Saturday, 28 May 2016

Joe Brown: Three Recent Albums

Album Review of: 
(2006, Track Records TRA1057) 

There’s a tendency to take Joe Brown for granted. Which is a mistake. Chirpy Cockney image-associations and catchy hits on sixties nostalgia compilations tend to relegate him to the margins. Which only serves to emphasise his status as a neglected treasure of British Rock ‘n’ Roll, in much the way that Lonnie Donegan was prior to his timely rediscovery. In fact, in this CD insert, Joe is pictured backstage at Glastonbury with Lonnie (alongside guesting Jools Holland). Now, Joe presents himself as the self-styled ‘ghost of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, come back to haunt this push-button age of synthesised adventures and press-switch/get-rich thinking.

There are thirteen tracks, a song-selection Joe described to Janice Long as the album’s ‘building blocks’. Three new Joe originals, three trad: arranged Joe – including “Gallows Pole” which is reinterpreted from the ‘Led Zeppelin 3’ version and given another twist by alternating verses with daughter Sam, a formula they repeat on “Reuben”. Elsewhere Joe’s more weathered lived-in voice is perfectly matched to the world-weariness of Dylan’s “Well Well Well”. The beautiful steel guitar pictured on the insert picking out haunting electric-slide licks easily equal to his nods in Ry Cooder’s direction. He chooses Paul Simon (“One Trick Pony”), Richard Thompson (“The Dimming Of The Day”), Tony Joe White (“As The Crow Flies”), Bill Monroe (“Uncle Penn”), and McGuinness-Flint (“Malt & Barley Blues”). With just one song – Hoagy Carmichael’s “Lazybones”, reaching out of the rootsy ‘Down To Earth’ genre, back to Joe’s earlier ‘56, & Taller Than You Think’ album (1999). It’s a family affair, with son Pete producing what Hugh Fielder accurately calls a ‘grown-up album… tight, no frills, but with purpose’. It’s a mistake to take Joe Brown for granted. As this album proves, he’s far from a ‘One Trick Pony’. Something worth remembering. 

Published in:
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.1 Jan/Feb’
(UK – December 2006)

(2008, Edel Records 3CD Limited Edition

Joe Brown is now a heritage artist. Here he embraces Rock ‘n’ Roll tradition from Elvis’ “All Shook Up” to U2’s “I Still Haven't Found What I’m Looking For”...

Album Review of: 
 (2014, Joe Brown Records/ Absolute)

Curious instrument, the ukulele. There’s just a chance George Harrison adopted it when learning the sitar proved too problematic. George is here as author of the Wilbury’s “Where Were You Last Night”. The other star of the four-stringed uke was, of course, George Formby, and Joe does his cheeky nudge-nudge “When I’m Cleaning Windows” too. Joe’s project to raise the instruments profile peaked with the 2011 release of this definitive album, now reissued with bonus tracks plus a live CD taking in early hits “Picture Of You” and “That’s What Love Will Do” as well as a new uke-friendly take on his once-upon-a-time B-side “Hava Nagila”. Joe’s easy-on-the-ear style is perfectly at home on a range of seemingly unlikely titles, from “When I’m Dead And Gone” and Jeff Lynne’s “Mr Blue Sky” to a sensitive interpretation of “I’ll See You In My Dreams”, a 1924 song he performed as closer to the ‘Concert For George’ album-tribute to the late Beatle. He even adapts Jessie J’s “Price Tag” to his likeable low-key style. Joe’s knockabout persona never eclipses his virtuosity as perhaps the UK’s first-ever guitar hero, and now predominant uke-hero too. Curious.

Published in:
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.43
(Jan/February)’ (UK – January 2014)

Friday, 27 May 2016

Books: Captain WE Johns 'KINGS OF SPACE'


 The Solar System was a strange place for Captain WE Johns 
and his crew of ‘The Spacemaster’. Through the 1950’s, and 
a series of action-novels, they explore the Moon, Mars, 
and then go on to worlds beyond. But how do those novels 
stand up to the critical attention of the twenty-first century…? 
Andrew Darlington re-reads them all… 


‘Our imaginations are limited to the things we know and understand. Anything beyond that we call fantasy’ explains Professor Lucius Brane. ‘There, perhaps, lies our greatest danger, for it is almost certain that on this trip we shall see things, and do things, which our common sense will tell us cannot be true. So be prepared.’

In the 1950’s, the Solar System was an odd place. But then, from our twenty-first-century perspective, 1950’s Earth itself looks like an alien planet too. After the drabness and restrictions of the previous decade, the future was suddenly a marketable commodity. Space became the place to be – clear across the age spectrum. And wedged in somewhere between ‘Dan Dare’s multiple picture-strip clones’, and adult-orientated Science Fiction, there was an eruption of hardback novel series aimed at pocket money and School Libraries, which played their own part in feeding ravenous myth-hungry minds. ‘Their adventures are reminiscent of the old days of magazine science fiction where anything could happen, and usually did’ comments ‘Authentic SF no.75’ (December 1956), ‘science simply does not exist, but its lack is made up by a succession of adventures which should delight the youngsters.’ The uncredited writer was reviewing ‘Now To The Stars’ – ‘a juvenile written by the famous author of the ‘Biggles’ series’, one of ten space-travel novels produced on a one-a-year basis by Captain WE Johns between 1954 – ‘The Kings Of Space’, and 1963 – ‘The Man Who Vanished Into Space’.

The first is subtitled ‘A Story Of Interplanetary Exploration’. It introduces Group Captain ‘Tiger’ Clinton, formerly of Bomber Command – now of Farnborough Research, and his son Rex. They lose their way in the fog during a deer-stalking holiday in the remote heather-clad glens of Inverness-shire, and unexpectedly stumble across a lonely shooting lodge called Glensalich Castle. Here, they encounter Professor Lucius Brane – ‘Brane by name and brainy by nature’. He’s a ‘wealthy eccentric scientist-philosopher’ given to bursts of boyish enthusiasm, his ‘hair untidy, spectacles on the end of his nose.’ He also has an eternal ‘bag of caramels’ which he dispenses at regular intervals throughout the narratives. There’s just a suggestion of a narcotic content when he explains ‘I make my own, using only the best ingredients, with just a little something added to keep my faculties alert’!

In the tradition of Mr Cavor – HG Wells’ self-financing Victorian pioneer, Brane has secretly invented the ‘Spacemaster’, a vertical take-off saucer-shaped craft powered by cosmic rays. And soon Tiger and Rex are joining Brane in a series of fast-paced and inventive adventures. Their first trips anticipate the step-by-step Space Programme, an experimental ascent, an orbital shot, a circum-lunar jaunt, followed by the eventual moon-landing. Once there, they discover that even the Moon harbours surprises – ‘my friends, the age-old question is answered’ burbles Brane, ‘there is life on the Moon, both animal and vegetable. What a splendid day we are having!’ Spiders, wormy-snakes, and glyptodons have adapted to living in extreme lunar conditions, but as Brane reasonably points out, life on Earth is also ‘highly specialised to meet their particular conditions.’

On Venus – instead of the crushingly dense atmosphere, surface temperatures that would melt lead and clouds laced with sulphuric acid revealed by twenty-first century probes, they discover prehistoric jungles with dinosaurs and proto-humans. With a brisk pacing barely impeded by the Professor’s regular lectures, they travel on to Mars, a dying world with ‘no mountains, cliffs or craters’, and the canals linking its crumbling cities overrun by deadly mosquitoes. But while on Mars they also observe a passing UFO, making it obvious that WE Johns is seeding scenarios for the sequels he’s already planning. So – although ‘Spacemaster’ is destroyed by foreign agents in the closing chapters, sure enough, in ‘less than a year’ Brane has built a better replacement. 

