Sunday, 29 January 2012

Poem: 'Big Society'

With Apologies To John Sladek,
Who Should Not Be Held Responsible

please select your preferred Big Society from the following checklist:
Big Society as the new Boy Band winners of X-Factor,
Big Society as a warm puppy with a wet nose,
Big Society through whole-grain organic 7-A-Day health,
Big Society sharing the trickle-down wealth,
Big Society living in fear but sharing the pain,
the fully-interactive red-button e-Big iSociety,
the free enterprise privatise ignobly-savaged Big Society,
the brand awareness celebrity-endorsed Big Society franchise,
the welfare-dependent austerity Inner-City Big Society
on an estate between the flyovers (no care-in-this-community),
the orgone energy Super-Hero Big Society in 3D
from ‘Cocaigne’ to cocaine in the ‘Land Of The Blessed’,
Big Society through meditation, breast-augmentation,
reincarnation, good-vibration revelation pipe-dreams,
the global multi-cultural casino capitalism Big Society,
Big Society as Law & Order, Firm but Fair,
Big Society, the seven-fold path,
Big Society as the dictatorship of the proletariat,
the caring Big Society coalition, with tasers,
Big Society in the hands of a jealous god,
Big Society as the radiant city on the hill, in Narnia,
in the Euro-Big Society, in the lost city utopia,
in the mythic castles in the air, the Happy Valley Big Society,
the El Dorado, Erewhon, aspirational nirvana Big Society,
the genetically-modified heavenly earthly-paradise Big Society,
the post-apocalypse post-millennial special relationship Big Society,
the conclave of immortals Big Society,
the ‘less is more’ the ‘yes we can’ Big Society,
Big Society imposed by sentient extraterrestrials
from vast UFO motherships concealed on the dark side of the moon,
Big Society as a tax-exempt multi-ethnic non-domiciled
hub of not more than 400 financiers, clean-cut good-looking,
of surpassing wisdom & in direct contact with the deity
through their intermediary at number 10…

(radically adapted from
‘The Communicants: An Adventure In Management’
by John Sladek, 1969)

Album Review: Tim Buckley Remembered


Album Review of:
(Rhino Music Club, 2011)

Tim was the wild card in the singer-songwriter pack. On album sleeves he’s the angel-headed hipster, with clouds of matted curls protectively tousled around his head. The pay-off line to “Song Of The Magician” from his debut LP invites ‘listen to my magic voice’, and it’s a voice that rises plaintively pure with a vocal range spanning all the way from aching baritone to strident tenor. It’s a waltz-time track, and perfect sixties pastoral psych-Folk rhyming ‘as I walk across the sky’ with ‘the clockwork of your eye’ before offering ‘you will be love and your love will live’. Ideally adapted to the wandering Folk-Poet role, Tim is caught soft-focus in a photo-still rainbow haze, the sweet pretty-boy, sensitive, vulnerable and androgynous. A ‘loving vandal’ both precious and precocious. But, as friend and biographer Lee Underwood insists, he was also a fighter. And before he’d properly allowed time to work himself into the troubadour thing, too impatient and creatively restless to allow audiences to catch up, he was the ‘velocity addict’ too, slanting off into other continuums, bending his sound into alternate dimensions of jazz and avant-garde, hunting purer distillations of musical expression. Dylan was allowed periodic reinvention and career-phases. Soon, Bowie would too. While the other Tim – Tim Hardin, had Gary Burton in to embellish his jazzier excursions. But Tim travelled a long way in a short time. Too far and too fast for many.

