Thursday, March 31, 2005

Scary Monsters

When digital audio hit, a lot of tracks were "remastered". What this often meant was going back to the quarter-inch electro-magnetic master tapes, and recording these onto the nearest available digital system. Often, beginnings and endings were changed, deemed to be too poor quality to survive the transition, once the digital playback mechanisms like CD and DAT made hiss and scratches things of the past. Some tracks became far less impressive as a result, having their subtle fade ins and outs artlessly chopped and curtailed. Neil Young once referred to the first 10 years of digital music as a lost decade.

I still have the first two 7" singles I bought in 1970, as a wee South London bairn from a family surviving on 2 old pence a year. One of them is Space Oddity by David Bowie. My vinyl version is vastly better than the remaster. It begins with the sound of the stylus hitting the groove and falling into place. Then out of the analogue scrape drifts in the acoustic guitar, as the song begins it's countdown "10... ground control to Major Tom... 9...8... commencing countdown, engines on... 7..."

It's a classic songwriter's ruse to cash in on the news, and such a calculated song that it should be charmless, but Bowie being the South London fruitcake he is puts such a strange twist on being an astronaut, and the song is so very stoned, that it still works in it's spacey, mellotron-soaked, rock-opera way.

David Bowie's really good work came later, a great swathe of writing and recording throughout the 70s and early 80s, from Aladdin Sane to his last great album, Scary Monsters, after which he made Let's Dance. This gave him the perfect opportunity to sell out, which he promptly took, and to be honest, he hasn't done anything as good since.

I don't blame him for selling out though. His close friend, John Lennon, the man with whom he co-wrote Fame was shot dead. In Scary Monsters Bowie refers to it, almost giving prior warning of his intentions of slipping into something more casual. Reagan was voted in, Russia invaded Afghanistan, Central America was in flames, the Cold War was reaching it's tense denoument, the 60s advances were being rolled back, and it really was no game anymore.

It's No Game (Part 1)
Shiruetto ya kage ga
Kakumei o miteiru
Mo tengoku no giyu no kaidan wa nai

Silhouettes and shadows watch the revolution
No more free steps to heaven
It's no game

Ore genjitsu kara shime dasare
Nani ga okkote irunoka wakara nai
Doko ni kyokun wa arunoka
Hitobito wa yubi o orareteiru
Konna dokusaisha ni iyashime rareru nowa kanashii

I am bored from the event
I really don't understand the situation
But it's no game

Documentaries on refugees
Couples 'gainst the target
You throw a rock against the road
And it breaks into pieces
Draw the blinds on yesterday, and it's all so much scarier
Put a bullet in my brain, and it makes all the papers

Nammin no kiroku eiga
Hyoteki o se ni shita koibito tachi
Michi ni ishi o nage reba
Kona gona ni kudake
Kino ni huta o sureba
Kyohu wa masu
Ore no atama ni tama o buchi kome ba
Shinbun wa kaki tateru

There's always tomorrow when people have their fingers broken
To be insulted by these fascists - it's so degrading
And it's no game

Shutup! Shutu...

David Bowie, from Scary Monsters

Bowie has written so many great songs it's impossible to give just one of them as a good example. He was influenced and knew all the greats from Burroughs to Eno, worked with cut-ups and randomised text to inspire unusual word collisions, invented production techniques that were widely copied, but he always seemed to find a populist way of being an arty pretentious git that made you love the songs and remember the lyrics.

Fame was a wonderful one-off collaboration between Carlos Alomar, Bowie and Lennon, which still has a fabulously modern New York disco-funk sound.


Fame, makes a man take things over
Fame, lets him loose, hard to swallow
Fame, puts you there, where things are hollow

Fame, it's not your brain, it's just the flame
that burns the change to keep you insane

Fame, what you like is in the Limo
Fame, what you get is no tomorrow
Fame, what you need you have to borrow

Fame, "Nien! It's mine!" is just his line
to bind your time, it drives you to, ah, crime

Could it be the best, could it be?
Really be, really, babe?
Could it be, my babe, could it, babe?
Really be, really, babe?

Is it any wonder
I reject you first?
Fame, fame, fame, fame
Is it any wonder
you're too cool to fool
Fame, bully for you, chilly for me
Got to get a rain-check on pain

ba ba be
ba be ba be
ba be ba be

ba ba ba ba
ba ba
baby, baby
What's your name?

Feelin' so gay
Feelin' gay

David Bowie / John Lennon / Carlos Alomar

But the Bowie song I really like is not well-loved, it has a strangely ponderous, unconnected production, and an almost throwaway delivery. From the Heroes album, with all of it's declamation and opiate-inspired electronics and strange Germanic saxophone, I give you:

Sons of the Silent Age

Sons of the silent age
Stand on platforms blank looks and note books
Sit in back rows of city limits
Lay in bed coming and going on easy terms
Sons of the silent age
Pace their rooms like a cell's dimensions
Rise for a year or two then make war
Search through their one inch thoughts
Then decide it couldn't be done

Baby, I'll never let you go
All I see is all I know
Let's take another way down (sons of sound and sons of sound)
Baby, baby, I'll never let you down
I can't stand another sound
Let's find another way (sons of sound and sons of sound)

Sons of the silent age
Listen to tracks by Sam Therapy and King Dice
Sons of the silent age
Pick up in bars and cry only once
Sons of the silent age
Make love only once but dream and dream
Don't walk, they just glide in and out of life
They never die, they just go to sleep one day

Baby, I won't ever let you go
All I see is all I know
Let's take another way down (sons of sound and sons of sound)
Oh baby, baby, baby, I won't ever let you down
I can't stand another sound
Let's take another way in (sons of sound and sons of sound)
(Sons of sound and sons of sound)
Baby, baby, baby, fire away!

David Bowie, from Heroes

This came from a time when, though he may have been all messed up, on drugs, adopting a quasi-fascist pose he later regretted, Bowie was unafraid of controversy and creatively at a wonderful peak. Later on, he withdrew from making grand artistic statements, changed the drugs, and instead, became by his own admission, an "entertainment artist from the vaudeville tradition". Yet, when he was aiming impossibly high, unafraid of the assassin's gun, at least he was hitting an artistic target rarely achieved. On this basis, I can accept the occasional howlers and the 20 years of bollocks since then.

Thank you, Mr Jones of Beckenham, for making me totally unafraid to be utterly pretentious in my work, and limitless in the scope of my ambitions for it.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Parallel Lines

There is a line which runs parallel to our own history, and that's the history of our songs.

We all have our preferences as to style, but wherever you come from, there still exists a universal commonality of the auditory experience which is music. Even with the splintering of audiences and the proliferation of completely personalised media feeds, all music meets in the streets. Most people out there don't give a flying fuck about genre. You know, he knows, she knows that song, the one we know whether we want to know it or not. The one that magics into your mind on a push of a memory button. the one you can't get out of your head.

I have been amazed by the insidiousness of music. Some styles seems to have universal appeal. I've never been anywhere where the people don't like reggae music. Having said that, you definitely wouldn't find me at a Nazi convention. My point is that music gets EVERYWHERE.

You cannot avoid some tunes. Some you hear repeated to the point of nausea. I went to the remotest place I could afford and heard Dire Straits' Romeo and Juliet. But I'll never forget the Amazonian stone-aged tribe's rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit. Massive.

It's not just tunes, beats, hooks, or productions that we respond to - above all it's songs which say things, which delight, inspire, disturb, define, celebrate, get under our skin, sell everything we buy, and enter the social fabric which wraps us all.

This history of all of our songs belongs to us all, and it runs like a multi-coloured line alongside our individual lives, mapping our collective course, informing our personal history and local cultural identity, and weaving a Bayeux Tapestry for us to follow.

Songs are thermometers. You can take the cultural temperature of a time - or even define a time - by it's songs, and you really can't tell always what songs are going to be the ones which say something true and meaningful, until afterwards. Sometimes you can. I mean, it's a tried and tested songwriter's formula to pick something which is making news at the time and write something appropriate. Which brings me to the subject of songwriters.

"We use songs to tell us where we are, to navigate through this mad thing we call life" - Fran Healy.

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Where were you when? is a question every generation asks itself. I was on the top deck of a bus from Penge when I saw the Evening Standard lunchtime headline, and I still remember the shock I felt. If I was older, it would have been Kennedy's death. If I was younger, Kurt Cobain's. But for me there was only one working class hero - it was something to be - it was John Lennon.

"JOHN LENNON SHOT DEAD" shrieked the headline. My friend Richard was on his Honda 90, tracking the bus, so that we could both get to Croydon at the same time. I went to the back of the bus and gesticulated until Richard saw me. Encased in his helmet, I could only see his eyes, which he was using to demonstrate that he didn't have a clue why I was waving my hands around and pointing at newsagents as we passed them. Between Norwood Junction and West Croydon, there were 5 or 6 similar headlines, and I became animated as I attempted to communicate, completely ignoring the other passengers, who gawped at me curiously.

I got off the bus, and went over to Richard who had pulled up at the kerb. "John Lennon is dead" I said, flatly, let down now, the truth sinking in. We bought a paper and read.

They say if you can remember the 60s you weren't there. That's ageist hippy crap. I was born in 1962, the year the Beatles released their first single "Love Me Do" and began their re-definition of popular music, pop culture and politics. Yes politics. The influence of this four-piece from Liverpool has been airbrushed away since that time, but we forget that this was the age of the mass movements to counter entrenched conservatism, and that the Beatles, and Lennon in particular had a unique and unimpeachable role as spokesmen for their generation. Pacifist, pro-choice, anti-racist, welcoming of alternative lifestyles and Eastern philosophies. When Lennon died, conspiracy theories abounded, based on Lennon's supposed imminently-to-be-renewed Peace Movement activities, and the CIA. It certainly wasn't a straighforward New York murder.

When the Beatles broke up, I was 9. I remember asking my mother, "Who is going to make the music now then?" The Beatles were music, their songs were the charts. They had informed our growing up from hand-holding to free love as the 60s revolutionised Western culture, swept the old shit away, and blew all our minds. Post-Beatles, there were still John and Paul, and as the great songs continued to come, albeit without the harmonies and productions we all knew and loved, I realised that there was a pop afterlife, even if there was no heaven. Paul warbled off into Wings, his melodies intact, while John gave us Number 9 Dream, Imagine, Give Peace A Chance... and Yoko, who inherited everything but his musicality and amazing skill with language.

