Saturday, 29 January 2011

POEM: 'LOFTY FLAKE ANAGRAM'



LOFTY FLAKE ANAGRAM

When they culled the badgers due to
the supposed risk of bovine tuberculosis
I said nothing

When they killed the urban foxes
following a single freak-attack on a child
I said nothing

When they eradicated pigeons from the cities
because the ‘flying rats’ spread disease
I said nothing

When they ‘controlled’ the population
of ‘nuisance’ squirrels
I said nothing

mink and beaver erode waterways
dogs foul pavements, rabbits pilfer farm-crops
seals deplete fish-stocks, cats set up allergies
geese on airport flight-paths get sucked into jet turbines
moles disrupt your lawn and bats are just plain creepy,
best eradicate them in the interest of social health…

Now I awake and where there was a world
I hear only this silence that goes on for forever

LIVE: LOVE WITH ARTHUR LEE, LEEDS, 2004



‘HE SPOKE OF
LOVE’S SWEETER DAYS…’

Gig Review of:
LOVE WITH ARTHUR LEE
at ‘The City Varieties’, Leeds

‘This show is going to be dope. You know what I’m saying?’ announces Arthur Lee. Well no, not exactly. But then, of course, this is not exactly Love. Not the same Love that began recording ‘Da Capo’ on 27th September 1966. Nor the Love that recorded ‘Forever Changes’ on a budget of just $2,257. In fact it’s LA band Baby Lemonade, who have almost served as a Love tribute-band since early 1998, their dexterity and precision supernaturally honed to an eerie magic in replicating those antique time-lost select-Electra grooves. But then again, the tall lanky guy with the bandana round his head, his black hat and dark shades, cream shirt hung loose outside his grey pants, is Arthur Lee – the only credible survivor of the psychedelic era. The guiding intelligence and deranged genius behind those albums, the guy who inked quotable lyrics about ‘the news for today is the movies for tomorrow’ – and they are, they are, or anthemic slogans urging ‘write the rules in the sky, ask your leaders why’, which still need saying today. And Love was always a fluid concept anyway. Names like ‘Snoopy’ Pfisterer, Johnny Echols, Bryan MacLean, then Jay Donnellan and Frank Fayad drifting in and out. Yet as soon as he opens “Live And Let Live” with ‘the snot has caked against my pants, it has turned into crystal’, arching from low acoustic strum to violent electric scream, all doubts dissolve like a sugar-cube on the tongue. The hauntingly surreal “Alone Again Or” follows, then “Seven And Seven Is” with its full-tilt crackling acid colours flickering, so tightly compressed that it’s warping and buckling time-space, updrafting towards that explosive count-down, only to emerge back out the other side, into stillness again. Next, the complex collage that is “Your Mind And We Belong Together”, then “Signed DC” – an explicit drug-song with its cellular ache still intact, all following in its immaculate dayglo train. You could say, whatever line-up Arthur Lee happens to be fronting becomes, by definition, Love. Even though this Arthur is separated from that original oddball visionary Arthur Lee by long wilderness decades of narcotic craziness, and even a five-and-a-half year prison-spell on .44 Magnum firearms charges. But hey, we’re all different people too. That past is gone forever. And – like Brian Wilson recreating ‘Pet Sounds’ or ‘Smile’ on stage in 2004, this is something we’ve never seen before. The original Love never toured outside California. It occurs to me – a thought, in my head, I think – that just possibly those original acid-pilots would have been nowhere near as good as this one either, too stoned all-over-the-place ego-driven and problematic to pick out all the little intricacies and inflections you pick up on here tonight. This is the Love that played last year’s Glastonbury, did the Jools Holland ‘Later’, and have a live CD of much of the music they played tonight. I delayed a long time. This, after all, is a band I’ve loved since Arthur was 22, and I was 18. How could it possibly live up to all that? How could this deliver on all those power-to-amaze expectations? But this Love delivers. A brilliant night, no dope, you know what I’m saying…?


Song-by-song it goes like this, all from
‘Forever Changes’ (recorded from 11th August 1967 on)
except where specified:

“Live And Let Live” Mike, guitarist with white dreads and a big white Gibson unspools the solo as Arthur finger-snipes gun-shots at the audience, close proximity only emphasising its strangeness, an everlasting first

“Alone Again Or” Arthur plays crystalline white guitar break, no Tijuana horns, but still hauntingly surreal… covered by others as diverse as the Damned and UFO, yet this remains the definitive take

“Andmoreagain” Wistful whimsy, the first album had a track called “And More”, this is the sequel, now a guitarist with check tie, glasses and a big red Rickenbacker shivers and ripples out all those precise nuances

“Bummer In The Summer” Garage Folk-Rock, with Arthur dropping into a frenzied knee-crouch for the charged riff-rhythmic Bo Diddley middle-eight bridge sequence

“Old Man” Originally a Bryan Maclean song and vocal (he died of a heart-attack 25th December 1998), so Arthur uses a music-stand to read the evocatively mystic lyrics

“Orange Skies” (from ‘Da Capo’) Arthur’s shimmering red maracas punctuate its acid-baked fluidity, you wonder where such ectoplasmic other-world sound-images come from, and to reside in what sort of mind?

