Thursday 28 April 2011

In the flat fields

I’ve been rummaging through my drawers again and found a few pictures I’d taken locally a couple of years ago which I quite like, especially as I’m so crap at photography.  If you’re interested in ‘60s horror films there is a little more to these meadows than first meets the eye.  This is Witchfinder / Matthew Hopkins country, and these photos were taken within the grounds of the manor house in which some scenes of the fabulous 1968 movie ‘Witchfinder General’ were filmed.  I feel incredibly fortunate to live literally around the corner from this stately home (even though I inhabit more of a god-what-a-state-ly home myself…)

It’s rather lovely just to imagine Ian Ogilvy galloping through the buttercups.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

A little piece for Poly

I know that hundreds of tributes to Poly Styrene will have been written today, and far better worded than anything I can put together, but I just can’t let her death go unmentioned here.  Poly was such a one-off and a fantastic example of energetic originality during my punky youth, with her brightly coloured anti-fashion clothes and her spirited attitude.  I reckon the world could do with a few more female role models like that around now. 

Back in punk’s heyday she helped me and, I’m sure, thousands of other young girls to appreciate the fun to be had in being a little bit different.  She inspired many to explore the possibilities of doing your own thing creatively and sartorially - let alone all the women whom she reminded that it was possible to sing in a band and not have to fit into the pouting, pin-up stereotype. ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours’ just says it all!

I guess you could say she inspired a true sense of identity (which just happens to be my fave Xray Spex song too…)


London loves, part two

I don’t know what you think of Lulu….but then, actually, I don’t know what I think of Lulu either...   She’s one of those people I feel strangely ambivalent about. It’s like:  feisty young teen singer (check out her version of ‘Can’t Hear You No More’): cool. Eurovision winner with ‘Boom Bang A Bang’: uncool.  The voice behind the wonderful ‘To Sir With Love’: cool.  Being a supporter of Thatcher’s Tory party during the early ‘80s: uncool.  Staying incredibly youthful for her age: cool.  Too much Botox and/or fillers or something?: uncool…Getting machine-gunned, Peckinpah style, in ‘French and Saunders’: cool, etc. etc.  Oh, I’m SO confused!

I do know what I think about this song clip, though, and it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.  I know, it strays into schmaltz balladry which is not my usual cup of tea, but it doesn’t seem to matter as I just can’t help but like it.  What does it for me though is this film, as Lulu sings her heart out against the backdrop of the Thames from the Embankment, and each time I view it I feel like I’m there too.  I can watch it again and again and imagine I’m walking by, leaning over the wall to watch the boats, or sitting on that bench.  I know it’s not quite like that in reality nowadays – the pavement is usually crammed with people and the traffic heavier. Lulu would probably have difficulty even trying to lip synch with lungs choked by the diesel fumes.  But next time I’m there I’m going to imagine the street is empty and I’ll sing “oh me, oh my, I’m a fool for you, baby…” quietly to myself as those long shadows stretch out across the paving stones, leaves whisper in the trees in a cool breeze and there’s not a piece of litter in sight.  Luckily for me I do have quite a vivid imagination…

Oh me, oh my!  Even that wide-collared yellow jacket and red flares don’t put me off.

I must get to the city again some time soon!

Friday 22 April 2011

Riding a wave

A really weird thing is happening in England at the moment.  Honestly, it’s mad. Here we are, the Easter holiday upon us, loads of people have had this week off work as the schools have broken up, and (this is the weird bit) we have nice weather.  Not just nice, but absolutely bleedin’ gorgeous!

The sunny skies and warm breeze set my mind wandering and it happened upon a memory of a great three minute pop song from 1968 that just has that sunny skies and warm breeze kinda sound to it. Enjoy…

The irony is that this was actually released four weeks before Christmas… !  Doh!  Which is perhaps why it remained an obscurity.  I’m sure if it had been released in, say, July, it could have been a minor hit.

And if anyone is literally sitting down by the sea or riding a wave or two this weekend, I hope your mind says you’re happy! Have a good Easter.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

The first album you ever bought...?

