starts to tell me that she’s in the army, and she’d been called on duty in connection with the Manchester Arena incident.

As other people start to board the train, filling up the seats around me, I could just withdraw from the conversation with the woman across the aisle.  But instead  I find myself moving seats, to be with her.  She needs to talk.  She needs to talk about something.

And so I spend the next hour in unbroken conversation with a complete stranger, who’s been awake for 37 hours and who, in spite of having been stationed in Afghanistan and served as a medic, tells me how intensely affected she feels by the night’s events.  By what she’d seen and heard, what she knew so far, what lies ahead too.  I let her talk.  My eyes are a little watery.

But we speak about other stuff too, and some stuff I never knew, because I’ve never chatted to someone who’s in the army, it’s a world away from mine - a world away from my cosy bubble.  I’m so glad I stepped out of it today; I learned so much more than I ever bargained for.  

There’s no punchline to this, no big revelation… I just want to express it.  My train companion is going to stay in my mind for a very long while.  She needed to talk, and I’m so glad I could listen.

Love and peace to Manchester.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Fare thee well

Just heard news of the death of Geoffrey Bayldon yesterday, at the age of 93.  One of my favourite actors, he was best known, I'm sure, for his fantastically animated and utterly convincing portrayal of Catweazle, the eponymous time-travelling character in what has to be one of the best children's TV programmes ever made.  Who could forget electrickery, the telling bone, Castle Saburac and Touchwood the toad?  And "Nothing works"! I'm sure its magic rubbed off on many of us of a certain vintage and may explain a lot...

He was known for many other parts too, not least the Crowman in Worzel Gummidge as well as a teacher in the superb film To Sir With Love; he even played the role of a butler in the tea party scene in Marc Bolan's Born to Boogie.

RIP Geoffrey.  Fare thee well.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Bittersweet (slight return)

This morning I watched the final episode of Peter Kay's Car Share.  Fellow bloggers Alyson at What's It All About?John Medd  and Rol at My Top Ten (- apologies if I've missed anyone else) have already written some perfect posts mentioning this excellent series so I don't want to repeat what's already been expressed so well.  But as I watched the final scene with watery eyes (I'm at that age...) I was reminded of how I felt thinking about a bittersweet relationship my mum once had (and I'm not talking about the one with my dad!).  I wrote about it here about in the distant past, and then after it had been up for a while I got cold feet and took it down!  However, it seems such a long while ago, and I hope you won't mind - but in the absence of anything new to say today and with those thoughts having risen to the surface again, I'm going to re-post it now.

I had called it 'Bittersweet'....


There's a risk that this is going to read like an episode of that mawkish 'Our Tune' slot that Simon Bates included on his Radio One show during the '80s.  For anyone not familiar - 'Our Tune' was a much parodied feature in which listeners sent in their personal stories, frequently about doomed relationships and often with sad, sometimes tragic, endings.  Mr Bates read these out with about as much compassion as a melamine table, and then a song which was particularly significant to the (usually unhappy) couple was played - hence the 'our tune' of the title.   It was handy to keep a sick bucket nearby.

I hated the whole premise of 'Our Tune'.  However (when stumbled upon by accident, of course...) I'll admit it could be horribly compelling.  I guess there was a good reason for it being popular because, perhaps, all the most rousing love stories are bittersweet.  Smooth sailings and happy endings may be what everybody ultimately seeks, but they don’t power up emotional responses in quite the same way as tales of lovers caught between the agony and the ecstasy of a not-so-straightforward relationship. 

One time this struck me was at my mum’s funeral, just over 18 years ago. I was introduced to an old man whom I’d never met before, although I'd heard about him.  As he looked at me, his simple exclamation of “Ohh!” was loaded with more emotion than I'd bargained for.  He went on to explain, “You look SO much like her!”  He was visibly moved and shocked at seeing what must have seemed like a younger incarnation of my mother.  (Much as I would like to have inherited her long slim legs, I got my dad's.  But I did get her face.)  “I'm SO sorry she's gone,” he continued, his warm smile doing little to disguise his immense grief, “She was very special to me.”

It turned out that this was my mum’s friend 'D'.  I knew a little about him because he'd been a constant over the last ten, or more, years of her life, and she'd mentioned him a fair bit.  She and my dad divorced when I was in my teens, but she had one of those personalities that always seemed to attract people. Not always the right people.  Quite a few relationships had developed, most of which were pretty short-lived (although I'm sure she wasn't the easiest person to be with). 

For instance... there had been the one with 'Mummy’s Boy', a 'true gent' type who seemed perfect until it became apparent that everything he did was dependent on approval - and not even from my mother, but from his.  Now that's bad enough, but even more ridiculous given that he was in his sixties... 

There was also an intense romance with 'Alcoholic Author', whose bright mind she admired but whose more frequently foggy state of mind and inability to help himself were, sadly, impossible for her to cope with.  That one did end in 'Our Tune' style tragedy - but we'll not go there here.  

Plus let's not forget 'Old Teacher', who had been the Biology Master at my sister's school and had become a family friend, but whose inappropriate attempts to give my mum a biology lesson of an altogether different kind in the kitchen one day were less than welcome.  And I thought he'd only come round to look at the ducklings (we were fostering some at the time in an inflatable paddling pool).