Born in Washington DC on Valentine’s Day 1947, he and school-friend poet Larry Beckett formed Rock group The Bohemians and played with acoustic folkniks The Harlequins Three while they were still pupils at Anaheim Loara High. By his late teens Tim had moved on to the fringes of the LA Folk circuit. It was there he hooked up with manager Herb Cohen, and found a record company, Jac Holzman’s ultra-cred Elektra. It was Holzman, with Paul A Rothchild (fresh from working with the Doors) who produced Tim’s first album ‘Tim Buckley’ (October 1966) which – like the three that followed, is firmly Folk-rooted in ways that seem supernaturally suspended above the often harsh world beneath him. No-one would want it any other way. “Song Slowly Sung” is virtually moveless, lustrous slivers of electric guitar, a shimmering wash of cymbals, with bare breaths of motion, as skinny and threadbare as his cover-photo. An impossibly romantic declaration in whisper-quiet intimacy aimed at a vision of fleeting loveliness, of beautiful hair and sixteen years. Of the twelve songs, seven were written to Beckett’s poem-lyrics. Although not the failed single, “Wings”, which defines Tim as ‘flying on wings of chance’. The regular Byrdsian jangle-template is only partially offset by Jack Nitzsch’s irritating strings which Elektra insist on, yet the track is elevated by his distinctive voice.

By the time of second-album ‘Goodbye & Hello’ (August 1967, co-produced by Holzman with Jerry Yester) it’s as though something of life’s protective shrink-wrap is coming adrift, he wears a Pepsi bottle-lid like a prosthetic eye for the gatefold cover-shot. Life is getting at him. He was young, but maturing fast, with something of the beautifully pure choirboy of its predecessor eroding in the process. With ten new songs, five written with Larry, it’s his breakthrough LP – peaking no higher than no.171 on the ‘Billboard’ album chart. Larry’s inner liner-notes form an artful acrostic poem to ‘Tracy’. And his lyrics frame the baroque “Goodbye & Hello” itself, one of Tim’s best early songs – a manifesto of sorts, as much innocence as it is experience, its orchestrated segments forming an ambitiously complex structure of switches from mood to mood. You say Goodbye and I say Hello? Not exactly. It was a goodbye to everything false, outmoded, impure, corrupt, the ‘antique people’, the ‘sexless directionless loons’, and a hello to all the coming age has to offer, the ‘new children’ with the new-generation explanation. A goodbye to speed, to Mammon, to murder and to ashes. A hello to the rose, the stream, the rain, and to a girl. And finally a goodbye to America itself, in favour of embracing the world. It’s a major song.

Elsewhere, for the dream-tale of an elusive phantom-girl on the edge of reality, the unusual extended phrasings of “Hallucinations” mirror the shimmering clattering instrumentation. While the instantly attractive troubadour-image of “Carnival Song” is enhanced by the intelligent use of fairground effect. It portrays ‘the singer’ who ‘cries for people’s lies… and for a while you won’t know my name at all’. A harpsichord intro and Carter Collins’ Yardbirds’ pattering congas lead into “Pleasant Street” with Tim’s high almost female voice becoming increasingly strident, rising into falsetto, then deepening into the suggestive descent ‘down, down, down’ in descending chord progression. Here, the Icarus image ‘you thought you were flying, but you opened your eyes and you found yourself falling’, inhabits a kind of symbolist location of twilight lovers and concrete skies. An eerily unreal ‘Desolation Row’, or a similar alternate-zone to label-mates The Doors’ “Love Street”, a place half-mythic escapism, half geographical reality. His most famous song of this period is also from the album. “Morning Glory” – what’s the story? This was also the first Buckley track I ever owned, as part of the ‘Select Elektra’ sampler-compilation – sleeve-notes by an effusive John Peel, on a raft alongside other esoteric out-there artists, Love, Doors, Clear Light, the Incredible String Band. And yes, I was captivated by its big-choir choruses and repeated beseeching pleas to the ‘hobo’. Although the ‘choir’ actually consists of just Tim & Yester’s multi-tracked harmonies. Tim shared manager Herb Cohen with Linda Ronstadt, and her first group, the Stone Poneys, featured some of his songs (on their ‘Vol III’ LP (1968), “Aren’t You The One”, “Wings” – & “Hobo (Morning Glory)” which also features on her 1974 ‘Different Drum’ compilation). She told ‘Zig-Zag no.65’ that ‘that song was about our house, you know… the first house I lived in when I moved to LA was in Ocean Park – this groovy little beach house, which I really loved. Anyway, after I moved out, Tim moved in… and he wrote “Morning Glory” about it’. Well, maybe. On his live ‘Dream Letters’ album Tim himself introduces the song as being about ‘a hobo beaten up outside of Dallas, Texas’.

