Monday, 16 January 2017

Andy, Madge and Sonic Youth too

I try to cover some diverse topics on here where I can: art, music, creepy crawly creatures, toffee apples, etc.  But I don't think I've ever written about Andy Warhol

nor Madonna

nor Sonic Youth

So I set myself a challenge.

When I think of Andy Warhol – and I suppose it’s inevitable – but one of the first things I think of is a big yellow banana.

And there is even a picture out there of Madonna with a big yellow banana so that’s two out of the above three in one go.

(While I’m on the subject of Andy Warhol I'd just like to use this opportunity to show a couple of lesser known album covers of his in which I find his pen and ink illustrations really fresh and charming.  Being early pieces from 1958 these are quite different to the boldly coloured screen print imagery perhaps most associated with him now.

Lovely, aren't they?  But I digress...)

Now, Sonic Youth..... When I think of Sonic Youth I think of New York.

There is even a French album called '(Les Inrockuptibles prĂ©sentent) Le New York d'Andy Warhol' (if you say it out loud, it sounds great!) and Sonic Youth feature on it, so that’s also two out of the above three in one go.

Great cover pic too  (love Edie Sedgwick).

Madonna....?   When I think of Madonna, I think not only of pointy bras but also of  Into The Groove, which was a big hit in 1985, right in the middle of my stint working in a record shop, and I’m sure many dozens of copies must have passed through my hands in exchange for half a crown (or whatever it was they cost in those days, I honestly can't remember - I'd take a stab at about £1.20 but could be completely out...?)

There is even a cover version of Into The Groove, by a Sonic Youth side project, with Andy Warhol art on the sleeve.


Three out of three!
In 1986, Sonic Youth borrowed  Madonna’s surname to form Ciccone Youth with Mike Watt of the Minutemen/fIREHOSE, and they released one single and one album.  I think they had a bit of an obsession going on with Madonna and the letter y because they featured the former on the cover of their album (an enlarged, tone-reduced Xerox of her face which apparently she was fine about), and then titled it The Whitey Album, whilst their version of Into the Groove became Into The Groovey.

Ciccone Youth: The Whitey Album sleeve. 

The 12” single artwork, which I’m not sure was officially sanctioned by Andy Warhol, nevertheless used the same imagery/headline from a New York Post front page which he’d worked on as a graffitied screenprint in collaboration with fellow artist Keith Haring.  And so it seems to be pretty much credited to him.

Ciccone Youth: 12" single cover

The original newspaper page

Andy and Keith with screenprints

The 12” includes two other tracks, Tuff Titty Rap and their take on another Madonna song, ‘Burnin’ Up’.  But Into The Groovey is the one that does it for me – fast-moving and quite stripped-back with its electronic rhythm and treated vocals, still recognisable but at the same time completely, utterly different.  I like that about a cover version – when you know the song, and you know it really well, but it’s moved so far away from the original that there’s only the merest familiarity.

So here it is….  

Ciccone Youth:  Into The Groovey

I got there in the end.

The Ciccone Youth sleeve gets photobombed

Monday, 9 January 2017

The January greys

I’m not a fan of January; it doesn’t have a lot going for it, does it?   It’s no May.   May is a favourite; a month full of promise and the knowledge that weeks and weeks of longer, warmer days stretch out way ahead.  May reassures me with its carefree message of, “Don’t worry, we’ll do it in the Summer, there’s loads of time yet! Relax!” and its multiple sneak previews of what’s to come – new leaves on trees, new leaves to be turned over.  Yes, loooaaaaads of time yet. 

Nor does January have the sweetness of wistful goodbye kisses like my other favourite month, October. October paints over the faded greens with juicy reds and lurid yellows and delivers surprise presents every now and then: those mild, sunny days when you exclaim, “I can’t believe it’s October!”  I think of it like a lover reluctant to end our Summer fling.  Oh, October, you tease!

January is none of those things, it’s just shades of grey interspersed with, well, other shades of grey.  This year I’m finding it harder than ever too.  To be honest, I'm feeling a wee bit down.  It's impossible to disassociate some things: January is the month in which two of my good friends had their birthdays, and last year it was also the month in which one of them died, the week after Bowie.  The other friend’s unexpected death followed just a few months later (I may write about him again soon too).  They were both only 57.  I miss them hugely and there’s a big part of me which still can’t quite believe they’ve both left - and of course all of me that wishes they hadn’t.

