Thursday, 28 February 2019

Poem: TRANSCRIPT FROM LETHAL TULIP OVERDOSE: incandescent archetypes



TRANSCRIPT FROM 
LETHAL TULIP 
OVERDOSE: 
incandescent archetypes 


Let us praise violence
Let us praise hate
Let us praise vulpine nights in slow-burning trains
through quivering lights, vespertine carnivals of
radio scratch signals in stalled precinct deadness.
Let us praise city concrete hopelessless,
staring red-eyed with flashpoint confrontations,
a Hotel wall, sulphate paranoia,
the drip of falling water in glazed white
cisterns & wash-basins, cubicle sliding bolts
the stimulation of blood ejaculation hot &
shimmering to the cheek &
the dull throb of music pulse reverberation
through infinite pornographic blackness,
dull, heavy-industry nihilism.
Let us make monotony with the palour of death
dancing one-legged splayed-led hobble through
arcade flower-beds, tread boldly on a
sea of fragmented polystyrene cups
yelling a name into canyon negative echoes
vocoder-scrambled in wedges of monosyllable.
Let us praise pale abrasions and the silence
of places where no-one can find you,
white, glaring white in spit-bubble pearls
ink-deep in reflection &
ribs caved in, hunched up, spat out.
Let us praise the unravel of M-way lights,
the shimmer of vulnerable flesh in lunar-glow assault,
the insanity-radio night-howling of sirens
burning blue welts, stabbing prowl-car blue blue
sweat scabbing blue hair
tin-can scream lost in Nihilon on
machine-function robotnik dance.
Let us praise dysfunction of
membranes twitching in spasms.
Let us praise death.
Let us make hate.
Let us praise violence.


Published in:
‘S.F. SPECTRUM no.7’ (UK – October 1985)
‘DIE IN THE ROSARY no.1’ (UK – October 1985)
‘PEACE AND FREEDOM no.3’ (UK – February 1986)
‘TEMPUS FUGIT no.13’ (Belgium – May 1991)
and my collection:
‘THE POET’S DELIBERATION ON THE STATE OF THE NATION’
(Penniless Press, 2016) 
ISBN 978-1-326-63536-70 


and recorded (as ‘Incandescent Archetypes’)
by U.V. Pop on
‘ANYONE FOR ME’ 
(12” EP Flowmotion Label – March 1985)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbxvGdn7V0k


Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Interview: HULA - A Sheffield Band



HULA: 
OLD WORLD, 
NEW MACHINES, 
MORE ELECTRIC SHADOWS

 Have you heard the ‘Murmur’
  HULA exist for those emotionally ready to consider 
 the alternatives. Are YOU hip to the jive? 
 ANDREW DARLINGTON 
 investigates Sheffield’s electro-iconoclasts


Elvis Presley scored a no.1 hit with “Rock-A-Hula Baby” in February 1962.

Which has nothing whatever to do with the subject of this interview.

HULA-WHOOP? HULA-BALLOO? HULA! Why Hula?

‘I should invent a REALLY good story for this’ grins Ron Wright. He tends to grin a lot, and talks in a slow loping North-East-tainted drawl that often collapses into hacking disintegrations of laughter. ‘No – it’s just the name of a house where we all used to live. The house had a good ‘pedigree’, if you like, a character! It was the oldest house in Sheffield, dating back to sixteen-hundred-and-something, it used to belong to the Earl of Devonshire. And, well – it had a reputation through the years for things like drug busts, and it was a Gay house. It seemed to cater for all the more deviant elements of society. It was a VERY ODD HOUSE. And… it’s just an interesting name as well. I quite like the sound. It’s evocative, nice vowel sounds. It’s very ambiguous. Around the time of the Punk period, it was incredibly vogue to have heavy and serious-sounding names. We didn’t want to do that, and I’m glad we didn’t, because the name Hula’s more durable.’

So you associate Hula with ‘the more deviant elements of society’? ‘Well – yes!’, like he’s stating the bleeding obvious. And do drug-busts figure as a part of the Hula story? ‘Naw – aniseed balls. That’s about the extent of it…’


HULA: Hawaiian woman’s dance (also hula-hula) native word 
 (‘Concise Oxford Dictionary’) 

The Crucible Theatre is crawling with school-parties, thousands of kids in milling massy throngs. Out the panoramic wrap-around lounge-windows more of them arrive in fleets of air-conditioned coaches. They’re here for ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’. I’m here for Hula. Mark Albrow retrieves a mug of tea from the hatch and carefully measures four sachets of sugar into it. ‘I thought the Teachers Union were on Industrial Action’ I comment morosely, ‘whatever happened to solidarity?’ ‘We ALL know what happened to solidarity’ sez Mark stirring his tea anti-clockwise, backhanding accurately to the Miner’s dispute… or maybe Lech Wałęsa, a sharp guy. Mark wears a battered off-colour leather jacket, an anti-style quiff, and a lazy cynical smile.

John sits beside him in a peaked pvc cap. He’s the newest Hula. ‘John…? John Avery.’ Is that spelt as in the Kinks? ‘The Kinks drummer was Mick AVORY. This is A-v-e-r-y.’ Perhaps I’d best not mention the Kinks connection – bad image associations for an upwardly mobile Industrial-Funk Sheffield unit, right? ‘No – I quite like the Kinks – the way each song is a narrative, a story-line.’

Own-up time. I’ve come callithumping across slow-glimmering Sheffield chasing the movers and shakers of sound-ceremonies that pulse upness and dance in spirit – and we wind up talking… Kinks?!?! From immortality to immorality Hula create the perfect contradictions.


