Monday, 31 December 2018

Poem: 'Reading Your Stars'



READING YOUR STARS

virgo

strung out on the wires 
of impossible romance, 
nothing to believe in 
just loose ends to tie off and 
staples of habit that bite deep, 
search the space between words 
to find no taste of breath 
no pulse of blood-warmth 
the stars are cold 

scorpio 

a new moon in your sky 
a focus on fresh creative ideas 
but nothing that connects 
other than astrological signs 
the movement of planets 
constellations that turn 
into strange alignments 
dictating the destinies 
of impossible tomorrows 

while you and me, 
bide time in hope 
something useful 
will emerge, 
no turn of page 
…yet


Sunday, 30 December 2018

Book: Bryn Fortey 'Compromising The Truth'



COMPRISING TRUTHS...

Book Review of: 
‘COMPROMISING THE TRUTH’ 
by BRYN FORTEY 
(The Alchemy Press, 2018, ISBN 9-781911-034063, 340pp) 


‘As time went by I learned how to compromise the truth 
what’s wrong is right, what’s black is white’ 
(“The House That Time Forgot”, Bryn Fortey)


You can’t compromise the truth, it knows no regulation. Unless…

Ludwig Wittgenstein says that truth is merely an abstract semantic construction with no causal relationship to so-called reality. While quantum physics indicates that all is constantly in flux, making anything resembling the whole ‘truth’ and nothing but the ‘truth’ a shifting nonsense of fake news and conspiracy theories. Fiction blurs the edges. Bryn Fortey’s fiction blurs the edges more than most.

I never heard the killer Blues of Jackson ‘Truth’ Monroe. But when you read “Ain’t That The Truth” you’re damn-sure you heard it. Wasn’t he tracked down by Alan Lomax who did field recordings of him? No. Or maybe it was Mike Vernon who tasked Alastair Drake with tracking down the elusive Blues legend for his Blue Horizon label? No, not that either. Bryn knows his way around a twelve-bar so intimately you feel your fingers pressed against the fret. This is a tale wrought from the very guts, sweat and bone of vinyl. You meet it at the voodoo crossroads of midnight and sign away your soul into its inexorable crawling horror. Can de Blue man sing the Whites? He sure can now…

Music threads this collection, a recurring riff or looped motif. Poems to Blind Lemon Jefferson or Charley Patton. The ghost wannabe session-voice “Singing Sad Songs” in the haunted Indie recording studio. The resurrected zombie horn players of “Trumpet Involuntary” who freeze the world into the soulless bleakness of their dead vision.


Frederik Pohl wrote “Let The Ants Try” for ‘Planet Stories’ (Winter 1949). There, it’s the radioactive residue of the Three-Hour Nuclear War which destroyed Detroit that mutates super-growth in bugs. Bryn never takes such an easy option. For “The King Is Dead” (originally in ‘Tigershark’ no.9) he traces his mighty mighty Stag Beetles back to reports of an eccentric electrical inventor in 1907 editions of the ‘London Mirror’. And just for good absurdist measure the bugs choose Elvis Presley as their god-deity, legitimising a spattering of song-references. The singer-emerging-from-the-coffin thing was once done by Screaming Lord Sutch, although Screaming Jay Hawkins probably beat him to it. Noddy Holder stole the idea for a sequence in the ‘Flame’ (1975) movie. I’m not sure how Elvis fans would embrace a Dead Elvis tribute act quite like the one that Bryn conjures here. But it makes for a great tale.

Yet there are other gears, he does hard-boiled pugilistic noir, and serial-strangeness in which he totally inhabits character. “After The Harvest” opens as history lesson, a Family Saga of First World War separation, that gradually insinuates the terrible truth of what combat-trauma really means beyond smug patriotic ritual and polite remembrance, where honest well-meaning lives are ripped from simplicity to unendurable awfulness. As Bryn’s bone-hard poem says with such dreadful concision ‘sometimes love is not enough.’ Here is Horror stripped of supernatural element, yet starker because of it. Into the crafted mood-piece “Cracked Concrete” where the forces of nature in resurgence conspire against transient human pretentions.