Again, “Morning Glory” was written with Beckett, but it was a partnership that continued more sporadically from now on. Tim intended his voice to be more than just a vehicle to carry lyrics. Instead, his head should serve his heart, the better to feed his more Dionysian side. In total, the more cerebral Beckett – ‘The Word’, would remain a presence on all but three Buckley albums. Of course, lyrics are vital. I’ve always related to songs through their lyric content. Does the exact ratio of input matter? After all, Brian Wilson didn’t remotely understand what his lyricist Van Dyke Parks was getting at with all that ‘sunny-down snuff it’s alright’ stuff, but that doesn’t stop “Heroes & Villains” being a great single. Buckley wrote lyrics too, but maybe it was the fact that initially it was Beckett who was responsible for the words that freed Tim up to concentrate on the more musical aspects of the sound. And at last, it was time for Tim to go with what his senses were telling him. After all, it was the richness and variety of his vocal delivery that did much to establish his reputation. Not so much a voice, more an instrument in its own right, an instrument of incredible range and sweetness. To Robert Shelton of the ‘New York Times’ he was ‘not quite a counter-tenor but a tenor to counter with’. Where Tim did write, he wrote with considerable personal power. With the fierce, urgent Stephen Stills-style strummed-intensity of “I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain” (on ‘Goodbye & Hello’) he portrays himself as the ‘scoundrel father’ vehemently disclaiming responsibility for the wife and child he’d left to pursue his muse. Even though it shares melodic changes with Chet Powers’ “Let’s Get Together”, his drive is assertive and free, combining pathos and transcendent emotion, his voice soaring with new strength, power and grace. So why the marital parting? because, after all, he was young, talented, bursting with music. But, more eloquently and concise, because ‘I can’t swim your waters, and you can’t walk my lands’. She was Pisces, the water-sign.

And if the next LP (‘Happy Sad’, July 1969, produced by Yester with his Lovin’ Spoonful partner Zal Yanovsky) is the product of experience, it’s as if, not much liking the world outside, Tim was opting to retract into the various warmths the Californian life-style had to offer. Commercially, it went further, all the way up to no.81. And there are new influences. A Miles Davis ‘Kind Of Blue’ track directly inspired “Strange Feelin’” with its resonant stand-up bass and sweetly chiming vibraphones. With space for a follow-on to his earlier theme too. The terminally-slow “Dream Letter” is a more apologetic ode to wife Mary Guibert, and infant son Jeff, the lyrics lamenting ‘is he a soldier, or is he a dreamer?’ and ‘does he ever ask about me?’ In fact it would be over five years before Buckley spent time with his son again. While the song-name would be used to sub-title the posthumously issued album recorded ‘Live In London 1968’ (May 1990, Enigma), using much the same personnel, including David Friedman’s chiming vibraphone. Segueing into “Happy Time” the live “Dream Letter” is one of the set’s most moving tracks. Meanwhile, a further album – ‘Blue Afternoon’ (November 1969) took Tim onto Straight, a label set up by Cohen with Frank Zappa, with Tim’s own production, and (like ‘Happy Sad’) all his own songs, untempered by Larry Beckett’s creative input. “Chase The Blues Away” is a meandering Blues with moody bass interplay which dissolves into shade-textured sound beyond lyric or melody, while “CafĂ©” is all smoky languid slurred voice offset by Tim’s twelve-string guitar, and a lyric portraying himself as ‘just a curly-haired mountain-boy on my way passing through’. Then a couplet from “Happy Time” encapsulates one of his finest expressions of the carefree creative process, ‘it’s a happy time inside my mind, when a melody does find a rhyme’.