“A House Is Not A Motel” Dazed guitars and blood-soaked imagery, Arthur punches out the ‘you can call my name’ with white tambourine, Mike’s solo is piercingly expressive

“Signed DC” (from ‘Love’) A drug-song that still hurts, an incorrigibly strange epistle of explicit addiction, losing elements of its acoustic fragility live, but compensating with Arthur’s razor-edged wailing harmonica. The ‘DC’ is usually taken to refer to early-Love drummer Don Conka, but an elsewhere Arthurly quote credits the ‘District of Columbia’

“My Flash On You” (from ‘Love’) A molten, Byrds/Stones energy-blast that’s sharp and acid-punk short

“Your Mind And We Belong Together” (1968 single, now part of the expanded ‘Forever Changes’) It took 44 takes to perfect this single, tonight it’s full time-change jump-cut collage and harmonies are recreated in 3:30 minutes of compressed liquidity

“The Red Telephone” A skewed stand-out in a set of stand-outs, acting out the ‘I don’t know if the 3rd or the 4th or if the 5th is to fix’ line with a hypodermic mime, lifting his shades for the ‘look in my eyes’ lines, inhabiting an exultation close to fear, from moribund despair and social paranoia to surreal ecstasy – this, remember, comes from the time of nightly-TV Vietnam-atrocity with nuclear annihilation a button-push away, as the chanted ‘they’re locking them up today’ refrain delivers its appropriately dark menace

“Message To Pretty” (from ‘Love’) ‘As unprofessional as this might seem – wrong song’ he comments, sounds right to me, volume, flaring colour, movement, catching light and electric sparks...

“Rainbow In The Storm” (new song) ‘This may not be special to you, but it’s special to me, after all the shit I’ve been through’ he comments, and it has all the familiar Lee mannerisms, even opening with the ‘Alone Again Or’ “yeah”, into lyrics that run ‘does it matter that you are born, do you have to be right or wrong...?’ ‘Rainbow In The Storm’ is also the title of Arthur’s projected autobiography

“Seven And Seven Is” (from ‘Da Capo’) The closest Love ever got to a US hit single, as Electra 45605 it peaked on ‘Billboard’ at no.33 – 10th Sept 1966, later collected onto Lenny Kaye’s vital ‘Nuggets’ box-set where it resides alongside Electric Prunes, Thirteenth Floor Elevators and Chocolate Watch Band gems

“You Set The Scene” ‘At my request, I ask for nothing’. Another set stand-out
“Singing Cowboy” (from the disappointing new line-up 1969 ‘Love: Four Sail’) Full late-vision ‘unedited version’ elongating into an extended ‘coming after you’ call-and-response, allowing band-member solos and introductions, until ‘have you enjoyed tonight?’ spake the spontaneous good-humour-man ‘I’ve enjoyed tonight’, then he go slip-slip away…

“Maybe The People Would Be The Times, Or Between Clark And Hilldale” Back in black-shirt, Jazz-slippery, dropped-lyrics, saved for the encore… worth the wait

Published in:
‘SONGBOOK no.3 (Spring)’ (UK – May 2004)
Full version featured on the website:
www.song-book.co.uk/extra (UK – May 2004)

BOOK REVIEW: 'ARTHUR LEE & THE BOOK OF LOVE'


"FOREVER CHANGES:
ARTHUR LEE &
THE BOOK OF LOVE"
by JOHN EINARSON
(JAWBONE)
ISBN 978-1-906002-31-2
Softcover. 334 pages
www.jawbonepress.com

The first three Love albums stand up there with the greatest trilogy of the Rock era. Their debut gifts the Byrds folk-rock template a hard garage-band edge, ‘Da Capo’ adds restless experimentalism, taking the group into the lush lyricism of ‘Forever Changes’. When, after his long decades of darkness, Arthur Lee played live at Leeds’ City Varieties, he confided he was working on his memoirs. That he died before they were completed is generously ameliorated by John Einarson’s access to the manuscript-in-progess, drawing italicised fragments into this first fully authorised biog. Young Arthur ‘picked up on music faster than an ape can peel a banana.’ Born Arthur Porter Taylor in Memphis, he became Lee through his LA stepfather. Of mixed-race heritage, ‘too light-skinned to be black and too dark-skinned to be white’, he was indulged as a kid, and something of the schoolyard bully. He met Johnny Echols at school where they formed LAG, the LA-group in the same way that Booker T’s band was the Memphis Group, and they cut a debut single – ‘The Ninth Wave’, at Phil Spector’s Gold Star studio, for Capitol, Nat ‘King’ Cole’s label. Then the owner of Revis Records brought in a young guitarist on a Little Richard tour stop-over to play on Rosa Lee Brooks’ sessions for Arthur’s song ‘My Diary’ in 1964. Although the single was a regional hit for which he ‘never received a penny’, the session was a useful connection to James Marshal Hendrix, a ‘false start’ on their way to ‘the everlasting first’. It’s tempting to ramble such intriguing detail. There’s plenty here. About why Love’s unwillingness to tour stalled their career. About the subsequent lesser line-ups. Then Lee’s personal crash. Until his wonderful renaissance probably saw his back-catalogue played live with greater fidelity than the classic personnel could ever have mustered. It was a privilege to be there. This wonderful book captures it all, chord on chord.