Finally there was 'Irish Builder', an unlikely match (given she'd always gone for mind over muscle) but whose macho Gaelic charm initially brought a sparkle to her eyes that would have been more befitting of a 16-year-old, only to be extinguished by some selfish, unpredictable behaviour.  He did at least encourage her to increase her otherwise tiny appetite because he insisted she kept her larder stocked full of potatoes (honestly.  That sounds like a bad and possibly very suspect Irish joke, I know, but I'm not kidding).  Well, he was the last 'official' beau in her life, and she sometimes stayed at his house in London, where she was slightly freaked out once by the framed photo of his dead wife falling off the wall while she was there (you couldn't make it up, could you..?)  But when my mum died he was already off the scene, as were the other men.   

Except for 'D'. 

I think 'D' and my mum would have been great together.  They shared a passion for literature and the arts and she was drawn to his intellect and romantic flair, while he adored her artistic nature and depth.  It turned out that, even though they didn’t meet until later in life in the rural village where they then lived, they'd actually grown up in exactly the same area of East London.  (Their secondary schools were closely located and I can’t help but wonder if they’d ever eyed each other up as teenagers from opposite sides of the road, never realising that decades later they would become such friends.)

They eventually met many miles away from their urban roots, in the bookshop where he worked, and soon developed a strong rapport.  My mum told me they often spent long afternoons together talking about everything under the sun.  Sometimes, she admitted wistfully, he'd hold her hand or hug her closely.   I know that they cared about each other tremendously, and what they felt for each other was love.  'D' was married - but now his wife had health issues, so she depended on him to look after her to some extent.  I suppose he'd become her carer, and that must be a difficult and sad thing to happen in any marriage.

My mum felt a little awkward about her close friendship with 'D', and had no intention of causing problems for him and his wife, so she continued to lead the life of a single woman.  She managed to meet a few men who must have been special to her for a while - including those mentioned earlier - and maybe if she'd lived longer she might have had a relationship that could have worked out longer term.  I think 'D' must have found the situation quite painful at times (and so must she)  but his unconditional devotion to her, as a soul-mate I suppose, never wavered.  No wonder he showed such emotion after her death, and was additionally moved at the image of her that he saw in my similar features when we met.  That was quite a moment.

Soon after the funeral my sister and I were going through her belongings and came across some cards which she'd tucked away in a drawer. It took a little while to decipher the signature, but then we realised they were from 'D'.   The poetic words inside - or maybe it's what I'm reading in between the lines - say so much, obviously enough for my mum to have wanted to keep them forever.  But what do we do with these things? - those letters, photos, cards? -  those tokens of love and friendship that can mean so much at the time, even if that time can't last.  I don’t know quite why, but I couldn’t throw them away either, so they are now tucked away in one of my drawers. 

'D' tracked me down one day a few years ago, completely out of the blue, to say he was going to send me some pictures - not photos, but pictures from old books - that he thought I’d appreciate, having some similar tastes to my mum.  Sadly he died before got round to it.  Of course I wonder what they were...  and I guess I would have kept them too.  But as 'D' and my mum (and 'D''s wife...) are no longer around, it feels okay to mention their story here.  (I just hope you didn't read this with Simon Bates' voice in your head - I sound nothing like him...)

I doubt that they had a special 'our tune'...  but if they did, the secret of what it was - along with many other secrets, I expect - went with them.

Anyway, writing this gives me a chance to share this tune, from the beautiful Kelli Ali (ex Sneaker Pimps).  I think she puts it very well.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The power of pop

Just a quickie today, but had one of those moments yesterday hearing something on the car radio and I'm sure you'll know the kind I mean:  Mr SDS was driving and we were nattering away, but when the intro to this song started up I had to tell him to "Shhh!"   "It's almost a bit like power pop!" I said, "...'78/'79 jangly power pop! I need to know who it is..."

Tuning myself in, what I heard was actually sweet, shameless, modern pop.  The kind that just makes you want to smile because it's simply pure and real and catchy.

We then got stuck behind a maintenance lorry at some roadworks  'cause Anglian Water were digging up the pavement and I was so pleased because it meant I could hear the rest of the song without it having to battle against the engine noise (the joy of a start-stop system!) It will now forever be associated in my mind with that little section of the A131.

Anyway.... it was Declan McKenna with 'Brazil'.  He was just 16 when he wrote and recorded this. He looks so young in this original video, aww!  (It's since been updated - I much prefer this earlier one posted below).   But reading up about him reveals a maturity beyond his years; he self-released this as his first single in August 2015 and, in spite of his lightness of touch musically, his lyrical content is darker and political - a criticism of FIFA awarding the World Cup to Brazil in 2014 without addressing the effect of the huge degree of poverty on its people.

He's touring this month and has an album out in July.  At the risk of sounding like an old fart, he helps restore my faith in....oh dear, do I really have to say it like this?!.... the 'youth of today'...

Declan McKenna: Brazil

Monday, 24 April 2017

'Your Attention Please'

Well, at least there’s one good thing about the threat of nuclear Armageddon; it isn’t half inspiring.  I mean – the cover art on this pamphlet drew me in immediately.  

