Friday, 21 March 2014

Poem: 'With Acknowledgements To 'The Observer Colour Supplement' And To Jeff Nuttall


winged slit
on a breeze from Mongolia

beaked cleft
with agate eyes of
and shimmering campaigns

celandine aperture
tousle-gaping with
worms of black obsidian
with tiny mouths that
gasp and heave
like air-drowned eels

the horizontal smiles
of architects dreams
befugged by dreaming similes
of yellow pollen horizons
hazed with aphrodisiac pollution,
sticky with tactile nodules
striding dramatically from oblivion
like small septuagenarian

quivering crevice athrob
with the unprecedented riot of
100,000 people angry
with the aftermath of
spontaneous eruption

O winged slit
on a breeze from Mongolia
I’ve drunk of your wine,
I’m left drunk under
your plethora of

Published in:
‘AMBIT no.81’ (UK – March 1980)

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Jeff Nuttall: 'BOMBED CULTURE'


Jeff Nuttall was the polymath – poet, artist, jazz-cornetist, 
anarchist, and sculptor who wrote the insurrectionary tome 
that defined the 1960’s counter-culture, ‘Bomb Culture’

Jeff Nuttall, manic polymath – poet, artist, and jazz-cornetist is dead, he’s joined the horn-section invisible. Which is tough. Because I always intended getting around to an interview-piece with him, at some time, when I located space-and-time to do it. Now it’s too late. I did bump into him on several odd occasions, always respecting his fiercely diverse energies. First time was probably the ‘Ilkley Literature Festival’ event way back in the early-1970’s where he does an esoteric lecture-thing about aspects of Aleister Crowley-groupies. I was just starting out, baffled, and totally in awe of him. Afterwards, I stammer out how much I love his book ‘Bomb Culture’ (1968) – which I did, and still do, and he peers down imperiously at me from the podium and utters ‘oh yes?’ A solid very corporeal presence, tousled Dylan Thomas Celtic hair flared up against the light. Challenging, provoking more. So I venture that I admire the ‘Early Lobster’ graphic-strip he was doing for the ‘Styng’ counterculture newspaper at the time, and he looks down at me from the podium and says ‘oh yes?’ And I slink away completely defeated, deflated. He was intimidating. I was intimidated…

The Nutt’s ‘Bomb Culture’ is still here on my shelf, it provided an art-anti-art ideological A-to-Z and brain napalm to me circa 1971. His exploded visceral black-ink straight-razor cartoons were essential cultural programming for the time. I saw his gigs, encountered him slumped-drunk one Tuesday in ‘The Cobourg’, a now-torched and vanished trad-jazz Leeds pub, while he was senior Fine Arts lecturer at the Polytechnic. He pursued life merrily and to the full, and drank with not always discreet dedication.

‘Bomb Culture’ is incendiary. A path through art’s subversive parallel universes. Both psycho-autobiography, manifesto, and exercise in style. The cover of the Paladin paperback edition has a ‘Sgt Pepper’-style collage cover, centred around a naked Allen Ginsberg. Behind him, fanning in an arc, are Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Marilyn Monroe, Brian Jones, Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, Spike Milligan, Timothy Leary, Jack Kerouac, John & Yoko, Jimi Hendrix, Vivian Stanshall. The essential, if unintentional shapers of the culture Nuttall defines. To strum the pages takes you through counter-culture history like clicking through a particularly hip search-engine. His range of references is impressively wide, each one fiercely opinionated.

For example, the Marquis De Sade anticipates dismemberments that the avant-garde will inflict onto formal classical art, annihilating the European aesthetic traditions. And it keeps doing it. Its conduits are the Futurists – ‘the strenuous pantheism of technology’, the Dadaists, Fauves, Bebop, Abstract Expressionists. Nuttall’s heroes are Picasso, Tristan Tzara, ‘the psychopathic genius of Charlie Parker’, Lenny Bruce, William Burroughs. Art is the spirit of perpetual revolution, ‘an explosive planted straight into the human subconscious to blow it off course.’ He notes, with approval, an anonymous 1968 Sorbonne graffiti proclaiming ‘Imagination Has Seized Power’, feeding the spirit of this continuity into ‘my own constructions’ of Action Painting, found-objects and ready-mades shot through with ‘overtones of social comment.’

In his flaring visionary perception, art is the wild-mercury force of perpetual opposition. Because art is ‘irrational in its nature, it can only be irrationally understood.’ He argues that ‘the economic structure works towards stasis centred around the static needs of man,’ but ‘culture, being the broad effect of art, is rootedly irrational and as such is perpetually operating against the economic workaday structure of society.’ Investigating origins, he writes that ‘morality was the province of church and hierarchy, the prime weapons of control and power,’ but ‘at the end of the eighteenth-century religion got caught out.’ It was around that time that ecclesiastical ritual was identified as ‘authoritarian hierarchies which defended exploitation and oppression in terms of the divinity of the social order. For man to be free, god, king, and the pope had to be dethroned.’

Yes, no argument there, but wait, if all morality is the province of the church, must all morality be dethroned too? Must all morality be extinguished in exactly the way that the ‘heads of the French divine authorities dropped into the basket?’ That’s probably too literate an interpretation. Can’t a form of morality exist without the superstructure of religion to enforce it? Surely, a more human morality can be rationally constructed without the superstitious imposition of cosmic deities – can’t it? Maybe back then in revolutionary France, the likes of the Marquis De Sade – newly liberated from divine totalitarianism, had an excuse, but not now after generations of free-thinking enlightenment. Nuttall would say that’s to argue logic and reason. Which is counter to his intuition. Art does not flow that way. To be pure, like jazz, it must be extemporised at the moment of creation, without precedent or consequence. That, too, is a kind of morality. But for Nuttall, it’s more about fierce gesture than parsing minutiae.

--- 0 --- 

Jeffrey Addison Nuttall was born in the Lancashire town of Clitheroe, on 8 July 1933. It was the place where 4’ 3” variety-comedian Jimmy ‘The Clitheroe Kid’ also started out. But for Nuttall and younger brother Anthony, there were richer memories of growing up in the small village of Orcop in the remote Herefordshire valleys where his father became schoolmaster. Despite his impatient adult energy-rush, he allowed space for sentiment, affection for cheap working-class culture, and the half-forgotten half-remembered music-hall entertainers of his childhood, ‘Chatterbox Annual’, Frank ‘King Twist’ Randle and Albert Sandler’s BBC ‘Palm Court Orchestra’.

 It was as a ‘frustrated’ twelve years old schoolboy, at war’s end, that his own art-story starts out by defining a clear distinction between two events, VE-day – ‘Victory in Europe’, which ends a global conflict with conventional weapons. Business as usual. And VJ-day – ‘Victory over Japan’, which ends in nuclear flashpoint that transfigures the world, for ever. As Timothy Leary explains it, the detonation of the first A-bomb was a ‘fire-break in history’, after which nothing could ever be the same again. Nuttall was alive, on the temporal faultline. And it constitutes a shift in perception, something felt on a cellular level even when not articulated. There in the advance tremors of the newly existential mindset he sees in hipsters such as Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, the Saint-Germain intellectuals, Norman Mailer’s ‘The White Negro’… and even the thuggish violence of the Rockers. Their dumb insolence is an intuitive response to impending apocalypse.

‘Bomb Culture’ is Cold War on the permanent brink of hot-button ignition. Two corrupt world-system superpowers armed to the teeth in thermonuclear brinkmanship. Shallow capitalism that reduces individuals to passive consumer units. Arthritic Soviet state-surveillance Communism ruthlessly crushing all dissent. Meanwhile, he attends various art schools, notably Corsham and the Bath Academy of Art. Lurch-forward to age twenty-two, and Nuttall is married to painter Jane Louch, working in a school and living in a cottage. He was nineteen, she was his twenty-five year-old tutor at the Hereford School of Art when they married. In November 1956 he hitchhikes back from a trip to London, to hear the shock radio-news about Budapest, as Soviet tanks crush the fragile Hungarian uprising. He donates ten-shillings to the protest-fund. He’d done National Service at Catterick, now he awaits the reservist call-up papers – which never come, that would have taken him off on Britain’s imperial venture into Suez.

Instead, Nuttall plays his cornet as part of the 7 April 1958 Aldermaston CND march, ‘against the death-wish.’ When the marchers eventually are brought up sharp to confront the barbed-wire perimeter of the nuclear launch-site ‘they didn’t walk in and smash it up, as some more realistic marchers had hoped.’ Nevertheless, there were gains – in a sense of generational solidarity, in that ‘they did discover that they were not alone.’ Christopher Logue was also on that first march. He was jailed as a ‘political prisoner in all but name’ for refusing to accept a court order to desist from demonstrating. Yet within a space of years Nuttall already considered the protest marches to have devolved into toothless ritual. To him, it was evident that more urgent direct-action was required as impending extinction seeped into popular culture all the way from ‘Dr Strangelove’ to Barry McGuire’s “Eve Of Destruction”, from Peter Watkins docu-drama ‘The War Game’ (1965), to the Kinks ‘I don’t feel safe in this world no more, I don’t want to die in a nuclear war…’ (in “Apeman”). Fuelling his sense of urgency.

Ever spoiling for a scrap, ‘a verbal bully’ according to Jeff Cloves, Nuttall never probes gently where a sharp jab will suffice. He treats the Labour Movement with sneering derision, scorns their union representatives, as well as their Angry Young aspirational Working-Class intellectuals. He ridicules the cosy-minded liberal left-wing intellectuals such as Ewan MacColl, or Pete & Peggy Seeger for being faithful to the ‘pathetic fallacy’ of placing issues before instinct so ‘mind and passion were robbed of any real authenticity and morality was consequently devitalised.’ He arrogantly condemns them for having ‘constructed a left-wing romanticism based on that patronising idealisation of the lumpen-proletariat that only the repressed children of the middle class could have contrived.’

For him, there’s no future. No future. Which renders all past theoretical structures, axioms, reference points, values and belief-systems void. Marxist and Socialist alike. ‘The only firm political ground for art’ is anarchism. The only art possible is the art of the absurd, of disgust, of transient self-destruction. All that exists is the sensations of now. The first unfiltered instinct is always best. Immediate. Intuitive. The creative impulse, above everything. The only lodestone is a vague and shifting hipness, a Beat art-mysticism. Direct action is the only action that counts. To hell with the consequences. Now. Now is all we have. Now is all that matters. Art no longer has the luxury of decades, or centuries to embed itself into culture. All it has is the moment. Celebrate the now before it vanishes into thermonuclear oblivion. The destination is the journey itself. Nuttall’s vision is a politics of ecstasy, a state of art-led permanent revolution.

In 1962, on a night-train from the ‘Salzburg Seminar In American Studies’, he decides CND has failed, symbolically ripping off his badge. Approaching thirty, impatient for something to start, living at 37 Salisbury Road in Barnet, he’s already accumulated seven unpublished novels (including ‘Chunky Palace’), with hundreds of big paintings and sculptures piled up in his studio. He reaches out, responds to an activist letter in the pacifist ‘Peace News’ (dated 13 July 1962), through which he meets Peter Currel-Brown, then through him Greek-Cypriot artist Criton Tomazos. Meanwhile, sound-poet Bob Cobbing is working at a nearby school as a French teacher.

It’s Cobbing who provides encouragement, and mimeograph-duplicates Nuttall’s first foray into ‘My Own Mag: A Super-Absorbent Periodical no.1’ (November 1963) – a four-page foolscap typewritten ‘paper exhibition in words, pages, spaces, holes, edges and images.’ He utilises ‘nausea and flagrant scatology’ in the form of a long Keith Musgrove poem “Piece Of Puberty” and his own ‘Perfume Jack’ picture-strip. Unlike the then-conventional mainstream cartoon, his energetic vortex of sketches and lines are seldom restrained by the neat confines of the frame, they explode in dripping smearing excess into each other and across the surrounding page. Even as you gawp, the grotesque shock-factor of visceral content spikes deep into your retina as merely another device to jolt reaction from the complacent space-time he’s marooned in. An intellectual revolt, but also an insurrection against the timid stultifying conformity of hung-over 1950’s conventions.