In the second novel – ‘Return To Mars’, the Professor plans to eliminate the red planet’s insect plague, but unfortunately his attempts result in horrible growth mutations and ‘B’-movie monstrosities instead (including Rex’s pet kitten which grows into ‘The Man-Eater Of Mars’ in ‘Now To The Stars’). But in the process, they discover that the Martians, far from being extinct, have ‘cosmigrated’ to the safety of the asteroid belt from where their saucers range the galaxy. Along the way, the comrades become marooned on a death-plunge into Jupiter, and manage to halt an extinction-event killer-asteroid hurtling towards Earth.

So far, so incredible… but then, in the 1950’s the Solar System was an odd place. I originally devoured these tales around the cusp of twelve years old, most frequently in the refuge of the school library during dinner hour. And they remain compulsively readable. ‘The world is in its infancy. We’re on the verge of an era of such inventions as will pass belief’ enthuses Brane in ways guaranteed to ignite youthful anticipations about the world we would grow up into. Adding just enough sober warning to impart serious intent with ‘it’s the only hope for life on Earth’. Some of the images remain with me across the years. In the first novel the ‘Spacemaster’ visits Phobos, to discover that the tiny Martian moon is used as a cemetery-world, with its last corpse in a partially mummified state of dehydration. It’s an idea of considerable power. In the second novel, their new Martian friends take Tiger and Rex, from Mino – the asteroid, now dwarf-planet Ceres, to a neighbouring worldlet of ‘living trees’ that continue to writhe and squirm even after they’ve been felled for timber. To Rex ‘the whole thing looked unpleasantly like murder.’ All of the original Hodder & Stoughton editions – the first quartet priced at a modest 7s 6d, include colour plates by ‘Stead’, one of which, illustrating this ‘Forest of Fear’, also made a deep impression.

In many ways ‘Return To Mars’ is the key novel to the series. Contact with the Martian-Minoans gives the Earthmen their subsequent access to the stars. It was advertised in the Scottish-based magazine ‘Nebula’ with a splash-panel showing a rapidly ascending saucer, and blurbed ‘here is the second adventure of Group Captain ‘Tiger’ Clinton DSO RAF, his son Rex and Professor Lucius Brane, in which once again they set out in Spacemaster II to reach the Red Planet.’ But the reviewer for rival monthly ‘Authentic no.64’ (December 1955) – possibly editor EC Tubb, is less easily impressed. Brane ‘remains singularly unperturbed when firmly established scientific principles are flouted in front of his eyes’ he scoffs. This is ‘a book for young people who are not afraid to trifle with facts and well-founded theories – or for fantasy lovers, of course.’ So yes – Captain WE Johns’ novels are wildly fantastic, yet only so within the accepted, if admittedly flexible, fictional conventions of the time. ‘Bill’ Johns is a natural storyteller, but it’s his characterisation that lifts the tales above their competitors. Although ‘Tiger’ – ‘nicknamed after the well-known comic character Tiger Tim’, fulfils all the requirements of the space hero, it’s the inspired creation of Lucius Brane that ignites the novels. He is contagiously animated. A more likeable, but equally gigantic counterpart to Arthur Conan Doyle’s monstrous Professor Challenger of ‘The Lost World’. To extend the analogy, Challenger is also accompanied on his expedition by a ‘hero’ figure in the shape of Lord John Roxton, a sharp-shooting big-game hunter not dissimilar to Tiger Clinton. In the alien world of 1950’s Earth such a sporting slaughter of wildlife was considered admirable – a twenty-first-century perspective would see them more as eco-genocidal psychopaths. While the team’s travels continue, so be prepared… 

‘Now To The Stars’ arrived in 1956, running to 190-pages including six new colour plates by Stead. With ‘Spacemaster 2’ disintegrated due to cosmic-ray induced metal-fatigue, from now on the team hitch a ride with their Martian friends on the ‘Tavona’, a flying saucer of the Minoan Remote Survey Fleet. ‘Authentic’s verdict is predictably scathing, but this time it is also ill-digested, ‘the story itself concerns the further adventures of Professor Brance (sic), Mino (sic) and his other companions on a Grand Tour of the Asteroids (loosely called stars, planets, planetoids etc)… around a solar system which, unfortunately, exists only in the imagination of the author.’

It’s true they encounter a planetoid of glass, one of water, another of salt, another of ice, and they spend an extended sojourn on one called Arcadia which takes them perilously close to the sun. Some of them also take on the attributes of worlds in their own right, rather than mere space-rocks, including a worldlet of miniature monkey-men. And admittedly, WE Johns can give the impression that a trip to Jupiter is somewhat equivalent to, and only slightly more demanding than a brisk stroll to the corner shop. But although in most cases ‘Authentic’ accurately provides contemporary comment, it was far from being the only British SF magazine extant at the time. Others either include no book reviews at all – ‘Science Fantasy’ and ‘Science Fiction Adventures’, or else chose seldom to review ‘juveniles’ – ‘New Worlds’ and ‘Nebula’. But outside genre specialisations reaction was less savage, ‘Manchester Evening News’ finds the volume ‘very exciting and with sufficient deference to scientific fact to make it plausible.’

Rex now has a Martian girlfriend – Morino, who (chastely) joins the regular personnel for a romp as eventful as we’ve come to expect. Taking them to a world where, ‘without warning the beast shot forward… open-mouthed with its back arched, its carapace looking like a row of knives.’ ‘There is also a foreword in which the writer admits that the terms star, planet, planetoid and asteroid have been somewhat loosely used for the purpose of ‘easy reading’. Why this should be thought necessary is hard to understand’ groans an exasperated ‘Authentic no.75’ (December 1956). With more than a little justification. In WE Johns’ cosmology, the asteroid belt was formed by the apocalyptical explosion of the planet Kraka, which is described with cinematic Velikovsky ‘Worlds In Collision’ dramatics. Kraka was ‘torn asunder’ by a lunatic experiment from which Jupiter still smouldered, Saturn was ‘girdled by atomic dust that had yet to settle’ and Mars was blasted to aridity. Although now discredited, this ‘missing planet’ theory was widely held at the time. And it’s true that many accepted classics of Science Fiction use asteroidal locations – Leigh Brackett’s beautiful 1949 story “The Lake Of Gone-Forever”, for example, gives its worldlet both breatheable atmosphere and indigenous life-forms. So far, so permissible. 

Yet Professor Brane’s eccentric assertion that comets are spat – like sparks, from stars, and even from the ‘World Of Fire’ – Jupiter (!) is indefensible, particularly so when one of WE Johns’ own introductions claims that ‘interwoven in the story is a good deal of fact.’ The same essay goes on to explain – with a straight face, that due to its axial idiosyncrasy, the polar region of Uranus ‘enjoys tropical sunshine’! Johns appears to know nothing of complex eco-systems either – why should he, this the 1950’s after all? but surely Brane’s contention that a world can support just two species who mutually feed on each other is self-evidently questionable? And there’s a crude form of what is now known as ‘panspermia’ in which life-spores drift from world to world seeding life, although not perhaps in the literal sense that Johns’ describes.

It’s simpler to admit that for every one of Professor Brane’s philosophical asides, disquisitions and predictions about life’s impermanence, human aggression, the arms race, or environmental despoliation, there’s one of incomprehensible weirdness in which Captain Johns allows gullibility free unrestrained reign. What, for example, do we make of this – ‘I have an idea that some of those stars and planets are not as far away as we might imagine. They could well be the planetoids we see from Earth for the majority move in that direction, and we are now much nearer to them. If I am right then the brightest must be comparatively close.’

‘To Outer Space’ (1957) flirts with Space Opera concepts as the cosmic-ray-powered Tavona strays beyond the solar system into the middle of a war between an ancient space-faring race called the Andoan, who they’d originally befriended by rescuing a stranded crew marooned on the asteroid Arcadia, and big unknown ships from space. While ‘The Edge Of Beyond’ (1958) extends their forays to ‘the outside edge of the Milky Way’ armed only with gleeful optimism and a ready supply of caramels. The expedition introduces them to what WE Johns refers to as ‘the older planets of the Second Region’, then to the ‘almost perfect civilisation of Terromagna in the Third Region’. Like Mino, this planet becomes a friendly base for further cosmic jaunts. It might constitute ‘by far their longest non-stop’ voyage, but in narrative terms cosmic distances are no great obstacle. The difference between exploring planetoids, and then visiting extra-solar worlds, gives the impression of being only different in the sense that Tesco’s is further than Sainsbury’s, an irksome inconvenience rather than the circumvention of Einsteinian constants.