Or: 'How I lost my long playing virginity to a Clash 12 inch...'

It was thirty-four years ago today... Well, in fact it was thirty-four years and eleven days ago today: rewind to April 8th 1977 and the Clash’s eponymous first album arrived in our record shop racks.  A perfect platter.  Even the sleeve alone is iconic.

I’ve liked, been, drawn, worn, said and done lots of things in my life that are truly embarrassing - but buying my first album isn’t one of them!  I bought ‘The Clash’, and I’m proud!  I was still at school and had to save my pocket money for months before I could pool together the £2.99 (or thereabouts) required to enter the new and rather adult world of LP ownership.  Up to then I’d bought a few 7” singles (which could definitely be included in the ‘embarrassing things’ list - well, I was barely in my teens) but there was something about purchasing an album that was in a totally different league.  It meant you were serious. You liked a band enough to want to hear perhaps ten or more songs by them in succession, numbers that wouldn’t get played on the radio, tracks that you might not even like on the first listen, but you were prepared to make that commitment.  I went into the local record shop, Startime, and asked to listen to ‘The Clash’ on the headphones.  Within the first few seconds, as ‘Janie Jones’ burst into life and blasted into my ears, I knew I had to have it.  (Share that memory with me here.)  As my friends and I walked home from town, I took it out of the carrier bag and tucked it under my arm so that everybody could see what I had just done.  You know what it’s like when you’re young and daft and actually believe that the man/woman in the street might be impressed or (preferably) outraged by the music you're into, a bit like winding your car windows down at traffic lights and turning up the volume on your CD player so the world can share your sonic choices…  It was like a rite of passage.

At that time here in the UK punk was emerging from the underground and making controversial headlines, and when I started getting interested in it my parents may have been worrying that their shy little daughter might go off the rails.  “Don’t worry, mum, I just like the music, I don’t want to look like that…”  But secretly I was harbouring the desire to; and, not long after, I bought a red studded dog collar from the pet shop.  I didn’t realise I had the same neck measurements as a bull mastiff but there you go.  I hid it in a drawer and when I went out I used to wait ‘til I was around the corner from home to put it on.   As is the way in life, one thing often leads to another and by the following year I was customising clothes, had my long hair cut short and was open about my obsession with this new music and its many dimensions.  One day at school I was obviously showing my boredom with Pythagoras’ Theorem and was stirred from my daydreams of meeting Paul Simonon by my maths teacher shouting, “Would the punk rocker please pay attention?” It was the best compliment the old bat could have paid me.  But it all started with the Clash.

Since those early days I’ve been into so many songs, so many groups, so many albums, but there is something about this band, and their debut in particular, that stands that difficult test of time, and, oh, I love them for it.

Monday 18 April 2011


I’ve realised I haven’t put any old drawings on here for a while and my strap line does mention that I’m going to be rummaging through a few.  So I’ve had a bit of a poke around and here are a handful of quickly-drawn life studies from a few years ago just in case they tickle your fancy, if your fancy needs any tickling. 

Artwork by C / Sun Dried Sparrows
Life drawing is a strange and wonderful thing.  In my experience there’s never any embarrassment or judgement on the part of artist - or model.  You get real people to study, in all shapes and sizes, of varied ages and backgrounds, and it’s a great leveller.  Really, we’re all the same in our diversity once we take our clothes off...

A certain serenity descends upon the room as you get totally immersed in your drawing, and you think about light and shade, texture and perspective -  and does that arm look right, oh and how will I tackle that difficult foreshortening…?   I love to draw sinewy limbs and pubic hair!  Protruding collar bones or curvaceous hips! You explore all those undulations and angles and crevices in great detail with your eyes and your pencil, focusing totally and solely on the naked body in front of you, so that your model becomes absolutely an object - and yet is in no way ever demeaned.

I must do some more some day.

Sunday 17 April 2011

French connections, part two

I’m going all Francophile again today.

