Thursday, 27 September 2018

Poem: 'Friday Afternoon At The Squirrel Café'



FRIDAY AFTERNOON 
AT THE SQUIRREL CAFÉ 


they’re playing Sam Cooke
in the Café In The Wood,
the Polish couple discuss Brexit around
a Panini melt beneath buzzy-bee prints
by local artist Ieva,
Cupid, draw back your bow, 
the Mother breastfeeds in the corner
while flicking her instagram posts,
I don’t wanna bother you, but I’m in distress, 
outside, beneath the awning
they look up from lattés to
watch the ambulance ne-naw by
as Tamsin counts her stone-collection
in a row across the table
between bites of squirrel biscuit,
bring it on home to me, 
three girls in the steamy coffee aroma
of the alcove beside the counter
snigger their true confessions about
the fit boy they saw on the Tooting tube,
only I listen
and remember,
a change is gonna come…


Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Music: THE MOVE and TREVOR BURTON



NO MORE 
FLOWERS IN THE RAIN...

Album Review of: 
‘BEST OF THE MOVE’ 
(1991, Music Club MC CD 009) 
and 
‘THE MOVE: THE BBC SESSIONS’ 
by THE MOVE 
 (1995, Band of Joy BOJCD 011) 


Who cares about Move now? Roy Wood became the Angel-Fingered Wizzard of the seventies. Jeff Lynne ELO’ed and Wilbury’ed through a few peaks and lots of subsequent troughs. Drummer Bev Bevan lived on through ELO II. And some-time vocalist Carl Wayne married ‘Miss Diane’ from ‘Crossroads’. So what?

Move craved a slice of late-sixties chart action so desperately they assumed and quick-changed a bewildering blur of image-shifts and fast-cut gimmicry before grabbing their eleven hit singles. They became Gangsters, they chopped up exploding on-stage TV sets in mid-concert, they were sued by Prime Minister Harold Wilson, but when they finally scored it was through Roy Wood’s eclectic magpie flair. Their 25-track ‘Best Of…’ grab-bag of hits and covers documents the period he was perfecting this technique of ramraiding early Pop hooks into a heavy Rock that flirts with a radio-tease of lyrical controversy. “Night Of Fear” takes its riff from the “1812 Overture”, and runs an is-it-or-ain’t-it an LSD Bad Trip across the top of it, sufficiently acid-nudging to be hip, yet vague enough to be radio programmable, while the Tchaikovsky sample gave it an instantly memorable buzz. One play stamps it indelibly.


“I Can Hear The Grass Grow” ducks back into the acid daze by sucking in LSD consciousness-expanding imagery, punctuated by a snappy whistled motif. But it takes care to drag a get-out escape clause for daytime radio consumption in that the lyrics might just be the gooey soft-centred psychedelic surrealism that infects every other low-rent Pop writer of the period. Then “Flowers in the Rain” grows even sharper – coinciding its key word with the Flower Power infestation, but distanced enough to avoid the fad’s sillier manifestations. Not ‘Flower Power’, but close enough to benefit from its marketability. Famously, “Flowers in the Rain” got to become the first ever record played on Radio One. By a young Tony Blackburn. The rest is hysteria. 


Wood wrote sublime pop – “Fire Brigade” with its pyromania of mind-jerking attention-grabbing siren wails and guitars, garnished with a nostalgia double-take on adolescent schoolkid sexuality – ‘when I put my hand upon her leg/ she hits me with a rule’, aimed at a record-buying audience to whom such classroom-antics must surely be a relatively recent part of their lives. Move specialised in slightly twisted hits. They never became arty, self-indulgent, experimental or improvisational like many of their peers. They best excel at style-xeroxing. Their only no.1, “Blackberry Way” is “Penny Lane” turned inside out… But they did the first Peel Sessions too. And in the BBC studios all that perfect Pop was artfully and refreshingly recreated for ‘live’ radio, “Fire Brigade”’ “Blackberry Way”, and Wood’s one miscalculation – “Wild Tiger Woman” with its dollops of bondage sex-references that proved just a little too extreme for the tender sensibilities of the DJ’s of the time.

Such familiar hits were inflated with songs nicked from other people. Hence they do the Byrds “So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”, Tim Rose’s “Morning Dew”, and bizarrely the Beach Boys “California Girls” too. The snag here is that with the R&B bands of a few years earlier you earned kudos through your accurately authentic recreation of obscure American Blues originals. But things had moved on. You don’t earn credibility-points by covering Love’s “Stephanie Knows Who”, you strive to create something equally inventive. And that was never in the band’s DNA. Having achieved the slice of late-sixties chart action they so desperately craved, straying far from the familiarity of their class single’s formula would prove problematic.

So who cares about Move now? Well, I’d still give them a listen.



LONG, AND LONGER PLAY

Album Review of: 
‘LONG PLAY’
 by TREVOR BURTON 
(2018, GRAY SKY RECORDS) 


Balls. Can this be the same Trevor Burton? Take magnifying-glass to the microprint inner Track Comments, and there’s a single mention of the Move and Steve Gibbons Band. So yes, it’s him, but Trevor’s far from trading off the legendary status of those sparkling Pop-Psych singles of yore – “Night Of Fear”, “Flowers In The Rain” and the rest, through Gibbon’s 1976 “Tulane” or his collectable “Fight For My Country” one-off single through Brummie super-group Balls. Although Trevor featured in line-ups of Bev Bevan’s millennially-resurrected Move, this first solo album features only two of his own songs. The autobiographical “Hit And Run” prompted by a fifty-year-old photograph of ‘five hard kids from Birmingham, with stardust in our eyes’, and desert-storm protest “When It All Comes Down”. 