Walking back to their rehearsal studios John divulges he’s from Newcastle – via Manchester, where he played in a band called Cocteau’s Party. He’s been in Sheffield two years, ‘and it’s not worth it.’ He delivers the one-liner deadpan to general hilarity.

In the studio Ron Wright also wears a peaked pvc cap. Can this be an attempt at image projection? Naw – just something they picked up in Holland on that Sheffield-package tour, with Artery, Leitmotiv and In The Nursery. Ron was the original Hula. ‘S’right.’ So when did it all begin? ‘Well – really, I’m trying to think. I can never answer this one, y’know. When was the first gig? It’s about 1981. Before 1981. Mark was in the group when we first played under the name Hula. But before that, before Mark, there was me, Alan Fish (drummer on Cabaret Voltaire’s 1983 ‘Crackdown’ LP) and a lad called Alan Watt. We were rehearsing and trying to develop some form of idea of what we wanted, and we did actually play a gig before we met Mark. We drafted in two girls to sing, they were basically just girlfriends. And that was the first-ever gig we did. Hula hadn’t stuck as a name then. After that we got Mark in, and we played a gig with him, that’s when we first used the name Hula. And that’s it really…’

But that’s not it really, in fact that’s just the beginning. Out of that loose grouping, with participants like Paul Widger (of Box), Pete Care (movie/ video-maker of ‘Johnny YesNo’, 1982) and Mark Brydon (of Chakk/ Moloko), emerged the first Hula line-up responsible for their twelve-inch “Black Pop Workout”. There was Albrow, Watt and Wright, with Fish drumming and Cab’s Stephen Mallinder producing, bass-heavy, extreme howls, distorted sample-bites, dissonant guitar on full gush. The monumental, oft-formless, but never dull debut album ‘Cut From Inside’ (1983) followed – titles like “Dirt Talk” and “Flesh Metal” setting the tone and tuning the attitude. There was also one track on the compilation EP ‘Four From The Floor’ (1983). It featured They Must Be Russians. It also featured Surface Mutants who featured a drummer called Nort. Nort crossed the floor and joined Hula in time to record their finest work yet – the 1984 album ‘Murmur’ and the single “Fever Car” – an Indie charts ‘NME’ Single Of The Week.

Nort enters on cue, direct from signing-on at the Dole Office. He’s chomping a tongue-sandwich. Nort – you played on the Cab’s ‘2X45’ (1982), which specific tracks did you contribute to? ‘I’ve forgot the names.’ Did you play on “Yashar”? ‘No. There were two twelve-inches in the package, and I played on all one side. That’s three tracks.’ How long did the sessions you played with them take? ‘Just a day. Really – just that one day. We rehearsed a day beforehand, then just laid it down.’ He’s now into the second course of his lunch – strawberry yoghurt. You didn’t play live with the Cab’s? ‘No, just the benefit thing – The Pressure Company, I did that.’ A live album came out of that legendary gig – a benefit for (Poland’s) Solidarity movement. Pax-records svengali Marcus Featherby released it. ‘Yeah’ – a leer from Mark. ‘When we find him we’ll break his neck. Marcus Featherby – the invisible man!’


‘The dissonance adds to the psychic effect’ 
 (Marc Chagall) 

Propped-up against the wall of the rehearsal studio are some of Mark’s paintings. A large-canvas of mounds and mounds and mounds of naked Auschwitz-like corpses with Munchesque-disfigurement on their hollow faces – ‘I just wanted to paint something… striking.’ And an attempted family group in pale-wash that’s stormed over in a blizzard of jack-the-dripper pointillism – ‘you could call it a balance between representational and abstract styles’ – jokily. He now restricts his visual-artwork to Hula record sleeves and occasional magazine layout, pure art being ‘too… solitary.’ But Ron Wright also contributes art-crit in the form of a learned dissertation (in ‘Overground’ magazine) on zerox-artist Simon Crump – a man who occasionally guest-saxes on Hula recording dates.

I suggest that Hula’s ideas, methods and motives seem closer to those of ‘artists’ than they are to what we’ll call – for sake of argument, ‘Rock’ music. ‘Yes, I agree’ agrees Mark, ‘I would never call us a Rock group.’ ‘‘Rock’ has horrible overtones now, doesn’t it?’ agrees Ron, ‘it stands for something long ago that should have been put to rest…’ ‘…long ago and far away.’ ‘No – I’d hate to think of us as ‘Rock’’ concludes Ron.

It’s a bad time for Rock, first Elvis Presley dies, Sid Vicious and Ian Curtis – now the Singing Nun suicides! I mean – a time when NUNS off themselves!! (Sister Sœur Sourire, who had a global hit with “Dominique” in 1963, died of a barbiturates overdose 29 March 1985). But – if Hula aren’t Rock, do you see yourselves working in any particular musical tradition or discipline? Mark was talking about John Cage while we are the Crucible?

‘It was YOU talking about tradition and John Cage’ Mark corrects pleasantly. ‘But there IS a tradition, and it goes way back. I mean, no matter who you quote as being your reference point you can always go back and find another one and another one and another one. Ideas that Cage was throwing out in 1954 were similar to ideas that the Futurists were using in 1912 or 1914, and of course, the Dada-ists. Most probably those ideas were floating around in the nineteenth-century too – not in music perhaps, but in related fields.’ So an idea can be taken from one field and used in another? ‘Oh yes.’


