Monday, 27 March 2017

Nirvana: The Original Rainbow Chasers




NIRVANA: 
TRAVELS ON A CLOUD 


No… not that NIRVANA, this NIRVANA
The 1960s duo who recorded sublime vinyl such as 
“Rainbow Chaser”, “Pentecost Hotel”, Wings Of Love” 
 and… erm, “Lithium”. Yes, I know. All will be revealed…! 


ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN 
IN THIS DAY AND AGE…’ 

When you Google ‘The Avengers’, you must wade through pages about Marvel Superhero comics and movies before you get to any reference to the uniquely crazy 1960s TV spy series with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg. The same principle applies when you Google Nirvana. There’s lots about the suicide of a Seattle Grunge-merchant, but not a lot about the 1960s sub-cultural enigma responsible for “Rainbow Chaser”. It’s not that I’ve got anything against Wolverine, Thor or the Hulk, just as I’m occasionally partial to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for that matter. It’s just that I feel a certain balance should be struck.


Nirvana was conjured into being as the brainspawn of the London-based songwriting duo of dark tousle-haired Greek Alex Spyropoulos – born in 1941, a ‘gipsy-gipsy, moving around’, and Patrick Campbell-Lyons, from ‘Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty’. A loquacious Irishman – born 13 July 1943 in Lismore, he still speaks with a soft Celtic burr. As a teenager he listened to Elvis and the Everly Brothers on Radio Luxembourg. ‘I looked at my reflection in a cracked mirror. I was wearing a suit of shimmer and light, my hair was on fire, a shower of sparks cascaded around me like a golden arch of neon on Broadway. I made shapes… lived like Tony Curtis, I talked like Jack Palance. I would not seek forgiveness from bigots, rogues and charlatans, or extend courtesy to chancers consumed by greed. It was time to go…’

When he first hooked up with Alex, he’d already done the Hamburg ‘Star Club’ thing – supporting the High Numbers, while fronting an Ealing R&B group called Second Thoughts, and navigating his ‘way on a voyage of music, freedom, adventure and self-discovery’. Then he issued two singles with Chris Thomas as Hat & Tie. Alex was attending St Martin’s Film and Art School, and both were hustling their songs through Kassner Music publishing in the ‘Tin Pan Ally’ of Denmark Street. It was 1967, and astutely hopping the Age of Aquarius fad for Eastern religious mysticism they become Nirvana, garnishing a plethora of musical styles augmented by baroque chamber-Pop arrangements to create a unique entity.

As the first teasing hints and suggestions of psychedelia began rippling through the Rock underground, it assumed variant guises. With no internet, YouTube or downloads to experience it directly, the vital conduit for information was the music press, the ‘straight’ ‘New Musical Express’, ‘Melody Maker’ and ‘Disc’ plus those with a more insider perspective in the counter-culture magazines. In a blur of hype and misinformation a massive transatlantic rift opened up. In the States groups took on a more hard-core Garage-band burn derived from the Yardbirds, Them and the Stones. While England took to prettification in a big way, via a whimsical ‘Wind In The Willows’ Aubrey Beardsley lens. Of course, there were exceptions. Left Banke took the ‘Eleanor Rigby’ chamber string-quartet format very decoratively into the US charts with “Walk Away Renée”. But it was Nirvana who created the epitome of melodic delicacy, with an attractively skewed oddness acutely attuned to the vibe of the time. Prettiness can – and frequently did, tip over into saccharine schmaltz. Nirvana always retain the saving grace of melodic invention and quirkiness.


A four-track demo-tape eventually unspools at Island records, which was fortuitously in the process of repositioning itself from a clique Ska label, towards the nascent hippie market via Traffic and Spooky Tooth. And, as though fully-formed, there were two sublimely dreamlike Nirvana singles in July and October of that significant 1967 year. The lustrous “Tiny Dancer” – running to a full 4:03-minutes, instantly became a ‘Climber Of The Week’ on John Peel’s Radio London ‘Perfumed Garden’, from its descending cello and harpsichord play-in, moving through passages of spiralling rococo instrumental interplay rising to intricate crescendos. The lyrics inhabit that same ethereal dimension, ‘in a room just five-foot eight, I sit alone and I will wait’ for her impossible beauty, ‘the clock said half-past-three, it stopped to wait – like me.’ He waits in a perplexing place where ‘portraits smell of sweet perfume’ confounded by the capricious feminine mystique, begging ‘don’t try to humour me, with letters I can’t read’. As Rock-academic Brian Hogg writes ‘this delicate poignant recording established the pattern for much of their work wherein Patrick’s light, ghostly voice swept over meticulous string and wind arrangements.’

The sumptuous “Pentecost Hotel” follows with allusively liquid poetry about ‘there underneath blue waves, the sunrise spreads blue rays, and Pentecost hotel shades all its cobwebs’, while the pre-Raphaelite wistful hippie-chick is there – ‘in the lobby Magdalena is friendly, to all the people with a passport of insanity’. David Wells praises its ‘mystical, gently romantic lyrics, Campbell-Lyons’ breathy falsetto and a gorgeous combination of soft psych/pop melodic flair and baroque-flavoured arrangements’ (‘Record Collector: 100 Greatest Psychedelic Records’, 2005, Diamond Publishing). Who is Magdalena? She’s the girl at the protest who sticks a flower down the muzzle of the National Guardsman’s rifle, she’s Theda Bara on the ‘IT: International Times’ masthead, she’s Ophelia in the Millais painting, while the insanity she invites is not tragic psychosis but skewed through the RD Laing orbit into an alternative plane of perception.


The ascent culminates when, in October, Nirvana release their first album, supposedly a concept album produced by Island’s Chris Blackwell – ‘The Story Of Simon Simopath’, a ‘Science Fiction Pantomime’ that’s arguably the first story-driven ‘concept’ album – before that particular idea got ludicrously out of hand. The ‘Record Mirror’ reviewer welcomed this ‘delightful LP – it is built around a science-fiction story, with plenty of subtle undercurrents thrown in. The songs are mostly pretty and well-performed with a sad gentleness. Tuneful, and very competent, this makes good listening’ (30 December 1967).

The lyrics supposedly track the life-to-death story of Simopath, tripping through a series of concise songs that never overstay. In “Wings Of Love” he dreams of flying, and tries to bargain with a swallow – ‘permit me to entice you with a bargain’, offering a comic-book and a cuckoo clock in exchange for the gift of flight. ‘He wants to be in love, he wants to be a butterfly’ is exactly the kind of fey escapist artiness that incendiary Punk set out to crush beneath its hardcore Doc Martens. But the Hans Christian Anderson portal into otherness is also wings, the Arthur Rackham vision of haunted strangeness. And Nirvana encapsulate it better than anyone else. From the orchestral play-in, through dazzlingly expansive cinematic time-changes, into the false-fade, with a speeded-up chorus phasing in from stage-left, it’s as seductive as a charm.

The ‘story’ develops across the inner-spread of the gatefold sleeve, within the childishly striking art. Simon is unpopular at school, but after reaching the ‘summer of his years’ finds himself ‘lost in the office jungle’. ‘Hanging by a thread’ he suffers a nervous breakdown. Unable to find therapeutic help he hops a rocketship instead, ‘dreaming of a place that is slightly out of focus’. “Satellite Jockey” closes with a countdown and lift-off sequence. He meets and befriends the centaur you see on David Browning’s cover-art, and Magdalena who works at Pentecost Hotel. Simon and Magdalena fall in love (serene ballad “I Never Had A Love Like This Before”) and wed (the McCartney-style hook “Take This Hand”), followed by a jazzy party (“1999”). Well… it’s no more silly than a deaf-dumb-and-blind kid who plays pinball!

This expanded album-length palette shows Nirvana slipping sideways into the baroque-flavoured, melodic Prog-Pop, soft-rock category of what the group’s Wikipedia page suggests as the Zombies of ‘Odessey And Oracle’ (April 1968) or the Moody Blues of ‘Days Of Future Passed’ (November 1967). But not quite. So far, so indecipherable. It also relates directly to Syd Barrett’s whimsical songs for early Pink Floyd, or the ornate arrangements of Donovan’s ‘Sunshine Superman’ period. The effete edge of acid. And just check out Herman’s Hermits cover of “Wings Of Love” to see just how Pop-friendly it could be, retaining all Nirvana’s twiddly adornments (on YouTube, a bonus track on the 1968 ‘Mrs Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter’ CD). Or The Alan Bown’s near-hit with their contagious sing-along edited-and-expanded version of “We Can Help You”. Or Kenny Ball’s trad-jazz single of closing track “1999”. While Françoise Hardy’s version of “Tiny Goddess” is simply exquisite.

With the LP due to for promotion through ‘a live show at the Saville Theatre, sharing a bill with fellow label acts Traffic, Spooky Tooth, and Jackie Edwards’ there are changes. Essentially a studio unit, supplying songs and vocals, with back-up primarily added by session and orchestral musicians – with Campbell-Lyons providing a little guitar and Spyropoulos adding keyboards, they expand into the Nirvana Ensemble for concerts and TV. Part of the live experience rather than bona fide members, the add-ons are there in the album cover photos and promo shots attired in regulation kaftans and beads – ‘all dressed up and laughing loud’, to assist the group image. Guitarist Ray Singer already had a track-record of working with Alex. He’s joined by Brian Henderson (bass), Sylvia ‘Sylvy’ A Schuster (cello) and finally Michael Cole (French horn, viola), while Sue & Sunny provide sweet vocal harmonies. But Nirvana revert to its original duo line-up for studio work. Patrick explaining that Nirvana is ‘just a vehicle for musical works put together by myself and friends I’ve known for a long time.’


