Monday, 27 July 2015

Drug Culture: BILL (BURROUGHS) & TIM (LEARY)'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE


BILL AND TIM’S 
 EXCELLENT ADVENTURE 


 ‘Celebrity Users’ give product endorsement to junk abuse. 
 Writers, artists and musicians legitimise their narcotic dependency 
 with philosophical, spiritual and creative justification. They always have. 
 Whether it’s Coleridge writing “Kubla Khan” on opium, 
Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker creating Bebop Jazz on heroin,
 or drug role models like Jean Cocteau
 William Burroughs, Lou Reed and Timothy Leary
 they all give sleaze its invitingly seedy glamour… 

ANDREW DARLINGTON explores the culture of addiction 

 ‘THE NAKED LUNCH…’ 


‘I can feel the heat closing in…’

‘Naked Lunch’ (1991), the unfilmable novel that David Cronenberg filmed, is one long sense-scrambling howl of heroin withdrawal, obscenity and macabre madness. William Burroughs’ black ceremony of dense prose was pieced together in Tangiers, first published by the porn imprint Olympia Press in Paris in July 1959, and has inoculated junk culture ever since. Burroughs legitimises addiction. Burroughs intellectualises drug dependency. Transfigures the fix and the cold cellular craving that precedes it into the twentieth century’s last great adventure. He injects seedy splendour into a squalor that’s passed down like a ‘contact high’ to imitators.

‘I found a silver needle, I put it into my arm, it did some good, did some harm, but the night was cold, and it almost kept me warm.’ Leonard Cohen uses the tacky glamour of junk. Lou Reed closes ‘in on death’ as ‘the smack begins to flow’ in Rock’s most celebrated hymn to “Heroin”. And Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Some Candy Taking” squats in an identical subterranean milieu of fine white powder and the ache of unfulfilled need…

High profile users and substance abusers? We name the guilty men.

To Burroughs, junk dependency and its supply is metaphor for control, alienation, power, frightful poetry and visions of truth. A viral infection only partially trapped in print, and impossible to visualise on celluloid. Only Cronenberg – in the wake of his diseased mutational reinterpretation of SF shocker ‘The Fly’ (1986), could get close, and he had to fabricate a narrative from Burroughs’ life outside the monstrous surrealism of the novel to do it. The movie draws back from the typewritten sheet to see the man sitting at the typewriter. It adds emotional dimensions that do not exist in the book. It creates a ‘literary high’. 


But Burroughs is just one writer who has used narcotics as a creative trigger. He’s a thinner whiter duke from a pantheon of Heroic Dope Fiends. While Burroughs was pseudonymously publishing his first book – ‘Junkie’ (as William Lee in 1953), Aldous Huxley was experimenting with hallucinogenics in California. ‘Thus it came about that, one bright May morning, I swallowed four-tenths of a gramme of mescalin dissolved in half a glass of water and sat down to wait for the results...’ ‘Animal’ Huxley, later credited as an influence on the liner notes of the Mothers of Invention’s ‘Freak Out’ (Verve, June 1966) album, sucks various elements of Zen into the druggy melange to explain its effects. Graduating to LSD he links seamlessly with psychedelic hit-man Timothy Leary’s day-glo crusade to turn on, tune in and drop out America. Huxley’s ‘The Doors Of Perception’ (1954) both arrows forward to Jim Morrison’s deliberate appropriation of its title, and back to visionary William Blake from whom Huxley lifted the quote in the first place – ‘if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything will appear to man as it is, infinite.’ Huxley’s name was dropped as regularly as acid. Like Burroughs, like Leary, he legitimises drug use. Gives it intellectual credibility.

Doing drugs, they say – is not just a good groove, not just a recreational high. Nothing as trivial or inconsequential. It is spiritual quest. It is cerebral odyssey out beyond the rippling rim of eternity, then back down through the grey room of the brain and into the DNA helix and the fractel hum of sub-atomic particles. It is seeing god through the ululation of energies in a sunflower or the susurration of sounds in the timeless improvisations of the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star”.

But Hey Kids! Don’t try this one at home!

Heroin. Mescalin. Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. Cannabis. Cocaine.Marijuana. Peyote. Opium. MDMA. Ecstacy. Crack. Hashish. Speed. Kif. Pot. Grass. Ganja. Tobacco. Uppers. Downers. Purple Hearts.


Before Huxley there is ‘Bird’. Altoist Charlie Parker, like jazz musicians before and since, uses benzedrine from early – to stay awake, to concentrate for long stretches of time, for jags of artificial energy. But he also gets high on whatever is available. Nutmeg, taken with coffee or floated on top of an orange soda, produces spectacular highs but rips the stomach lining raw. From age sixteen he’s buying ‘sticks of shit’ (marijuana) for a dozen a dollar, and he’s already snorted cocaine. By twenty-one – and 1941, he’s on New York’s front line, establishing the legendary pattern of his frenetic improvisational genius. Creating Bebop in the heavy-gravity forcing house of heroin addiction. ‘Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse!’ Howls Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg, ‘Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace & junk & drums!’

The equation is beguiling. Heroin destroys Bird, but in the process it ignites supernatural levels of creativity. Detonates complex harmonic changes, an oblique and elastic relationship with the beat, chromatic excursions, a hard-edged passion run ragged through megatechnical levels of dexterity. But Parker’s habit is merely writing huge what’s been there from Storyville’s first honk. Dope was always part of Jazz culture, floating up the Mississippi on the same riverboats that take Dixieland north.

Every immaculately stoned muso plays with Bird’s ghost in his head. Hunting the same San Andreas Fault-line he straddles.

Like Lenny Bruce – ‘I’ll die young, but it’s like kissing god.’


Before Bird there’s Cocteau, Rimbaud, Coleridge, Shelley, Baudelaire. And there’s Thomas De Quincy’s ‘Confessions Of An English Opium-Eater’ (1821), a cult book up and down drug subcultures since the nineteenth century. An apology and a celebration of the indulgence that births the poetry of dreams. Procol Harum and Frankie Goes to Hollywood later theft his imagery, but Samuel Taylor Coleridge took laudanum – which is liquid opium, and out of its delirium he ‘read’ a wild and exotic poem flying a magic carpet ride of exquisite beauty. On coming down he begins speedwriting as much of it as he can remember – ‘in Xanadu did Kubla Khan, a stately pleasure-dome decree,’ before his manic scribbling gets distracted by ‘a person from Porlock’... the rest is subsequently lost.

A systematic derangement of the senses produces great art. Produces Coleridge and Byron. Bird and Coltrane. Huxley and Burroughs.


‘ACID HOUSE…’ 

I first get high in Barnsley, Yorkshire, edging sideways into underground journalism as the sixties decays into the seventies. The ritual is mesmerising. Fashioning a pipe from crinkly tinfoil. A camelshit pearl of cannabis resin. The first faint wisp of its breath. There can never be any question of questions. I’ve been too well primed by gurus of the cellular frontier. I was embarrassingly eager to imitate Bill (Burroughs) and Tim (Leary)’s Excellent Adventures. I’d been well-suckered by the product endorsement of other celebrity users too – the wacky exploits of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters in Tom Wolfe’s ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ (1968), Ed Sander’s hymn to “Marijuana” on the Fugs LP ‘It Crawled Into My Hand, Honest’ (1968), Allen Ginsberg, Captain Beefheart’s “Ah Feel Like Ahcid”, ‘Dharma Bums’ novelist Jack Kerouac, Michael McClure, and the rest. I’d read Jean Cocteau’s claim that an opium addict ‘who inhales twelve pipes a day all his life will not only be fortified against influenza, colds and sore throats, but will also be far less in danger than a man who drinks a glass of brandy or who smokes four cigars. I know people who have smoked one, three, seven, up to twelve pipes a day for forty years’. In ‘Junkie’ Burroughs makes even more fantastic recommendations for heroin, ‘junk is a cellular equation that teaches the user facts of general validity. I have learned a great deal from using junk.’ It can even – bizarrely, lead to longevity, ‘when you stop growing you start dying. An addict never stops growing!’

Inevitably I drop acid a little later. Although perhaps I had too many psychic ghosts to benefit from its full cosmic beneficence, too much of a tendency to fight its effect and retain control rather than going with the flow. In flashback I’m on my way to the ramshackle ‘Styng’ office, the sun up and the black blossom of tarmac melting beneath my Beat sandals. Beyond the staircase the door is locked fast – indicating that some kind of illicit indulgence is in progress. So in high humour I start pummelling the poster-splashed door yelling ‘OPEN UP, IT’S A BUST! IT’S THE PIGS!!!’ The door sheepishly imploding to show two constables already within, smoking joints rather self-consciously, squatting like Cheech & Chong guesting in a frame from a ‘Furry Freak Brothers’ strip.


I’ve never particularly sought it out since, but it’s always been there. Touring and performing, writing and interacting, it’s seldom been difficult to find. Opening the morning mail, there are even friends who tape small sachets of intriguing white powder to their letterheads. But despite it all there are certain skills I’ve never managed to acquire, like rolling an acceptable joint. After I’d read at a Festival, back home with the stylishly deranged organiser in his bohemian squat, a gilded dung-heap crawling with naked kids and feral cats, he leaves me with the ‘stuff’ to roll up while he gets the wine. I’m watched critically by a sneering ten-year old brat as I fumble. At the inept completion of my efforts the absolute derision of her ‘you call THAT a joint!’ still chills me. She then takes over to demonstrate the correct technique.

In his ‘Opium’, written in 1929, poet movie-maker and artist Jean Cocteau observes that ‘everything one does in life, even love, occurs in the express train racing towards death. To smoke opium is to get out of the train while it is still moving.’ Escape is a powerful motivation. Escape from the mundane. From boredom. From meaninglessness. Drugs are an adventure when no other adventures remain possible. Previous generations had Passchendale, the Blitz. We have acid, heroin, solvent inhalation. Every reformed user selling their confessions to the tabloids – ‘MY DESCENT INTO A DRUGS HELL’, have a story to tell, a heroic struggle with demons of the soul. A flirtation with danger. Closing in on death. Narcotics form an exotic fantasy world, an alternative reality parallel with, but separate from, normality. A secret society with its own rules and behaviour patterns.

The dope subculture is a continuity. To Allen Ginsberg it walks ‘with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares.’

Liverpool Horror Writer Ramsey Campbell catches the drugs demi-monde with an experienced eye, from the doper no-hoper conversations to the compulsive cross-city quests for fresh blow, the lethargy, and that stage where your whole life revolves around the point of scoring. ‘I had a whirl there’ he tells me. His story “Missing” (in ‘The Height Of The Scream’, 1976) opens with graphically depicted dope-smoking. ‘I was watching the skin of the joint roll back from the glowing glans as I inhaled, my head sailed back, I heard the glittering flutter of a bird outside the window.’ Now he tells me about the deliberate ceremonies of scoring – ‘they sit down and say just four lines, and roll a joint, and it all takes ten minutes. I remember that well. There was this terrible ritual about having to go in there and sit for a couple of hours while people brought out vegetarian cookies, and you couldn’t actually SAY ‘well, have you got any?’, because there had to be the ritual of everybody rolling up first, until somebody would get up very s-l-o-w-l-y and say ‘OK man, c’mon we’ll weight it out on the scales’.’

The gutter romance of scoring is well documented in Rock. From the Small Faces’ “Here Comes The Nice” (‘he knows what I want, he’s got what I need, he’s always there, when I need some speed’), through Lou Reed (‘$26 in my hand, up to Lexington 125, I feel sick and dirty more dead than alive’) and into Jesus and Mary Chain (‘I’m going down to the place tonight, to see if I can get a taste tonight, a taste of something warm and sweet, that shivers your bones and rises to your heat’). In on the scam, artist-poet Jeff Nuttall explains that ‘it takes a quick and sophisticated eye to detect the over-confident speech and movement of heroin and methedrine users. It takes an experienced eye to identify the benign dreaminess of pot-smokers or the blinks and grinding teeth of amphetamine and cocaine users. But LSD is the drug of visual dreams and visual experiences and advertises itself immediately’ (in ‘Bomb Culture’, 1968).