Against the odds the ‘Mag’ goes on to run for seventeen issues, through to September 1966 by which time Jeff’s relocated to Norwich and it’s grown to twenty-pages, costs just one old penny, and includes philo-delphic work from Charles Plymell and William Wantling (all issues are archived at ). ‘My direction was towards the aesthetic of obscenity’ he editorialises, and as early as no.2 (December 1963) – subtitled ‘An Odour-Full Periodical’, the mag is attracting contributors as luminous as William S Burroughs and Anselm Hollo. There’s a Dave Cunliffe strip – ‘The Thirty-Second Put-Down Of Two Literary Gentlemen’ splashed through the all-British no.10 (December 1964). Tracts of Burroughs’ ‘Dead Star’ are in no.13 (August 1965), with Allen Ginsberg, Miles, Michael McClure and Brian Patten. All of these names were – importantly, not yet what they would become. The mag’s very-limited distribution nevertheless sets up connections and kicks-in introductions across the fragmented elements of what would become the arts-underground. People working largely in isolation, doing outsider art, drawn together in recognition of their shared contra-gravitation. Defining what would be.

Peter Whitehead’s jaw-dropping flashback ‘Wholly Communion’ (1965, Lorrimer Films) was recently re-screened on TV, retrospecting the 11 June 1965 ‘Albert Hall Poetry Fest’. It is recalled as a day ‘of pot, impromptu solo acid dances, of incredible colour, of face and body painting, of flowers and flowers and flowers.’ A girl dances to the rhythm of Allen Ginsberg reading on-stage, Harry Fainlight declaims a poem on LSD (‘an immensely charismatic figure… a flaming angel of the damned’), a gruff Alex Trocchi is compering, Adrian Mitchell reads his powerful anti-Vietnam diatribe “To Whom It May Concern”, there’s also Pete Brown, Mike Horovitz, and Nuttall himself (dressed in blue paint). All is grizzled beards and monochrome intensity. Nuttall eulogises that ‘London is in flames. The spirit of William Blake walks on the water of the Thames.’ Watching the film now provokes thinking, could this happen again? Who’d they put on? Of course, the performers who were ingredients of the original event weren’t stellar then – part of its status is retro-perspective. But a comparable cast of incendiary Bardic luminaries doesn’t readily suggest itself.

In honesty, Nuttall’s own poems are not easy. Not always obvious. With few neat hooks to draw you in, or comic punch-lines for sugar-coating. He offers instead a sheer muscular energy uncoiling in a continuity of fleshy images. Man. Woman. Penis (‘in my pocket, my snake is a separate mover, my snake a usurper’ – the ‘only thing that, lacking bone, needs blood to stand up’). Vagina (‘an ancient thing… the deepest cave… the ultimate tunnel’). Flesh. Blood. Reproduction. The ‘pink knot clitoris’ through ‘thickets of guilty hair’ (“Hide & Seek”). Reduced down to the ‘ancient permanence’ of their most primal identity, as glimpsed in the grotesque archetypal Celtic sheelaghnagig on a Herefordshire church (“The Whore Of Kilpeck”). Beneath all human facades of dignity, decency, art, morality, is the moist flesh, the squidgy intestines, the messy-earth animal-reality. Uncertainty. Death.

Within ‘my usual barrage of assonance and alliteration…’ there is scatology, wilful obfuscation and verbal clowning. Creating a sense of mystique ‘I welcome ambiguity, only when it promotes the visibility of the poem itself, in terms of sound dynamics and composition.’ Striking a pose, in “I Stalk With The Razorblade Cranes” he writes of ‘the lunatic is in my skull’, very much like a future Pink Floyd lyric. He announces ‘I am hardly at all concerned with direct verbal/syntactical ‘meaning’’, yet when he does, as in his poem about the schoolmistress outraged by pupils canoodling in tight jeans, he’s perhaps setting up the issues a little too easily? The prim spinster schoolmarm is too obvious a target, in the Totteridge staffroom where ‘electric fire room fug and half-smoked fags, draws out the dank sour mould of menopause.’ Nuttall puts himself on the side of the kids, secretly approving their teen heavy-petting. Their youthful sex. Coming over as a slightly lecherous figure?

‘My driving force has always been a weird sense of duty’ he explains, ‘I have always felt that I must find some way of loving a world and a life which perpetually horrifies me. This leads from the pastoral mood into the difficult areas of s/m and absurdist humour… imagery and technique are, then, tools for me in this mandatory celebration.’

New exploratory tools arrive during the arctic-bitter winter of 1964, when William Burroughs arrives on a fourteen-day London stop-over. They’d corresponded. Nuttall had published Burroughs in ‘My Own Mag’. So he visits him at his Bayswater Hotel where the author of ‘Naked Lunch’ (1959) radiates a presence that ‘cut across me like a diamond’. I, too, recall that cool, almost imperceptible handshake. Burroughs speaks elliptically, shyly, and ‘dealt in clues and hints, never in explanations.’ There’s a pale junk-sick boy there, along with Anthony ‘Tony’ Balch the film-director of ‘Towers Open Fire’ (1963) who’d run into Burroughs (& Kenneth Anger) at the Paris ‘Beat Hotel’. An early advocate of the fruitful collision between art with horror and exploitation, Balch would die in April 1980. Together, the group bring out Nuttall’s worst ‘roaring boy’ contrarian instincts, provoking him to clumsy jibes ‘about queens and drag shows’ with him ‘half-determined to be as gauche and butch as possible,’ to Balch’s ‘hilarity and embarrassment’. This narrative, although exaggerated through Nuttall’s perspective, retains maybe a casual relationship with the truth.

Together, the mismatched crew go out to the drabbest egg-&-chips cafés along the Queensway, and ‘Old Nutty’ gets more than a little bit pissed and abusive. He slyly confides there’s always ‘a disengaged observer in my brain who never gets drunk but always watches for fun.’ A self-knowledge that whatever seemingly spontaneous confrontations he throws up, even as ‘thoughts rattled across my brain like disconnected bursts of machine-gun fire, the snide bastard in me watches me for kicks.’ It’s only later, two short months after the meeting, that it dawns on him, and he ‘got’ what Burroughs was attempting. The understanding ‘was like the Earth opening under your feet.’

After the Burroughs/Brion Gysin model, Nuttall began exploring the cut-up potential that would continue to inform his method, deliberately disrupting linear narrative while throwing up intriguing new random text-configurations and unexpected meanings. ‘The future was present in the subliminal cross-column readings, shuffle-ups, cut-ups, the chain of consciousness, the Jungian racial subconscious through which Artaud communicated with the so-called dead – rational communication comes nowhere near this area of mind.’ In the Dada-spirit of automatic-writing, hypnosis and auto-suggestion, it becomes a cerebral game, breaking down texts in order to scrutinise its relationship to consciousness. Exploring the recurring narratives that shape literature and culture, designed to amputate the authorial voice from the creative process, while yielding results of often startling originality. Putting the high-art idea of the Great Writer thoughtfully composing his Literary Masterpieces, carefully arranging his vocabulary and arsenal of punctuation, under the cosh, as thoroughly – and in exactly the same way as Abstract Expressionism swept away figurative art.

While in one art-continuum he exhibits his work in ‘Gallery One’ with ‘Group H’, at ‘Centre 42’ and the ‘Gallery Angela Flowers’, in another Nuttall perpetrates stunts and happenings in ‘a development of the aesthetic potential in the leavings of Dada.’ Performing a fake disembowelling with other members of the sigma arts group in the Charing Cross ‘Better Books’ basement, where Bob Cobbing was by-then manager (‘Sigma: A Tactical Blueprint’, May 1965). He co-founded, and appeared as part of the enduring ‘People Show’ experimental theatre company (from 1966), in connection with Jim Hayne’s Art Lab, then the ‘UFO’ club, spreading out into spontaneous improv-performances all across the country. ‘The great thing about the plot of this show is that everybody in the show has got a different notion about what the plot is…. it can go anywhere – I hope, the day the People Show knows where it’s going is the day I’ll be bored with it.’

What defines the word ‘underground’ probably came into being in New York around 1964, and irradiated outwards. Inhaling on its way an air of concrete and sound poetry (Cobbing), Jeff Cloves, John Latham, ‘the best of the English Beat-imitators’ Derek Roberts, Martin Bax (of ‘Ambit’), Alex Trocchi… in league with a proto-internet of duplicated-mag interconnections, ‘Moving Times’, ‘And’, Carl Weissner’s ‘Klactoveedsedsteen’, Mike Horovitz’ ‘New Departures’, Dave Cunliffe’s ‘Poetmeat’ (‘they charge Dave Cunliffe with publishing obscenity for gain’), and from the US ‘Yugeni’, ‘Big Table’, ‘Kulchur’ (‘although printed from type, and therefore reliant on a backer’), Ed Sander’ mimeo ‘Fuck You Press’ and the bedrock City Lights and Grove Press. Plus Doug Blazek’s ‘Olé’, and Ed Dorn’s hand-cranked ‘Wild Dog’. If orthodox publishing is the villain responsible for keeping verse caged in elevated academia – the ‘prerogative of literacy’, preventing oral poetry from being the mass commodity it had been in medieval times, the typewriter Molotov-cocktail duplicator-underground, Pop lyrics and spontaneous guerrilla readings are the antidote, liberating it from its ivory tower, ‘freed to the limits of language’. ‘All things coming under my senses quivered with crazy potential.’

What’s all this to do with nuclear angst and CND? Because it’s the spiritually bankrupt Death-Culture that begat Hiroshima, Budapest and the imminent atomic armageddon global-extinction event. The Thanatos-Trip is a deep sickness, a collective-suicide death-wish propelled by buttoned-down uptight fear, alienation and closed-in repression. The need to shatter the somnambulistic fatalism that’s plunging the planet over the annihilation-precipice makes liberation more than a natural right. It’s an urgent necessity. To poet Jeff Cloves, Nuttall was a ‘messianic teacher and catalyst, armed with brush, typewriter and cornet he set out not just to change the world, but to save it’. Protesting ‘there is no moderation in this corner of life.’

So how to combat that bleak social-mindset, how to ‘transform the mental climate of our society’? Through the various agit-prop subterfuges that Nuttall terms Andre Breton’s Marxist-Surrealism, to rupture and smash a ‘political correction through the dislocation of prevalent moral attitudes’ by using psychedelic drugs, by ‘breaking the deadlock of our destructive sickness’ via the Reichian orgasm, and through shock-&-awe art-provocation tactics. Which makes art and poetry more than just today’s consumer luxury hedge-fund investment, but a vital species survival-tool. ‘A cure for the Squares.’ An invisible insurrection. ‘The cultural revolution must seize the grids of expression and the powerhouses of the mind.’ Art must be of itself. ‘The danger, indeed the sickness, was the subjection of art to morality.’ Trusting intuition, Nuttall scorns all attempts at control – ‘art lives when values melt and present a situation of opportunity instead of certainty.’

As the decade draws to a close, and Nuttall already in his mid-thirties, he’s an integral part of art-insurrectionary counter-culture consciousness, through his presence in ‘Oz’, ‘It (International Times)’ as well as regional press ‘Styng’ – all tied in through the pulp-manifesto that is ‘Bomb Culture’ itself, tying its diverse strands into a kind of context of intellectual outsider-tradition. Nuttall does the remembering for us. If ‘Bomb Culture’ itself is flawed, it’s skewed because it was overtaken by the events he was attempting to shadow. As he notes, between completing the manuscript in Autumn 1967, and penning the preface the following Summer, the counter-culture world had changed, and changes seemed limitless. He was cliff-hangered by the insurrectionary explosion as ‘young people, under various pretexts, made war on their elders’ in ‘a sea of coloured shocks.’