OVER THE RAINBOW’ 

Then “Rainbow Chaser” became the only Nirvana single to achieve a degree of commercial success, while being one of the candidates as the first UK 45rpm single to extensively utilise phasing or flanging. It enters the ‘Record Mirror’ Top 40 – and peaks at number 34, 29 May 1968. Union Gap’s “Young Girl” was no.1, and Love Affair’s “Rainbow Valley” was climbing into the Top Ten. The Rolling Stones “Jumping Jack Flash” debuts the same week. Nirvana drop to 37 the following week, then no.38, before making a final showing also at no.38 (19 June). Although “Rainbow Chaser” climbs all the way to no.1 in Denmark! To me, marooned in the bleak uncoolness of Hull a million light years from the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius, the swooshing comet of phasing seemed a luring link into an altogether more hip dimension where the world could be different. Chart success destroyed exclusivity, Nirvana came close enough to become a portal into counterculture otherness without ever losing that elusive in-crowd code. They were part of the new ‘underground’ scene, interacting through its gaudy magazine network, feeding evocative artwork through its pages. For me, furthering that tenuous link by hunting reviews and mentions in the weekly music press.

With phasing an essential weapon in the psychedelic arsenal, Nirvana were – and are, invariably tagged that way. ‘We rapidly took on the connotations of an early acid band’ Patrick told ‘Hot Press’ magazine, ‘but the whole thing was concepted out of total ignorance.’ Yet, despite his denials, their hippie joss-stick name, promotional photographs on the cover of their first album wearing ‘flower-power’ raiments that imply ‘druggy’ associations, “Rainbow Chaser” is one of the few Nirvana records that has a direct link with ‘psychedelic’ music. Although “Orange And Blue” (1970) was acknowledged to have been written under the influence of LSD according to the liner notes on the album it titles. Instead, where creativity is concerned, ‘I get it from sadness very often’ says Alex, ‘a relief from personal anxieties inside me.’


The group appear on the French TV show ‘Improvisation On A Sunday Afternoon’ with Salvador Dalí, who splashes black paint on them as they perform “Rainbow Chaser”. ‘That afternoon was, and still is, the high point of my performing days’ says Campbell-Lyons – who keeps the jacket, jokily expressing regrets that Dalí didn’t sign any of their paint-splashed clothes. While Island Records send the artist an invoice for the cleaning of Schuster’s cello. Following the minor chart success of “Rainbow Chaser”, ‘live appearances became increasingly rare’ and the duo at the core of Nirvana ‘decided to disband the sextet’ and fall back on session players for future recordings. Campbell-Lyons blames the high cost of additional members as a reason for downsizing. Spyropoulos cites Schuster’s departure due to pregnancy, as another – she goes on to become principal cellist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra!

While top musicians who play Nirvana sessions include Lesley Duncan, Big Jim Sullivan, Herbie Flowers, Billy Bremner (later of Rockpile), Luther ‘Ariel Bender’ Grosvenor, and the ubiquitous Clem Cattini, as well as the full Spooky Tooth line-up. There’s a frequent repetition on websites of the who’s-who of music activists who use Nirvana sessions as a tyro creative romper room for sharpening skills that would go on to shape future music, a ‘six degrees of separation’ way of drawing in such behind-the-scenes craftspeople as Jimmy Miller (Rolling Stones), Chris Thomas (Sex Pistols), Tony Visconti (Bowie), or arranger Johnny Scott who scored for the Hollies and subsequent movies such as ‘Greystoke’ (1984) and ‘The Shooting Party’ (1985). Although these are true, they’re hardly necessary. Nirvana is enough in itself. With a title-track suggesting ‘the wind from somewhere east will take us back home,’ the duo’s second album touched down in 1968, without the artistic conceit of a unifying theme. ‘(The Existence Of Chance Is Everything And Nothing While The Greatest Achievement Is The Living Of Life, And So Say) All Of Us’ nevertheless features a more successfully integrated range of broad styles. The cover reproduces a black-and-white print of an 1892 Pierre Fritel painting, showing world history’s most famous ‘Les Conquérants (The Conquerors)’, in a triumphal procession through a mass of corpses – depicting the relentless force of destiny. Yet it’s headlined by two softly-lysergic singles. The ethereal “Tiny Goddess” and the made-in-heaven “Rainbow Chaser” with its collusion of goosebump-inducing vocals, shamanistic lyrics and jaw-dropping melody, what David Wells calls ‘their defining Pop-psych moment’.


The title track with its Procol Harum liturgical organ, had been lifted as the theme for ‘The Touchables’ (1969) – hence it’s sub-title. Stevie Winwood had turned down an offer to provide a soundtrack for this trash-exploitational Swinging Sixties movie from an Ian La Frenais (‘The Likely Lads’) script, of a Pop star kidnapped by four girl fans (a ‘handsome quartet’ played by Kathy Simmonds, Esther Anderson, Marilyn Rickard and Judy Huxtable). So it went to Nirvana – ‘there is no ending to the game that we play’. The bright breezy “Girl In The Park” also has the pastoral flower-power visual quality of a video to frolic in your head. They use rippling harp and a cerise chorus to light the story of “Melanie Blue” who’s ‘got the sunshine to stay’ while her children play. A touching glimpse into post-hip domesticity, ‘I never see the age I am, there is no change in time’. While “Trapeze” uses circus-acrobat imagery to pose the question ‘do you think they are afraid of being high?’ “The Show Must Go On” is a unique Greco-Celt instrumental, while the gauzy lazy breathy “You Can Try It” recaptures McCartney’s easy melodic gift to close another highly accomplished twelve-inch set.

Yet their third album, ‘Black Flower’, was rejected by Blackwell, who compares it disparagingly to Francis Lai’s “A Man And A Woman”. He advised ‘leave the heavy stuff to Spooky Tooth’. Under the new title ‘Dedicated To Markos III’ – supposedly named for a ‘rich uncle’ of Spyropoulos who helped finance the album, its captivatingly soundscaped glide-by beauty arrived through a new label hook-up with Pye in May 1970, though reportedly only 250 copies were pressed and it was deleted shortly after. One track, “Christopher Lucifer”, is a jibe at Blackwell.

Their final shot on the pale pink Island label was the upbeat May 1969 single “Oh! What A Performance”, flipped with “Darling Darlene” which candy-coats ‘ba-ba-ba’ Summer of Love Turtles-style harmonies. By contrast, the ‘A’-side features energetic Spooky Tooth back-up, with Gary Wright’s ‘Lady Madonna’ piano and Luther Grosvenor’s stinging guitar. The tongue-in-cheek lyric has Patrick boasting how he ‘won an Oscar for playing the fool’, while he’s the ‘superstar attraction – yeah’. It’s like he’s finally become that reflection in his cracked teenage mirror, ‘wearing a suit of shimmer and light, my hair on fire, a shower of sparks cascading around me like a golden arch of neon on Broadway.’


Maybe ‘the audience never let him go’, yet in 1971 the duo amicably separate, leaving Campbell-Lyons – who’d dominated ‘Markos III’, as the primary contributor to the next two albums issued under the Nirvana name, both of which have quiet flashes of the group’s sublime excellence. ‘Local Anaesthetic’ (1971), features keyboard-player Patrick Joseph ‘Pete’ Kelly, who also co-writes the “Modus Operandi” track for the album, and ‘Songs Of Love And Praise’ (1972), which features the return of cellist Sylvia Schuster. For those still in doubt, Chris Welch reveals that ‘basically Patrick Campbell-Lyons is Nirvana. He assembles the musicians to interpret his themes, usually in an orchestral context, often with a choir. Some of the themes are instrumental sound paintings, or simple mood pieces like “Nova Sketch” which features a brief piano solo with conga accompaniment’ (‘Melody Maker’ March 1972).

Campbell-Lyons subsequently worked as a solo artist to issue further albums ‘Me And My Friend’ (1973, Sovereign 7258), ‘The Electric Plough’ (1981, Public Publ 1) – which includes a Latin remake of “All Of Us” (as “Habemus De Loca”), and ‘The Hero I Might Have Been’ (1983), while undertaking producer roles for Vertigo progressive albums by Clear Blue Sky and Sunburst – plus Jade Warrior whose members had continuity links all the way back to Second Thoughts (through a one-album Pop-sike group called July). He did production work for Mickey Jupp and Gracious, while ‘Public Records’, an indie label he set up with Gloria Sattin also issued singles by M15 and 50:50 (in May 1980). He also admits to ‘quite a few horrible things I’m not very proud of’, listing ad-jingles and TV-themes for ‘Whitbread Round-The-World Sailing’ and Channel 4’s ‘The Horse In Sport’. Maybe Simon Simopath finally found his mighty wings, without the use of ‘gun and bow and arrow’, during the ‘British Airways Poundstretcher’ ad campaign he also scored?