Then “Space Jocks: Yes! No! Yes!” rampages through every Space Opera you ever read, and all the science fiction you’ve not yet got around to. Veteran Sci-Fi of days gone by had mad scientists inventing backroom Time Machines, for “The Road To Salamis” Bryn sees events from the Beef’s perspective instead, the bought-in security who watches mega-wealthy Arman Kazemi’s attempts to shift history in Persia’s favour. Then the odd wrangling dialogue of the post-death entities in “The Place Of Small Misdemeanours”, lost in a purgatory the size of a small planet. An idea suggested, says Bryn, by George Saunders novel ‘Lincoln In The Bardo’ (2017). Until “Vengeance” begins in Carry-On farce style as the self-styled Big City Playboy escapes the angry husband dressed in his amour’s pale-pink bathrobe, only to run foul of rampaging Zulu warriors time-lost from Rorke’s Drift Station cast into Newport, Wales.


Bryn describes himself as a ‘Short Story Hobbyist’, yet there are eighteen finely-crafted examples here, too many to list. “Even The Klin”, with centuries of benign alien occupation, or the moving “Messages From” balancing the death of a father with unsettling strands of extraterrestrial oddness. To the scandalous truth about the 1947 Area 51 UFO encounter (“El Homestead Notorious”). There are a couple I’ve read before – in ‘Tigershark’ or Jon Harvey’s excellent ‘Worlds Of The Unknown’, although they’re worth reading again, and most of the others are newly-minted previously-unseen titles. These are storyteller’s tales that both rip into your mind like fishhooks and soak into your consciousness like high-grade toxic bootleg hooch, then hang around like the earworm hook you can never get rid of, leaving aftertastes of joy. Bryn plays games that tie truth into conundrums, beguiling anecdotes, unreliable memory or alternate worlds of sly wonder. The stories that happen to be poems, or the poems that happen to be stories.

The second short-story collection by BRYN FORTEY 
‘COMPROMISING THE TRUTH’ 
is available now from Alchemy Press at:
www.amazon.co.uk/Compromising-Truth-Bryn-Fortey/dp/1911034065/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1543234495&sr=8-1&keywords=Compromising+The+Truth+Bryn+Fortey

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Alternative Punk: Overground Records



ALTERNATIVE PUNK… 


Album Review of: 
‘PUNK LIFE’ by ALTERNATIVE TV 
(Overground OVER 70 CD, January 1998) 

‘God save ME in my hour of need’. The howl of human debris having its speed-ravaged frontal lobes surgically removed without anaesthetic. The sound of long streaks of piss gallumphing backwards into tomorrow. “God Saves” shoves a lyric-idea already used twice by the Sex Pistols (“God Save The Queen” and “No-One Is Innocent”), forcing it into new areas of ineptitude by demanding divine preservation orders for Mary Poppins, Space Exploration, The House of Lords, other symbols of the British Institution, Horatio Nelson, all the heroes of the British Empire, Elvis and the history of Punk Rock. It’s meant to be post-ironic. Probably.


In a rage of acne, solvent abuse, unhygienic personal habits and ‘anarchy in a vacuum’ this man Mark Perry once inflicted a black Xerox atrocity called ‘Sniffin Glue’, a ‘revolution in a bottle’ that froze something of the amphetamine Safety-Pin spirit of that Jurassic era in its bursts of faulty striplight illumination. Later he became Supremo of Step Forward Records (where ‘Deptford crackles with tension’), unwittingly unleashing The Fall and Chelsea onto an unforgiving world. Fings ain’t been quite so high since, although yes – I’ve still got it, I’ve still got that paean to the failed erection, “Love Lies Limp” by Mark’s first ATV incarnation, on an appropriately flaccid flexi-disc. But now, some few decades and many lost years later, with some production input from Steve Albini, an unlikely cover from Industrial Hardcore Terrorists Throbbing Gristle, and an eye to autobiography, Mark’s back to demonstrate the diversity crammed into the apparent simplicity of a now-denigrated Punk Movement already ‘crumbling into memory’.