Yet the stellar initiative also leads them to ‘The Death Rays Of Ardilla’ (1959) which, in my sweaty-palmed pubescence, I considered the most accomplished of the entire series – second only, perhaps, to ‘Return To Mars’. Ardilla is first mentioned as a source of menace in ‘The Edge Of Beyond’ – in which Rex deters a hostile red saucer with tracer bullets fired from the airlock. Here there be a rare sense of real menace, as this excerpt indicates – ‘Ardilla is putting out a veritable barrage of rays. A stranger from beyond the Third Region told us that all ships in their section of the universe have been warned to keep well clear of Ardilla. One of their ships, after sending out a signal that it was being tracked by a Red Stranger, failed to return to its base… This is causing Terromagna considerable anxiety. We are not exactly helpless, but we have no wish to be involved in an interplanetary war.’ This time, action is tightly plotted and focussed, in a way that others in the series are not.

‘Someone should face up to this problem’ declared the Professor. ‘Now wait a minute, Professor’ protests Toby, ‘I hope you’re not getting any funny notions about going to the rescue of Terromagna.’ Naturally, both funny notion and rescue work out, and with the team’s hazardous involvement the ray-belt menace is reflected back upon its planet of origin, and ‘Ardilla’s ambitious scheme for interplanetary expansion’ is eliminated. ‘Toby’ is another recruit to the team – Squadron Leader Clarence ‘Toby’ Paul MD, ‘a small, chubby little man of early middle age, with a cheerful expression which, with his figure, had no doubt been responsible for his nickname. A man of tremendous energy, as small men often are…’ Other regulars include the Minoan Vargo Lentos – who perhaps borrows his forename from notorious fifties pseudonym ‘Vargo Statten’, a pen-name frequently used by John Russell Fearn? There’s also Judkins – Professor Brane’s ‘imperturbable seldom-speaking Butler-Mechanic’, and Minoan bad-guy Rolto who visits Earth intent on conquest, and later misbehaves on planet Lila (in ‘To Worlds Unknown’).

With the arrival of ‘To Worlds Unknown’ (1960), our heroes visit planet Parvo which is threatened by obliteration as its moon drifts out of orbit. Then they embark on a ‘Quest For The Perfect Planet’ (1961), intended to locate a refuge-world for humans in case a global war devastates Earth. They space-hop to a variety of worlds – a red volcanic world and a minor planet of spiders, they meet Troglodytes, a world of Giants and a Kingdom of Apes. But after visiting wandering world Zora Ten they abruptly return home when it becomes apparent that no such ‘perfect planet’ exists. Perhaps the Earth could assist the repopulation of Mars instead, suggests Gator. By then Hodder & Stoughton had economised to a single colour plate with monochrome line-drawings for the interior illustrations. But undismayed ‘…how Jules Verne would have loved all this’ gloats Professor Brane – perhaps not-too accurately.


‘Even fifty years ago’ enthused WE Johns, ‘it would have needed a brave man to predict speed faster than sound. Now it has been done, and speeds of three-thousand miles an hour with the new ram-jets are in sight.’ Like Conan Doyle, he came late to science fiction, bringing a refreshingly boyish zest to the genre. He was already sixty-one when he wrote ‘The Kings Of Space’, leaving him open to accusations of opportunism and of gate-crashing the ‘new thing’. Yet equally WE Johns’ continuing infatuation with aerial adventure makes Professor Brane’s voyages beyond the atmosphere a natural evolution. After all, the writer had been an active participant in the infancy of flight himself, joining the Royal Flying Corp in 1916 – to be shot down and captured during a bombing mission over France two years later. It was only then, after serving further time in the post-war RAF, that Flying Officer Johns allowed his fictional counterparts to take over and act out the fascination on his behalf. Tiger Clinton has RAF precedents, as a back-room member of the Royal Aircraft Experimental Establishment. But Johns’ most famous creation, Captain James ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth RAF, debuted in a 1932 short story for ‘Popular Flying’ – a magazine WE Johns himself edited.

From there, adventures proliferated at an astonishing rate, with long-running serials and stand-alone text-stories a regular feature of ‘Modern Boy’, as well as contributions to ‘Boys Own Paper’. Not only Biggles, but Worrals and Gimlet too. Later, in the fifties, Biggles text-tales such as ‘Biggles In The Gobi’ appeared in ‘Eagle’, as he went on to new adventures in comic-strip format as ‘The Adventures Of Biggles’, with nine issues drawn by Albert Devine for Strato Publications. By 1960 Air Police Inspector Biggles, with his pals Bertie and Ginger made it to the TV screen – with Ginger, popularly played by John Leyton, even hitting no.1 on the pop charts! The TV series also spawned a comic-strip spin-off, a full-colour front-&-back-page spread beautifully illustrated, first by Ron Embleton and then Mike Western for ‘TV Express’ (nos.306 to 376, 1960-1962). Here our hero is hot on the heels of Von Stahlein, an international crook responsible for the kidnap of a British diplomat’s son on behalf of the treacherous San Filipian government. A not untypical Biggles-ian scenario, but even before its first episode there were intimations of new developments.

In a 1953 novel ‘Biggles Hits The Trail’ WE Johns’ trio tackle a mysterious race of invisible men with deadly ray-guns. Early in the decade Bill Johns met Willy Ley – German-born author of ‘The Conquest Of Space’ (1949) and a tireless propagandist for space exploration. Ley, alongside other rocket enthusiasts, shifted and fired Johns’ interest in the fictional potential of these newer possibilities in aeronautics, to when – in Johns’ words, ‘interplanetary flight becomes as commonplace as air travel is today.’ Lucius Brane could trace his ancestry directly to that meeting, and before that to young Bill Johns’ adrenalin high on his own first flight. The Scots setting of Glensalich Castle also has its roots in reality. Before moving to Hampton Court, WE Johns lived for several years in Scotland. And even there the threat and promise of the new age made its presence felt in dramatic fashion, as he recalls ‘when the first American atomic bomb was exploded, sending sand into the upper atmosphere, people in the Highlands of Scotland – which includes the author – were astonished to see the sun turn blue, light and dark in turn according to the density of the dust.’

Meanwhile, there are two final Space novels – ‘Worlds Of Wonder’ (1962), and a powerfully imagined ‘The Man Who Vanished Into Space’ (1963) with a price hike to 9s 6d, and – for the second, no illustration at all. The action in the last book opens with the Tavona, the Martian saucer constructed of everlasting orichalcum, on its way to Venus when a mysterious object they discover floating in space turns out to be a kilted Macpherson ghillie (Gamekeeper). Once they’ve retrieved and interred the body in a cairn on the Moon, they commence investigations and discover that not one, but two Scotsmen have been abducted by an unknown spaceship.

Unlike the previous few novels in the series which had fallen into a loose shapeless formula of a visit to a strange planet, a visit to another strange planet, then another, and then home, this strong opening narrative hook develops into a tight focus around a single world. Following a near-brush with inquisitive police they begin tracking the stolen highlander through space. They call off for an update on the reclamation of Mars, and Rex’s ongoing romance with Morino, then the clue of a cultural reference to a ‘jam sandwich’, leads them into the Fourth Region of Space and the new planet Vallon. Approaching cautiously, they stop to reconnoitre the jungle-world Zeta in the same system, apparently uninhabited they find a ‘Players Navy Cut’ tin containing a stubbed-out Woodbine beside a lake, then a lost spacecraft, and Ebutu, an abducted Zulu who doesn’t even realise he’s no longer on Earth! This seems to indicate a plot-glitch, or maybe a clue to the writer’s plotting process. The cigarette-tin is surely meant to provide proof of the gamekeeper’s recent presence, yet – unconvincingly, it turns out to have been dropped by Ebutu. Woodbine? In an African village? Surely it’s more likely to be the possession of a ghillie? Maybe Johns revised his intention as a better idea occurred?