So, does Nirvana still stack up, across the years? Edit away all the ephemerals to the core of the music on the CD reissues, and does it still mean anything? Well, I’m listening to a compilation CD called ‘Travelling On A Cloud’. And, permit me to entice you with a bargain. We might know this music, but it’s never seemed so fresh. The melodic invention is still as charming, the breathy melancholy can trigger shivers in even the most unwary. These are still wings.

The duo reunite in 1985, touring Europe and releasing a compilation album that contains some new material. Confusingly this was titled ‘Black Flower’ (Bam-Caruso, 1987), because their third album had by now been reissued under this same original planned title! In the 1990s two further albums arrived, ‘Secret Theatre’ (1994) compiled of rare tracks and demos, while ‘Orange And Blue’ (1996) contained previously unreleased material including a tongue-in-cheek flower-power cover of Kurt Cobain’s “Lithium”. According to the band’s official website, this was intended as part of a cheekily-title album to be called ‘Nirvana Sings Nirvana’ that was aborted when Cobain died. When the recording was presented on the ‘Orange And Blue’ album, Campbell-Lyons’s liner notes treat it seriously, with allusions to ‘Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff.

 The eruption of Seattle Grunge presented both problems, and amusing chances. Although the only real confusion came on behalf of opportunistic lawyers who filed 1992 California litigation against Kurt Cobain’s band. Settled out of court on undisclosed terms, Music writer Everett True claims Cobain’s label paid $100,000 to allow both factions to continue using the Nirvana name without disclaimers or caveats to distinguish one from the other. ‘New Musical Express’ reports the reactivated duo were planning a new single, ‘get out of my head, get into my bed’ alongside possible live festival gigs (10 April 1993). Also according to the website, the band still wanted to open for Hole even after Cobain’s death.

Nirvana? This one, or that one? Maybe the next time Nirvana gets Googled, this feature will have gone some way towards striking a certain balance.



NIRVANA: 
THE RAINBOW CHASERS 

SINGLES 

1966 – “California Jazz Club USA” c/w “Chance For Romance” (President Records PT 105), featuring Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Chris Thomas as HAT AND TIE

April 1967 – “Bread To Spend” c/w “I’m Finding It Rough” (President Records PT 122), featuring Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Chris Thomas as HAT AND TIE. The ‘B’-side later recorded by the Everly Brothers

July 1967 – “Tiny Goddess” c/w “I Believe In Love” (Island WIP-6016), first as NIRVANA,‘A’-side produced by Jimmy Miller and Chris Blackwell

October 1967 – “Pentecost Hotel” c/w “Feelin’ Shattered” (Island WIP-6020), ‘A’-side produced by Chris Blackwell. Performed on German TV ‘Beat Club’…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhcFereURCQ

 March 1968 – “Rainbow Chaser” c/w “Flashbulb” (Island WIP-6029), ‘A’-side produced by Muff Winwood – UK Singles Chart No. 34. Also featured on ‘You Can All Join In’ Island sampler album

  
July 1968 – “Girl In The Park” c/w “C-Side In Ocho Rios” (Island WIP-6038), ‘A’-side produced by Chris Blackwell and recording engineer Brian Humphries who started with Nirvana before going on to work with Traffic, Black Sabbath, and Pink Floyd (engineering their acclaimed ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Animals’). ‘B’-side is an instrumental mix of ‘In The Courtyard Of The Stars’ as by the Nirvana Orchestra

November 1968 – “All of Us (The Touchables)” c/w “Trapeze” (Island WIP-6045), ‘A’-side produced by Chris Blackwell and Jimmy Miller, ‘B’-side by Alex Spyropoulos and Patrick Campell-Lyons

January 1969 – “Wings of Love” c/w “Requiem To John Coltrane” (Island WIP-6052), produced by Chris Blackwell

May 1969 – “Oh! What A Performance” c/w “Darling Darlene” (Island WIP-6057), both sides produced by Chris Thomas


May 1970 – “The World Is Cold Without You” c/w “Christopher Lucifer” (Pye International 7N-25525) produced by Mike Hurst, ‘A’-side arranged by Mike Vickers, former Manfred Mann. ‘NME’ says ‘delicate misty opening and that peculiar husky vocal sound. A funny little throw-away song with some Jim Webb-type strings’

1971 – “Stadium” c/w “Please Believe Me” (Philips 6006-166)

April 1974 – “You’re A Winner” c/w “The Proposal” (Chrysalis CHS2041) solo single as ‘Patrick O’Magick’ reviewed by ‘NME’ as ‘a piece of wafer-thin country-Rock, with a chorus you remember with ease’

1976 – “Two Of A Kind” c/w “Before Midnight” (Bradley Records BRAD 7602), from an unstaged Spyropoulos and ‘Patrick O’Magic’ Campell-Lyons musical called ‘Blood’, ‘like a rider in the sky, like a shipwreck passing by’ it goes from a ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ piano to mass choral voices. ‘B’-side as by The Nirvana Ensemble. A French edition couples ‘Two Of A Kind’ c/w ‘Jacqueline’ (Les Disques Motors MT 4074)

1976 – “Ooh It Takes Two To Tango” c/w “Rocking The Boat” (Electric WOT7) as by Arthur and Aliki which is Arthur Brown (of Crazy World) and Aliki Ashman with producer Campell-Lyons adding phasing. Patrick also issues singles as PC Lyons for Chrysalis, ‘The Hero’ as by Erehwon for Harvest, and ‘The Girl From Roxyville’ c/w ‘Autograph Book’ as The Cisco Kid (Electric WOT5). He also wrote and produced ‘My Radio’ c/w ‘Grandpa’ for the Informants (Criminal Records SWAG5) in 1979

November 1978 – “Love Is” c/w “Pascale” (Pepper Records UP 36461) ‘Love is the universal high! The opiate of the people! The answer to the ‘why’!’ Tony Parsons writes ‘sounds like massed choirs of ‘spaced-out’ Jesus ‘children’, ‘ecstatic’ in the ‘mud’’ (NME, 11 November)

1979 – “Restless Wind” c/w “Thank You And Goodnight” (Pepper Records UP 36538), features Joe Fagin

September 1981 – “The Picture of Dorian Gray” c/w “No It Isn’t” (Zilch 8) ‘NME’ says ‘Wilde’s macabre masterpiece trivialised… no good hooks, too long, eviction time from Pentecost Hotel.’ Patrick Campbell-Lyons solo, but issued as Nirvana

1982 – “Black And White Or Colour” c/w “Tall Trees And Mansions” (Zilch 15)

ALBUMS 

1967 – THE STORY OF SIMON SIMOPATH (Island ILPS 9059), produced by Chris Blackwell with ‘Wings Of Love’, ‘Lonely Boy’, ‘We Can Help You’, ‘Satellite Jockey’, ‘In The Courtyard Of The Stars’, ‘You Are Just The One’, ‘Pentecost Hotel’, ‘I Never Found A Love Like This’, ‘Take This Hand’, ‘1999’. ‘NME’ says ‘modern, and yet tuneful’, ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘one of the most adventurous LPs to be issued this month’. A 2003 Universal CD includes bonus tracks ‘I Believe In Magic’, ‘Life Ain’t Easy’, ‘Feelin’ Shattered’, ‘Requiem To John Coltrane’

1968 – THE TOUCHABLES (Twentieth Century FOX SL 10271) movie soundtrack compiled and produced by Chris Blackwell, with Jimmy Miller. Nirvana perform two versions of the theme only, one at 2:46-minutes and one at 2:58. Other tracks are by Wynder K Frog (‘Dancing Frog’ and ‘Blues For A Frog’), Ferris Wheel (‘Respect’), plus various Ken Thorne original instrumentals


1968 – (THE EXISTENCE OF CHANCE IS EVERYTHING AND NOTHING WHILE THE GREATEST ACHIVEMENT IS THE LIVING OF LIFE, AND SO SAY) ALL OF US(Island ILPS 9087) with ‘Rainbow Chaser’, ‘Tiny Goddess’, ‘The Touchables (All Of Us)’, ‘Melanie Blue’ (produced by Chris Blackwell and Brian Humphries), ‘Trapeze’, ‘The Show Must Go On’ (produced by Tony Visconti), ‘Girl In The Park’, ‘Miami Masquerade’, ‘Frankie The Great’, ‘You Can Try It’ (produced by Nirvana), ‘Everybody Loves The Clown’, ‘St John’s Wood Affair’. ‘NME’ says ‘Nirvana is due for big things before long’. The 2003 Universal CD has bonus tracks ‘Flashbulb’, ‘Oh! What A Performance’, ‘Darling Darlene’, ‘C-Side Of Ocho Rios’. An Australian single, ‘Melanie Blue’ c/w ‘Wings Of Love’ issued in 1968 as Festival Records FK-2786