LSD is the Holy Grail of drugs, the Philosopher’s Stone that turns base metal lives into gold. A form of chemically synthesised mescaline, it is anabolic steroids for the brain cells.

As Leary points out, life is a process of cycling various substances through your body which alter or affect behaviour, mood or metabolism. Food is ingested and excreted, air inhaled and exhaled. Exact separation of the inner from the outer world does not exist. The body is a processing unit acting and reacting on what it extracts from its environment. You are what you eat – right? (Tony Blair hasn’t yet been SEEN eating slimy toads, but surely it’s only a matter of time.) And further – the body and brain are already controlled by an internal biochemical balance of adrenalin, endocrine, hormonal and other glandular secretions. That equilibrium is constantly nudged in random and unconscious ways. Drugs are merely a more precise and more potent tool for effecting and fine-tuning change. Aldous Huxley calls the brain ‘a reducing valve’ designed to filter out the overwhelming torrent of inputted information received by the senses. It reduces the flow down to the trickle of data necessary for day-to-day survival. Mind-altering substances provide a way for spiritual sleuths to ‘cleanse the doors of perception’. A way to break on through to the other side and touch a more real reality... according to Leary. Hallucinogenic experience often carries with it tantalising whispers of great perceived truths that evaporate with a return to normal awareness. Oceanic feelings of oneness with the multiverse.


Enjoy this trip, and it is a trip, and it is a trip…

All societies that have ever existed in the world have sanctioned some form of consciousness-altering devices – from alcohol to peyote, from hashish to aeroplane glue, from caffeine to opium. Just because the drugs that killed Elvis Presley were legally (if over-) prescribed doesn’t mean that they killed him any less dead. The first colonists on Mars will begin fermenting locally grown lichen and separating it out into various grades like connoisseurs. And hey! Take a hit offa this Venusian grokk-weed. Man, is THAT heavy shit!

But beyond the feel-good factor, all religions are based in, or utilise narcotic-like perceptions. Fasting and flagellation are merely ways of inducing organic highs. Central American religions were grounded around mescaline visions. It has been suggested (in ‘The Sacred Mushroom And The Cross’ by John Marco Allegro, 1970), that the Judeo-Christian myths are the result of an over-indulgence in psychedelic fungii native to the Levant. Timothy Leary – a former Director of Psychological Research in Oakland University, got tripped out by the spiritual potential of early lysergic acid. Like Huxley before him he saw the chemical apocalypse in his head as a philosophical tool, a way of inducing instant trance states of meditation, an evolutionary route to new modes of perception and wisdoms. His ‘The Politics Of Ecstacy’ (1968) became a crash-pad handbook for mind voyagers. Busted and jailed, escaping into exile, he became High Priest of the hyped high. The Moodyblues wrote a song for him. The Who roared ‘I asked Bobby Dylan, I asked the Beatles, I asked Timothy Leary...’, a paean to the poet of the interior odyssey, the most visible missionary for New Age acid. To Leary, LSD is a ‘sacramental ritual’ which not only reveals the face of god, but takes you beyond that to the shamanistic mystic impulse that lies behind the fabrication of all gods. It not only reveals the solar systems in the dirt beneath your fingernails and the universes in a grain of sand, but confirms that latest advances in particle physics too, the dance of quantum cats in the most infinitesimal loops of the quark.

All matter is ultimately energy, and cosmic energy is the intercourse of gods. Says Leary. The drug is Love – and Love is the drug. ‘Alcohol turns off the brightness, methedrine jiggles and speeds up the image’ he writes, ‘LSD flips on eighty-seven channels at once, pot adds colour, meditations, mantras, prayer, mudras sharpen the focus. It’s your head, baby, and it’s two-billion years old.’

But is drugged perception real or more profound than straight vision? Or just the confused interplay of sensations inside the skull? The mind-boggling revelations written while tripping read ‘ELECTRICITY COMES FROM OTHER PLANETS’ or ‘FORTY-TWO’. Cryptic clues to imaginary crossword puzzles. The incandescent solos played with endless sheet lightning by the stoned musician replays on the tape deck boring and repetitive. Decipherable only to another Day Tripper. Objectivity gets lost in a maze of distorting mirrors. After such excesses the come-down had to be hard. No gain without pain. Hear John Lennon’s tortured withdrawal from heroin addiction on the Plastic Ono Band’s “Cold Turkey”. Check out the functioning brain-cells of acid casualties. Where are Syd Barrett and Peter Green now? Check out the other side of acid with Charles Manson’s dune-buggy death squadron. 

Jack Kerouac once wrote about smoking the ‘most perfect of all blackhaired seeded packed tight superbomber joints in the world.’ Poet Philip Lamantia gives him peyote promising ‘technicolour visions’, instead he has a powerful revelation of how it feels to die. In January 1961 Leary persuades Kerouac to try LSD, but he has a bad trip, fighting paranoid attacks. He emerges from the experience convinced LSD is a Soviet subversion plot to infiltrate and destroy the moral fibre of America. Huxley, who dies in 1963 – the same day as Kennedy’s assassination and a month after Cocteau’s death, had invented the fictional benign drug ‘moksha’ (in his novel ‘Island’, 1962). But he also predicted ‘soma’, a narcotic instrument of dystopic State Control (in ‘Brave New World’, 1932).

From ecstasy bridge with the rainbow apocalypse rising, Timothy Leary’s ticket exploded.


Ramsey Campbell tells me ‘I certainly got into psychedelics in a relatively small way, then I precipitated myself a flashback in the late-seventies (‘...I spent a night trying not to see things such as my face becoming mouthless in the bathroom mirror...’) and that was me done with it, as far as LSD was concerned. It was fun, but it was a phase one went through. But then the culture turned to harder and to my mind, considerably nastier drugs. We’re going into heavier drugs now. I’m not personally – god forbid, part of it.’

With eloquent regret poet Dave Cunliffe tells me ‘it’s been impossible to get good acid since Operation Julie,’ referring to the massive police action that smashed co-ordinated LSD production in the north of England. Even Leary, re-emerging from jail, redirects his megabyte proselytising to the safer arena of the electronics revolution. Punk arrived to smash the last vestiges of the hippie dream. Its preference is for harder more violent drugs, amphetamine, speed, sulphates. ‘Sid And Nancy’ (in the 1986 Alex Cox movie) take it into the terminal zone. All their love in vein.

In its wake, the biomorphic horror, cold eyes and thin lips of William Burroughs re-emerge as newer cyphers for drabber more cynical days. His sado-erotic collages, cut-ups and metaphors are exactly attuned to the Electro-Industrial underground of the early eighties. Cabaret Voltaire. Throbbing Gristle. Clock DVA. The new downers of infected needles and virulent viral plague. ‘I need all that stuff, give me some of that stuff, I want some candy, I want your candy, I want stuff...’ Jesus and Mary Chain against discordant drones of whining feedback.


Each milieu, each demi-monde, each subculture has its drug that both creates and matches its own essential vibe. From cocaine all the way down to solvent abuse. From Sniffin’ Glue to Totally Wired. From Coleridge to tales of contemporary madness. Bret Easton Ellis’s Blank Generation novel ‘Lower Than Zero’ (1985). Julia Phillips’ ‘You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again’ (1991), a real life horror trip by the co-producer of movies like ‘The Sting’ (1973) and ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ (1977), her talent destroyed by her habit. Then Irvine Welsh graduates from the ‘Rebel Inc’ magazine into ‘Trainspotting’ in 1993 with his anti-heroes Sick Boy, Renton, Spud and Begbie soon transferring to film on the back of the emerging Dance culture, ‘Acid House’ (1994) taking him further into the low-life world of druggies and tripsters. For this is around the time the Madchester ‘Rave’ scene coincides with newly formulated strains of acid so prevalent they say the pass-grades for Manchester University become just two straight E’s.

Smak are a cult Yorkshire band. Their much in-demand adrenalin Funk white-label 12” “Feel the Heat” lifts its title from the opening line of ‘Naked Lunch’. Yet despite massive potential, major labels fight shy of signing a band with such confrontation reference points. ‘Perhaps we should choose a different group name’ suggests saxist Kevin Roberts wryly. ‘Perhaps we should become The E’s?’

When the smack begins to flow…


‘THE POLITICS OF ECSTACY…’ 

‘I can feel the heat closing in…’

‘Naked Lunch’, the unfilmable novel that David Cronenberg filmed, has Burroughs’ alter ego William Lee played by Peter Weller. Encased in steel and cybernetics Weller’s previous role was as the original ‘Robocop’ (1987). It’s not an inappropriate progression. The text is a wasteland of alienation seen in snatched glimpses of the Beat Generation’s sophisticated louts eaten up by their addictions, genetic, homo-erotic, and narcotic. It’s a trawl through Interzone with giant cockroaches, unhuman sex, melting typewriters metamorphosing into monstrously bizarre mutations, talking assholes, copulating centipedes, and imaginary drugs made of Black Meat or Bug Powder. It’s a mesmeric movie, an exorcism drawing in elements from Burroughs’ own life and his other books ‘Exterminator’ (1973), ‘Queer’ (1985), and beyond.


Burroughs wrote ‘Naked Lunch’ while living in one room in the Native Quarter of Tangiers during withdrawal from fifteen years of addiction, ‘at the end of the junk line.’ ‘The needle is not important’ he writes, ‘whether you sniff it smoke it eat it or shove it up your ass the result is the same – addiction’. He admits to ‘no precise memory’ of writing the endless fragmentary notes that become the novel. ‘I had not taken a bath in a year nor changed my clothes or removed them except to stick a needle every hour in the fibrous grey wooden flesh of terminal addiction. I never cleaned or dusted the room Empty ampoule boxes and garbage piled up to the ceiling.’ Allen Ginsberg collects and edits the manuscript. Jack Kerouac types up vast tracts of its delirium – a fast typer, 120-words a minute. He also names the novel that results, misreading the scrawled ‘NAKED LUST’ into the title of the key work of twentieth century drugs literature. Its fractured disgust and weird terrors form a stomach-spasming descent into a junk-sick hell. But Burroughs is, above all, an unrepentant celebrity user. ‘I was on the junk in New York. I know ten different ways of getting a pill into my mouth under closed-circuit TV’ (in “Ali’s Smile” from ‘Exterminator’).

High profile users and substance abusers? We’ve named the guilty men.

‘Is it true that the great majority of heroin addicts start with marijuana?’ asks Richard Neville in ‘Playpower’ (1970). ‘Yes’ he answers. ‘Even more of them begin with milk.’

Rock has taken drugs product endorsement into the AM / FM medium of three-minute public relations commercials for tripping. Up from every Acid House Smiley that ever grinned from every T-Shirt saying ‘I WANNA TAKE YOU HIGHER, HIGHER, UP AND AWAY-AY’. While a pantheon of Heroic Literary Dope Fiends legitimise and intellectualise it all. Against such a cultural continuity of hype, what price a Government ad that goes ‘HEROIN SCREW YOU UP’ or ‘JUST SAY NO’?