And Ron, in your article you say Simon Crump uses repetitive visual images as a kind of rhythmic pattern to his pictures, in much the same way that Hula work with tape-loops or repeated sound motifs. ‘That’s right, yeah.’ Do you see that as a direct cross-over between disciplines? ‘Absolutely. That’s partly why I wrote about him, ‘cos there are similarities. He works in the format of actually physically layering stuff on. I suppose all painters do, but being a layman to the world of art I was just interested in his technique and the effects he produces. He can ‘dismantle’ a picture and remix it like you can remix a song. It’s all layers of acetates. So you can get so many variations on the one set of images or raw materials.’

‘We also have things like film-loops as well. So yes – it works on every level.’

But, to ludicrously over-extend the analogy, artists who work in any medium have to become progressively more extreme to maintain the same initial level of innovation. Art is subject to the laws of diminishing returns, in the same way that pornography must become increasingly extreme to excite the same reactions. ‘I don’t know,’ Ron looks a little perplexed. ‘With pornography, if you go more extreme then you HAVE to be more subtle. By ONLY becoming more extreme you just cater to a more jaded appetite. So – I’m not quite sure where we stand on that one.’ But Hula are working in an area where there are vaguely defined industrial/ experimental precedents, and what Cabaret Voltaire or Throbbing Gristle were doing five years ago no longer shocks or outrages, so you have to develop further from their groundwork, right? ‘Well, I think you’ve got a point. We’ve set our targets on a sort of form for the music we want to do, and obviously we’re gonna get more extreme out of frustration, or just pure inquisitiveness. Just for our own purposes of searching, you know, going down the avenue even further.’

Do you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve? Or are you making it up as you go along?

‘Making it up as we go along’ from Mark.

‘Yeah’ from Ron.


MURMUR: subdued continuous sound, 
 subdued expression of discontent 
 (‘Concise Oxford Dictionary’) 

Outlawing sex in a brothel might be an easier task than stopping musical experiment in Sheffield. There might be an established database of bands, personnel, musical and stylistic peccadillo’s – but is the love affair commercially over? ABC, Heaven 17 and market-leaders Human League have all been turning in disappointing sales figures of late. Is there life out beyond Cabaret Voltaire’s slipstream? Hula exist for those emotionally ready to consider the alternatives. ‘Murmur’ is Hula at its most definitive. It has all the diseased beauty and all the attractions of an image-intensified JG Ballard auto-wreck, so compulsive you just HAVE to take notice, just have to look and listen. Are YOU hip to the jive?

‘Murmur’ – Mark, are you satisfied with the way it turned out? ‘Yes and no.’ Ron? ‘Not particularly. But there’s certain tracks on it that I get great pleasure from. You always come away from the studio and think ‘if only’ and ‘that could’ve been better’, and you’ll always do that, which is perhaps good. It’s not a good thing to be satisfied with what you’re doing.’

And the track “Pleasure Hates Language” – ‘a rip-roaring piece’ sez Mark, the title says to me ‘emotion is more important than intellect’, ‘instinct over rationalism’. Would that be an accurate conclusion to draw? The reaction:

Mark: ‘Yes, basically. That’s how we operate. By intuition as opposed to… what was the word you used? – preconceived.’

Ron: ‘OH ANDY – you ask some REALLY DEEP questions!!!’

Andrew: ‘I’m sorry, it wasn’t meant to be deep, just an observation.’

Ron: ‘No – I think it’s good. It’s just that I’m REALLY trying to think.’

Andrew: ‘In that case, I’ll ask a less deep question. What kind of Groupies does Hula attract?’

Mark: ‘Germ-free ones, I hope!’

Ron (laughter): ‘Hang on – I’m still working on an answer to the previous question…’


Published in:
‘PAGES: December 1985’
(BACK PAGES no.6)
(UK – December 1985)



 HULA: 
BRAIN CAPER FROM 
THE TERMINAL ZONE

‘What Hula play disturbs me, 
so it must fucking hurt some people’ – Nort 
(‘New Musical Express’ 15 December 1984) 


High-tech don’t really come into it.

John Avery makes the tea, but can’t quite get the hang of doing it right without bursting the teabag. While Ron Wright attacks the TV-sets. ‘There’s this video of the Holland tour.’ A small Sony portable shows rows of front-loading washing machines and contented housewives in blurred red-shift colour. While a large 26” screen with a vandalised button-panel refuses to divulge anything more than relentlessly monochrome static. It’s like some freak wearing laser-wire gloves has been rummaging around inside my head.

This is Hula. No zippy-glitzy death-mask of cosmetics, no rehearsed photogenics for the fan-mags, no Fairlight, no videos either. Just a bleak Sheffield rehearsal studio a few doors down from ABC’s Neutron HQ, and a sound that stomps the accelerator through a dead-man’s curve of invention. An intense sound played at demento volume sufficient to blast all opposition to quarks.


‘I think it’s great if this piece goes into ‘Electronic Soundmaker’’ opines Ron over his shoulder. ‘‘Electronic Soundmaker’ is geared up to people describing the equipment they’ve got, that’s fine – but we’ve got NOWT, and we can still produce stuff of a certain sophistication. I mean – when we first recorded, our keyboard bits used to come from a Melodica! We only had a Wasp, so all the keyboard bits we did used to be on a Melodica. We’ve still got the Melodica – fifty-pence! Anyone can make really good keyboard sounds with a really good keyboard. Where’s the challenge? that should be borne in mind. We should get a pat on the back for that.’