The other nine are relentlessly forward-looking, taking Tom Petty and Eddie Vedder, Radiator Hospital, Al Scorch’s excoriating “Poverty Draft” and Vic Chesnutt’s scarily intense “Flirted With You All My Life” – about the lure of suicide. Powerful, mostly-acoustic with tasteful Abby Brant interjections, and Jack ‘Hefner’ Hayter’s pedal steel, it closes with Mountain Goats “Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back To Leeds”, given personal relevance. We all come back to where we started. Be positive. This ain’t over. ‘Long Play’ also comes in coloured vinyl editions worth taking out a QuickQuid loan to get your hands on.

Published (in abbreviated form) in:
‘R’N’R Vol.2 Issue.70’ July/August 2018 (UK – July 2018)


Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Classic SF: BRIAN ALDISS 'NON-STOP'



BRIAN ALDISS: 
NON-STOP FROM THE STARS 

‘NON-STOP’
 by BRIAN ALDISS 
(1958 Faber & Faber, 1959 Digit, 
1976 Pan paperback 0-330-24638-0) 


HOME IS THE HUNTER. HOME FROM THE HULL’ 

There used to be a theory in Science Fiction circles that the ‘Generation Ship’ story was a kind of writer’s litmus paper test. But if, at one point in their careers each writer would use the plot-device, Brian Aldiss met the challenge head-on, with his debut novel, handling the theme in typically uncompromising ways it had never before, and seldom afterwards been done. It was not ‘Non-Stop Into Space’ or ‘Non-Stop From The Stars’ as maybe others would have slanted the title. Aldiss was different. He was staking his claim. Paring away the usual SF paraphernalia with just a hyphenated seven-letters to lay down his challenge.


Audiences have become so familiar with Warp-Drive and Faster-than-light Starships flipping in and out of wormhole trans-dimensional portals that it’s hard to recapture a sense of stellar distance without all that quasi-scientific gobbledegook. Or to realise that by staying within the realm of conventional physics and viable technology the stars are quite literally unreachable, an insurmountable contradiction not only of speed but of time. Yet SF found ways of overcoming journeys of hundreds of years between stars by the Long Sleep hibernation technique, which led to much highly inventive fiction. And then the Generation Ship itself, in which the space-ark becomes a self-contained world in its own right, sufficient to enable entire lifetimes to be lived as the journey proceeds.

The idea was already there in early issues of ‘Wonder Stories’ – Laurence Manning’s “The Living Galaxy” (September 1934), and ‘Amazing Stories’ – Don Wilcox’s “The Voyage That Lasted Six-Hundred Years” (October 1940), before Robert A Heinlein defined the sub-genre with two linked tales – “Universe” and “Common Sense” published in the May and October 1941 issues of ‘Astounding SF’, (becoming his 1963 novel ‘Orphans Of The Sky’), in which the generation-ship crew has long-since forgotten it’s on a ship at all, and has degenerated into an enclosed superstitious society.


When Brian Aldiss took the litmus paper test, his spin starts out with a compressed thirty-eight-page novelette in ‘Science Fantasy’ (no.17, February 1956), taking cover and inner art by Gerard Quinn. John Carnell editorialises that ‘it is a great pleasure for us to present the first novelette by Brian Aldiss insofar as we believe that, like several other British authors, he has a long and successful future in front of his as a fantasy writer.’ The subsequently expanded novel published through Faber & Faber is dedicated to ‘who else but Ted Carnell, Editor of ‘New Worlds’ and ‘Science Fantasy’ and starter of ‘Non-Stop’.’ Although there are numerous evolutions between the two incarnations. A 1959 American edition published through Criterion Books was retitled ‘Starship’ – and provided with atmospheric Joel Dolens cover-art, as well as its paperback edition a year later from Signet/ New American Library, with a new Aldiss Prologue and striking, if not altogether accurate art by Paul Lehr showing a rocket-shaped ship blazing above a planetary surface. The blurb, ‘the magnificent novel of a weird and terrifying journey – generations in length – that knew neither sun, nor moon, nor stars,’ is at least appropriate.


Hunter Roy Complain is not your regular Space Opera hero. His name offers a clue. He complains of ‘a longing for what he had never known and could put no name to,’ that outsider sense of the oddness of things, that there’s ‘always something missing, missing.’ He seeks what he terms ‘the big something,’ which is a trait in keeping with the fictional social misfit rebel stereotype. He asks the ‘why are we here?’ question, and the ‘what is the object of the world?’ question. But when his woman – Gwenny, is snatched by a rival tribe he makes no heroic rescue attempt, merely returns to meekly accept his punishment beating.