SWIFT MORGAN: FIRST COMIC-STRIP BRIT IN SPACE!



‘SWIFT MORGAN’
:FIRST BRIT IN SPACE…?

He was Britain’s first genuine picture-strip SF Hero –
his adventures launched in far-off 1948, visualised by
the legendary Denis McLoughlin. Now – for the first time,
ANDREW DARLINGTON explores the full, complex,
and fascinating history of ‘SWIFT MORGAN’...


‘FAST ACTION IN THE WORLDS OF THE FUTURE’
“Chin Up Silver! We’ve Got Out Of Other Tough Spots…!”

A roundly solid blue spaceship with galleried nacelles and screaming rocket-thrusters lifts off from a cratered lunar landscape as it’s simultaneously ray-blasted by a stubby red assailant slashing in from the right-hand stratosphere, all set against the glaring orange disc of a rising ringed Saturn. That’s the eye-grabbing cover of the ‘Swift Morgan Space Comic’. It’s impossible to visualise now how breath-catching that vivid image must have been at the time, first glimpsed across the counter of the newsagent’s kiosk. The lure of interplanetary strangeness, the prospect of bizarre new worlds, the hideous threat of combat beneath the lurid swirl of alien constellations. Today, it’s everywhere. Then, in the drab austerity of the post-war years it provided the promise of shiny new futures luminous with wonder.

Denis McLoughlin’s ‘Swift Morgan’ was Britain’s first Science Fiction picture-strip hero, as early as 1948. There was no ‘Dan Dare’, not yet. No Captain Condor, Jeff Hawke, Jet-Ace Logan, or Jet Morgan. Swift was something new. ‘Swift and Silver, aboard a new rocket air-ship, are in grave danger when, out of control, their ship plunges towards a lake in unchartered territory at terrific speed.’ Soon the intrepid pair find themselves imperilled by prehistoric orange-and-green monsters. ‘By the…!’ blonde rugged Swift exclaims (self-censored) ‘a flesh-eating tyrant dinosaur!’ (as in ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex’?). Dramatic stuff, and a thrilling visual debut for a six-year series of occasional comic-books that take Swift from adventuring in lost prehistoric worlds, across the solar system in his ship – ‘the hornet of the spaceways’, to Mars and Jupiter, and beyond.’ Denis Gifford, in his comprehensive ‘Encyclopedia Of Comic Characters’, also takes time to point out that ‘unchartered’ blooper in the opening text-box.

Swift may have been something new, but his derivation is not too difficult to determine. Think ‘Flash Gordon’. Flash=Swift. Gordon=Morgan. Alex Raymond’s hero and his outlandish exploits on the planet Mongo had reached British comic-book readers through the full-colour back page of ‘Modern Wonder’ as early as 20th May 1937. The war years, and paper rationing intervened, until low-budget independent publisher TV Boardman took advantage of the lifting of paper-restrictions to launch a new series of two-tone photogravure titles aimed at thrill-starved post-war youth. Piloted by the art-skills of a young Denis McLoughlin. He was born 15th April 1918 in Bolton where he won an art-scholarship, he graduated into Mail Order catalogue illustration-work and hence, aged just twenty, to TV Boardman who were then busy reprinting American cartoon-strips in licensed UK editions, the art and covers requiring subtle tweaking into their new format. Although he also contributed to pioneering Lad’s-mag ‘Stag’ and woman’s journal ‘Minx’, as well as other publishers, he was subsequently contracted to Boardman for twenty years (his contract coming up for renewal every three years!), with his bold uncompromising art soon forming a distinctive part of their visual identity, clear through to the company’s eventual demise in 1967.