Hula have moved on a tad since then, mind. You probably picked up on the buzz emanating from the massive “Black Pop Workout”, their 1982 debut vinyl. Then there was a contribution to the ‘Four From The Floor’ (1983) EP sampler, and the ‘Cut From Inside’ (1983) album – an exercise in the art of darkness programming the compulsively repetitive “Murder In The Clean States”. Experiments in the manipulation of rhythm-bases treated and submerged in hyper-active electronics, vocal chants, and cut-tape trickery that culminates in their most fully realised work – the ‘Murmur’ (1984) album issued through Red Rhino. An evolution shoved further and climaxed with “Fever Car”, a single that drove Hula clear up the Indie charts and ‘opened up new avenues to us. The fact that you can get played on the radio – it starts to make you think, but not a lot. I consider we enjoy what we do too much to think about it in too mercenary a way.’

Chart success, Ron? Just how market-sensitive in Hula? Can studiocraft and soundsmanship alone erode sales resistance? He grins, like the idea’s a novelty he’s not really considered, he’s got no angst to grind – ‘I’d be a very bitter and frustrated man if those were my expectations…’


There are four members of Hula. Ron and Mark Albrow are founders. Nort, the drummer, joined them direct from his work on the Cabaret Voltaire classic ‘2X45’ (1982) and their Pressure Company benefit album. He’s still a much in-demand session-drummer on the Sheffield circuit. He plays roto-toms (‘just bits’) on the excellent UV Pop 12” EP “Anyone For Me”, and helped out (with ex-Box bassist Terry Todd) on Ian Elliot’s current Belgian single “Again I Lift You To My Heart Again” (1984, Another Side SIDE 8417). John joined Hula in time for the Dutch dates, and the more recent ICA appearance which gained such positive press notices. But although their live work remains infrequent, Hula can be mesmeric on stage. The material not so much preconceived as ‘evolved’. It’s a technique they’re still ‘making up’, still perfecting, ‘the longer you do it, the more you learn, so what you ‘make up’ is more informed. But I wouldn’t say it’s preconceived.’ It’s near enough a Jazz process, a working methodology of collecting phrases and ideas, developing skills and mastery of their tools rather than building up a ‘set’ by rote. ‘Soundsmanship rather than actual musicianship’ according to Mark. For Hula the rapport has been honed to a near-telepathic edge, they take ‘just sketches’ up onto the stage, and ‘interpret them on the night,’ and it’s stunning.

The same ethos is applied to recording, where they frisk the studio for whatever techniques they can loot. ‘The thing for us is to keep it OPEN’ emphasises Ron. ‘A lot of groups have a pure image of what they want and they just go straight in and do it, it’s like having a colouring book and they just supply the right colours to what’s already there.’ But in the studio, where outsiders are involved – producers and engineers, reaction can be more varied. ‘That lad in Holland was alright though, wasn’t he’ says John, pondering the kettle in puzzled bemusement.

‘We did the Dutch equivalent of the John Peel session (only there you get a little bit more time than at the BBC!)’ explains Ron. ‘The bloke who did our session was used to doing Folk music and stuff…’

‘…symphony orchestras’ from Mark.

‘I don’t think he’d ever worked so hard in his life as he did with us, and he REALLY appreciated it. He got VERY involved in what we were doing. It’s really funny, they start taking over your ideas. They start thinking in YOUR terms. Like if you start laying down a series of loops they start thinking that EVERYTHING must be loops. It’s like trying to do mixes of stuff – say a keyboard piece, and he says ‘I think if we just do it as a loop…?’ Ron doubles up in laughter. ‘He’d never done a backward reverb before in his life until we came’ adds Mark.


‘Murmur’ was recorded sixteen-track at Amazon and Vibrasound studios. Is sixteen-track sufficient for what they want to achieve? ‘No, not for us’ concedes Ron, ‘because we’re, like, largely quite rhythmic and…’

‘…it takes up a lot of channels…’

‘…to do it well, yes. But we just took a ‘horses for courses’ attitude. Vibrasound HAVE very good equipment and they’re flexible in the way they work. The engineer we use (Mark Estdale) is good and he’s into what we do – ‘cos he also does our live sound!’

‘But I don’t think we’ve had any trouble with engineers, they’ve always been pretty good. We’ve given them things that have tested their capabilities, and they respond to that. If you treat them with respect, with politeness, they’ll respond in kind.’

So – nuts and bolts, what keyboards were used on ‘Murmur’?

Mark: ‘A Casio MT41. An £80 Casio! And a Wasp – he said with pride!’

Ron: ‘We also used a Roland 60 which belonged to the studio. There’s a grand piano in there as well – Vibrasound have a piano. They took it out onto the top of the stairs and we did some stuff with that. But often stuff like piano we’ll record ourselves. We’ll take tape recorders around to someone’s house where there’s a piano – and take a hammer round as well! – and when they’ve gone to the toilet we’ll record some sounds. And all the sax pieces on the album were done in our cellar, round my ‘ouse, we borrowed some recording equipment, the sax pieces were done by us, and then taken into the studio. We store them and just feed them in where or when we’re recording. So a lot of stuff like that is actually prepared by us beforehand, or done by us prior to even entering the studio.’

It’s a mix of spontaneity and preparation, some of it worked out through Hula’s four-track mixer which came through their Red Rhino link-up. And it’s become an important part of their producing a high-quality product with a low-cash investment. Trevor Horne-style high-tech don’t really come into it. ‘You can never get fed up with the potential of tape,’ from Mark. ‘You can use tape to do those things. That’s one thing you can NEVER exhaust.’