And yes, there’s some psychedelic consciousness-expanding gobbledygook that’s very much of its time. For Nuttall makes an unconvincing Hippie. Yet he saw windows of opportunity in its pell-mell global-hypercolour culture of acidheads, phony visionaries, revolutionary bums and peace-freaks, in the ‘trendy frissons of the subculture’, to assert his own dialogue. As always, he works through arguments, discussions, plans, debates, schisms, madness, exhibitions and ego rivalries. If The Nutt’s ‘Bomb Culture’ was the highest point of his career-arc, a magnesium-flare lighting up all it touched, providing an art-anti-art ideological A-to-Z and brain napalm to me and everyone else circa 1971 – with implications I’m still working my way through, the revolution it proclaims mutated into newly unlikely forms, receded, counter-attacked through Punk, diversified in new paths. The CND he so dramatically quit has periodic revival-surges as new Cold War brinkmanships take the world to the edge. Until the Berlin wall comes down, and the USSR implodes…

--- 0 --- 

‘Bomb Culture’ is still there on my shelf. Still a blueprint to reprogramme expectations, to reinvigorate and fine-tune attitudes. Yet, five decades on from his declaring Year Zero, we’re still here, inconveniently the thermonuclear End of the World didn’t happen. Against expectation, the bombs have not fallen. The last B52 of the Cold War has been dismantled. Despite Nuttall rendering all past theoretical structures, axioms, reference points, values and belief-systems void, Marxist and Socialist alike, we who survive have nevertheless needed some kind of dualistic yes-no, good-bad, right-wrong, left-right moral litmus to guide us through it all. A truer secular morality, grown beyond the need for a superstructure of religion to enforce it.

Despite his aversion to committees he served as Chair of the National Poetry Society (1975-1976), and as lecturer at Bradford College of Art he served on the Yorkshire Arts Lit Panel where he supported my own ‘Eight Miles Higher’ publishing ventures. A rearguard action against the ‘slow disillusionment’ of what he terms ‘swingback’. In 1981 he became head of fine art at Liverpool Polytechnic. As an actor he could be seen in some forty movies and TV shows. He was Friar Tuck in a 1991 ‘Robin Hood’ with Uma Thurman and Edward Fox. Mr Wilson in ‘All Creatures Great & Small’. Rossiter in the ‘Bring Me The Head Of Arthur Daley’ episode of ‘Minder’ (1994). As Club Owner ‘Percy Murray’ in ‘Scandal’ (1989), the film about the Profumo affair. A lusty Landlord in ‘The Fortunes & Misfortunes Of Moll Flanders’ (1996). Dr Arkon to Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in ‘The World Is Not Enough’ (1999). As well as an episode of ‘Holby’, and an eccentric Lord in ‘Auf Weidershen Pet’. All strong character parts. He was a strong character. How they square with his art, I don’t know. Maybe because ‘I am not a rock, why should I be rigid?’ But they were fun to do. And they fund ongoing art projects.

Some many years later I witness him again, at his confrontational September 1990 art-exhibitions in ‘Lumb Bank’ Halifax. The ‘Jeff Nuttall Retrospective 1950-‘90’ is a sensory Blackpool Golden Mile of perverse and diabolical delights in a labyrinthine multi-unit ex-Mill complex – where his garish vivid paint-jobs trail-entrails through the ‘Dean Clough’ Gallery. ‘Ah – the hands of a genius, the breath of a drunk, and the touch of a dog’s tongue.’ From ‘Saturday Dance’ (1950), gouache, watercolours, linocuts, ceramic and mixed-media. His ink-drawn ‘Christ Figure’ is a penis. And he still outrages. A woman Fem-activist just wanders in, and is so outraged at the perceived sexist excess of one of his pieces – ‘Interiors: Suit-Case Stuffed With Torsos & Body-Parts’ exhibit, as ‘incitement to violence’, that – while I watch, she simply hefts it from the wall, walks out carrying it, and vanishes. Even as Nuttall is in mid-tirade, oscillating between perhaps amusement, and calculating the publicity value, against the loss of this painting. As earlier he’d bragged how work by Burroughs ‘and myself’ were confiscated by the police from Indica Bookshop, as a rite of passage. I don’t intervene, just observe.

A startlingly good exhibition. Sad and disturbing in equal parts, for Nuttall’s continuity is made up of huge absurdist energies, a life-affirming sensuality reeking with reality, yet hung over into a time of cultural somnambulism and blandness. I come out abuzz with the stuff, psychically re-charged, fine-tuned and ready to re-paint Yorkshire with new spectrums. He might have been sometimes mistaken, he might have been frequently wrong, but his energies are awesome. During his final years he shifted to the Celtic hinterland of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire where, inevitably he gravitated a writers collective around himself, and gave ‘chapter and verse’ of its meetings text-format in a lengthy essay to the ‘Observer’ (19 December 1993). He died on a Sunday – 4 January 2004, while leaving the ‘Hen & Chicks’ Pub where his Trad band had played lunchtime sets replicating his lifelong love of ‘blood-curdling music, full of gutbucket growls, glissandos and unadultered whorehouse lechery’.

Shall I tell you a secret? You must come close, bend very close, you need your ear to the ground to catch Nuttall’s contradictions. His very bones throb with gusty thoughts. He is fleshily corporeal and easily roused. Antagonistic, with a combative, confrontational alpha-male challenge that searches out weakness in potential rivals, based not on any of the regular status criteria, but a vaguely indefinable shifting measure of hipness. Contempt for, and a shit-radar for phoneys, poseurs and soft-left liberals. ‘Global Tapestry no.29’ published a taste-tingling posthumous Jeff Nuttall section, with Jeff Cloves catching Nuttall’s magnificent contradictions exactly as I remember them (‘flamboyant, effortlessly witty and an instinctive mimic’), as well as all that additional shambling anarcho-chaos elsewhere in the issue, seemingly untouched by the corrosion of years.

I met Nuttall. I felt considerably honoured. I think I said so. I meant to (Nuttall said these things about Burroughs). Elsewhere, in correspondence, poet Pete Faulkner also volunteers memories of meetings with Nuttall, more intimate than mine ever were. But then again, Pete is far prettier than I ever was.

We need awkward oddnesses like Jeff Nuttall. His loss diminishes us all…

Jeff Nuttall, manic polymath – poet, artist, and jazz-cornetist is dead, he’s joined the horn-section invisible. So Greg Corso is also dead. Adrian Henri’s no longer around either. It’s strangely unsettling. What’s going on? Is this just subjective Old Farticus-whinge yeah-yeah, or are we really becalmed in a corrosively bland time-zone? Where’s the insurrectionary anger, stupid surrealism, agit-anarcho-politico and ludicrous energy-levels of the Poetry Underground Presses roaring out of the 1960’s, or the Ranting Punk/Industrial xerox-zines of the 1970s/80’s with their insolent black cut-ups? Where are the magazines feeding off/plugging into the Animal Rights, anti-Global/Capitalism Movements? Where’s the trans-European multi-cultural kiss of shiny new century newness? On websites? On social media? If it’s out there, I’m not seeing it…! or is it just me?

(8 July 1933 – 4 January 2004) 

1963 – ‘POEMS’ Jett Nuttall & Keith Musgrove

1963 – ‘THE LIMBLESS VIRTUOSO’ by Jeff Nuttall & Keith Musgrove

1963 – ‘THE CHANGE’ by Allen Ginsberg. Published by Jeff Nuttall through the Writers Forum. Written on a train in Japan, the poem records Ginsberg’s realisation that meditation, not drugs, can better assist his enlightenment. To Nuttall it is ‘a poem whose colossal importance has scarcely yet been realised’ (in ‘Bomb Culture’)

1964 – ‘ROCK POT (ROCKPOT)’ Privately Printed 4to 16pp xerox style sheets. A poetry magazine featuring tough, raw poems by class 4C (‘Produced By 4c’) of an unnamed Yorkshire secondary school where Jeff Nuttall taught in 1964/1965. He was effectively editor (although not named). Contributors from the class of 1964 include Sonia Tofton, John Sterry, Fred Wonfer, Jennifer Johns, Gina Larkins, Keith Law and Dougie Tyldesley

1965 – ‘SON OF ROCK POT (ROCKPOT)’ by Jeff Nuttall (Privately Printed) 4to. 16pp xerox sheets. A follow-up featuring poems ‘Produced By 4c… from the class of 1965’ including Terry Allsopp, Robert Burgess, Darylin Foskett, Helen Tyler and Stephen Dummer. In his editor’s note Nuttall writes ‘More than ten years ago... Allen Ginsberg wrote a long poem about his generation called ‘Howl’… ten weeks ago...the Who made a record about their generation (which is, more or less, your generation) which consists largely of stuttering. In these poems 4C have borrowed the forms and techniques of Allen Ginsberg to put words where the Who could only stutter’

1965 – ‘POEMS I WANT TO FORGET’ by Jeff Nuttall

1966 – ‘COME BACK SWEET PRINCE: A NOVELETTE’ by Jeff Nuttall (Writers Forum)

1966 – ‘PIECES OF POETRY’ by Jeff Nuttall

1966 – ‘PEACE NEWS (2 September)’ issue includes Jeff Nuttall’s essay suggesting public shock-events as new CND strategy

June 1967 – ‘THE CASE OF ISABEL AND THE BLEEDING FOETUS’ by Jeff Nuttall (Turret Books Hardback, London 85469-048-4) 8vo, pp 63. Limited to 500 copies. Novelette, features the poem “In The Park” later collected in ‘Penguin Modern Poets no.12’

1967 – ‘SONGS SACRED AND SECULAR’ by Jeff Nuttall

1967 – ‘TURRET POETS READ’ Jeff Nuttall with George Macbeth & Kevin Crossley-Holland (Turret Books, London) Tall narrow 8vo (12.5cm x 28cm). Illustrated wraps. 1pp of stiff paper folded into three

1967 – ‘THE LAST TIMES Vol.1 No.1: Fall’ (edit Charles Plymell). Tabloid counter-culture newspaper featuring two Jeff Nuttall illustrations

1968 – ‘PENGUIN MODERN POETS no.12’ Jeff Nuttall with Alan Jackson & William Wantling (Penguin Books)

1968 – ‘BOMB CULTURE’ by Jeff Nuttall (MacGibbon & Kee Ltd, Paladin Granada Paperback edition 1970) Richard Neville writes that Jeff ‘compassionately if inaccurately, chronicles the rise and fall of British Conscientious Objection, with its beery, bearded, Jelly Roll Morton atmosphere, where characters lurch about ‘ill with anxiety about the bomb’, dizzily establishing Golders Green committees for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons… duffle coats and CND badges symbolised a new generational identity. For the young, being sad about the Bomb was fun’ (in ‘Playpower’, Paladin paperback)

1968 – ‘JOURNALS’ by Jeff Nuttall

1969 – ‘LOVE POEMS’ by Jeff Nuttall (Unicorn Books, Brighton) 4to. Illustrated wraps, bound with string. 26pp-unpaginated. Limited edition of 100

1969 – ‘MR WATKINS GOT DRUNK & HAD TO BE CARRIED HOME’ by Jeff Nuttall ‘a cut-up piece’

July 1969 – ‘PIG’ by Jeff Nuttall (Fulcrum, 85246-016-3) poem sequences ‘how long can they lock out the blood/ stop its seep through Woolworths floorboard vanishing railway lines’. William Burroughs writes the introduction, ‘Nuttall is one of the few writers today who actually handles his medium. He moves pieces of it from here to there using the repetition techniques of recurring themes in music… Jeff Nuttall touches his words’ (‘touches’ intallicised)

December 1970 – ‘JEFF NUTTALL: POEMS 1962-1969’ by Jeff Nuttall (Fulcrum, 85246-057-0)

1970 – ‘OSCAR CHRIST & THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION’ by Jeff Nuttall. Fiction (Writers Forum)

1971 – ‘WRITING FROM LEEDS POLYTECHNIC’ Edited by Jeff Nuttall (Art And Design Press, Leeds) Contributors Include Liz Bland, George Szirtes, Ken Wall, John Willis pp 52. Fourteen illustrations

1972 – ‘THE FOXES’ LAIR’ by Jeff Nuttall. Fiction (Aloes)

1975 – ‘FATTY FEEDEMALL’S SECRET SELF: A DREAM’ by Jeff Nuttall (Jack Press, 461 Huddersfield Rd, Wyke, Bradford)

1975 – ‘THE ANATOMY OF MY FATHER’S CORPSE’ by Jeff Nuttall

May 1975 – ‘MAN NOT MAN’ by Jeff Nuttall (Unicorn Bookshop, 85659-022-3), the preface reads ‘in ’68 the revolution failed…’