So what are the defining characteristics of the British Space Hero? Americans already had Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Brick Bradford. And there’s obviously got to be family-tree material there. But there were other elements adding their inputs too. And after all, trans-Atlantic connections were not so immediate back then as they are now. New fads travelled in distorted ways, taking on localised influences as they did so. And it’s worth remembering that Science Fiction – going back to Jules Verne, was a European invention. From HG Wells, more specifically, it was British. Later, Hugo Gernsback’s earliest New York-based forays into SF magazine-publishing drew heavily on original material from such writers, before evolving its own distinctive school of American fantasists. Meanwhile Britain was launching its own first SF magazine, the short-lived weekly ‘Scoops’, which arrived as early as 1934 (with twenty issues spaced between 10th February and 23rd June) announcing itself as ‘Stories Of The Wonder-World Of Tomorrow’, serialising text-stories by Professor AM Low (‘Space’), Arthur Conan-Doyle (‘The Poison Belt’), GE Rochester (‘The Black Vultures’), plus others of the calibre of John Russell Fearn. Later, ‘Modern Wonder’ also used Fearn’s text-fiction. So there were two distinct cultural traditions to draw from. It’s generally agreed that American picture-strips took off by following the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fantasy model, then by mutating it into the super-hero genre. While its British counterpart, by contrast, took its tone from those more measured text-based scientific speculations. That remained true of Dan Dare, whose creative team even recruited Arthur C Clark as scientific adviser. Just as it’s true clear through to Judge Dredd. Its protagonists have no super-powers, they are ordinary men placed in exceptionally hazardous circumstances, in a recognisable universe that conforms to the hard laws of physics. They must rely instead on their heroic courage, fighting skills, and ingenuity to succeed.
Perhaps Swift Morgan is a more modest variant, true, but he has the excuse that he was the first. Check out Denis Gifford’s wonderful ‘Space Aces: Comic Book Heroes From The Forties And Fifties!’ (Green Wood Publishing, 1991). Denis – who once ran the 1952 ‘Space Patrol Official Handbook’, knows his stuff. And yes, there were previous inept one-offs, some of which – like Nat Brand’s ‘Crash Carew: Daredevil Of The Stratosphere’, almost achieve lift-off as examples of early fantastic strip-fiction. But Swift, in his neat red skin-tight one-suit and boots, is the first to survive into a distinctive series. His opening run of adventures sees him and partner Silver involved in the discovery of ‘Lost Worlds’ – Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, and up the Osumacinta River to a Lost City of the Incas. With limited space for plot-development the plunge into action is instantaneous. ‘Swift and Silver are exploring some ancient Egyptian tombs with a party of scientists when they get the urge to do a little exploring of their own. After leaving the main party they get lost in a maze of underground passages where Swift finds a door hidden in the rock walls. Pressure causes it to swing open and Swift and Silver pass through into a long corridor. They have gone but a few paces when the door closes behind them…’ All of which occurs in the opening panel! Already they’re thrown into a ‘Lost World’ of Ancient Egyptians. It’s not exactly clear whether it’s a H Rider Haggard ‘She’-variant hidden realm (echoing ‘Scoops’ contributor Conan-Doyle’s ‘Lost World’), or a portal into the past, as used by Leigh Brackett’s Matt Carse who takes a ‘few paces’ through time into the aeons-old prehistory of Mars in ‘The Sword Of Rhiannon’. It seems to be the former, but our dynamic duo ‘journey by chariot through Egyptian cities of long ago’ to Memphis where they get entangled in dynastic struggles across an epic scale. In a hidden world? Pharaoh Topi is assassinated by his vile High Priest Uni, in traitorous alliance with the evil Usek. But Swift assists Queen Nofret and young Prince Piop to escape on her royal barge. ‘As dawn breaks over the red sandstone cliffs at the edge of the desert Swift sees another sail in the distance’. His inventive naval strategy manages to outwit the pursuing war-galley, and they reach Armarna, from where they unleash their counter-attack, despite Usek’s men kidnapping Silver and chaining her decorously to the wall of the Temple of Rameses. In a final wide-screen battle between rival armies Prince Piop kills Usek – ‘the youth has the strength of a lion’ and the rebellion is crushed. As he prepares to leave, Swift suggests ‘you should seal the exit to our world, for our world would spoil yours’. Leaving the hidden realm intact. It’s a fairly detailed plot, and within the obvious schedule and format-limitations McLoughlin seems to have researched his illustrations above and beyond the call of duty. The war-galley, the temple interior, and Usek’s Memphis court are pretty damn impressive. And to clarify things, the lovely and courageous platinum-blonde Silver in her fetching figure-hugging Dale Arden-style tunic, rescued from certain death in each tale, is eventually identified in story no.2 as Swift’s fiancée. And to an enthusiastic Denis Gifford this ‘well-drawn, well-endowed young lady’ is ‘a pin-up in the best ‘Planet Comics’ tradition’.