J’adore ceci…

A classic scene from a classic nouvelle vague film -  Jean Luc Godard’s  ‘Bande À Part’ - with one of my favourite songs by French ensemble Nouvelle Vague.  I think it just fits so well.  The timing is quite something and, well, for me it’s just one of those satisfyingly complementary combinations.  Like peaches and cream, or rough paper and a soft pencil, or (just for you Godard fans) like Jean Seberg and Jean Paul Belmondo.  The dance sequence itself has also been cited as an influence for scenes in several other films, not least ‘Pulp Fiction’.

Nouvelle Vague, who also named their second album ‘Bande À Part’, frequently surprise with some of their more unlikely choices of cover versions.  If you know Lords Of The New Church’s original of this track, ‘Dance With Me’, you’ll appreciate how much they manage to change a song almost beyond recognition.  NV’s vocalist on here, Mélanie Pain (thank god she’s French, Melanie Bread just wouldn’t sound quite right), manages to make it sound so sensual, whereas Stiv Bators’ approach sounds, as you might expect, a tad more sleazy (much like his name).

Other tracks whose origins may be more familiar but which have been given the unmistakeable and often unexpected NV treatment to great effect are: 'Teenage Kicks',  'Guns Of Brixton', 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' and even 'Too Drunk To Fuck'…

Another personal favourite is their version of Depeche Mode’s 'Master and Servant', also sung by Mélanie Pain, along with Martin Gore.  Let’s play!

Friday 15 April 2011

Drive into yesterday

 (courtesy Drive magazine 1967)

It’s amazing how much mileage you can get out of two little ‘Drive’ magazines from 1967.   I now understand not only how to pack 10 wives in a mini (see March) but also how to feel birdsong... and that a shirt can have linearmatic cuff control with no overshoot.  (I do rather like the sound of 'cuff control', I must confess...)

Oh, I'm feeling bri-nylonissimo!

(courtesy Drive magazine 1967)

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Special effects

I’m a bit of a sucker for a good cover version.  I think it’s that, as my musical taste has evolved and expanded over time, I really appreciate the different treatments that a song can receive and still sound great.   Recently I heard three cool versions of ‘Real Wild Child (Wild One)’ for instance – I came across them in reverse order – I only knew Iggy’s for many years and it always sounds good. Then I recently heard the cover by Jet Harris from 1962 and that in itself was a surprise – like the Shadows turned bad boys – which prompted me to check out the original by Australian rocker Johnny O’Keefe from 1958.   I love all three of these and each one so distinctive from the other. Same song, different angle.

Of course there are more examples of this than I have room to write about… and probably whole blogs devoted just to this subject alone (don’t even get me started on ‘I Put A Spell On You’…) but while I’m here I want to share another with you.  Being written by Ray Davies already suggests that it’s going to be pretty good – but it was one of those songs that the Kinks never officially released, although it was at least recorded in the studio for a BBC session.

Dave Berry recorded it in 1965 and gave it something haunting and atmospheric.  Then in 1998 it was released as a single by Hooverphonic, the Belgian trip-hop/rock/electro-pop/whatever-you-want-to-call-it band (genre names can be so limiting!)  This is such a different version, characteristically electronic with wistful vocals.  I hope you’ll like these two: one male, one female, many years apart, but side by side here.

Monday 11 April 2011

What goes around comes around (again) (and again)

When I think that there’s a gap of (shudder) over 30 years between these two photos it’s a bit weird.  Actually it scares the shit out of me so I won’t think about it too much.  But what I wanted to say was how funny it is that some styles just keep coming round, or never really go away.  Leopard print for a start.  Well, in a way that’s not strictly true – at the time of wearing this pair of punk trousers the animal pattern seemed rather tacky and outdated to the masses, and conjured up visions of Bet Lynch and bordello banquettes (bonkettes?)  However, I think it was something about its perceived vulgarity in late '70s Britain that made it wonderfully anti-fashion, along with things like those (revolting, in my opinion) PVC jelly sandals and (less revolting, more revolt-into-style) brightly coloured plastic shades, so it was perfect for making a statement.  The irony, of course, being that anti-fashion soon becomes fashion and it all gets a bit confusing and contradictory then…but I’m not going get hung up about that.  I just adored these trousers at the time because they made me feel awlriiight