Enjoy this trip, and it is a trip, and it is a trip… 



Published in:
‘MASQUE NOIR no.6’
(Australia - December 2001)

Sunday, 26 July 2015

British Jazz: HUMPHREY LYTTELTON


HUMPHREY LYTTELTON: 
‘AS GOOD AS IT GOT’ 

CD Review of: 
‘HUMPHREY LYTTELTON: 
AS GOOD AS IT GETS! 
THE ORIGINAL JAZZ 
RECORDINGS 1948-1956’ 
 (2008 – Smith & Co SCCD 1142)


When you hear Humphrey Lyttelton’s “Bad Penny Blues” you’re hearing the source of Paul McCartney’s piano-riff for “Lady Madonna”. Of course, Humph was there, part of the British jazz scene since the mid-forties as trumpet player, occasional clarinettist, bandleader, broadcaster, raconteur, writer, relentless propogandist, and as a catalyst of changes. But more than that, he was a continuity around which popular culture swirled as it evolved, surviving – and thriving within currents that swept lesser jazzmen to obsolescence. Beginning as a staunch traditionalist – at a time when there was no tradition of jazz in Britain, and when American jazz was already sophisticating into Be-Bop, his greatest affections lay with New Orleans bands, and Louis Armstrong in particular.

The Lyttelton band with Jimmy Rushing

Born in ‘a small house in the Eton High Street’ on 23 May 1921, an ex-Eton public schoolboy, Humphrey Richard Adeane Lyttelton scorned the establishment expectations such credentials might suggest by bunking off from an Eton-Harrow match to buy his first trumpet in Charing Cross Road, compounding the tendency by attending Camberwell Art College, growing a hipster beard, and becoming a focal point in the post-war traditional jazz wave. His forthright playing first attracted serious attention as part of the pioneering George Webb’s Dixielanders, their line-up modelled on King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. By the time Humph joined – in 1947, they’d already reached widening audiences through live radio broadcasts. 

When Webb broke up the band Humph assumed control of its remnants, remodelling it into his own first band during January 1948, gathering other future-bastions of UK trad – including Webb himself, clarinettist and cartoonist Wally ‘Trog’ Fawkes in 1951 – announced by the track “Humph Meets Trog”, and later, Kid Ory-influenced brothers Keith and Ian Christie on trombone and clarinet. Just as Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner would do for blues, he – and the likes of Ken Colyer, faithfully attempted to replicate the sound of carefully hoarded and shared American 78rpm recordings. And the double-CD set ‘As Good As It Gets: The Original Jazz Recordings 1948 - 1956’ (2008) shows the band drawing on archive material from Kid Ory (“Get Out Of Here And Go Home”), WC Handy (“Ole Miss Rag” and “Careless Love”), and King Oliver (“Working Man Blues”), and yes – there’s a quaintness about them that requires a great deal of historical perspective to appreciate.


Yet there’s also early evidence of Humph’s own compositional flair, taking those roots and reconfiguring them. Humph’s lusty original “Mezz’s Blues” most obviously picks up from their recording of Mezz Mezzrow’s “If You See Me Comin’”, and runs with it. And while these recordings demonstrate the strength and blowing power of their conviction, the band’s July 1956 single “Bad Penny Blues” even scored a top twenty hit – a first for jazz, some time before the Kenny Balls and the Acker Bilk’s of the Pop Trad Fad. The record was produced by IBC studio engineer Joe Meek, standing in for Denis Preston. And as a further notable first, it was Meek’s innovative idea of mixing Johnny Parker’s catchy piano riff to the fore, to Humph’s original disapproval, that put the disc into the same chart as Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel”. A young Paul McCartney was taking note of both records.

Lyttleton’s horizons broadened through the 1950’s, modernising further, grasping more mainstream zones with both hands, much to the dismay of trad purists – ‘musicians interest me more than formats’ he told ‘Melody Maker’, drawing in the influence of Buck Clayton – who later guested on one of Humph’s most accomplished albums ‘Me And Buck’ in 1963, and earning respect by taking his band to the States in 1959. For Humph, what was happening was ‘just time. Time for the fans to find out what was going on under their noses. Time for musicians to mature. Time for jazzmen to establish their own identity and not base their playing on their American counterparts.’


Humph’s cavernous ‘London Jazz Club’ at 100 Oxford Street was meantimes providing a fertile and prestigious venue for the likes of the Chris Barber Band – with Lonnie Donegan on hand to ignite the Skiffle boom, at a time when jazz clubs were viewed as vaguely disreputable bohemian dens of beatniks, CND cells and radical left-wing politicos. But he was always more ‘hot jazz’ than he was ‘cool’. From 1953 the freewheeling alto of Yorkshire-born Bruce Turner added a more muscular dimension to the Lytteltonians, while newer musicians such as saxist Tony Coe, Alan Barnes, and tenor-player Jimmy Skidmore featured on Humph’s 1959 highpoint ‘Triple Exposure’ album (re-issued in expanded CD form in 2004). A further more frivolous Pop-culture connection was provided by the launch of BBC radio’s Light Programme ‘Saturday Club’ on 4th October 1958 for which Brian Matthews presented every significant name of the era, from the Beatles on down. The show’s theme was Humph’s swinging “Saturday Jump”. Ironically, as the sixties hit its groove, Trad was effectively eclipsed by the Rock groups the programme showcased, although that sideways shift conversely liberated Humph to produce yet more diversely interesting music.


Respect for his track record legitimised an interaction with a newer more radical generation of jazzers, with Ray Warleigh’s alto and John Surman’s baritone added to the nine-piece line-up assembled for his ‘Duke Ellington Classics’ album for the Black Lion label. Helen Shapiro and Elkie Brooks were also vocalists with the Lyttelton bands. But he was just as adept at slipstreaming back to guest with the Alex Welsh Band during the early seventies, then recording his own ‘Take It From The Top’ (1975) which stands as one of the finest albums of his long career. It showcases his remarkable capacity for refreshing the classic swing format while finding new ways of expressing old musical truths, coming up with fresh ideas and new takes on old favourites. Retaining his loyalty to the musicians who’d first inspired him, his long-running (1967-2007) Radio Two ‘Best Of Jazz’ evidenced his ease with looser definitions too, and a wider respect for jazzers across the whole genre spectrum. And beyond. With a new century he was not above collaborating with Radiohead, contributing to their ‘Amnesiac’ track “Life In A Greenhouse” (2001).


Amiable, self-deprecating, with a wickedly deadpan sense of humour – a ‘rumpled dandy’ in Melyvyn Bragg’s phrase, he also authored witty, perceptive and authoritative books about the jazz he loved, in the autobiographical ‘I Play As I Please’ (MacGibbon & Kee, 1954), ‘Second Chorus’ (MacGibbon & Kee, 1958), and as an elder statesman, ‘Take It From The Top’ (Robson Books, 1975) and his ‘Best Of Jazz’ compilation (Robson Books, 1998). In the midst of all this, it’s important to recall that when he started out there was no real tradition of jazz in Britain, by the time he died – on Friday 25 April 2008, there was a creatively rich, diverse and internationally respected British jazz scene. The fact that this is so, is in no small part due to the continuity of his own lasting contribution. Of course, Humph was there.



Published in:
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.11
(Sept/Oct)’ (UK – August 2008)

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Poem: SOFT WIRES


SOFT WIRES / 
IN THIS BEST OF ALL 
IMPOSSIBLE WORLDS 


and the last memory
has to be this…

pulling into
tower-block shadow,
through the security lock
and into the echo-cave,
rehearsing it all slow
with dignity and sadness
because after tonight,
there’ll be no more
me and you…

and of all the nights
of memories,
the last memory
has to be this…

after promising words
and no more,
you have to look so good,
and I have to act so dumb
that I can’t wait
to hold you…

and the last memory
has to be this,
when it should have
been so right,
the last time
we make love
I do it with
just my
socks
on



Published in the collection:
‘POWER LINES’ (Unibird Publications - UK – October 1988)
Also published in:
‘HEADLOCK: NEW POETRY no.2 (Autumn)’ (UK – November 1994)
‘MINOTAUR no.50’ (USA – July 2008)

Monday, 29 June 2015

Interview: DONOVAN On The Beat Route




DONOVAN: 
 ON THE BEAT ROUTE WITH 
 THE HURDY-GURDY MAN 


All of a sudden – Donovan Leitch is everywhere. 
His long-promised long-awaited autobiography
‘The Hurdy Gurdy Man’ is published May 2006, 
in the meantime EMI are issuing four digitally-remastered 
extended editions of previously-USA-only albums, 
while he’s launching a new series of ‘Beat Café’-themed 
gigs, with Rat Scabies on drums! 
 Andrew Darlington is there to get the details


“His universe glowed like the first morning of the world. 
Objects appeared and disappeared. 
Metamorphosis became commonplace …” 
 George Melly writes about Donovan in ‘Revolt Into Style’


A wild-eyed black-and-white mongrel pursues a buckled crushed-down Evian bottle bounce-bouncing across the ‘Bar Pacific’ courtyard cobbles, snarling it up in eager readiness for the next throw. We watch its relentless energy, sat hunched back into the friendly shade around the table, the sun above us busy being a very magic fellow. Donovan Leitch is scuffed and taggle-haired, but effortlessly cool. A writer in the sun. A poet cornered.

Then there’s a woman, brandishing a concert-flier. “It’s against my principles” she gushes, “but I’ve been a gigantic fan of yours for years.”

He crinkle-grins, squinting up into the sun. “Come up here and I’ll sign it. Are you coming in for the show? What’s your name? Diane? – Diana, the goddess. The huntress.” He felt-tip scribes across the leaflet. “You haven’t got a bow at home, have you, Diana? Do you bathe in a mountain pool with all your maidens around you? Until the hunter comes, and he has a sneaky-peek at you. And he’s not supposed to see you, rising out of the water, so you turn him into a stag. And his own brothers, not knowing it’s him, pursue him, hunt him down and kill him, and…”

“That’s the old romantic in you, isn’t it, Donovan?” she blusters, part-embarrassed, mostly flattered. Lost in some gulf between faded hippie-chic, and Desperate Housewife deep-cleavage.

“Oh, I’m a mythologist as well. There’s goddess in all women.” If he’s done this effusive honey-dripping spiel-routine before, and surely he must have done something very similar, it doesn’t come out that way. “Anyway, I’ve got to do an interview. Look out for me…”

As she walks away looking down gloatingly at the autograph, he comments “I’m getting chilly, but she must be freezing” adding ‘nice style’, approvingly… ‘Yeah, she’s sure fine-looking man’, I agree, ‘she’s something else…!’, quoting Eddie Cochran (for reasons that may become evident later).

While the black-and-white mongrel’s still rampaging. She has to side-step around it. And I swear it’s grinning, wild-eyed…


“Happiness runs in a circular motion 
thought is like a little boat upon the stream …” 
(Donovan, ‘Happiness Runs’) 

Donovan. He’s been in fashion. And out of it. Now he’s beyond it all, into his own parallel universe. It’s a good place to be. There’s no commercial pressures. When he wants to tour, he can sell-out mid-size venues like this with ease. When he puts out an album he knows it will sell enough to make the exercise artistically satisfying and economically viable. His most recent is ‘Beat Café’ (2004, Appleseed Records), which includes the traditional “The Cuckoo”. “It’s an old tune” he agrees. “And a favourite of mine. It’s probably an Irish song that went over with the migrants. ‘Ah-diddlie, Ah-diddlie, A diddile-diddle-dah’.” As he sings, he’s emphasising its lilting melancholy. “It’s an old way of singing – ‘keening’, you know? Which means it’s Celtic. Probably even pre-Celtic.”

Folk Songs have a way of diversifying. “Folk Songs are amazing. A Folk Song can last just as long as an archaeological find. They are actually the repositories of the history of human-kind, the human spirit. There are certain tunes that carry a ritual, or a circular dance that goes back millennia. And I know them. I feel them in my heart.” He clutches his hand over his chest. “There are five vowel-sounds” – he sings “‘a-eee-ah-owe-you’, and these root-sounds are in every language, no matter where or when. So you don’t have to understand the language to understand its particular soulful sound. ‘Cos when a local singer, whether Flamenco, or East Indian, or Native American, or an Eskimo... or a troubadour from Scotland – me!, what do you hear? When you hear the music, and it touches you – listen to the vowel-sounds…” He sings “‘ah-ah-ah-ah-o-luuuuve-yu-o-oo’. It’s the vowel-sounds that are creating the emotional contact with people. Yes. They’re actually playing the universal language, it’s amazing isn’t it?”