They pass through a similar portal into the ‘Greek Wars’ while visiting an ‘Olympieian’ temple in the ‘colourful capital of Greece’, having been chosen with other ‘famous athletes to take part in the Olympic Games’. The Greek triremes they find there are equally well-observed, executed with a bold sureness of line, highlighted by dramatic cross-hatch shading. Then they’re off, by submarine via the Canary Isles, to Atlantis – Latitude 26N, Longitude 15.10W to be exact, its location precisely pinpointed (for the convenience of expeditions yet to be mounted?). ‘I’ll put her into a dive and we’ll explore the bed of the sea’ announces Swift, adding ‘we are too near the rock for safety’, ‘Do you think we’ll make it?’ gasps fair-haired Silver. Well – yes, the odds are favourable with her dashing fiancé around, ‘while their friend Professor Pickering is hoping to find some traces of Atlantis in the (Sahara) desert’. In these early issues McLoughlin alternates Swift’s adventures with those of ‘Roy Carson – Special Agent’ (1948-53), ‘The Best in Illustrated Detective Fiction’. Inspired by the near name-alike radio celebrity of ‘Dick Barton – Special Agent’, Roy opens for business in his own two-tone comic-book ‘Smashing the Crime-Wave’ in 1948. But unlike his broadcasting and spin-off movie role-model, Carson is a hard-boiled ‘tec of the Yankee mean-streets school accompanied by Silk, his sexy blonde secretary (who closely resembles Silver!), pitted against a bizarre series of villainous opponents ranging from the bird-costumed Condor to the masked Cheetah, Queen of Spies. Dialogue is supplied by the artist’s brother, Colin McLoughlin. Their work-load increases as, from August 1949, Denis is also illustrating ‘Buffalo Bill’ for TV Boardman too, beginning with the ‘Buffalo Bill Meets Yellowhand’ story...

‘WITH A TERRIFIC ROAR THE ROCKET
LEAVES ITS LAUNCHING PLATFORM…’
‘An article in the American magazine ‘True’ claims that
eight months’ investigation has shown that ‘flying saucers’
reported seen in all parts of the world were ‘space vehicles’
from another planet which has been watching the Earth…’

Swift Morgan first enters real interplanetary dimensions when brother Colin scripts a twelve-page journey to Mars for ‘Swift Morgan and the Flying Saucers’. Admittedly the acceleration towards escape velocity may have been boosted by the supernova explosion of Dan Dare in ‘Eagle’, launched just four months earlier (14th April 1950). So does that render Swift Morgan’s first-man claim invalid? I think not. Comic-book readers had already become familiar with his fantasy exploits, even when they occur in Lost Worlds rather than Outer Space. All the SF characteristics are already in place. Sure, there’s a collusion of influences. But the evolution is natural and smoothly accomplished. The opening panel is stylishly paper-clipped with a ‘cutting from the ‘Daily Mail’ appendaged to the art, datelined ‘New York, Tuesday’, detailing reports of recent UFO sightings. Swift and his silver-haired companion are testing Professor Dwight Mooney’s experimental super-jet aircraft over White Sands, New Mexico when they’re buzzed by ‘strange saucer-shaped objects’. Silver is abducted by midget Martians. Fortunately Professor Mooney also has an experimental rocketship, a ‘giant machine looking rather like a V2’ – this, after all, is within years of World War II when Von Braun’s doodlebugs were raining death on London. Kids could relate to images of the V2. ‘Two hundred and fifty days later, and the red planet is very close.’ ‘So this is Mars’ announces Swift. ‘Yes, and I see the canal theory is correct’ adds the Prof. The explorers are taken by canal to Martinia, city of Emperor Meturas. Again, there is treachery. Secret Police Chief Staren is in league with invaders from Saturn, using a supposed threat from Earth as a diversionary strategy.

The following interrogation panel manages to infiltrate a neatly-subversive Cold War moral. ‘Staren reported explosions on Earth as you prepared to attack us’ accuses Meturas. ‘They would be atomic explosions your majesty, which I regret to say we caused for the sole purpose of killing each other’ explains Swift. ‘Atomic bombs! of course. We Martians too, at one time, were barbarians.’ Vindicated, and with Silver’s rescue accomplished, the courageous Earthling co-ordinates the planetary defences. ‘A week later, the point of attack planned by the Saturnites is flooded from the canals and Martian troops are waiting’, the invaders are comprehensively vanquished. Not great SF, but – admit it, fairly inventive for its time, if a little scientifically eccentric. ‘Saturn is a planet of sand with no water, therefore the invaders can’t swim. Sometimes damp atmosphere will kill them!’ A planet of sand? Even a ‘Planets Of Our Solar System’ fact-file in the ‘New Spaceways Comic Annual’ admits that Saturn ‘is nine times the size of the Earth and is covered with many miles of ice and therefore there is no likelihood of any life existing’. But in those distant pre-probe years Saturn is also listed as having a mere nine moons.