High-tech don’t really come into it. That should be borne in mind.


Published in:
‘ELECTRONIC SOUNDMAKER
Vol.3 no.7’ (August) (UK – July 1985)




HULA: 
THE HOOPS AND THE LOOPS 

Hula was founded in Sheffield in 1981. Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Mallinder had a villa named Hula Kula. Three members of Hula used to live there as well – Mark Albrow, Alan Fish and Ron Wright, as well as an endless list of guests including Paul Widger (They must be Russians, Clock DVA, the Box). Naming themselves Hula after the house, they tried bass players Alan Watt, the notorious Chris Brain (Tense, NOS) and Mark Brydon (Chakk, Moloko), then, after the replacement of Alan Fish by Nort (both drummed for the Cabs), they recorded the impressive album ‘Murmur’. Ingredients like cut-ups, steady rhythms, and paranoia vocals were blended together into a unique white funky sound.

Hula recruited John Avery as a bass player, adding lots of video material (Peter Care), and continued to bring out danceable 12” and more experimental albums. With this line-up Hula became more or less stable, for international tours. Radio sessions recorded for VPRO and John Peel were broadcast. Being a support act for Depeche Mode led to performing live in Wembley Arena for huge crowds. 

After Nort left the band in 1986 the music changed, but remained interesting. Later Mark Albrow quit as well. When Red Rhino went bankrupt they moved to Wax Trax, and released the last Hula record – a Jimi Hendrix cover of ‘Voodoo Chile’. Jo Cammack joined officially and they made new songs in 1991, but the material remains in the studio vaults. Eventually Hula broke up. (Cut and pasted from www.soureden.com)

1982 – “Black Pop Workout” (Red Rhino RED 18) 12” with ‘Feeding The Animal’, ‘Ignoring The Famine’, ‘Sacred Serials (Circuits On Full Gush)’, recorded at Western Works with Stephen Mallinder, ‘Junshi’ at Hula Kula. Alan Fish, Mark Albrow (art), Ron Wright (lyrics), Alan Watt

1983 – ‘FOUR FROM THE FLOOR’ (Office Box Records EBO1) Sampler EP with They Must Be Russians, Surface Mutants, Bass Tone Trap and Hula track ‘Skin Illustrations’ recorded at Sheffield Input Studio, art by Peter Care


1983 – ‘CUT FROM INSIDE’ (Red Rhino RED 35), with ‘Flesh Metal’, ‘Mother Courage’, ‘Church Juice’, ‘Murder In The Clean States’, ‘Release The Grip’, ‘Dirt Talk’, ‘Stretch The Attitude’, ‘Subliminal’. Features Mark Brydon (from Chakk – bass, percussion), Alan Fish (drums), Ron Wright (guitar, clarinet, tapes), Mark Albrow (keyboards, tapes, sleeve-art), recorded at Wave Studios with engineer Warne Livesey


1984 – “Fever Car” (Red Rhino RED T47) 12” with ‘(No-One Leaves The) Fever Car’, ‘In The Shutout’, ‘Bats Lost… Bloodrush/ Hard Stripes’

1984 – ‘MURMUR’ (Red Rhino RED 53) with ‘Ghost Rattle’, ‘Invisible’, ‘Delirium’, ‘Pleasure Hates Language’, ‘Tear-Up’, ‘Hour By Hour’, ‘Jump The Gun’, ‘Red Mirror’, ‘Cold Kiss’. Features Ron Wright, Mark Albrow, Nort (drums), sleeve-notes by Amrik Rai, recorded at Vibrasound (engineer Mark Estdale) and Amazon studios (Pete Colman)


1985 – “Get The Habit” (Red Rhino RED T56) 12” with ‘Get The Habit’, ‘Bad Blood’ with Simon Crump (sax). John Avery, Mark Albrow, Nort, Ron Wright

1985 – “Walk On Stalks Of Shattered Glass” (Red Rhino RED T62) 12” c/w ‘Walk On Stalks Of Shattered Glass (version)’. Neil Taylor writes ‘this is probably the worst record in the world EVER… music for art-school zeros’ (‘NME’ 14 December 1985). Enters ‘NME’ Indie chart for one week at no.28, 23 November


1986 – ‘1000 HOURS’ (Red Rhino REDLP63) Double-vinyl LP, two sides live at the ‘Milky Way (Melkweg)’ Amsterdam 24 February 1985 – ‘The Yesman’, ‘Bad Blood’, ‘Hour By Hour’, ‘Ghost Rattle’, ‘Jump The Gun’, ‘Baby Doll’, ‘Hard Stripes’, ‘Freeze Out’, ‘Invisible’ ‘Ambient 2’, ‘Tear-Up’, ‘The Trouble With Benny’, plus two studio sides (1) To Wind You Up – ‘Big Heat’, ‘Sour Eden’, ‘Hothouse’, ‘At The Heart’, (2) To Wind You Down – ‘Big-Car (Both Ways)’, ‘Bribery And Winning Ways’, ‘Gelsomina’, ‘Marxnixstraat’. With John Avery, Mark Albrow, Nort, Ron Wright. ‘In the darkness and out of the chatter there’s acing fists being pounded on a splintery table’ Paul Mathur (‘Melody Maker’ 15 February 1986)