From anyone else it would sound insufferably like affectation, pretension. But to Donovan it’s a continuity he’s lived and believed in forever. When he does the raggle-taggle ‘minstrel-me’, it’s impossible to deny. Look at the life…


One of the posters in the foyer – the one listing forthcoming events, Twisted Folk, Kathryn Williams, Devendra Banhart, short-hands ‘Donovan: Britain’s Answer to Dylan’, which must be rather irksome. After all, he fought that brand-war so long ago surely it’s no longer even vaguely an issue? When the Folk-Rock scene was an infant, with CBS promoting Dylan as the ‘new cult leader’, and Donovan emerging on ‘Ready Steady Go’ with harmonica-harness, Woody Guthrie complex, Breton cap, guitar stickered ‘This Machine Kills’, and a fistful of anti-war songs, admittedly some comparison-confusion was admissible. Even though Donovan’s protest songs tended to be borrowed from Mick Softley (“The War Drags On”), Bert Jansch (“Do You Hear Me Now”), or Buffy Sainte-Marie’s articulate tirade “Universal Soldier” – an American single’s hit for Donovan which charts here as an EP title-track, something only the Beatles or Stones had previously done.

But soon the Dylan/Donovan differences became more apparent than these fleeting similarities. Watch the sequence in DA Pennebaker’s April 1965 tour-doc ‘Don’t Look Back’ where they meet up in the hotel room. Donovan offers his simple little tune “To Sing For You”. ‘Hey, that’s a good song, man’ sneers Dylan with immaculate under-statement, before replying with a devastatingly surreal “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”, clearly marking out his territory in the food-chain. No competition. Literally.


Donovan was born in the Maryhill area of Glasgow 5th May 1946. ‘Twas there ‘I dreamt my dreams, and there I hung my jeans’. A poetry-reading father – Donald Kerr Leitch, ‘smelling of machine-oil’ and ‘Marxist Worker’s wisdom’. And a ‘tight-knot’ of a Mother – Winnifred Philips Leitch, a second-generation Irish Catholic, ‘bound up with false guilt’, an independent girl in ‘a dark and cruel world’. “In the beginning there was Folk music, even though they didn’t call it Folk music. I lived in Glasgow, although there was more Irish in my family than Scots. So I just heard nothing but songs all the time. Somebody would put a chair in the middle of the room, and sing their song. That happened at parties, birthdays, funerals, weddings, births – somebody would go into the middle of the room, and there would always be songs.” But after a childhood bout with polio the family relocated south. “When I was ten my father moved us down to (230 Bishop’s Rise, New) Hatfield, as part of the mid-‘50’s migrations. People were leaving the industrial cities and coming down to the New Towns around London, when I moved there from the grey streets of Glasgow it was a shock, the greenery, the birds and the bees, and all those beautiful things.” ‘Birds and Bees’? – a euphemism for sexual awakening, or just a mystical connection with nature?


But this was the late-50’s, what about Elvis, Eddie Cochran? “I had a phase of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I was an adolescent boy. Buddy Holly was my idol when I was twelve. I heard Buddy Holly and I went – ‘aaah, this is incredible!’ But it didn’t make me want to form a Rock ‘n’ Roll band. Buddy Holly breathed his lyrics, y’know – (he sings) ‘Listen to me-ee, hear what I sa-ay… listen closely to me-ee-hee’ and so – ‘ah-ah-ah’.” He emotes the tremulous Donovan intonation in a Buddy Holly-style. “So when you hear Donovan going (breathily) ‘aah-haa-haaa’, it’s a Buddy Holly influence.” Whatever, he ‘flunked my way to college’, ‘reading Kerouac and Ginsberg well-juiced’. Yeah, Rave On, John Donne… before his own first gig at ‘The Cock’ in St Albans. A poet in denims. “I went into (Welwyn Garden City College of) Further Education, and that’s where I met Bohemia, beatnik girls, long hair, rollneck sweaters, social discussions on the campus green. I said ‘this is where I belong. The girls look better. The guys dress better. There’s art, there’s poetry, and the music is better.’ In the Secondary Modern School I’d been to, they had a recorder and a tambourine. And once a month, they had us bang the tambourine and try to blow the whistle. They called it a music lesson! So when I went to College the world of art lay before me. That’s when I first heard Woody Guthrie and Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger…”

Later, in 1964, prior to his first official release, he records some publisher’s demos with producer Terry Kennedy. Subsequently rediscovered the tracks include Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Codine”, and the Tim Hardin-derived “London Town”. He’d just turned eighteen in May of that year. Already poised for a dayglo career at a time when colour-TV was still science fiction.


“your friends they are making a Pop Star or two 
every evening, you know that scene backwards, 
they can’t see the patterns they’re weaving…” 
 (Donovan, ‘Young Girl Blues’) 

The “Sunshine Superman” single was recorded between 2-and-5pm Sunday 19th December 1965 at EMI’s Abbey Road Studio 3, at a time when he was caught up in a contractual imbroglio, a limbo of wrangling High Court writs and litiginous distractions. It was Donovan’s first Mickie Most session, with a song initially announced to the press as “For John And Paul”. It opens with double-bass and electric bass providing depth and texture. “I made the ‘Sunshine Superman’ album in late-’65 and early-’66. Which, by the way, was a year-and-a-half before ‘Sergeant Pepper’ – and ‘Sunshine Superman’ was just sat there. My book tells all about it. Mickie Most said ‘don’t play advance copies of this to Paul (McCartney)’, but of course I played it to Paul, because we make our records for our peers – did you know that? We don’t really make them for the audience. First, we make them for us, then for our peers.” Is there a sub-text here? What’s he implying? That if he’d not played Paul the demo of his album, that ‘Sergeant Pepper’ would have turned out a different beast? That there’s a causal connection between – say, “Young Girl Blues” and “She’s Leaving Home”? Of course, he doesn’t go that far. But draw your own conclusions. It’s not impossible…

The cascade of albums that follow come in supernaturally rapid sequence, so much so that quality-control lapses into occasional throw-away tweeness and whimsy – yet never so throw-away as, for example, Dylan’s ‘Self-Portrait’. And, with the tight musical palette provided by producer Mickie Most, arranger John Cameron, and the cream of session musicians to complement his lyrical dexterity and gifted melodic flair, the results – at their best, can be extraordinary. And, of course, this was all happening for the first time. Such fusions and daring forays had never been attempted before. They were making it up.


Now, when singer-songwriters, Damien Rice or James Blunt, drench their diary-agonies in strings, they have no excuse. Such errors have been inflicted so frequently by earlier practitioners that the dire warnings should not be ignored. But Donovan – and a few others, Phil Ochs, Tim Hardin, John Phillips, Ray Davies, Roger McGuinn, Syd Barrett, and yes, Paul McCartney, were charting unknown terrain. There were innovative excursions into jazz-freedoms and world music too. “Tangiers” (with Bert Jansch on guitar) – a previously US-only track now available here, looks beyond the druggy hippie exoticism of, say, Crosby Stills & Nash’s “Marrakesh Express”, to see the ‘starving kids with staring eyes’. Sure, ‘Moroccans with their elephantitus feet’ may be a clumsy rhyme, but his capacity to see those ‘who life and death treat so cheap’ suggests a timely reality-check. Just as he’s capable of mocking the superficiality of the girl now ‘dragged as any hippie should be / in old hippie town’ (“Hi, It’s Been A Long Time”).

A softer Rock. “Yeah, I brought in the ‘feminised male’… in my songs. In the songs which I sang, I used words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘lovely’ and ‘kind’ – and they were usually attributed to the feminine part of our race. As if only women had those emotions. And men don’t. Why is that?, I account that to two world wars and the Depression. When men were put in uniform, had their hair cut off, were de-humanised, demoralised, given weapons to kill, until all softness and all humanity was sort-of squeezed out of them. And I brought that back in the ‘60’s into songs. So these female… aspects, in my songs, are what I brought in. They would print in the music papers ‘Donovan Thinks The World Is Beautiful’ in two-inch-high letters and – of course, it was really a put-down. They’d say, ‘so you think that kindness and brotherhood, peace, family and humanity are coming back into the world?’ And I said ‘no, they’ve just temporarily gone missing’ and ‘I’m going to sing about them’.”


The lavishly-boxed double-set ‘Gift From A Flower To A Garden’ comes at sixties’ end after the gatefold two-disc ‘Blonde On Blonde’ has already stretched the record-buyer’s budget, worse, it’s competing that same year with Cream’s ‘Wheels Of Fire’ (August) and Hendrix’ ‘Electric Ladyland’ (October). Even its florid cover-art and over-ornate title, the photo-shoot at Bodiam Castle, the kaftan and peacock-fan, are just a little too unworldly, even for 1968, seemingly glancing back to the already decomposing ‘Summer of Love’ idealism. All of which means that his last UK chart album of the decade (no.13 in May 1968), fails to receive the recognition it deserves.

Which is ironic, because it’s a very much simplified Donovan stripped of Mickie Most’s Pop-production affectations, scraped to the acoustic bone, containing some of his most perfectly realised songs spun in soft patinas of subtly pastoral guitars. Written during a refuge-seeking flight from London complications, “Isle Of Islay” – in particular, sees himself reduced down to ‘a seed on your land’. Here, he’s a hide-away lane-haunter, birds-nester, field-farer, shore-walker, his precarious voice as fragile as stained glass. And yes, it’s strangely luring. Elsewhere he writes twinkle-toed tunes of a tinker’s encounter with a crab, and of enchanted gipsy caravans. ‘Travellers’ tend to be reviled in today’s tabloids, but Donovan attunes to older longer Romany traditions of Manouche as symbols of enticing freedom. A Diddycoy romance of the open road that blurs the line between fantasy and reality, or even the fiction that facts can become. There are songs that fall on either side of that arbitrary horizon, others that dissolve it to a mental state, a mode of perception, rather than an absolute firewall. But these portraits and landscapes are less a sweeping vision, than an awareness of the particular moment, in which tactile glimpses provide the interface. The tide of seasons, gulls and rock-pools. Astrologically-shaped starfish, charcoal clouds and pebble-drifts. Songs of innocence and experience. Tales for aging children. Beautiful – if problematically undisturbing. All violence, angst, and pain long exorcised from his colour-spectrum, leaving only a wistful melancholy. Yet – as the decade closes, on his ‘Barabajagal’ album, he returns to addressing the war, through an ‘epistle’ from a soldier in Vietnam fighting, to “Susan On The West Coast Waiting” for his return…


“lemon circles swim in the tea, 
fishing for time with a witching line 
and throwing it back in the sea …” 
 (Donovan, ‘Writer In The Sun’) 

He arrives tonight in the ‘City Varieties’ foyer, dressed in rumpled black with a ‘Donegal Cruise’ blue plastic bag. And he’s complaining about the traffic system. Adding, quite unnecessarily, “Donovan’s the name…” His comfortably shabby roll-neck and black jeans betray their travels, yet he’ll wear the same for the concert. He can also look as worn as his years suggest, until the moments when his face lights up in a spontaneous smile. He has white false-nails on his right hand, all the better to plectrum with. The suggestion of liver-spots too. And his hair – thinner, yet reassuringly tousled, up close, betrays a subtle blue tint that makes it appear darker than it is when viewed from audience-seating. He listens attentively to my questions, variants of which he must have been asked very many times before. Then his answers come in unbroken, yet carefully considered streams, addressing each point carefully and thoroughly. Both affected and compelling, relaxed and intense.