Anyway, in Januarys (Januaries?) past  I would have sent A a customary email on his celebratory date, saying HAPPY BIRTHDAY (nothing if not original), each character in a different colour and font, kind of like rainbow-coloured Never Mind The Bollocks lettering, which he would have completely got.  And he would have replied with a little note of thanks and surprise that I’d remembered.   “Must pop over for a cup of tea soon,” one of us would have said (it was always me going over to his house, he had the bigger kitchen), and in the meantime more messages would bounce across the ether, exchanging snippets and opinions, video clips, what was in the news, our latest wildlife updates, random notes on art, music and books, little bits of gossip about what was going on in the village, sometimes a bit of rockbiz goss too from his own/sibling connections.

In January three years ago the closest we got to rockbiz goss was that someone new was due to be moving into the big (and very expensive) historic house just down the street from us both.  “I’ve been told he’s a ‘punk rock musician’”, A told me.

Well, of course, we went through the list of possibilities.  Who would we like it to be?

“I wish it could be Mark E Smith but I think he’s too attached to the North”, A emailed.

"It has to be someone with some wonga, doesn't it, so that rules out a few I'm sure... but not someone with enough that they'd move to California, so that rules out a few too.  (I've been thinking... maybe Captain Sensible?  He's already fairly local I believe???)  Haha, I can't wait to find out!" I replied. 

 (Yes, I still have the emails...these are verbatim.)

News soon followed that our new 'punk rock musician' neighbour was called Jimmy.

Jimmy Pursey?  we both mused, somewhat incredulously.

Then an update arrived from A that it wasn't a Jimmy after all, but a Tommy.

Tommy...  Tommy....nope, drawing a blank here.

Then another update, "No, scrub that, it's not Tommy, it's Terry!"

Cue further email exchanges about Terry Chimes, who is apparently now a Chiropractor.

But by the time I popped over for a cuppa tea and a real-life chat, it transpired that the new resident was neither Chiropractor nor punk rock musician, instead someone neither of us had heard of and whose connection to the music biz was not to either of our tastes at all…  a session keyboard musician who composes music for TV....  A long way from Mark E Smith, that's for sure.

Life is full of disappointments!

Not my new neighbour

And well, like disappointment, you just have to accept death, don't you?  There's nothing we can do to change things and we're only going to experience more of them because, if it's not our own trip into oblivion, it will be that of others we know and love (sorry).  So I hold onto the memories and the fondness, the hopeful Mays and the sunny Octobers, and the little snatches of chat about non-punk rock musicians, amongst other things.

If A had lived to see this birthday I’m sure we’d have been sharing more similar conversations, both in email and real life, and this January would not be quite so grey.

The Fall:  It's A Curse
For A

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Happy New Year

While out walking off one Toffifee too many in the mist yesterday I took this photo on my phone and realised it could be a kind of analogy for life, especially at this moment as we transit from one year into the next.  Following the path to a future that is unseen (or should that be ‘unwritten’ to paraphrase Joe Strummer?) - none of us knowing  quite what lies ahead.  That’s not strictly true in the case of this photo's subject as I know it to be a big old manor house with sheep and a moat with ducks and stuff but, if I didn’t know that, well, I’d still keep walking anyway.

The analogy continues: the path is rutted and full of potholes, but navigable if you take it slowly; in the distance to my left there is a graveyard, and although I know it can’t be, on the lower middle right of this photo I noticed a small unexpected shaft of white light which looks kind of ghost-like. (Believe me, I’ve zoomed in on it a few times in the strange hope of figuring it into Bowie’s face but to no avail.) 

There's no doubt that this has been year of awfulness for the world, much of it genuinely shocking and unfathomable and, for many like me a year of deeply sad personal losses as well as public.  But it’s had its fair share of sunshine and sweetness -  this is a world full of good people too and you're the proof!  That sounds so cheesy, but it's genuinely heartening to know so many views and sentiments are common amongst us here.  I think we just don’t hear so much about the nice stuff because it’s going on all the time quietly in the background.  All those small, unselfish acts of kindness by friends and strangers don’t make the news, but I reckon that’s a good thing because it confirms that they’re simply the norm, not the exception.

Anyway you have to keep walking the path, don’t you?  – on a Summer’s day there might even be a cream tea served by a comely wench in Tudor costume at the end of this one* by the way (please form an orderly queue).   Although, to be honest, I turned around halfway yesterday when, thinking I was alone, I suddenly saw three shady hooded figures emerging eerily from the misty distance and got spooked.... 