1975 – ‘THE HOUSE PARTY’ by Jeff Nuttall, Fiction (Basilika)

November 1976 – ‘SNIPE’S SPINSTER’ by Jeff Nuttall (Calder And Boyars, London, Hardback 7145-108-90) 8vo, 119pp. An attempt to kiss goodbye to ‘Bomb Culture’ in picaresque novel form, of the London of the ‘Middle Earth’ club, and ‘IT’, of Drury Lane and Better Books, the songs poems and books – each afforded its own footnote

April 1976 – ‘OBJECTS’ by Jeff Nuttall (Trigram Press, 22 Leverton St, London NW5. 66pp, 85465-047-4) Chris Cheek writes ‘his earlier work spat from the page with a lacerating edge of neurosis, frenziedly scratching all itches and breaking against rational structures. This new collection oozes into far, far mellower patterns than ever before and seems rather wistful by comparison’ (‘Oasis no.16’) ‘Sunday Times’ finds ‘an impressive gain in development and control’

1976 – ‘SUN BARBS’ by Jeff Nuttall (Poet & Peasant Books)

1977 – ‘COMMON FACTORS, VULGAR FACTIONS’ by Jeff Nuttall with Rodick Carmichael (Routledge & Kegan Publ), an investigation into popular arts. Ray Gosling calls it ‘a compilation of our pleasures in pictures and words from that England George Orwell introduced into the essay and Donald McGill onto the postcard…’ (‘New Society’)

1977 – ‘AMBIT no.69’ magazine includes Jeff Nuttall’s Play ‘Meadowgrass Writhing’. He also contributes poems to no.26 (1965/6), no.48 (1971), no.58 (1974), and articles to no.79 (1979). He’s also in many other magazines, including ‘PRISM’, ‘LONG HAIR’, ‘BULLETINS FROM NOWHERE’, ‘NORTH’.

1978 – ‘KING TWIST: A PORTRAIT OF FRANK RANDLE’ by Jeff Nuttall (Routledge Keegan & Paul, October). A personalised biography of the Music-Hall comedian, ‘very very funny man’ and one-time rival of George Formby – ‘A Jewel On The Nation’s Arse’, which is also the story of Nuttall’s own research as he pieces the portrait together by talking to Randle’s acquaintances, friends, colleagues and relations. ‘What emerges is a beautifully-recorded analysis of the ways in which working-class values are expressed in popular entertainment and are thus ritualised by it’

1978 – ‘THE GOLD HOLE’ by Jeff Nuttall. Fiction (Quartet, hardback, 2119X, £3.95) ‘Sunday Times’ says that it ‘reads like a cross between William Burroughs and Dylan Thomas, with the sad dementia of sex cushioned within the reassuring rhythms of an old dispensation. ‘The Golden Hole’ itself is a pregnant metaphor for a whole range of sweaty passions, kinky gestures and violent obscenities in which the text is submerged’

1978 – ‘THE PATRIARCHS’ by Jeff Nuttall. Fiction (Beau & Aloes, Arc Publications) 40pp, Limited edition of 300 with Nuttall illustrations. A package tour of the spiritual life of the mid-pennines, from the Ilkley Arts Festival to the ‘sudden crags that define England out of the female sea as stance defines man out of the womb’

1978 – ‘WHAT HAPPENED TO JACKSON’ by Jeff Nuttall. Fiction (Aloes Books, 48pp) Thinly disguised autobiographical novelette. Sex, guilt and jealousy in and around Leeds. Good standard Nuttall prose, though not his best

1979 – ‘GRAPE NOTES, APPLE MUSIC’ by Jeff Nuttall (Rivelin Press) poems in three parts, ‘Prayers’, ‘Strategies’ & ‘Visitations’. Edition of 500 copies

1979/1980 – ‘PERFORMANCE ART’ by Jeff Nuttall. Memoirs of The People Show, plus original scripts in two volumes (Calder). He includes a Rose McGuire drawing of a train of cartoon elephants and two dripping penises with the legend ‘piddly biddly boo who are yoo’, which was sketched ‘to spur the author’s imagination’, he interprets it by ‘walking stiffly along the kerb on tiptoe with my cheeks full of milk. Every few yards I spurted a splash of milk out onto the pavement’

1981 – ‘5X5’ by Jeff Nuttall with Glen Baxter, Ian Breakwell, Ivor Cutler & Anthony Earnshaw (Edit: Asa Benveniste)

1982 – ‘MUSCLE’ by Jeff Nuttall, his tenth volume of fiction

 1982 – ‘MANUSCRIPT CORRESPONDENCE ABOUT MUSCLE’ by Jeff Nuttall. Two long signed letters (one handwritten in 1976), to a Ken and Julia mainly about sexual politics arising from a controversial piece by Nuttall in the periodical ‘NOT POETRY’ titled ‘Muscle’. They mainly concern the political incorrectness and abusive strain seen by this couple in Nuttall’s writing – particularly in a lowlife comedian in the story called Terry Bunn who is more Les Dawson than Lenny Bruce. Nuttall’s spirited responses indicate he was trying to deal with ‘the pathetic error of sexual aggression’ but he still regards feminism as ‘potentially destructive as Nazism’. Ken and Julia’s letters are also present in this small archive. Plus a short handwritten signed resume and a typed/corrected page from an earlier work in progress (1976)

1987 – ‘VISUAL ALCHEMY’ by Jeff Nuttall

1989 – ‘THE BALD SOPRANO’ by Jeff Nuttall. A prose-portrait of jazzer Lol Coxhill

1989 – ‘THE NEW BRITISH POETRY 1968-‘88’ (Paladin) with Nuttall’s ‘I stalk with the razorblade cranes, my pinhead reeling / wing power in the white light…’

1999 – ‘ART & THE DEGRADATION OF AWARENESS’ by Jeff Nuttall (Calder Publications)

2002 – ‘WEASEL’ (Jack Press)


December 2003 – ‘SELECTED POEMS’ by Jeff Nuttall (Salt Modern Poets, 264pp) introduction by Roy Fisher

2004 – ‘JEFF NUTTALL: A CELEBRATION’ edited by Robert Bank & Tony Ward (Arc Publications, ISBN 1-904614-08-6, £10 from Arc, Nanholme Mill, Shaw Wood Rd, Todmorden, Lancashire OL14 6DA Tel: 01706-812338)

Monday, 17 March 2014

Live: Utah Saints at the Leadmill


at ‘The Leadmill’, Sheffield 

‘The thing’s hollow – it goes on for ever, and – Oh my god, it’s full of stars!’ breathes David Bowman as he melts through the ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) Star Gate and swirls into Stanley Kubrick’s ‘ultimate trip’. It’s happening now on these screens arched around the strobe-drenched ‘Leadmill’ stage as Utah Saints electro-syncopate blips and spatters of “Solution”. Visuals flash up at blur speed. It begins with ‘COMPUTER MALFUNCTION’ then dissolves into psychedelic waves of awesome color.


And already it’s a night of seductive contrasts. Rawhead are made of mutated metal from Manchester, fronted by Dave Hicks who co-wrote “Seven Reasons” with Peter Hook as part of New Order’s spin-off band Revenge. ‘Hey, Sheffield is cooler than Manchester’ he grins through Jim Morrison shocks of hair over a music to dress up and carry a whip to. The guitars lodge midpoint between Motorhead and the Ramones. But there’s a subterfuge of sequencers that kick the melange into new fusions that occasionally achieve spectacular lift-offs, as in “Come With Me” – probably a sexual innuendo, with Dave howling ‘twenty-first century in your eyes’ as the dance-floor erupts.

Then, from nowhere – well, from Leeds actually, Utah Saints inflicted two of the decade’s most audaciously cheeky dance hits into the Top Ten. But they’re raiders, not just traders. The beats are exquisitely agitated, driving the images to distraction, and they perform linguistic origami with their samples. In a sonic promo for the advancement of ludicrous shorts ‘Surfin’ Jez Willis plays with a Sci-Fi gallery of keyboard-axes strewn with a pinboard of lights and digital windows. While DJ Tim Garbutt squats atop his decks to drop phrases and breaks from his twelve-inch imports into the jittery hyperactivity of speed-driven rhythms. The excitement is unreal – in the exact sense that it’s not always obvious who plays what.

Keith ‘Doctor Douglas’ Langley attacks the drum-pads and re-re-repeats the YOU-YOU-YOU-UTAH SAINTS group identification logo. Lee Dyson plays keyboards, and Pelegrino Riccardi feeds frantic percussion. But the Utah’s is a disfigured portraiture, a junk sculpture of exhumed Pop relics, scored, gouged, scribbled and daubed on. Kate Bush, Annie Lennox and Philip Oakey flit like ghost characters from an identity parade – or a firing squad, fed into the mix and deliciously mulched.

They open with “New Gold Dream” – figures vibrate on the screens, “82-83-84”, then “What Can You Do For Me?”, Nintendo simulations of the Planet Fortuna, Elvis 1967, the new single “I Want You”, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and “Gimmie Shelter” – new twists on the Rolling Stones’ war-children classic from the ‘Putting Our House In Order’ (1993, Food Records) charity compilation.

Utah Saints can only belong to the 1990’s. The perfect post-industrial Pop. They finish with “Something Good” and Hal’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ ‘LIFE FUNCTIONS TERMINATED’ punch-line. And for a moment of stunned suspension, the Leadmill noise nightclub communes with the cosmos.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Classic Album: 'THE SHADOWS' debut LP


There aren’t many classic landmark 
pre-Beatles British Rock ‘n’ Roll albums. 
Billy Fury’s ‘The Sound Of Fury’ is one. 
The other was released in September 1961 – 

 Newcastle. You think The Animals… or maybe Sting or Bryan Ferry. But long before them, Brian ‘Hank B Marvin’ Rankin and Bruce Welch (aka Bruce Cripps) descended from their native Newcastle to play a National Skiffle Group competition in London. They didn’t win, they came third, but when the rest of their Railroaders quintet split for home, the duo stayed. With an astute eye for opportunity they hooked up with Pete Chester, drummer son of popular comedian Charlie whose celebrity-connections opened up career-doors that years of gigging would never have done. The group got to appear on Jack Good’s BBC-TV show ‘6.5 Special’, and even got to make a record, as the Five Chesternuts – “Jean Dorothy” c/w “Teenage Love”, produced independently at the Phillips studio and then leased to Columbia.

It’s 1958, British Rock ‘n’ Roll was in its infancy. As Bruce would relate decades later, they’d not come into the Rock industry, for that did not yet exist. They came into showbiz. Yet despite such mitigation, the record is not very good. There are tap-tap-tapping bongo’s and squeaky harmonica, a repetitive lyric that goes ‘Jean Dorothy, you know I love you’ – little more, in close harmony with built-in Buddy Holly hiccup, and a ‘la-la-la’ break. Flip the record over and it’s scarcely much better, a solo voice for the verse, with harmonies joining for the chorus. Teenage love is a wonderful thing they insist to jaunty acoustic strum, ‘when will I find mine?’ ‘Teenage’ is the vital catchall word, the new consumer demographic. Say it enough times and it’ll connect with the target audience – that ‘pretty girl in skintight jeans’... won’t it? Actually no. For this ‘couple of turtle-doves’ there was to be no happy ending.

 With the group in temporary abeyance Hank and Bruce worked the famous Soho ‘2i’s coffee bar, incidents much later mocked-up fairly accurately when the Shadows play “Bongo Blues” in a sequence in the ‘Expresso Bongo’ (1959) movie. But first, the ‘2i’s visibility got them touring on the same bill as surly young Rocker Cliff Richard – his dramatic stage-gestures choreographed by Jack Good, and they were quick to spot his potential, and astutely up-switch by infiltrating his backing group, the Drifters. Drawing in Jet Harris (with the Most Brothers on the same tour), and schoolboy drummer Tony Meehan.