Of all John's songs from Beatles days, there is one that completely restructured my head: I Am The Walrus. What was a pornographic priestess? With one swift move, Lennon confounded Christianity with the concept of the feminine sexual divine. Why was she climbing up the Eiffel Tower? This striking image of France's steel phallus burned itself into my skull, corrupting me forever. What was that about custard? Semolina pilchards? I was eating this food. Stupid bloody Tuesday? Wasn't that swearing? Knickers down? This was storming, insistent, sexual psychedelia on a grand scale, a coded call for an English revolution, and I loved it. Just what you wanted to hear on breakfast radio before school.

I Am The Walrus

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
See how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they fly.
I'm crying.

Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come.
Corporation tee-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday.
Man, you been a naughty boy, you let your face grow long.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen,
I am the walrus,
goo goo a'joob

Mister City Policeman sitting
Pretty little policemen in a row.
See how they fly like Lucy in the Sky, see how they run.
I'm crying, I'm crying.
I'm crying, I'm crying.

Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog's eye.
Crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess,
Boy, you been a naughty girl you let your knickers down.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen,
I am the walrus,
goo goo a'joob.

Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun.
If the sun don't come, you get a tan
From standing in the English rain.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen,
I am the walrus,
goo goo g'joob, goo goo g'joob.

Expert textpert choking smokers,
Don't you think the joker laughs at you?
See how they smile like pigs in a sty, see how they snide.
I'm crying.

Semolina pilchard, climbing up the Eiffel Tower.
Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna.
Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen, I am the walrus,
goo goo a'joob, g' goo goo g'joob,
(goo goo goo joob goo goo goo joob goo goo gooooooooooooo joooooooob)
(Oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper,
Oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper)

John Lennon

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Monday, March 28, 2005


Can't say the beat is funky, but this is a funny song with a catchy chorus that had me bouncing around in my petticoat.


Late one day, I led Spanish boy astray

His name was Antonio

Took him out, and of his charms I had no doubt
Stayed drinking Mohitos
Tender in the bedroom is all I can remember
And the way he looked when he moved so near
In my ear, he whispered and shed a tear
Oh my bambino
Tender in the bedroom is all I can remember
And the way he looked when he moved so near

And in the morning when I woke there was no Antonio
Just some money that he’d left for the memory of me
And oh my beautiful guitar, that’s what really broke my heart
Had been stolen by the two-faced low lothario

One night stand, lover you got out of hand
Oh yeah you went too far
Big mistake, falling for a first class fake
Who left me for my guitar
Tender in the bedroom is all I can remember
And the way he looked when he moved so near
Through my tears, I would have to find my dear
Guano Antonio
Tender in the bedroom is all I can remember
And the way he looked when he moved so near

And in the morning when I woke there was no Antonio
Just some money that he’d left for the memory of me
And oh my beautiful guitar, that’s what really broke my heart
Had been stolen by the two-faced lothario

Oh my beautiful guitar
On and on I go till I find you
My beautiful guitar
On and on I go till I find you

Oh I know, oh I know, oh I know Antonio
Won’t be back as I discovered on his track
He’s gone back to Mexico, oh Antonio

Oh my beautiful guitar
On and on I go till I find you
My beautiful guitar
On and on I go till I find you

And in the morning when I woke there was no Antonio
Just some money that he’d left for the memory of me
And oh my beautiful guitar, that’s what really broke my heart
Had been stolen by the two-faced lothario
Yeah had been stolen by the two-faced lothario
Yeah had been stolen by the dirty two-faced lover bastardo

Charlotte Hatherley

Now I am off to bounce around the South Downs in my walking boots.

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Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Endless Seed Of Mystery

There is only one song I can listen to today, and that's Patti Smith's Easter. Her love of visionary and symbolist poets regularly shows in her lyrics, and sometimes in mine. All is glowing.

Patti Smith is a fine songwriter and a passionate artist, who romps across cultural barriers and boundaries. Like many of America's finest rebels, she is much under-appreciated by the establishment, who fear anything that undermines them by revealing how weak their sanitized, saccharine culture really is. For those of you who don't know her work, I suggest checking out Rock N Roll Nigger = "Jimi Hendrix was a nigger, Jesus Christ and Grandma, too, Jackson Pollock was a nigger, Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger." Took a woman to say it.

Her song Easter is less of a political diatribe, more of an expression of spiritual ecstasy.


Easter Sunday, we were walking.
Easter Sunday, we were talking.
Isabel, my little one, take my hand. Time has come.
Isabella, all is glowing.
Isabella, all is knowing.
And my heart, Isabella.
And my head, Isabella.
Frederick and Vitalie, savior dwells inside of thee.
Oh, the path leads to the sun. Brother, sister, time has come.
Isabella, all is glowing.
Isabella, all is knowing.
Isabella, we are dying.
Isabella, we are rising.
I am the spring, the holy ground,
the endless seed of mystery,
the thorn, the veil, the face of grace,
the brazen image, the thief of sleep,
the ambassador of dreams, the prince of peace.
I am the sword, the wound, the stain.
Scorned transfigured child of Cain.
I rend, I end, I return.
Again I am the salt, the bitter laugh.
I am the gas in a womb of light, the evening star,
the ball of sight that leads that sheds the tears of Christ
dying and drying as I rise tonight.
Isabella, we are rising.
Isabella, we are rising . . .

Patti Smith, Easter

Now don't get the idea from all this that I'm a Christian. God forbid, not me. Christians have fucked up more of the world, more regularly, and with less concern for the consequences, than anyone else. Christian countries lead the world in hypocrisy and weapons development. But let me just dwell on Jesus for a second. I have invited Him into my life. This may surprise you, but I have. The funny thing is, I was surprised when He came. I really didn't expect Him to turn up. After all, He's had them all on their knees praying and waiting a long time. But that doesn't mean I am immune from the potency of the truths He taught, or His love and compassion. He speaks to me directly from time to time, if only I will listen.

Jesus came to me this week in the form of Bill Hicks, who reminded me of two central tenets of His teaching which are most widely ignored by His followers, and which I am moved to share with you this Holy Day.

Love your enemy

Turn the other cheek

Did He preach respect and tolerance? I think He did. Did He say, exterminate all those who disagree with your views? I think He didn't. Did He show compassion for people whatever their wrongs? I think He did. Did He say, follow the words in this Bible exactly as written (and heavily edited) hundreds of years after his death? No, I think He didn't. We are rather led to believe He went against the religious conventions at the time, and it was partly this that led to His death.

Turning to the way this impacts upon us today - Did Jesus indicate anywhere that it would be a good idea to invade Iraq on a flimsy pretext, steal their oil, kill 100,000 of their civilians? No, I don't think He did.

Christian soldiers: turn to your Iraqi brothers and sisters. Offer them your combat fatigues. If they fire at you, take off your body armour. If they want your arse, give it to them. And remember: when you die, you ain't going nowhere except back home in a body bag. The Kingdom of Heaven is within you. Repent, and salvation is yours.

Jesus' message for us is there for all to see. Happy Easter, He is Chocolate.

Here endeth the lesson.

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Friday, March 25, 2005


Jesus on the cross asked of God, "Why Have You Forsaken Me?" This surely is the most truly awful moment in the Passion, true evidence that Jesus was indeed human.

I suffered. I made funky sense, but more by luck than judgement. I died several times, and yet I survived. Sometimes I was close to burning my D-50 keyboard, Jimi-style. The helpful cries from the band of of "B FLAT" and "E MINOR" were no use. Keys? Chords? What use musical notes to man on the very edge of perceptual revelation? I am almost 100% certain the soundman turned me not just down, but off, muted, several times, just to lessen the atonal chaos.

London, 1992. I'm lucky enough to have played some gigs with Ashley Slater. He played on my first single in 1987, then stole my guitarist Perry 5 years later. I wasn't too arsed about that. My band was doing OK at the time, but I was getting bored with the kind of gigs I was doing, colleges and pubs and not many clubs. While I was gigging well-arranged soulful rock with nice basslines, I was getting into dance music, that was where my head and heart and feet were at, and my band, good though they were, just didn't have the sound I wanted.

My songs were great though; I was a much better writer and singer than band leader. So Ashley and I collaborated on some songs, as a result of which I joined the best line up I've played in - Microgroove. The only band I have ever heard match Microgroove's groove was the Average White Band, who I saw last year at the Jazz Cafe, Camden. Almost as good in parts, I thought, but Ashley was balder.

Ashley worked hard to keep Microgroove in the running. Apart from booking the gigs, driving everywhere, writing, recording, making records, and coping with his own peculiar and several other people's madness, Ashley was also one third of an extremely tight brass section, who got regular session work elsewhere. Ashley carried lead vocal and trombone, The Rhyme Minister, who may also have had a writing hand in the song Walking elegantly and educatedly rapped, Angie Why Waste Your Time? Brown soul-wailed. On drums, Shane Meehan, and bass, Dale Davies, my favourite ever bass player. Dale had miracle fingers, and that clear deep Fender sound. To complete the line up, add a guitarist and a keyboard player, and an audience who wanted to be entertained.

Ashley was mad then. Not always, but often. A delightful man, and still a friend I care for and respect. But I can say with some degree of authority that he had issues. Still has. It's just he loves them now. Ashley called me up late one afternoon and said, "We are short of a keyboard player tonight. Want to do a gig? It's local."

I had done lots of gigs, some really good ones, but I had little knowledge of the Microgroove set. I knew my set. I knew 4 songs of his, maybe. Not what key they were in, or anything like that. I could sing them, was all. Plus, I was a writer, not a musical technician like all these guys. Jesus, it was practically a super-group of funk. And they wanted me? To do WHAT? Can't possibly, I sputtered, but I did not let him down. I played the esteemed Jazz Cafe venue on his behest.

I duly turned up in Camden, D-50 under my arm. Ash sent me on stage 5 minutes before the band appeared, and I was bemusing the audience with some wierd electro noises forming an art landscape. It was pretty far out, which meant it could only add to the funk. Forming a line and playing their way, funky New Orleans style, around the balcony, down the stairs, and on stage, came the band, to packed house, on a Friday night.

As they walked on stage I gave a silent prayer to the God of Music. "Jimi" I said, "Send Me Your Inspiration Now That I Need It". Ashley to my right was on mic and already talking to the audience. Shit. I didn't even know what song we were about to perform. Reassuring smiles from musicians near me. One, two, three, four...