‘I’m exciting, sexy, intelligent as well, but I remain an Unlikely Star’ is his opening shot wrapped around a crude early Depeche Mode click-track, but while Mark’s voice moves with the words it’s as though his legs don’t always co-ordinate with his brain. From that point ‘Punk Life’ runs from awkwardly pain-wracked White Dance Miserablism with controlled hits of noise, through to limp Rap, from “A Bold Chance” which turns down the lights into a poem after the style of Flux Of Pink Indians, into unforgiving lurches of Reggae bass leg-work, and “Jane’s Not At Home” – a short sharp Sham 69/ John Lydon kick-about. Having a voice like a turd in a Moulinex Food Blender doesn’t help, and Mark’s got a decidedly ten-watt bulb band here, but ‘Punk Life’ is engagingly ramshackle, and it’s totally wired on nothing more than adrenaline, perverse existentialism, and self-pisstaking deception on a grand scale. In fact its humour is breathtaking in the annals of urine-extraction. ‘Smash Your TV’ advises Mark in a closing and probably self-referential sample. Sniffin’ Glue. Don’t do it, kids. You know it don’t make sense.



Album Review of: 
‘GENTLE CREATURES, 
DESPITE THEIR APPEARANCE’ 
by FRUIT-EATING BEARS 
(Overground Over 83 CD) 
‘SLAM’ by 999 (Overground Over 84 CD) 
and 
 ‘APOLLO’ by ALTERNATIVE TV 
(Overground Over 82 CD) 

Three bunches of dysfunctional sonic self-abusers handicapped by natural immaturity. Three bunches of retards you wouldn’t trust with a spud-gun. Three triumphs of enthusiasm over ability, and energy over talent. Three bunches of whack-merchants who were to musical taste what Charles Hawtrey was to body-building. And now, all those sounds that once squirt and spray are preserved on CD as frozen digital energy for us to love all over again.

www.overgroundrecords.co.uk



Album Review of: 
‘TOP OF THE BOPS’ by BLITZKRIEG BOP 
(1998, Overground OVER 69CD) 

Punk. In Julie Burchill’s auto-bragathon ‘I Knew I Was Right’ (1998, William Heinemann) Punk is less the continuing thrash of upstart libertarianism, more the advance tremors of shallow careerist Thatcherism. And perhaps in her Me-Me-Me London-centric self-image Punk WAS just a convenient backdrop to strike sultry slut poses against. But to No-Future wastrels lost in Hull, Newcastle or Belfast its effect came in giga-volts. Kids like Blitzkrieg Bop. While Burchill was digging herself doing ‘Hey! – look-at-me Nose-Candy’ in the back-seat of ‘NME’ expense account black London taxis, the REAL movers of Punk were out firing up RAR, the mass CND revival, the Anarcho-Green and Animal Rights protest groups. And giving brief incandescence to bratty lives trapped in Tower-Blocks and run-down Council Estates.

Here – in an interview segment, John ‘Blank Frank’ Hodgson struggles to articulate Punk. Finally defining it as ‘energy’. On the sleeve-shot they come on like sub-Adverts also-rans. During Punk, mesmerised by Clash, Patti Smith and – obviously, the Ramones, they play support to everyone from Slaughter and the Dogs to Magazine. They issue three singles with titles like “Bugger Off”, “(You’re Like A) U.F.O.”, and the collectable hippie-baiting “Let’s Go” which Burchill’s one-time co-shagee Tony Parsons announces as a ‘dark Velvets noize’. This is the Bop’s first album, made up of those singles, plus no less than twenty-one new tracks. It’s archive raw and musically inept, with “Dole Walla” and “Mental Case” as perfect period Punk, and probably their finest and most adventurous moment – the speed-riff “Life is Just A So-So” managing a Stranglers-style key-board run. Teesside New Wave, a photogenic bassist called Gloria, and vaguely political anthems like “Police State” and “Prostitution” get added to a failed attempt at commercialism with Eddie Grant’s novelty item “Viva Bobby Joe”, and more snarly vitriolic re-takes on “Let’s Go”.