Aldiss’ generation ship is ‘constructed of layers and layers of deck… and these layers do not end, because they eventually turn a circle on to themselves.’ The everlasting rings form eighty-four decks within an elongated egg-shaped ship, three-quarters of which is jungle. While the semi-nomadic rag-taggle Greene tribe travel ‘like a maggot through a mushy apple’ amid a rapidly-growing ‘ponic tangle’ of overgrown hydroponic plants that infest the Sternstairs, Midway, Main Corridor, the festering continent of Deadways and the cosy squalor of Quarters, all ‘thick with phantoms and mysteries and riddles and pain.’ There are legends and stories of supernatural Outsiders masquerading as men, mutants, supposedly-extinct Giants, sub-men, hermits and the terrible mythical Forwards People, but to Complain ‘theories are less than flies to me,’ and the people travel ‘knowing neither the journey nor the destination.’

 

 ‘TO TRAVEL HOPEFULLY IS A 
BETTER THING THAN TO ARRIVE…’ 
 (RL Stevenson, quoted on the title-page on ‘Non-Stop’) 

‘I had settled into the back bedroom of our North Oxford house to write my first science fiction novel, ‘Non-Stop’,’ recalls Aldiss in his autobiography ‘The Twinkling Of An Eye’ (Little Brown, 1998). ‘Telling myself the story gave me great pleasure, I was absolutely sure of what I was doing. Faber published the book in 1958. Its publication brought in enough money to enable me to buy my own typewriter. That Swiss Hermes portable and I lived on intimate terms for many a year; I used it as a pillow on more than one occasion. Many words, letters, stories, novels ran through its metal veins.’


With an impatient but playful attitude to conventions, Aldiss was already straining against genre-restrictions and subverting accepted concepts in ways that anticipate the New Wave eruption some years ahead down the timeline. The Greene tribe and their orgiastic party unconsciously prefigure Charles Platt’s messily scatological ‘Garbage World’ (1967). The tribe use mangled aphorisms ‘leap before you look’, ‘the devil you don’t know may conquer the one you do’, ‘Faint heart hath never won foul fiend’ and ‘the truth never set anyone free.’ Their expletives include ‘for gods ache’, ‘holy smother’ and ‘jeezers nose’, while death is euphemised into The Long Journey. The ‘holy trinity of Froyd, Yung and Bassit’ deal with the hyper-claustrophia of containment by hurling away ‘the discomfort of reason’ to ‘live in psychosomatic purity.’ The continual edge of unpredictable madness lurks just beneath the surface, these social disciplines have evolved to channel it, completely at odds with regular SFictional heroics. There’s the psychobabble greeting ‘expansion to your ego’, to which the response is ‘at your expense’ and ‘turmoil in my id.’ Literate word-games that Aldiss would delight in across the rich arc of his writing. The attitude to women is clearly unreconstructed, but within the logics of the society conjectured, there’s a consistency. In a society that values fertility, Complain needs Gwenny for status, ‘he did not love her, often he hated her, but she was his, necessary.’


It’s the deviously garrulous self-seeking priest Henry Marapper – a bulky ‘totem, roughly moulded in lard,’ who leads a bickering ill-matched group to penetrate the mysteries of their enclosed realm. He has salvaged a map from the lieutenancy’s destruction, or rather a ‘Manual Of Electrical Circuits Of Starship’. Armed with looted Dazer pistols, alongside Complain are Bob Fermour, ‘a slow fellow’ who ‘at five foot eight’ was ‘nearly a head taller the others,’ Ern Roffery the Valuer, and facially-deformed ‘Slotface’ Wantage. They navigate from Level Sixty-One to the ‘sea’ called Swimming Pool, then to where ‘ancient weapons’ have ruptured a zero-gravity zone. An interlude with evolved rats is a comic absurdity. It’s very much a pell-mell adventure, a hazardous trek through strange realms, an all-action quest within the constricted world’s wealth of inventive strangeness, as revelations come non-stop too. On their eighth wake they reach Deck Twenty-Nine.

The group in the novelette version have different names, Complain is Tom Brandyholm, with Priest Carappa (Marapper) – ‘nobody suffered indignity with more dignity than he.’ Slotface is ‘Rockface’ Wantage, and Fermour is Bob Crooner. While the lovely object of Complain’s attentions, inaccurately pictured by Gerard Quinn on the ‘Science Fantasy’ cover, starts out as Viann, before becoming Laur Vyann. Arrival and interrogation at the more organised Forwards is less the end of the quest as the start of a new cycle. Complain learns the twenty-fourth-century ship that constitutes their world was crossing the eleven light years (at a speed specified in the novelette as one-twentieth light-speed) back from a New Earth orbiting the sun-star Procyon, when it was hit by the nine-day ague caused by protein in the alien water. While Gregg – captain of a Deadways tribe besieging Forwards, turns out to be Complain’s lost ‘ran amok’ brother. A tribe, in turn, threatened by an encroachment of giant rats.


Intrigue and conspiracy, subterfuge and betrayal, secrets and concealment multiply as Complain and Viann/ Vyann attempt to make sense of their ‘dangerously mad’ insane enclosed society and its predicament. It’s with Fermour/ Crooney’s unmasking as an ‘Outsider’ anthropologist that leads to the final revelation that the long voyage is actually over, that the ship has been endlessly held in a quarantine orbit around Earth for long generations, due to their accelerated mutations, the ‘speeding up and degeneration in the metabolism.’ There’s running battles in inspection-ways as they begin systematically destroying decks hunting out Giants. The novelette version has Complain using a space-suit to venture outside the ‘Big Dog’ ship to search out the intruders from Earth. In the novel itself the orgy of destruction leads to the ship’s final break-up into its eighty-four constituent decks. Necessitating their rescue. Whatever, the action comes hard and relentlessly fast.