It was fabulous, wildly expressive, a triumph of misplaced confidence over technique, of front over style, of insouciance over humiliation. The audience loved it, and were queueing for sex with the band afterwards. It took days to work through them. I can only say I gave my best.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please take each other's hands... that's right, everyone hold hands... now lift up your arms, and lick the armpit of the person in front of you.

Making a sour face, tasting deodorant, sweat and my own fear, I give you: WALKING


one nation under a shoe

you can ride a bus
not us
you could drive a car - not very far
hope on the tube - don't be a boob
go out into the desert and ride on a tank no thank you - uh uh!

you gotta go walking
everybody walking, yeah
c'mon go walking
everybody walking along
you got to walk in the street
move your butt to the funky funky drum beat
walking walking
walking along everybody
come walking

you can hail a cab - get flabby
ride a bicycle - it's nicycle
try rollerskates - no brakes
hope on the back of a big fat cow - not now
try a plane - ear-pain
cram in the back of a van - be a man
try a surfboard - no teeth
ride on a train - financial drain, financial drain

everybody come walking
go on, come walking
come on-n walking along
c'mon come walking
you can walk in the street
move my butt to the funky funky drum beat
walking, mm walking
you got to go walking
c'mon everybody walking

Damn... Take a walk...
Can I walk it? (Yes you can!)
Can I walk it? (Yes you can!)
Can I walk it? (Yes you can!)
Can I walk it? (Yes you can!)
Can I walk it? (Yes you can!)
Then I'm gone...

(Yes you can!)(repeats under rap)

Walking - an interesting concept
I'm taking the rhythm and it's playing with my dansette
This new situation in this funky nation, we need some means of perambulation
or should I say transport of the cheapest sort, it's a non-contact sport
just lift one leg and place in front of the other
yeah, you got it my brother
W - A - L - K - I - N - G spells WALKING!

(Walk in the street)(repeats under chorus)

walking - c'mon gimme walking
let me hear you say walking people!
c'mon, i need walking
you gotta go walk-ing yeah
it's the only way to move
c'mon everybody walking 'long with Microgroove - you gotta move
Move your body to the left, move your body to the right
Move your feet around the floor, you're doing just right

(Yelps, Applause)

(Walk in the street)(repeats)

There are various ways of walking
You can swagger, you can bounce
You can gently sway from side to side
But at the end of the day, we are all walking
One nation under a shoe... walking...

Ashley Slater / Microgroove © 1992

Listen to the song here. I'm sure Ash won't mind.

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Thursday, March 24, 2005

These Boots Are Made For Walking

I have few perversions that you could really call perverse, and no fixations to speak of. I have them, of course, just not to speak of. I wish to state now, for the record, that I have always found women in boots highly attractive. There's a black and white picture of my mother looking terrific in a 60s mid-length coat, bottle-blonde beehive hair, and knee-length black leather boots, so I don't have to imagine why. At toddler age and height, I probably had a better relationship with her leather-clad calves than I did with any other part of the family. It's no surprise to Mr Freud that to this day, I will look sooner and longer at a woman in boots (preferably black and knee length) than anybody else.

I was once paid the highest compliment it is possible for a woman to pay a man, which is, "You are lovely to go shopping with." Yes, I am. I enjoy it. I join in, finding new things for them to try on and delivering them to the door of the changing room. I like the arousal, the chase, the flirtation. I like shoe shops in particular. If I have a female/gay gene, this is it. I also buy shoes for myself - MEN'S SHOES - but just like a girl, far too many of them. I can wield a mean shoe horn. I had to work on not buying any more shoes until the ones I had were at least worn in.

I like dressing up, dressing down, dressing cool, dressing hot, dressing funky, dressing to kill, and I like undressing. I learned the one-hand-round-the-back mid-embrace brassiere-remove trick by the time I was 16. I learned how little you have to remove to facilitate sex. I learned to love stockings and skirts, and although I really enjoy unzipping and unbuttoning and unlacing, I especially like sex with shoes on, encased ankles and heels bumping my forehead, cuffing my ears, buckles precariously close to my eyes. These are the sex wounds of which I am most proud. "My GF kicked me in the head during sex." Oh yes, she did. It was an accident, caused by the incredible spinal flick-flacks of her enormous orgasms, and my insistance that she keep her boots on. Oh yes.

Over to Nancy:

These Boots Are Made for Walking

You keep saying you got something for me
Something you call love but confess
You've been a-messin' where you shouldn't a-been a-messin'
And now someone else is getting all your best

Well, these boots are made for walking
And that's just what they'll do
One of these days these boots
Are gonna walk all over you

You keep lying when you oughta be truthin'
You keep losing when you oughta not bet
You keep same-ing when you oughta be a-changin'
What's right is right but you ain't been right yet


You keep playing where you shouldn't be playing
And you keep thinking that you'll never get burned
I've just found me a brand new box of matches
And what he knows you ain't had time to learn


Are you ready, boots?
Start walkin'

Lee Hazlewood

This song I have always found fascinating, with it's sinister S&M threat of domination and punishment, and although my gimp days clearly belong in another life, it remains a thrill beyond the song. It deals with the forbidden, locked up sexuality, betrayal, and revenge.

Researching the story behind the song, which I knew to be interesting as it features the great Lee Hazlewood, I found Are you ready, boots? on Amazon, written by Johnny Heering "trivia buff" (Bethel, CT United States).

Nancy Sinatra was signed to Reprise Records mainly because her father owned the record label. After a whopping eleven flop singles, Nancy was given "one more chance", with the understanding that she would be dropped by the label if her next record didn't sell. Having nothing to lose, she hooked up with maverick producer/songwriter Lee Hazlewood at her next recording session. The resulting record, "So Long, Babe", wasn't a major hit, but it sold enough copies to save Nancy's job. Then the next record that Lee cooked up for Nancy, "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'", was a major smash and turned her career around. What comes next after a Number One hit single? An album, of course! Nancy first album was centered around that hit (and the sexy cover didn't hurt sales, either). I guess Lee was a little short on material, because over half the album was covers of other people's hits. Artists covered include The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Knickerbockers and The Statler Brothers. You know, all the usual suspects. The covers are actually pretty fun, thanks to interesting arrangements by Hazlewood. The CD includes four bonus tracks. "The City Never Sleeps at Night" was the b-side of "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'". "In Our Time" was a relatively unsuccessful single, and "Leave My Dog Alone" was it's b-side. The mono single version of "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" closes out the album. Recommended to all of Nancy's fans.

Lee wasn't short on material. In those days when being recording artist and songwriter did not by default go hand in hand, it was policy to cover other artists' songs,in the hopes that Dylan, Rolling Stones, and Beatles fans would rush to buy Nancy's offering, and thus increase her sales.

Lee recorded his own hilarious version of this song, which describes how the recording went: "the engineer Eddie Bracket said, if we don't fade this thing out, we're all gonna be arrested..." Lil Kim and her sister also recorded a version, which samples the original and adds a nice fat kick drum. BOOOOWWWWWWMMMMM!

Purely for evaluation purposes over Easter, you can find all these versions of this song here.

NB: An article by Dave Hill, entitled Why Do Men Love Kinky Boots? attempts to shed some light on the phenomenon, but doesn't do the subject any justice. ATTENTION ALL BLOGGERS: This man writes for a UK national newspaper - you can easily do better and frequently do.

Now where has that boot polish got to?

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Walking On The Moon

Dum De-Dum..... CHING!!! ing-ing-ing.... Dah, Dah Dum.... Dum De-Dum..... CHING!!! ing-ing-ing.... Dah, Dah Dum....

It's hard to believe now, but once, Sting wasn't the New Age Rainforest-Saving Aesthetically-Pompadoured Jazz-Pop-Rock Tantric Geriatric Cheekboned Geordie he is now. OK, he had the cheekbones, you could ski down them, if you fell against them you'd sever an artery, he'd take off in a cross wind. But once, he was musically respected. Once he was in a band that were considered to be the New Great Hope, The Police, and although this band never realised anything like their potential (could this have been anything to do with Stuart Copeland's ex-Head of CIA Dad?) for a couple of years, they had the songs, the looks, the fans, and the world at their feet.

Beneath my feet, I had solid ground at least. I had grown up somewhat, was attending the local College of Art, on a Foundation course. The stresses of school and my ruined lovelife were dissipating. My social life was blossoming. Still living at home, but I had worked out my escape from Colditz Croydon. I had found a great formula to avoid everyone and get enough art done to wangle my way onto a degree course - get stoned and paint at night - and it worked. I had a really nice girlfriend, MLSNC. She was beautiful, passionate, had French-speaking parents, was a candidate for sexiest woman ever; and I was, to my great and eternal surprise, falling in love again, never wanted to, what am I to do, I can't help eeeeeeeeeet.

MLSNC lived in a nice house in Purley a little way up the hill on the posh side of the A23, and I lived in an ex-council house in Coulsdon a little way up the hill on the less posh side. It meant a 10 minute walk home after spending the evening at hers. In the warming, scented Spring nights, I walked back down and up the hill in daze of romantic and sexual fever. This was very different to anything I had experienced. I had the soundtrack in my head - this was the last year I remember NOT having a walkman, as, dear children, they had only just been invented. Yes, we used to have to memorise music - can you credit it?

I'd grown up with rockets and spacemen, I celebrated the first moon landings at junior school, devoured everything by Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Harry Harrison... I knew all about Walking on the Moon. On Regatta De Blanc, The Police's 2nd album, I preferred Stuart's Does Everyone Stare? with it's obsessive lyric and densely disturbing piano - but this was the better song, the smash hit, and the song that even now makes me attentive, expectant. It's not just the nostalgia value - Andy Summers' guitar, his fabulously pared-down shiny Fender 3-note top-of-the-neck chords echoing unresolved hang in the air, coast over the dubby reggae-inspired bass and drums, forming a tight skin of steel across the music... what a landscape...