And now I’ve got the coat. Not influenced by any specific fashion trends - although it seems that animal print is very in again right now – but simply because I fancied it, it suits my eclectic taste and it was a few years old already (plus only £12 off ebay…)  It just makes me feel awlriiight too, even though I’m now (shudder again) older than Bet Lynch was when I first got my leopard trousers and it scares the shit out of me to think that too.

Anyway…all this set me off… why is it that leopard spot has been such an enduring design for textiles across so many decades over other animal patterns?  Ok, you get to see zebra and tiger stripes from time to time (especially in rock’n’roll and punk clothing again for some reason) but leopard rules.  It’s pretty, yes, but then so many things in nature are. Why don’t you see dalmation dog spot jackets, or wasp stripe shoes? Hoverfly handbags or ladybird berets?  Furry caterpillar scarves?   I mean merely the design, not made out of furry caterpillar skin obviously - that would just be silly, not to mention itchy… 

Is it too late for me to become a textile/fashion designer? I'm sure I could come up with a nice line in mock toad-skin sandals…hmm, the ‘faux natterjack slingback’ does have a certain ring to it…

But, oh god, why am I now thinking about such weird trivia?  Because it’s better than thinking too much about the passage of time, I guess…  No more shuddering.

Friday 8 April 2011

French connections, part one

Salut!  Quite by chance (well, you know, the usual ‘one thing leads to another’ scenario that happens when you start Googling stuff)  I’ve just come across ‘Dim Dam Dom’ – not a new Chinese takeaway dish or a comedy trio, but a TV series from France.  First broadcast in March 1965, it ran until 1970 and was an hour-long monthly Sunday variety/magazine programme, aimed mostly at women but definitely of some interest to men too (and there were certainly lots of attractive female presenters…)  The concept of the programme was used to create its catchy title: ‘Dim’ for dimanche, ‘Dam’ for dames and ‘Dom’ for d’hommes…(a little contrived, perhaps…)

Aiming to be both informative and light-hearted, it included plenty of music, not just popular French singers such as the pretty blonde France Gall and the sharply dressed Serge Gainsbourg, but also some interesting British bands: Manfred Mann, The Nice, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Soft Machine…   Each programme was presented by a woman of note at the time, including Françoise Hardy, Sylvie Vartan, Jane Birkin and Romy Schneider.  And if you’re into yé-yé, it seems there’s plenty to be found on here.

With its set designs, choreography and particularly some of its choice of music, it’s a great little period piece from across la Manche.

Amazingly several of the clips from as early as 1967 are in colour.  We in the UK only had an extremely limited colour service which began on BBC2 in July '67 from just a handful of transmitters around the country.  Apparently even by December '68 only 25 hours of TV a week were in colour and it wasn’t until the following year that BBC1 and ITV were also regularly broadcasting in the full spectrum… 

I can remember when I was first aware that colour TV existed it seemed a real novelty and, before my parents finally got one several years later, I’d tried to imagine what ours might look like by staring at its monochrome screen through the tinted cellophane wrappers found around Quality Street chocolates. The bonus of this being that you had to eat the chocolate first  - and you could get a great purple image after you’d had the Brazil Nut Caramel, which just happened to be my favourite.  But it was purple only, which was a bit limiting… The first colour TVs also seemed to display their hues very luridly, but then again maybe that suited such colourful times?

Anyway, whilst my counterpart in France was perhaps spending some of her Sunday watching Jimi Hendrix in his gorgeous turquoise suit, sadly I was probably viewing ‘Dr Finlay’s Casebook’ through the bright yellow wrapper of a Toffee Penny.  Still, I suppose it did at least make its Scottish setting look permanently sunny - and that’s not something you can imagine too easily.

...Mais maintenant, je dois partir.  J’espère que je vous verrai bientôt…!