1970 – DEDICATED TO MARKOS III (Pye International NSPL 28132) produced by Mike Hurst, with ‘The World Is Cold Without You’, ‘Excerpt From The Blind And The Beautiful’ (featuring Roger Cook backing voice, Bill Bremner guitar), ‘I Talk To My Room’, ‘Christopher Lucifer’, ‘Aline Cherie’, ‘Tres, Tres Bien’, ‘It Happened Two Sundays Ago’, ‘Black Flower’, ‘Love Suite’ (with Leslie Duncan vocals), ‘Illinois’. Arrangements by Johnny Scott, Mike Vickers and Tony Visconti. Issued in 1969 in the US as Metromedia MD-1018. Reissued in 1987 under its original title ‘Black Flower’ with bonus tracks ‘Shine’ and rerecorded ‘Pentecost Hotel’, and as Edsel EDCD-378. Johnny Black says ‘ambitious orchestrations, quirky time-changes and lyrics that once passed for meaningful evoke the period perfectly’ (‘Q’, February 1994). The first three Nirvana albums are reissued on CD by Universal Records in 2003 to critical acclaim

May 1971 – LOCAL ANAESTHETIC (Vertigo 6360031) with two suites ‘Modus Operandi’ by Patrick Campbell-Lyons with Pete Kelly taking up side one. ‘NME’ says ‘contains a good deal of self-indulgence, although among the aimless cacophony there are brighter moments when the vocalist seems intent on impersonating Jagger’. And ‘Home’ on side two consisting of ‘Salutation’, ‘Construction’, ‘Destruction’, ‘Re-Construction’, ‘Fanfare’ which is ‘nearer the Nirvana of the good songs they’ve proved capable of producing in the past’. Features Jade Warrior and Mel Collins. Reissued in 2005 by Universal (Japan). ‘Home’ is also featured on multi-artist September 1971 LP Vertigo 6360045


February 1972 – SONGS OF LOVE AND PRAISE (Philips 6308-089) with ‘Rainbow Chaser’, ‘Please Believe Me’, ‘Lord Up Above’, ‘She’s Lost It’, ‘Nova Sketch’, ‘Pentecost Hotel’, ‘I Need Your Love Tonight’, ‘Will There Be Me’, ‘Stadium’, with thanks to Jade Warrior, Pete Kelly and Phil Dennis. Chris Welch says ‘it is not necessary to probe for any great depth in this essentially studio orientated music, and there is sometimes an unfinished quality, evident in the use of fade-out, which precludes it from greatness’ (‘Melody Maker’). Press advert says ‘A Really Nice Album’. This new version of ‘Rainbow Chaser’ issued as a single Philips 6006-129. Album reissued in 2005 by Universal (Japan)

1974 – ME AND MY FRIEND(Sovereign 7258), Patrick Campbell-Lyons’s first solo album, with ‘Out Of Nowhere’, ‘Friends’, ‘Mother England’, ‘Everybody Should Fly A Kite’, ‘Tomorrow I’ll Make You Smile’, ‘Me And My Friend’, ‘Jesus Christ Junior’, ‘I Think I Want Him Too’, ‘1974’ and ‘Watch Out Cassius Clay’. Features lyrics by Dominic Behan. When released on CD, most of the tracks from ‘Songs of Love and Praise’ are also included and it was marketed as a Nirvana album

September 1981 – THE ELECTRIC PLOUGH(Public Records Publ 1), subtitled ‘The Story Of A Blind Man Walking Through A Field Of Poppies’, Patrick Campbell-Lyons’s second solo LP ‘has as its theme emigration, exile and a joyful return to the home country’ says ‘Hot Press’. With ‘Sanskrit’ a psychedelic Gregorian choral chant, ‘Tomorrow’, ‘The Actor Prepares’ sung by Martin Finlay, ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, ‘Afternoon Dancing’ with Theresa De Breu, ‘Habemus De Loca’ (Latin version of ‘All Of Us’), ‘Honeymoon For One’ instrumental, ‘The Hero I Might Have Been’, ‘Naked Robots Watching Breakfast TV’, ‘Sanskrit Reprise’ and ‘Sanctuary’ – ‘signifying the return to Ireland. Again it’s a traditional air, probably the most successful of its kind on the album, a well-arranged, nicely-textured fusion of pipes, fiddle and harp’. Alex wrote two tracks and co-produces another

1987 – BLACK FLOWER (Bam Caruso LP KIRI041) compilation with ‘Black Flower’, ‘I Believe In Magic’, ‘It Happened Two Sundays Ago’, ‘Life Ain’t Easy’, ‘Pentecost Hotel’, ‘The World Is Cold Without You’, ‘Satellite Jockey’, ‘Excerpt From The Blind And The Beautiful’, ‘Tiny Goddess’, ‘Illinois’, ‘Tres Tres Bien’, ‘Love Suite’ with new tracks ‘June’ and ‘We Can Make It Through’

1992 – TRAVELLING ON A CLOUD (Island 3D CID 1002), compilation with ‘Rainbow Chaser’, ‘Pentecost Hotel’, ‘Tiny Goddess’, ‘Girl In The Park’, ‘Melanie Blue’, ‘You Can Try It’, ‘Trapeze’, ‘Satellite Jockey’, ‘Wings Of Love’, ‘The Show Must Go On’, ‘The Touchables (All Of Us)’, ‘We Can Help You’, ‘Oh! What A Performance’ and ‘Darling Darlene’, with Brian Hogg sleeve-notes

1995 – SECRET THEATRE (Edsel EDCD 407) twenty-one-track rarities and outtakes including previously unissued demo of ‘Girl In The Park’ by Smoke, Jimmy Cliff vocals on ‘Waterfall’, Joe Fagin vocals on ‘Restless Wind’, Diana Dor’s son Gary (‘Twenty-Four Kisses’), plus Campbell-Lyons spoken-word ‘Dali’, ‘Indiscreet Harlequin’ and ‘Rio De Janeiro’ (about meeting Guy Stevens, Jimmy Cliff and Salvador Dali, from his book ‘Rainbow Chaser’). Also ‘Pascale’, ‘Girl From Roxyville’ (described by ‘NME’ as ‘surreal mixed-up laid-back cineramic masturbation’), ‘Radio UFO’ and a cover of Marty Wilde’s hit ‘Bad Boy’

1996 – ORANGE AND BLUE (Edsel EDCD 485) with ‘Orange And Blue’ (lyrics include spoken passage using ‘silver apples of the moon’), ‘Lithium’, ‘Stone In The Water’, ‘As Long As I Can See You’, ‘Lost In Space’, ‘Busy Man’, ‘What Are We Gonna Do Now?’ (new recording using drum-machine), ‘Do You Dream?’, ‘My Little Red Book’, ‘Allison Smith’, ‘The Face At The Window’, ‘Our Love Is The Sea’

September 1999 – CHEMISTRY (Edsel FBOOK24), 3CD retrospective, first disc titled ‘Orchestral’ 18-tracks with alternate ‘Rainbow Chaser’, ‘Acoustic’ 17-tracks with ‘Stone In The Water’ and ‘My Friend Taffin’, and ‘Rock And Pop’ with ‘My Little Red Book’ and ‘Tiny Goddess’, including twelve previously unreleased tracks, some new material and a 16pp booklet

2003 – FOREVER CHANGING (Island Records 980-001-5) 14-track compilation credited as ‘An Introduction To Nirvana’, yet oddly includes the later Philips re-recordings of ‘Pentecost Hotel’ and ‘Rainbow Chaser’. Sleeve notes by Phil Smee

2011 – THE 13 DALIS (Global Recording) A thirteen-track Patrick Campbell-Lyons solo project recorded in London, Spain and Morocco with Alex Spyropoulos guesting, includes ‘Sunset City’, ‘A Prayer Before A Kiss’, ‘Unforgiven’, ‘Falling’, ‘All I Do Is For You’, ‘Reach’, ‘Nothing Changes’ and ‘Flowers For Friday’ plus Richard Thompson’s ‘Galway To Graceland’ and Love’s ‘Live And Let Live’. The title Dali is a guru, not Salvador!

April 2012 – CULT (Global Recording Artists) 23-track compilation aimed at the US market as ‘The Young Person’s Guide To Nirvana’, the cover-art says Nirvana ’69 to avoid potential confusion

BOOK 

November 2009 – PSYCHEDELIC DAYS: 1960-1969 by Mr Patrick Campbell-Lyons (Createspace ISBN-10: 1449923291 ISBN-13: 978-1449923297) autobiography

Music and interview… 


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Science Fiction: THE WORLDS OF BOB SHAW



THE METICULOUSLY 
IDIOSYNCRATIC 
WORLDS OF 
BOB SHAW

 Bob Shaw: 
31 December 1931-11 February 1996


HIGHER THAN ORBITSVILLE 

In attempting experimentalism Science Fiction breathes the heady avant-gardism of pseudo-William Burroughs. Conversely it dissolves into the sword and sorcery escapism of neo-Edgar Rice Burroughs. It is proclaimed to be the only indigenous literature of the twentieth century, accused of being art, and analysed as a sociological phenomenon by Structuralist critics. In the meantime, Bob Shaw is caught up in a time-warp of Asimovian fifties fiction. He delights in a very unvoguish love of contextually unnecessary technological gimmicks across thirty-plus books, including ‘Nightwalk’ (1967), ‘The Two-Timers’ (1968), ‘Ground Zero’ (1971) and ‘Orbitsville’ (1975), and across a plethora of short stories.