Walking On The Moon

Giant steps are what you take
Walking on the Moon
I hope my legs don't break
Walking on the Moon
We could walk forever
Walking on the Moon
We could live together
Walking on, walking on the moon

Walking back from your house
Walking on the Moon
Walking back from your house
Walking on the Moon
Feet they hardly touch the ground
Walking on the Moon
My feet don't hardly make no sound
Walking on, walking on the moon

Some may say
I'm wishing my days away
No way
And if it's the price I pay
Some say
Tomorrow's another day
You stay
I may as well play

Giant steps are what you take
Walking on the Moon
I hope my legs don't break
Walking on the Moon
We could walk forever
Walking on the Moon
We could be together
Walking on, walking on the moon

Some may say
I'm wishing my days away
No way
And if it's the price I pay
Some say
Tomorrow's another day
You stay
I may as well play

Keep it up, keep it up

The Police

Gordon, Stripy Sumner of the North-East, him and his bass playing jazz-tinged chipmonk-voiced black-imitation soul, lost me with his atrocious single Da-Do-Do-Do, but he got me with this one. It's tight, sparse, moody, and unmistakable. I was walking back from her house, walking on the moon, my feet hardly touched the ground, I was walking on the moon, that was me.

Sometimes in your life, a hit is meant for you. This is one of mine.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

I'm Bored

I don't often do what EVERYBODY DOES and just use this space to sound off about the petty complaints of my life. If I am going to moan, I like to go for the full howl.

Today I realised, having been exasperated, frustrated, tense and generally dissatisfied for a while, having been sighing and muttering and feeling lethargic and then pacing the room that the PROFOUND reason for this is that I am doing the same few things too often and I AM JUST SIMPLY BORED.

This is a bad state of mind because I either implode or explode after too long being BORED. I start to find perfectly acceptable things insufficient; I begin to feel mild psychosis if it goes unchecked. ANYTHING is better than this, I tell myself (it isn't). Even my creative work feels BORING. The place I am, inside and outside - BORING. I'm sure I am doing everything well enough and it's probably what I should be doing but Jesus, it's not exactly thrilling me right now.

I am now boring to myself, I am so bored.

Take it away Iggy, very far away, and chuck it into your endless boring sea:

I'm Bored

 I'm bored

I'm the chairman of the bored,
I'm a lengthy monologue
I'm livin' like a dog

I'm bored

I bore myself to sleep at night
I bore myself in broad daylight coz

I'm bored
Just another slimey bore

I'm free to bore my well-bought friends
And spend my cash until the end coz

I'm bored
I'm bored

I'm the chairman of the board

I'm sick
I'm sick of all my kicks
I'm sick of all the stiffs
I'm sick of all the dips

I'm bored

I bore myself to sleep at night
I bore myself in broad daylight coz

I'm bored
I'm bored

Just another dirty bore

All right doll-face
Come on and bore me

I'm sick
I'm sick of all my kicks
I'm sick of all the stiffs
I'm sick of all the dips

I'm sick

I'm sick when I go to sleep at night
I'm still sick in the broad daylight coz

I'm bored
I'm bored

I'm the chairman of the. . .


Iggy Pop, from New Values

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Waltzing Matilda

This is Andrew "The Banjo" Barton Paterson, the author of Waltzing Matilda. He was born on February 17, 1864, at Narambla, New South Wales, not far from Orange, the son of a Scottish immigrant from Lanarkshire, who had arrived in Australia in the early 1850s.

Roger Clarke has constructed a Waltzing Matilda page about Australia's most famous song, with explanations of the wonderful Australian words the song contains and the various different versions. "Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tuckerbag?" is revealed as a perfectly sensible question. I suggest you commit this to memory so that next time you are stuck for a sensible question, you can bring this one out.

This is the first song I ever memorised and sang. In my childish way, I actually sang "Walsingatilda, Walsingatilda, Youcoma Walsingatildaramee". My mother remains inordinately proud of the fact I could sing in tune at the age of 2.

I sang it to my sister on her very first birthday. Today is her 41st. Happy Birthday Sis. It's a nicer birthday song than the usual, with thievery, suicide and haunting.

Big breath now, and blow all those candles out!

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree
And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled
You'll come a-waltzing matilda with me

(CHORUS) Waltzing matilda, waltzing matilda
You'll come a waltzing matilda with me
And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled
You'll come a-waltzing matilda with me

Down came a jumbuck to dri-ink at that billabong
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee
And he sang as he stuffed that jumbuck in his tucker-bag
You'll come a-waltzing matilda with me


Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred
Up rode the troopers, one, two, three
"Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker-bag?"
You'll come a-waltzing matilda with me


Up jumped the swagman and sprang into that billabong
"You'll never take me alive!", said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pa-ass by that billabong
You'll come a-waltzing matilda with me


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Monday, March 21, 2005

Clever Trevor

Why should I feel bad about something I ain't 'ad
such stupidness is mad cos nothing underfoot
comes to nothing less to add to a load of old toot
and I ain't half not half glad coz there's nowhere to put it
even if I 'ad i'm a bit of a Jack the Lad

from Ian Dury and The Blockheads, Clever Trevor

I was 16 forever.

I chiefly recall my permanent erection, which had arisen at age 13 and remained hard ever since. I longed and lusted and ached for sex, which called me like Alaska called Jack London. It wanted my satisfaction more than life itself. It was my hourly imperative. It was completely useless, I wasn't getting any.

I did a few sensible things, like buying Levi 501s, like cutting my straggling hippy hair, a legacy from my older rock-beer-and-football loving brothers and a lenient mother. I walked into school late the Monday after Russ's sister chopped the lank locks, needing to avoid the inevitable pre-school playground taunting that would certainly accompany my image change. My English teacher Mr Reed caught me loitering in the corridor, unwilling to enter an assembly late and incur the attention of the entire year. He winked and sidled up to me, and gave a low whistle. I tried not to smile. "Get in there!" he commanded, pointing to the rows of boys black-uniformed backs and bony arses parked on the wooden hall floor. Looking suddenly hip I felt acutely self-conscious, and tried to avoid eye contact with everyone, as I silently slipped into place.

16 meant taking GCE "O" levels (General Certificates of Education, Ordinary Level) after 4 years of curriculum study. It meant deciding whether to stay on at school for "A" levels, which in turn meant College. During the long hot Saturdays of 1977 and 1978 I sacrificed hours of park football, bicycling, drinking beer, and hanging around Croydon Youth Theatre, where there were girls, so that I could cram for my Mathematics "O", needed if I wanted a hope of attending a University, or one of the urban Polytechnics, which in those pre-reformation/educational upgrade days often produced better courses than the underfunded old Unis. My "O" levels were duly passed, the Maths a barely-scraped "C", but enough to justify my advancing to 6th form.

The delight of the 6th form was the shared block with the girls school next door. This was a place of great hormonal activity. We were allowed to wear coloured shirts in place of the grey or white. Although lessons were still separate, we shared a well-stocked library and a common room with the girls. I joined the library as a librarian, as it offered the librarian's room, tea-making facilities and closer, more intimate proximity to girls than the common room afforded. It worked, and soon I embarked on my first real love affair, with Jane.

Jane was a Scorpio, 3 months older than I, and as we grew close, she confessed that she was no longer a virgin. But I was, embarrassingly so, months after the legal age of consent (16) had been passed. I thought Jane's previous experience was good, as it meant that more than likely, I would get to fuck at last. Yes, I loved her. Yes, I was also that carnal. I just really wanted to fuck, it's a young male thing. I would have fucked all day, every day. In my head I kept a list of women I intended to fuck. I sat on the bus back from school, looking out of the window, mentally adding to my list... yes... yes... no... yes... YES... maybe...

Jane made all of that redundant.

I just wanted her. All of my straining, unrequited sexuality wanted her. All of my emotionally locked up and controlling nature. Her. She didn't know what she was initiating when she jumped off the heater one lunchtime and told me with a shy smile that she thought she loved me.

I read somewhere that when you fall in love, the size of the fall depends on the level of loneliness you previously experienced. After 11 years of emotional isolation and family misfitting, with my precocious academic and artistic abilities occasionally lifting me briefly into the spotlight, I needed a decade of hugs. All I could think about was sex, after years of building it up to be the answer to all ills and discomfort, I went to a foaming fantasy heaven filled with an endless variety of sexual positions and total physical pleasure.

Jane I will forever thank for one reason, which is her contribution to my musical development. She bought me "New Boots and Panties" by Ian Dury and the Blockheads, for my 17th birthday, and 7 days later on a Saturday night, armed with condoms bought from the machine in the Blue Anchor, left alone for the purposes of petting, we went for it in my parents front room. The entire family was present in the house elsewhere, kept only in place by the TV, but somehow, we had ceased to care whether or not we were interrupted. Passion and persuasion overwhelmed inhibition, the condom went on, and my past life as a virgin began.

On the turntable, on repeat, was Ian Dury, and just as we got down to the sticky business of insertion, one song was chiming out, drowning our muffled sighs and moans and slurps and elbow bangs. It was a fabulous irony - here I was in the arms of my very first lover, listening to one of the most bitter and twisted songs ever written about male-female relations.

If I Was With A Woman

If I was with a woman she'd wonder what was happening
Little things would slowly go askew
If I was with a woman I'd make her quite unhappy
‘Specially when she did not want me to

If I was with a woman I'd make believe I loved her
When all the time I would not like her much
If I was with a woman she'd soon become unsettled
I'd show her but I would not let her touch

Look at them laughing
Look at them laughing
Look at them laughing
Laughing, laughing

If I was with a woman I'd never ask her questions
But if she did not want me to I would
If I was with a woman I'd offer my indifference
And make quite sure she never understood

If I was with a woman I'd threaten to unload her
Every time she asked me to explain
If I was with a woman she'd have to learn to cherish
The purity and depth of my disdain

Look at them laughing
Look at them laughing
Look at them laughing
Laughing, laughing

I've been with a woman, she took away my spirit
No woman's coming close to me again
I've been with a woman, she took away my spirit
No woman's coming close to me again

Look at them laughing
Look at them laughing
Look at them laughing
Laughing, laughing, laughing, laughing, laughing
Laughing, laughing, laughing, laughing, laughing...

Lyrics: Ian Dury, Music: Chaz Jankel, The Blockheads

In the following months I tried hard to make up for my years of isolation and lust by having constant sex. Since we couldn't spend the night together owing to her mother's paranoia, we had sex wherever we could, at any time. Pre-lesson sex in the reference section surrounded by the Oxford English Dictionary, post-lesson sex in a park. Stumbling home from the pub on rum and black in an alley sex. Sex sex sex sex sex, sex until I couldn't do it any more, and then more as soon as I could. The quality/quantity equation had not yet entered my mind.