Cliff had already accidentally created Britain’s first Rock ‘n’ Roll classic single. Intended as a ‘B’-side for the whistling sweet-Pop cover of Bobby Helms’ “Schoolboy Crush”, “Move It” – a song thrown together by Ian Samwell on the top deck of a bus, was recorded with distorted sound-levels. Not that it mattered. No-one would pay any attention. But Jack Good, by then graduating to the independent ABC-TV network, was sharp enough to recognise its potential. He made “Move It” the headline track for his new Saturday evening ‘Oh Boy!’ TV-show, and as a direct result it shot to no.2 in the chart, 25 October 1958. Despite a pretty strong follow-up in “High Class Baby”, each subsequent single charted a couple of slots lower than the previous one, and it seemed as though his star was already waning.

Issued in December 1958, the third Cliff Richard single, and the first to feature the full Hank, Bruce, Jet and Tony line-up of the Drifters was “Livin’ Lovin’ Doll” c/w “Steady With You”, which reached no higher than no.20 on the ‘New Musical Express’ chart on 14 February 1959, way beneath Elvis at no.1 with “I Got Stung”. Things would get better.


From the start it was clear that the Drifters intended to be an act in their own right. Their first group single – “Feelin’ Fine” c/w “Don’t Be A Fool With Love” came as early as January 1959. A marked development on their Chesternuts venture, it still has some way to go. In Ian Samwell’s ‘A’-side song he’d ‘stolen a little kiss’ and was about to ask her for a date. He’s in love and that’s why he’s feeling fine. There’s a full-throated yell before the instrumental break, and the fast-harmonies are tight. Still derivative, but getting there. The Pete Chester-penned flip is more choppy, with stepped vocal breaks and a lyrical warning that love only knocks once.

Nevertheless the Drifters get to feature on his debut LP ‘Cliff’ in April 1959. Recorded ‘live’ in the studio in a single extended take, it allowed space for three group tracks, a first outing for “Jet Black” – with novelty stepped-voices pronouncing the title, plus a frantic Everly Brothers harmony-style arrangement of “Be-Bop-A-Lula”. The third track, the instrumental “Driftin’” – broken by ‘1-2’, shouts and whoops and, on the LP alone, a ‘yeah mon’ in mock-Caribbean accent, was also redone as the ‘B’-side of their July second single. The subsequent studio version of Jet Harris’ moody bass-heavy “Jet Black” (July 1959) is easily their most powerful statement to date, and a clear indication of the direction their future success would take. But it didn’t chart, and they returned to vocals for their third single.

Within months they’d added a further track – the instrumental “Chinchilla”, to the soundtrack EP of Cliff’s game-changing movie debut ‘Serious Charge’. Although, with trilling piano in the mix it’s not yet what we’d think of as their ‘sound’. With the finances of the domestic film-industry balanced on a knife-edge, getting a Pop star a minor role in a movie was a calculated subterfuge to broaden its box-office appeal towards commercial viability. Starring Anthony Quayle as a beleaguered Holy Joe vicar ‘A Man Of Peace, Pushed To The Limit!’, other names – Andrew Ray and even Wilfred Brambell, take care of the acting. Cliff and the Drifters are virtually non-speaking juvenile delinquents who do three numbers in a coffee-bar scene. One of the songs is Lionel Bart’s “Living Doll”. The song that would reverse Cliff’s decline, and become his career-defining hit. The reason Marty Wilde had originally rejected the song becomes clearer when you listen to the original soundtrack version, which follows the songwriter demo where it’s done as a jumpy Tommy Steele-style Rocker. In the studio it was radically redesigned, slowed down. When it was pastiched decades later by the Young Ones – who also took it to no.1 (in March 1986), they were perceptive enough to recognise that, with the strummed acoustic guitar and the echoed vocal clarity, it was Hank’s pealing mid-point electric guitar solo that stands out as a vital element of its success.

Once established, forming the same kind of tight mutually-supportive gang-structure that the Beatles would use, the Shadows became an integral visual and musical element of Cliff’s image and continuing success – outdistancing every other Rock ‘n’ Roll pretender on the scene. Their vocal harmonies as well as twinkling guitars are very much part of the appealing “Don’t Be Mad At Me”. And their TV performance of “Willie And The Hand Jive” starts out with Cliff central, flanked by Hank and Bruce with their backs to the camera, then turning to add the ‘bow-oom, a du-du’ chorus. But more than that, they also set about feeding their singer original ‘B’-sides, album tracks and even hit songs too (clear through to “The Day I Met Marie” in August 1967). They later joked about Cliff’s unshakably single-minded career-focus, yet they were opportunistically slanting their lyrics with an eye to the American market – writing ‘gee whiz, it’s you’ for the ‘Me And My Shadows’ (October 1960) album, spun-off as a no.4 single (in March 1961). And it was the American tour in support of “Living Doll” that brought them into litigation with Ben E King’s Drifters of “Save The Last Dance For Me” fame, adding the final ingredient, when Jet Harris suggested an alternate name to imply their status as Cliff’s ‘shadows’.

When, much later in the mid-sixties, they issued a few vocal singles they were accused of Beat Group bandwagon-jumping (and later still they did a stint as a Crosby, Stills & Nash-style vocal trio Marvin, Welch & Farrar!). But they’d always aspired to do the singing bits too. Their first single as the Shadows, “Saturday Dance” c/w “Lonesome Fella” (1959) was Pop-catchy harmony-vocals. ‘Jump into my hot-rod car’ invites the top-side penned by Hank with Pete Chester, Bruce contributing novelty deep-voice breaks. The flip adds doo-wop backing vocals, reminiscent of the Dell Vikings’ “Come Go With Me”, to Jet’s melancholy lead voice. It was only when these early singles failed to chart, and during a tour with aspiring Popster Jerry Lordan, who plays them his composition “Apache” on a ukulele backstage, that they seriously took the instrumental route. Producer Norrie Paramor wasn’t convinced. He preferred “Quartermasters Stores” – you can’t go wrong jazzing up a knock-about familiar tune. But he was proved wrong when “Apache” nudged Cliff Richard & The Shadows’ “Please Don’t Tease” from no.1 and took the slot (20 August 1960) where it stayed for six weeks, setting the bar for the British Rock guitar for a decade.

Bert Weedon’s contribution to Rock history was his guitar-tutor ‘Play In A Day’. When I saw him perform as part of a ‘Seaside Special’ variety show in Scarborough, with some sleight of hand he announced ‘this is a tune I recorded, which got to no.1’, to polite applause. Well yes, he did record “Apache”, and it did get to no.1. But not for him!

The theory was that girls drooled over the dishy fan-mag photo-spreads of Cliff, as the boy’s studied Hank’s fingering on the fret of his red Fender Stratocaster, while practicing the Shadows stylish lock-step choreography. But the Shadows didn’t have the scene entirely to themselves. There were others, fondly recalled in such magazines of ‘Beat Instrumental’ – the Ventures, String-a-longs, Spotnicks, Joe Meek’s Fabulous Flee-Rekkers, and later, the Dakotas. But with each new single – “Man Of Mystery” (no.5, November 1960), “FBI” (no.6, February 1961), “Frightened City” (no.3, May 1961), “Kon-Tiki” (no.1, September 1961) and “The Savage” (no.10, November 1961), the dramatic rhythm-led Shadows tightness put them streets ahead. Everyone aspired to the Shadows polished side-step presentation and clean tremolo guitar style – clear up until Jimi Hendrix altered the rules by deliberately utilising feedback and distortion. Even John Lennon refused to appear on-stage wearing his glasses in case it was thought he was aping Hank!


My cousin Martin played bass along to Shadows records in his bedroom in Bridlington. It was his copy of ‘The Shadows’ debut album (September 1961) that I first heard. As the sleeve photo shows, it is also the only original album that features the ‘classic’ line-up of Hank, Bruce, Jet and Tony. Jet Harris is leaning nonchalantly on the neck of his bass, reading something that might be a fan-letter. Hank, in trademark horn-rim specs glances across at it from the right. Bruce sits in a chair, he’s the only group-member who seems aware of the camera, smiling a lopsided grin into the lens. Tony sits preoccupied on a cushion on the floor, beside his snare-drum, arm resting on his knees. The photo is one of a sequence taken at the photo-shoot, others have cropped up elsewhere, including one on the cover of ‘The Shadows: Just About As Good As It Gets’, a CD compilation issued in 2011. Look closer, they’re casually dressed in patterned sweaters, Tony wears white sneakers. Unlikely musical revolutionaries.

Turn the sleeve over and there’s an insert black-and-white photo of the group backing Cliff in dramatic pose, to accompany Cliff’s liner notes. Placed on either side of the text are two more photos, Hank and Jet on the left, Bruce and Tony on the right. At the foot of the text, dividing the track-listing is a photo of the group with producer Norrie Paramor. And on the album grooves they persist with vocal cuts too. Jet appealingly sings lead harmony-voice on “All My Sorrows”, lyrically adapting the traditional “All My Trials” long before it became part of the Bob Dylan-era folkie repertoire… and before Elvis did it as a segment of his Mickey Newbury-penned “American Trilogy”. The Shads were there first. Well – almost, they’d originally found and adapted the song, minus its social-political references, from a version by the Kingston Trio, applying what Hank termed the Railroaders’ Skiffle-approach of using acoustic Folk or Work songs. Next, Hank sings lead on their version of the Crickets’ “Baby My Heart”. With no lyric-sheet to hand he simply sings the same verse twice. Then Bruce croons a cheesy “That’s My Desire” on side two, an oldie they’d picked up from a Dion & The Belmonts song-publishers import.

 But first, opening side one, “Shadoogie” is a determined opening statement of intent. About as perfect a representation of the Shadows ‘sound’ as anyone could have hoped for. It was adapted by all four group members using “Guitar Boogie” – an Arthur Smith instrumental from 1948, as template. In fact they’d been performing the original as part of their stage routine up until a month prior to the first album sessions, and captured it live for a BBC Light Programme ‘Saturday Club’ broadcast – as the Drifters, as early as 1959. It had also been done as a chart hit by Bert Weedon as “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” – reaching no.10 on 6 June 1959. But for the album they reconfigure the track dramatically until it has all the sharp up-tempo signature flourishes of their best singles.

 “Blue Star” is more reflective, indicating that they can take other’s material, and reweave it into their own. “Nivram” – another group original, it’s giveaway title spelling ‘Marvin’ backwards, moves around an effortlessly memorable melody-line, with Bruce and Hank – on a Gretsch, playing close dual guitar, with strong walking bass mid-section and a slick hook that was made to soundtrack the animated opening credit sequence of a hip caper movie, or a TV secret agent series. “See You In My Drums” is a Tony Meehan showcase, its percussive solos looking forward to the precise fills on “Diamonds” or “Scarlet O’Hara”, defined by guitar quotes. Closing side one, “Stand Up And Say That” – also written by Hank, borrows the Floyd Cramer Steinway piano style, as an ingredient to add variety.

Flip the album over and “Gonzales” – with Hank on Fender Stratocaster and Bruce playing acoustic, has something of the free-spirited Western-movie ‘theme’ harking back to “Shane” and “Giant” from ‘The Shadows’ EP of January 1960. An extended-play quartet of titles that precedes, and predicts “Apache” by six months. “Find Me A Golden Street” with Hank’s chiming narrative lead figure, never became part of the Shadows live set. Restricted to just thirty-minutes on stage, they already had hits aplenty. The only place you find it is here, track two side two on the album. “Theme From A Filleted Place”, with its neat twin guitar hook, shows early evidence of Hank’s fondness for title-puns – preceding “Genie With The Light Brown Lamp” and “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Arthur”. “My Resistance Is Low” is another oldie with a long pedigree, from the Hoagy Carmichael sequence in Howard Hughes 1952 film ‘The Las Vegas Story’ and subsequently done by Georgie Fame and Elvis Costello. The Shadows wisely eschew vocals, and interpret it as an up-tempo 1:58-minute instrumental. The penultimate “Sleepwalk” was lifted from Santo and Johnny’s 1959 hit, abbreviated to 2:48-minutes for the tight album edit. A longer 3:11-minute version on the limited-edition ‘Live At The Colosseum’ EP (which also features “Guitar Boogie”), recorded in Johannesburg 23 May 1961 during a South African tour, is allowed to stretch out more effectively. The four tracks from the EP are now included on the ‘As Good As It Gets’ anthology to compare and contrast the two takes. Closing the album, “Big Boy” is a fast guitar work-out, with choppy rhythms and muted shouts of encouragement barely audible in the mix, slowing into the final fade-out groove.