Yet the next phase of his career charts him moving towards John Coltrane-style jazz on ‘Lorca’ (May 1970) and ‘Starsailor’ (November 1970), two albums recorded during the same months and issued within six months of each other. “Lorca” is strange, not easily accessible, downright unlistenable in places – even while you admire his high-wire juggling bravery in performing it. The obvious literary title-reference to Andalusian ‘gipsy-poet’ Federico Garcia Lorca signposts the impressionistic free-form fades into abstraction. Although the shifting chromatics of “I Had A Talk With My Woman” retains an attractive informality, from the ‘alright?’ intro to the conversational fade. He croons ‘I wanna sing it high, and sing it down low’ his voice contouring it accordingly, with his flattened and elongated vocals stretched across his two-octave range. Another long-term associate, guitarist and later Rock journalist and Buckley biographer Lee Underwood, plays on nine of his albums. Older than Tim, it was he who mentored his taste towards Roland Kirk, Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus and Olivier Messiaen, as well as Lorca. Moving into what Underwood terms ‘sonic textures above and beyond conventional words and melodies’. With former Mothers of Invention woodwind-player Bunk Gardner on board, and the return of Larry Beckett – absent for the last few albums, ‘Starsailor’ takes it further.

The title-track itself opens with dissonant voices recalling Berio or Gyorgy Ligeti, then shoves conventional song-structure out through the airlock, so the atonal clusters and arrhythmic counterpoints of its flexible tempo are deformed by quantum effects. Here, whirling within its subatomic particle-spins, you glimpse the music of the spheres, a continuum where ‘circuits shiver’ and ‘oblivion carries me on his shoulder’. Yet it’s here, on the same album, that Tim’s best-known piece – the haunting “Song To The Siren” is located, its poignant displaced atmospherics charting spectral Odyssian imagery as his lower-register vocals push bizarre voice-tricks to extremes. Oddly, it appeared in the final episode of ‘The Monkees’ TV show screened on March 25, 1968, but it’s likely through the ethereal This Mortal Coil version etched by Elizabeth Fraser’s remarkable voice-interpretation that it achieved its greatest cross-generational recognition, laying renewed veneers to the Tim Buckley legend. On “Jungle Fire” his voice is deeper, more grittily resonant, interspersed by unexpected vocal swoops. “Come Here Woman” is another exercise in the manipulation of sound and voice-acrobatics. Then listen to “I Woke Up” with its muted Miles Davis-style horn, and “Healing Festival” with a roaring Free-Jazz horn blowing and dissonant backing voices, to appreciate what journalist Lillian Roxon means. She says that ‘nothing in Rock, Folk-Rock, or anything else prepares you for a Tim Buckley album, and it’s funny to hear his work described as Blues, modified Rock & Roll, and Raga-Rock when, in fact, there is no name yet for the places he and his voice go’. In a live context too, his shows were becoming increasingly unstructured, more intuitive. Dropping rehearsals so as to become less pre-conceived, less mind-music.

These free-form scat diversions provoked mixed reactions, and ‘Greetings From L.A.’ (October 1972) saw further metamorphosis, turning Tim towards more accessible urban R&B styles, singing of lust rather than romance. “Move With Me” shifts dubiously into the more fleshy concerns of dirty-sex Funk and infidelity. Adopting this new, less cherubic identity he ambles down to the ‘meat-rack tavern’ with sensual intent in mind. A black woman is drinking alone, ‘what a waste of sin’. Girl back-up vocalists soulfully croon around honking sax as he offers to be her ‘back-door man’. Until her real man arrives, he ‘filled up the doorway’ and bounces poor Tim all the way down the stairs, breaking every bone in his body, but – hey, it was worth every second because ‘I loved me a black woman’. Whether the comic-absurdity of this Bukowski-like low-life tale is what you expect from the romantic promise of earlier Tim Buckley albums is something else entirely. But he extends it into “Make It Right” by pleading ‘beat me, whip me, spank me’. Beyond the scope of this 2CD anthology, ‘Sefronia’ (1973, on another Cohen-Zappa label, DiscReet) is a synthesis of this later hard-edged style with the earlier more lyrical singing, including his well-liked covers of Fred Neil’s “Dolphins” and a maudlin “Martha” from the pen of Tom Waits, another Herb Cohen client. Then ‘Look At The Fool’ (November 1974, DiscReet Records).