They struggle. Volume and anger are their weapons of choice. Each song a documentary of their life and hormones. Inevitably, they fail. Does Julie Burchill suffer from Long-Term Memory Loss, or does she just lose it in equal parts conceit and eye-liner? Writers more perceptive than she can ever hope to be – Stan Barstow, Alan Sillitoe, and even Irvine Welsh, are capable of illuminating the slow-burning intensity of ordinary lives. And while Blitzkrieg Bop may be just foot-notes in the margins of Punk, briefly they achieve that too

‘OVERGROUND: THE PUNK ROCK RECORD LABEL’ 
www.overgroundrecords.co.uk

Published in:
‘HOT PRESS Vol.22 No.8: 13th May’ 
(Eire – May 1998)


Friday, 28 December 2018

Two CD Reviews: ERIC BIBB



ERIC BIBB’S DIAMOND DAZE 


Album Review of: 
‘DIAMOND DAYS’ by ERIC BIBB 
(2006, Telarc Blues CD-83660) 

It starts with that playful old click of the stylus dropping onto the play-in groove of crackly vinyl. But there’s little else retro about ‘Diamond Days’. This is discreetly articulate, literate acoustic music planted firmly in now, balanced by an intelligent respectful acknowledgement of progenitor roots and past masters – ‘look ‘em up on the net’ Eric Bibb advises. He runs a spectrum of Blues styles and techniques – from the kind of gospel-infusion on “Shine On” that even a militant atheist like me can enjoy, then takes in Dylan (“Bucket Of Rain”, the album’s only non-original song) allied to Martin Simpson’s educated guitar, through the jazzy intimate interplay of the live “In My Father’s House”, into the deceptively-simple chords of “Destiny Blues” which universalises the existential itch at the heart of consumer opulence.

While so much current music is hopelessly impassed in repetition and replication, Eric Bibb takes the oldest form of twentieth-century music and extricates it all diamond-sharp by exposing the autobiographical truth of clear-sighted poetic observation. On an album replete with the Easter-eggs of hidden tracks and video-clip additions, nothing is contrived. Nothing is pretence. It flows, as it should, as natural as water, out of today. No striving for exaggerated effect. Even with the Orbit-ing electro-echo and ghost-horn on “Forgiveness Is Cold”, his subtle understated voice and sparse instrumentation tell it all as it should be told.


He’s living the Blues life from playing a Biker Bar outside Topeka, to a ‘Blues Cruise’ to Dominica, from a Five-Star Hotel to sleeping on a stranger’s floor. Follow him in the video, tall and elegant in flatbrim hat, as he travelogues you into ‘Luthers’, his favourite guitar shop down a Paris arcade, where he lovingly selects and unhooks guitars from the wall, to finger-pick “Candy Man” on a Gibson from the ‘Robert Johnson time-zone’, price-tag still dangling from its neck. He reminisces about Mickey Baker, and how Dave Van Ronk taught him “Talk It Over One More Time”. Back on the CD, “Dr Shine” is a timeless shoe-shine sales-pitch that could date from the Depression Years, but polishes up new like a story that’s stepped direct off the Columbus Ohio airport. The closing track, “Still Livin’ On” encapsulates it all, affectionately and knowingly nodding to the heroes who still strengthen Eric’s own repertoire in thumbnail sketches of those who inspired, and inspire in a persistent continuity seldom expressed better than it is here. Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples, their ‘voice inside my own’. The ‘hidden track’ is the old skiffle favourite “Worried Man Blues” renewed by his irreverent interjection ‘if anybody asks you who composed this song/ tell ‘em it was me, and I sat all day long’… and for a moment, you almost believe him. But that’s what Blues does best. Re-writes and renews itself. As this excellent CD does better than just about anything else you’re likely to hear this year. If there’s a balance to achieve, Eric Bibb has it dead to rights. Until the crackle fades. And the stylus lifts.



Featured on website:
‘SOUNDCHECKS’
(UK – December 2006)
and published in:
‘THE SUPPLEMENT issue 38’ (UK – January 2008)


Album Review of: 
‘GET ONBOARD’ by ERIC BIBB 
(2008, Telarc Blues CD-83675) 

Eric’s ‘Diamond Days’ was my favourite Blues album of 2006, less scuffed-down torn-knees Blues, more discreetly articulate, literate acoustic music grounded firmly in now, balanced by an intelligent respectful acknowledgement of progenitor roots and past masters. Recorded in Nashville, and mixed in Stockholm, this is another meticulously crafted statement, a standout follow-up taking his muse ‘into the place where blues meets gospel and soul’. And because Eric operates from creative rather than commercial imperatives, the album structures an argument for the essential interactivity of the three. The tracks hang together in a coherent fashion, but oddly, the best of them – for the more atheistically inclined, are the ones that eschew the gospel fighting the good-fight as their motivating sentiment.