‘I have always suffered from an overactive imagination’ he explains, ‘and thought it was about time I started to make it earn some money’ (from an interview published in ‘Vickers News’ magazine, dated 23 August 1974). But his imagination runs in the groove labeled ‘mainstream’, drawing diverse elements from the SF tradition, into a mix suffused with Cyril Kornbluth’s ethos of a future super-capitalist America. And it works – extremely well, but while the balance is precarious, it’s well worth taking a trip around.

He offsets his ‘spray-on wigs’ (‘organic base painted over the scalp, black silky fuzz air-blasted onto it’), with concise visual description that at its best can encroach on Mervyn Peake territory. A running man is depicted as ‘more like the shadow of an aircraft than a man, pike-mouth agape, scooping in air.’ For every ‘pearlised skin’ cosmetic and ‘cloud of visi-perfume’, there’s a graphically rewarding ‘clouds were seahorses of frozen grey steel’, or a windy night that is ‘rain-seeded’.


Yet sometimes the balance gets unbalanced. It could be argued that in ‘Other Days, Other Eyes’ – a 1972 Gollancz/Pan novel expanded from the short story “Light Of Other Days” (‘Analog’, August 1966), that the central theme is little more than an extended gimmick. That of ‘retardite’, a type of glass through which light passes at variable speeds, freezing moving pictures of the past at different time-lags. In much the same way the 1971 short story “What Time Do You Call This?” (‘Amazing SF’, September) is built around the novelty technology of a parallel alternate world reached by a belt device. Martin Amis criticizes ‘Orbitsville’ in ‘The Guardian’ for its over-concentration on the geography of a giant Dyson sphere, a hollow world-shell larger than the orbit of the Earth containing one-hundred-and-fifty-billion square kilometers of exploitable land across its inner surface.

His ‘The Palace Of Eternity’ (1969, Ace Books/Gollancz) seems to be a shot at vindicating him from such charges of particularism. Indeed, by populating space with ‘sprit’ life-forms – the Egons, he invites comparison with the CS Lewis’ theological ‘Silent Planet’ trilogy, as well as Reich’s ideas of ‘orgone-energy’. Just as the apocalyptical transformation of the human race at the climax of ‘The Palace Of Eternity’ with its Nietzschean ‘ubermensch’ overtones echoes Arthur C Clarke’s ‘Childhood’s End’ (1953). Surely there’s enough ‘meaning’ here to keep those Structuralist critics contentedly intrigued?


Yes, the visionary quality is undeniable, yet the action takes place well inside the ‘galactic-expansion-colonisation’ SF tradition. Just as the novel’s aliens, the Syccans, follow the early SF pattern of predictable ugliness and cardboard cut-out belligerence. In the same way that his Nessters are comic-strip repulsive and mindlessly baneful – in the story “And The Isles Where Good Men Lie” (in ‘New Worlds’ October 1965, collected into ‘Tomorrow Lies In Ambush’, Gollancz, 1973). Despite the complexity and depth of character motivation and relationships, there’s no attempt at depicting an alien psychology. He deliberately falls back on the ‘Monster-mag’ cliché in another story, “An Uncomic Book Horror Story” (‘Science Fiction Monthly’ vol.2 no.9, September 1975), with the story’s mentally-retarded protagonist devoured by a shapeshifter assuming the guise of a pillar box!


‘The Palace Of Eternity’ is nonetheless a compulsively breathtaking novel. Its ‘theological’ content, the concept of non-evolutionary ‘clouds of energy’ space-life, is as hypnotically complex as the Syccans are superficial. This is Bob Shaw’s ‘balance’ for the novel. The Egons imprint the life-essence of planetary beings following their death, gifting them an eternal after-life. The species and generations of a world thus combine to form a ‘Mother-mass’ that communicates inspiration to artists at moments of psychic contact, and eventually continues to exist as the planet’s soul long after the world itself is dead and its actual life extinct. Yet the idea is decked out with the inevitable ‘nightclub walls of continually distorting mirrors’ (‘changing their shape as solenoids behind them exert pressure in a random sequence dictated by the heat-patterns radiated from the customer’s skins, cigarettes and drinks’), just as his other novels flourish wristwatches tattooed to the skin (‘rearranging pigmentation-molecules in accordance with standard time-signals broadcast’), and invisible chairs (‘sitting down, apparently in empty air but supported by the Queen Vic magnetic chair built into the seat of his hose’). And as for his ‘heels giving off coloured light at the impact of each step’, maybe he should have taken out an early patent!

As if to defend these bizarre ‘inventions’ Shaw told ‘Vickers News’ ‘I am working in an area with a high-technology interest. The things that people are doing today would have been looked on as Science Fiction a few years ago.’ He spoke from the experience of a diverse and trans-Atlantic history, some twenty years of which had been preoccupied with SF. He’d been brought up in Ireland, recalling ‘I lived in Belfast, which has never been a great place to live in, and just after World War II when there was still rationing, it was a form of exquisite misery to be an imaginative teenager in that city’ (in an interview with John Brosnan in ‘Science Fiction Monthly’ vol.2 no.9).


Once snared by reading his first copy of ‘Astounding SF’ at the age of eleven, escape from that exquisite misery arrived via fantastic fiction. He lists AE Van Vogt as a formative influence, citing the writer’s ability to ‘quite often, in one sentence, threw out more ideas than some modern writers use up in their entire careers.’ The young Bob Shaw contacts fellow enthusiasts Walt Willis and Jim White through the fanzine-pages of ‘Fantastic’, and they together use ‘The Enchanted Duplicator’ to produce their own fifty-page amateur zine ‘Slant’, circulating 150-copies. His involvement with such magazines is important and long-lasting, developing his own writing skills through thriving fan outlets. The debut issue of prozine ‘Nebula’ (no.1, Autumn 1952) advertises ‘Peri’ – a ‘new fanzine run by the junior fanatics’ including work by both EC Tubb… and Bob Shaw. Two years later ‘a delightful piece of humorous writing by that wayward genius Bob Shaw’ appeared in ‘Orion’ (the ‘Electric Fan’ column in ‘Nebula no.10’, October 1954).

In the meantime, he worked as a structural draughtsman, and became a journalist for the ‘Belfast Telegraph’. Later he moved to Canada for three years. But before his emigration he’d graduated to selling his own stories through modest pro titles. ‘I had six short stories published in a row – the first six that I wrote. Then my seventh story was rejected so I gave up for ten years…’


ASPECTS OF HIS JOURNEY ALONE 

That cache of early tales opens with “Aspect” in ‘Nebula no.9’ (August 1954), followed by “The Trespassers” in ‘Nebula no.11’ (December 1954) billed as ‘a repeat performance by our popular discovery’. Next came “The Journey Alone” in no.12 (April 1955), which was voted third most popular story in its issue. Switching to ‘Authentic SF’ for “Departure” (no.62, October 1955) there’s an obvious striving for effect – ‘she was only a pale, impersonal blur in the aureate glow of the moon that was beginning to rise against the whiter, colder light of the galaxy’, and ‘the impartial firelight erasing the deep handwriting of time on his brown cheeks’. There’s even some confusion between ‘galaxy’ and universe’. Occasionally clumsy, and obviously the work of a writer in the process of learning his craft, these tales nevertheless introduce inventive twists on regular plot-devices. He returned to ‘Nebula’ as ‘one of our most talented new authors’ in time for “Sounds In The Dawn”, the lead novelette in no.15 (January 1956). A sequel to “Aspect”, it’s blurbed ‘mysteriously stranded on a strange planet, their ship under constant observation, three Earthmen strive to interpret obscure instructions received from outside.’


But one of Shaw’s finest early stories is “Barrier To Yesterday” (‘Nebula no.16’, March 1956), illustrated by Arthur Thomson and published just prior to his move to Canada. A tribe of human survivors eternally circle the frozen Earth on ice-sleds pursuing the Sun as the planet’s axial rotation slows. The climax comes when they encounter a crashed alien spaceship that at first seems to threaten their precarious existence, but inadvertently provides their salvation. Editor Peter Hamilton describes it as ‘another of the truly original and off-trail yarns with which he is building himself a formidable reputation as one of our top authors.’ Indeed, it’s an idea that parallels one by another young writer then building a reputation – for Michael Moorcock uses a similar concept in his novel ‘The Ice Schooner’ (1969). The sixth Shaw short – “The Silent Partners”, appears in ‘Nebula no.41’ (June 1959).

After this prestige-building run of sales Bob Shaw maintained contact with the genre through the continuing literary anchor of his humorous ‘The Glass Bushel’ column in ‘Hyphen’, and in the BSFA magazine ‘Vector’ (no.3, Winter 1958). Indeed, a brief 1971 return trip to North America sponsored by SF fan-groups came in recognition of twenty years of fanzine-writing. But when he took up fiction again, it would be in novel-form. ‘My books have fairly complicated plots’ he explained. ‘They run to seventy or eighty-thousand words. The fastest I have written took seven weeks, and the slowest a year. Some of course, are easier to write than others. When a book is going well I work very hard for a couple of months and then I take a break and do nothing.’ The approach pays off. With a four-novel Ace Books contract he initially gave up the day-job in favour of writing full-time. But – complaining that he ‘missed the stimulus of meeting people and getting out and about,’ he resumed employment, as PR officer for Shorts – the Belfast Aircraft Company for three years! And Publicity Officer for Vickers Shipbuilding Group at Barrow-in-Furness for two-and-a-half years.


