Monday 31 October 2016

Happy scary families

Over the last six months my cousin, sister and I have been clearing out my late aunt and uncle’s house.  They were such lovely people but they did keep a lot of Stuff.  And you know what Stuff is… anything from out of date Oxo cubes to broken picture frames to soldering wire.  Seemingly random items share floor, wall and cupboard space, many untouched for decades.  For example, in a room lined with shelves of empty jars kept for jam-making and dozens of boxes of radio components,  an old cat collar and an odd shoe had been placed on a rusty bike.  No sign of the other shoe.  Nor the cat.  But we haven’t given up hope of finding either.

It was a hugely daunting and poignant task at first, but as we clear away numerous cornflake packets recycled into paper hoppers, programmes from 1980s theatre trips and… well just about anything else you can think of… we’ve uncovered more interesting items.  Letters written by my grandfather to my dad and uncle when they were evacuated during WWII tell of his fears and hopes in such uncertain times; they were in the same file as an original newspaper from 1945, its front page dominated by two words:  HITLER DEAD.   There are political books everywhere - it's all Labour Party, Communism and Anarchism.   Other ancient books, sepia photos and documents tease us with snippets of lives we're connected to but know little about.  For now we’re putting these to one side to go through later, when we have the time to be fascinated and educated by them without competing for space.  I may write more about these another day.

In the meantime, I’ve rescued a few little things that were destined for tip or charity shop.  So far, just a giant pencil, a cloth map of Suffolk from 1948 and a sachet of stir fry sauce with a long use by date on it.  It's like a real life version of that memory game you play on long car journeys.

I also brought home a tatty old pack of playing cards to look through, Jaques Original Happy Families.  John Tenniel, best known later for his Alice In Wonderland artwork, was commissioned to do these illustrations in 1851, when he was a cartoonist for Punch magazine.  At the time, Happy Families was a brand new game and became a great success.   Although these Jaques designs have been reproduced since and are still in circulation, I hadn't seen them before.  The Happy Families cards I played with as a kid were all smiley, jolly and child-friendly, not like these at all, which have got to be to be some of the most grotesque and alarming characterisations I’ve ever seen on a pack of cards.  Seeing as it's Hallowe'en, I thought I'd share some of my scariest favourites.

Saturday 22 October 2016

Your skin is black metallic

Chrysolina Banksi – what a lovely name!  I’d like to adopt it as a(nother) pseudonym.  The Chrysolina part sounds feminine, and the Banksi bit makes me think of:

The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum / Banksy

As a lover of small things with multiple legs I’d be happy to share the name with its original owner, this little beetle.  (I’m not 100% sure that he is a Chrysolina Banksi, but he fits the description.)

I found him lying on his back on the kitchen floor last night, so I helped him to his feet and guided him out the door.  Then this morning there he was, climbing the walls.  (A scenario which may or may not be familiar to you, but you know I won’t judge).

My photos don’t do him justice, for in reality it was like finding a shiny black bead (or pearl earring!) which when turned to the light gleamed a burnished bronze, decorated with the finest stippling.  Absolutely beautiful.

It made me think of this too; ages since I've played it - I still like it a lot.

Monday 17 October 2016

Fear and A Field In England, part two

(Yeah, I know I wrote part one about 37 years ago...)

When I was a kid, I suffered from asthma and bronchitis.  Memories of carefree Summers eating Dalek Death Ray ice lollies and cycling up and down the road on Dobbin, my little gold bike, are frequently interrupted by less palatable recollections.  Those of damp Winters lying in my parents’ bed, short of breath and feverish, being fed spoonfuls of foul-tasting Tedril, a thick yellow medicine that looked a lot like the stuff it was supposed to help me stop coughing up.

My high temperatures led to hallucinations.  Some were innocuous – like reaching out for a non-existent glass of orange juice - but others seemed malevolent.  There was one I remember vividly to this day in which a rotating globe was floating above the foot of the bed.  There were numerical figures all around it, like a dial, and I lay there watching it move in terror as I knew that when a point on the globe met with the number 99, it signified my imminent death.  I probably didn’t think it in those actual words, as I was only 8.  But I knew I was about to die.  In a panic, I called out for Mum and as she calmed me down with her lovely soothing manner the globe went away, but what sticks with me is that I had been awake throughout, not dreaming, and that it could seem so very real, so tangible.