The bizarre aquatic ecology of the planet becomes more apparent as a friendly ship from Vallon makes its appearance. The abductions from Earth, the newcomer explains, are part of a data-gathering exercise. The ghillie, Graham, had been treated as a celebrity on Vallon, and was on his way back to Earth when the ship carrying him was lost. Meanwhile what they’d assumed was the surface of Zeta turns out to be no more than an organic crust covering a vast ocean. With directions to Mintona, the only other world lying on the course taken by the lost ship, they manage to rescue the marooned Highlander, spotting him from aloft amid its cannibalistic inhabitants! Yet there’s a parting twist still to come. The gamekeeper intends to stay on Vallon, where he has married, and was only returning home to pick up some books to assist him in teaching his new planetary friends about Earth. So, mission accomplished. Safely back on Earth, the novel, and the novel cycle’s final words have Rex soliloquising that as ‘wonderful as some other worlds might be, there was no place like home.’

Johns takes time to point out that across the arc of novels ‘as we predicted in the first book of this series, men from the planet Earth have now been launched into the vast region of emptiness which has been called Space.’ Yuri Gagarin had happened. But although Professor Brane’s voyages end with WE Johns’ death, Biggles forays into science fiction would go on to outlive them both. A graphic novel ‘Biggles And The Menace From Space’ (Swedish Semics 1978, UK Hodder and Stoughton 1981) was impressively written and illustrated by Björn Karlström.

In the ‘Kings Of Space’ foreword, although he observes it’s ‘a common complaint among the youth of today that there is no scope left for adventure’ Captain WE Johns’ contends that ‘the greatest age of discovery has not yet begun… Not only will these things come to pass but there will be other things, far beyond the limits of our imagination now, for that is the normal story of invention and development.’ From a twenty-first-century perspective his universe seems an odd place indeed. But, with certain reservations, it’s still a hugely enjoyable placed to be. So be prepared…

‘…the shining star that was Earth, easily recognizable 
by its moon, was once more in sight. He watched it 
becoming brighter as a mariner, homeward bound, 
might watch the guiding light of his home port…’ 
                                                     (‘Return To Mars’) 


‘KINGS OF SPACE’ (Hodder & Stoughton, June 1954/ Piccolo 1980)

‘RETURN TO MARS’ (Hodder & Stoughton 1955/ Piccolo 1980)

‘NOW TO THE STARS’ (Hodder & Stoughton 1956/ Piccolo 1980)

‘TO OUTER SPACE’ (Hodder & Stoughton 1957 Piccolo 1980)







Published in:
(UK – January 2013)

Tuesday, 24 May 2016




‘Fourteen Stories Of Fantasy, Warped Sci-Fi & Perverse Horror’ 
 (Parallel Universe Publications, March 2016 
208pp, £8.99 ISBN 9-780993-574207) 

It starts like this. Simon Clark mentions in passing that he’s been contracted to compile an anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories. I’ve never actually written fiction according to specific guidelines. When I write, it’s according to whim or nudge. But this is different. Conan Doyle’s Holmes is up there on fiction’s pantheon of great myth-figures, alongside Tarzan, James Bond and Superman, screened from Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing all the way to Benedict Cumberbatch. We all know him. But every one of Simon’s contributors will be doing the familiar tropes, so why not approach it from the tangential angle of other mythos elements? A present-day spin on the lycanthrope suggestions behind the Baskerville Beast, entangled with the real-life guilt-torment of a missing child? From that point the story wrote itself. And Simon liked it. Only problem was the publisher remit specified the inclusion of Holmes himself, on a foreign escapade. So I sit down and write “The Strange Death Of Sherlock Holmes”, predicated on the idea that as Doyle’s original Holmes cases were appearing in issues of ‘The Strand’, HG Wells was publishing chapters of his ‘The Time Machine’ in ‘The New Review’. The story duly appears in Simon’s ‘The Mammoth Book Of Sherlock Holmes Abroad’ (Robinson, 2015), while “The Beast Of The Baskervilles” debuts in the online ‘Tigershark’ magazine, then here in my ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’.

There were other projected anthologies. Maxim Jakubowski was compiling two, one on Holmes’ devious adversary Moriarty, the other centred around the ‘Jack The Ripper’ legends. So I set about writing “My Name Is Jack” – with a protagonist named Jack Harlan as a deliberate reference to Harlan Ellison’s “The Prowler In The City At The Edge Of The World”, a ‘Dangerous Vision’ that projects the Ripper into the future, spliced to the idea of implanted humans drawn together by an outside agency vaguely remembered from John Mantley’s 1956 novel ‘The Twenty-Seventh Day’. That story is now in ‘The Mammoth Book Of Jack The Ripper Stories’ (Robinson, 2015). The other, an extravagant steam-Punk romp with Moriarty reanimated after his death at the Reichenbach Falls, is first published here. Its final paragraph attempts to replicate the unsettling shock at the close of Robert Silverberg’s 1969 temporal-travel novel ‘Up The Line’, where time is rewritten and the narrator ceases to exist.

Once primed, those stories began a chain-reaction of tales jostling for my attention, resulting in more anthology and magazine appearances, online and in print. Leading up to ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’, not my first book, but my first short story collection. Yes, the title is taken from Pink Floyd’s second album, their last to fully include the mercurial Syd Barrett – who I may, or may not have briefly encountered beside Drypool Bridge in Hull (see the poem in my ‘The Poet’s Deliberation On The State Of The Nation’, 2016!). But, in the same friendly tribute way, a number of my stories and poems borrow their titles from songs. Most of the stories in this collection are new, all – hopefully, contemporary, but informed by my degree of longevity. “Refuge” is a sympathetic take on the so-called migrant crisis, while “The Non-Expanding Universe” deals directly with my own memories of domestic violence. Stan Barstow – the kitchen-sink author of ‘A Kind Of Loving’ once confided to me that today’s ‘committed’ writers should be setting their work within the immigrant-community. So this is also my nod to his advice.

It’s odd, my first-ever short story sale was to the New English Library anthology ‘Stopwatch’ in 1975. All the writer primers tell how to lay-out a manuscript and research your market. I did nothing of the sort. I was working at a print factory. The guillotine operator would slice huge sheets of paper down to the required size, shunting off-cuts into the waste cart, which – as an impecunious poet, I would then salvage for my own use. So my “When The Music’s Over” was typed up on pale green sheets measuring 12”x6”, and sent off to SF activist George Hay who was editing the academic-Lit magazine ‘Foundation’ at the time. The magazine didn’t even use fiction, but it fortuitously happened he liked the story and was compiling an anthology at the time. Would I mind if he used it there? This seems too easy. Another story – “Matrix”, was accepted by ‘Science Fiction Monthly’, who paid me £22 upfront, but the magazine went extinct before they could publish it. Nevertheless, other stories appeared, in the American ‘Space And Time’, David A Sutton’s excellent ‘Fantasy Tales’, and a series of German paperback anthologies. But the natural story-by-story progression was disrupted by lucrative seductive Music Journalism, which lured with opportunities of hanging out with Rock stars, plus well-paid non-SF stories in glossy magazines, live poetry-readings up and down the country, and other delightful distractions.

Yet things eventually came together. ‘Derek Edge’ is a series-character I’ve used in a number of tales, an awkward adolescent misfit Frankensteined together as part me-as-was, gene-fused with part of a chubby misfit-loser teen-friend. My “Derek Edge And The Sun-Spots” appeared in the fine ‘Kitchen Sink Gothic’ (2015) anthology from Parallel Universe. So it’s only appropriate that when the full story-collection was conjectured from the same publisher that he should be here too. The title story – “Derek Edge And The Saucerful Of Secrets” bears a dedication to Frank S Pepper, the prolific comic-strip scripter who wrote ‘Tiger’s Jet-Ace Logan picture-frames from which I lift the image of the Caretaker’s three-clawed hand, and Sydney Jordan who created ‘Jeff Hawke’ from which I vaguely derive the Temporal Guardians (‘Pastmaster’).