But for Buckley his adventuring style-shifts had served only to confound and confuse fans and press alike. In his own words, he’d ‘been out fighting wars that the world never knew about’ (“Dream Letter”), serving only to blur his identity, leading to declining sales and ultimately the heroin o/d snowball that killed him. He died on 19 June 1975 in Los Angeles. It sounds trite to say he never sold out. That he followed his muse relentlessly with scant regard to hits or radio-plays. If chart success had been an option, he’d probably have taken it. On his own terms. There was no shortage of pretenders to the Wandering Folk-Poet role he epitomised so well on his first album-trilogy, yet it was the later extreme-detours that makes Tim Buckley stand out from that crowd. He’d come a long way in a short time. Too far and too fast for many. In “Strange Feelin’” he portrays himself as ‘a lonely guitar-picker with a wicked wandering eye’, one who will ‘make you happy, then he’ll leave’, but once he’s gone ‘there’s a song in your heart, and I don’t think it’s gonna leave’. Well, he’s gone, and the songs are still here. Now, with the advantage of perspective and within the context of this fine anthology, his restless changes make more sense.


“Aren’t You The Girl” c/w “Strange Street Affair Under Blue” (Elektra EKSN45008)
“Morning Glory” c/w “Knight Errant” (Elektra EKSN45018)
“Once I Was” c/w Phantasmagoria In Two” (Elektra EKSN45023)
“Pleasant Street” (Elektra EKSN 45041)
“Wings” c/w “I Can’t See You” (Elektra EKSN 45031)

individual tracks on:
“Morning Glory” on ‘Select Elektra’ (Elektra EUK261) 1967
“Phantasmagoria In Two” on ‘Begin Here’ (Elektra EUKS 7262) May 1969

‘Tim Buckley’ (Elektra EKS74004) review in ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘this curly-headed avant-garde young singer must soon be a rival to both Dylan and Donovan’

‘Goodbye & Hello’ (Elektra EKS74028) review in ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘backing sounds fit well into the comfortable yet slightly disturbing pattern of music. His voice changes from the soothing to the near-falsetto’

‘Happy Sad’ (Elektra EKS74045)

‘Lorca’ (Elektra EKS74074)

‘Blue Afternoon’ (Straight STS1060) review in ‘Zig-Zag’ says ‘he’s been wallowing in a well of self-pity for so long that he seems unable to crawl out even for one song’ Mike Simmons
‘Starsailor’ (Straight STS1064)

‘Greetings From LA’ (Warner Bros K46176)

‘Sefronia’ (DiscReet K49201, reissued on Demon CD-EDCD277) ‘Q’ review ‘squeezing that anarchic voice into straightforward funkrock stylings, sounding like Tom Jones against a Philadelphia soul backing’ Lucy O’Brien

‘Look At The Fool’ (DiscReet K59204, reissued on Demon CD-EDCD294) ‘NME’ review ‘riffs as opposed to songs, constant displays of verbal overkill and a kind of overall obnoxiousness of purpose and attitude. I find parts of this album too offensive to be listened to more than once. Buckley even does a ‘Louie Louie’ spin-off called ‘Wanda Lu’ which is too moronic even for its prototype’

‘Dream Letters: Live In London 1968’ (Demon Fiend 200, Manifesto PT3 40703C) recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with Pentangle’s Danny Thompson standing in on double-bass, features seven unrecorded songs including “Hi Lily Hi Lo” which ‘Q’ says ‘is sung like a wayward choirboy testing the limits of a new-found toy’, issued August 1990

‘The Peel Sessions’ (Strange Fruit CD-SFPCD82) recorded 1968, with “Morning Glory”, “Coming Home To You”, “Sing A Song For You”, “Hallucinations/Troubadour” & “Once I Was”, issued September 1991