It’s perhaps partly for this reason that (other than a few brief encounters with my college pal’s supply of Red Leb, which didn’t really work for me) I’ve never had any desire to indulge in mind-altering substances. I'm not sure I want to unleash anything else from my darker imagination.

There were plenty of opportunities though.  Behind my college were fields and woods where magic mushrooms grew.  Ray, the best looking lad in my Foundation Art group, ate a load of them before an Art History lecture and laughed all the way through the Pre-Raphaelites.  He left the course soon after, or was he chucked out?  I don’t know, but he went on to play drums for a band fronted by his extrovert brother who, it was reported, would deliberately strip naked before opening the door to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Anyway, what I’m getting to in a very long-winded way is the film that’s based all around one big magic mushroom trip: A Field In England. 

Or is it?  If you've seen the film, do you think it’s all a hallucination, or subscribe to one idea that the field represents Purgatory and that they’re all dead already?  Or something else altogether?  Did you think it was a masterpiece of surrealist black and white cinematography, or a load of pretentious old bollocks?

Looking through reviews of the film on IMDb, there are some very varied opinions, such as:

‘tedious hype’

‘wow, just wow’

‘a dull plot in England’

‘subversive and fresh’

In case you haven’t seen the film but want to, I won’t say any more except that in an interview with Dangerous Minds, director Ben Wheatley said he thinks “there’s too much reliance and importance put on clarity of narrative and that everything is explained all the time….  Script books seem to me to be written in a way that it’s like stories written by accountants – everything has to have its place, everything has to mean something, it’s very specific, there should be no ambiguity about what something means.”   He continues “… life is not like that, it’s much more complex and ambiguous and difficult, and that interests me more”.  Maybe it's best to bear that in mind before you start viewing.

I didn’t, and I wish I had - but I liked it.  I was immediately reeled in by the dialogue and the imagery, and loved the characterizations and earthy humour; however as this isn’t a film with an easy, coherent storyline it took a little while before I realised that I needed to just let go and let its madness take over.  Then it started to feel like I was watching someone else’s dream - or hallucination. It was only after a few  hours of it finishing that I found myself thinking about it more and more, like some kind of strange creeping infatuation, and for a while I became mildly obsessed by it.

There's one scene in particular that sticks in my mind as vividly as the taste of Tedril and my imaginary rotating death globe.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll know which one it is.   A huge part of its haunting, compellingly abstract power is due to the choice of music behind it, lush, dark, hypnotically cyclical.  This is it (not the scene, I wouldn’t spoil it for you, but the music alone).  It just works so well and every time I hear it now I can see Reece Shearsmith as he.... well....

Blanck Mass is Benjamin John Power, who I'm reliably informed is one of the founding members of Fuck Buttons.

I've also been reliably informed that it sounds a lot like Tangerine Dream’s Mysterious Semblance At the Strand of Nightmares.  That title does kind of sum up the film itself pretty well too.


Trivia note:  I was introduced to one of the very fine actors from this film at my friend’s funeral earlier this year, a lovely man.  It was quite strange to then watch him playing this part having met him for real a few weeks beforehand .   But I must say, I really hadn’t expected to be seeing his character's syphilitic penis ;-)

Friday 14 October 2016

The song retains the name #2

We were ruminating about reincarnation.  Feeling particularly sorry for myself for reasons I won’t go into except to say it’s a female thing, I said to Mr SDS this morning, “When you come back, don’t be a woman”.

“I don’t think you get to come back as a human again anyway,” he said. 

“Oh, that’d be alright then, I wouldn’t really want to.  Humans think too much.”

“So what would you be?” we both asked the other, simultaneously.

Mr SDS suggested a dog, which might be ok, although I’d worry about not having a kindly owner.  I think I’d prefer to be something wild.

“How about a giraffe?”  he proposed. 

“Bit dodgy with all those lions around."

“Then what about a lion?”

I liked that idea.  At first, anyway.  Then Mr SDS reminded me that it’d be hard work, having to run around killing things all day.

Killing things all day…. not really my cup of tea.  I’d rather not be a carnivore.  How about a mouse?

“With cats tossing you about in the air before eating your head?”  He was right of course.  Not a mouse.

“A fish!” was his final suggestion.   I was pensive for a moment, imagining myself swimming around in the deepest part of the deepest ocean, weaving gracefully between the corals, fins flapping, miles from mankind and land and fishing lines.  It was all very Blue Planet, beautiful. That’s it: a fish.  Yes.