Wednesday 6 April 2011

What goes around comes around (again)

Aww... I’ve some really happy memories of being 15 and here’s one of them.  A summer’s day.  A copy of Zig Zag magazine if I remember rightly.  Once black trousers that I had lovingly Jackson Pollocked in the bath using the remains of emulsion paint from various decorating ventures.  A cheap jacket from the Army Surplus store (the encircled A was already on it!) and an old child’s satchel decorated with part of a string vest (dyed pink), a union jack flag once bought at a fête and some marker pen daubings.  A little bit of green food colouring in the hair and I’m good to go!

It seems a world away… but in some ways not.   Last year I bought this gorgeous jumper from a lovely lady on ebay (she knits them to order).  It takes me back – not the first time I’ve worn such a thing (and every time I’ve worn it has brought a new happy memory too) - but somehow it doesn’t seem dated or wrong. It’s just a good top.  Holey knit!

Monday 4 April 2011

Mug shots

Can you remember all the mugs you’ve ever owned?  Yes, I did say ‘mugs’ and yeah,  I know that sounds like a completely pointless and abstract question, but just for a moment maybe have a quick think.  I can’t recall many (life is far too short…) but each of the few that I do is reminiscent of a moment in time, a moment in style.  There was a very early one, not mine personally, but one that had been in the family for years, which was a large beige/fleshy-coloured mug with a gentle, sleeping face moulded into it… I know now that it was a 1950s Cadbury’s ‘Sleeping Beaker’ which came complete with blue plastic ‘night cap’ (a lid which kept your cocoa – or more specifically, your Bournvita – nice and warm, and also served as a saucer).  Ahh.  It really didn’t matter that the slumbering head had been severely trepanned, I just loved its narcoleptic eyes. In the late ‘60s my sister and I each had a Batman and Robin mug; these were much loved but, like teddy-bears and comfort blankets, they were finally over-loved into disrepair and destined for the great drawer of useless things in the cupboard in the sky.  At various times since then I’ve received, bought and given mugs that reflected various interests, tastes and trends, be it ponies, celtic knots, cats, smileys or whatever… Anyway, you get my point; mugs can be transitory fashion items and, like so many small, decorated but essential things, you don’t always appreciate at the time just how much they are of a time.

So here’s one that really is of a time, a time long gone...

Found in a charity shop (oh yes, again, the hallowed charity shop!) about 25 years ago, this really suited my obsession with ‘60s psychedelia and freakbeat and it is the only mug I’ve kept for more than a few years, simply because it’s such a classic it is almost a cliché (freakout! …flower power!.. zonk!).  I thought it must be a repro retro item even at the time of buying it in the ‘80s, until I looked at the bottom and did a bit of research.   It’s a genuine example of the crockery designed by Paul Clark for Perspective Designs, a company set up in 1966 specifically to market the work of young British designers.  

They made kitchen accessories, stationery, gifts and even fibre-board furniture items that were very much part of the whole British Pop Art culture.  Paul Clark was in his twenties at the time and was perhaps best known for earlier designing a range of ‘Buy British’ coffee mugs with printed Union Jacks, targets and other variations of red, white and blue graphics which were amongst the best-selling crockery of 1965. He also designed some weird and wonderful clocks – one of which I’ve seen a picture seems to be made up of two rotating perspex discs of different sizes, one blue and one red, with no numbers and only one hand…  I have absolutely no idea how anyone, other than Stephen Hawking perhaps, could tell the time from it, but it did look rather neat… maybe that was all that mattered, plus it was probably a conversation piece as well as (or instead of?) a timepiece.

Anyway, I don’t know quite why but I can’t part with this psychedelic mug so I’m keeping it just for show and it’s already made it as a conversation piece - even if only on here.  I could even keep a pot plant in it (no pun intended).  Meanwhile I’m rather sorry to say that I’m drinking my coffee out of a simple Tesco four-for-a-tenner mug, with absolutely nothing in the least bit memorable about it…other than where I bought it.
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