So - a very 'Happy (and hopeful) New Year!' to you - and thank you to everyone for walking with me through this one.

* The manor house is open to the public for historical recreation events in case you were wondering!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Abstract moment of the week #6 (and Happy Christmas!)

It was a lovely, but chilly day here yesterday and I needed to walk off the Pringles; when I crossed the road I saw someone who lives on my street waiting for the bus so I stopped to say “Hello”. 

I was greeted shyly with, “I see you’re wearing your leather gloves!"

I was, they are black and soft and the warmest gloves (lined with cashmere) I have ever owned and I replied with something along those lines.  

“I’d love to borrow a pair of ladies’ leather gloves,” my neighbour continued, whilst unable, it seemed, to look at anything else but my tightly clad hands.   “Oh, I really would love to; I wish I knew someone who would lend me their ladies’ leather gloves.”

I could've sworn I heard a faint thud as the hint hit the ground.  

“Aww… I would lend them but they were a present….” I lied.  I didn't want to be mean - but actually I wouldn’t lend them, and they weren’t a present.  I just had visions of never getting them back; we don't know each other very well, after all.

The disappointment was palpable.

“...But perhaps if you look round the shops you might find some, “ I suggested.

And on that note I said goodbye and wished a Happy Christmas to my thick-set 59-year old neighbour.  His name is Martin.  I couldn't help but smile as I remembered it’s not the first time he’s mentioned my black leather ladies’ gloves.  With the emphasis on leather and ladies.  Perhaps I should buy him some like mine and pop them through his letter box for Christmas - of course they’d be far too small for his large male hands but somehow I don't think he'd mind.


And on that note too: A Very Happy Christmas to you all!   Thanks to everyone for being there and for coming here, I appreciate it more than I can even say.  Have a good one! x

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Into the vally

Well, yes, I love looking at everyone’s end of year lists, favourite albums, top 10 tracks etc.   Well, no, I can’t  possibly ever do any myself.

I’ve listened and liked loads of new music this year but I can’t do that ranking thing.  Any order of preference would be a sham as it is likely to change on a daily – hourly, even - basis.  

But at 10.15 this morning coming in as one of my Top I Don’t Know How Many Because I Haven’t Been Counting for 2016 is this.  It'll definitely still be in there at 11am....

Hope you enjoy it too!

Deap Vally - Smile More

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Random Access Memory #5

You know how in my last post I mentioned that many years ago I was working with rufty tufty seadogs and middle-aged mariners, who’d travelled the ocean waves on massive cargo carrying vessels?   I have them to thank for introducing me to many different things.

Different things like...  being shown around the hot, noisy depths of a ship’s engine room by a very polite (and not rufty tufty at all) boiler-suited Panamanian engineer.  Like how to make Cheese Beano*.  Like speaking to Eamonn Holmes doing role play for an emergency exercise (whoop-de-do!)  (and that's the first and only time you'll hear me say 'Eamonn Holmes' and 'role play' in the same sentence.)  And being teased about something called the Golden Rivet.  I was told that male sailors like to show female visitors on board their ships the famed Golden Rivet – in naval folklore the story goes that every vessel built contains one single commemorative one - but, oh, you have to find it! (It wasn't in the hot, noisy depths of that aforementioned ship's engine room, as far as I could tell.)  It was through this job that I took my first ever flight, and it was to New York!  Plus I heard a lot of tales, about a  lot of people and a lot of places.  One of the places was Singapore, a major port on the shipping trade route.

I’d never really thought about going to Singapore until then, but in the mid-‘90s I’d  hit a bit of a strange time in my life, a kind of personal, emotional crossroads, and something I decided I needed to do was to go away for a while.  Nothing extreme, you know - just an eleven and a half thousand mile trip on my own to the other side of the world.   On the way to Australia and NZ  I planned a short stay in Singapore  and, thanks to contacts I’d made through my job, there were people there who’d  be happy to show me around this city I’d heard so much about.

I’d never done any teenage travelling, hadn’t gone to uni, couldn't afford a 'gap' year, never had the urge to backpack, and had married someone with no desire to venture further than Cornwall.  I was in my early 30s and now I had that itch.  So I worked really hard, saved up like mad, and asked my boss if I could carry some leave over into next year and then take it all in one go – five weeks' holiday.  Being a globetrotting ex sea Captain (and now a great lifelong friend) he understood my urge to see more of the world and agreed.