‘In my job’ he points out, ‘I work with men who are nowhere near the level of the sort of men who would get into the first spaceships, they are merely competent engineers, but it is a pleasure to watch their minds in action. Trained, efficient, scrupulously careful and working to a system of procedure with built-in checks at every important point’ (a letter to the ‘Guided Missives’ column of ‘Nebula no.13’, September 1955). But since September 1975 he devoted himself to writing fulltime again, with the intention of producing three novels a year.

‘The Palace Of Eternity’ is Shaw’s most ‘British’ novel. Most of his work shares little of the evolutionary characteristics of the HG Wells, Olaf Stapledon, John Wyndham, AC Clarke sub-genre, but slots seamlessly into the American pantheon of counterparts. This extends beyond the story locations – invariably the USA, into the very spirit of the work. Asimov developing his ‘Laws of Robotics’ is analogous to Shaw detailing the internal logic of tachyonic physics, ‘a branch of science which held a mirror to Einsteinian physics, dealing with particles which could not go slower than light’. The Tachyonic Star-Drive is based on ‘the technique of creating micro-continuums within a spaceship composed of normal matter so that it could display some of the attributes of tachyons and thus travel at huge multiples of the speed of light.’ To be sure, Shaw and Asimov’s approaches differ. The British writer bases his idea within a hard-technology background while the American requisitions a ‘Detective Story’ format. Yet the meticulous concern with precise detail and the minutiae of future sciences is identical. In ‘Nightwalk’, Shaw develops a similarly complex branch of theoretic physics, pivoting around the Null-space concept. It also predates ‘slow glass’ by dealing with ‘types of seeing’, featuring a blinded hero, Tallon, whose special aids enable him to ‘map’ null-space.


Astutely, Shaw’s novels seem targeted at the American market, and invariably debut there first. A version of ‘The Shadow Of Heaven’ was published through US Avon Books in June 1969, and only through the UK New English Libraries over a year later. This abridged edition was itself replaced by a 1974 reprint – Shaw was never happy with the novel’s original draft, protesting it was written in too much of a hurry and under great pressure. A further revision followed as late as 1991 through Gollancz. But few British writers have so completely subsumed the essence of American fiction as Shaw. His writing proclaims a belief in the American ideas of individuality and free-enterprise – although, of course, this gives his protagonists greater freedom from social restraint, and legitimizes the degree of technological independence that gives his stories their clarity.

‘The American way of life’ he tells John Brosnan, ‘hasn’t been in existence long enough for it to have become rigid and formalized, and the idea of a sudden change occurring within American society, such as a radical new invention, seems quite feasible – whereas it doesn’t fit too well with either Ireland or England.’ In “Repeat Performance” (‘Magazine Of Fantasy & SF’, February 1971) he has a character enquire ‘if I was one of those people who think deeply about causes and effects,’ and we get the distinct impression he feels he’s not such a person. “The Happiest Days Of Your Life” (‘Analog SF’, October 1970) and “Call Me Dumbo” (‘If’, December 1966) similarly show human simplicity and lack of sophistication as virtues against the dehumanising face of technology. Yet despite this apparent bias in favour of the ‘common man’, Shaw’s political philosophy is ill-defined. “(Harold Wilson At) The Cosmic Cocktail Party” – a 1970 story anthologized into ‘Tomorrow Lies In Ambush’, satirises the entire political set-up. In an induced fantasy situation a reincarnated robot Harold Wilson – complete with stock clichés about Tory misrule, is dispatched to Earth as a representative of the Galactic Socialist Congress to combat the planet’s right-wing backlash, in which African States are reverting to voluntary colonialism.


Shaw’s humour is a constant, if submerged factor, with neat off-hand remarks about ‘Teachers demanding equal pay with Students’, or incisive comments with a sting in their tail about ‘token food gifts from India to the beleaguered West’ (in ‘The Shadow Of Heaven’) which perceptively nails the ‘token’ role of organizations such as Oxfam. Descriptions can be neat similes, ‘like cats who had not only licked the cream but found a few drowned mice in it,’ or spacious metaphors as in a human race ‘all dressed up with spaceships, but nowhere to go’. The humour extends into the most bizarre and involved situations such as the Chinese regulating population by synchronizing all menstruation, then banning sex on the crucial days! An idea made even more idiosyncratic by that operation being carried out by the Kuomintang, the Chiang Kai-Shek administration driven into exile by the Communists in 1949.


But, more than humour, his stylistic virtues include protagonists caught up in readily identifiable emotional tangles. Perhaps it’s just another facet of his particular brand of quirkiness that the well-observed relationship must be as complex, as meticulously charted as his gimmick technological innovations. Or maybe it’s that in a genre notorious for shallow characterization his emotional interactions just seem deeper by comparison? As early as “Barrier To Yesterday” a strong feature of the plot is the marital tension between Chandrill, wife Sinoon, and the rival Minnatose. Elsewhere Shaw speaks of the ‘timeless man-woman relationship’ – always an unsatisfactory and destructive equation. The awkward husband-wife love-hate situation in ‘Other Days, Other Eyes’ is developed through minutely-charted bitchy conversations as the marriage status quo alters in response to Retardite profits. From direct dominance, the wife is forced to adopt emotional blackmail tactics, taking advantage of her husband’s guilt-feelings and sense of responsibility. At the novel’s climax the husband meets his ideal woman – Jane Watson, a cop-out figure unworthy of Shaw’s reputation. Perfection is boring. It’s the compromised relationship that is interesting, a contention adequately borne out by the plot’s first three-quarters build-up.


There’s an essential humanity to the relationships just as apparent in minor incidents. In ‘One Million Tomorrows’ (Ace Books/ Gollancz, 1971) the central character pauses to rescue a stranded frog. The protagonist of ‘Other Days, Other Eyes’ relives his childhood inability to involve himself in bullying. In such a context, Jane Watson with her ‘black evening dress so fine and sheer that her breasts seemed to have no more covering than a film of glossy paint and… a soft triangular bulge of hair below the plummy curve of her belly’ seems an interloper from Stereotype Images Inc. Oddly enough, one-and-a-half-years previous – in ‘One Million Tomorrows’, Shaw’s writing had gone beyond such superficiality and into the sweaty, uncomfortable, glorious ridiculousness of real sexual encounters. The only sour note being the farcical redemption of wife Athene whose adultery – it transpires, is the result of a surreptitiously administered aphrodisiac!

The relationship in the novella “Pilot Plant” (‘New Worlds’ no.162, May 1966) centres around the problems of living with a media hero. ‘The Palace Of Eternity’ presents an even more complex situation, again involving the destructive nature of media exploitation. Tavernor is an emotional cripple. With his parents killed in a Syccan raid, he’s subsequently crucified by the media as a result of his own escape. He dedicates his life to revenge, then eventually retires to find peace of mind on the ‘poet’s planet’. His relationships are unsatisfactory, but he fathers a child before being killed, only to be reincarnated through the intervention of the Egons – as his own son! Adding a new twist to the Oedipus Complex. Freud is again in evidence in ‘The Shadow Of Heaven’, lurking behind the ambiguous and unresolved relationship between half-brothers. The dénouement, of guilt at not ‘defending’ a widowed Mother from the half-brother’s father, works itself out in a scene of apocalyptical destruction.


A MILLION MORE TOMORROWS 

‘One Million Tomorrows’ gives more twists to a similarly archetypal theme. The quest for immortality has been recurrent since alchemist’s first sought the Philosopher’s Stone. A problem even tackled by the other Shaw – George Bernard, in his play ‘Back To Methuselah’ (1922). And predictably, the subject has been equally well-mapped in Science Fiction. Yet Shaw’s novel gives only the occasional sense of déjà vu, and the issues are worked out to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. The immortality drug arrests further growth or decay at the stage it is administered, but applies the brake of male sterility to preserve the biological balance. Hence immortality’s two-fold psychological impact. The effective castration of overly masculine characteristics (testicles atrophy in accordance with Wogan’s hypothesis), in all but the ‘funkies’ – functional pre-immortal males. And the subjective problems of eternity itself remain.

Shaw recognises that an overnight racial transformation – even when faced with something as awe-inspiring as immortality, is unlikely. His image of the immortal tending his garden while indulging in petty gossip, entirely forgetting his earlier centuries, is believably mundane. Yet while remaining superficially unchanged, he’s able to manipulate the mass psychological shift and integrate it into the same society. When life potential is infinite, the statistical likelihood of accidental death over a span of time measured in centuries rather than decades, is statistically multiplied, so the risk factor in daily life must be reduced. Which results in the ‘bitch’ or safe stable society. David Duncan had already made the idea of an obsessively safety-conscious immortal society pivotal to his novelette “The Immortals” (‘Galaxy’, October 1960).