For Swift Morgan, there will be more voyages across the ‘wastes of space’, that ‘airless freezing dark void with brilliant constellations and planets on all sides’. There are more problems with those troublesome Saturnites – or, this time, the Saturians, in ‘The Robot Empire’ when Dictator Sol dupes the newly discovered planet Mekka into forging an alliance to conquer the Solar Federation using its ‘invincible robots’. After adventures on Saturn itself, and a trip to Mekka Swift exposes their evil machinations and convinces Emperor Markow to join the Federation instead. The planet-hopping continued. In ‘The Planet of Destiny’ the heroic duo have inexplicably morphed into Captain and Hostess aboard one of the spaceline’s largest interplanetary ships. But they find it a pleasant change to be ‘en-route’ for Mars in Swift’s specially designed minicruiser ‘Blue Light’. ‘We’ll soon be getting a nice space-tan relaxing on the artificial beach at Montula!’ enthuses Silver. Until an abrupt explosion trashes both their plans, and their mini-spacecraft too. Swift’s ship utilises tele-scanners and Stratio broadcasts, but inter-species communication is conveniently enabled by electronically-wired mind antennae. And in this way they learn they’ve become prisoners of malevolent Commander Tunis, ‘OC of all destinal research for Dictator Jodd of Jupiter’. ‘Oh Swift! Is – is it the end of the whole solar system?’ sobs Silver breathlessly. ‘Steady, Silver!’ he sensibly cautions. Finally, ably assisted by a barbarian of the saurian Booloo Tribe called Strang, they duly disintegrate the menacing artificial ‘Planet of Destiny’ and head for home aboard the spaceship ‘Observer One’.

Then, in the text-story ‘Swift Morgan And The Menace Of The Red Mists’, written by James Hart with spot-illustrations by Ron Forbes (responsible for the ‘Captain Condor’ art in ‘Lion’) Swift has become ‘the lean, keen-eyed, sun-tanned number one space pilot’ of the Planetary Patrol commanding Satellite Space Station X1 ‘far out in the stratosphere’. And he’s on a mission to rescue Professor Wallace from an ‘unmapped and unexplored’ Martian chasm ‘spoken of with fear by the aboriginal inhabitants of Mars that we found on our first landings’ – ah, that’ll be the UFO midgets then! In the ‘steaming jungle of death’ beneath the red mist they discover the besieged descendants of an original Martian race, ‘an advanced civilisation that flourished while we were still in the Stone Age’. With the Prof. rescued and the Martians saved, it’s home to Satellite X1. Then – in ‘Swift Morgan And The Pirates Of Space’, it’s across the ‘mighty near-vacuum of space’ (near-vacuum!?!) to apprehend cunning criminal Vorjak who has broken free from the Kosmos penal settlement. He takes over the human colony on Thanor, a ‘small new planet’, intent on using it as a base from which to wage a war of vengeance on Earth. Until he falls foul of the monstrous primitive beasts of Thanor, with Swift and Silver coming to a timely rescue. And eventually it’s ‘mission completed! All in the day’s work for members of the Space Patrol’.

In this tale, there’s a Federal Europe, a fairly prescient prediction for 1954. But Swift Morgan himself barely makes it into the mid-1950’s. His decline eclipsed by more famous Space Heroes with more ambitious colour-art, higher-profile distribution, and yes – superior tales. But Swift Morgan was the first picture-strip Brit in space. The first serial SF character. No-one can take that achievement away from him. Denis McLoughlin is now perhaps best-remembered for his highly-collectible series of thirteen ‘Buffalo Bill Annuals’ (from 1949 to 1961), beautifully illustrated with meticulously authenticated Western lore. Although he was also responsible for painting the full-colour covers for as many as 700 paperback and dust-jacket novels, Westerns and Romances, as well as a new edition of ‘Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde’ as early as 1946, plus TV Boardman’s ‘Bloodhound Mystery’ titles such as ‘The Canvas Coffin’ by William Campbell-Gault, plus books by Fredric Brown, Ed McBain, Jack Webb and Theodora DuBois. Later his distinctive artwork could also be found inking ‘Saber: King Of The Jungle’ who, with Umbala his Zulu companion, encounters lost plateaus, ruined cities and malevolently carnivorous plants (‘Tiger’ 1967-69, and ‘Vulcan’ 1975-76). ‘As proud and untamed as nature herself,’ any resemblance to Tarzan is, of course, purely deliberate. Then there’s the ‘Fury’s Family’ series, a ‘family’ consisting of escaping performance-beasts from Downer’s Circus, Chieftain The Lion, Rajah The Elephant, and a giant gorilla, a story-arc which begins in ‘Thunder’ (1970-71) to continue in ‘Lion’ (1971-72). The charismatic Fury is able to speak their language in eloquent speech-bubbles declaring ‘Murb thoora jooka nij prakka!’ Working for both IPC and DC Thomson, for ‘Victor’ and ‘Bullet’, ‘Warlord’ and the pocket-sized ‘Commando Library’, another much-admired strip to be carried by McLoughlin art is X-Agent ‘Jake Jefford’, whose Secret Service adventures begin with ‘Sign Of The Shark’ running in ‘Wizard’ from 14th June 1975-77.
Each of these – and many others that flowed from his prolific pen, have merit. But personally, I prefer to turn back to the ‘Swift Morgan’ adventures in ‘The New Spaceways Comic Annual’. Look at that cover! – see those three space-explorers in their shiny silver bubble-headed suits, one of them lushly blonde and feminine, retreating into their ship, one of them ray-gunning pursuing red-horned alien attackers – the Devil-Men of the Chasm of Red Mists, as another aquamarine spacecraft blasts on jets of crimson flame through the Martian skies overhead, who could resist? Certainly not me!