If the album has a sanitised sound, with no hint of distortion allowed to interfere with its sonic clarity, that’s what they were aiming for. It was recorded in business-like sessions at Abbey Road studios. Setting up the equipment, then playing and singing it virtually as a live performance. Producer Norrie Paramor expected the group to come in with a fully worked-out set of arrangements, allowing no space for time-wasting improvisation or experiment. They’d already learned and rehearsed each piece, so the actual recording process was pretty much a formality, with the producer controlling only the sound-balance and mix. ‘We’d go in knowing what we were going to do’ explained Hank later. Although the Shadows debut LP must have been viewed as a lucrative prospect, it was only teen-Pop, and hence not worthy of the studio-time lavished on ‘serious’ music. Yet within weeks of release it was no.1 in the newly-inaugurated ‘Record Retailer’ chart, and stayed on the listings for a full fifty-seven weeks. Now, decades later, it stands as a landmark album in the evolution of British Rock.


Tony Barrow, writing the liner-notes for their first LP ‘Please Please Me’ (1963), makes a point of drawing attention to Disc Jockey Brian Matthew describing the Beatles ‘as visually and musically the most exciting and accomplished group to emerge since the Shadows.’ Barrows goes on to say how Muriel Young had begun to introduce the guests on Radio Luxembourg’s ‘Friday Spectacular’ and gets no further than ‘John… Paul’ before they were recognised. ‘I cannot think of more than one other group – British or American – which could be so readily identified and welcomed by the announcement of two Christian names.’ The other names he’s thinking of are obviously ‘Hank… Bruce.’

As Bruce once related, the Shadows came into showbiz, because the Rock industry did not yet exist. If, a short five years later, by the time the Beatles emerged, there was the semblance of a burgeoning Rock industry there for them, that was at least in part due to what the Shadows had achieved during the interim period. Yet with some irony, what happened in 1963 was seen as the new youth upsurge toppling the establishment stars, even though both groups were very much within the same age-range. Taken collectively – Beatles and Shadows, Jet Harris was the oldest (born 6 July 1939), but Ringo Starr was second oldest (7 July 1940). Youngest was Tony Meehan (2 March 1943), with George Harrison second youngest (25 February 1943). Between the two extremes there was John Lennon (9 October 1940), Hank Marvin (28 October 1941), Bruce Welch (2 November 1941), and Paul McCartney (18 June 1942). It’s not that they were older, it’s just that the Shadows started out younger.

Briefly, during the early months of 1963, they established a kind of unique unbroken record when first Cliff & The Shadows were no.1 with “The Next Time” c/w “Bachelor Boy”, to be replaced by the Shadows “Dance On”, to be replaced in turn by Jet Harris & Tony Meehan’s duo hit “Diamonds”. By then, things were already changing beneath them. Within months the deluge of Merseybeat groups would reconfigure Pop forever. The Shadows, of course, not only survived, but went on to have many more years of hits and tours. But those details belong to another feature. For now, we’ll relocate the stylus to the play-in groove side one track one of ‘The Shadows’ debut LP…

‘THE SHADOWS’ (September 1961, Columbia SX1374 mono, SCX3414 stereo) produced by Norrie Paramor.
Side one (1) “Shadoogie” by Hank, Bruce, Jet and Tony, (2) “Blue Star” originally written by Victor Young as theme-tune for 1955 TV series ‘Medic’, given lyrics by Edward Heyman, a UK no.2 hit for Cyril Stapleton & His Orchestra with Julie Dawn vocals in September 1955, (3) “Nivram” – spells ‘Marvin’ in reverse, by Hank, Bruce and Jet, (4) “Baby My Heart” by Sonny Curtis – friend of Buddy Holly, who he replaced as Crickets lead singer following Buddy’s death, with Hank Marvin vocal, (5) “See You In My Drums” by Tony Meehan, (6) “All My Sorrows” by Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds, lead vocal by Jet Harris, (7) “Stand Up And Say That” by Hank Marvin.
Side two (1) “Gonzales” by ‘McGlynn’ which is a Hank and Bruce alias, (2) “Find Me A Golden Street” by Norman Petty – producer and songwriter for Buddy Holly, (3) “Theme From A Filleted Place” by Hank, Bruce and Jet, (4) “That’s My Desire” by Helmy Krease and Carroll Loveday, with Bruce Welch lead vocal, (5) “My Resistance Is Low” by Hoagy Carmichael, (6) “Sleepwalk” by Ann, Santo and Johnny Farina with Don Wolf, a US no.1 for Santo & Johnny in September 1959, (7) “Big Boy” by Hank and Bruce

‘AS GOOD AS IT GETS: THE ORIGINAL RECORDINGS 1958-1961’ by THE SHADOWS (2013, Smith & Co SCCD 2480) This valuable 2CD set collects everything the Shadows did across those first years, from the earliest material, the Chesternuts, the Drifters, the full first album, and both sides of their first six hit singles, including all four tracks from a rare live South Africa-only EP plus a BBC session from the Light Programme

‘THE SHADOWS PLUS OUT OF THE SHADOWS’ (2014, Hoodoo Records) the full remastered fourteen tracks from ‘The Shadows’ debut LP, plus the full thirteen tracks from their second LP ‘Out Of The Shadows’ – with Brian Bennett replacing Tony Meehan. With bonus tracks “Apache”, “Dance On” and a ‘Live at the Colosseum version of “F.B.I.”

Friday, 14 March 2014

New Book: 'The Kindest Lies: The Lyrics Of John Lyle'

ISBN 978-1-909849-01-3 Softcover 172pp 

Rock ‘n’ Roll he gave you the best years of his life. Following early group projects and rootsy solo albums John returned home to Vancouver to work a postal round. Learning that Paul Rodgers happened to be staying over along his delivery route he slips a demo of songs into the mailbox. After a tactful pause the Free/Bad Company frontman – ‘down to earth, just another guy’, follows him down the street enthusing about the songs. But never records any of them. Then moviemaker Robert Altman gets John to record some backup Leonard Cohen songs for the soundtrack of ‘McCabe & Mrs Miller’ (1971) in case of licensing problems with Laughing Len’s originals. There are no problems, and John’s Sisters Of Mercy’ and the rest get shelved. John meets Bob Dylan too. Or rather, stands beside him at the 1972 Mariposa Festival. Neither spoke. A book of poetic lyrics is difficult if you don’t know the songs already. You can get them from iTunes or hear snatches on his CDBaby page, enough to entice and maybe buy some. His slurred rough-edged story-telling voice adds bitter-humour dimensions to the page. But the lonesome cowboy shaggy-dog ‘There’s A Hole In My Lariat’ stands up without. And this engaging pick ‘n’ dip anthology is interspersed with anecdotes from the personal rim of Rock, like catch-up bulletins from an old friend. Intrigued? You should be!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Poem: 'The Pyramids Of Saturn'


Ganymede nights are silk winged
like the kiss of blindness,
we wait for a sunrise
that never comes, mapping
braille topography with
slender steel fingers…

until the pinpoint stars
become crazy with illusion,
holes in the dome of sky in a
mildewed night that’s eternal
and there’s nothing else
but darkness

that’s when you
start hitting switches,
just to watch lights stab,
echoing white constellations
of cold fire across methane ice,
enchanting a soft rain of vacuum
irrupting and draining away
into foetal void

making these
accusing shadows
into the skeletal
pyramids of Saturn

Published in:
‘THE MENTOR no.33’ (September 1981 - Australia)
‘ABERRATIONS no.17’ (USA - April 1994)
and in collection:
‘EUROSHIMA MON AMOUR’ Hilltop Press (UK-Oct 2000)

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

SF Classic: 'CITY' by Clifford D Simak


 is an established award-winning Sci-Fi classic. 
How does it stand up to the passage of decades? 


Dogs, like cats, do not have opposable thumbs. Which means they can’t grasp, handle or shape objects. When it comes to a species replacing human beings in some conjectural future-history, this puts them at a distinct disadvantage. Science Fiction has frequently ruminated on who or what will inherit the world once the human race has shuffled off to extinction. Those bets that have not gone to machines or artificial-intelligences have gone to insects who, although individually incapable of all that opposable-thumbs stuff, use a kind of hive-mind specialisation that enables them to achieve things collectively. Otherwise, the most obvious world-inheritors are other hominid species. Making the Earth a ‘Planet Of The Apes’. There are movies, and re-imagined remakes of movies exploring that possibility.

But dogs? Dogs feature in SF with some frequency. There’s the wise ‘Blood’, who forms a supportively telepathic partnership with Vic in Harlan Ellison’s post-apocalypse “A Boy And His Dog” (‘New Worlds’ no.189, April 1969). In ‘Sirius’ (1944) Olaf Stapledon envisages a dog raised to levels of human intelligence by scientific interventions, with poignantly tragic consequences. Clifford D Simak also has ‘Towser’, the doggy companion of Yankee tinkerer-handyman Hiram Taine, who sniffs out the glasslike spaceship buried beneath his house in the highly-rated “The Big Front Yard” (‘Astounding SF’, October 1958). But as for dogs inheriting the world once we’ve gone, only Simak has ventured that far. His story-cycle that makes up ‘City’ (1952) forms that future canine race’s Genesis-myth, texts as ancient and as disputed to them as the Torah, the Epic of Gilgamesh, or Homer are to us.

Clifford D Simak was born 3 August 1904, and grew up in ‘the farm country of southwestern Wisconsin’. He studied journalism at the university of Wisconsin, graduating into a newspaper career with the ‘Minneapolis Star & Tribune’. His story “Sunspot Purge” (‘Astounding SF’, November 1940) cleverly satirises the journalist legman’s trade, with reporters from ‘The Globe’ photographing a suicide-jumper ‘hitting the sidewalk’, ‘no newsman in his right mind objects to a little violence, for that’s what news is made of’. Despite such tongue-in-cheek cynicism he later defends the trade by arguing ‘newspaper work develops a questioning mind, seeking the unsuspected elements that may lie behind the surface fact. Even while he seeks the truth, however, the newsman is quite aware that there is no such thing as simple truth, nor, for that matter, an absolute truth’ (in his ‘Introduction’ to ‘The Best Of Clifford D Simak’, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1975). It was a vocation Simak pursued for most of his life. He only got to write SF full-time during his retirement.

 Meantime, his first published story was “The World Of The Red Sun” in the December 1931 issue of Hugo Gernsback’s ‘Wonder Stories’. Later, when compiling the story into his ‘Before The Golden Age’ (Doubleday, 1974) Isaac Asimov recalls how, as an enthusiastic school-kid, he’d entertained other youngsters by reciting the story from memory. And it’s easy to see how it would have excited the young Asimovian imagination. Although obviously written under the HG Wells spell, the story plays with the concept of ‘curving space about you’ to enable forward-travel through time. While this is a pretty advanced space-time continuum idea, it’s just the techno-hook on which to hang the story.

 Billed as ‘Adventures Of Future Science’ the magazine issue packs in stories by John Taine and Arthur K Barnes plus a cover-illustrated Edmond Hamilton “The Reign Of The Robots” showing a girl being carried off across a red landscape by a sinister wheeled dome-headed robot. Simak’s fiction debut, also cover-blurbed and with striking interior art by Frank R Paul, concerns two young scientists – Harl Swanson and Bill Kressman, who kiss the future-1935 behind with the swing of a lever. Their time-machine is also an aircraft, an idea he reprises in “Sunspot Purge”. But when their time-gauge malfunctions they emerge millions of years into the future, suspended over the vast desolate ruins of what they assume to be Denver, beneath a huge red sun. At moments of stress they pause to light up cigarettes.

 Captured by primitive future-men the pair are cast into the arena of Golan-Kirt, a hovering disembodied brain with a curving beak and two tiny lidless eyes who ‘came out of the Cosmos’ to rule this dying Earth through mind-control. A battle of brain-emanations ensues, in which the time-travellers victory is short-lived because, attempting to return to their own time, they instead become trapped on a dead world at the end of time. So is it a good story? The downbeat dénouement is unusual for of its time, while its wafer-thin characters are obviously yet to develop the nuanced depth of Simak’s later creations. Although a ‘simply and straightforwardly told’ romp according to Asimov, it’s a fairly inventive yarn striving for a sense of awe and wonder, while never neglecting the forward thrust of adventure.