Fabulous graphics!  I found it on the floor of one of the rooms in my late aunt and uncle’s house whilst having a final look around on Friday before the house clearance people come.  It was next to a copy of this, a little bit of light reading from 1948:

and some other literature which I just had to save – like this (far more cheerful) 1951 programme from the Folies Bergère.  

I can’t resist this kind of ephemera, I love the history as well as the aesthetics, the connection to an intriguing past I don’t know.  But the ‘Death Stands At Attention - A Protest against the H Bomb Tests’ leaflet – created and distributed 60 years ago (and what have we learned?) - seems particularly, chillingly, apposite for today.  Click on images to enlarge for reading, if you dare.

Not that I’m wanting to dwell on it, but the idea of nuclear holocaust has been prominent in my psyche before now – if you were hanging around in the anarcho punk scene with Crass and Flux of Pink Indians in the early 1980s, as I was, it was pretty much mandatory.  However, perhaps one of the most haunting and memorable tunes to come out of the doom and gloom of imminent radiation poisoning was from a far more melodic post-punk band, Scars.  

There was something really charming about Scars.  They formed in Edinburgh in the late ‘70s, recorded a session for John Peel in 1980 and a second one in 1981, when they also made just one album, Author! Author!  It was a great album, but sadly the following year the band ceased to be and there were no more releases.

I remember listening to Author! Author! and in particular this song (first put out as a flexi disc that came free with the style magazine, i-D) and really getting the heebie-jeebies; it still sounds incredibly disturbing now.  But proof that the prospect of the end of the world is, as I said earlier, very creatively inspiring, so it's not all bad, eh  - every mushroom cloud has a silver lining.   I just hope with all my heart that this post isn’t too what you might call... erm... 'timely'.

Scars: Your Attention Please

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Excuse me, but aren't you....?

I saw the strangest thing in my village street yesterday: a little Paul Weller lookalike.

He had the whole feathery hair thing going on – the too-short fringe and the too-long bits in front of the ears, and he was wearing a nasty beige jacket and smoking something smelly which barely concealed the scent of an also rather nasty aftershave.  As our paths crossed I could see quite a facial resemblance: the slenderness and pointed jaw, close together eyes, a longish nose – although it was kind of like viewing Paul Weller in a Hall Of Mirrors. 

I assume he’s a fan and not getting paid for it, although I s'pose he could front a Jam tribute band .  It got me thinking, though… as a lot of fans do like to look like their idols, which comes first?  Do people remark that you remind them of someone and then you consciously assemble everything from there – not just the whole look, but wanting to buy their records and go to their gigs too?  Do you have to convince yourself, maybe even force yourself, to like the output of the artist you so naturally resemble?   Or is it pure coincidence that you’re already a fan and just happen to look like them too?  Almost like there’s something in the genes – for example, statistics show that  93% of people with Elvis-type (‘Elvine’) features also have an innate penchant for The King’s music.  But I may have just made that up.

When I was working in a record shop, one of our regulars was a Gary Numan fan, who really did look like his idol.  Of course the dyed hair and the black and red outfit helped with the illusion, but he already had the basics covered in his facial features.    Siouxsie lookalikes were also a common phenomenon in the ‘80s, but probably not too hard a look to achieve if you have the right make-up and some hair crimpers.  I’ve seen Princes, Rod Stewarts and even now there’s an assistant at our local B&Q who’s a slightly shorter version of Elton John.  I’ve often wondered if she’s an Elton fan.

I should’ve asked them those questions.  Which came first, looking alike, or liking a look?

Anyway, I saw the Modfather lookalike again this morning, getting his fags at the paper shop.  Well, there was something about him - I just knew from his demeanour that  it would really make his day to hear a stranger say to him, “Excuse me, but has anyone ever told you – you’re the spitting image of Paul Weller?!”  or, better still, “Erm, hello…. you’re Paul Weller, aren’t you?  Wow!”  Oh, he would be so chuffed!  So, feeling uncharacteristically callous, I’m afraid I didn’t say a word.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

I think I know just what you're longing for

The fabulous Lee Hazlewood is a name which has cropped up more than a few times on several of the music blogs I love to read.  Whenever it does I'm unable to resist mentioning how I'm equally unable to resist a man with a deep voice.  Mmm.

When I heard a striking song by a man with a deep voice last year I scribbled it down hurriedly in the back of my notebook.... and then forgot about it for a while, until rediscovering it recently (and being just about able to interpret the appalling scrawl...)

Only thing is I don't remember the source - was it on the radio? Was it on a blog?  Was it on your blog?  If it was then I'd like to thank you!  I love this song.  It's kind of cinematic, dark and brooding with shades of John Barry and as if from another era -  the additional female vocal from Marie Munroe (Hilde Marie Kjersem) made me think of Lee and Nancy, the whole mood made me think of film noir....  well, it made me think of many things.

I'd never heard of Sivert Høyem before but a quick search around reveals that he's Norwegian and used to sing in rock band Madrugada. Following a number of solo releases (including the 2016 album 'Lioness' from which this track comes) he has formed a new band called Paradise with Rob Ellis (notable for his work with P J Harvey, Bat For Lashes, Laika and others) and Rob McVey (Marianne Faithfull).   I'm not sure that anything else he's done will match up to 'My Thieving Heart' for me, but sometimes one song is all it needs.