But it’s obvious that an interview – to Donovan, is an extension of the performance. He is at all times the guru dispensing esoteric wisdoms, just as he, in his turn, had absorbed secret bohemian magics from those who came before him, most obviously the three Beat Poets beneath whose images he’ll perform tonight – Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac, but beyond them through mystic and bohemian traditions stretching back, virtually to the misty Celtic dawn of time. ‘And so the journey begins…’ he’ll travelogue on-stage… Unlikely as it seems, Shadows bassist Brian ‘Liquorice’ Locking is there on his first two albums. Equally unlikely, tonight, his band is underscored by Rat Scabies’ sharp disciplined drumming. ‘The guy from the Stranglers!’ says an enthusiast in the row behind us. And I remember Robyn Hitchcock confiding to me some years ago, ‘The Damned? They’re just a bunch of old Hippies’.


Dylan’s ‘Chronicles’ are threaded with previously unsuspected shades of self-doubt, uncertainty, mixed-up confusions. For Donovan, there seems little of that. Apart from the phase-shifting post-60’s come-down when the hits stop. He’s endured a lot of vindictive bad-press. He’s been kicked around more than most. As though, because he once most embodied his audience’s aspirations, he’s held responsible for their excesses. So how do you impose new musical ideas onto people’s old associations? You can’t. Yet even though his vision may be narrower than Dylan’s, it’s more focussed, surer of itself. He’s no longer leading. But he’s not particularly concerned about catching up either. After playing a free impromptu set at the July 1970 Bath Festival he told ‘Melody Maker’ ‘the Pop Star I was has died, and now I am still a beatnik sleeping all over the place like I used to. I am happy doing this’. He is his own brand, his own self-contained eco-system, a unique taste. Perhaps it’s his father’s deeply instilled belief in the enduring worth of words, poetry, and vision? (‘my father he liked poetry, a scholar he might have made / had he not been born a poor boy, bare-foot and underpaid..’)

And for Donovan there have been periodic resurgences. “It was the eighties. I hung out with the Happy Mondays and went on six of their performances with them” he narrates easily. “And I was sitting in a pub with Shaun (Ryder) in Manchester once, and a young man came up and he said ‘Shaun, I’m going to do exactly what you do. I’m going to do what you’re doing’. And Shaun looked at him, and didn’t say a word. And the guy walked off. He was tall and good-looking, had long hair, he was in jeans and T-shirt. I said ‘who’s that?’ He said ‘oh, it’s just a singer, a fucking singer in a band’. I said ‘I think he means it Shaun. I recognise that look. I had that same look in my eyes when I was eighteen. I knew what I was going to do’. He said ‘naw, they’re rubbish, you know?’ Next Friday I turned on the television, and it was Oasis. It was Liam who’d come up and spoken to us…”


An anecdote conjuring a beguiling snapshot of an eighteen-years-young Donovan seen through a Gallagher’s lens, ‘in my mind my dreams are real, tonight I’m a Folk ‘n’ Roll Star’ – could it really have been like that? “Of course, there was all this inter-band rivalry between the Manchester bands, and now – over the ten years since, Manchester has continued to produce extraordinary bands. In a way, just like Liverpool has done. Black Grape was also incredible. You got Stone Roses, and the Charlatans – who recorded my “Season Of The Witch”, and another incredible band that really took me by storm – Starsailor. I was on stage with Starsailor at Glastonbury a couple of years ago. And so, I have this relationship with bands. And songs of mine become standard warm-ups for bands. “Season Of The Witch” is a standard warm-up song for thousands of bands around the world. That’s a kind of fame and appreciation that is real. It doesn’t depend on record sales. It means that your songs become a part of their life. I think that’s great.”

By now that very magic fellow, the sun, is waning. The wild-eyed black-and-white mongrel is gone, hunting new prey. And Diana, the goddess, is inside the venue impatient for the show to begin. So is there anything left un-asked to ask him…? The book? “Yes – I’ve written my autobiography over the years, and now it’s ready. I just came back from Greece last year where I was completing it with my pal. So now I’m ready, ready to present my book – which is called ‘The Hurdy Gurdy Man’, it’s coming out in October on the Century imprint. Look out for me.” And he’s gone…

“My songs are merely dreams, visiting my mind, 
we talk a while, by a crooked style, 
you’re lucky to catch a few…” 
 (Donovan, ‘Celeste’)



 Published in:
‘SONGBOOK no.8’ 
(UK – July 2006)

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Cult Albums: DONOVAN CDs


‘DONOVAN RISING…’ 

CD reviews of: 
‘DONOVAN RISING’ 
(Permanent Records, November 1990) 
‘DONOVAN IN CONCERT’ 
(Beat Goes On Records LP/CD 90, February 2002) 
‘DONOVAN: THE COLLECTION’ 
(Castle Communications, December 1990) 
by DONOVAN 

I originally bought the Pye red-label single of “Catch The Wind” as a love-token for Val, a girl I fancied but was too tongue-tied to tell. She subsequently proved hardly worth the 6s 9p, and I’ve since regretted not keeping the record myself. But here it comes again, in a variety of versions and formats. Donovan Leitch was a tousle-haired mistrelsy wisp of wistful myth with would-be poetics that rhymed ‘when the rain has hung the leaves with tears, I want you near, to kill my fears.’ No awkward Dylan hard edges of reality. Donovan is for dreamers, with stars in his eyes and his eyes on the stars. When he needs politics – as in “Universal Soldier”, he borrows them from Buffy St Marie or Bert Jansch.

‘Good Morning Mr Leitch, have you had a busy day?’ taunts Paul Simon from the mid-break of “Fakin’ It”, I still don’t exactly understand what that means, but yes – just lately Mr Leitch’s back-catalogue has enjoyed some very busy days indeed. Of course, he rose and fell across the 1965-1974 stretch covered selectively by the 22-track ‘The Collection’, but rises again into the new ‘Donovan Rising’ double live set caught 1982-’86. Naturally there’s some duplication, from the aforesaid “Catch The Wind” on through.


Then there’s ‘In Concert’ – a souvenir from a 1968 Anaheim Convention Center gig with ‘the very debonair’ Harold McNair on flute, and drummer Tony Carr. A Donovan for dreamers. Here, it’s recounted how the sheer magical intensity of audience applause exorcises even the rain and makes the sun shine through freshly-spun fleecy clouds, a ‘Sunshine Superman’ indeed. It’s a moment matched on the later concert album, with Pentangling Danny Thompson on resonant double-bass, when Don interrupts perhaps his finest song – “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, to tell tales of extraordinary madness with Gurus John and Paul, visiting the Maharishi. And the period celebrity-count remains high – “Fat Angel” on ‘The Collection’ is about Mama Cass, with more flower-age reference-points dropped into “Sunny South Kensington” – Allen Ginsberg and Mary Quant, plus Dylan and Joan Baez in “The Trip”, while ‘In Concert’ takes us further and deeper into hipness as he urges us to ‘fly Jefferson Airplane’.


Pared back to acoustic, Donovan comes on frail, sensitive and elemental, a proto-Bolan sprite of nature, excelling on the Folk-pure Celtic simplicity of “Isle Of Islay” or the Movie theme “Poor Cow”. While electric – with a Mickie Most production, Led Zep’s John Paul Jones in the mix and Jimmy Page soloing (on “Sunshine Superman”), while Paul McCartney adds whispered vocals to “Mellow Yellow”, he could be inspired and yes, sometimes even COSMIC. Silly? Sure – he’s that too, but even at his most psychedelically excessive he never loses the ability to weave skipping reels of rhyme into semi-precious confections of pretty wisps of tune.

On “Mellow Yellow” live 1968 he reminds us that there were other, more fleshy pleasures around at the time too – ‘I’m just mad about fourteen-year-old girls’ – sure, tell THAT to ‘Childline’ Don! But the 1970’s were hard on dreamers, it all swallows itself up into “Cosmic Wheels” (on ‘The Collection’ and ‘Donovan Rising’), and “There Is An Ocean” from the Andrew Loog Oldham-produced ‘Essence To Essence’ album in 1974, by which time Don was well into eclipse and had temporarily run out of celebrity. Until now. Me – I’ll still stick awhile with these original statements – ‘histories of ages past, unenlightened shadows cast’, though he does manage to look passably tousle-haired and minstrelsy even now, surrounded as he is by seven stars on the new gatefold sleeve. And I can’t help but wonder if Val still plays that Pye red-label “Catch The Wind” once in a while, and thinks of me…?




CD review of: 
WELCOME TO 
THE BEAT CAFÉ’ 
by DONOVAN 
 (Appleseed Recordings APR CD 1081) 

Donovan’s major contributions to the across-the-counter culture occurred within that magic circle of the 1960’s. Since then he’s maintained a lower profile. Some prefer to view their romantic poet-troubadours from a safely posthumous perspective. But in a career move that fails to meet those expectations, Donovan’s still very much around. Here he’s drawing on the ‘Beat’ routes that were already evident in the stoned melancholy “Sunny Goodge Street” (1965), a track from his second album in which he’s ‘listening to sounds of Mingus mellow fantastic’ with Terry Kennedy’s sparse arrangement using double-bass, cello, brushed drums, and flute. And didn’t Allen Ginsberg cameo in his “Sunny South Kensington” (with virtuoso Danny Thompson already there on double-bass) a couple of years later? Sure he did. Not to mention those ‘Beatniks out to make it rich’ from “Season Of The Witch”.

Right, so now he’s off with the Dharma Bums in a virtual Beat Generation café with a ‘poet in a beret, as the sax he blew, and the bongo boy – go man go,’ to a finger-clicking ‘Fever’ groove that just oozes hipster cool. These are rhythms that pour ‘out of my head, and onto the page.’ Into a liquid vibe on “Yin My Yang” that blacks some whites, days some nights, and where she even wears flowers in her hair. Who else could get away with that in 2004? There’s an effortless tight-but-looseness here where “Love Floats” on Danny Thompson’s pulse as Don urges ‘let me come in,’ his voice spaced in tasteful echo dual-tracking and chanted incantation. Then “Whirlwind” with his vibrato quaver sliding over a teasingly repetitive guitar figure and Danny’s eerily resonant ‘into the mystic’ bowing. While the traditional “The Cuckoo” may have already been recorded by Kristin Hirsh, and by Danny himself in his Pentangling ‘Basket Of Light’ incarnation, but Don throws it a new spin. For these are tracks that stack up strongly against the new acoustic whimsy of, say, Belle & Sebastian or Kings Of Convenience. Dylan – Thomas not Bob, advises ‘old age should burn and rave.’ He does that here too. Poetry? – remember “Atlantis”? So – hey man, here are some intriguing variations for a well-cool Mr Leitch, while staying well-within his already-defined continuum.

 Published in:
‘SONGBOOK no.5 (Autumn)’
(UK – December 2004)

DONOVAN live in Manchester



SEASONS OF DONOVAN 

DONOVAN 
at ‘The Bridgewater Hall’, Manchester 

‘Of all the Pop and Rock Stars of the 1960’s, I was the first to be busted’ Donovan confides tonight. Telling how, one 4am ‘on a cold London dawn’ they came to raid a naked and ‘skinny little me’, wrecking his Beatnik pad in their search for two-ounces of grass, before the arresting officer takes him aside… and asks for his autograph. ‘Everybody knew me that day’ he adds wryly, as the story hits the press. George Harrison phones supportively, suggesting he can make much money from this uninvited notoriety. Instead, Donovan flees London for the remote calm of Scotland where he writes the hauntingly beautiful “Isle Of Islay” about feeling ‘like a seed on your land’, as if ‘a tide left me here’. 