The burden on global overpopulation is conveniently sidestepped beyond polar cities, more rational use of world resources and the like. Faced by a prospect of universal immortality and continued proliferation by ‘Funkies’, these would be finger-in-the-dyke policies. As though Shaw is less concerned with far-reaching social effects, and more with individual personal possibilities. Concentrating more on technological innovation and human relationships than the social structures that would result. For example, with dogged – and often enviable determination, he pursues every possible avenue of merchandising Slow-Glass – from street-lighting to jewelry, from espionage to ‘eyes for the blind’, to the 3D visual preservation of images of the dead, an idea to which he gives morbid necrophiliac overtones. He even touches on its value as a medium for pornography, yet ignores the sound economic monopolies and vested interests that would violently oppose such commercial adventures.


His ‘invisible para-magnetic high heels’ have an exploitable novelty value, but – as in “Dark Icarus” (‘Science Fiction Monthly’ no.4, April 1974) in which counter-gravity belts revolutionise travel, rendering the auto and aero industries obsolete, the mass application of Slow-Glass on the scale envisaged in ‘Other Days, Other Eyes’ would create immense economic disruption. These are problems he never attempts to meet. A photograph can eternalize a single moment, a wedding or a Presidential shooting, yet with Slow-Glass, once the image has gone, once the light has escaped, it cannot be recaptured (except onto another Slow-Glass, and so ad infinitum!). It can record the unspecific, but even with ‘emission control’, Retardite could not indefinitely eternalize the singular, which is the real value of visual recording. So there’s little – beyond miniaturization for espionage purposes and novelty ephemera, that Retardite could poach from the movie-photographic industry.

Similarly, the Egon concept of ‘The Palace Of Eternity’ is fascinating, fusing elements of the Bergson-Shavian élan vital idea with Jung’s ‘racial subconscious’. It also recalls the final page of Eric Frank Russell’s ‘Sentinals From Space’ (1953) which refers to a ‘Homo in Excelsis’ very similar to Shaw’s spirit-forms. Yet the idea of a post-death non-corporeal existence is debatable. Black Room experiments that achieve total sensory deprivation, severing mind-personality from the physical stimuli of the senses, result in the decay of reason and eventual insanity. It seems the mind can’t exist without the body, unless the death-metamorphosis changes the mind-structure too, in which case essential humanity can hardly be said to survive.

Bob Shaw is fascinated by the idiosyncrasies of his literary inventions. On this level alone he explores more effectively than any other writer within the possible-technologies sub-genre. Yet emphasis on the particular can work counter to the visionary value of SF. The minute betraying detail is never understated, whether it’s simple visual observations – such as ‘meticulously folded bills’ or ‘ring-marks’ on a finger in “Communication” (‘Fantastic’, June 1970, collected into ‘Tomorrow Lies In Ambush’), or such cause-and-effect as that ‘left-handed people replace the telephone receiver the other way round.’ In the same way – as in the tradition of Asimov’s robot stories, Retardite crimes are worked out to an ingenious degree, incorporating the concept-on-concept factor of Slow-Glass also being used in Crime Detection. Yet there remains a nagging suspicion that the complex game of possibilities – if temporarily diverting, is limiting. The traditional Crime Detection novel suggests an ordered universe. It advances a ‘place for everything’ philosophy. Its premise is that, if dedicated people look for long enough, they’ll deduce the key clue that makes everything fit. The value of SF is that it knows better. It can see beyond the trivia. Even at its most crude Space Opera level, by its very hardware, it suggests an eternity of space and an infinity of time. Detail can reinforce the credibility of an idea, but once it obscures or loses sight of the idea it must become suspect.

Similarly, over-indulgence in whims of minutiae can lead to awkward literary traps. Bob Shaw’s novels make intelligent use of current technology, introducing Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Bubbles, for example. But on the other hand his ‘invention’ of a transport system based on private capsules in an air-pressure tube leads to such grotesque remarks as ‘Go on, you are in the tube – now let it bullet’ (for ‘spit it out’). This kind of future usage, while common to earlier SF decades, is now sensibly avoided.

Yet such excesses are rare. In his article “Bicycles To Betelguese” (in the 1974 ‘Newcastle Tynecon SF Conference’ Booklet) he compares the traditional SF hardware against the New Wave ‘software’. He cites population explosion, pollution, the drug culture, abuse of organ transplant, urban barbarism, mass psychosis and computer-domination as characteristic New Wave clichés. These memes, he says, prevent new writers from being expansive in the way that the genre-writers it supersedes were ‘outward-looking’. As early as 1955 he criticized EC Tubb for a similar negative approach, accusing him ‘of the one mistake that should never be made by a writer who worships at the shrine of the progress of science – namely, underestimating the power of the scientific mind’ (a letter to the ‘Guided Missives’ column of ‘Nebula no.13’). The New Wave clichés he lists are convergent – ‘they work together to impose a direction on the mind, guiding it down a narrowing and darkening path towards a single, cut-and-dried future. I have to rebel.’


This rebellion is skillfully carried out through his novels. He rebels successfully through his development of the immortality ‘fraud’ in ‘One Million Tomorrows’. The passage of time changes personality, he observes. Through the novel’s central character he asks ‘without absolute continuance of the personality can there be such a thing as immortality? Or does it simply mean that one deathless body would be inhabited by a series of strangers, each fading imperceptibly into the next as the biological slates were wiped clean?’ This single observation is worth ten gimmick-inventions. Secondly, he reasons that virtual immortality removes the stimulus to genius provided by death. With time-scales indefinitely extended, and the prospect of death postponed, the spark of human illogic is quenched, along with that hint of paranoia that paradoxically invests us with uniqueness. If the end product of all endeavour is wiped out by death – and only art transcends time and mortality, immortality renders art itself obsolete.

It’s illogical to suppose that a man of genius, given endless life would fill eternity with works of genius. Nietzsche, the German philosopher who Bob Shaw mentions – and misspells in “And The Isles Where Good Men Lie”, comments that genius is finite. Humans ‘merely write their own autobiographies’. Genius is the interpretation of life through one pair of eyes, and the number of permutations is limited. An intellectual tradition is built up by the superimposition of generations of ‘pairs of eyes’. Giving one thinker the same time-span as generations would not produce the same end result.


Although Shaw doesn’t follow his reasoning quite this far, the intimations are inescapable. Yet he doesn’t ignore such quirkily human idiosyncrasies as ‘Child-Fixing’, the freezing of infant development into endless babyhood to gratify the over-maternal, or the dissolution of marriage with the loss of male virility, as well as the compensatory development of female communes consisting of time-frozen Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother, all living together like so many identical Russian Dolls. The joke ‘going home to Mother’ becomes a bizarre going back to a multitude of proto-Mothers.

Longevity is viewed from a different tack in “The Cosmic Cocktail Party” where electronically-duplicated brains are maintained in a ‘tank’ for consultation after death. While – in ‘The Palace Of Eternity’, tachyonic space-travel is unwittingly lacerating the Egons energy, and hence destroying its race-mind in the process. The only world where this is not true is Mnemosyne – taking its name from ‘mnemonic’, the ‘good memory’ of the Greek mythology Mother of the Muses. The planet, also known as Cerulea – ‘sky-blue’, has an asteroidal moon-shell within which the ‘Butterfly’ ships are unable to function, hence the race-mind remains intact. Shaw reinforces its subsequent role as a Poet’s Planet with quotes from, or mentions of Shelly, Eliot, Milton, Gaugin, and “The Lady Of Shalot”. As well as an ‘I think, therefore I’m alive’ sideswipe at Descartes. There are also literary references within the eleven tales collected into ‘Tomorrow Lies In Ambush’, including to Frazer’s occult treatise ‘The Golden Bough’ (1890). Yet name-dropping is never allowed to become pedantic. Humorously there’s a character whose genesis maybe stems from a less noble source, called (Spiro?) Agnew, while for aficionados of SF tie-ins there’s the short story “The Weapons Of Isher II” (‘Amazing SF’ May 1971) that borrows from AE Van Vogt’s 1951 classic ‘The Weapon Shops Of Isher’. Shaw acknowledges further influences in his ‘Science Fiction Monthly’ interview, including an aborted shot at writing an Alastair Maclean-type thriller. While his ‘Ground Zero Man’ (Avon, September 1971), about a scientist using a fictional device to prevent World War II, had at that time to find a British outlet because ‘it was a sort of Lawrence Durrell type of novel with a lot of characterisation’ and ‘the publisher didn’t think it was Science Fiction’ (it appeared through Corgi as late as October 1976, revised as ‘The Peace Machine’ for Gollancz, 1985).


‘I think I was born with an interest in Science Fiction’ Shaw explains to ‘Vickers News’. ‘As a child I always read the Science Fiction strips in my comics before anything else.’ But Bob Shaw is no mere word-weaver. His writing is economical, his descriptions concise and functional, yet capable of sudden flights of vividly visual images – ‘seen from almost directly overhead the pedestrian has no identity, it was barely possible to separate men from women – and he found it difficult to accept that each one of the creeping dots regarded itself as the centre of the universe’ (‘Other Days, Other Eyes’). He uses well-chosen perfectly-matched adjectives, as in ‘voice-stilling silence’. Robots in ‘The Shadow Of Heaven’ are seen ‘patiently grazing’. Watch-hands represent ‘the blind present tapping its way into eternity’. Adrenalin ‘performs its ancient duties’, while grain-fields ‘rolled down to the river like unleashed bolts of yellow satin’.