Although, gratifyingly, most of the stories are new, the oldest – “And The Earth Has No End”, goes back some way, but despite various rewrites it never quite found its proper form, until now. Based on Hegel, the idea that perception is ‘learned’, blended by the contortions of sub-atomic physics in which the observer influences what is observed, it questions the truth of reality itself. The sequence by the pool is a deliberate Salvador Dali painting, but should the penis-into-anus bit be censored or modified? It went through a number of contortions until this final version. Which prompted a sequel – or prequel, “The World Holds Space Enough”, explaining how this pliable alternate cosmos came into being. Strung across such a long period of evolving time it was necessary to introduce continuity, hence the recurring characters. A third part of this cycle – the poem “Beautiful Pagan”, ‘the melding of new, and ancient geographies, from meson and grimoire, opened this passage south, through ice-fields to the unexpected continent, beneath this cold dark moon’ is in my ‘Euroshima Mon Amour’ (2001) Sci-fi poetry collection.

“Gender-Shock” also started out as a years-back exercise, handwritten in ballpoint, returned to periodically, but uncompleted. Sex is not a duality, but a spectrum – we now know this, but how to construct a society based around that understanding? So the concept of normality becomes something up for renegotiation. The protagonists are gender deviants. How is a lawyer to defend them? The difficulty in portraying a totally pansexual society is that gender so pervades language it’s problematic to eradicate it. This tale is constructed by dispensing with every use of ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘himself’ or ‘herself’ with every character purposefully gender non-specific – except for the single case of the transgressor, who is on trial specifically for that unforgivable deviation. To complete the story, with revisions, I added a maybe opt-out resolution with the fallback solution of a convenient enclave. Nevertheless, I feel it works.

But every story tells a story. I wrote the far-future “Eternal Assassin” about a sentient parasitic organism which flits through hosts across immense spans of time. When Philip Harbottle published its first version in his ‘Fantasy Adventures no.1’ (2002) he insisted on censoring certain playfully-explicit passages. When the full unexpurgated version was revived as a hardback with beautiful James Cawthorn artwork as ‘Andrew Darlington’s Eternal Assassin’ (Spectre Press, 2012), publisher Jon Harvey told me there’d been enquiries asking if there were other stories featuring ‘Adsiduo Sicarius’. So I wrote, “Terminator Zero And The Dream Demon”, although vastly different in tone, to suggest the origins of this character in deep prehistory. Some of it is real. Peter Care is a real filmmaker. I worked in Sheffield with Adi (Newton) who is the thinking head of Clock DVA who recorded the ‘Thirst’ album (Fetish, 1981). A third story in what is now a cycle, is now included in the relaunched ‘Weirdbook no.32’.

It’s been pointed out that a cat called ‘Jingle’ appears in two stories. That’s because he was also real. And “Thuesday To Fryday” not only records the contours of a real-life relationship without closure, but recounts his death, if not exactly as here recounted.

I knew of, and admired the style and quality of the books published by Parallel Universe, my inclusion in their ‘Kitchen Sink Gothic’ anthology prompting negotiations towards this short-story collection, for which Vincent Chong has created the remarkably-effective cover-art. I love what they’ve done. And Simon Clark… who’d been a catalyst, adds a blurb.

Amazon review:
This Saucerful is a plateful of tasty tidbits
By Michael Yates on 5 April 2016.
Format: Paperback
Science fiction isn’t really science, otherwise it would be imprisoned in textbooks. Andrew Darlington is healthily aware that he’s in the business of writing fantastic fiction, so his “warped sci-fi” is resplendent in literary conceits. A drunken Branwell meets a giant bee and discovers there might be a universe in which he becomes the most famous Bronte; Conan Doyle’s Prof Moriarty is “reanimated” by futuristic biologists but technology betrays him in the end. And Mr Darlington knows his real subject matter is narrow human society – like the one in which sexual identity is a major crime – though his characters may patrol the whole universe. It’s a sprawling and inventive set of stories and I enjoyed it.
THE ZONE online review at:

Saturday, 30 April 2016



A girl stands outside a phone-booth
on a street corner,
against the back-projection traffic
of cars/buses/pedestrians/cycles.
Gradually she assumes the Horus-head of a hawk,
the eyes of Medusa and
the breasts of a Minoan snake-goddess.
She reaches out to passers-by,
loosens a tie,
unfastens a shirt-button,
ruffles the hair of a traffic warden,
severs the jugular vein of a
passing wages clerk
until he falls, to
lie in the gutter gurgling and hissing,
and she removes his clothes and
copulates efficiently while devouring the
flesh of the head and shoulders,
until death comes with the ultimate orgasm.
What remains lies red and gleaming
between discarded cigarette packs
and beer cans.
She stands up, adjusts her clothes
a little self-consciously.
Stands outside a phone-booth
on a street corner,
against the back-projection traffic…

 Published in:
‘AMBIT no.79’ (UK – August 1979)
‘ENTROPION no.3’ (UK – May 1986)
‘IMPETUS no.19’ (USA – May 1991)
‘ELDRITCH TALES no.25’ (USA – November 1991)
‘TABULA RASA vol.2 no.3’ (Canada – February 1992)
On cassette:
(UK C60 or C90 – June 1981)
‘S4: SUPER COMPILATION’ (UK – C60 – July 1981)
‘LANDED: SYC NETWORK’ C60 LIVE’ (UK – August 1982)

Friday, 29 April 2016

Interview: GRAHAM NASH talks about THE HOLLIES


 According to Graham Nash the Hollies were 
‘a great little band’. He tells their story to Andrew Darlington 


Graham Nash was here in Manchester to launch a 2004 exhibition of his photographs. He’d been away a long time, but you can still hear traces of Salford beneath the LA veneer in his accent. For Graham, this visit is part of a promotional jaunt for his book, but it’s also a strangely personal occasion. Although born in Blackpool (2 February 1942) he spent much of his childhood within 1 Skinner Street, Salford, a now-demolished back-to-back ‘Coronation Street’ terrace house with outside lav. So what memories were provoked by returning to his home-town now? ‘Well, you know, I have so many great memories of growing up in Salford. And first being turned on to the magic of music in Salford. I didn’t leave Salford until I was eighteen. So I have lots of great memories of the struggles and the joys and the heartaches of doing something that was different from anything any of your family had done. Nobody in my family had been in a band before. Ever.’

Unexpectedly, Allan Clarke turns up at the gallery for an emotional reunion. ‘He’s my oldest friend. Yes, absolutely. My oldest friend in the world,’ gushes Graham. ‘The great lead singer of our first pro group. The Hollies were a great band. A great band. They’ve never been the same without us two, I don’t think.’

And Rock History tells it all, how – born within two months of each other (Allan, 15 April 1942), they started at Ordsall Primary School, friends at six, buying their first guitars inspired by the Skiffle fad, hanging out together as fourteen-year-olds. When his parents rewarded him with a record-player for passing his eleven-plus exam, Graham’s first record-purchase was Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula” on a big old 78rpm. Then ‘I was working six days a week and getting £1-19s-11d, then going out at weekends and getting five quid for four songs’ recalls Clarke amiably. The two served their music apprenticeship together on the cabaret circuit as The Two Teens doing Lonnie Donegan and early-Cliff covers, then they were Ricky & Dane Young, The Guytones, half of the Fourtones, then the Deltas (with bassist Eric Haydock, born 3 February 1943).