Monday, 10 April 2017

In praise of geeks

“Geeks,”  I said, “Geeks!  That’s what you need in your life.”

I was trying to explain to my friend as we sat in the pub why I think she would benefit from having some people in her life who don’t follow the crowd.  Why it might be good to surround herself more with the type of people who, just as a ‘for instance’, would prefer to dig up dirt and find Iron Age brooches than to dig up the dirt on perceived love rivals on Facebook. 

This had followed on from a long and animated conversation about all the bad influences in her life, and then led to us drinking a toast to how, actually, we don’t really like 'people'.  To quote Charlie Brooker from the back cover of his excellent book, ‘Dawn Of The Dumb’:

“I don’t get people.  What’s their appeal, precisely?  They waddle around with their haircuts on, cluttering the pavement like gormless, farting skittles.  They’re awful.”

Of course I know not everyone’s like that  –  I know you’re not, for a start.  But we all know what Charlie means by ‘farting skittles’ and sadly, in her self-proclaimed bid to ‘fit in’, my friend has allowed herself to be drawn to their world. 

I sense that many of the people with whom she wants to fit in are also desperate in their bid to fit in.  They are full of insecurities disguised as material aspirations and boob jobs.  To fit in to what they see as ‘normal’ – to meet the expectations of others, the irony being that those ‘others’ with their expectations are also doing the same thing and so it goes on and on and the most shallow social stereotypes get reinforced.  To be true to oneself, to embrace one’s funny little ways, quirky interests, tastes and obsessions, to accept one’s imperfections and  to have a different perspective in a world full of farting skittles (I’m getting to like that term more and more) – well,  it makes you a bit of a geek.

I realised I was a bit of a geek from quite an early age; there was that time at primary school when my best friends were the ones who hated sport but loved reading - plus, they were boys.   Andrew and the two Ians (one with an extra ‘i’) shared my interests – we all liked drawing and tortoises and the Wombles and playing in the sandpit with our Itty Bitties.   It was a happy time in my life, but I realised that Andrew, the two Ians (one with an extra ‘i') and me were not quite like the majority of our classmates.  Later, my close girlfriends were the ones who went through punk with me, we revelled in being in a minority in our neighbourhood, and in our school, we liked the music no-one else did and the look that people ridiculed.  But then on Tuesday and Saturday nights we’d go down to our local gig venue and fit in effortlessly with all the other misfits.  We found our niche.

My friend said that ‘fitting in’ and 'wanting to be normal' had always been her desire, even in childhood.  She must be one of the few people I know who didn’t have a teenage rebellion.  But through not just going along with the majority, you find your own crowd of like-minded others, don’t you?  Work and broader social situations may require compromise, but there’s no point in trying to change yourself into the type of person who’s never going to ‘get’ you anyway.  

I'm hoping my friend will embrace the true geek in herself, and then she'll find some others who will embrace it too.  It's about time.

Itty Bitties.  In case you were wondering...

Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Selfish C**t dilemma

Several boxes of CDs recently came our way through a friend.  He used to sell CDs, so in amongst them are some multiple copies of one or two items.

This means there are six copies of ‘Authority Confrontation’ by the band whose name contains one of the most reviled words in the English language (with the exception of ‘Farage’).  This is a word I don’t have a problem with, but I know and understand that a lot of people do.  (Should you be interested you can read my - and others' - more in-depth thoughts on why it deserves a place in our vocabulary here: Something beginning with C  - and I'm sure it goes without saying that both post and comments contain a few expletives.)

Back to being given several boxes of CDs - well, I know that sounds exciting - and it was, until we opened them.  Oh, the thrill of the unknown! Surely a veritable smorgasbord of new sounds to investigate… a glorious cornucopia of audio surprises?   What marvellous gems could be in there, just waiting… waiting for our gasps of delight when we find them hiding amongst their less interesting neighbours, free them from the bondage of their plastic enclosures before succumbing to their shiny shiny charms and falling desperately in love?    Sadly none.   We’ve gone through them all and there are very few we want to keep, so we're bagging most of them up again now to take to the charity shop.  But at least that feels good; I love the way charity shops work, everyone’s a winner.

Here comes the dilemma.  Can you take six copies of a CD by Selfish Cunt to a charity shop? Would they even dare put it on display in Age Concern or Barnardos?  And if they did, would anyone dare buy it?





Umm.  At the moment they are still here.  But if you would like to own a free copy, all six are up for grabs, that’s more than enough to go round, surely?!   It could be like a competition!  Just tell me the most selfish thing you have ever done.  Or the least selfish thing…. 

…and it’s yours.

Feel free to swear.

UPDATE:  In light of Rol's and Swiss Adam's suggestions in the comments, it doesn't seem quite right to send a Selfish Cunt CD to someone who clearly isn't one.  Or at least not to accompany it with something else a bit nicer.  So if you have a lovely tale of unselfishness to share, I shall look in the box of CDs for other prizes. You never know what you might get! 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Magritte for the masses - the cover art of the art cover, part 3. Includes substance abuse.