SWIFT MORGAN: STORY BY STORY…

(No.2 – March 1948) ‘SWIFT MORGAN: IN THE LOST WORLD’ 3d ‘TV BOARDMAN: ROTOGRAVURE SERIES’ of 12-page comic-books with two-colour covers and alternate cover-stars, no.1 Roy Carson, no.8 Buffalo Bill, no.11 Blackhawk, no.12 The Spirit
(no.4 – May 1948) ‘SWIFT MORGAN: AND THE ANCIENT ROMANS’
(no.6 – July 1948) ‘SWIFT MORGAN: AND THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS’
(no.9 – November 1948) ‘SWIFT MORGAN: AND THE FEATHERED SERPENT’
(no.16 – June 1949) ‘SWIFT MORGAN: IN ATLANTIS’
(no.30 – August 1950) ‘SWIFT MORGAN: AND THE FLYING SAUCERS’
(no.38 – April 1951) ‘SWIFT MORGAN: AND THE GREEK WARS’
(no.50 – March 1953) ‘SWIFT MORGAN SPACE COMIC’ new-format 6d ‘POPULAR PRESS’ 28-page with colour cover and black-and-white interior, includes “Planet Of Destiny” – ‘Fast Action In The Worlds Of The Future’ ‘Two Complete Adventures In This Issue!’, the second is “Sam English: Museum Rover”, a new interplanetary adventurer based on the sub-tropical island of Mentos with his own sexy ‘Silver’ in the shape of Miss Vel Burrows
(no.52 – November 1953) ‘SWIFT MORGAN SPACEWAYS COMIC’ (Popular / Boardman) with “Beast From Outer Space”
(no.54 – 1954) ‘ROY CARSON COMIC’ includes “Swift Morgan: On The Isle Of Giants”
‘THE ADVENTURE ANNUAL no.2’ (1953) includes “Swift Morgan: The Robot Empire” set in the year 2102AD when Voss of the Saturn Secret Police kidnaps members of the Solar Federation Committee from Asteroid X, plus Denis & Colin McLoughlin’s “Roy Carson And The Old Master”, and non-Swift text-story “Operation Cataclysm” by Eric Leyland featuring Space Cadet Dick Benton on planet Uria
‘NEW SPACEWAYS COMIC ANNUAL no.1’ (Popular Press/ Greycaines – 1954) reprints strips “Swift Morgan: And The Flying Saucers”, and “Swift Morgan: And The Ancient Egyptians”, plus text ‘Swift Morgan’ stories by James Hart. Also other character strips, and Ron Forbes spot-art
‘SUPERCOLOURED COMIC ANNUAL no.2’ (Moring/ TV Boardman – 1950) includes previously unpublished “Swift Morgan: And The Knights Of The Round Table”
Thanks to Denis Gifford’s wonderful ‘Space Aces: Comic Book Heroes From The Forties And Fifties!’ (Green Wood Publishing, 1991), and his equally invaluable ‘Encyclopedia Of Comic Characters’ (Longman Group UK, 1987). Also to Steve Holland for his informative ‘Denis McLoughlin’ feature in ‘Book & Magazine Collector no.102’ (September 1992).

Published in:
‘DREAMBERRY WINE (August)’ (UK – August 2006)

LIVE: SWEET BLITZ UNITY HALL, WAKEFIELD, 1981



‘SWEET BLITZ UNITY HALL...!’
Sweet & The Steve Lynton Band
Live at the Wakefield ‘Unity Hall’
11th March 1981

Love Is Like Oxygen. You get too much it makes you high. Get too little you wanna die. A lyric as perfectly shaped as a haiku. Playing around inside my head. The stage blackness strangely focuses the mind, ghosted by spectral roadies fenced in by barriers of paint-peeling amps and curly-wire flex-connections. Sweet are due to emerge from that blackness, that cross-stage chiaroscuro of shadows, that murkily infested zone of half-shapes and furtive imaginings. Sweet, even their sugar-rush name tastes crazy after all these years. Seems like an eternity of nothingness has elapsed since that name was on high-rotation radio, on people’s lips, in the press. An imageless void haunted by squirming rumours, laid over somewhat battered memories of the Chinn+Chapman seventies, Glitter-Pop posturing and the intense immolation of tacky stardom. Should I even be here? How can they possibly measure up? Now, in the hard cold relentless striplight glare of the eighties, washed up in the outer reaches of Yorkshire on the revamp-circuit that so recently infused a degree of credibility into those other walking wounded’s – Slade and Gary Glitter.