If the Generation Ship theme was a litmus paper test for genre writers, he’d taken it higher and further than anyone else dared venture. ‘Thirty or so years later, despite all the change, ‘Non-Stop’ and ‘Hothouse’ remain in print in England’ Aldiss comments, ‘but their warmest initial reception was in the United States Of America.’ It was his first SF novel. Many more were to follow.


Monday, 24 September 2018

Albums: DELANEY & BONNIE



NEVER-ENDING 
SONGS OF LOVE 

Album Review of: 
‘THE ORIGINAL DELANEY 
& BONNIE & FRIENDS: 
ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTE’ 
by DELANEY & BONNIE 
 (MAN IN THE MOON RECORDS) 

We know the story, right? How this married duo end up as walk-ons on their own album. There’s Leon Russell’s spangly guitar and gravity-defying keyboards in synergy with Carl Radle’s chuntering bass in a full-to-busting 35-minute track-list built on girders of driving swamp-heavy Funk, with well-connected friends on speed-dial, Rita Coolidge, Jim Keltner, Bobby Keys and on, clad in thrumming propulsive horns. While half the songs are Bramlett originals, check the writer credits behind Bonnie – first blue-eyed Ikette, on her soul-stirring “When The Battle Is Over” to find Mac ‘Dr John’ Rebenneck, or the pleading testifying “Do Right Woman” from Chips Moman originally Dan Penned for Aretha. Then read the co-writer credits of the wailing “Someday” and there’s Jerry Allison in there, or the impassioned “The Ghetto” to find Homer Banks with Jimmie Haskell strings. All spine-tingling – if more for the ‘Friends’ than the headline duo. This 1969 album came in a three-way label battle, from Stax who’d issued the duo’s debut LP ‘Home’ barely three months earlier, to Apple via litigation onto Elektra – before they moved on to Atco for their Eric Clapton hook-up. Recorded in LA, and more critically-acclaimed and influential than it was a big-seller, D&B were innovative in opening up a genre-portal into steaming Memphis R&B.

Published in:
‘R’N’R’ Vol.2 No.64 July-August (UK – July 2017) 



Album Review of: 
‘SOME THINGS COMING’ 
& ‘MOBIUS STRIP’ 
 by DELANEY BRAMLETT 
(UP SOUNDS) 

When Eric Clapton quit Blind Faith to join Delaney & Bonnie’s Friends it sent seismic shockwaves through the Music Press and made the duo overnight stars, they even got a hit single out of it. Although Clapton’s enthusiasm could have had something to do with the group’s superlative sidemen – Bobby Keys, Jim Price, Bobby Whitlock – Delaney’s easy familiarity and dexterity with all things Southern R&B certainly helped form a template for Slowhand’s own uneasy conundrum of the white London boy appropriating the Blues. The duo, and their marriage, broke up soon after Clapton stole the backing musicians and made his getaway. But the notoriously tetchy Delaney cut these two accomplished solo albums from 1972 and 1973, proving that his own strengths are not to be underrated. This good-value two-for-one pack is crammed full of swamp-choppy Funk-bass, churchy Soul-organ, punching Stax horns, cutting guitar, sinuous slide, Clydie King, Gloria Jones and Vanetta Fields impassioned gospel back-ups and duetting on “Try A Little Harder”, plus Jim Gordon’s baritone sax, all tied together by Delaney’s own pleading testifying vocals. There’s even tribal percussion on “Some Things Coming”. Providing more than enough evidence of what turned Clapton’s head around.

Published in:
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.46 (July/Aug)’ 
(UK – July 2014)


Saturday, 22 September 2018

Book: Stephen Baxter's 'The Time Ships'



FROM HERE… 
TO ETERNITY: 
STEPHEN BAXTER’S 
‘THE TIME SHIPS’

Book Review of: 
‘THE TIME SHIPS’ 
by STEPHEN BAXTER 
(HarperCollins 1995, Voyager Paperback 1995 
ISBN 0-00-648012-8) 


 THE GEOMETRY OF FOUR DIMENSIONS

‘I am by nature a speculative man…’ Tomorrow will be different from today, in subtle minor details. We know and understand this. Next year will be different from this year in some unexpected and surprising ways, although most of it will remain pretty-much the same. Next century though, begins to set up questions. In all likelihood we will no longer be around, but family elements of our DNA probably will. It’s only human to wonder, to speculate what the world will be like a hundred years hence. And if a hundred, why not a thousand years? A million?

HG Wells’ seminal narrative ends with the Time Traveller (‘for so it will be convenient to speak of him’) vanishing into futurity in hopes of returning to 80,701 to rejoin the ‘little doll of a creature’ who is the lovely Weena, by the White Sphinx on future Richmond Hill. Stephen Baxter’s sequel, authorised by the Wells Estate, picks up the tale at exactly that point, and immediately plunges its nameless protagonist into new horrors. The Earth’s axial tilt is corrected – eliminating seasons, then the day-night rotation reduces to a halt until Earth is gravitationally-locked with one hemisphere forever facing the sun… then the sun itself explodes. All within the first fifty pages.