They waited outside the Midland Hotel at 2:30am to catch a glimpse of their idols, the Everly Brothers, on a 1960 tour. ‘They came out of a Night Club, slightly inebriated, and instead of patting us on the head and signing an autograph, they talked to me and Allan for twenty-eight minutes… it changed my life.’ Sure it did, six years later Don & Phil came calling, and the two Manchester graduates wound up writing eight of the twelve tracks for the Ev’s May 1966 album ‘Two Yanks In London’. A vital influence, there’s an argument that Everly harmonies also template those of Simon & Garfunkel, Status Quo and many others. Phil Everly was also the first artist to record Albert Hammond’s “The Air That I Breathe”, which the Hollies lifted for their own no.2 hit in 1974.

While in Manchester in 2004, Graham visits a venue with memories. ‘I went down to the Apollo Theatre… a place where I’d first been to see movies and stuff when I was a kid, and I’d first played there myself in 1959. It was a thrill for me.’ It was on that same stage that he’d originally competed in a 1959 pre-‘X-Factor’ talent contest, in competition with Liverpool’s Johnny & The Moondogs. ‘Johnny’ – Lennon also went on to greater things. Later, from the ‘Manchester Evening News’ stage, Graham Nash announces ‘we’re 100-yards from the Oasis club where the Hollies started out. It’s been a long strange trip, remind me to tell you some time…’ Telling that tale, it was for a December 1962 gig at the ‘Oasis’ that the Deltas rebranded themselves as the Hollies, in recognition of another formative influence – ‘Buddy Holly didn’t swivel his hips or grease his hair, he wore glasses, he was one of us.’ 


Graham Nash’s career not only spans four decades, but two distinct life-times. The one-time assistant manager in a gent’s outfitter who once confided to an early fan magazine that he ‘liked smart suits’, was the guy who quit for warmer Californian climes. Leaving the Hollies to watch as he reinvented himself as Spokesperson for a Generation.

Yet the Hollies started out as very much part of Beat Boom’s first wave, first entering the charts the week “From Me To You” was no.1. Talent-spotted at the ‘Cavern’ in January 1963 by Parlophone’s head-hunting staff producer Ron Richards, guitarist Tony Hicks (born 16 December 1943) joined the line-up in time for their EMI Studio test recordings. But before they broke into chart-dom they must have been up there in Manchester, reading the Music Press – just as I was, and imagining themselves on its pages? ‘That’s what you did. You imagined yourself on those pages. Every time you’d get ‘Disc’ or ‘New Musical Express’ – yeah, you could picture that’s what you could do. And you dreamed and you’d pull yourself towards that dream, and it happened with me. I was fortunate to have it all come true…’

And from the start they were writing their own B-sides. “Hey, What’s Wrong With Me” for their debut 45rpm – the flip of the nursery-rhyme game “Just Like Me” (no.25 in May 1963), “Whole World Over” with Everly harmonies and guitar changes for the second (all recorded at their first sessions 4 April 1963), and “Now’s The Time” to flip “Stay” – by which time ex-Fentone drummer Bobby Elliott (born 8 December 1942) completed the first classic Hollies line-up. He’d started out with Tony Hick’s former-group the Dolphins. As a kid I used to watch the Hollies on TV, doing their early R&B-covers of Leiber & Stoller’s “Searchin’” (no.12 in August 1963), then accelerating and tightening the Doo-Wop harmonies of Maurice William’s “Stay” (no.8 in November 1963). Jackson Browne later took the same song and slowed it down into an audience sing-along that made the American Top 20 in 1978, but the Hollies version retains the definite edge.

The significant breakthrough was with their breezily sleek take on “Just One Look” (no.2 in February 1964). Listen to Doris Troy’s original, which is looser and warmer, the Hollies take it harder, tighter, faster, with Graham’s near-falsetto middle-eight ‘I thought I was dreamin’, but I was wrong, yeh yeh yeah...’ Although Graham and Allan were there singing back-up for new boys The Rolling Stones on “Not Fade Away” (just as Graham with David Crosby would later add harmonies to Jefferson Starship’s extravagant ‘Blows Against The Empire’ album), the Hollies were never dangerous or confrontational. No-one begrudged them their hits, when a smartly-suited Tony Hicks mouths ‘Hello Mum’ as the ‘Top Of The Pops’ cameras pan past him, normally-disapproving parents were charmed. Even boy’s action-comic the ‘Eagle’ carried an enthusiastic Hollies feature in their 7 August 1965 issue.

This was the group line-up credited on their debut LP – ‘Stay With The Hollies’ (January 1964) which peaked at no.2, though original drummer Don Rathbone plays on the three earliest titles, including hit “Searchin’” which, although ragged when compared to what’s to come, effectively plays off Graham’s voice against Allan’s lead – his gum-shoe drawl ‘well, Sherlock Holmes and ole’ Sam Spade got nothin’, child, on me’ rising into ‘gonna walk right down that street, like Bulldog Drummond’ adding half-recited humour above the piano-led backing. Don plays on the album’s only original song too – Clarke/ Nash’s raw ‘c’mon c’mon’ typically Merseybeat “Little Lover”.

The rest, with Bobby Elliott drumming, are regulation beat-group covers of Chuck Berry (“Talkin ‘Bout You” and “Memphis”), and Ray Charles (“What Kind Of Girl Are You”). A straight transcript of the way they’d been doing this material live – recorded across two sessions 29 October and 11 December, they grab nothing of available studio potential. Their take on the Contour’s “Do You Love Me” lacks the pounding gravity of the Dave Clark Five, or the twinkling silliness of Brian Poole’s no.1 (their “Candy Man” also precedes his hit cover). Their jog-through of Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On” lacks the dramatic depth of the Rolling Stones simultaneously issued EP version. They reach back into Rock ‘n’ Roll history to Little Richard’s “Lucille”, to Conway Twitty’s country-Pop “It’s Only Make Believe”, and anticipate the Beatles cover of “Mr Moonlight” by eleven months! Although Lennon’s vocal-lead, and song arrangement serves only to emphasise the distance the Hollies have yet to make up.

While the Beatles were working with George Martin for the same label, the Clark-Nash-Hicks axis of the Hollies went on with increasing confidence to record seven LP’s, building a close relationship with producer Ron Richards across a punishing schedule of two albums a year, plus a run of hits only rivalled by the Beatles themselves. Yet only compilations ‘Hollies Greatest Hits’ in August 1968 (no.1) and ‘Twenty Golden Greats’ in July 1978 (no.2) equalled the twenty-five week chart success of that first album.

Although ‘In The Hollies Style’ – their second album of 1964 (November), doesn’t chart, it tips the writer-balance with seven of twelve group-originals, all clean pleasant close-harmony songs with inconsequential boy-girl themes, always likeable, seldom essential. “I Though Of You Last Night” has the Folk-soft sensitivity of Simon & Garkunkel, whereas the sweet driving “To You My Love” hints at the group’s power still to come. Yet the stand-outs, performed on radio promo-slots are Big Dee Irwin’s “What Kind Of Boy” and Betty Everett’s “Its In Her Kiss” – much later Cher’s no.1 “The Shoop Shop Song”. Meanwhile, “Here I Go Again” from the trans-Atlantic Mort Shuman-Clive Westlake writing team consolidated their presence (no.4 in May 1964), until the group’s first self-penned A-side hit soon followed… “We’re Through” (no.7 in September 1964), with its distinctive descending guitar-runs.


Confession time. I never got to see the Hollies during those 1960’s years. Not for want of trying. They were appearing at the Bridlington Spa, on the seafront, where I’d already seen the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, and the Animals. And I was due to go for the Hollies. But my girlfriend at the time decided no, she couldn’t risk spoiling her new bouffant by compressing it beneath the crash-helmet that would make the trip possible. So we went to the local Palais instead. I sulked most of the evening. A night that effectively ended our relationship.

At the time they were well into their second wind – a first no.1 with Clint Ballard Jrn’s “I’m Alive” (May 1965), followed a couple of records later by the complex harmonies of Chip Taylor’s even better “I Can’t Let Go” (no.2, February 1966). Opening with a nagging bass-figure the voices blend in with a sharp multi-layered precision worthy of Brian Wilson, harmonies and counter-harmonies unfurl, rising against each other through a strafing guitar-break into a dramatic ‘Hey!’, after which it drops back to the bass-run, and begins again. Ironically, Eric Haydock was the first to leave this Hollies’ line-up, Nash telling the press at the time ‘after all, the bass player does the least work in the group’! He was replaced by another ex-Dolphin, Bernie Calvert.