‘Live At The Troubadour 1969’ (Manifesto PT3 40705) with “Gypsy Woman” & “Driftin’”
‘Honeyman’ (Edsel EDCD 450, 1995) live New York radio sessions recorded in November 1973 of songs largely from ‘Sefronia’ & ‘Greetings From L.A.’, with “Dolphins’, “Get On Top” plus “Buzzin Fly” and “Pleasant Street”. ‘Mojo’ says ‘Tim Buckley was blessed. He had a voice that could burn ice and freeze flames. Put him in a ring with Janis and Otis and he’d’ve whupped them both with one octave tied behind his back’ – Rob Steen

A much-expanded version of a review published in:
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.31 Jan/Feb’ (UK – January 2012)

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Live: Adam Faith & The Roulettes, 1963


Adam Faith was one of Britain’s pioneer Rock stars.
Then, when the Merseybeat explosion of 1963 threatened the
established pantheon of Pop, he was smart enough to enjoy
a brief second career by fronting his own Beat Group – the
Roulettes. During the long hot Summer of 1963 they played the
Bridlington ‘Winter Gardens’ Theatre together… and I was there…

The ‘Winter Gardens’ was located a little way north of the Bridlington town centre along the High Street. After opening in 1928, at various times it operated as a cinema and dancehall as well as a theatre for live shows. The summer season for 1963 was a family variety show called ‘It’s A Grand Night’, opening 24th June. We went… as a family. Adam Faith had been around awhile before his big breakthrough. He’d worked with The Worried Men Skiffle Group, done the ‘Drumbeat’ Pop show and issued a series of flop singles. It was only once he was enhanced by John Barry’s pizzicato strings that he exploded onto the Pop scene with “What Do You Want”, “Someone Else’s Baby” and “Poor Me”, hits characterised by his curiously accented phrasing which enunciated the lyrics ‘vat do you vant if you don’t vant mony’. Could it be he was foreign. No. He was Terry Nelhams from Acton in London. His voice was an essentially weak instrument with limited range, but whoever said you needed vocal strength to be a Pop star? Character is more important, and in that respect, he more than compensated.

After that first year of hits, spanning 1960, a little momentum was lost. He toured, did TV, had hits that simmered rather than dominated, and while he remained a star in the Pop galaxy, it seemed his shelf-life was diminishing. By all the logics of show-biz the sudden unprecedented uproar of the Beatles, followed by the deluge of northern beat groups should have confirmed his decline, as it did for so many others. Certainly his first few releases of 1963 seemed to indicate as much – “What Now” got no higher than no.31 in January while “Walkin’ Tall” did slightly better by stalling just outside the twenty at no.23 in July. Yet everything was to change, and it changed around the time I was sitting there in the ‘Winter Gardens’ auditorium watching the summer show. With the contrivance of his powerful manager, Eve Taylor, Adam had recruited his own beat group back-up. They did separate sets, then closed the show together. From Hertforshire the Roulettes were a smartly suited four-piece with all the essential attributes of the new thing. Lead guitarist Russ Ballard wore dark glasses and played a big red guitar, Pete Salt and John Rodgers carried – respectively, their rhythm and bass guitars at chest-high, like Lennon or Gerry Marsden did. Rob Henrit played drums. And collectively, they rocked. Adam’s solo set was well-stocked with hits. He had plenty to draw on, catchy Pop, done show-biz light. Personable, radiating smiles, he sat on the edge of the stage, his legs dangling, to sing “Lonesome” to the front row, investing the slight song with considerable intimacy. He’d always never quite fitted into the brylcreme-slick bouffant template of the pin-up mag Teenage Idols anyway, his blonde hair was combed into a French college-boy fringe long before the Beatles rocked the world by doing the same. And he’d featured in an early British beatnik movie called ‘Beat Girl’ which is now something of a cult curio. The Roulettes set displayed their easy mastery of group dynamics and close harmonies. Even my mother was impressed, ‘they’re just like the groups you see on TV’.