Wells original “The Time Machine” is little more than a novelette. Baxter expands it to 630 mind-stretching pages. The same Chronic Argonaut who first jaunts through the fourth dimension, now finds himself lost in a quantum universe of parallel ‘Long Earths’ in which tomorrows are fluid and uncertain, nothing is fixed. Each trip through time simultaneously splits off new alternate time-streams, while apparently eliminating previous possibilities. Weena’s future – it seems, is deleted, inaccessibly lost in the relativistic flux. Which means that the temporal device has become ‘more powerful than a mere time-travelling machine: it was a History Machine’ – and, echoing Robert Oppenheimer’s comment after witnessing the first nuclear explosion, the Time Traveller himself has become not only ‘a destroyer of worlds’ but a ‘murderer of the future.’


Reading Wells for the first time, as an adolescent, was a consciousness-expanding experience in every sense, it left images burned into the soft grey underbelly of my memory that refuse to diminish. That I love and have devoured speculative fiction ever since has a lot to do with the shock and awe of that first mental napalm assault. Before Wells there had been dream-voyages into other times, and magical spells used as fictional temporal-travel devices. There’s also the long hypnosis-induced sleep of Edward Bellamy’s didactic ‘Looking Backward: 2000-1887’ (1888). But Wells was the first to apply quasi-scientific principles to the question, with his mechanised contrivance opening a floodgate of imitators that has never quite staunched.

He was rapidly followed by Ray Cummings’ ‘The Man Who Mastered Time’ (1924), and John Taine’s ‘The Time Stream’ (1931), until Jack Williamson’s ‘The Legion Of Time’ (1938) expands the theme to an even greater scale. Ray Bradbury’s classic short story “A Sound Of Thunder” (1952) ties logical knots in the cause-and-effect of time-tampering until Robert Silverberg’s ‘Up The Line’ (1969) playfully pitches contradictions against each other. David Lake even attempted a direct sequel of sorts with his novel ‘The Man Who Loved Morlocks’ (1981) and short story “The Truth About Weena” (1999). ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Back To The Future’ movie franchises take time-travel conundrums into mainstream cinema. Even Dr Who must be considered a distant relation of Wells’ first Time Traveller.


There have been two movie adaptations of “The Time Machine” – the first, and best features Rod Taylor as adventurer ‘George’ – with the lovely Yvette Mimieux as Weena, in George Pal’s 1960 version. There are humorous touches, the rapidly-changing fashions on the store-window manikin as he speeds through the 1920s and 1930s, then the chilling 1966 nuclear war that unleashes tides of volcanic magma. Despite Baxter’s and Wells’ most vivid descriptions, the image of the Time Machine forever in my mind is the one from the Pal movie, with its huge revolving disc mounted behind the saddle. The second film – in 2002, draws on a connection to the Wells family through great-grandson Simon Wells’ direction, for a less satisfying retelling. He first uses the Time Machine in a romantic quest to save his fiancé from death, only to discover that even time-travel cannot cheat fate, so he flashes forward to the disintegration of the Moon – nuclear war being less of a preoccupation by now. Then, into the far future where Samantha Mumba is an Eloi called Mara – there is no Weena! and an encounter with a smart Über-Morlock.


REMARKABLE BEHAVIOUR OF AN EMINENT SCIENTIST 

After all of that, how can there feasibly be a full sequel? Is it even possible that that first mental napalm assault can ever be recaptured? That Stephen Baxter succeeds magnificently on just about every level marks him out as the major writer of his generation. He adds detail that Wells does not. He uses the mysterious Plattnerite which does for time what Cavorite does for gravity. In doing so, he sequesters Sussexville Proprietary School master Gottfried Plattner into the tale – initially a man whose internal organs have somehow become transposed, in “The Plattner Story” first published in ‘New Review’ (April 1896). In Plattner’s own account, scrutinised by the ‘Society For The Investigation Of Abnormal Phenomena’, he reveals how he was originally given an eight-ounce graduated medicine bottle of a glowing green powder found in a disused limekiln by a pupil named Whibble. It explodes, and although the tale opens on a none-too-serious tone, Plattner is cast into an Other-World ‘state of existence altogether out of space,’ and his nine-day sojourn in a ‘green-lit half-world outside the world’, a ghost-realm beyond death, is genuinely unsettling. As are the ‘Watchers of the Living’ he encounters there. Although unconnected by Wells with “The Time Machine”, Baxter creates that text-link by seamlessly integrating its elements.


Then he introduces a connection snatched from “The Chronic Argonauts” short story first published by the Royal College Of Science in their ‘Science Schools Journal’ (1888), in which Wells rehearses ideas of Fourth-Dimensional Travel, using a mysterious experimenter in a decrepit murder-haunted Manse outside the Welsh village of Llyddwdd. The stranger has an ultra-human quality. There’s ‘some vast gulf between the newcomer and common humanity’ as the Reverend Elijah Ulysses Cook discovers. He’s ‘a solitary premonition out of the vast unknown into the sphere of minute village observation,’ who embarks on a voyage into the past to unwittingly become embroiled in the Manse’s murder, then escapes into time – ‘the voyage of the Chronic Argonauts had begun’. Baxter adopts the unpronounceable name of this Dr Moses Nebogipfel for the wise Morlock companion the Time Traveller meets in the alternate-evolution Morlock solar sphere – a Dyson ‘shell around the sun.’