Anyway, this is the background to why every time I hear a certain song, I think of Singapore.   I just can’t separate the memory.  More specifically, I think of a huge shopping mall (‘Ngee Ann City’), at that time only a couple of years old, and of standing in this vast modern complex with a ‘Japanese fair’ pitched up at one end (selling exotic-sounding dried fruits and meat dishes) and a branch of ‘Boy’ of all things at another, being shown round by a man called Ong and his wife Theresa, who later took me to a Pizza Hut where we had something called ‘golden corn soup’ for starters.

 In that quite overwhelming shrine to the Western art of shopping in a humid city state in South East Asia, 6800 miles away from home, there was an enormous video screen and beaming out of it, with the volume up full, was the eyecatching film for The Cranberries' single Zombie.

I would include that official video here, but Blogger won't let me, so instead here are a couple of images as a reminder,

plus a link in case you can access this way:

and also a really fantastic performance of the song from Saturday Night Live 1995:

I love it.

Well, it just seemed really bizarre to hear this rousing, alternately fragile and powerful, angry, sad, beautifully brooding, spine-tingling song at that moment, in that alien place. I was on the other side of the world, in an unfamiliar city with a different culture, and there was a 20ft - 30ft? -  high Dolores O’Riordan sprayed in gold** – plus  the cross, Belfast, the soldiers - a song written about the Troubles, in memory of two young boys killed by the IRA.  It seemed entirely at odds, and that’s perhaps why that weird juxtaposition has stayed with me ever since.  ‘Zombie’ will forever conjure up that unlikely place and time, an early evening in a brightly lit Singaporean shopping centre -  and it will always sound great and moving to me, too.  It's one of those songs.

*one of the shipping world’s favourite dishes: beans on toast with cheese on the top then grilled (sometimes also with ham or corned beef)

** I've just realised that, quite by coincidence, this post contains golden rivets, golden corn soup and a golden Dolores O'Riordan.

Saturday, 3 December 2016


The other day Mr SDS remarks that he’s experienced a funny sensation in bed the night before.  (Stop it…)   It was troubling him.  He describes it: “like a tickly feeling that started by my arm and then all of a sudden I felt it down my leg”.

“Probably just a nerve or something.  Or you know when you get an itch and it sort of spreads?” I suggest.

“Yeah, but it was just odd because it was, like, really fast.  Weird.”

Anyway, that was that.   I check the bed for spiders (possibly squashed) before getting in next night –  but thankfully no trace. 

A few evenings later I go into the kitchen to get a glass of water, when suddenly something small and dark scoots across the floor in front of me, over my foot and disappears under the washing machine.  Not a spider.  It has a tail.  And thus we discover that we have a mouse in the house. 

The following evening we’re assuming (hoping) the mouse has gone back out by whatever route it came in. We live in the country with all sorts of creatures frequenting the garden, so no big deal.  We haven’t heard or seen it since the night before and we’ve been careful not to leave any food/crumbs about.   I can’t see any tiny droppings on the floor and I’m well-versed in small mammal excreta (it could be my specialist subject on Mastermind, I can identify hedgehog poo at twenty paces). All seems quiet.

I’ll cut to the chase, literally - we are wrong about the mouse going back out.  Suddenly, god knows how, it's upstairs in Mr SDS’ little office room, it runs under his desk, disappears.  Ten minutes later, there’s a mouse in the kitchen… well, a tail hanging down behind an upper cupboard.  Its owner then makes a break for it across the worktop and down behind the fridge (but not before squatting briefly on the bread bin with a defiant stare).  Then back under the washing machine….  disappears.   Five minutes later there’s a mouse running around my workspace, here in the living room, where I'm typing this.  We try to catch it under a plastic bowl but it goes behind the bookcase and… disappears.

Oh no!  We don't just have a mouse in the house, I surmise - we have mice in the hice!

Well, I’m fond of all things small and wild with multiple legs and that includes mice, so I’m not standing on a chair shrieking or anything like that.  I do remember a long while ago, I was working in a huge office full of mostly men, many of whom were hairy-arsed seafarers (I can’t vouch for the hairy bits but I base the judgement on their beards), they’d  been employed as engineers, officers and Captains on massive international oil tankers, travelling the world for months on end, encountering pirates and tropical storms, weevils in their biscuits and all sorts.  One afternoon someone noticed a baby field mouse running across the large open-plan office floor.   All those rufty-tufty middle-aged mariners around and yet it was the new recruit, a 28-year old female admin assistant, who calmly knelt down and caught the panicky rodent in her hands.  (I simply cupped them around it gently and took it outside...)