It all ended in tears, of course, as teen affairs frequently do. Jane was in a pretty depressed situation, from a traumatised, broken family, damn poor, frequently miserable, uncertain about hygene, and not too academic. I was an escape. The love and affection I felt was hard for me to express, and even though my romantic inclinations even extended to a one-kneed proposal of marriage, my charms eventually paled, and Jane, forever trapped, looked elsewhere and found God, the Head Librarian.

Even though it was always going to happen, I was gutted like a kipper. The night I lost her, I wept the tears I had not since the death of my Grandmother 7 years previously. Yet one song brought us briefly back together - we went to see the film Quadrophenia. Watching the film in the Odeon, Purley, Jane experienced a moment of indentification with the then-supersexy Leslie Ash, and feeling disloyal turned back to me in remorse. But our love was shattered, not to be remade, and though this restored some pride, I knew I was done here, too hurt to trust her further.

Love, Reign O'er Me

Only love
Can make it rain
The way the beach is kissed by the sea
Only love
Can make it rain
Like the sweat of lovers
Laying in the fields

Love, Reign o'er me
Love, Reign o'er me, rain on me

Only love
Can bring the rain
That makes you yearn to the sky
Only love
Can bring the rain
That falls like tears from on high

Love Reign O'er Me

On the dry and dusty road
The nights we spend apart alone
I need to get back home to cool cool rain
The nights are hot and black as ink
I can't sleep and I lay and I think
Oh God, I need a drink of cool cool rain

Pete Townsend, from Quadrophenia by The Who

Wearing my expensively acquired cynicism like a new fashion item, I stuck around long enough to pick up my Christmas present, a silver chain, and then I simply ceased to care about Jane, erased her like the callous youth I was, and looked elsewhere for love which to my great surprise, I promptly found at the checkouts in Texas Homecare.

I saw Jane recently in Govinda's north of Soho Square. She looked pretty good for 40+, nice skin and short hair, sorting something out with a man, probably her lover. Still miserable. I thought about saying something but it seemed wrong, so with typical English manners, I made sure I didn't intrude, but caught her eye as I left and smiled. She looked shocked as she realised who I was. Same old same old.

Knock me down with a feather, Clever Trevor.

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Friday, March 18, 2005

Punk or Funk?

I was looking at all these punks appearing in Croydon. Punks were new. They wore safety pins and looked hard. I saw some getting on a bus in Addiscombe. A girl had hair like a chimney brush. I could not take my eyes off her. I was simultaneously scared and attracted. It was 1976, a year before the Queen's Silver Jubilee and the Sex Pistols blasted the punk subculture globally.

I didn't really like punk. I liked Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Glenn Miller, Gershwin. Then The Stranglers released Go Buddy Go. I loved it. I didn't know about The Meteors yet, the originators, one of the funkiest bands of all time. The Stranglers, pub-band turned punk and accused of bandwagon-jumping, hadn't yet suckered me with Golden Brown and Strange Little Girl. But I sensed greatness, and I bought in, defending them in teenage musical merit debates with passion. It's a blues, actually.

Well the boys and the girls all dancing around
Dancing all night to the crazy sound
Well it's the newest thing to hit the fan
The boys and the girls are holding hands
I said go buddy go buddy go
buddy go buddy go go go...

I could not get it out of my head. The Stranglers followed up with better, but then a couple of years later came 2-Tone, which was both Punk and Funk. This rescued me from my confusion. At last, a music I could love wholeheartedly, I could sing, I could dance, and I could 100% feel the lyrics. In 1981, as the nation faced disaster, we found a popular voice.

Terry Hall, the deadpan hero, prosecuted by his neighbours for noisy late night sex.

This town, is coming like a ghost town
All the clubs have been closed down
This place, is coming like a ghost town
Bands won't play no more
too much fighting on the dance floor

Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town?
We danced and sang, and the music played inna de boomtown

This town, is coming like a ghost town
Why must the youth fight against themselves?
Government leaving the youth on the shelf
This place, is coming like a ghost town
No job to be found in this country
Can't go on no more
The people getting angry

This town, is coming like a ghost town
This town, is coming like a ghost town
This town, is coming like a ghost town
This town, is coming like a ghost town

The Specials

Thank the God of Funk for 2-Tone and Ska and Terry's carnal yelping.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Shock Shock Horror Horror, Shock Shock Horror!

Men: you cannot win. Give up now. Come out of denial. Accept your role, be the weaker sex. Science is finally showing us HOW MUCH of the future of humanity females are actually carrying around in their genetic handbags.

According to this BBC report, entitled Female chromosome has X factor, "The X chromosome - one of 24 distinct chromosomes found in human cells - is much larger than the relatively puny Y, containing 1,098 genes to the Y's 78.

This means that female mammals contain over 1000 more genes than males. To compensate for this, the female body switches off one X chromosome - quite randomly - in each cell, thus evening up protein production between the sexes."

This is where the scientists are wrong. Random has nothing to do with it. X chromosomes are "switched off" quite deliberately, or else women would be revealed as the supernatural creatures they actually are, and marriage would be forever abandoned. The actual parts that are switched off are well known to men, who seize on the "off" chromosomes to justify their own aberrant behaviour and 3 thousand year attempt at dominance. So what if women bash the car when they park it? They hardly ever kill anyone by driving too fast, which is why their insurance is 20% cheaper.

Ask the average man in the street what he thinks about women having 1000 more genes than men. They won't be surprised. What's 1000 pairs of jeans when she already has 2000 pairs of shoes? But, here's the Big Nub:

"Because males have only a single X chromosome, more genetic diseases have been found on this chromosome than any other," said Dr Ian Jackson of the MRC Human Genetics Unit. "One consequence is that boys have a higher incidence of mental retardation than girls."

Doh! Did I need Dr Jackson to tell me that? Me, with my 1st degree, my superb artistic ability, my supreme language mangling talent? Jesus it makes me mad! Don't they realise that Penis Envy is the cause of mental problems? Have they never heard of Hysteria? It makes me so mad, I am banging my head on the desk. It feels better now, but my hat won't fit. I might go for a drive to calm down.

I turn to an old song, cleverly written by a man in the style of a much older song, for some gender relief:

Space - Female of the Species

A thousand thundering thrills await me
Facing insurmountable odds greatly
The female of the species is more deadlier than the male.

Shock shock horror horror, shock shock horror!
I'll shout myself hoarse for your supernatural force!
The female of the species is more deadlier than the male.

Oh, she deals in witchcraft and
One kiss and I'm zapped. Oh,
How can heaven hold a place for me
When a girl like you has cast her spell on me?
Oh, How can heaven hold a place for me
When a girl like you has cast her spell on me?

Frankenstein and Dracula have nothing on you
Jekyll and Hyde join the back of the queue
The female of the species is more deadlier than the male.

For she wants to conquer the world completely
But first she'll conquer me discreetly
The female of the species is more deadlier than the male.

Oh, she deals in witchcraft and
One kiss and I'm zapped. Oh,
How can heaven hold a place for me
When a girl like you has cast her spell on me?
Oh, How can heaven hold a place for me
When a girl like you has cast her spell on me?

Oh, How can heaven hold a place for me
When a girl like you has cast her spell on me?
Oh, How can heaven hold a place for me
When a girl like you has cast her spell on me?

Ah, the way pop propagates grammatical errors. It's "more deadly" of course. He'll tell you it was intentional.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Little Boxes

Little boxes on the hill side, little boxes made of ticky-tacky.
Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses all go to the university
Where they all get put in boxes, little boxes, all the same.
And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers, and there’s business executives
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course and drink their martini dry
And they all have pretty children and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp and then to the university
Where they all get put in boxes and they all come out the same.

And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family
And they all get put in boxes, little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.

Malvina Reynolds © 1963, Set to music and performed by Pete Seeger

This lovely song used to terrify me as a small child with it's innocent tale of depressing conformity.

The naive sweetness of the melody sounds a warning note clear across the decades, against uniformity of expectation, drab quality of life and the perpetuation of chauvinist values. Inside the boxes rotted the nuclear family. Suburban isolation tore into the soul of caged mothers who dutifully swallowed their green and pink and yellow and blue "medication", as an entire straight generation trapped in this degraded lifestyle got hooked on legal drugs, while the media focus was on the illegal ones favoured by the beat and hippy counter-culture. Valium, anyone, with your Martini?

When I hear this song, I also hear the theme tune to Bewitched. The word "Formica" comes to mind. Also, "Draylon". And the phrases, "net curtain" and "ceiling tiles" and "crazy paving". And sometimes, in the wind, I hear the word "Croydon".

Pete, I am forever grateful to your Great American Leftness. You helped me get the hell out.

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Honawhat? Honalee?

Dragon. First thing I ever asked for. Fire in it's belly, I wanted one to keep me warm. Perhaps influenced by this dragon, Puff, or perhaps by the cat that always found it's way into my cot and fell asleep on my feet, to be banished in fear of it's laying on my face and suffocating me.

I loved this song, one of the first I remember hearing, which was banned at the time, as it was feared to be about cannabis. In fact it is a ditty about the immortal beast who relies on childhood belief to exist, a scaly tale of lost innocence. Giz a toke on that lizard, geezer.

Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff, oh

Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.
Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.

Together they would travel on boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff's gigantic tail
Noble kings and princes would bow whene'er they came
Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name, oh


A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys
Painted wings and giants's rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave
So, Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave, oh


By Peter Yarrow and Leonard Tipton On Peter, Paul & Mary's MOVING, IN CONCERT, and 10 YEARS. Copyright 1963 Pepamar Music.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Chinese Café

Nothing lasts for long
Nothing lasts for long
Nothing lasts for long
Down at the Chinese Café
We'd be dreaming on our dimes
We'd be playing
"Oh my love, my darling"
One more time...

Joni Mitchell, Chinese Café / Unchained Melody

I was stunned. I left the hospital in St Anne's Road, a thick fog of horror flooding my 21-year-old head, forming an impenetrable barrier of incredulity between me and the mundane world. It was a grey morning, buses and cars jammed Green Lanes, which wasn't green at all, except where the shops' gloss painted fronts made it so.

I was going to die, not like a baby on some far away beach, but in a hospital oncology ward, or perhaps in a hospice. Hospice, the word felt foul and metallic in my mouth. People waiting to exit, on insufficient morphine, sad lines of friends and family trooping dutifully, regretfully by, kind, healthy people, saying goodbye and leaving quickly, people who will see the next year, and the year after that, and more years after that. Like I won't.