All the elements of the Donovan mythology come together in this story. The magic decade. Few of the songs tonight will date from outside of it, although he updates the Vietnam references in “To Susan On The West Coast Waiting” to include Afghanistan and the Gulf. Same situation, new wars. Name-dropping the Beatles too. And why not? He was there. He tells of being in India with four Beatles, one Beach-Boy, and Mia Farrow, of John Lennon patting the Maharishi’s head saying ‘there’s a good Guru’. And later that night, sitting on the bungalow roof with their guitars, George leans over and suggests ‘I could write a verse for that…’, the song that becomes “Hurdy Gurdy Man”. Of course, back then, singles don’t extend beyond 2:57mins, and Jimmy Page’s incandescent guitar leaves no space for it, but he sings George’s verse tonight (‘when the truth gets buried deep, beneath a thousand years of sleep…’). These stories are true. Flower-Power photographs record it all.

Now, Donovan Leitch, with only two guitar’s, harmonica and kazoo, relives them with “Catch The Wind” and “Colours”, then sits cross-legged on a (mock)-tiger skin between sprays of Michaelmas Daisies, to do “Jennifer Juniper” and “Guinevere”. Songs rich with rural idyll, the bejewelled weave of Celtic myth, Gipsy minstrel wanderings, the escape to simplicity, seagulls, and the ragged tousle-haired bohemia that his songs so uniquely inhabit. These few concerts landmark 1964, across forty years of time – in fact a CD of ’64 demos predating his first official recordings, are on sale in the theatre foyer. Those are years, and these are songs worth celebrating. 

But whereas Dylan purposefully confounds audience expectations, Donovan delivers exactly what you expect. You suspect that when he urges you to sing along with “Sunshine Superman”, then gets the words wrong, it’s more due to memory-glitch than any conscious awkwardness. Yet unlike other, perhaps more cultishly celebrated icons, those who romantically suicided or chemically frazzled their brain-cells to psychedelic mush, he’s in intimidatingly rude health, here in his mauve blouse-top, black pants and waistcoat. The silver pipes of a huge concert-organ rearing behind the curtain backdrop as he relates how Irish Druids used guile to outwit marauding Vikings, then introduces a guitar he had made in the exact Celtic green, rowanberry red and lapis blue of the ‘Book of Kells’ which he’d seen in Trinity College, Dublin. So that when he first took possession of ‘Kelly’ ‘it would only play Irish tunes’. He wrote his most recent song, “The Promise,” to beguile it into his own spell. It stands up well, yet he hurriedly retreats back into the sixties to encore with a shimmering “Atlantis”, “Season Of The Witch”, and “There Is A Mountain”.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

SF Pioneer: ARTHUR SELLINGS



ARTHUR SELLINGS: 
POTENTIAL REALISED… 
AND UNREALISED 

 Arthur Sellings was a writer who died in 1968 at the age of just 
forty-seven. To David Pringle he was ‘a talented minor writer, but 
is remembered with respect by some’. To John Clute, his ‘body of 
work is modest in size and scope, but its literacy and firmness of 
execution have been underrated’. Would there have been more, 
and greater work to come, had he lived…? 
Andrew Darlington examines the evidence…




THE HOAX SCHOLASTIC: 
PHYSIOGNOMY OF THE STRAIGHT FACE 

There are layers of confusion. Editor Peter Hamilton has lined up a novelette – “Categorical Imperative”, as the core text for his upcoming ‘Nebula no.17’, ‘it had already been paid for and set up ready for printing,’ then author Arthur Sellings pre-empts its publication by including it in his hardback collection – ‘Time Transfer And Other Stories’ (1956) bare months before the issue’s appearance. ‘I know how infuriating it can be to buy a magazine only to find that a considerable portion of its contents consist of stories you have read before’ bewails Hamilton. So he chases the writer up, who duly supplies a short-story alternative called “Cry Wolf”. The fact that the story concerns a serial practical-joker, a crazy-hobbyist, is maybe just a coincidence. Or perhaps not.

The fictional hoaxer is called Sammy Legg – as in ‘pull your leg’. The skeptical cop assigned to investigate his reported shape-shifting alien visitation is Lieutenant Yardley, as in ‘Scotland Yard’. But as Legg points out, in the original ‘Boy Who Called Wolf’ fable ‘there was a wolf in the end’. Another layer is added when the so-called practical-joke is used as a weapon directed against authority. It can be a subversive device intent on ‘broadening men’s minds… de-mechanising their attitude towards the universe.’ The implication is that Legg’s stunts are what we’d now term prankster agit-prop – agitational propaganda of the ‘V For Vendetta’ variety. Yet, although he quotes from Thomas De Quincey’s 1827 essay ‘On Murder Considered As One Of The Fine Arts’, there’s nothing to suggest that Sellings’ politics lay in such radical directions. Instead, the playful theme is more the hook for a Police Procedural in which Legg’s murdered body indicates that maybe there really is a shape-shifting alien loose in the city.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that one of his pet aversions is quoted as ‘critics who complain of a dearth of humour in science fiction.’ He refutes the charge by pointing out the example of Henry Kuttner, Fredric Brown, Robert Sheckley and John Wyndham.

Sellings’ second contribution to the magazine – “Armistice”, in the following issue, seems superficially to be a more conventional Space Opera romp. A grim Pyle is representing the shattered remnants of defeated humanity by negotiating surrender terms with their supremely-rational conquerors, the Thunians. Yet when the aliens’ offer to relocate the five-hundred-plus Earthling survivors to a planet of the Procyon system because ‘two intelligent species cannot occupy the same world,’ Pyle realises their ‘rational’ solution is flawed in failing to factor in the irrational human drive that will dictate they use their new world to foment lethal revenge, and that – even if it takes generations, vindictive militarily tooled-up humans will be back to reclaim Earth. It will not be the age of reason, but sheer pig-headed obstinacy in refusing to accept the inevitable that will win through. Unreason, not logic and rationalism are the motivating forces that drive human success. A curious sentiment for a writer involved in scientific research to express!


‘The subconscious might be a dark waste-pit 
but from its compost the seed of inspiration flowered…’ 
                                   (“Armistice” in ‘Nebula No.18’

By the time of this debacle Sellings was already a ‘well-known author’ as Hamilton grudgingly concedes. But in fact ‘Arthur Sellings’ was just one of the pseudonyms employed by Robert Arthur Gordon Ley – an alias drawn from his mother’s maiden name. He also wrote under the pseudonyms ‘Ray Luther’ and ‘Martin Luther’. He was born on 31 May 1921 in Tunbridge Wells, the son of Kent and Stella Grace Ley. As Mike Ashley notes ‘he moved early to London (W10) where he had a vivid recollection of seeing both ‘Metropolis’ (Fritz Lang, 1927) and ‘The Girl In The Moon’ (Fritz Lang, 1929) – two early and influential German SF films.’ Soon after, he ‘discovered HG Wells and the US SF magazines’ too – attracted by the extravagant cover-art of Frank R Paul. Meanwhile, following the war, he married Gladys Pamela née Judge on 18 August 1945, while working first as a customs officer.

But it was while employed as a government scientific researcher from 1955, that his work inspired his original forays into science fiction. His first published tale – “The Haunting”, appeared in the October 1953 issue of the curious British magazine ‘Authentic SF’. A hazy blue apparition seen at the Project Forward base is not a ghost, but a projected messenger from the future warning Controller Barlow of the disastrous consequences of their work, in time for him to curtail it. In doing so, altering the apparition itself. At just seven pages it’s a brief and promisingly effective tale of the unexpected.


Soon his work was also appearing in the US, something most of his contemporaries attempted, but few achieved. Trans-Atlantic sales involved airmail expense and time-delays that many with short-term financial needs found too problematic. Yet his second, third, fourth and sixth pro sales went to ‘Galaxy Science Fiction’, then to ‘Imagination: Stories Of Science And Fantasy’, followed by ‘Fantastic Universe’, and ‘The Magazine of Fantasy And Science Fiction’. The tipping point back was provided by the ‘Observer’ literary contest. In competition with the likes of Brian Aldiss’ “Not For An Age”, Sellings story – “The Mission” was commended by judge Angus Wilson into the top eighteen places, and anthologised. Such high-profile attention persuaded Michael Joseph to publish his ‘Time Transfer And Other Stories’, announced by EC Tubb as ‘a collection of stories which will do much to gain the medium greater literary merit.’ And enabling ‘New Worlds’ reviewer Leslie Flood to refer to Sellings as ‘now being among the top three British writers of short science fiction stories,’ alongside Arthur C Clarke and Eric Frank Russell – despite having only three stories published in the UK!

He set about redressing the situation with a spread of tales in ‘New Worlds’, the ‘New Writings in SF’ anthology-series… and his two appearances in Peter Hamilton’s ‘Nebula’. As he muses ‘the science fiction writer – well, he dreams anyway – lives dreams, writes dreams, sometimes, alas, has to eat dreams’ (in “The Tycoons”).


By the magazine standards of the time, his prose is fluent, his characters and dialogue well-defined. “Starting Course” in ‘New Worlds’ – later selected by Mike Ashley for inclusion in his ‘The Best Of British SF2’ anthology, is essentially a dialogue chamber-piece constructed around a nuclear-family unsettled by the intrusion of a well-mannered inoffensive android. It’s explained that, as in ‘Bladerunner’ (1982), androids are vat-grown to colonise planets humans have become too insular and complacent to visit. Although that turns out to be not exactly the case. Anyway, that’s largely background to the freighted interplay of family dynamics, which it is the android’s role to destabelise. ‘You see, Eddie, your job wasn’t really to adjust to people – it was to disadjust them. Not so much your finishing course as their starting course.’ There’s considerable pathos to the character’s final unexpected parting.

 It’s a good example of what John Clute calls the way Sellings ‘integrated literate investigations of character into SF storylines of some conventionality’ (in ‘The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’ edited by Peter Nicholls, Granada, 1979). Best known for his well-crafted portraits of adaptability under stress, Sellings’ stories are noted for their humor, suspense and attention to plot and character. Each separate and complete in itself. His use of ruptured prose in “Birthright” (‘New Worlds’, no.53, November 1956) anticipates both Anthony Burgess’ ‘Nadsat’ and Russell Hoban’s ‘Riddley Walker’ (1990) as an experimental device that attempts to capture the mental evolution of a genetically-engineered human designed to colonise a heavy-gravity ammonia-atmosphere planet.

Published some years before the SF ‘New Wave’ it clearly indicates that Sellings was more than capable of literary innovation when such extremism is required by the demands of the plot. So much so that Langdon Jones, a writer closely associated with the New Wave, could claim ‘I have always considered Arthur Sellings to be a greatly underestimated and neglected writer’ (reviewing the novel ‘The Uncensored Man’, 1964). More specifically, he notes that ‘this novel, I think, tends to illustrate the direction in which SF is going. The book is concerned with the mind. There are no rockets, no galactic strife, nothing save two men and a drug, but the resultant story is exciting, readable, and science fiction. Sellings extrapolates on ideas of Freud and Jung, incidentally producing about the first SF book I have ever seen which does not completely misrepresent Freud’s ideas… this book is what SF should be, and all too often, is not.’


‘Obviously Science Fiction, like any other genuine literary form, must evolve’ Sellings himself argues in a ‘New Worlds’ profile (no.49, July 1956). ‘It was easier in the old days – easier to find ideas, to stop in the middle of everything for a dissertation on Jupiter’s moons. The modern way, starting a story in the middle of a future- or other-world environment and taking it from there is a challenge to the writer. It isn’t always easy, but it is fun.’ ‘Science Fiction is a literature of ideas’ he persists in the ‘New Worlds’ ‘Postmortem’ letter column (no.81, March 1959), ‘I don’t mean pseudo-scientific gimmicks, but new viewpoints, new probings into the unknown – even new experiments in style. Because if the style is fresh it can’t help but invigorate even an old idea… I am convinced that science fiction has a great deal more to say than it has already.’