 
Travelling back from this Morlock sphere with Nebogipfel to dark sunless Earth there’s a detailed discussion about the most visionary section of Wells’ book, his sojourn to the desolate beach and its devolved life-forms beneath the bloated sun during the eclipse at the chill end of time. Here, Baxter draws on “The Grey Man”, visiting the further post-human regression who the Time Traveller cheerfully clubs unconscious the better to examine. This incident initially appeared as Chapter Eleven in the ‘New Review’ (May 1895) serialisation of “The Time Machine”, but was excised from the subsequently published novelette, while Baxter also perhaps anticipates his own end-of-time novel ‘Evolution’ (2002).

Back in 1873 the Time Traveller meets his own younger self – who he calls by his resented first name Moses. Meeting yourself is one of the temporal paradoxes that have troubled multiple fantasists across the years intervening betwixt Wells and Baxter. Untroubled by such riddles, he attempts to dissuade this younger self from inventing the Time Machine in the first place. Obviously, should this warning have succeeded, the entire narrative up to this point would cease to exist! Yet instead he’s pitched into a further ‘blizzard of conflicting histories,’ as if the Time Machine ‘once invented, its ramifications were spreading into past and future,’ so that even his own past ‘was no longer a place of reliability and stability.’ Otherwise, would he not already posses memories of these events? Indeed, with infinite probability, it’s even likely that in some alternate time-lines ‘Moses’ heeds persuasion, and does not build the Time Machine, while in others he does, skating around on the river of time ‘like a water-boatman,’ as the wise Morlock introduces both selves to the ‘Many Worlds Interpretation Of Quantum Mechanics’.

The duo of Morlock and Time Traveller are expanded by earlier-self Moses into a trio of temporal-tourists when they encounter Filby – Wells ‘argumentative person with red hair’ who was the only named guest in the smoking room of the original Richmond dinner-party (along with the Medical Man, the Very Young Man, the Editor of a well-known Daily Newspaper, the Silent Shy Man with a Beard, and others). Filby is now aboard a Kitchener-class Juggernaut from the 1914-1938 Siege Of Europe. A part-reference to the European War that Wells predicts in his Alexander Korda-produced movie ‘Things To Come’ (1936), as well as anticipating the steam-punk militaristic invention of ‘The Massacre Of Mankind’ (2017), Baxter’s authorised sequel to the 1897 novel ‘War Of The Worlds’. In this alternate history, Central London is domed in defensive concrete as protection from aerial torpedoes and gassing. Although how the Juggernaut avoids relativistic Time Traps to navigates its accurate way home is not explained.


With a foresight denied Wells, Baxter playfully introduces Dr Barnes Wallis’ experiments with Chronic Displacement Vehicles in preparation for Time Warfare, although ironically it turns out to be Germany that uses Wallis’ rota-mine bouncing-bomb to breach the London dome carapace, and the Germans who have their own Messerschmitt Zeitmaschine to bring the nuclear Carolinium Bomb’s ‘godlike touch of destruction’ to prehistory.

Another real-life character from twentieth-century history, Austrian-born logician, mathematician and philosopher Kurt Gödel speculates about finding a metaphysical ‘Ultimate Meaning’ through the catalyst of alternate time-streams and a ‘Final World’ in which all meaning is resolved. Lord Beaverbrook is there too, in league with the Babble Machine kinematographic propaganda, and George Orwell – ‘a bit of a writer’, plus an Elliot poem – and even a cartoon Desperate Dan. Then there’s HG Wells himself, formerly the ‘writer’ at the Richmond party, but now an old man, ‘his fiction isn’t what it was, in my view – too much lecturing and not enough action.’ Within the planned post-war New World Order, both collectivist and puritanical, there are elements of the toxic eugenic control – ‘directing humanity’s racial heredity,’ a proto-fascist political ideology that Wells himself was briefly seduced by.


By Book Four, and the novel’s approximate mid-point, the Time Traveller is cast back into the Palaeocene living a Robinson Crusoe existence with his faithful and long-suffering Morlock Friday. This is both hugely visionary, and also a very English fantasy, where Baxter equally overlays the London street-plan onto the frozen wastes of lifeless White Earth, as he does onto the Palaeocene beach, and where the Chronic Expeditionary Force that arrives to expedite a rescue is overseen by Wing Commander Guy Gibson and two sepoys, from which the perturbations of time-travel initiate a human colony fifty-million years before the human race should even exist! The New Humans of this evolving separate time-stream devise Space Elevators, an Orbital City and a Moon green with Selenite life, only to destroy the Earth’s climatic stability in the process. In this vast sweep of perspective ‘the story of humanity seemed trivial, a flash-lamp moment lost in the dark, mindless halls of eternity,’ taking the plot into the mechanical Heirs to Man, the galaxy-spanning AI nano-tech Universal Constructors.


As Wells’ story climaxes with an excursion to the end of time, it’s entirely logical that Stephen Baxter should take his protagonists back to the very origins of time. Before neatly closing the causal loop back to 80,701 to finally rejoin the lovely Weena. By raising the expectations and anticipations of Wells’ time to those of the late-1990s almost seamlessly, Baxter is working his way into the very mainstream fabric of British SF, that unique strand which runs – obviously, from HG Wells, through Brian Aldiss and John Wyndham. ‘All over the sky, the stars were coming out’ seems a conscious echo of Arthur C Clarke’s 1953 short story “The Nine Billion Names Of God” which famously concludes ‘overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.’