1986 – “Freeze Out” (Red Rhino RED T64) 12” with ‘Freeze Out (Club + Radio cuts)’ plus ‘Not A Second Glance’ radio cut from Radio One John Peel Show. ‘Hula find the contagious beat and stamp it out, slice it with synth shards, deadly sidewipes. Voices wander, admonish, fade and return wailing, exasperated while sirens whir and while… the Hula heartbeat is slavering and slippery’ (Gavin Martin, ‘NME’ 12 April 1986)

May 1986 – ‘ABSTRACT issue 6’: Audio Visual’ (Sweatbox SAM006), compilation LP compiled by and issued with magazine, features Chakk, The Anti-Group, A Certain Ratio, In The Nursery plus exclusive Hula track ‘Motor City Nightmare’ engineered by La Comte at Vibrasound

May 1986 – ‘IMMINENT TWO’ (food Bite Two) compilation with UV Pop, 400 Blows, Biting Tongues and Hula track ‘Bad Blood’ from ‘Get The Habit’


1986 – ‘SHADOWLAND’ (Red Rhino REDLP71) Hula Live Noise at The Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, 26/8/1985, commissioned by Sheffield City Arts Department to put together a special performance to include certain sound sculptures featured in the Arts Council’s touring Noise In Your Eye exhibition. These two ‘untitled’ sides are a document of that night with Mark Albrow, Nort, Ron Wright, Adam Barnes, John Avery, Simon Crump

October 1986 – “Black Wall Blue” (Red Rhino RED T72) 12” with ‘Black Wall Blue’, ‘Stocky’, ‘2am’. Recorded and mixed at Fon Studios. Also makes ‘NME’ Indie chart for one week at no.28, 25 October

1987 – “Poison” (Red Rhino RED T74) 12” c/w ‘Poison (Club Mix)’. Directed by Daniel Miller. ‘A Pop mix that’s likely to stimulate interest and a club mix that’s as hard as you’ll get. Stalwarts will be obsessed, new converts won’t be disappointed’ (‘Underground no.1’, June 1987). Makes ‘NME’ Indie charts for two weeks from 28 March, peaking at no.17

1987 – ‘VOICE’ (Red Rhino RED LP75) with ‘Give Me Money (Till It’s Crawling Out Of My Face)’, ‘See You Tomorrow’, ‘Cut Me Loose’, ‘Bush no.2’, ‘Cold Stare’, ‘Clear Water’, ‘Torn Silk’, ‘Seven Sleepers’, ‘Poison’. With John Avery, Mark Albrow, Ron Wright, with Nort, Alan Fisch (drums), Robert Gordon engineer at Fon Studio, Daniel Miller producer on three tracks. ‘The first Hula album to be graced by songs and, as such, it’s their greatest achievement yet’ (‘Melody Maker’ 16 May 1987) 

1987 – “Cut Me Loose” (Red Rhino RED T80) 12” with ‘Cut Me Loose’, ‘Cut Me Up’, ‘Burn It Out’, ‘Invisible (Live)’, ‘Walk On Stalks Of Shattered Glass (Live)’ title track lifted from ‘Voice’ LP recorded at Fon, plus live cuts from Wembley Arena

November 1987 – ‘THRESHOLD’ (Red Rhino RED LP83) compilation, ‘Fever Car’, ‘Get The Habit’, ‘Freeze Out (Club Mix)’, ‘Black Wall Blue’, ‘Big Heat’, ‘Mother Courage’, ‘Walk On Stalks Of Shattered Glass (Version)’, ‘Tear Up’, ‘Junshi’

May 1988 – “VC1” (US Wax Trax! Records WAX 046) 12” with ‘VC1 (arrangement of Jimi Hendrix ‘Voodoo Chile (very) Slight Return)’, ‘VC7 (radio version)’, ‘Clock Don’t Stop The Heart’. Recorded at Vibrasound and The Forge, with John Avery, Ron Wright, Jo Cammack (voice), Darrel D’Silva (sax), Alan Fisch (producer/ engineer)

1994 – ‘HULA: THE BEST OF’ (Anagram Records CDMGRAM 81) compilation, as ‘Threshold’ plus ‘Ghost Rattle’, ‘Hard Stripes’, ‘Poison (Club Mix)’, ‘Give Me Money’, ‘Cut Me Loose’, ‘Seven Sleepers’

2014 – ‘TENEMENT NOISE’ as Kula (Stephen Mallinder and Ron Wright) limited edition CD album of 1000 copies Klanggalerie gg188. Ron Wright and Mal of the Cabs recorded a piece of music together titled ‘Tenement Noise’ back in 1981, a rough, abstract piece of dark ambient/Industrial soundscapes. Until this release, it has never seen the light of day. While, as bonus tracks, Ron and Mal have made new versions of the track in 2013/4 – ‘Beat Mix’, ‘Reims Cathedral Mix, ‘Beatless Mix’

June 2016 – ‘LIVE AT THE LEADMILL 11 June 1983’ (Sheffield Tape Archive, 8xFile, FLAC) with ‘Flesh Metal’, ‘Mother Courage’, ‘Release The Grip’, ‘Scared Series’, ‘Murder In The Clean States (Baby Doll)’, ‘Unknown’, ‘Subliminal’, ‘Jump The Gun’. Alan Fish, Mark Albrow, Mark Brydon, Ron Wright



Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Poetry Collection: ‘THE RINGMASTER’S APPRENTICE’ by OZ HARDWICK



THE WIZARD OF YORK

Book Review of: 
 ‘THE RINGMASTER’S APPRENTICE’ 
by OZ HARDWICK 
ISBN 978-1-908853-43-1. Softcover. 54pp