W-H-A-A-A-M!!! A sudden light-deluge synched exactly to smoke-bomb ignition and a wall of “Ballroom Blitz” volume that simultaneously rapes eardrum and eyeball. As tight a theatricality, as brash a sense of attack, and as forcefully aggressive a presence as anything this side of ‘Hill Street Blues’. It momentarily dismantles your lurking doubts brick-by-brick, assails and lays waste to your critical logics and critiques in a breathlessly euphoric assault of pure ‘Sound & Vision’. Sure the teen fan-mag back-issues flicker like an insistent strobe in the cobwebbed inner recesses of your head throughout the set, but that’s an additive, and by no means the only commodity on offer. Check the faces. ‘Are you ready, Steve? Aha. Andy? Yeah! Mick? OK. Alright, fellas, let's go!’ Andy Scott on guitar. Steve Priest on bass, with no flirty make-up. No Brian Connolly either (‘you better beware if you got long blonde hair’). Brian quit around May 1979 when his life-style issues turned bad. And in truth, they need his Pop edge. But there’s still Mick Tucker on daunting double-Ludwig drum-kit, monolithically high and chrome-gleaming, demanding seven mikes and a full four-kilowatt p.a. of its own. Plus Gary Moberley co-opted for keyboard chores and spiralling synths (lead-in to “Fox On The Run”), and second-guitarist Ray McRiner. They’re tight and fast. Scott and Priest trading a mike for lead vocals, and then the full three-piece front-line zoning in on exact harmonies, with little loss of momentum as they blend the new with an uneven hotchpotch of the old.

These guys – or at least a fair percentage of them, formed the blueprint for the first five-year plan of the previous decade, through which controlling-svengalis Mike Chapman & Nicky Chinn designed their aural cash register. For the first half of the seventies the writing-production duo formed what Howard & Blaikley had been for the sixties (Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, the Honeycombs and The Herd), and what Stock Aitken Waterman would be for the eighties, and they used the untested Sweet as a dry-run for their emerging Pop empire (Suzy Quatro, Mud, Smokie, Racey). Shunting backwards into the charts as early as March 1971 with a flimsy lightweight “Funny Funny” and other awkward bubblepop prototypes designed to test the water. Who now remembers “Alexander Graham Bell”? Then a solid grounding in nudge-nudge novelty hits – “Little Willy” and “Wigwam Bam”. How dare they, how very dare they? You want funny clothes? puerile pubescent double-entendré? lurid drag? you got them with a vengeance. Until the squeaky-clean hit machine up-gears into overdrive with the power-Pop Glam of “Blockbuster”, opening with a siren-wail that gets it restricted-airtime on Radio 1’s Tony Blackburn or Dave Lee Travis shows due to its habit of setting off panic-alerts when played over factory pa’s. Followed into the Top Three by full-on “Hellraiser”, “Ballroom Blitz” and “Teenage Rampage”, their percussive aggression modelled on the Who, their appeal tempered by Brian’s prettiness. If David Bowie made androgyny dangerously subversive, Sweet on ‘Top Of The Pops’ gave it Pantomime camp with vamping sequins and fluttering eyelashes. The ‘Pure Pop For Then-People’ didn’t stop until ChinniChap quit for America with visions of dollar signs, with Knack and Blondie adhered to their retina. By which time Sweet had outgrown their limitations anyway and were striving to write and produce their own sides, seeking credibility. Come the Punk freeze-out of 1976, England forgot, and Sweet were also exiled to tread exclusively on American stage-boards where audiences knew little about the band and didn’t prejudge them on their baby-steps hits. Sweet were rewarded by three massive highly-regarded American hits, “Fox On The Run”, “Action” (‘I was suicidal ‘cos you was my idol’) – which would later be reactivated by Def Leppard, and the aforementioned “Love Is Like Oxygen” which arrived with a complete Prog-Rock extended twelve-inch version. Such late-career vindication must have been very… er, sweet.

Here and now they attract a curious motley of tribal identities drawn from those who first hit adolescence when “Co-Co” first hit ‘Top Of The Pops’. Plus those confused and cut adrift by post-Punk Industrial-bleakness, alienated by the self-idolatry of New Romance, and abandoned by the Pop-wise ‘U’-turns of Antmusic (‘even when you’re mindless / and your braincell count is low / Antmusic gives illusions / that you got some place to go’). They watch bemused as support act – the Steve Lynton Band, go through sub-Hendrix guitar visuals, but find real comfort in the clean harmonies and clean nostalgia of Sweet, remembrance of times when choices and allegiances were simpler. But Sweet have cut the camp and the rabble-rousing, they’re now more ‘Level Headed’. Musically they’re better than either Glitter or Slade. The sound-mix is contemporary with a bass-heavy foundation, Tucker’s percussive arsenal achieving more aural GBH than any other two drummers on raised drum podiums I can think of. They trade on their past, sure, they’d be daft to do otherwise, but they’re not drowned by it. Whether their audience is as equally able to grow is another matter entirely. But to anyone still tuned to the glorious absurdity of Rock, how sweet it would be!

Sweet performed their last live show soon after this appearance in Wakefield, at Glasgow University on 20 March 1981, before breaking up. There would be subsequent partial re-unions with different line-ups, but this was essentially the end of the original Sweet story-arc.