 He followed it with three more rapid sales to the Gernsback stable, two for ‘Wonder Stories’ – “Mutiny On Mercury” (March 1932) in which hero Tom Clark outwits a Martian and Selenite insurrection, and “The Asteroid Of Gold” (November 1932) with its fast-action concerning planetoid-prospectors and claim-jumpers, plus “The Voice In The Void” (to ‘Wonder Stories Quarterly’, Spring 1932) in which puzzling relics are discovered in a sacred Martian tomb. There’s also one sale to ‘Astounding Tales’ under editor Harry Bates (“Hellhounds Of The Cosmos”, June 1932) venturing into extra-dimensional space to confront an unspeakable horror terrorising the world. Characterised by their generally optimistic vision of the human future, in which ‘today he does much more than he did yesterday. Tomorrow he’ll do even more than he did today!’, they’re never without usefully plot-generating problems. Action-adventure, but not really what we consider ‘Simak’ territory.

Chafing against the restrictions of the pulp genre, his fiction-presentation of a godless cosmos in “The Creator” was passed over by a succession of magazine editors who feared accusations of blasphemy, until the novelette ended up in ‘Marvel Tales Of Science And Fantasy’ (March/April 1935). After this opening spurt of tales published in extravagant pulps he’d more or less resolved to give up writing SF, until he learned that John Campbell had newly assumed editorship of ‘Astounding’. He respected Campbell, and gauged that under his regime he’d have scope for more imaginative writing, and so it proved. The respect was returned. According to SF academic/novelist James Gunn, Campbell not only ‘reinvigorated or redirected’ Simak’s writing, but enabled its development. Isaac Asimov dates the dawn of Science Fiction’s ‘Golden Age’ precisely to 1938, when twenty-eight year-old Campbell assumed the ‘Astounding’ editorial-chair. It was Campbell who defined the consensus of new possibilities.

 And Beginning with “Rule 18” in the July 1938 issue, a playful time-travel idea about recruiting an all-star football team from past greats, Simak became an early mainstay of the magazine. His stories continued to appeared elsewhere, such as ‘Thrilling Wonder Stories’ – “The Loot Of Time”, December 1938, about time-travel safaris going back 70,000 years to hunt sabre-toothed tigers, and ‘Astonishing Stories’ – “Madness From Mars”, April 1939 featuring a homesick Martian fur-ball. Although its ultrasonic distress cries are unintentionally lethal, this is also Simak’s first sympathetic alien. Yet the writer himself later calls these ‘truly horrible examples of an author’s fumbling agony in the process of finding himself’, perhaps referring to the line about spaceship ‘Hello Mars IV’ ‘spurning space-miles beneath its steel-shod heels’. They were good, but better things were to come.

It was Campbell who published most of the work that would become ‘City’, the future history that Anthony Boucher would praise as ‘a high-water mark in SF writing’, the moving saga of how robots and intelligent dogs are left to inherit the Earth. First conceived and written as global war was entering its final phase, James Gunn muses how ‘Simak attributed that – a choice of dogs, to his disillusionment with humanity during World War II’. The first story of the cycle appeared in the May 1944 ‘Astounding’. The magazine cover-image might show a bulbous red spaceship illustrating the now-forgotten “Latent Image” by George O Smith, but the more enduring off-the-beaten space-track Simak tale opens on page 136, with back-and-white line illustrations by A Williams.

‘THE MYTH OF MAN’ (by ‘Bounce’) 

The novel – ‘City’, that results is what genre historians term a ‘fix-up’, the original magazine stories tied together and given thematic continuity by the introduction of ‘Notes’, in which various doggish academics and experts – including ‘Bounce’, ‘Rover’ and ‘Tige’, are quoted as they give their scholarly opinions as to the veracity of the texts, and their interpretations of the strange ideas and concepts the stories embody. They debate whether human history is any more than ‘a sociological fable’?

The attention-grabbing blurb to the 1965 Four Square paperback edition sets out the first sequence – ‘City’. In the dog’s belief-system, this is their ‘Genesis’-text. The starting point of their creation myth. Although it contains neither dogs nor robots. ‘It started in 1990. Cheap atomic power was a reality. Hydroponic farming ensured enough to eat. So everywhere men left the cities, abandoning the ancient huddling places of the human race. At last, man was free. And left behind – in the dead and empty cities, man’s memories remained as symbols of the childhood of the race. The Golden Age had come at last after generations of war and toil.’ In their exodus they leave the teeming world of machines, because ‘he needed sun and soil and wind to remain a man.’ There’s a gentle nostalgia of old memories, old ways that survive even though ‘the city is an anachronism.’ The overgrown wilderness of empty streets has become a pastoral ‘big front yard’ where William ‘Gramp’ Stevens grumbles good-naturedly in a folksy style about the ‘dadburn’ kid. Sentimentally soft-core, but hugely affecting nevertheless, it enters what Simak himself calls ‘not only a physical environment, but psychological as well’. What remains of local government intends to torch-clearance the encroaching dereliction in which a stubborn knot of cantankerous old-timers stay on through habit or nostalgia. There’s a sense of snaggle-toothed rustic Americana as rugged individualist John J Webster stands up to the machinations of corrupt politicians.

The vanishing frontier is one of the great tropes of American culture, through elegiac movies and novels. A sense that when the ‘West was Won’, something was also lost. Something buried beneath the asphalt and concrete. In his repeated motif of ‘people who had backed down the scale of progress’, Simak is far from the only writer to introduce the theme into SF. Ray Bradbury also advanced into fictional futures with one eye fixed wistfully on a rapidly disappearing past. The futurisation of nostalgia was already there in Jack London’s “The Purple Plague” (June 1912), in which pandemic reduces the human population to isolated tribes in the vast renewed American wilderness, a theme replayed in the George R Stewart novel ‘Earth Abides’ (1949). Simak’s approach is more gradual. There’s no plague. Just a gradual detachment, first from the cities, then from Earth itself. Simak excels at recreating ‘a simple, pastoral life, akin to the historic days of the old American frontier with all the frontier’s compensations, none of its dangers,’ an effect amplified by affectionate hillbilly colloquialisms – ‘good eatin’ as you ever hooked a tooth into.’ It’s a regrown wilderness where the forests have become ‘a hushed place that one could believe had never heard a voice except the talk of wind in treetops and the tiny voices of the wild things that followed secret paths.’

It’s an American novel. Presumably the process of deserting cities for simpler lives is also occurring across Africa and Asia, although there’s no mention of it. Geneva becomes a location for a kind of global administration known as the World Committee, but there’s no sense of it being part of Europe. It’s the Webster family-dynasty that forms the connecting thread – ‘a device used to establish a link of continuity in a series of tales which otherwise are not too closely linked’ as a self-aware Simak comments through his ‘Notes’. As technology develops and populations move off-world, there’s compensatory warmth to the core message of the values of the old, and old-fashioned values. Even the clunky 1950’s technology of televisors with dials and toggles, only enforces its retro-flavoured musings. Mischievously, the location for the Webster’s family-home is chosen because it has a trout-stream. Simak also lists fishing as one of his own favoured pastimes.

Dogs, like cats, do not have opposable thumbs. So how are they able to sustain a civilisation? They have self-replicating robots to perform the tasks they’re incapable of. But who created the first robot? The dogs debate the issue. “Huddling Place” is leisurely prose that takes its time. Savouring the melancholia of its passing. The story has now traced the Webster family line five-generations to Jerome A Webster in 2117. To a man locked in a ‘decadence, a strangely beautiful – and deadly decadence.’ The first robot appears – Jenkins, ‘the real hero of the legend’. He is to become ‘an extension of man’s influence beyond the day of man’s disappearance.’ There are also Martians. Jerome’s son is leaving for Mars. While Jerome is prepared, against his most agoraphobic fears, to journey there to perform surgery that might save the life of Martian philosopher, Juwain. Until Jenkins, in a sleight of robotic hand, vetoes the trip.

In “Census” – the third tale, the world is becoming stranger, more magical. The story is a conversational mood-piece, even referred to as a ‘legend’, as it becomes mythic. As the human outward urge moves beyond Mars towards Alpha Centauri, there’s the human mutation of wild ‘jackpine’ ridge-runners, Nathaniel – the first talking dog who is the result of experimental evolutionary-acceleration, and an ant-colony which has been nudged into its own industrial revolution with smoking chimney-stacks and wheeled carts. The narrative commentary is provided by Richard Grant, a census-taking enumerator who interviews Thomas Webster and Jenkins, his robot butler. Then he also encounters Joe, the telepathic loner with intuitive gifts, who alters the lifecycle of the ant-colony for reasons of little more than amused curiosity.


“Desertion” leaps from cosy backwoodsmen into the roaring maelstrom of Jupiter. Five men have ventured out of the pressurised domes, never to return. They experience Jupiter – not in human form, for that would be impossible, but by being transformed into Lopers, a native species based on ammonia and hydrogen, not water and oxygen. Simak later revisits the idea in ‘Way Station’ (1963), in which his Andromedans reason that ‘if you cannot colonise a planet in your present shape, why, then you change your shape. You make yourself into the sort of being that can live upon the planet… if you need to be a worm, then you become a worm – or an insect or a shellfish or whatever it may take.’ Strangely, Kent Fowler and his dog Towser are equalised as they both transform into Lopers to acclimatise to Jupiter. A poisonous nightmare to terrestrials, through their newly acquired senses the gas giant is transfigured into a marvellous world of limitless wonders. The five missing men failed to return because they had no desire to resume cramped limited human perceptions. ‘Man was engaged in a mad scramble for power and knowledge, but nowhere is there any hint of what he meant to do with it once he had attained it.’ On Jupiter, all desire is satisfied.

“Paradise” – the fifth tale, brings these diverse earlier strands together. There is Jupiter, for Fowler has resumed human form after living as a Loper for five years. He returns to Earth spreading his message that Jupiter is paradise. There is the latest Webster, the ‘legendary family that had left a meteoric trail across centuries of time.’ Tyler Webster is chairman of the World Committee in Geneva. He considers the lure of Jupiter to be a ‘dangerous disease’, one that could lead to a mass migration from Earth. He faces the moral equation, should he kill Fowler to preserve humanity to fulfil its own destiny, but by doing so, reintroduce murder to a pacified world? There are also talking dogs who are used as a monitoring police force to keep telepathic human mutants under observation. The robot Jenkins who, ‘despite his metal hide, was a Webster too’. Plus the long-lived mutant Joe, who is in possession of the stolen Juwain philosophy. And a kaleidoscope capable of transmitting its message.

It’s a pivotal tale. For the sixth one – “Hobbies”, concerns its effects. The mass migration to Jupiter has happened, leaving barely five-thousand humans on Earth to live decadent pointless lives in Geneva, ‘the last city in the world’. With limitless resources and robots to attend their every whim, there’s an elegiac feel to its leisurely measured prose. ‘History had run its course and ended.’ Jon Webster briefly returns to the abandoned family home to find it overrun with talking dogs. The dogs are becoming more central, moving into the Webster house where Jenkins – their ‘father-confessor’, patiently mentors them. Jon considers assuming a guiding role in the accelerating canine evolution, but decides against it. Better to exert no influence. Leave them to discover their own truth. He returns to Geneva where he activates an ancient defence screen, making the city ‘a closed dome of nothingness’. Then he joins many of his fellows by entering an induced suspended animation dream-state that will last for eternity.

The seventh tale is named “Aesop”, in recognition of the ancient writer of fables who also devised cunning and sometimes devious talking animals. Jenkins is now a seven-thousand-year-old robot who contentedly rocks in a rocking chair. All creatures have speech, and debate the ethics of not killing. The few hundred humans left outside the sealed city are all known as ‘websters’, the remnants of an ‘all-but-vanished race’ who live in houses the Dogs have built for them. They are just one animal species among many. With no human masters, the ‘wild robots’ are developing star-travel. The Mutants have gone, through a ‘Big Front Yard’ dimensional portal in an act as simple as stepping through a door into another world. While, following the path of Ebenezer whose intuitive dog-sense sniffed out ‘cobblies’, the Dogs develop the theme of Cobbly-worlds, parallel Earths that anticipate Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett’s ‘Long Earths’ novel-series. But all is not well, as Simak skilfully weaves the ‘who killed cock robin’ rhyme into the narrative. Peter the Webster reinvents the bow-and-arrow, and inadvertently brings violent death back to the idyllic ‘Brotherhood of Beasts’, with wolf Lupus as the luring voice of temptation. A new conundrum for ageing Jenkins to resolve. So the troublesome humans are relocated to one of the near-identical Cobbly Earths.