I unlocked my chained bike and tried to calm my panic. All my hopes and dreams I must abandon. All the things that mean anything to me. The art I plan to do. The music I want to record. The gigs I want to go to... I felt like weeping, but I just cleared my throat, which was dry, dry. I couldn't produce enough spit to moisten my tongue. The cancer was down there, I could spit all I wanted, it wouldn't expell. I'd be dead within months.

One month previously I had been spitting out my toothpaste when I gave a start of alarm. In among the foaming Colgate was dark red, brown. Shit! Blood. I rinsed my mouth with clean water and inspected my teeth in the mirror, looking for gum damage. Nothing. I tilted the mirror, inspecting my tongue, my palette. Clean. The back of my throat looked a bit red. I had been smoking for 3 years, mostly spliffs, but I was also a tobacco addict in denial; taking the opportunity to enjoy my Camel Lights on the top of a bus, or when I thought nobody I knew was looking. In the evenings I would swap cigarettes for hash and tobacco with my student pals, which behaviour was de rigeur.

Concerned, I made a mental note to make a doctor's appointment and went to my bed where my girlfriend was already crashed and sleeping. She could be peculiarly unsympathetic about physical ailments, her parents having a middle-class no-nonsense approach to maladies which mine did not. I squashed my nagging fear, felt my breathing. I had a slight pain in my upper left chest. Hmmm. I slept.

The Doctor was a middle-aged Jewish guy with thinning very curly hair who wore tweed in all weathers. He brought out the stethoscope, banged and knocked. "Deep breath." I obliged. "Again." I repeated. "And again." I hadn't let out the second breath yet. I exhaled, inhaled. "Once more." I started to feel light-headed.

He said that it would be best if I had an X-Ray and he was referring me to St Anne's. I was putting my jumper and coat back on, and I felt a momentary chill as he said this, matter of fact, no indication of whether he thought I had something serious or not. I was young, so I just said "OK" and left, with the time-bomb now ticking. I waited 3 weeks, carried on at college, but I was edgy and I kept off the smokes somewhat. Then one day a brown paper envelope arrived with my x-ray appointment. There it was, on the door mat of the semi-habitable Wood Green co-op house. I picked it up as I left, put it in my coat pocket, didn't open it until that evening. 7 days time. That was quick.

I went to hospital. I was being crabby before I left, my girlfriend's kind reassurances no match for my internalised fear. St Anne's was a typical Victorian brick and slate and shiny red tile and too-many-layers-of-gloss building, with radiators that were stone cold and pipes that would scald you if you touched them.

The Radiology department waiting room scared me. There was a 3 metre long light box on the wall, incongruously neon and plastic, where ribcage after ribcage was slapped up, the metal bulldog clips sticking to a magnetic strip at the top. It offended me that they were not straight. I waited. A couple of tall male doctors strode around, heels tapping on the old stone floor. I looked at the people with me, mostly old, some clearly suffering with the affliction that was going to see them dead. I wanted to be in my art history lecture, which was about Beuys, who had almost died in the war, but been rescued by the Tartars. I didn't want to be sitting on an uncomfortable grey plastic chair for 45 minutes while my anxiety levels rose steadily, I wanted to learn about Beuys, his fat, felt, live coyotes, and dead hares.

Called in. I collected myself, entered, confirmed identity, disrobed as required, and submitted to the machine, which looked suprisingly modern in the old high-ceilinged room. X-Rays. Passing through me. Flesh and bone. Revealing the insides of the machine. "Stay quite still, please." It was cold against the glass and metal. She retreated behind the lead screen, her white coat no protection for her ovaries. She was cute. I had zero interest. It was cold. I tried not to shiver. Done, I reclothed, returned to the waiting room, and waited as instructed. And I waited and waited.

Every five minutes or so, another ribcage would "CLACK!" up on the light box. People would shuffle or be wheeled in and out. After 30 minutes or so, no further instruction, no member of staff to ask. No sign of mine. I bit my nails. I started to surreptitiously pace, like a member of the resistance, undiscovered but trapped in an enemy-occupied train station. It was worse than wating for Argos.

Finally, an X-Ray with my name on it. That's what I was waiting for, if they had that I could go. I went over to look, and my scalp crawled. What was that enormous shadow on my left lung? Oh my God, that wasn't right. I knew anatomy. Mine was screwed, that was it, I had cancer, and I was going to die.

I was a well-trained lad, it was unlike me to up and leave a hospital, but I just walked out of there in a daze. I was so scared. My mind raced. What about my lover, my family and friends? What about all the things I was going to say and do with art? I had so little time to do any of it now. I started to devise posters, slogans. At I came to the traffic lights at the T-Junction, they were turning red. I cycled on regardless to make my usual right turn, and completely misjudged the speed of a double decker bus ahead on my left, which was racing up the hill and about to cross the lights, turned green by now. Instead of getting out of the way fast, in my panic, I slipped my gears, and I stopped on the middle of the road. I was incredibly lucky not to be killed in that moment. The hiss of airbrakes was deafening, and the bus stopped about 2cm from my left leg. Cars screeched around the bus and hooted. The bus driver turned purple and began to shout angrily, and people in the crowded bus stared forward at me, pedestrians came over to me, in the middle of Green Lanes. I looked at them all blankly. I was already dead. I just went to the side of the road, put my chain back on, and I cycled home, my hands covered with oil, too numb to even weep.

The next few weeks were grey, featureless. They called me back twice more for X-Rays. After 2 months I received another letter in another brown envelope. I didn't have lung cancer. I was clear. Nothing wrong.

There was something wrong of course. I was seriously depressed, a condition which had been exacerbated if not caused by my excessive marjuana consumption at the time. 2 years out of home without rules, and it was all beginning to take it's toll. It was a genuine existential moment for me, in that I suddenly felt my own mortality as a completely and utterly real thing, my puny ego realising it's limitation. It was also a wake up call. My fear nearly killed me. So I gave up tobacco, at least, never to smoke it since, and in the months and years after that I started taking my health more seriously, eventually even my mental and emotional health.

All through this bleak period, one melody sang in my mind, one voice said it clearly. Joni, you were the only one. I was alone, unreachable, but this song, which quotes another great song so beautifully, said it all. Nothing lasts for long.

In the end, it was surmised that I had broken a minor blood vessel somewhere in my oesophagus or a bit lower down. It was nice not to be an addict. I was happy not to have died. I worked hard, and I began to do well. I gradually relaxed.

Years later, after I had been eating some chocolate late one night, I went to clean my teeth. I spat; and my skin suddenly crawled with horror and recognition. Chocolate. It had been chocolate. My face split a huge grin, I laughed, my toothpaste mouth spraying the bathroom tiles with Colgate, saliva, and chocolate.

One more time...

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Monday, March 14, 2005


Spring is here. I know that because the daffodils are out, though they held back for 10 days in the cold, they are all green and yellow now, out like proper gay flowers, bob-bob-bobbing their trumpetheads in the municipal parks, so many moshers waiting for the guitar solo to go apeshit.

I saw two blackbirds bonking this morning, and even without the enforced lurch of hours that Daylight Mangling Time gives us each March and takes away each October, the sun now sets at 6.40PM.

I notice also that people are beginning to smile again, and run with their children on their shoulders. I always look but I can never see what they are running from. Maybe they are running away from Monday. Maybe they are fleeing the awful finality of their parenthood. Maybe they are just moving their legs and the ground is passing beneath them, whether they want it to or not.

the world moves on a woman's hips - the world moves and it bounces and hops - the world moves on a woman's hips - the world moves and it swivels and bops

This quote is from David Byrne, from that all time great Talking Heads album Remain In Light. Somehow seems appropriate now that everything is starting to breed and sprout.

Little creatures must be fed, and I too must eat. Where's my puppy?

He's delicious with maple syrup.

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Sunday, March 13, 2005

New Moon Blue Note

we passed the new moon.. you can see it now

the blue note comes from slavery

it's crucial this note. it's from an african scale.

the music we all know and love mostly comes from the hybrid of african slave music with english folk music and church music. crazy as it seems the music that is most vital in our culture comes from this appalling crime mankind did to itself.

everything from rock and roll to funk to jazz to reggae to salsa to 2-step to dancehall to mambo to rap to shall I carry on?

the blue note is a mournful note, though it celebrates every moment of our lives

the blue note
the working of spirit
an energy that flows from the beginning to the end of time
it's a near universally understood language
even in this strange rapidly homogenising world culture

this is the place i am now

hitting the blue note

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Friday, March 11, 2005

It's Cold With The Window


In Brighton this morning.

I can hear a road drill and seagulls.

The sun is coming through grey clouds slowly and a train sends a two-note blast a quarter of a mile away that echoes down the coast. Crows join the gulls. The drill clatters on.

I'm 2 teas into wake-up and thinking about walking along the beach.

I think I will walk the couple of miles or whatever to Brighton from Hove. I'm that kind of a strolling guy. My strolling GF would love this, but she's teaching. Only a small bag to carry. Yes, I'm off that way.

The gulls call out again, in concert, more have arrived. Must be some particularly juicy curry remains, or a dead homeless person maybe.

No, I am being fraudulent. Brighton is not yet that savage that corpses in the street are ignored and left for the gulls. 11th March 2005. Let it be remembered.

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

My Funky Place In The Scheme Of Things

Five days to go before the mid-month hinge tilts me into theme #3 for 2005, and I can hardly open my iBook for the deluge of email I have received on this exciting topic. I know that you are intelligent, keen, and loyal, but I have been truly flabbergasted by the interest. What will it be? Whither shalt I wander literarily? How can one follow "LOVE" and "PLACES"?

The suspense of wondering what's next is what keeps us all waking up and reaching for minty toothpaste.

There is an election coming and I have been inundated by politicians of all flavours seeking endorsements from this very Blog of Funk, none of whom stand a chance. Of course I will not endorse them, as none of them are sufficiently anarchic, and it was saddening to see the moist eyes and quivering bottom lips on grown men and women in grey suits as I shut the door on them. Charles Kennedy was still there after an hour, so we took him to the pub, but the mean Scots stereotype sod wouldn't stand his round, and demanded whisky from us! Tsk. Does he not know the price of a double Glenfiddich? Does he not understand that this hole in his pub accounting undermines the excellent liberal, progressively social aims of his party?