‘The Shadow Of Heaven’ shows his writing at its best, despite the names Victor Stirling and Johnny Considine, which seem to match the mood of a ‘Dan Dare’ strip or a pulp Gangster novel. The location is the US Eastern seaboard in the year 2092, following the erosion of arable land in insidious and unexplained warfare. Populations are compressed into dystopian shore-side cities that recall ‘Stand On Zanzibar’ (John Brunner, 1968) or ‘Make Room, Make Room’ (Harry Harrison, 1966). Women wear ‘roast beef perfume’, while national administration is centralized in ‘Government Mile’. Giant anti-gravity discs – International Land Extensions (Ile’s), float three miles high above the ocean providing food for populations living in minute Fam-Apts (Family Apartments, a usage that Shaw uses in other stories) who regard the sky-borne shadows as Heaven. A character ‘looked out of the apartment’s single window and down through the clouds drifting in the street canyons below, his eyes were like those of a sniper.’ The hero takes the road to the Ile’s in search of his missing half-brother. There’s a battle for ILE-US-23 which is occupied by squatters, a conflict that provides the setting for the antagonism between the two half-brothers. The situation is resolved, leaving only the unanswered question that if this has happened on one Ile, hasn’t it also happened on the others? The Western Seaboard alone has eighteen.


Despite some thirty-two books, including collections, Bob Shaw never received the recognition that is his due. A most singular writer who, if not quite altering the course of his chosen genre, filled it out and given depth to its neglected terra incognita. As this fly-over of – largely, the earlier years of his work has attempted to prove, there’s no pretence of mystical or philosophical messages, no grand gestures or sterile stylistic experiments. He embraces SF mythology. There is Synthajuice and Blotch Guns, while TV-glasses are featured in two stories, cofftea is drunk in a number of tales, there are one-thousand kph London-to-Liverpool monorails, and even a ‘white-uniformed Food Technology Authority’. His writing betrays affection for the traditional Mad Scientist theme, with its implicit belief in eccentric individuality (as in “And The Islands Where Good Men Lie”, “Communication” and “What Time Do You Call This?”). All combined with the hero’s struggle against police and blind bureaucracy to help the mad scientist save the world.

In his own words ‘a damn good set of clichés one must admit’ (“Bicycles To Betelguese”).

‘Clichés play a vital role in maintaining the economic health of any brand of literature’ he contends. ‘They are the identification marks which enable the Average Reader to classify different forms of literature, to decide whether or not he likes any particular one, and to locate it in the shops when he decides to make a purchase. I am using clichés here in its broadest sense… a stock image, a well-worked theme, or a very familiar treatment.’ If such an approach reduces literature to the level of neatly-labeled consumer products, Bob Shaw’s fiction is rescued by its human elements.

The iconoclastic late-sixties New Wave exploded all around him, throwing up reputations and destroying others. Science Fiction breathes the heady avant-gardism of pseudo-William Burroughs, as it dissolves into the sword and sorcery escapism of neo-Edgar Rice Burroughs. While Shaw continued to work firmly within the SF tradition, using its established hardware and conventions, yet viewing them through his own meticulously idiosyncratic perception. He juxtaposes his clichés in ways that make them come out refurbished and vital. There’s no trendy decadence or surrealist… although he comes close to attaining both – though functionally so, in the ‘One Million Tomorrows’ drug-sequence. ‘The world is pear-shaped and the tip will meet us rotationally – your eyes, the non-Einsteinian simultaneity of blinking.’ In “Call Me Dumbo” he was writing about hallucinogenic drugs and sex-change operations in 1966, before the large-scale media exploitation of both subjects by Timothy Leary or Jan Morris (‘Conundrum’ 1974, Faber).

But what characterizes Bob Shaw’s work at its best are ideas logically and doggedly worked out within a framework that’s at once recognizably human, speculative, and perhaps most important of all – immensely readable.

With thanks to Bob Shaw and Ian Watson
for their kind indulgence and assistance
in preparing this feature



THE EARLY BOB SHAW 

Aspect” (‘Nebula SF no.9’, August 1954) with art by Tony Steele. Editor Peter Hamilton writes ‘Bob Shaw makes his very first appearance in print in this edition. I think you will agree with me that I have another really promising ‘discovery’ in Bob and both he and I will look forward to your comments in his ‘Aspect’’. As the ‘Panther’ is astrographing an airless planet they discover a free-standing twenty-foot glasshouse, with chairs but no way inside. It’s a room in a multidimensional house for viewing a volcanic mountain – ‘a stalactite in reverse’, which they inadvertently destroy with mercury bombs to facilitate lift-off home


The Traspassers” (‘Nebula SF no.11’, December 1954) with art by Bob Clothier. A pyramid-shaped Martian spaceship risks landing on a hostile Earth ‘after a hundred years of war’. ‘They came for that which is more precious than life itself’, flowers. And return with the clumsy symbolism of their dead bodies, laden with flowers, ‘the combined heady perfume of a million blossoms made the smell of death almost unnoticeable’

The Journey Alone” (‘Nebula SF no.12’, April 1955) with art by John J Greengrass. Following a flier explosion on Thor – ‘duplicate of Mars’, Given wakes in a strange ‘Starfinder’ Sick Bay where stars are lights on the corridor walls. Is he insane or has he slipped into a parallel universe? Neither, to combat monstrous telepathic Gorvans the crew’s memories have been replaced


Departure” (‘Authentic SF no.62’, October 1955). Sellers is a fugitive from a Universe-ship on pastoral retrogressed Alcord, a post ‘Century Twenty-Five’ galactic-empire rim-world, where his lover Moree urges him to destroy his ancient robot Samel. But he is a ‘product of his world’ too, and flees back to catch his ship before it blasts off for ‘the big jump to another galaxy. That gigantic leap into space from which there could be no return’

Sounds In The Dawn” (‘Nebula SF no.15’, January 1956) with art by Harry Turner. Novelette sequel to ‘Aspect’ requested by editor Peter Hamilton, with Jennings, Davies and the religious Keene of the ‘Panther’ fleeing the consequences of when ‘we were forced to blow up a mountain which we later deduced to be pretty important to members of another civilization’. Trapped in a vast hanger they are subject to tests – ‘REACT’, by what they first assume to be the five-pointed black-furred aliens, only to realise that they’re just the pet-starfish of the REAL aliens!


Barrier To Yesterday” (‘Nebula no.16’, March 1956) with art by Arthur Thomson. In a frozen far-future ‘world whose spin had almost stopped, stretching the days and night into years’ the tribe endlessly circle the globe in a fleet of ice-sleds chasing the sun, until a vital pass is blocked by a projectile from space. Chandrill escapes with wife Sinoon pursued by vengeful cousin Minnatose, to discover the dying alien in the wrecked space-egg, with energy-reserves that will allow the tribe to settle within its radiating warmth. A finely-imagined tale with strong human content


The Silent Partners” (‘Nebula SF no.41’, June 1959) with art by John J Greengrass. Low-life hoodlum Purvey is snatched by plant-like Lurr – allowing Shaw to fully indulge his love of weird alien monsters. Ironic in that it’s only when he’s killed Lurr that Purvey realises the ship’s air-conditioning is wrecked, and the two of them together were performing the carbon-dioxide into oxygen cycle, thereby keeping each other alive

Dissolute Diplomat” (‘If’, January 1960) as by Bob Shaw and Walt Willis

The Light Of Other Days” (‘Analog ‘ August 1966) takes its title from the poem by Thomas Moore, which explains its later use for an entirely unconnected 2000 novel by Arthur C Clarke & Stephen Baxter


Invasion Of Privacy” (‘Amazing SF’, July 1970, collected into ‘Tales Of Terror From Outer Space’ edited by R Chetwynd-Hayes, Fontana, 1975). A perfect short Stephen King-style horror story described by Chetwynd-Hayes as ‘no-one is safe once those creatures from beyond the skies decide to invade. Not even the dead’. The cast includes caring father George, his ill child Sammy who saw his dead ‘Granny Cummins’ in the old derelict Guthrie house, and the small-town cracker-barrel Doctor Pitman. George leaves the house-door unlocked ‘with a quasi-religious irrationality, that we might be robbed and thus appease the Fates, diverting their attention from Sammy’. His wife ‘May sat beside me and gazed out from the windows with the air of a child reluctantly returning from a long vacation’. George accidentally burns the old house down, and its alien replicant occupants, leaving George haunted by the fear that a recovered Sammy, ‘growing up tall and straight’, is an alien

Waltz Of The Bodysnatchers” (‘Andromeda 1’ edited by Peter Weston, Orbit 1976), vague and insubstantial thriller about wife Sadie’s attempts to remove an inconvenient husband when law compels victims to be ‘reborn’ into the killer’s body. Collected into his ‘Cosmic Kaleidosope’ Gollancz 1976. His “Crossing The Line” is in ‘Andromeda 2’ 1977

The Cottage Of Eternity” (‘Twenty Houses Of The Zodiac’ edited by Maxim Jakubowki, August 1979, reprinted in ‘Quasar 2’), humorous and ingenious with a scientific explanation for ghosts. Collected into his ‘A Better Mantrap’ Gollancz 1982

Published in:
‘GLIMPSE no.4’ 
(UK – November 1976)