There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis. And Oz Hardwick knows where he lives. He knows because when he asks the man next door ‘are you…?’, he ‘shrugged his shoulders and said: uh-huh’. The fifth collection from this York-based poet, photographer and musician, operates around narrative poems, short fictions that tell a story designed to slyly draw you in, while freighted with ambiguities to tantalisingly hint these incidents are fragments ripped from some greater text. The journey – and it is a journey, starts, or does not start at Adlestrop, a steam train name that recalls a station once glimpsed by Edward Thomas. So it’s Lit-literate, but equally music-informed. Oz quotes Woody Guthrie’s beat-troubadour “Bound for Glory” with a ‘cheap guitar slung in the rack’ before taking in a Rock ‘n’ Tour of Plymouth rifted with generational nostalgia. He goes where stories grow off the edges of maps, chasing the white line from night to night, from one unfixed point to another. Secret ciphers, arranged in codes of whim and chance. Until he finally hits a border that isn’t on the map. Oz is a miser with words, hoarding his vocabulary as though it’s a life’s savings. Then snipes and snaps the words out, tight, making certain each word counts, as though – if he has to part with them, it’s better this way. While in the space between glances ‘hangs more poetry than I will ever write.’ Oz knows secrets you need to share, not just about the Elvis living next door.

Originally published in:
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ Vol.2 No.49 Jan-February
(UK – January 2015)


Monday, 25 February 2019

Glam-Punk: NEW YORK DOLLS



STILL LOOKIN’ FOR A KISS 

Album review of: 
‘NEW YORK DOLLS’ 
& ‘TOO MUCH TOO SOON’ 
 by THE NEW YORK DOLLS 
 (1988 CD of two original albums Mercury 33PD-422/
first issued as a Mercury PRID12 Double – May 1986)


In his learned volume ‘Dressing Up: Transvestitism And Drag’ (Thames & Hudson, 1979) Peter Ackroyd declares the New York Dolls ‘radically subversive’, and, sure – the scuzzbags were something of a Fabergé hand-grenade. For these five demon Barbies construct a bridge from class-sixties Situationist outrage to what was best of the seventies to come, from Shadow Morton to Malcolm McLaren, from the Shangri-Las (‘when I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in lurve – L-U-V’) to the Sex Pistols. They might not have been the first cross-dressing sleazeballs by a long mainline shot. Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention dragged up for the ‘We’re Only In It For The Money’ (March 1968) smudges, as bearded and repulsive as the Dolls would later be gaudy and bawdy. The Rolling Stones did it for their “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby” promo-film. While “18”-period Alice Cooper in ripped fishnet tights threatened all manner of transvestite perversions before quitting shock-rock for Los Angeles golf-courses with Andy Williams.


But New York’s own Livin’ Dolls – one Mick Jagger and four Keith Richards’, resprayed in napalm lip-gloss, occupy the centre-ground between decades. From 1971-’75 there’s no-one to touch their deranged turbo-charged adrenaline energies – artificial, chemical-based, glam-drogynous lady-boys, but magnesium-bright. See them teeter precariously on their stack-heel glitter-wedges on Old Grey Bob Harris’ ‘Whistle Test’, a screaming double-lead mess of irresistible noise, sixteen and savaged. Just look at the album jacket – in an era dressed-down in faded denim and copious dandruff only the Dolls blatantly list their hair-spray and cosmetics in the liner notes. Look at Johnny ‘Gonzales’ Thunder reading ‘16’ teen-zine strung out on the meat-rack all those years before he became a Heartbreaker who tripped-out on “Chinese Rocks” – he’s the pure incarnation of “Trash” in a “Personality Crisis”. See David Johansen strutting a slutty paedophile’s wet dream – he’s a “Vietnamese Baby” “Looking For A Kiss” long before he got ‘Funky But Chic’. Then there’s bassist Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain on that hung-over “Subway Train” headed for the ‘Last Exit To Brooklyn’, fuelled on Bo Diddley’s “Pills”. Drummer Billy (Murcia) Doll suicided even before that first album, so it’s Jerry Nolan there under the lipstick cover-scrawl logo at the precise nexus where “Jet Boy” meets the “Bad Girl”.

And the first album – ‘New York Dolls’ (July 1973) is metal-punk all the way, bratty riffs, slurred and messy, as snotty as a runny nose, yet melding into something that not-so-much smells as reeks of teen spirit. So much so that in its tarty wake volume two just has to be something of a post-coital anti-climax. Hence ‘Too Much, Too Soon’ (May 1974) stacks up four odd non-originals, the vamped-up novelty near-hit “Stranded In The Jungle” – which makes it for at least three or four plays. And the Gamble and Huff ‘n’ puff “There’s Gonna Be A Showdown”, which doesn’t. “Mystery Girls”, “Babylon”, and “Puss ‘n’ Boots” compensate some, they French-kiss and tell with the best. And both albums siamesed together in this bargain-basement twin-set form a megaton-happy prestige fun-pack.


  ‘Radical’? ‘Subversive? – the New York Dolls? Perhaps not – bless their little latex panties. Without them, would Rock history be significantly different? Probably not. Morrissey (Steven not Dick) joined the ‘New York Dolls Fan Club’, McLaren for-sure picked up some useful strategies from his brief late-flounce as the Dolls’ manager, which he subsequently fine-tuned for targeting the Pistols’ outrage, betcha there’s more Dolls than Velvet Underground on the Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat”, and… er, without them would Tony James’ Sigue-Sigue Sputnik coxcomb have been quite so flash? We could drag Wayne/Jayne County, and perhaps even some of Marilyn Manson’s more calculated outrage into the equation. But why bother? Even though the surviving Dolls reform for London’s 2004 Meltdown Festival at Morrissey’s behest, Melvyn Bragg will never devote a ‘South Bank’ hour to them.