Several musicians desperate to include me on their new album have been in touch - and I have had to say, No, George, No, Robbie, No, Kylie, even with the magic bum - but I did say yes to Plantlife, whose excellent single "When She Smiles She Lights The Sky" I 100% recommend.

I do enjoy my funky place in the scheme of things, and so does my gorgeous girlfriend, who actually spent last night in a House of Commons bar, before returning in excellent spirits to the purpose of our spectacular existence and the every day story. I do love her very much, and so does my nose, as she is the sweetest smelling person I have ever met. Unlike Charlie K. who smells of whisky and cigarettes and chrysanthemum.
In fact, the only other things seriously lacking in my life are a garden, and llamas. If I had a big garden, I would definitely keep llamas. These intelligent social animals will not move an inch if they are over-loaded. They just won't exhaust themselves for anyone. This quality in them I want to enhance in myself - even though I must say, I already have 90% of it in place - and also, the eyelashes. Plus, they spit. They can even kill! How cool! I may keep several guard-llamas, in case the political door-knocking gets out of hand between now and May, or that monkey-faced excuse for a proper pop star Robbie gets tanked up and comes over to my place demanding to know the reasons I won't break him in America.

As I said to him last time he burned round in a strop, begging for US-friendly funk tunes:

Rob, I'd love to help you out mate,
but I'm loving llamas instead...

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Tufnell Park v Barcalona

Yesterday was a good night for Chelsea FC - they beat Barcalona, and this splendid 4-2 victory gave a 5-4 aggregate win to put them in the last eight of the European football competition they call the Champions League. Now I am not a Chelsea fan, but this game was one of the best I have ever watched anywhere, 90 minutes of footballing wonder, a game of 6 goals, skill and drama.

Regular readers will recall that I have been completely cured of football by Cupid, who took his revenge upon me on Valentine's Day, when my brave, small team was thrashed by local heroes Arsenal. Let it not go unmentioned that we followed that 5-1 defeat by beating Birmingham 2-0 (oh how we loved to see their turncoat manager Steve Bruce whinge) and then taking a point from the mighty Manchester United, the only team left in the domestic league with a hope of catching Chelsea for the national title, and who went out of the Champions League last night by expertly losing 1-0 to Milan.

But, kind citizens of the world, who know not and care not for this game of consummate skill and vast sums of money, this truly global game of football which is played without shoulder pads and in which only the goalkeeper is allowed to pick up the ball, fear not, for I have not recanted and I am not here to mention football except very briefly, in passing. A beautiful fast-paced passing game with many attacking moves. Oh no, I am done with it, and it plays no further time added on for injury. I have substituted a culture of fitness and athleticism for the drinking and gambling, and shortly we will be playing less games per season which should enable the English league to compete regularly at the highest level.

I rode my bicycle home from Tufnell Park, after watching the game with Chelsea fan N, and I took these pictures on the way. You have to be very expert indeed to ride down Tufnell Park Road at night using your camera phone to take snaps of London streets after drinking several large bottles of Czech Budwar and eating copious amounts of peanuts. Children: I suggest practising card tricks on a unicycle downhill after drinking yoghurt, that should give you the very sensation.

Do not try this at your home game.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

This Place

It's one of the anachronisms of British Government that when you are in the House of Commons (the law-making chamber) you don't refer to it by it's normal name. Instead, convention demands that you call it "this place" and the House of Lords (the revising chamber) "the other place".

Just occasionally I have reason to be proud of the way our eccentric system works. Having observed the workings of the many bastardisations of the Mother of Democracy, it often seems everybody else got the modern version, capable of dynamism, without fancy dress, efficient, contemporary and sleek, whereas we watch bizarre rituals couched in language so dated that even the well-educated struggle to follow, propping up a system which seems calculated to retain Government as the preserve of the elite, maintained by the elite, for the elite.

Yesterday, I gave great thanks for our cobbled-together, semi-reformed, conservative House of Lords, as it stood up against the so-called "terror" laws being proposed by the Labour government for which I voted. These laws would have meant that no evidence need be produced to restrict someone to house arrest, with tagging, monitored communications, no internet, supervised visitors.

Basically, this vote was against giving politicians the power to determine who gets locked up.

The UK's highest court, the Law Lords, recently threw out the Government's case to keep foreign prisoners indefinitely without trial in Belmarsh prison, UK's Guantanamo, as it clearly restricts their human rights. This rejection of the UK Government's plans following on from that ruling was comprehensive, well argued, and substantial, thanks to the stature of the people who stood up for all our rights. Baroness Kennedy (my pin-up for March) quoted Martin Luther King - the passage about doing what is right, rather than what is politic, as they all voted for their consciences. Tony Blair's own mentor Lord Irvine, who first employed him in Law, even voted against him.

By taking this stand, these people may have just preserved your right to be shown the evidence for any crime of which you stand accused, and be given thereby the chance to defend yourself. I hope so.


Lord Irvine, Lord Acton, Lord Ahmed, Lord Borrie, Lord Clinton-Davis, Baroness David, Lord Grantchester, Baroness Hayman, Lord Judd, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, Baroness Mallalieu, Lord Mitchell, Lord Morgan, Lord Morris of Aberavon, Lord Plant of Highfield, Lord Prys-Davies, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, Lord Rogers of Riverside, Lord Sheldon, and Baroness Turner of Camden.

And to end, this Tuesday morning, my own favourite Martin Luther King quote:

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists
who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.

Martin Luther King Jr., "Strength to Love"

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Monday, March 07, 2005

Ebbor Gorge

I love this place. It's in Somerset, western England, just above the small city of Wells, with it's spectacular 12th Century Cathedral. Up the hill past Wookey Hole, which is a deep set of caverns full of tourists, towards Cheddar, which is the bigger more popular natural attraction, you get to a tiny car park with a couple of footpaths unobtrusively leading down into a crack in the hilltop. You enter a deep ravine which brims with life, and following the winding path, after 30 or 40 minutes move up and emerge from the trees onto a high cliff which looks back across the gorge and towards Glastonbury and the endless Somerset levels.

It's a beautiful place, which once housed Iron age people. It would have been safe here, defendable, sheltered from wind and weather, far from the invaders' coast. I shot a video here. We dressed up like mannikins and cavorted like children on the cliff, the setting sun making us magical in red and gold.

This is the place I found contentment with H, who had precious little of that in her short life.

This fertile green split in the earth will spill out at a moment's notice and rejuvenate the surrounding farmed grassland, once the people have gone.

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Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Place We All Go To

The place I am now has fantastic skies, looking West towards Camden.

I heard today about the death of DJ Tommy Vance - real name Rick West - here's a nice biography of him with some soundfiles, my favourite of which is called 31 Days In May. Go listen. What a fabulous voice he had. Tommy was "first English D.J. to broadcast on a USA radio station" so he claimed. With a voice like that, who would disagree?

I sit staring at the gorgeous site of sun fanning golden fingers through clouds 3 miles from here, "huge girders of light arriving from space", IG called them. Tommy has just left the building. Tommy's 21 grams have vanished. He has breathed his last. He is an ex-Tommy.

Why is the parrot sketch so funny? Because it is about death. Taboo subjects always heighten our tension and make easy meat of us for clever carnivorous comedians.
Why tension? The unknown. Death is the limit. Of understanding. Of consciousness. Of Us. Or is it? We just don't know. This is the Big One. The big

We laugh because it's scary. Not. Knowing. What. Lies. Beyond.

The place we go - maybe we don't go anywhere. Or maybe we do. Nobody can ever really say. Is death the beginning of a journey, or is it the end of one? Or isn't it?


Of us.



Or do we just end up in Camden?

I am aware I am not making much sense, but today, frankly, I don't give a damn. Neither am I feeling morbid, or in any way morose. Instead, after a fabulous gig last night, remaining in high spirits until 4.30 am, spending all morning with my gorgeous girlfriend, and a chilled Sunday lunch with an old friend who has dropped in from Canada, I am musing about the place we all go to.

And it IS, in fact, Camden - look it up on the map. Tommy Vance told me. He's there right now, talking with Elvis and Jimi and Janis.

If anyone ever asks you (and parents, this especially applies to you) you must tell them, "Camden, that's where we all go when we die."

We go to Camden and we buy clothes.


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Friday, March 04, 2005

Holloway Road

The Holloway Road is one of the main arterial roads of London. It runs north from Highbury Corner, up to Archway. It is the beginning of the A1, a road which runs all the way up the east side of England until it crosses the border and heads through lowland Scotland to Edinburgh.

Holloway Road is a place nobody likes to say they live. During the house-price boom of the last 12 years, all surrounding districts have become sought after, expensive, chic places to reside, but somehow the appeal of the Hollow Way remains dubitable. I can't see why - it is a place of mystery, industry and mayhem, with all the ingredients of a smash hit filmbooktvsitcomdvdcomicinteractivegamefestivalpamphlet.

People will say, "I live in Barnsbury, I live in Canonbury, I live in Tufnell Park, I live in Hornsey, I live in Highbury Borders." Highbury Borders doesn't exist. This is estate-agent-speak for, "I live in an area I can afford which isn't very far from a nice place I can't afford."

See how beautiful the anti-cold-weather pavement grit makes the shadow of the railings in the afternoon light?

Though I detest it's traffic and vomit and litter and the endless sirens, Holloway Road never ceases to amuse and amaze me. It's the brash honest brother of the liberal poseur Upper Street, which has the town hall, over-priced chi-chi pancakes and vintage cappucino. Holloway has become the hub of the central american community, now that small over-bright Ecuadorian, El Salvadorian and Columbian bars have replaced some of the naffer caffs, playing loud latin music, selling good cheap one quid coffee, and meaty meals, and these are packed at the weekends with short middle-aged dark-haired men and curvaceous women and their teenage and young spilling out, all having a fabulous time in full view of the passing pedestrians and the endless stream of cars and trucks and buses. It's not English at all, they don't hide their pleasures or overdo them to the point of insensibility, no it's all in the family, brazen, open, joyous, guiltless, onwards and upwards until 1 and 2am.

People here are crammed in 11,000+ per square kilometre, giving us at least 55,000+ stories in the local area alone. The story behind the handcuffs? Who knows. I found them here, right outside Argos, the cheap chav store, on the railings in the middle of the road. Maybe they were purchased at Fettered Pleasures or Zeitgeist, two of the several fetish clothing shops that have sprung up within easy crawling distance of the Central Library. Maybe someone decided to make sure these railings were going nowhere, not south, not north, keep them here. None of our railings in Canonbury, Barnsbury, Tufnell Park, Hornsey, Crouch End, none in Scotland, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Humberside, none in Berwick upon Tweed. None in Berwick upon Tweed Borders, which would be the North Sea.