The undisputed highlight – “New Beale Street Blues”, is about walking to Memphis to play his own songs, join a jugband, buy new strings, and make a solid deal. While “Pockets” showcases his full-tilt throw-away wit over ruthlessly honed rhythms. Eric’s got ‘a pocket for my keys… case I’ve gotta leave town fast’ and ‘before I gave it up, I had a pocket for my spliff’. His lyrical inventiveness is polished – ‘I’ve been having so much fun, writing love songs, and this one’s nearly done’, there are unexpected strings on “River Blues”, he name-checks Memphis Minnie, is joined by Bonnie Raitt’s slide guitar on the vaguely Stax-ish “If Our Hearts Ain’t In It”, and shares dialogue vocals with Ronnie Foster on “Conversation”, even before the gospel spirit moves him into the muted distillation of a more narrowing aesthetic. Once there he grapples with the existential question of meaning with “Spirit I Am”, then reworks the ‘down to the river’ baptism theme, and the standard ‘Gospel Train’ of the title song. For wavering non-believers the Civil Rights anthem he adapts for “Stayed On Freedom” also has Hallelujah spiritual origins, just as his “Step By Step” dedication to Martin Luther King acknowledges the religious dimension of his visionary ‘Promised Land’, showing just how inextricably these things are intertwined. It’s a persuasive argument. But then again, this CD is designed primarily, first and foremost to meet the intentions of its creator – and perhaps, The Creator, rather than to please any target audience. Although, inevitably, it pleases anyway.


Contact:
Sue Williams, Frontier Promotions,
The Grange, Cockley Cley Road, Hillborough,
Thetford, Norfolk IP26 5BT. Tel 01760-756-394
or e-mail: frontieruk@btconnect.com
 www.ericbibb.com

Published in:
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.10 (July/August)’ 
(UK – June 2008)


Thursday, 27 December 2018

Graphic Novel: Neil Gaiman's 'SANDMAN'



Book Review of: 
‘THE SANDMAN: 
THE KINDLY ONES’ 
by NEIL GAIMAN (Story) & MARC HEMPEL (Art) 
(Titan Graphic Novel, April 1996 £12.99 ISBN 1-85286-683-7)

 

There’s a Candy-Coloured Clown they call the Sandman. Tiptoes to my room ev’ry night. Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper ‘Go to sleep, ev’rything is alright’. Roy Orbison sang that in 1963. Nothing to do with this hefty and lavish book. But then again, it just might be. Neil Gaiman’s five-year ‘Sandman’ story-arc (of which this is the last chapter, probably), deals in a heavy traffic of Jungian archetypes and the awkward tendency of myth-figures to lap over into reality. There’s the real world of AIDS and incinerated babies. But there’s also ‘a downstairs in everybody. That’s where WE live’, the Gods, the Goths and the talking Ravens of ‘Raw Dreamstuff’. A place, but perhaps also an attitude, where gravity is ‘not so much a law, as one of a number of suggested options’. Where a makeshift barge made of dead flesh is slowly poled down a river of cold semen.


Lyta Hippolyta Hall is something of a bridge between the two worlds. Lyta, as is ‘less darker’. Hippolyta, as in queen of the Amazons. And Hall, as in a corridor between places. Weird literary stuff. And Frank McConnell’s turgid introduction levitates itself way over the top on the serio-art pretentious twaddle scale in its claims for ‘Sandman’s cultural credibility. Sure, it could be argued that alone of the twentieth-century’s three great indigenous art-forms – with Jazz and Movies, only the comicstrip still shows signs of evolution. But a genre advances by devising its own continuum, vocabulary, and conventions (as, arguably, DC and Marvel did with the Superhero as long ago as the forties), and not by aspiring to the standards of another genre. Not by clever theft, or even clever inspired theft. Splicing art, artifice, life and legend, across an epic multiverse of shifting ciphers, symbols and encrypted meaning, Gaiman’s innovative skills are a given. And with literacy in flux, Manga as Japan’s dominant adult reading format, and twenty-first Century media up for grabs, ‘Sandman’ probably has a higher mytheopoetic profundity-quotient than most book-formatted novels critically analysed in this weekend’s review sections. But the Graphic Novel is its own thing. It doesn’t need cross-cultural justifications to exist. While – illuminated by Hempel’s stylised stripped-down art, there’s wit and cleverness aplenty lodged within the gravitas of Spock-eared Faerie Folk, faceless entrail-chewing dream-women, three chintzy Macbeth crones brewing tea while weaving fates, and Merv Pumpkin-head.