As the summer season ended the partnership’s debut single was unleashed, and – written by Chris Andrews, “The First Time” c/w “So Long Baby” returned Adam to the Top Five and gave the Roulettes their first taste of chart success. Did they perform it the night I was there? Memory tells me yes. They were using the live opportunity to rehearse and test out audience reactions to their joint venture. So it seems highly likely they did. I certainly bought the single soon after. The crashing guitars, the Roulettes raucous interrogation – ‘is it love, that you feel?’, Adam protesting ‘I don’t know-oh-wow, ‘cos it’s the first time, I’ve felt this way’. His thin quavering vocals punched out by their more muscular back-up, provided a reinvention of his career. It proved to be the first of a further run of hits to carry Adam Faith safely through 1964, extending his Pop relevance sufficiently to subsequently launch him into new ventures. “We Are In Love” c/w “Made For Me” in December 1963, “If He Tells You” c/w “Talk To Me” in March, and “I Love Being In Love With You” c/w “It’s Alright” in May – the ‘B’-side bizarrely providing them with their only American hit, caught up in the frenzy of the English Invasion it reached a US no.31 in February 1965.

Chris Andrews later went on to write hits for Sandie Shaw, and launch his own Pop celebrity with “Yesterday Man”. While the Roulettes swiftly spun-off their own recording career as early as 1963 with “Soon You’ll Be Leaving Me” c/w “Tell Tale Tit”, and although they followed it with covers of the Miracles “Tracks Of My Tears” and Marvin Gaye’s “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow” the breakthrough hit never happened. Although their punningly-titled album ‘Stake & Chips’ (Parlophone, October 1965) is now highly sought-after by retro collectors, and despite their October 1965 single “The Long Cigarette” c/w “Junk” being heavily air-played on the pirate radio stations, and still working pretty impressively. Bassist John Rodgers died in an autowreck in 1964, but Russ Ballard and Pete Salt went on to work with the recording back-up to Unit 4+2, and toured with later incarnations of the hit-making group… before joining Rod Argent and Chris White as part of the highly-rated 1970’s prog-Rock group Argent. The ‘Winter Gardens’ is no longer there. It was made over into the ‘Leisure World’ water-park. But yes, in balance, the time Adam Faith & The Roulettes played Bridlington was ‘A Grand Night’.

Book Review: Colin Greenland's 'Mother Of Plenty'

Book Review of:
(Voyager ISBN 0-00-649907-4 £5.99, 1998)

‘My name is Plenty, Plenty O’Toole’ says the girl in the Bond movie. ‘Named after your Father perhaps?’ muses 007 suavely. Well – actually, no, this Plenty is an organic Starship resembling ‘the shell of a tortoise, the bun of a hamburger, or a human brain.’ A giant ship built – or perhaps spun from insect spittle, by the alien Frasque. And ‘giant’ as in WOW! It’s directly related to the one used by Channel 5’s bizarre ‘Lexx’ crew, but not quite, and it’s inhabited by a bewildering array of part-comic part-malevolent otherworldly grotesques. Luna-born bargee Tabitha Jute encounters Plenty adrift in Earth orbit, activates it by jacking her modem bio-chip Buddy ‘persona’ Alice Liddel into its stardrive, and thereby crashes the ‘probability fault’ that is hyper-space. ‘Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know’ quips Brother Melodious, quoting Grace Slick, and…