My chosen theme for an important Art exam is one of the finest examples of futuristic technology in existence.  It’s interactive, revolutionary, progressive.  I’ve picked something ultra-modern, a reflection of the fast-moving times we’re in. 

I’ve decided to portray a Space Invaders machine.   It is 1980, after all.  Space Invaders are taking over the world, or at least the pubs of the world.

And I’m going to draw it in oil pastels.

Only, trying to draw a stupid Space Invaders machine  in a stupid hot studio at college, with no previous experience of these stupid smudgy colour sticks I’ve bought is a bit like trying to paint the Sistine Chapel with lipstick.  We’re up against the clock too, this being an exam.  I keep having to leave the room to spray it with fixative which is a right pain, and gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “getting a fix” – or perhaps not.   The fixative smells like hairspray mixed with nail varnish, Evostik and vodka.  It can kill 30,000 brain cells in one sniff, or something like that, and if we knew all about CFCs and the ozone layer it would be banned, but we don’t - at least not for another nine years or so.

Anyway, every time I go out into the college corridor to sniff the fixative, Kirk is already there, sniffing his.  Kirk is one of my best friends.  He is tall, skinny, geeky, excruciatingly shy, a Sci-Fi fan with a dry, caustic wit, and he looks a bit like a young Catweazel, if you can imagine that.  I swear he eats nothing but cream buns and he wears those Cornish Pasty shoes.  He is also super-talented, an incredible young artist.  On a large piece of card he is portraying a wonderfully bizarre view from a window, abstract and full of dreamlike atmosphere, and it is a masterpiece - skillfully, expertly rendered – in oil pastels.  Even after several sniffs of fixative spray I think we can safely say he still has a lot more brain cells than me.

When the exam is over, Kirk has produced a piece of art good enough to hang in the Louvre.  Me, I’ve produced a piece of shit not even good enough to hang in the loo.

 I scrape by with a ‘C’  in my ‘A’ Level Art for a stupid smudgy picture of a stupid arcade machine being played by my disembodied hands; the whole thing looks more like a patterned jumper knitted by Aunt Ada after the malfunctioning sausage machine incident of '74.  However,  I’m very happy to say that Kirk is awarded an ‘A’ for his magnum opus.  Not only is it a brilliant piece in its own right, but it’s also an homage to another fantastic artist, René Magritte.

As you may know from the first part of this series, Magritte is one of my favourites, so this is where the cover art theme comes in, as it turns out that there are an awful lot more examples of Magritte's inspiration than Kirk's 'A' Level Art triumph and a Jackson Browne album sleeve.

Such as this…

Styx: The Grand Illusion

...and this…

Roger Daltrey: One Of The Boys

...this too.

Funeral For A Friend: Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation

Some are slightly less derivative, but still clearly inspired by Magritte...

Heart: Greatest Hits

Gary Numan: The Pleasure Principle

There are also the covers which simply use original Magritte artwork, like these

Gladys Knight & The Pips: Visions

Jeff Beck: Beck-Ola

Alan Hull & Radiator

How brilliant and influential is Magritte?!  Far too many examples to compare and contrast this time, I'm sure you'll agree.  Mind you, I wish I could see Kirk's 'A' Level picture again and show it to you here; I have no doubt that it could still be a favourite...

... a bit like this was in 1980:

Space Invaders game

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Rod or Renoir? The cover art of the art cover, part 2. Includes snogging.

I had my first, proper tongues-included kiss to Rod Stewart’s ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’.  It was with an identical twin and it was awful. Not that those two things are connected.  But they were both slobbery.

It  was Spring 1977, I was thirteen, liberally doused in Charlie perfume and wearing a cheesecloth blouse in pale blue to match my eyeshadow, unaware that my little white padded bra beneath it was illuminated like a neon sign in the ultraviolet lights of the local disco.  The twins – who seemed really old, I mean they must’ve been about fifteen -  flirted clumsily with my friend and me and then when Rod’s ballad came on one of them grabbed me and the next thing I knew we were doing that weird, awkward, rotating thing they call a slow dance. Halfway through he asked me if I’d ever kissed anyone before.  I told him I hadn’t.  What followed was a lot of mangling of lips, teeth and tongues and some unpleasant exchanges of dribble.  I’m just glad I'd taken both my dental braces out earlier that night or there could've been some serious injury involving wire and tonsils.  But I was off the starting blocks.

So whenever I hear that track I’m there again, uncomfortable and naïve, French kissing a boy I didn’t fancy one iota but feeling strangely proud for trying it, even if it left me slightly traumatised and in need of water, a bit like taking part in a chili eating contest.  I’d been practising it on the back of my hand for months, after all, so it was about time I tried it on something that moved and, mainly due to her 'beef chunks in jelly' halitosis, the cat was not really an option.

What I didn’t know about that song at the time was that before being released as a double A side with ’I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ and reaching No. 1 in the singles chart, it had appeared on Rod’s 1976 album ‘A Night On The Town’.

What I also didn’t realise at that time because my familiarity with impressionists did not extend beyond Mike Yarwood, was that the sleeve art for ‘A Night On The Town’ was a pastiche of a famous piece of art from 100 years earlier: ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’ by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  Just like identical twins (oh the connections keep coming!), they were superficially alike but not exactly the same.