Like Wells, Baxter sees ‘beyond the surface of it all.’ ‘There is no rest. No limit. No end to the Beyond – no Boundaries which Life, and Mind, cannot challenge, and breach.’ There’s a soaring optimism about Baxter’s Optimal History that has something of Olaf Stapledon’s endless vision too.

Immensely readable, endlessly inventive, and a hugely enjoyable adventure, could Wells have written a sequel such as this? Obviously not. Baxter draws on quantum and Big Bang physics unsuspected in Wells’ day. The space-time continuum has complexified beyond the simplicity of Wells early model. But if Wells were writing today – yes, he’d have revelled in this new Information Sea.

Yet I still don’t know how to pronounce Nebogipfel.


Friday, 31 August 2018

Poem: 'ONE LAST LOVE SONG'


ONE LAST LOVE SONG 
(Beautiful South, no.14 November 1994, 
Go Discs GODCD 122) 


adrift on Cathedral precinct
the corner by the Polish Deli
a tousle-haired busker
in battered leather jacket,
I spare a half-glance
and a spin of coin
into his big acoustic case,
no-one to meet,
nowhere to go,
but hurrying anyway
until, as some triggered
juke-box track
blue-toothed to my soul
his pulse of words
tangle up my head
in one last love song
to share my desolation,
spines that riff my mind
snag into those memories
rip out my heart
in such sweet torture,
I know this song, know its
weary country melancholy,
its heartbreak bitterness
rinsed in hard liquor
yet still that beautiful ache
of separation and loss,
Neil Young, Phil Ochs,
Waylon Jennings?
can’t place it, but it replays
in my head on endless repeat,
I miss you now you’ve gone,
the cheap lyrics of forgotten hits
fold those moments in glistening chords,
drifting back through Cathedral precinct
on the corner by the Polish Deli,
and he’s gone
his work done, the ghost of
his song… echoes…


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-jgp0YFY_Y&start_radio=1&list=RDo-jgp0YFY_Y#t=18

Thursday, 30 August 2018

THE BEACH BOYS: ONE ENDLESS SUMMER



ONE ENDLESS SUMMER… 

THE BEACH BOYS 
at ‘The Odeon’, Leeds 
(Thursday, 8:30, 10 November 1966) 

I saw Lulu live at the Leeds Odeon late 1966 supporting the Beach Boys. She drops an ear-ring in mid-“Shout”, turns her back on the audience and stoops to retrieve it, gifting the first four rows a revealing flash of her knickers – a memory I carry with me today as she’s doing “Shout” yet again on ‘TOTP2’. The tour billed as the ‘Pop Music Event Of The Year’ had opened with the Golden Brass, introduced by jovial host Jerry Stevens. Sounds Incorporated play an energetic set, before David & Jonathan take it to the intermission. The songwriter duo had broken through with a cover of “Michelle” from ‘Rubber Soul’ (December 1965), but took it even higher with their own “Lovers Of The World Unite”. Then it’s Lulu… and the headlining Beach Boys.

The Beach Boys are so tight and exciting, despite the short-sleeve vertical-striped shirts and white slacks. Newly-bearded Mike Love does the stage links, and clumsily acts out the lyrics – the ‘got into a fight’ in “Sloop John B”. Brian Wilson has been replaced by Bruce Johnston (‘I Guess He Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’), which is disappointing, but it still works, even down to performing a note-perfect stage replication of the labyrinthine “Good Vibrations”. So good that I stay on, miss the last train home and spend hours walking the city centre, the harmonies echoing inside my head. I wind up crashing overnight with an Irish immigrant worker with a mangy kitten that craps all over the carpet at 02:17am while the shimmering chimes of “Good Vibrations” are still ringing like the lure of endless tomorrows in my head… 


Chances are you know all the songs on their DVD ‘Made In The USA’ (2007 – 103 minutes – Liberation Entertainment LIB6046) – “Be True To Your School”, “Help Me Rhonda”, “California Girls” (as done on a US TV-show sketch, interrupted by surfer comedy from Bob Hope and George Burns), the later “Rock & Roll Music”, and more. For each new Beach Boys ‘Greatest Hits’ album is a re-shuffle of your own personal history. These are some of mine. I tried losing my cherry to the blissful harmonies of ‘Pet Sounds’ (“God Only Knows”, “Caroline No”) which I judged the perfect seduction atmospherics, she later confessed she’d quite enjoyed the fumbled sex but found the music ‘distracting’. There used to be a covers-band called Tony Rivers & The Castaways who’s set consisted entirely of xerox Beach Boys, they did a pretty tidy “Sloop John B” the night me and a friend got off with some convent girls and managed to kiss them off at the gates while Nuns hover in the background like predatory penguins.