But ‘Let me ask you just one question, do you think you could make it with Frankenstein’? These guys did.

For Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane – 1951-2004 

(April 2009) CAUSE I SEZ SO (Atco) Five years after the 2004 reformation, and three since their glossy-sounding Jack Douglas-produced comeback album ‘One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This’ (Roadrunner), reinstalled with their 1973 producer Todd Rundgren, David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain cover familiar ground, sixties girl groups and unvarnished Faces riffs, with a raw swaggering sound and a lyrical vulnerability that comes from acting their age. A downbeat “Making Rain”, ‘the beefy title track and a mournful, reggae version of 1973’s ‘Trash’ are just two of many highlights’ says Campbell Stevenson (‘Observer Music Monthly), ‘this most unlikely reunion is in danger of being a big success’.

Originally on website:
‘SOUNDCHECKS’  
(January 2005)


Sunday, 24 February 2019

Comicbook History: 'SWIFT MORGAN'




‘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 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…!” 

The 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 garish 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, vivid Sci-Fi spectacle is 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 (sic) territory at terrific speed.’ In his comprehensive ‘Encyclopedia Of Comic Characters’ – while noting Swift Morgan as ‘the most popular space hero of his period’, Denis Gifford takes time to point out the ‘unchartered’ blooper in the opening text-box. Nevertheless, crash-landing in a strange jungle realm the intrepid pair soon find themselves imperilled by prehistoric orange-and-green monsters. Blonde rugged Swift exclaims ‘By the…!’ – self-censored by three dots, ‘a flesh-eating tyrant dinosaur!’ – as in ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex’? It’s 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.


Swift may have been something new, but the derivation of his name is not too difficult to determine. There was always the American ‘Flash Gordon’. Think 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 20 May 1937. But the war years, and paper rationing intervened – an extinction event for so many magazines. It was not 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 15 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 work for 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 this new breed of British Space Hero? For Denis McLoughlin there were two distinct cultural traditions to draw from, with a clear transatlantic divide, interacting and feeding off each other. It’s worth remembering that Science Fiction – going back to Jules Verne, was a European invention. More specifically, from HG Wells on, it was British. So its picture-strip counterparts took their tone from those more measured text-based scientific speculations. That remains 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 triumph over adversity.


Britain launched its own first SF magazine with a juvenile slant, the twenty issues of the short-lived weekly ‘Scoops’, as early as 1934, spaced between 10 February and 23 June. With giant rampaging robots and futuristic cities, it announced itself as ‘Stories Of The Wonder-World Of Tomorrow’, with serialised 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.

Meanwhile, Hugo Gernsback’s earliest New York-based forays into SF magazine-publishing drew heavily on Verne and Wells original material, before evolving its own distinctive school of American fantasists. While American picture-strips took off by following the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fantasy model, then by mutating it into the super-hero genre. So Americans already had Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Brick Bradford. For British SF strips, still finding their feet, there’s obviously got to be genre family-tree material there. But, because trans-Atlantic connections were not so immediate back then as they are now, and new fads travelled in distorted ways, taking on localised influences as they did so, there were other elements adding their inputs too.


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 had been 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 Morgan, 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 this is a H Rider Haggard ‘She’-variant hidden realm – echoing ‘Scoops’ contributor Conan-Doyle’s ‘Lost World’, or a portal through time 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, because 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’.

Swift and Silver 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, in their next tale, they’re off by submarine to Atlantis via the Canary Isles. ‘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. Their location is precisely pinpointed – Latitude 26N, Longitude 15.10W to be exact, for the convenience of expeditions yet to be mounted? Meanwhile ‘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). 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 broadcast and spin-off movie role-model – Carson, ‘The Best in Illustrated Detective Fiction’, 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 his acceleration towards escape velocity may have been boosted by the supernova explosion of Dan Dare over at ‘Eagle’, launched just four months earlier (14 April 1950). So does that render Swift Morgan’s first-Brit 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 press-cutting from the ‘Daily Mail’. A detailed report of recent UFO sightings appendaged to the art, datelined ‘New York, Tuesday’. 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’. And 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. If Kids couldn’t relate to spaceships, they knew what the streamlined rocket images of the V2 look like.

The artwork uses a single colour-tint, which fortunately happens to be red. So that ‘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 one of those canals to Martinia, city of Emperor Meturas. Again, there is treachery. Secret Police Chief Staren is in league with invaders from Saturn, and he uses 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 Emperor 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,’ concedes the wise Emperor. Vindicated, and with Silver’s rescue accomplished, the courageous Earthling co-ordinates the planetary defences. Until ‘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. It’s 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 too – or, this time, the Saturians, in ‘The Robot Empire’ when Dictator Sol dupes the newly discovered planet Mekka into forging an alliance in order 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.

And the planet-hopping continues. 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 Strang, a barbarian of the saurian Booloo Tribe, 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’, 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.’ With spot-illustrations by Ron Forbes, the artist responsible for early ‘Captain Condor’ art in ‘Lion’, the text is credited to James Hart. There was a James Hart who published a few low-key SF tales around the time. