Sunday, 18 November 2018

"Keep that one; mark it fab"

You like your music edgy, raucous, fast and pounding, verging on the anarchic?  With crashing percussion, some reverb, overloaded and slightly off-key guitars?  A freshness and rawness to it with a screaming vocal that stretches almost to ripping point at times, the music’s driving, chaotic energy taking you with it before ending in the glorious sound of feedback?

“Surely not the Beatles?”,  I hear you say.

You know the official version of ‘Helter Skelter’ from the White album; it’s already considered a bit wild - the Beatles’ ‘heavy metal’ moment - but if you like it even wilder (as I do) please take three and a half minutes to listen to this previously unreleased session rendition, which is more visceral than ever and about as punk/grunge as a 50-year old recording gets.

I can't embed through Blogger so here's the youtube link:

Helter Skelter (second version, take 17)

(Available as part of the 50th anniversary super-deluxe 6CD/blu-ray box set thingy that's just been released this month)

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

But is it art? VI

The sunlight was so bright yesterday morning that I had to pull the blind down to be able to work.  But I was unexpectedly distracted and mesmerised by the scene it created - the flying and flitting silhouettes of sparrows (there's a birdfeeder on the other side of the window.)  It's often the simplest things that I find the most charming  - couldn't resist a clumsy attempt to capture their movements in a video.


Friday, 9 November 2018

An Anglo-Saxon education

I took myself off to a very rainy London the other week to meet a friend at the British Library, where we wandered around an eerily lit gallery to view some beautiful art, literature and treasures from 1300 years ago. 

There in the semi-darkness I half expected to bump into Lance and Andy from ‘Detectorists’, for there was indeed Anglo-Saxon gold on display...

Exquisitely shiny, tiny coins, brooches and intricate heavy-looking belt buckles almost glowed from behind their glass cases.  The exhibition was well-attended – with white hair and glasses the look of the day - but no-one spoke, or if they did it seemed only in hushed, reverential tones.   It felt terribly straight and subdued in there, but I was excited by what I saw to a degree I hadn’t expected, and found myself having to stifle little gasps of inappropriate enthusiasm.

What always gets me about the sort of artifacts on show here is when I can make that human connection.  When I think about the real person who wore that buckle and the fingers that looped the belt through its clasp – that kind of thing.  And, as an illustrator, I wanted to see the marks of the artist’s hand on the manuscripts, the strokes of ink and the characterful features, and imagine the creator’s mind at work,  just like mine.  I was more than rewarded by what I saw – astounded at the brightness of the inks in particular – I had no idea that the vivid oranges and greens so frequently used in the illuminations would shout out so much, not unlike the shades and strength of the felt tip pens I used as a kid.  Almost garish.  I’m convinced too that people had better eyesight 1000 years ago than we do now, and nimbler fingers too, for the minute scale of the details in the decorations was quite mind-blowing. 

In the dumbed-down world we live in I’d come to hate the way labels on products often refer to them in the first person.  I’m usually irked by a pack of carrots and its patronizing instruction to “keep me in the fridge!”, etc.  But after this exhibition I realised this is nothing new and it’s softened my attitude. The anthropomorphism of inanimate objects was very evident in Anglo-Saxon times – the books that introduced themselves:  (Name) wrote me”, and the brooch which threatens any thief with an inscription: “May the Lord curse him who takes me from (owner)”, etc.  Books of riddles too, a huge literary genre 1000 years ago - more proof that really we’re still the same people at our core, and that’s what I want to believe.

Even an early version of a word search, with a palindrome...  

I love the figure at the base.  (British Library postcard)

Plus, I love books.  I love the physicality of books, the feel and look of them as objects, their construction and their role.  Huge books of manuscripts with metalwork bindings reflected their importance and I was amazed by the sheer outrageous size of a giant bible (the ‘Codex Amiatinus’), measuring 2ft long by 1ft wide and an incredible 1ft thick, weighing in at 75lb (over 5 stone for those like me who still think in Imperial). 

With my desire to relate to the illustrators involved in particular, I was really gratified to see a lovely 11th Century book called ‘Marvels of The East’.  Written in Old English, it’s like a mythological travel guide, describing the weird and wonderful creatures that can be found in some faraway Eastern place, such as the “men who are born fifteen feet tall and ten feet broad.  They have big heads and ears like fans”.  I'm thinking Martin Clunes.  Nooo!

Or how about this:

"Lertices, a small creature with donkey’s ears, sheep’s wool and the feet of a bird."
 (British Library postcard)

Or this:

"The Blemmya, a man 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide with his head in his chest." 
(British Library postcard)

I lingered long over this image, studying those fingers wrapped around the frame in an imaginative graphic touch, the benign expression on that face and that lovely inky outline and, never mind those hundreds of years that have passed, at that moment I’m inside the artist’s head.  What a great commission that must have been!

The thing is, I was absolutely shit at History in school. Bored out of my mind I would concentrate on trying different handwriting styles and experiment with coloured inks as Miss Jones drearily dictated facts about Acts and... well, stuff I simply can't remember for that very reason.  It's the human relatability that makes it come alive for me and when that comes via two of my favourite subjects, art and language, as it did in this exhibition - I'm in.  And seeing that Anglo-Saxon gold, well, to paraphrase Lance, it's surely "... the closest you'll get to time travel".  Definitely worth a trip to a very rainy London.

'Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War' at the British Library, until 19 February 2019

Saturday, 27 October 2018

My bestest most favouritest songs ever ever - part 5

Time for another one of these!  I was shocked to find the last time I posted one was nearly two years ago; it feels like about three months...

Anyway, this is another one of those songs which sounds absolutely brilliant every single time I hear it and never loses its status or appeal (which is the point of this series!) but in particular it takes me back to an exciting period when I was discovering new old music.  As I was working in the record shop it was easier to order all sorts of obscure items from all sorts of obscure labels, plus get a staff discount -  suffice to say it seemed I was bringing home a new album just about every week.

Up until that point I'd always most enjoyed music that was current at the time of listening, so it was quite an adventure to explore an unfamiliar genre from the past. I first heard this particular song around 1985 I think, by which time it was nearly 20 years old.  To my 22-year old self, that meant it was bloody ancient.  Now, of course if I spool back 20 years, a mere blink of an eyelid ago, I realise it's me who's bloody ancient.

But never mind all that, because this is timeless.  My first awareness of its existence in the '80s was thanks to a brilliant compilation album: 'Perfumed Garden Vol 1' , put out by the Psycho label.  It grabbed me right from the off with its dirty, grungy, overdriven guitar intro.  The vocals are nicely rough too, and that insistent riff just keeps on going.  I had no idea until then that anything in the sixties could sound quite this punk; I thought the Stones and the Kinks were about as hard as it gets, so it came as a revelation.

'You're Too Much' was originally put out as a B-side in May 1966 (the A-side, 'Man With Money' still sounds fine to my ears but is not a patch on this).

As for the band - I wrote a piece about them in a fanzine in 1986 (shocking to think that is now longer ago than the original gap between the record's release and my hearing it).  So my research has already been done and I'll just reproduce it here...

The Eyes were a young band from Ealing who picked up a culty mod following in the mid sixties.  They supported such bands as The Action, The Kinks and The Move.  Their 'gimmick' was to wear colourful, amusing clothes - stripey Rugby shirts, bleached jeans, pink parkas with tyre tracks inked on the backs and red or yellow boots.  (Also for added decoration - big eyes sewn onto their tops!)

After 4 singles (the last one of which was a flop), an EP, and a disguised album, the band split up, and vocalist Terry was the only member to pursue a serious musical career.  He joined 'Andromeda' for a while but never recorded with them, then became vocalist for 'The Entire Sioux Nation' with Larry Wallis (who later became a Pink Fairy), Jim Taylor and Paul Nichols.

Anyway - onto the song.  It would be an understatement to say I just fucking love it.

The Eyes:  You're Too Much
(originally released May 1966)

The Eyes in rugby shirts and bleached jeans (1966)

The whole piece from the fanzine (1986)

Wednesday, 24 October 2018


It’s official.  Everyone else is better at everything else than I am.  I know this because I’ve just been looking at some random Pinterest and Instagram pages in the course of some research and all my fears were confirmed.  Everyone has beautiful homes, beautiful children, beautiful gardens, makes beautiful things, has beautiful pets, beautiful clothes, beautiful hobbies, bakes beautiful cakes and, although there’s no visual confirmation, I think we can safely say they probably have beautiful bowels capable of excreting the most perfectly formed faeces.  

It has become apparent that I’m just not up to scratch.  A snapshot of the desk I'm sitting at now would reveal an old birdfood catalogue tucked into a notebook, a scrunched up tissue, a blunt pencil and a chipped plastic ruler,  a random postcard from Madrid and a flash drive still in its torn cardboard packaging.  I am sitting here in my bobbly old jumper and slippers with worn-out soles, contemplating whether or not to defrost the freezer which has an ice monster growing in it so big that it could no doubt restore the melting polar ice caps single-handedly.  Only it’s full of crumbs too.  Beautiful pets?  Could you count my newly-acquired composting worms?  I’ve got some nicely rotting vegetable peelings to feed them in a moment.  Alternatively I could finally remove the last traces of blue polish from the tips of the nails on my big toes because it has been on them since… August? Or was it July? 

I was thinking of opening up one of those photo-sharing accounts to share some images of my beautifully imperfect life.  Would anyone like to see it?  I could show you the inside of my oven!

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Shout out to my unsung heroes #1

Late afternoon, high Summer, sunshine, warm water.   I was elated; I had just managed to propel myself across from one end to the other – only the shortest distance, but still -  my first width! With no armbands!

Do you remember that feeling when you learned to swim?  The moment of transition, I mean. Much like learning to ride a bike - the first time you manage it unaided comes as a big surprise.  There’s a sense of disbelief.  In your head:  Are you sure no-one's pushing me?  Are you sure there’s nobody helping? 

And then, it sinks in: there’s no turning back, you won’t lose it, you’ve got the knack, you’ve got it!  and you’re away.  There are still things to learn, but the biggest block of all – the lack of confidence to try – has been conquered.

Mine happened in Mrs E’s back garden.  There was a small group of us, we were about nine or ten years old.   The school trips to the local indoor pool had been awful for us.  We were the inferiors in this scenario; we couldn’t join the main activities because we hadn’t yet learned to swim.  So the teacher cordoned us off in a tiny secton of the shallow end, gave us armbands and (pretty useless) polystyrene floats, shouted out a few instructions which made us feel worse (it wasn’t instructions we needed, it was understanding) and treated us as a major inconvenience to their proceedings.  Fellow classmates dived and jumped in at the deep end and we just tiptoed about nervously, never daring to venture beyond where our feet could touch the floor, not believing our clumsy little bodies were ever designed to float.    I already hated Rounders, I dreaded Sports Day and now Swimming was another thing I couldn't do properly.  You know, it still irks me today that my school experience in general (both primary and secondary) didn’t place as much value in the ability to draw pictures as it did in running or hitting a ball.  How different things might have felt if it had.

However, Mrs E came to the rescue, and here I am writing about her because I started thinking about the unsung heroes in my life – nothing grand or dramatic, nobody saved me from sinking in quicksand or from falling down a well, but there are people I think of whose inspiration in one form or other made a huge personal difference.

She had this little pool in her back garden and had come to some arrangement with my school to start teaching the non-swimmers in small private groups each week.   No more trips to the local indoor baths with their stench of chlorine and fiddly lockers.  That Summer in her garden she nurtured my confidence with great patience, kindness and individual attention, until after a number of lessons everything just fell into place.  I'll never forget that moment, just as I'll never forget the cycling one either.  Anyway, it was just something she did and enjoyed, and once I’d learned there was no need to go back and I was off to secondary school and I hardly ever saw her again, nor had much reason to think of her.  But all these years on I realise what a simple difference she made - not that I do a lot of swimming these days but the point is:  I know I can.  Any time I’ve ever lowered myself into a pool, fooled around in a lake, or let the salty waves of the sea support me as they rise and fall and tangle seaweed round my feet, I  should thank Mrs E for teaching me to trust in myself.

Wire: Our Swimmer

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Name that tune

A very quick lazy post today, but this clever and original music-related artwork really appeals.  As someone who thinks visually (often to my detriment), loves nature and who has difficulty remembering lyrics, I think I’d like every one of my favourite songs to be illustrated by graphic artist Katrina McHugh.

Take a look here.....

Saturday, 6 October 2018

More dancing boys for your delectation

Some may call it kinky.  It certainly is a little perverse.   Maybe you share my thing; and if so, it’s okay, you’re safe to admit it here and we can wallow in our weird taste together:

The strangely compelling fascination for the unconventional footwork (and hipwork and armwork and more)  of certain musical men.

I indulged in this personal fixation here a few years ago, and treated you (I hope) to the tantalizing delights of the one and only mind-bendingly raunchy Jim Dandy...

Quite possibly my favourite pic of all time

...closely followed by Samuel T Herring from Future Islands, a goody-goody tambourine-wielding tootsie-pie from the 1910 Fruitgum Company and those Fine Young elastic-legged Cannibals.  Take another peek here at the clips if you like. But this is the gift that keeps on giving and I have more…

…like Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods.  The first time I really, really took proper notice of Sleaford Mods was when I watched this performance.  It’s utterly compelling, in so many ways – but it’s Jason’s feet and hands which give me that extra tingly feeling, the one which leads me to press Rewind and Play over and over again.  The more he says no….. the more I think yes.  Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.

So Mr Williamson, what have you done to find gainful employment?

Q. What’s the opposite of a Sleaford Mod?  A. A Moody Blue, I’d say - I do like these random contrasts.  Yet, still they have something in common, something so subtle and sublime that you really have to see it to believe it….  if you have a look at this performance by the Moody Blues of ‘Ride My See Saw’ from 1968, keep your eyes on the moustachioed maitre d’ in the dickie bow, otherwise known as Ray Thomas.  In the first 35 seconds his legs/feet positively shimmer.  By the time we get to 1m 42 seconds he starts to slowly wind up his arms with the tiny remote control secreted in his left hand and then goes for it with a very brief but oh so perfect peak – the elbow flourish. Stay with the song for another minute or so for a further glimpse of his slippery soles and whisking wrists.

I'll ride your see saw, baby.

Are you into it?  Oh go on, say you are, do.

If you're a similar age to me (but perhaps only in the UK) maybe you also remember Music And Movement sessions at school from when you were maybe around five or six?  You could be anything, a tree blowing in the wind, a train trundling down the tracks, in a parquet-floored hall which smelt of Mr Sheen, in your vest and pants and your little black plimsolls.   Just like Thom Yorke, I think.  Well, not the vest and pants.  Never mind the  momentary moves just posted above, so fleeting and so teasing - we want more.

So let me leave you with Radiohead and the very memorable video for Lotus Flower. A full five minutes of frolicsome free-form - I just can't look away!

I would so love to see people dance like this at a wedding.

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