No railings were hurt during the making of this film.

Watch video about Holloway Road.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Gap Between the Makeup and the Face

M was the first person I met to properly show me the logic of places which can only be experienced imaginatively. He is probably the most imaginative person I've ever met. M was effortlessly creative. His best friend J constantly berated him for laziness, and encouraged him to be productive, and not to do things that would ruin his health.

Thanks to M, I truly appreciate Marcel Duchamp, although I was heading that way when I met him. Thanks to M I play the game, Mornington Crescent. I once walked into a pub in the Hornsey Road where he was deep in conversation with someone. I came up to him on his blind side, said the phrase quietly into his ear, and exited through the other door without a backward glance. He was staggered. It was one of the few times I felt truly able to give something back.

My favourite place of M's explication has to be the gap between the makeup and the face. Whenever I see makeup in any prominent striking ugly or beautiful way, I think of the gap. When I see faces in the street which are clearly constructions for convenience and every day use, I think of the gap. When I sense the distance between someone's outer persona and inner psyche, I think of the gap. When I see makeup running angry black tracks down tearstained cheeks, I think of the gap. When I see a smudge of red on white cotton and know the person who smiles and kisses with those lips is now in another country on another continent half a world away, I think of the gap. Whenever they say on the Underground, "Mind The Gap", which they do frequently, I think of the gap. But not between the train and the platform. I think of the gap between the makeup and the face.
And then I think of the gap between the gap between the makeup and the face, and my conception of it...

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St Margaret's Vestry

We had to put on quite ridiculous robes. A long red cassock that reached to the ground and took some practise to walk without tripping, a white surplice which hung about the shoulders like a mutant scarf, and a ruff. This wasn't the stiff starched gleaming ruff you see around cherubic pink-scrubbed necks on CD covers at KWITHMUTH time, or the enormous flamboyant cavalier-style ruff you see in restoration-era film fiction. This was more like a lank old white hanky, too loose for our slender warbling throats. The entire get-up, supposed to inspire religious seriousness and devotion, made us look more like a mob of workhouse children who had been press-ganged into church slavery.

The vestry was a dark room at the end of the church opposite the altar, divided into two areas, the vicar's dressing room and the choir's, with a the rope for the single bell hanging down between them. It contained vestments, hanging thickly upon Victorian pegs, piles of hassocks to prevent knee-injuries when praying to the Lord, and stacks of green hymn books and bibles and books of common prayer. Whatever the season or the weather, it had a permanently musty smell, just this side of mouldy, and slowly from about 9am it would sort of fill with a desultory group of children, and a couple of staunch, greying Anglican baritones, one with only one arm, who would attempt to prevent total war breaking out before the service with a series of glares and hushed admonitions designed to instill reverence. Our puerile minds knew none of this; we were mostly there under sufferance, to do a job, and get the hell out. It was a philosophy of which Arnie would have been proud.

In the cold church, we needed the robes. Often as we sang the half-dozen or so hymns we could see our breath before us. There was a line of old women at the front, gamely attempting their worship in genteel fashion. I never knew where they came from - we only ever saw them in church. Perhaps they were already dead, and the vicar brought them back for the services to keep his stipendiary. They always wore thick coats and support stockings. I can't remember ever seeing a young woman in that church, or a family. Just old people, singing the hymns, listening to the lesson, nodding through the sermon, taking Eucharist, and filing out past the vicar who beamed at them all kindly like vicars are trained to do in vicarschool.

Despite the tiny congregations, the church had a working pipe organ which was played more than competently by the choirmaster, Mr Gervaise. From behind the pulpit, he couldn't see the choir as he played, he had his back to us. He would run choir practise on a Thursday evening and turn up for the main Sunday service, and occasionally for compline on Sunday evenings. Mr Gervaise had two names, his preferred one rather French and artistic, but his real name was Smith, drab and English. He didn't know that we knew this about him. Despite our frequent rebellions, we were mostly loyal to him, and we understood and respected his efforts. Having his back to us however meant that in the services, there was no direct control over us, and he had to rely on his deputies in the baritone row behind the children to keep discipline. This frequently failed.

We worked out new lyrics to many of the hymns and we were artful to sing them once in a while, loud and clear enough to raise bristling eyebrows and cause minor commotion from the direction of the organ. Some of the hymns we sang were superb, both lyrically and musically, and right at the heart of our cultural heritage. This is from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress
Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.
There's no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent,
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He'll with a giant fight,
But he will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend,
Can daunt his spirit:
He knows, he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He'll fear not what men say,
He'll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.

Fabulous words, these, dismal, giant, hobgoblin, foul fiend... This didn't prevent us from chiming loudly at the end of each verse, "To Be A PENGUIN..." with a look of complete innocence blithely maintained across our line of shining morning faces.

Another trick we liked to pull was to speed up. This was my idea. I used to despair that there was at least A WHOLE SECOND between the organ and the choir at the front of the church and the wobbly old dears, especially those at the back. This made slow hymns in particular descend into a morbid dirge, so we would start to increase the pace. By the end of the song, there was a lot of coughing and harrumphing from the baritones, but we were fast and funky, we pushed on and sang unified in our desire not to lag. Sometimes we ended the hymn a good half a verse in front.

After the service, there were a few tasks, like collecting the hassocks and the hymn books, and extinguishing the large candles. I used to like this job; a minute after the flame had died, you could put your hand into the hot wax, and it would dry and form a cast. The trick was to go around all the candles collecting wax until you had a complete palm, then get home and peel it off, to reveal the network of lines and fingerprints. I would keep these as long as possible, marvelling at the detail.

Often when we got back, the parents were still in bed. Why, we couldn't work out at all. Years later I realised, Sunday morning, with all 5 children gone from the small house, was the only time in the week when they could worship in their church. Of course they were still in bed.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Mug of the Swiss

"mug of the swiss...
the mug of the swiss...
mug of the swiss...
the mug of the swiss..."

Barney's voice chimed out over and over, echoing in the concrete glass and pink steel cavern of art that was Quicksilver Place. I had taken an old Flintstones record and I was scratching it. Not with decks like the B-Boys of New York, but with the equipment I had available to me at art school, namely, my girlfriend's old Philips record deck, which had a really stiff playing arm you could lift slightly out of the microgroove, creating ever changing loops as the record failed to progress, a Marantz cassette deck, one of two portable location recording devices, both of which rewind buttons I totally knackered by my constant use, and a four track Teac reel-to-reel.

I wanted a Fairlight audio sampler, but these cost £20,000 and I was going to have to wait until Casio brought down the price of sampling and lopped a zero off the price a couple of years later. I was serious about my audio and video, spending hours in and out of college trying to emulate the sounds I could hear in the music I loved. I had a digital delay line with which I could trap about a second and a half; with M across the road, I built a sampler in a biscuit tin, which used a ZX Spectrum, good for another second or so. Multi-layered tape loops, with their inevitable, unpredictable audio decay as the magnetic oxide deposited itself on the playback head, provided an interesting and subtle backdrop for the tiny impact of stolen moments, and finally, an old analog two-oscillator synthesiser was good for drones but too Rick Wakeman for anything else.

I had started this voyage aged 10, when my brother returned from Japan bearing one of the first transistorised hand-held cassette recorders anyone had ever seen. He grew bored of it, I inherited it. The microphone had a stop-start button which if you operated it during recording caused the sound to distort comically. These were the days that video cameras did not exist, and neither did audio recorders with built-in condenser microphones. I was an innocent-looking kid with a pale face and dark rings under my eyes, asking adults to speak. "Have you ever heard yourself?" I would say, proffering the mike. "No." most often the reply. "Would you like to?" "Oooh I'm not so sure..." Meanwhile, I was already recording, with my thumb busily changing the speed of the tape. "Listen, I'll play it back for you." "OOoooooooOOOOooooooH Eeerrriiiimmm NOTSOSURE" the ghostly weird scrambled parody of themselves uttered from the built-in speaker. I would watch a range of faces from astonishment to confusion to delight to annoyance, ready to run if the going got nasty.

On my first day at art school, I spoke to an italian girl, Alessandra P, who had very classical looks, the elegant hands of a Caravaggio. She had short cropped dark hair and wore completely black, skintight trousers, brothel creeper boots. Nothing unusual in that, but she did not seem to be at all interested in the abundance of "hello - who are you?"s all around us. It was all very lalala middle class darling. I was sitting apart, observing, and being laconic, which was my stock response to most things I didn't understand, but like her, I lacked social impetus for the occasion, so I went and sat down next to her and made conversation. Somewhat startled by her thick almost impenetrable accent, I talked blithely about the degree course upon which we had just enrolled. "They have recording equipment here" I said. "I want to record some music." She looked at me blankly and intoned, "I am more interested in the nature of sound... " One-nil to Italy, and the game had just begun.

Three years later, I had recorded music, hours of it. I'd steal from everywhere, throw the Flintstones together with Elgar, loop footsteps over the sound of a record rack nailed to a door, smash glass to hear the music of entropy, run tape to breaking point to hear the sound of magnetic particles leaving the audio spectrum, always borrow, borrow, borrow anything that made, treated or controlled sound.

We had cheap japanese drum machines, step-time sequencers, microphones and portastudios, and this was enough for a revolution. The charts were not yet full of instrumental stabs and impossible bombastic snares and the same loops in every track. Music was a playground and art was it's beginning point. Pretentious often, pointless frequently, but 60 years after the origination of musique concrète, the way we experienced sound and used it and interpreted it in an everyday setting was being totally changed. Entire strands of modern popular music - rap - techno - ambient - were being invented.

I did explore the nature of sound, just like Alessandra had said, speeding it up, slowing it down, chopping it up, splicing it together, creating installations that fed it back to the participants, triggering it with hidden pressure pads, looping tapes of it on cotton-reels around a forty foot room. I had exhibited sculptures incorporating it in several exhibitions, and with it composed the soundtracks to a dozen videos

At the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) in the Mall, in the bookshop, as one of the up-and-coming artists in the New Contemporaries exhibition, I was talking to the man in charge there, nice chap, about my audio cassette. "Yes" he said, looking at the purple cover and smiling, "you can leave some here."

This is the place I first sold my audio recordings.

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