The trouble with trilogies is that they come in three parts. Except ‘Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’, which is famously a trilogy in four parts. Or Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ trilogy – seven volumes and still on-going despite its creator’s timely death. And much of the rich and beautiful chaos of Jute’s idiosyncratic cosmology got partially decoded in Colin Greenland’s first two Plenty volumes (‘Take Back Plenty’ and ‘Seasons Of Plenty’). By book three the Xtasy Crew, the Horde of the Havok Khan (dreadlocked battlebikers), a ‘codehead’ Datapunk called Jone, Iogo the Thrant, Xtasca the rogue cherub, and the Meat Miners who quarry the great purple Star Beast, have all fetched up unexpectedly in the bloated double-sunned Capella star system. And among the on-board menagerie are two main races. The Frasque, who are twiggy six-legged hydrangeas. And the brain parasite Capellans themselves, the self-styled ‘most advanced race in the Galaxy’ who resemble ‘giant blue caterpillars who squat uninvited in people’s heads’. They are ‘dead humans infested by parasite worms. Dead meat that walks and speaks and enforces its speaking with magic rings. It is vile’. ‘You only want us for our bodies’ protests the Priestess Queen of the Seraphim in coy double-entendre. ‘They are the best bodies’ replies Brother Melodious Metz whose blue suede boots float 15 clear centimetres above the ground, and who has a ‘grotesquely enlarged cranium’ due to his Capellan inside-kick. ‘Fucking Worm-Head’ says Jute. But which race predominates? Which one has highjacked Plenty forty-light years and a ‘long bad dream’ from its original intended jump to Proxima Centauri, and why? What of the Seraphim, those strange techno-deities, architects of Autoplastic Metamorphosis and decadent post-human supremacists? What will Grant Nothing do with his new clone-body grown for his severed head? And what happens when the Star Beast wakes?

Colin Greenland’s first book, ‘The Entropy Exhibition’ (1983) was an academic dissertation on New Wave SF, which would infer a preoccupation with innovation, radical prose experiments, and gimmicked-up conceptual games. Not so. Tabitha Jute might be Tank Girl by other means, the predominantly female characters menstruate and have lesbian sex, and at times it’s a gloriously lavish Girl Power Hitchhikers Guide, but the Plenty trilogy has its roots sunk directly into Space Opera’s wide-screen extravaganza, complete with the future-shock absorbers of humour. This is a brightly coloured ‘fractel porridge’ graphic novel of a novel, extravagantly and playfully absurd, sketched in with luminous crayola. ‘Plenty’s garish imagery and decorous dialogue meticulously interact at a leisurely pace in which eyes glisten ‘like dark moist eggs’, cables dangle ‘like mating snakes’, ‘scattered blood clashes unpleasantly with the pink and orange decor’, and Boaz speaks like ‘concrete setting’, but it’s seen from multiply-specied perspectives, so it holds fascination through each gradual procession of incidents. Ideas go off like novas more brilliant than exploding suns. Brethren and Sistren, as Marco Metz would say, in the name of the Lord Elvis Almighty, this is a fiction of fabulously delineated character-sketched weirdness in meticulously skewed mindscapes.

Published in:
‘GIG CENTRAL Vol.6 No.4: Dec’ (UK - Dec 1998)
‘THE ZONE no.7’ (UK - Jan 1999)

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Simon Clark's 'Blood & Grit 21'

Short stories by

‘Why is it called Skinner Lane? Why … because
that’s where something called the Skinner lives’

Internationally renowned horror novelist Simon Clark returns to his roots with a new edition of Blood and Grit, the short story collection that launched his career twenty-one years ago. Together with all six original tales, Blood and Grit 21 features the haunting ‘… Beside the Seaside …’, Simon’s first professional sale, while a brand new story takes us back to the iconic ‘Skinner Lane’. In a new illustrated afterword, Simon recounts how the original book came about and reveals the locations that inspired its stories. Last but not least, this new edition includes the original foreword by Andrew Darlington, who also provides a brand new introduction that’s a rousing celebration of Simon’s career to date.

Simon Clark: Nailed to the Genre
(Foreword to the new edition by Andrew Darlington)
Blood and Grit
Raising the Chill Factor
(Foreword to the first edition by Andrew Darlington)
Skinner Lane
Out From Under
Over Run
Bite Back
Revelling in Brick
Sex, Savagery and Blood, Blood, Blood
Twenty-One Years Later – Afterword by Simon Clark
… Beside the Seaside, Beside the Sea …
21 Skinner Lane

In Paperback or iBookstore format