Now which one do you prefer?

Renoir’s beautiful depiction of Parisians dancing and feasting on a Sunday afternoon, an Impressionist masterpiece full of life and joy, with its richness of colour and the incredible sense of light, dappled through the trees, almost flickering off the canvas, and all those shapes and forms fitting together so well, so organically?

Or the same scene as painted by Mike Bryan, so self-consciously copied that the lines and brush strokes look rigid, that lovely fluid quality that Renoir achieved is sadly missing, the softness of the faces hardened, the figures flat, the illuminated hues of a balmy afternoon now duller and more like a morning in February?

And its pièce de résistance - grinning out at us from underneath an ill-advised straw boater (I know he just wants to fit in with 19th century Paris but the mullet is a giveaway, he’d make a crap time-traveller) is Rod himself - looking more like a schoolgirl from St Trinians than a raspy-voiced ladies' man.  

I'm not saying that I could have painted a copy any better, I couldn't - just that, like Morris Dancing and incest, some things in life are best left untried.

It's a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.

Still, it gives me an excuse to include a far superior version and great live performance of ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’ (written by Cat Stevens), sung by PP Arnold in 1967.  I do like this rendition and the good thing about it is that it helps me to disassociate the song from the snog.  Let's just say, the first kiss was not the deepest…

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The cover art of the art cover

There’s a series of paintings by Magritte which I love: L’empire de Lumières (Empire of Light).   I love them because they’re impossible.

The sky tells you it’s daytime, but everything else shows it’s night.  At first it looks like some kind of twilight scene, but the sky is full of light and the light should go somewhere - it doesn't.  Instead the trees and ground are in darkness, the buildings illuminated only by a streetlamp.  Magritte’s art is full of the unexpected, of little visual tricks and playful combinations that don’t go together naturally.   I had no idea that I’d ever be saying the same thing about Jackson Browne.

But here it is – the cover art to Jackson’s album ‘Late For The Sky’.

Thanks to it being featured at  Rol’s very fine blog My Top Ten,  it was the first time I've taken notice of the sleeve which I must’ve flicked past in record shop racks many times before now.  But the picture is brilliantly inspired by the Magritte series, this time a photographic sky of vivid daytime blue with bright white clouds which could only be lit by strong sunshine so, like the painting,  everything else should be too - but no.  Clever, innit?  I still prefer Magritte, though. 

Anyway it got me thinking… about art and album covers and how there are others that also take their influence from well-known paintings.  One of them sprang to mind straight away.

Bow Wow Wow: 
See Jungle!  See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah.  City All Over! Go Ape Crazy!

It's still controversial because we're aware that Annabella Lwin was only 15 at the time of the photo shoot.   When asked in later years if she realised how 'shocking' the image was she replied that she didn't and that the difficult part for her was really just the act of sitting there naked in the middle of nowhere on a cold early morning with her clothed male band mates. The original Manet painting had also been thought of as offensive (though for different reasons) and was rejected by the official art exhibition (the Salon) in France at the time of its creation in the 1860s.  It wasn't the nudity itself that was the problem (hardly unusual in art!) but something about the context. 

Edouard Manet:
Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe 1863

However this wasn't the first time a painting of nude women in the outdoors with clothed men had been exhibited in France so it seems a bit hypocritical.  Manet was influenced by this one on display in the Louvre, painted over 300 years earlier.

It's not known whether this is by Giorgione or Titian
Fiestra Campestre,  1510

At Bow Wow Wow's peak anyone buying their records was already familiar with seeing photos of Annabella without many clothes on, and I don't remember this cover seeming as outrageous in 1981 as it probably would be now, although it still ruffled feathers - just as Malcolm McLaren intended it to.  The publicity worked - the album quickly made it to No. 1 in the charts - but a less happy outcome of that cover was a rift it caused between Annabella and her mum.

But I know I readily accepted it - as art, I suppose - at the time of its release, when I was just 17 myself.  I might have done the same as Annabella at 15 and I doubt I'd have ever thought of it as anything dark, especially with band mates - more just embarrassing, but also rebellious.  Perhaps the fact that it was an obvious pastiche of a painting made all the difference?  Also I can't help thinking about how the photo shoot must have felt in real terms, all waiting around for the right light and getting the technical details in order whilst hoping your, erm, goose pimples don't show, a bit like life modelling with a broken fan heater.

I've been looking at other album covers inspired by famous paintings too so I've some lined up for future posts (oh, another series!)  As in the thoroughly enjoyable one over at Charity Chic Music where we get to weigh up a wide selection of cover versions with their originals (the outcome for Bob Dylan was victorious but we've yet find how it’s all going to pan out for Bruce Springsteen) I found myself wanting to rate which one I preferred.  Most of the time it's the original painting but I'd have to give my points to Bow Wow Wow for this one - the lushness of the setting and Annabella's typically defiant expression take me right back to this great song (which I can't embed because Blogger won't let me - censorship all over again? - so here's a youtube link)

Bow Wow Wow: Chihuahua

And here's that fantastic clip of Annabella sticking it to the extremely condescending BA Robertson.