Yet he was not always attuned to the social and literary changes happening around him. He wrote another long and detailed letter to ‘New Worlds’ (no.118, May 1962) decrying the new openness. ‘While it would be stupid to deny the importance of sex both in life and literature, there is currently far too much emphasis on it – a decadent, almost morbid, preoccupation with sexual functions. I’m no prude, I hope; one of the best novels I have read in recent years is ‘The Ginger Man’ (by JP Donleavy, 1955). But sex is dragged in by the short hairs so often in so many books as to cause revulsion, a nausea at a continual imbalance. It is an imbalance found in much of the best contemporary serious literature.’

Nevertheless, when his story “The Proxies” was broadcast as a radio play on the BBC Home Service in June 1960, the adaptation changed the main character from a man to a woman, a scientist at that. ‘Writers are supposed to be annoyed with such tampering with their work’ he comments. ‘I was only annoyed that I hadn’t recognized myself that the character’s reactions in my own story were basically feminine. I was guilty of a blind plot.’ Going on to generously concede that ‘I think we SF writers are guilty of under-estimating both the place of women in SF and their potential in the world… I think that too many of us are similarly guilty too often.’


But he probably reached his widest audience when his satirical short story “The Tycoons” was adapted by screenwriter Bruce Stewart into an episode of ABC-TV’s groundbreaking ‘Out Of This World’ series. With each of thirteen black-and-white tales introduced by the macabre presence of Boris Karloff, I was certainly one who enthusiastically watched the teleplay, directed by Charles Jarrott, when it was broadcast at 10pm on the Saturday night of 22 September 1962. There’s humour and pathos ‘when zealous taxman Oscar Raebone (Ronald Fraser) calls unexpectedly on the Project Research Company, a firm making novelty dolls, and encounters the Tycoons, mysterious strangers led by Abel Jones (Charles Gray), he turns up a situation that can only be described as out of this world…’ As the magazine blurb had earlier explained, ‘their business was to produce dancing dolls, but behind the scenes they were an alien organisation waiting to take over Earth.’ But while the Dinkum Doll was a cover for their subversive activities, Raebone’s enthusiastic championing of the product makes it so successful that the aliens abandon their plans, and decide to stay and enjoy the benefits of their new world.

By the time “The Tycoons” was first published in ‘Science Fiction Adventures’ (no.6, January 1959), editor John Carnell was describing Sellings as an ‘antiquarian art-dealer, bookseller bibliophile, and short story writer’ and something of a ‘minor tycoon’ in his own right because ‘he owns several shops.’ After its TV adaptation he could probably extend that job-definition further.


The magazines of the period were a breeding ground for emerging writers to perfect their skills and hone their craft, before up-gearing into novels and the more rarified lit-celebrity they bring. And unlike many writers of his generation, Sellings was able to vault the event horizon into the post-New Wave titles. Although he was never destined to follow the path of Brian Aldiss, Christopher Priest or JG Ballard. He produced four novels, plus one as ‘Ray Luther’ (a near anagram of his real name!), and another published after his untimely death. Some consider this posthumous ‘Junk Day’ to be his best work, as indication of his escalating potential. But to David Pringle he remains ‘a talented minor writer, but is remembered with respect by some’ (in ‘The Ultimate Encyclopaedia Of Science Fiction’ (Carlton Books, 1997), and to John Clute, his ‘body of work is modest in size and scope, but its literacy and firmness of execution have been underrated.’

But we’ll never know if there were greater things to come. ‘Arthur Sellings’ Ley died early of a heart attack on September 24, 1968 in Worthing, aged just forty-seven. He left a widow and many friends. ‘A fine craftsman’ said ‘New Worlds Quarterly no.2’, ‘his work was admired greatly by his fellow writers.’ In the circumstances, what he leaves is more than enough.


ARTHUR SELLINGS: 
POTENTIAL REALISED… 
AND UNREALISED 

1953 – The Haunting (‘Authentic Science Fiction Monthly no.38’ October 1953 illustrated by Gerald, collected into ‘Time Transfer And Other Stories’, Michael Joseph 1956, Compact paperback 1966) ‘Was it a ghost, the apparition that knew so much of Barlow’s new project?’ editor HJ Campell writes ‘Arthur Sellings is another new science fiction writer we have discovered. His ‘Haunting’ gives us a fresh slant on apparitions. Maybe after you’ve read this story you won’t be afraid of them any more. Or maybe you’ll just start believing in them?’

1954 – The Boys from Vespis (‘Galaxy Science Fiction Vol.7 No.5-A’ February 1954) ‘It was all just a frightful mistake, but try convincing the Earthgirls that it was!’ illustrated by Kossin

1954 – The Departed (‘Galaxy Science Fiction Vol.8 No.5’ August 1954) ‘Let the dead past bury its dead? No… leave the dirty work to the unborn future!’ illustrated by Fleminger

1954 – A Start in Life (‘Galaxy Science Fiction Vo.8 No.6’ September 1954, novelette collected into ‘Time Transfer And Other Stories’, Michael Joseph 1956) ‘What a problem for a robot… having all of the answers, but not knowing when to give them!’ illustrated by Sentz

1954 – The Cautious Invaders (‘Imagination: Stories Of Science And Fantasy’ October 1954) cover-art illustrates ‘The Laughter Of Toffee’ by Charles F Myers

1954 – The Age of Kindness (‘Galaxy Science Fiction Vol.9 No.2’ November 1954, collected into ‘Time Transfer And Other Stories’, Michael Joseph 1956) ‘There was only one way for Bruno to be like everybody… get rid of all of them!’ illustrated by Dick Francis

1955 – The Mission (‘AD 2500: The Observer Prize Stories 1954’, William Heinemann) anthology made up of the twenty-one best entries submitted to the ‘Observer’s Short Story competition, chosen by Angus Wilson

1955 – The Figment (‘Fantastic Universe’ February 1955, collected into ‘Time Transfer And Other Stories’, Michael Joseph 1956)

1955 – Escape Mechanism (‘Fantastic Universe’ vol.4 no.1, August 1955, collected into ‘Time Transfer And Other Stories’, Michael Joseph 1956)

1955 – The Proxies (‘If’ October 1955, collected into ‘Time Transfer And Other Stories’, Michael Joseph 1956) Adapted by Anthony Juan Skene as a radio play broadcast on BBC Home Service, 14:30, 18 June 1960. ‘Radio Times’ comments ‘Even today there are many jobs that machines can do better and faster than their creators, and some people are tempted to look ahead with trepidation. Just suppose that machines could really think, suppose one day they had it in their power to take control. This play suggests it might not be altogether disastrous,’ produced by Michael Bakewell

1955 – Jukebox (‘Fantastic Universe’ December 1955, collected into ‘Time Transfer And Other Stories’, Michael Joseph 1956, ‘More Tales Of Unease’ edited by John Burke, Pan Books 1969)


1956 – ‘TIME TRANSFER AND OTHER STORIES’ (Michael Joseph 1956 as 12s 6d, reviewed in ‘New Worlds no.47’ May 1956) collects ‘The Haunting’ from ‘Authentic’ plus new stories ‘From Up There’, ‘The Wordless Ones’, ‘Control Room’, ‘Soliloquy’ and ‘The Awakening’ plus previously USA-only titles ‘The Proxies’ from ‘If’, ‘A Start In Life’ from ‘Galaxy’, ‘Pentagram’ from ‘Satellite SF’, ‘The Figment’ and ‘Escape Mechanism’ from ‘Fantastic Universe’. The UK paperback edition eliminates five stories at the author’s discretion. Also reviewed – presumably by editor EC Tubb, in ‘Authentic SF no.70’ (15 June 1956) as ‘a collection of sixteen short stories all well-written and all highly entertaining. They range from the thought-provoking moral in ‘The Age Of Kindness’ to the delightful humour in ‘Categorical Imperative’ and ‘The Boy Friends’ (aka ‘The Transfer’), with a peculiar touch of horror in ‘Jukebox’ and ‘Time Transfer’ (1966 Roberts & Vintner Compact SF paperback)

1956 – Pentagram (‘Satellite Science Fiction’ October 1958) collected into ‘Time Transfer And Other Stories’, Michael Joseph


1956 – The Masters (‘New Worlds no.49’ July 1956), plus ‘Writers Profile’, Hedley and estranged wife Elsa stranded on planet in a city of robots. Despite the robots catering to their every need, he kills her with an H-E gun when she adapts a robot to resemble her lover George Manders, then kills himself. The robots inter their remains in a tomb alongside the ‘three hundred and seventy nine million, five hundred and twenty thousand, eight hundred and sixty seven’ others they’d failed to bring happiness to!

1956 – The Warriors (‘New Worlds no.50’ August 1956) ‘Contact between differing races can never entirely be a one-way affair where the dissemination of knowledge is concerned. Each side will always learn something from the other, but it will depend to a large extent upon the interpretation of the knowledge exchanged which side will ultimately benefit the most,’ peaceful vegetarian humanoid aliens learn hostility from bickering couple Linda and Mike

1956 – Birthright (‘New Worlds no.53’ November 1956), illustrated by ‘Eddie’, John Carnell writes ‘every once in a while we publish a story whereby it is not possible to give any indication of the plot in the caption without completely spoiling it for the reader. Arthur Selling’s latest story is one such and once again shows his versatility as a writer’. Collected into ‘The Long Eureka’ Dennis Dobson 1968

1956 – The Category Inventors (‘Galaxy Science Fiction Vol.11 No.4’ February 1956) novelette ‘There was security for all in this well-run world – but what happened to a man who tried to get ahead could never happen to a robot!’ illustrated by Emsh

1956 – One Across (‘Galaxy Vol.12 No.1’ May 1956, collected into ‘The Long Eureka’ Dennis Dobson 1968) ‘Doing puzzles is an escape, eh? Then how was it Norman found himself so boxed in?’ illustrated by Cal

1956 – Cry Wolf (‘Nebula no.17, July 1956) ‘He had made a hobby of practical joking in a world of un-amused officialdom. Was he to get the last laugh also?’ illustrated by D McKeown

1956 – Verbal Agreement (‘Galaxy Vol.12 No.5’ September 1956, novelette collected into ‘The Long Eureka’ Dennis Dobson 1968) ‘Some problem to give an unsuccessful poet – what would the Vernans want one-half so precious as the skins they wouldn’t sell?’ illustrated by Dick Francis

1956 – Armistice (‘Nebula no.18’, November 1956) ‘Assured of their own supremacy, the Thunians were ready to sign their own death-warrant’

1957 – Brink of Madness (‘Super-Science Fiction no.3’ April 1957) cover-art by Kelly Freas, issue also includes Robert Silverberg and Harlan Ellison

1957 – Fresh Start (‘New Worlds no.61’, July 1957) ‘Rehabilitation for a person suffering from amnesia is a difficult task at the best of times, but somewhere during the course of therapy the patient begins to help himself’, he is not amputee Sam Bishop in Greenville, it’s all an elaborate construct by sympathetic aliens

1958 – Blank Form (‘Galaxy Vol.16 No.3’ July 1958, collected into ‘The Long Eureka’ Dennis Dobson 1968) ‘They knew there was an answer somewhere… now all they had to do was find the question’ illustrated by Martinez

1958 – The Shadow People (‘New Worlds no.73’ July 1958) failed artist Paul Nash – ‘Davy’s my brush-name. There’s already been one Paul Nash’, leases his spare room to mysteriously pale Mr & Mrs Smith, who turn out to be from future-time 2149, escaping ‘the end of the world’. She’s already seen his painting ‘Study By Snowlight’ which she inspires, which ‘in our time hangs in a museum’

1958 – Flatiron (‘New Worlds no.77’ November 1958) when Shand assists an inter-dimensional being ‘piteously rampant and radiating distress’ it repays him by gifting humans with uniformity, everyone becomes him and his wife Jean

1958 – Limits (‘Science Fantasy no.32’, December 1958) an affectionate reverie about run-down provincial theatre ‘The Regency’ and supernatural French Mime artist, Jean Victoire, as a metaphor for creativity itself, ‘an artist sets limits on his work – because his art is the struggle against them. Without them there would be no art’