“But not a small fish… you’d get eaten by bigger fish”

“Then I’ll just have to be a big fish.  I won’t mind eating a few smaller ones.”

So that’s it, settled - I want to come back as a big fish.

And fish lead me neatly to today’s Song Retains The Name instalment, wherein I post tracks by a band whose name is also the title of a song by another.   You were worried there, weren’t you, that I might be leading to this man...

but there will be no Marillion on this blog.

I should add that for this series I’m allowing a slight variation in the name/song title if one is pluralised.  I call it the ‘s’ rule.   So we could have the Temptations, and then Heaven 17’s Temptation, for example, and not worry about the 's'.

This allows me to post these:

I can’t remember when I first heard Summer Fun! by the Barracudas, but I don’t remember it from the year of its release, even though it reached No. 37 in the charts at the time (1980) and they made it onto Top Of The Pops.  (Hat tip to my good friend who once made a cool little fanzine called Summer Fun!)

 I do, however, remember playing it in the record shop I worked in a few years later, when sixties beat and psychedelia, both original and revival, seemed to be making a more significant resurgence.  We made sure the shelves were stacked with Nuggets, Nomads, Lime Spiders and Standells, etc. (and I spent most of my wages on them).

This English band were inspired to call themselves the Barracudas after the song by the Standells, which could make my inclusion of the band a bit of an iffy choice as it’s not just a coincidence.  However I discussed this recently with my independent adjudicator and decided to let these through if I like the songs enough.  Therefore I can have both, so here are the Standells and their rather splendid song Barracuda, from 1967 (I think).  Ed Cobb wrote this, as well a number of other tracks for the Standells, but is perhaps most well known for having written Tainted Love.

(I really should have put the Standells before the Barracudas - oh well.)

Friday 7 October 2016

A quick heads up

Episode 3 of The People's History Of Pop is on BBC Four tonight and I think it's going to be a good one.  Covering the years 1976 - 1985, it includes Ray Lowry's son sharing some of his father's sketches from the time he joined the Clash on their 1979 tour of America and a handwritten notebook of thoughts and lyrics by Joe Strummer.  Fans of the Smiths and Duran Duran share their mementos and memories, and original posters, set-lists and diaries that have been kept by fans for decades will all be on show.

If you saw the first two episodes of this series, you'll know the approach it takes is heartwarming and very unpretentious, and the whole notion of being a fan of any kind of music, group or artist is celebrated as being something most viewers are going to be able to identify with, something that has shaped people's lives.  There's no judgement or elitism, no suggestion that any band or genre is cooler than any other and, best of all, the memories and keepsakes come from source.

I have a particular soft spot for this series too, thanks to this blog, as last year one of their researchers found my post about my first gig and got in touch.  They have set up a vast archiving website which anyone can contribute to, and asked if I'd like to upload my photos and accompanying words on there.  One thing led to another and I was invited to do a proper interview!  I've never had any desire at all to be on TV - in fact, quite the opposite, I'd normally run a mile, maybe ten - so I ummed and ahhed about it but then I thought:  oh what the hell, it's a new experience.  And it's not Come Dine With Me.  Around that time one of my dear friends was very ill, and it was such a distressing period in my life that my sense of needing to make the most of everything was highlighted.  So I did it.  I didn't have a lot to show, just those few old photos (which are on this blog anyway), but I had such a lovely time chatting away to the producers; they were great.  We focused on my early teenage forays into punk, about being female and fourteen and wearing DIY clothes, about getting into trouble at school for spiking up my hair, about how punk was there just when I needed it, how it seemed arty and rebellious, just when I felt I didn't and couldn't fit into the mainstream, it allowed me an identity, a voice and a social scene.  So I jabbered on for two and a half hours and probably made no sense at all but I have to say it really was great fun, and if I had the chance to do the same thing again, I would.

Well, perhaps the best outcome of all is that it didn't make the final cut!  Since doing that back in December the programme makers have found so many far more interesting people and their fascinating mementos and anecdotes, so I can relax tonight and not worry about all the times I repeated myself and said "you know"....and god knows what else.   I'm so looking forward to watching the programme tonight without any self-conscious sense of dread and enjoying all the memories shared by others.

The People's History of Pop is on BBCFour tonight at 9pm.

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