"All froth and flounce..."?  What a dickhead.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

'A trip into the world of real psychedelia and more' ?! #2

When introducing this new series last month I explained how some musical discoveries in my twenties excited me so much that I was inspired to make my own fanzine on the subject.  It was the 1980s and the garage, psych and beat music that obsessed me was mostly from the mid 1960s - but it was so fresh to my ears that it really felt like I was indulging in something new.

Much like blogging now, I wanted an outlet, a way to express and share my enthusiasm and the fanzine was the solution. Somehow I managed to write, illustrate and design six editions, by hand.

For this series I’m going to post some of the tracks I wrote about then, along with snippets of whatever it was I said.  As the strapline of my fanzine rather grandly announced, it's ‘A trip into the world of real psychedelia and more’.  

~ - ~

I remember wondering how to start.  So much to say!  And so excited I didn’t know how to say it!  So I started Issue 1 with some drawing instead – a doodly cover illustration with a woman with no top on…  they say sex sells.  For 15p, in this case. 

Armed with a selection of fine-tip Pilot pens, some magazines to cut up for collage and piles of records, I got going.  Issue 1 included quite a cross-section of reviews/summaries – including my favourites from the past such as the Eyes and the Action...

... alongside much loved contemporary bands with a retro sound, e.g. the Nomads and the Prisoners.

  Then I launched into a six-page article on the ‘Pebbles’ series of compilation albums featuring largely unknown US bands from twenty years back.  

Here’s some of what I had to say about them.

“The ‘Pebbles’ albums are a classic selection of American 60s punk.  They feature a mixture of incredible obscurities, psychy classics and novelty records that are just good for a laugh.  Some of the slightly better known tracks featured on them have since been covered by new groups such as the Lords Of The New Church, Plan 9 and the Cannibals and have thus reached a legendary status.  I’ve listed here most of the Pebbles LPs that I think are worth checking out if you can.  Most of them are stil available, though you’d probably have to pay over £7 each…”

£7 seemed an awful lot of money to pay for an album in 1986.

“…There are loads of similar compilations around – Acid Dreams, Acid Visions, Nuggets, Highs In The Mid-Sixties – to name but a few , but it’d take many long hours, several biros and yards of paper to review them all, so I’ll just stick to Pebbles for now!”

Err…  Biros…?   Paper…?  What are these things I speak of?

“… I think the reason there are so many more US compilations than UK ones is that so many bands over there were able to release one-off singles on really small labels, so a lot of stuff was getting heard.  Some records were the only ones to be released on a particular label.  The scene must have been similar to the indie scene that thrives over here now, and come to think of it, it’s amazing that half of the records ever survived as they must have been pressed in really small quantities!  Anyway, I’m really glad that someone managed to find them and compiled these albums for our enjoyment twenty years on…”

Weird to think that those twenty years are now… aargh! … fifty years on.

A great one to start off with!  Side 1 opens with a real classic – ‘Action Woman’ by the Litter.  Check out the Damned’s version of this too, on the Naz Nomad and the Nightmares album.  It has a catchy chorus, screaming guitar and just shoots straight into your bloodstream….”

Forgive me, I was young.  I know music doesn’t ‘shoot straight into your bloodstream’.  But still, it’s a great track, so here it is.

“… The side closes with the Haunted’s ‘1-2-5’ – a beaty little number that has also impressed a few new bands such as the Electric Roaches and the Fuzztones!  It was a major hit in the band’s home country, Canada, at the time of its release…”

I loved the Fuzztones but, weirdly, I don’t remember the Electric Roaches at all.  Never mind, here’s the original from the Haunted.

You know what, they still sound fucking great.

More snippets and songs next time!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

A view to a kill

As far as excuses go, I don’t think “The sparrowhawk ate my woodpigeon” is going to wash when I explain why I’m a bit behind on my work – but it’s what held me up yesterday.  I’d come in from my Shedio (shed/studio, out in the garden) to make a cuppa, got sidetracked checking emails, and when I went back to the kitchen to get my tea I witnessed some very gruesome bird-on-bird action through the window.

I’m glad I missed the initial attack - must’ve been pretty harrowing.  The woodpigeon is a big old bird and weighs about half as much again as a female sparrowhawk.  However, with her speed and stealth, the sparrowhawk had ambushed it and was already plucking out its feathers whilst pinning it to the ground, ready to eat.  Sadly, it was probably still alive.

Once the sparrowhawk started tucking in to its prey I realised I too was ambushed in a way –  trapped inside the house because going back to work in the Shedio would mean disturbing her and I didn’t want to.   My reasons being: a) until most of it had been eaten, the woodpigeon would be too big for the sparrowhawk to carry away in her claws to finish elsewhere so its death would’ve been futile and, frankly, what a waste of fresh meat  and, b) I didn’t really want the job of clearing up the crime scene.

So I decided to wait until the sparrowhawk had eaten the whole bloody thing even though it would take hours. 

Anyway, next time I glanced out the window the hawk was on the fence, empty-footed, cleaning her talons before  flying off.  Finally (but too late to get on with any more work, honest)  I could go outside.  It looked like there had been a small explosion in a feather duvet shop but, apart from that,no sign of any other pigeon remains.