1959 – For The Colour Of His Hair (‘New Worlds no.79, January 1959) in no.81 he writes ‘in my recent ‘For The Colour Of his Hair’ I raised an objection to a theory which 99.99% of science fiction readers (and writers) seem to accept unquestioningly – that of evolution by gradual mutation and natural selection. It is not my own objection; the quotation I made in the story is from an actual book published over fifty years ago, but it has been stated before and since then. The story ‘explained’ it away in science fiction terms, but there seems to be a vested interest against admitting this objection; see, for example the way JBS Haldane ‘answered’ it in his ‘Possible Worlds’. I have yet to see it answered satisfactorily…’

1959 – The Tycoons (‘Science Fiction Adventures no.6’ January 1959) art by Brian Lewis. Adapted by Bruce Stewart for ABC-TV’s ‘Out Of This World’ anthology series broadcast 22 September 1962 ‘When zealous taxman Oscar Raebone (Ronald Fraser) calls unexpectedly on the Project Research Company, a firm making novelty dolls, and encounters the Tycoons, mysterious strangers led by Abel Jones (Charles Gray), he turns up a situation that can only be described as out of this world…’

1959 – ‘New Worlds’ no.81, March 1959. Detailed three-page letter in the ‘Postmortem’ section

1959 – The Scene Shifter (‘Star Science Fiction Stories no.5’ May 1959, collected into ‘The Long Eureka’ Dennis Dobson 1968)

1959 – The Outstretched Hand (‘New Worlds’ no.83, May 1959) ‘if we were given the opportunity of living part of our life over again – picking out some turning point where the probability lines diverge – how much difference would it make in the long run? How much Free Will are we allowed during a lifetime?’ an intriguingly brief tale, psychiatrist Dr Meyer uses narcosis to allow Grant to visit his child-self and encourage his lost art-ambitions, only to find that nothing changes – was he always destined to a safely prosperous business career despite his creative yearnings?, collected into ‘The Best Of New Worlds’ edited by Michael Moorcock, Compact Books 1965)


1959 – The Long Eureka (‘Science Fantasy no.36’ August 1959), collected into ‘The Long Eureka’ Dennis Dobson 1968. Unusual structure, Isaac Reeves invents the Elixir Of life in 1820, but fails to convince anyone as plot leap years from 1822 to 1827, 1830, 1832, 1838, 1842, 1843, until 2103 with first starship to Proxima Centauri, he arrives 2307 to gift a new race with his serum, only to learn they are already immortal


1960 – ‘Film Review: The Time Machine’ (‘New Worlds no.100’ November 1960) ‘surely this should be a very good film. Unhappily it isn’t, though it is not easy to say just why’

1961 – Starting Course (‘New Worlds no.102’ January 1961, ‘The Best Of British SF2’ edited by Mike Ashley, Orbit 1977) android Eddie A-Smith has an unsettling effect on the Trendall family during his integrating-period with them, with racist overtones Dad accuses the ‘damn android’ of an inappropriate relationship with 16-year-old daughter Kathy – except android’s are neuters who ‘don’t breed’. And 12-year-old son Steve is motivated to nudge the family out of complacency to sign up for the Procyon Three colonisation project – which is the android’s real purpose. This story would be ideal for a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode

1961 – ‘Essay: Where Now?’ (‘New Worlds no.111’ October 1961)

1962 –‘Letter: On William F Temple’ (‘New World no.118’, May 1962)

1962 – ‘TELEPATH’ (novel, US Ballantine Books with Richard Powers cover-art, alternate title ‘The Silent Speakers’ Dennis Dobson 1963), ‘Was He Unique, Or A Forerunner Of The Next Development In Man?’, it ‘builds a gradual and convincing picture of a man’s discovery of limited telepathic ability’ (John Clute). ‘Powerful’ according to Mike Ashley

1964 – ‘THE UNCENSORED MAN’ (novel, Dennis Dobson 1964, reviewed by Langdon Jones in ‘New Worlds no.146’), ‘Mark Anders, the hero, works in a secret weapons establishment. At the opening, we find his marriage on the point of breaking up, and his mind filled with doubts about his work. Then an epileptic boy and a computer give the clues that lead him on the trail to his eventual discovery, a discovery of universe-encompassing implications,’ it ‘transfers its protagonist by drugs into another dimension where he develops his previously masked psi powers and meets dubiously superior forms of life’ (John Clute)

1964 – The Well-Trained Heroes (‘Galaxy’ June 1964, novelette collected into ‘The Long Eureka’ Dennis Dobson 1968)


1965 – ‘The Power Of Y Parts 1 and 2’ (‘New Worlds no.146 and no.147’ serial in January and February 1965, ‘SF Reprise 2’ edited by Michael Moorcock, Compact Books 1966) ‘Plying – or Transdimensional Multiplying to give it its full name – wasn’t such a revolutionary invention after all. There were limits to what the machine could do – or so it seemed. When art-dealer Max Afford discovered he had a mild psi-power he discounted it a useless. But was it?’ no.146 also includes Langdon Jones review of ‘The Uncensored Man’

1965 – The Tinplate Teleologist (‘Worlds Of Tomorrow’ Vol.3 no.3 (15), September 1965) with art by Brock, edited by Frederik Pohl

1966 – Gifts Of The Gods (‘New Writings In SF 9’ edited by John Carnell, Dennis Dobson) a touch of whimsical humour when Bryan Dudley and his wife Gwen find eight alloy cylinders in their New town garden, then a glut of other multi-coloured inexplicable ‘gifts’. Interdimensional beings are using Earth as a landfill, but what happens when they begin to dump their surplus population too?

1966 – That Evening Sun Go Down (‘New Worlds no.166’ September 1966) challenging experiment in which the first two pages are in fractured language – ‘yet more black he sing. Painsong, that one note We shiver at. Rotate or one, painsong touch balmtackle, two meet like great holy oneinmany of universe. But this rotate I feel only pain.’ It is a fragment of a contested script found by a human tribe who mistake the insectoid alien conqueror Great Ones of the text with their own ancestors, but no, they are ‘the Puny’. This issue also includes editor Michael Moorcock’s ‘Behold The Man’, plus New Wave JG Ballard, Barrington J Bayley, Aldiss, Brunner and Thomas M Disch

1966 – ‘THE QUY EFFECT’ (novel, Dennis Dobson, December 1966, US Berkley Medallion 1967) 144-pages, cover-blurbed ‘A New SF Novel About A Shocking Discovery That Changed All Of The Physical Laws Of The Universe’, it ‘combines the invention of a new form of power with a love story involving its struggling inventor’ (John Clute), ‘…it was so powerful that in one instant it obliterated an entire building. Only the concrete floor and stumps of walls remained… its implications were so revolutionary as to render all past scientific concepts obsolete... which only served to alienate the entire scientific community against its inventor, Aldophe Quy’

1967 – The Key Of The Door (‘New Worlds no.172’ April 1967 aka ‘New Worlds Quarterly no.2’ edited by Michael Moorcock, Sphere Books 1971) a clever and amusing HG Wells pastiche in which Cyril suspects that his son Godfrey has been using his secret time machine invention for assignations with Melinda in 1985, whose granddaughter is his own mistress in 2035!

1967 – ‘INTERMIND’ (novel as by ‘Ray Luther’, Banner October 1967, Dennis Dobson October 1969) cover-blurbed ‘An Extraordinary Spy Novel Of Tomorrow’, in which a secret agent is injected with another person’s memory to pursue a complex case

1968 – The Last Time Around (‘New Writings In SF 12’ edited by John Carnell, Corgi 1968) reprinted in ‘If’ November-December 1970. Carnell writes ‘there have been many fascinating stories concerning the apparent paradox of subjective and objective time, but none quite so poignant or explanatory as the one Arthur Sellings presents here.’ Grant ‘spans centuries’ piloting DCP ships (Direct Continuum Propulsion) returning to Earth as ‘a stranger in a foreign country’, until he and Etta Waring fall in love. To bridge the time-difference for his next trip she clones herself so they’ll still be age-compatible

1968 – ‘THE LONG EUREKA’ (collection, Dennis Dobson, March 1968) first UK publication for American material – ‘Blank Form’, ‘The Well-Trained Heroes’, ‘Verbal Agreement’ and ‘One Across’ from ‘Galaxy’, ‘The Scene Shifter’ from ‘Star Science Fiction Stories’, plus ‘The Long Eureka’ from ‘Science Fantasy’ and ‘Birthright’ from ‘New Worlds’, also includes previously unpublished novelettes Homecoming and Trade-In

1968 – Crack In The Shield (‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’ Vol.34 no.1, January 1968) ‘Special 200th Issue’ with Harlan Ellison, Fritz Leiber and Isaac Asimov

1968 – ‘THE POWER OF X’ (novel, Dennis Dobson December 1968) ‘a neat variation on the matter-duplicator theme’ according to Brian Ash in ‘Who’s Who In Science Fiction’, Pan 1976. ‘Fascinating’ according to Mike Ashley. A short novel that takes place in 2018 when ‘transdimensional multiplying’ or ‘Plying’, a highly guarded government monopoly, can make perfect copies of items. Max Afford, owner of the ‘Gallery O’ art gallery, realises he can tell an original Matisse from the copy just by touching it. At an auction he buys a portrait of the grandfather of the current President of the European Federation of States. His Aunt takes him to a reception at the renamed Buckingham Palace, now called the Europa Palace where he intends giving the painting to the President (an infant in the painting). But when Max shakes hands he realises the President is also a copy. Kidnapped and put into an asylum Max wakes to find out his kidnapper is his Aunt along with former Senator Guy Burroughs. They must break into the Palace to bring the conspiracy to light.’ Serialised in ‘New Worlds’ nos 146 and 147

1969 – The Legend And The Chemistry (‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’, Vol.36 no.1 (212), January 1969) issue also includes Samuel R Delany, Harlan Ellison, Barry N Malzberg (as KM O’Donnell)

1969 – The Dodgers (‘Fantastic’ Vol.18 no.4. April 1969) issue also includes John Sladek, Walter M Miller, John Jakes and two by Barry N Malzberg (as by KM O’Donnell and Robin Schaefer)

1969 – The Trial (‘New Writings In SF 15’ edited by John Carnell, Dennis Dobson 1969) reviewing the collection in ‘Vision Of Tomorrow no.5’ Kathryn Buckley writes ‘it would be impossible to talk about ‘The Trial’ without feeling very saddened by the premature death of Arthur Sellings, which has thinned the ranks of British science fiction writers. By the ‘In Memoriam’ box at the front it is obvious that the collection had gone to the printers at the time of his death so that this story is probably amongst the last he wrote. Characteristically, it is deftly and skillfully handled. Communication, or the lack of it investigated in a very well-told story that question’s man’s arrogant missionary obsession, however well-intentioned, and once again we have aliens portrayed sympathetically’

1970 – ‘JUNK DAY’ (novel, Dennis Dobson April 1970, Leonaur paperback 2007) ‘his finest novel was his last, Junk Day, a post-holocaust tale set in the ruins of his native London and peopled with engrossing character types… perhaps grimmer than his previous work but pointedly more energetic’ (‘The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’), cover-blurbed ‘After The Day Of The Apocalypse’, an unspecified catastrophe has left civilisation in ruins, bands of survivors pick over the detritus, as a new order is emerging, with the nascent society brutally guided by superior force – the threat of violence and the barrel of a gun. Into this world comes Bryan – a loner, an artist with a vision all his own and a belief that a new world can only emerge from co-operation and culture. With Vee, the last survivor of her Convent, and self-styled autocrat Barney (a near-anagram of Bryan), will belief in the essential goodness of mankind win the day? Or will brutality rule?