So I’m fond of all things small and wild - hairy-arsed, even - but I’m concerned about how to deal with several mice running around our tiny home with all its quirky corners; I have visions of an infestation.  

I’ll cut past the chase now…the chasing bit was futile.  We bought a humane trap for £3.99 and left a piece of my favourite Tesco 74% cocoa dark chocolate inside as bait (the sacrifices I make!)  About twenty minutes after laying it, it had caught a mouse.  She was dead cute – as in cute, but not dead (I couldn’t do dead).  All pink nose and twitchy whiskers - I could happily have kept her as a pet, but we took her out for a ride in the car and released her by torchlight a few miles away in a hedge – I'm sure she’ll be fine, she’s a country mouse.

What about all the other mice?  Well, it's been a few days now and it seems there are no other mice, just one extremely clever one (except when it comes to resisting chocolate) who managed to move unseen from room to room, upstairs and downstairs, via her incredible stealth, or possibly the power of invisibility.  

At this point it also dawns on us about the mysterious sensation under the duvet....

Monday, 28 November 2016

Cheese and biscuits

There was this kitchen cupboard where my mum kept the biscuits.  I can picture it now, and opening it up to get to the old tins she kept for storing them in.  A particular lovely tin was the Cadbury’s Lucky Numbers one, and another was labelled Peek Freans (who used to make the Playbox selection, those classic biscuits which made your tongue sore through the customary licking-off of icing).  The Lucky Numbers container later became home for the collection of Betta Bilda blocks my sister and I played with (for some reason we never got into Lego, we just used to make lots of open plan white brick houses with green roofs, perfect in the ’60s and ‘70s).  Anyway,  I had so much love for those tins, more than they warranted really.   They were special, symbolic even - of the whiff of pink wafers and chocolate digestives, of biscuits which shouldn’t have been stored together (gingernuts and jammy dodgers, anyone?) whose flavours and smells rubbed off on one another due to the cross-contamination in space-saving storage solutions.  

 There was one other tin in the cupboard which preoccupied me, but for something other than its contents.  Barmouths or Gipsy Creams, Jaffa Cakes or even Betta Bilda - it wouldn’t have mattered, it was the picture on the side which captivated.  I think we'd been given this as a present originally, and that it was foreign; I remember the picture being of a woman holding a container and - this was the wondrous and fascinating thing about it – the tin that she was holding was also the one I was looking at!  And it was obvious that the woman shown on the tin that the woman on the tin was holding, was also holding a tin showing a woman holding a tin showing…… yes, one of those.   Although I couldn’t see it, I knew it went on forever - forever into infinity, too tiny to pick out with the human eye – but the thought alone just boggled my mind.  A bit like if you’ve ever thought too deeply about the vastness of the universe and you start to feel weird and dizzy and have to think about something mundane like hard boiled eggs instead -  in fact I have to stop myself going there now.

(Eggs, think about eggs!)

Anyway, this image fascinated me so much, I asked my big sister, who knew about mysterious things like formaldehyde and quicksand, what it might be called.  Was there a name for such a thing, a picture within a picture within a picture?  She didn’t know.  So, after much thought we made up our very own special word for it, and felt very chuffed.  I wish I could remember the word we decided on, I’m sure it was something that sounded suitably grown-up, like pictomath or propagraph – something sort of technical.

I hadn’t thought about this in ages, and then I just happened to fancy some cheese spread today, went to the fridge and took out the little box of Laughing Cow triangles when I noticed something that had simply passed me by until now – that the Laughing Cow is wearing a rather fancy pair of earrings...

Look closely at those earrings and what do you see?  Laughing cows wearing laughing cows wearing laughing cows wearing....

(Eggs!  Think about eggs!) 

Wish I could remember that made-up word!  A parapod?  A hypertype?

I've had to go and look it up of course… turns out there isn't one distinct technical word for the picture within a picture (or what's described as a ‘recursive’ image, I discovered) but the principle itself is called the Droste Effect.  What’s that all about?  Well, apparently it was named after the Dutch chocolate company Droste, who made a tin with a picture of a woman holding a tin with a picture of (etc. etc).   The very same picture as the one that was on the tin that was in the cupboard where my mum kept the biscuits.

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