When I looked out this morning, though, the sparrowhawk was there again.  And so was what was left of the woodpigeon, having its bones picked clean by the look of it.  I was surprised – seems the hawk must have left it hidden somewhere overnight and returned to retrieve it and finish it off today; I didn’t know they did that.  

The sparrowhawk and I both ate our breakfasts and by the time I’d finished so had she.  So I went outside to survey the scene, and this time I found a foot.  A whole woodpigeon foot, that was all. But be thankful I've spared you a photo.

Now, don’t be too put off, but I have a macabre fascination with this kind of thing and don’t find it gruesome at all.  Maybe because it’s all part of the way nature works.  Perhaps also because I when I was growing up my sister used to keep strange pickled things in her bedroom and I don’t mean onions.  She had a bat, fish eyeballs, a chicken’s foot – all to satisfy her interest in Biology.  Once we were on holiday, driving slowly along a quiet country road in Dorset, when my mum spotted something unusual just up ahead, motionless on the tarmac but looking like a snake.  Indeed, it was a large grass snake.  Dead, but perfectly preserved (no tyre marks).  

It’s only on recapping this story that I realise it may seem bizarre that we stopped , picked it up off the road and drove on with it in the car.  Then my mum and sister spent the next day traipsing round chemist shops in the Lyme Regis area in pursuit of formaldehyde.  And they got some.  So then we kept a  dead grass snake pickled in a jam jar of formaldehyde in the hotel room for the rest of the holiday (before it was given permanent residency on my sister's grim specimen shelf).

But I digress; the disembodied foot is still out there in the garden and I suspect it may have belonged to Limpy, who was a regular woodpigeon visitor, recognisable by (as you probably guessed) a limp.  Just now another woodpigeon has been sitting on the roof for an awfully long time, cooing and calling, probably for its mate, and no-one turned up. 

However, the sparrowhawk has feasted well.  It can’t be an easy life for this magnificent bird of prey, having to catch other birds on the wing – eating little else – this is a committed carnivore.  The female can survive for seven days without food apparently so hopefully a belly full of woodpigeon will keep her hunger at bay for another week.  If not she can always come back for the foot.

RIP Limpy (I think).

Monday, 27 February 2017


An artist's impression of a mojo

Mojos come and mojos go.  Mine seems to go missing with alarming frequency and I’m sure that somewhere out there a mountain rises up, stacked high with all the ones we have lost, rotating at different speeds, their multiple colours mingling in a psychedelic whirl.  (That's how I see mojos, but I may be confusing them with yoyos.)

I’m full of admiration for those many dedicated bloggers who keep hold of theirs and come up with something new every day; I know it’s no mean feat and not something I could do.  That said, this blog has somehow managed to make it to six years old today (and more than 450 posts!)  How did that happen?!

When it was just a mere baby (on its first birthday) I posted…

I had no idea quite what I was doing when I tentatively chose my template, figured out something to do with widgets, typed my first post and, with my heart in my mouth, clicked on ‘publish’. 

I don’t think that much has changed, I still have no idea quite what I’m doing - but I like doing it whenever I can.  And to everyone who’s ever taken the trouble to have a look/read/listen, especially if you’re still doing so and have been kind enough to comment, a very big thank you - I really appreciate it!


PS Today's birthday jamboree bag contains some things on the theme of six:

Sneaker Pimps: Six Underground

A Six Spot Burnet moth

The Prisoner: Number 6 badge

Detail from my beetle print blouse
(seeing as they're six-legged...)

Remember this?

6 is a 'perfect number', mathematically, 
because when you add up all the number's divisors
(a number by which it can be divided without leaving a remainder)
it equals the number itself.
I.e. 6 can be divided by 1, 2 and 3.
1 + 2 + 3 = 6.
Perfect numbers are rare. 

(Any mention of maths on these pages is also rare)

Friday, 24 February 2017

Smell of female

Imagine if we had the power of smell-o-vision on our blogs!  I'd use it right now, to help me with this post.  You'd get the scent of bergamot, lemon, amber, cedarwood, vanilla and more.  Sound nice?

The thing is, I was in my local pharmacy a few weeks ago, admiring the seemingly random displays of soft toys, sunglasses and birthday cards amid the cough sweets and corn plasters, when a well-dressed sales rep caught my eye and suggested I might like to "take a free sample!" as she thrust a little card into my hand.

A quick glance revealed a miniature grey tube of perfume attached to the card, so I dropped it into my handbag and was quite excited at the thought of trying it when I got home.

I don't wear perfume often - I'm sensitive to a lot because they make me sniffly.  But I like the thought of smelling of something exotic now and then, just enough to make me feel feminine and like I've made an effort - and this mini freebie was an unexpected treat.

Anyway it's rather alluring - quite spicy, a touch woody even, and it doesn't make me sniffle - all good.  So I've been wearing a little spray of it each time I've been out these last few weeks.  Down the pub with my friend the other night.  Down the Indian restaurant with our neighbours on Saturday. Actually just about every time I go out.  The sample tube is running out.

Today I decided to look it up for the first time, to see how much it costs - thinking maybe I should buy myself a bottle.  Turns out I've been wearing a rather expensive Eau de Toilette.  For men.

Still, why not?!

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