‘City’ is without doubt one of the strangest and most beguiling future’s ever conjectured by the mind of Science Fiction. With humans scattered to the four winds of eternity, and the Earth now the realm of talking dogs and logical robots. It’s only in the final tale – “The Simple Way”, that the ants reappear. The result of mutant-Joe’s meddling, their parallel evolution has continued across the twelve-thousand years that have since elapsed. Now they use a kind of mini-robotic near nano-technology to infiltrate and recruit robots to their vast ‘Building’ project which threatens to engulf the entire world. Jenkin’s last conundrum, similar to the one faced by Tyler Webster in “Paradise”, is to ethically balance the ends with the means. The Webster solution is to exterminate the ants. But there can be no killing. ‘Better that one should lose a world than go back to killing.’ The Earth, it seems, will be abandoned to the ants. For Jenkins and his Dogs, the future will lie on the other Earths they’ve linked into.


Simak’s philosophical fantasies share a continuity of themes. The novelette “The Big Front Yard” is set in the rural Midwestern village of Willow Bend where Hiram Taine finds an infiltration of peculiar rat-like creatures repairing the broken things in his fix-it shop, transforming and upgrading his home into a kind of impervious galactic portal. Like the Webster home, Taine’s has been a family property for a hundred years. The ‘Yard’ of the title is used in its American sense, and would work less effectively as the British ‘Big Front Garden’! Now, by merely stepping through his door Taine finds himself on a desert planet, then a Gothic storm-planet. It’s a new range of ‘Cobbly’ worlds that, in a curious cross-genre parallel, is the SF techno-variant of stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. The Simak equation, the moral of his fable is always that xenophobia is the chief barrier to human happiness. ‘No man of Earth ever again could be called a foreigner with alien life next door – literally next door.’ Taine’s first instinct is to barter with the aliens – ‘his ever-present business sense rising to the fore.’ Once a mutually advantageous trade in ‘Dickering’ is established everything else will fall into place. It’s not difficult to draw parallels with his deservedly acclaimed later novel, ‘Way Station’ (1963). After all, this was ‘more, Taine thought, than the linking of mere worlds. It would be, as well, the linking of the peoples of those worlds.’

The extraterrestrial connectivity in ‘Way Station’ (originally serialised in the June and August 1963 issues of ‘Galaxy’), occurs within the same distinctive pastoral backwoods setting, ascending into lush passages of clear closely-observed beauty. A tranquillity unique within the SF genre. ‘This was the Earth, he thought – a planet made for Man. But not for Man alone, for it was as well a planet for the fox and owl and weasel, for the snake, the katydid, the fish, for all the other teeming life that filled the air and earth and water.’ Just as it is for the raccoon, the squirrel, and the devious wolf of ‘City’. This ‘gentleness of spirit and its lack of animosity’ is the zone James Gunn defines as ‘The Simak Reservation’. Although Enoch Wallace is the novel’s central character, apart from a brief single-page preface sequence establishing his presence in 1861, fighting for old Abe Lincoln during the Civil War, he is only seen through the perspective of surveillance reports for the following four chapters. His life anomalies have come to the attention of an agent of the National Academy who charts the contours of his impossible life.

 Born in 1840 he lives within, but apart from, an isolated rural community. ‘No-one fears him, I am sure of that. He’s been around too long for anyone to fear him. Too familiar. He’s a fixture of the land, like a tree or boulder.’ As agent Lewis furtively stalks his home he sees it ‘bathed in that light, the house was somehow unearthly, as if, indeed, it might be set apart as a very special thing. And then the light, if it ever had been there, was gone and the house shared the common sunlight of the fields and woods.’ It is as if the house had ‘planted itself upon the ridgetop, and meant to stay forever.’ A distant relative, not only of Hiram Taine’s star-portal home and the Webster house, but of William Hope Hodgson’s ‘The House On The Borderland’ (1908) too. Proofed even against thermonuclear war, it will survive for an eternity. Like Wallace himself, it is supernaturally preserved against time, ‘an anachronism, something living from another age.’

 This longevity is because ‘the stars had reached out across vast gulfs of space and put their finger on him.’ It’s the side-effect of an agreement made, following the hospitality he extends to an alien ‘scout’ he calls Ulysses – named for the Union General Ulysses S Grant, not the Homeric hero, to have his home used as a ‘way station’ along the web of a ‘galactic confraternity of worlds’, a stopping-off place and switch-point for species commuting ‘faster than a wink’ between the community of star systems. They are diverse in form, but each encounter is friendly. There are no evil aliens, no aggressors or despotic empires. It is Simak’s vision of the harmony of the universe that sets it apart from contemporary works by other writers.

 Enoch Wallace communes with the ‘shadow people’, ghosts from his past, and with the mailman. The only other human Wallace interacts with is the childlike deaf-mute Lucy Fisher, ‘a creature of the woods and hills’ who also inhabits her own separate inner world, and might even possess healing powers. ‘She can fix a butterfly.’ She’s the equivalent of slow-witted Beasly in “The Big Front Yard”, who has the ‘clairvoyance’ to telepath with the aliens, as well as with Towser, Hiram’s dog. Here, there is ordinariness, touched by the hint of extraterrestrial magic. Characters pull pipe and pouch from their pockets, slowly fill the pipe, then pull serenely. Unhurried.

 But unwanted change is in the air. There are the hidden watchers observing Enoch, who abduct the Hazer body, the alien who died and was buried in Wallace’s family plot. The journal ‘Nature’ enquires politely how it is possible that he has subscribed for more than eighty years. And charts devised by the statistical-mathematicians of Mizar calculate that Earth’s political instability will inexorably result in ‘a holocaust of nuclear destruction.’ There’s also growing galactic imbalance due to the missing Talisman, a psychic tool that creates inter-species harmony. Enoch Wallace is by now a ‘cultural half-breed’ caught between his loyalty to an Earth denied membership of the galactic family due its warlike ways, and his new alien friends who threaten to pull out of the system. Yet the novel is more meditative inner dialogue than it is fast-action. His dilemma is resolved when Lucy’s powers make her the powerful conduit of the Talisman’s energies, opening up Earth to the galaxy. Symbolically, in a last gesture, Enoch throws his rifle from the high headland into the river. There is no further need for weaponry.

Clifford D Simak died 25 April 1988, leaving five decades of highly individual fiction. Or, as he recalls, the work of ‘not one man alone, but the several men that I have been… and the trouble is that I cannot write about these several men because, after all, they are one man – myself.’ There were other Simak robot tales. The quirkily amusing “How-2”, first appeared in the November 1954 issue of ‘Galaxy’, in which Gordon Knight sends off for a build-your-own ‘half-mechanical half-biological’ dog, but instead receives a DIY self-replicating robot called Albert – ‘a jack of all trades, intelligent, obedient, no time off, no overtime, on the job twenty-four hours a day, never tired, no need for rest or sleep, do any work you wish.’ Albert amiably builds a family-team of replicant assistants to transform Knight’s property. When the company sues, Albert simply assembles a team of lawyer-robots that not only out-argue the prosecution but establish a case for self-determining robot-rights. Knight surrenders to the inevitability that his every whim will now be catered for, relieving him of every need for motivation or initiative.

There’s “A Death In The House” (‘Galaxy’ October 1959) in which another of Simak’s unkempt loners – Mose Abrams, assists another unappealing alien – a locomoting-plant creature, to repair its bird-cage spacecraft and return home, summoning up all the emotional tsunami of Steven Spielberg’s ‘E.T.’ (1982). And even the ‘City’ cycle itself was not entirely over. There was to be a ninth tale, “Epilog” which appears in ‘Astounding: John W Campbell Memorial Anthology’ (1973) edited by Harry Harrison. A mythology he resumed after a twenty-two-year break, with some misgivings – ‘over the years a writer’s perspectives and viewpoints shift, different values evolve and techniques change.’ But, prodded by a sense of debt to the editor who had championed and made his experimental forays from the SF-mainstream possible, he picks up the cycle where he’d left off. Now Jenkins’ final dilemma has resolved itself. He is alone in the Webster house, which is surrounded by the dead remnants of the Ant Building. As a spaceship arrives to take him to refuge on a distant robot colony-world he smashes through the walls of the ant-structure and sees recurring sculptures that arc back to Joe in the third tale, in which the mutant petulantly kicked down the ant-architecture his meddlesome intervention had enabled. Even though the human race has long since ceased, its bitter memory remains. ‘A breed of men who carried dreams within their skulls, and cruelty in their hands…’

‘To be truly civilised, there must be something 
far more subtle than the gadget or the thought…’ 

 ‘CITY’ (‘Astounding Science Fiction’, May 1944) reprints include in ‘The Astounding-Analog Reader Vol.1’ edited by Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss (Doubleday, 1972)

HUDDLING PLACE’ (‘Astounding Science Fiction’, July 1944) also in ‘The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame, Volume One’ edited by Robert Silverberg (Doubleday, 1970), and ‘Decade The 1940’s’ edited by Brian W Aldiss and Harry Harrison (Macmillan, 1975)

CENSUS’ (‘Astounding Science Fiction’, September 1944)

DESERTION’ (published as by ‘Clifford Simak’, ‘Astounding Science Fiction’, November 1944) also in ‘Big Book Of Science Fiction’ edited by Groff Conklin (Crown Publishers, 1950), and ‘Beyond Tomorrow’ edited by Damon Knight (Harper & Row, 1965). Also ‘The Road To Science Fiction 3: From Heinlein To Here’ edited by James Gunn (Mentor/ New American Library, 1979)

PARADISE’ (‘Astounding Science Fiction’, June 1946)

HOBBIES’ (‘Astounding Science Fiction’, November 1946)

AESOP’ (‘Astounding Science Fiction’, December 1947)

THE SIMPLE WAY’ (first published as ‘The Trouble With Ants’ in ’Fantastic Adventures’, January 1951) and ‘Fantastic’ (July 1966)

 ‘EPILOG’ (‘Astounding: John W Campbell Memorial Anthology’, November 1973) edited by Harry Harrison from Random House, then integrated into new edition of ‘City’ in December 1983 from Ace, republished by Old Earth Books (September 2004)

CITY’ (Gnome Press, 1952) collected volume with Frank Kelly Freas cover-art, then 1954 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 9/6d), March 1958 (Ace Books) with cover-art by Ed Valigursky, a Four Square paperback edition (1965), and June 1971 (Sphere) with Eddie Jones art.

Reviewed by Kenneth F Slater who writes ‘The Dogs, imbued with the high ideals of man’s culture which man himself never managed to bring to fruition, are almost defeated by the ‘websters’, who re-invent the bow and arrow, and by the ‘cobblies’ – the things from the worlds next door. Until Jenkins solves both problems by taking the ‘websters’ into the world of the cobblies, thus ridding the dogs of their dragging heritage and releasing on the cobblies the most destructive of life forms. Each incidental story is a gem, and the whole, connected by the observations of the ‘Dog’ who records these ‘myths’, forms a book which is the crown of Simak’s twenty-plus years of SF writing’ (‘Nebula no.8’, April 1954).

‘Authentic no.44’ (April 1954) adds ‘You’ve probably never read anything quite like ‘City’ – which statement should make you all agog; so many books these days are painfully similar. It is a series of stories that range in time from not too long after now to millions of years into the future; and in the book they are treated as all being incredibly old, legends in fact. In the book the stories are linked by scholarly comments by a literary historian, who summarises the reasons for and against the legends. The interesting point about this is that the historian is – a dog!... the whole thing is done with the utmost credibility. Anyone who doesn’t read this book is no Science Fiction fan!’