 

It all began in 1988 when Gaiman launched ‘Sandman’, who – like god, liberty, and Boyzone, is the corporeal manifestations of an idea, a desire, a metaphysical transference tripping through a series of ‘Vertigo Jam’ and DC comicdom editions, then collected into previous Titan covers blurbed by the generous recommendations of Clive Barker, Harlan Ellison and Samuel Delany. It allegedly ends – here. Sandman dies. ‘Can’t say I’ve ever been too fond of beginnings, myself. Messy little things. Give me a good ending any time’ says one of Gaiman’s Fates. But you can’t kill a Candy-Coloured Jungian archetype. Go to sleep. Ev’rything is alright.


Thursday, 29 November 2018

Poem: 'SUBMERGE'


SUBMERGE 


I hear the soft murmur of waves
in the trees, damply aquatic,
fish dart in drizzles of rain
across fields of shimmering tide,
England, our new Atlantis
is sinking beneath the sea
lost and neglected, eroding away
in the gentle silt of forgetting
no future, frightened of today
submerging in dull nullity
retreating through leagues of regret,
I pause, squelching through wetland
and listen to history draining away
in the soft murmuring of tide,
riverbanks ebb into lakes,
high streets into a swans glide
of disturbed dreams where
steeples collapse in the flood
swallowed by undercurrents,
this is the dream I once had,
those not drowned are drowning,
we dissolve into mist
and float away…

Featured in 'View From Atlantis':
https://viewfromatlantis.wordpress.com/?fbclid=IwAR0k7voiCPTR14y0hGkVicRbzNFj_bUsely2P5rsGuZtxvQIOEH_gCAGLww


Wednesday, 28 November 2018

ROLAND PENROSE: Surrealism's Third Eye




ROLAND PENROSE: 
SURREALISM’S THIRD EYE

Personal impressions of the 1980-1981 
Arts Council Touring Exhibition


In a world of supermarkets selling the fingers of fish in neat frozen packages beneath murals of rain-storming cigarettes – how to convey the subversion of Surrealism? Surrealism is/ was not product, but attitude. A Surrealist perception takes aspects of the normal world and uncovers the absurdity that the deaf-eyed miss. Marcel Duchamp took a hat-rack and/ or a urinal, exceptional only in their strict normality/ utilitarianism and makes them Surreal by the act of selection. The physical manifestation and personal ephemera of Surrealism, acting within and against its neat capsules of time, can become dated. Yet the aesthetic, the perception is beyond time and beyond fashion. This we recognise lurking behind the objects, assemblages, and paint layers… the ghost behind the machine, the thinking behind the reed, the action behind the reaction, in the work of English artist Roland Penrose.

Because Penrose doesn’t blind with the intellectual incandescence of a Duchamp, does not riddle logic with the inverted equations of a Salvador Dali, or overawe the critical faculty with the daunting propagandist overkill of an André Breton, he becomes human. He can be touched flesh-warm. He can be visioned in personal terms. This tactility can be sensed most intimately in a collage made up of repetitive postcard fragments where, beneath the background paint, you can see the pencil outline of planned pre-positioning (“Souvenir de Trouville”). The unravelling, the onion un-layering is there, and Penrose is one man with a pencil, a pair of scissors, and a pile of postcards. You feel the gum snagging thumb to forefinger, it’s THAT real.


The same is true of the ink line-drawings in which the process, and the challenge, is just as naked. The process is white paper with pen. The challenge is what one man, sitting in a chair in a room with a sheet of white paper and pen has accomplished. The proof is simple, clear, incontrovertible.