I first heard “Don’t Worry Baby” on a big chrome Rockolla juke-box in an Expresso bar on a rain-stopped-play Blackpool coach-trip… The first motorbike I ever owned – a Honda 205cc, was a choice directly influenced by the Beach Boys track “Little Honda”, a piece of catchy product-placement that earned the group a set of freebie mini-mokes from a grateful Honda Corps… There’s a story about Jan & Dean snarled up on the ninety-seventh abysmal take of an aborted next single, and ‘taking five’ Dean Torrence strolls into the adjoining studio where his old friends are cutting their ‘Beach Boys Party’ (November 1965) album, he grabs co-vocals on a raggedy one-take jam around the Regents’ “Barbara Ann”, then goes back for more attempts at their own record. “Barbara Ann” goes no.1 worldwide – and later even turns up as a chocolate-biscuit TV-ad. But whatever happened to that Jan & Dean 45rpm…?


The interviews on the DVD tactfully skirt around the psychological damage inflicted on the young Wilson brothers by father Murray, and falls short of the later tragedies that inflicted the group. The Beach Boys weren’t the first surf band, but they did lift surf-music out of cultdom and take its appeal to landlocked teens in the mid-west, in New York, and even as far away as Hull. And although they mature their themes into other areas, the beach continuity stays there through to “Do It Again”, “Surf’s Up” or “Don’t Go Near The Water”. Influences? Brian suggests Chuck Berry, and the Four Freshmen. Diametrically opposed artists who nevertheless demonstrably fuel what followed. “Surfin’ USA” lifts its tune intact from Chuck’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”, and “Fun Fun Fun” opens with a perfectly Berry-esque guitar-run. While “Please Let Me Wonder” and “In My Room” tie it all in with immaculate Freshmen-pure harmonies. In fact the voices weave so beautifully you almost miss the lyric-point of “In My Room” which is as introspective-dark as anything the Smiths ever did.


But memories, and ‘Endless Summer Greatest Hits’ albums tell lies. Relatively late, “I Get Around” was the first UK Beach Boys single to become a hit. It peaked at no.7, 27 August 1964. Above it was (no.1) “Have I The Right” by the Honeycombs, (no.2) “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” by Manfred Mann, (no.3) “I Won’t Forget You” by Jim Reeves, (no.4) “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks, (no.5) “A Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles, and (no.6) “Tobacco Road” by the Nashville Teens. In other words, all those records sold more copies than “I Get Around” at the week of the peak of its sales. “Surfin’ USA” had only crawled as high as no.34 a year earlier (15 August 1963). But all of the American hits between the two had totally failed to register. Even the mighty “Fun Fun Fun” gets zero chart action. Unfortunate timing maybe, UK Pop was obsessed with UK beat groups. US Pop was temporarily out of the loop.


Yet “I Get Around” is such immaculately concocted Pop. The harmony arrangement deceives the ear. For the lyric is masterfully minimal. Each verse consists of a single statement, plus a qualifying statement. Sharp precise lines, but how rifted image-heavy with meaning! ‘I’m getting’ bugged driving up and down this same old strip’ is amplified by ‘I gotta finda new place where the kids are hip.’ Tightly sketched slang-poetry, but the most exact phrasing. Bored, with the itch to go. Rooted in California, but with a restless need for movement that’s Teen-global. Then ‘my buddies and me are getting real well known’ is qualified by ‘the bad guys know us and they leave us alone.’ They’re the good guys, but as tough as the bad guys. They’re a gang, a group so hip and so cool they’re even respected by the ‘bad guys’, and isn’t that what adolescent status has always been about? From doo-wop groups hanging out around the stoops, to Mods on formation Lambretta’s, to Punks swaggering through the precinct, to Hip-Hop on the block. It touches the right nerve. It says it all. Speed. Movement. Adventure. No syllable wasted. I was snared. I was sold on it.


Yet the hits that follow didn’t do too much better, “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)” no.27, “Dance Dance Dance” no.24, “Help Me Rhonda” no.27, and “California Girls” no.26. Before “Barbara Ann” finally elevates them into the Top Three. In 1965 the Beach Boys turn in a sloppy performance of “Dance Dance Dance” on a monochrome ‘Ready Steady Go’ show (now available as part of a Dave Clark owned DVD series), with its irresistible punch-line – ‘after six hours of school, I’ve had enough for today, I hit the radio dial and turn it up ALL THE WAY’ – which still has the contagious power to ignite the drabness with its undiluted adolescent energy-charge…


By 1966, when I see the Beach Boys in Europe for their “Good Vibrations” tour promoted by Arthur Howes, they were at their most fashionable. Derek Taylor – former Beatles PR, calls them ‘Maverick Millionaires’ when he writes the programme. The balding Beach Boy caricatures who play the first ‘Live Aid’, complete with their Ronald Reagan Presidential-endorsement as a star-spangled ‘All-American Band’, does such flashbacks a disservice, even though their then-current single of John Philips’ exquisite “California Dreamin’” (embroidered by Roger McGuin’s spacily fragmented Byrds twelve-string) is still capable of raising the hairs along the back neckline of your T-shirt…


“Good Vibrations” later became a single for Psychic TV, and the Leeds Odeon is now a Primark… There’s a wealth of rare promo-TV clips on the DVD too, salvaged interviews, and even previously-unseen studio footage – including Brian singing “Surf’s Up” alone with just his piano... I pay £100 for tickets to see Brian’s ‘Smile’ solo-tour in Manchester – some forty years after that original Leeds Odeon memory, and instead – on the evening, wound up in A&E for peritonitis and a gall-bladder extraction. I still have the unused tickets… But above and beyond it all, the music remains superb. All you have to do is add your own memories…