With an unbroken string of stand-out 45-rpm’s, the Hollies had become masters of the singles medium, hits that have become as comfortable as old friends. Without the heavy subversive darknesses of the Stones or the Who, they were either writing, or remodelling other’s material with a killer instinct for melody and rhythm, using idiosyncratic alchemy to turn confectionary-cute Pop into carefully constructed vignettes of endearing charm and energy. “Bus Stop” (no.5, June 1966), which gave them their first American chart-visibility and which Nash still cites as his personal favourite, might be a Graham Gouldman song (their second, following “Look Through Any Window”, no.4 in September 1965), but – with promotional photographs of the group in city-bowlers beneath umbrellas posed at the bus-stop, they make it very much their own. Even their slight missteps, their collaboration with Peter Sellers on the “After The Fox” movie-theme (with Jack Bruce on bass) which didn’t chart, or their cover of the ‘Rubber Soul’ track “If I Needed Someone” which grumpy-writer George Harrison claimed to dislike – which peaked no higher than no.19 (December 1965), were validated by their slick upbeat quality.

By now, others of that first Beat-Boom wave – Billy J Kramer, Gerry & The Pacemakers, and Freddie & The Dreamers, were falling by the wayside, while after their long slow-burn ascent the Hollies were now effortlessly competing creatively and commercially with the next wave, Manfred Mann, the Kinks and the Small Faces.

The Hollies’ ‘L. Ransford’ writer-alias was lifted from Nash’s grandfather, and used by the Nash/Clarke/Tony Hicks triumvirate. Their first all-original album in December 1966 (‘For Certain Because’), includes Graham’s jangling ‘serious artist behind the mask’ “Clown” – with his smile painted on upside-down and its circus-effects, plus his reflective “Crusader” which fades out to the sampled sound of marching Beefeaters. The album was also responsible for the tempo-inventive “Pay You Back With Interest” – covered by the Corsairs, and the bossa-nova “Tell It To My Face” – a US hit for ‘98.6’ star Keith. But while the Beatles were an environment open to change, the Hollies resist it.

Talking to ‘NME’ about the album Tony Hicks attacks ‘so-called ‘Freak Out’ music and progressive pop’ as way above the heads of fans, ‘how can you understand the LSD scene unless you take it? It’s no use doing a Yardbirds lyric – those things just spin your mind.’ Easy to interpret that as an attack on Graham’s emerging tendency. Never innovative in that Yardbirds sense, the Hollies nevertheless use novel ideas, such as the six-string banjo riff on “Stop Stop Stop” (no.2 in November 1966) or the steel-band on “Carrie Anne” (no.3 in June 1967).

The record quoted as being the pivotal reason for Graham leaving the Hollies is “King Midas In Reverse”, with its Greek-mythology metaphor and sweeping baroque string-arrangement. Allan Clarke says ‘I remember sitting down with Graham to work on it, but not to the extent that he did. It was his idea with my ideas inside it. Graham was the one who said, let’s have an orchestra, and get Johnny Scott in to do the score.’ Regarded a chart-failure at the time (it only reached no.18 during September 1967), it must be with some sense of vindication that it is now rightly considered the Hollies’ artistic zenith, and a British psychedelic classic. ‘Yes, I always loved that track, y’know’ Graham tells me. ‘And yes, it was an interesting point because so far, we had all moved our energies towards that point, and we saw that that record was an important record – not to over-blow things. We knew that it was something different for us. And I think it’s remained a favourite – certainly, of mine, since the day we cut it.’

There were two wonderfully diverse albums in 1967 – ‘Evolution’ in June, with its lavish sleeve-art designed by the Fool, and ‘Butterfly’ in November. The first has attractively-catchy straight-Pop “When The Light’s Turned On” and a fuzz-guitar addition to “Have You Ever Loved Somebody?” – lifted as a hit for both the Searchers and Paul & Barry Ryan. There’s the sharp three-way harmonies of “You Need Love” and the slyly lascivious “The Games We Play”. But both sets are also caught up in the surging lysergic post-‘Sgt Pepper’ Summer of Love euphoria. There are twee moments, the harpsichord nostalgia of “Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe” on the former, and the ‘Steptoe & Son’ pathos of “Charlie And Fred” on the latter, rampant phasing on ‘Evolution’s fairy-tale “Lullaby To Tim” and sitar-tabla drones on ‘Butterfly’s preposterously overblown “Maker” (‘days of yellow saffron lightning purple skies, melting in the sunbeams from my maker’s eyes’). There’s a lemonade lake with candyfloss snow and classical twiddly-strings on “Butterfly” plus backward-tapes and chiming bells on the stately “Would You Believe”.

Although the group – other than Graham, had a somewhat ambivalent attitude to Britpsych, it’s Allan who contributes the giddy ‘I’m so high’ astral projection mind excursion that is “Elevated Observations”, and Tony Hicks is the motivating force behind “Pegasus”. And when all the elements come together, they can be breathtaking, with Graham’s wonderfully strange “Dear Eloise” spun-off ‘Butterfly’ to become a US singles hit. In ‘Record Collector’ magazine’s ‘100 Greatest Psychedelic Records’ (Diamond Publ, 2005), David Wells says it ‘remains by far their most adventurous studio album, described by one pundit as ‘a Northern England counterpart to ‘Odyssey And Oracle’.’ And for the Hollies it was a career-peak, and a breakpoint.

Graham and Allan might have co-written “Jennifer Eccles” – ‘with its cute guitar-string wolf-whistles’, to return the Hollies to the Top Ten (no.7 in March 1968), but the high-flying artist versus prosaic Beat-group dichotomy was already clearly defined. ‘The reason I left the Hollies was simply that I was smoking a lot of dope, and they weren’t. It was as simple as that,’ he jokes. But the ill-advised album of – what Graham considered, jauntily trivialised Dylan songs, ‘Hollies Sing Dylan’ (no.3 in June 1969), was the final decider. Ironically it features “All I Really Want To Do”, strongly associated with David Crosby-period Byrds!, while – unissued at the time, Graham’s contribution “Blowin In The Wind” was only added as a bonus track to the CD reissue. It, alongside another early Graham song, “Relax” from 1968 but unissued until the Hollies’ ‘Rarities’ album, provide more clues. Retrospectively, Bobby Elliot writes on the re-issue CD insert that ‘our pushing ahead with the (Dylan) project helped Graham to make his decision to split.’ ‘Now you know why I had to leave’ Nash comments later, ‘I was writing all these tunes that, for me, were self-expression things, and I was happy with them. But the Hollies didn’t want to know.’ You don’t do covers. You express yourself through your own songs.

Graham was smoothly replaced by Terry Sylvester, formerly of the Escorts and the Swinging Blue Jeans, and the Hollies continue as durable consummate professionals… with an enduring mastery of tuneful harmony-Rock and even bigger career-defining successes, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” (no.3 in October 1969, then no.1 in September 1988!), “I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top” (no.7 in April 1970), “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress” (American no.2 in July 1972) and “The Air That I Breathe” (no.2 in February 1974). Even Allan Clarke’s brief replacement by Michael Rickfors does little to dent their enduring status.

Some names are still touring and living well off a brief space of Sixties celebrity. Indeed, Eric Haydock could be seen as part of a Sixties Nostalgia Package, on a bill with a version of the Animals. While a line-up of the Hollies itself, with Bobby Elliot sitting in the drum-chair, can still be occasionally glimpsed. Yet for Graham, that Beat-Boom celebrity first career-phase with the Hollies was to be used as just an Atlantic Crossing springboard to an even more high-profile second-phase career alongside Byrd David Crosby and errant mavericks Stephen Stills and Neil Young – with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. ‘Indeed, yeah, I’m a very lucky man that way. To a lot of people, it may have appeared to be a foolish move to leave the band, to leave the Hollies, and leave all of that kind of hit-band environment that we had created there, and yet I’d heard that different sound, and I’d been moved enough by that sound to bring an end to the Hollies, and to me coming to America to follow that sound. You’ve got to keep moving forward. You’re dead if you stay the same…’


There have been two important partnerships in Graham’s two careers. The Hollies period writing and performing with Allan Clarke (“Allan and I are the same person in a lot of ways, but he’s the me that didn’t leave for the States, and I’m the me that did”). Then the second with David Crosby.