I grab the Penrose exhibition at the ‘Ferens Art Gallery’ in Hull, sliding in out of January sleet. Roland Penrose was the first Surrealist with whom I got on nodding terms as an inmate at the ‘Hull College Of Technology (Humberside University)’, through a mistaken connection with graphic-art ‘The Penrose Annual’. So the slight personal homage was unavoidable. It was also illuminating. A line-drawing – “Pregnancy”, was done in 1947, the year of my birth, a post-war time of drabness, rationing and bomb-sites, yet the picture is optimistic, it forms a holy absurdity flying against every proof of moral and economic defeat/ nadir. Now – 1981, in a time of much-proclaimed new austerity, in a new atmosphere of disillusionment and repression, it is a pledge that such isolated insurrection MUST continue. And because Roland Penrose is accessibly human – not Dali, not Breton, not Duchamp, it speaks directly to ME. To YOU.

London 1947 lacks the romance of Paris. The English Surrealists have traditionally lacked credibility. The posturing of George Melly’s exploding cutlery, the luminous dialogue of poet David Gascoyne, fascinating in their own uniqueness, yet always a pale reflection down a long hall of mirrors. Even the titles at this exhibition (“Hommage À Max Ernst”, “Hommage À Miró”), and subliminal whisperings of style, speak of imitation rather than inspiration. Even the greatest Penrose moments, “Winged Domino”, speak through the terminology of others – René Magritte occludes with apple, Penrose with butterflies. The national division makes the delineation that much more clinical. It makes Penrose that much more easy to dismiss. But the dates and locations demand your reassessment. PENROSE WAS THERE. Sure, he was born in St John’s Wood in 1900, but he painted “Pequod” in Paris in 1923 where he moved amongst and was accepted by Ernst, Braque and Man Ray, delta-ing out to Luis Buñuel – leading to a cameo in ‘L’Age d’Or’ (1930), as well as Miró, Paul Éluard and Dali. Penrose lived in the Paris Surrealist vortex for thirteen years. So what were YOU doing, so what had YOU achieved at age twenty-three?

Retrospect is deceptive, shot full of trace-line Family Tree’s and correlations, but Roland Penrose was hung on the edge of 1927 when he painted “Mazout” with no view of irrelevancies like a 1960 CBE, or a 1966 knighthood, or a 1980 touring exhibition. 1927 was before Andy Warhol, before Happenings, Claes Oldenburg, Abstract Expressionism, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, Jackson Pollock, you name it. Surrealism was as hot and brutish and delinquent as Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker destructuring jazz at Minton’s in 1941, was as blasphemous and obscene and euphoric as Elvis Presley crossing racial demarcations in Memphis in 1954, as angry and iconoclastic and arrogantly wilful as the Sex Pistols aborting history at the ‘Screen On The Green’ in 1976 London.


And you can still watch “Grand Jour” (1938) and interpret the water-cycle allegory piece by piece with a splendid sense of discovery. You can still be intrigued by the winged imagination of “The Conquest Of The Air” (1938). You can still be overjoyed by the wit and invention of “Captain Cook’s Last Voyage” (1936), an assemblage of nude torso, wire globe, saw handle and paint. You can still read “Portrait” (1939) like the delightfully unexpected poem that erupts through the mailbox irradiating the day with lines like ‘His hair air, his lungs a street lamp, his hand an encyclopedia, his arse his arse, his heart anything, his head nothing.’ In the summer of 1938 Penrose toured the Balkan countries by car with photographer Lee Miller, tapes of the epic on-the-road documentary poem of head-changes and eye-imprints “The Road Is Wider Than Long” – broadcast late 1979 by BBC Radio 4 – still has implications in concept and execution not totally assimilated after forty years. Listen if you have the ears. Learn if you have the perception.

British Surrealism is a footnote. Hazy connections with the great Pop Artists of the fifties are probably more cryptic coincidence than direct influence, even though – as Ronnie Scott (OBE) was to UK jazz – so was it Roland Penrose who proselytized Surrealism through his relentless PR work, his New Burlington Gallery Exhibition (1936), his Cork Street Gallery, his co-founding and endless support of the ICA, through to the Dada/ Surrealist Hayward retrospect of 1978, which he co-organised.

Disciplines of Art and the verdict of academia are the empirical illusions of textbooks. Shedding all wrappings and preconceptions you get one individual as you and I are individuals. Roland Penrose was/ is a Surrealist. More important he was/ is a man you can/ could touch. A fountain of truth, now as then.