The Byrds briefly reformed for their ‘Full Circle’ album. Then the original Hollies reformed in September 1981 to appear together on ‘Top Of The Pops’ for a “HollieDaze” compilation-single, followed by ‘What Goes Around’ – an album for WEA that reworks their original hit “Just One Look”, and features Graham’s distinctively high harmonies on their cover of “Stop In The Name Of Love”. Another major dose of nostalgia followed in the form of a 2003 six-CD-set ‘The Hollies Long Box’ featuring rare B-sides, foreign-language versions, and previously unissued outtakes.

‘The Hollies were a great band’ says Graham Nash, ‘a great band.’



 Album Reviews of: 
(1991, Bizarre-Straight Records/ Demon Fiend CD211) 
 (1993, Bizarre-Straight Records/ Demon Fiend CD728) 
 ‘FRENZY’ (1982, CBS, 1989, Edsel ED 104) 

‘I really HATE that kind of music’ says Bela, stabbing the cassette off in Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 debut movie ‘Stranger Than Paradise’.

‘It’s Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and he’s a wild man, so bog off’ retaliates the Beat Girl in this black-and-white celluloid kitchen sleazorama filmed in original Spellavision.

Shock-Rock for Gore-Hounds. Wild man Screamin’ Jay laid down the ground-rules that Lord Sutch, Crazy Arthur Brown, Alice Cooper, the Cramps, the Damned and ‘The Addams Family’ would pick up on in their own separate timeframes. A grinning skull. A Juju hand. The onstage coffin you saw in ‘American Hot Wax’ (1978)… and a cannibal bone-through-the-nose goofiness. Screamin Jay is the original Rocky Horror-show.

For Jalacy Hawkins (18 July 1929 – 12 February 2000), born in Cleveland, Ohio, his commercial success was brief – it began and ended in 1956, but his notoriety for macabre theatrics haunted him on down the long decades since. In some ways it served to put a voodoo hex on his very real ability as a R&B blues shouter of some considerable power. Perhaps he realised that? But he continued to replay the role as if stuck in a Hammer Horror freeze-frame.

There was a brief window of opportunity for re-assessment when his ‘Levi’s’ ad-aided cover of Tom Waits’ “Heart-Attack And Vine” lifted him all the way to no.42 on the UK chart in April 1993. The ‘B’-side was a Dance-edit of his signature hit “I Put A Spell On You”, coming around again after Bryan Ferry’s lack-lustre crawl through the song, as well as following earlier chart reruns by Nina Simone and the Alan Price Set. This supernatural clash of skulls was lifted from his reactivated and hastily re-promoted 1991 CD ‘Black Music For White People’.

But unfortunately this was part of a sudden opportunistic gridlock of CDs, and this worthy abundance of back-catalogue material tended to blunt the sales mobility of his then-current proper set – which was ‘Stone Crazy’. Yet certain elements are interchangeable. He still overtrades the basket-case quotient into a whammy of a Mau-Mau feast full of well-wired weirdness. And the basic humour-line still runs like the result of a Mad Scientist’s experimental studio gene-splice vivisection of John Lee Hooker and Bernard Manning. For every stone-gone gem like his reading of Tom Waits’ “Ice Cream Man” or the Smiley Lewis classic “I Hear You Knocking” on ‘Black Music For White People’, there’s a hammy “Ol’ Man River”. Just as his “Sherilyn Fenn” (‘the whole time the movie played, I was thinking how good it would be to get laid’) is marred by the ‘Late Night Hawkins’ of “On The Job” and “Call The Plumber” on ‘Stone Crazy’. Where they need some grit and soul, both albums are given inappropriately clean production sheens by occasional co-writer Robert Duffey. And both also come from the critically well-credible Demon stable via a fortuitous link-up with Frank Zappa’s Bizarre label, which first had the good grace to rescue the Voodoo-Guru from a ten-year studio silence.

Yet the third CD in this triad – the earlier compilation ‘Frenzy’, despite further blunting the sales mobility of his brief TV-advertised window of opportunity, is the original stuff. A fourteen-track set drawn from his Okeh recordings from the 1950s, sparked by the primal “I Put A Spell On You”, including an “Alligator Wine” dripping with surreal spookiness, and “There’s Something Wrong With You”. But there’s some campy fillers here too. By mismatching the insanity of “Frenzy” with the attempted legit croonery of “I Love Paris” he provides some evidence of a genuine, if misguided vocal dexterity and a desire to expand out of Pop-Rock’s Novelty Room. An imbalance that never quite achieves career equilibrium.

But what the hell – when he’s good, he’s spine-chillingly good. Check out that TV jeans-ad again on ‘YouTube’ – ‘liar liar, with your drawers on fire’, and give thanks to the Satanic gods of Juju for that. Even the ‘Observer’s movie-drone Philip French was moved to praise Hawkins’ ‘massive impassive presence in Jim Jarmusch’s later more acclaimed ‘Mystery Train’ (1989).

He’s STILL a wild man, so bog off…!

‘FRENZY’ compilation made up of original Okeh material, ‘I Put A Spell On You’ c/w ‘Little Demon’ (1956, Okeh 7072), ‘Frenzy’ c/w ‘Person To Person’ (1957, Okeh 7087), ‘Alligator Wine’ (Leiber-Stoller) c/w ‘There’s Something Wrong With You’ (1958, Okeh 7101), plus ‘I Love Paris’ (Cole Porter), ‘Hong Kong’, ‘Orange Coloured Sky’, ‘Temptation’, ‘Yellow Coat’, ‘If You Are But A Dream’, ‘You Made Me Love You’, ‘Deep Purple’

Thursday, 28 April 2016


Album Review of: 
(SPV 306052, SPV 306062, & SPV 306067-DVD)

The Baked Potato is a select diner in ‘the heart of Hollywood’ where the walls are overlaid with music-posters, where slim waitresses with burger ‘n’ fries slip between tables, and there’s a Jack Daniels Old Time logo over the door. The big guy in the red shirt behind rippling banks of keyboards is Brian Auger, giant of the Hammond organ sub-genre that began with Jimmy Smith. Live, they do Eddie Harris’ aptly frisky “Freedom Jazz Dance”, its three title-elements a perfect description of what they do. A mix of new and remade Auger, with tinkling electric piano on sophisticated “Homeward”, an acid-jazz “Ghost Town” evolving, rolling and flowing with biological logic, and a punching solo and unison horn-section standing in for an absent Freddie Hubbard on “Freddie’s Flight”.

On CD-only the cool Buddhist vibe of Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” gets Auger lyrics. In all three formats they do a sinuous reading of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch”, first done with Julie Driscoll on ‘Open’ (1967), now infused with John Coltrane quotes and interpreted through daughter Savannah Grace’s jazz-literate voice and supple-dancing. She gives Marvin Gaye’s “Troubleman” a Sade treatment, then a smoothly flowing lounge-core “Light My Fire” – restyled from 1969’s ‘Street Noise’. The family connection is backed up by drummer Karma Auger, with only the ‘flashing fingers’ of bassist Derek Frank sharing different genes, muscular or funk-supple as required. To paraphrase their once-hit, ‘this band’s on fire’. For completists the CD comes helpfully numbered ‘18’ in the on-going Brian Auger reissue programme. Collect them all

Brian played harpsichord on the
Yardbirds hit “For Your Love”

Published in:
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ Vol.2 No.14
(Mar/Apr) (UK – March 2009)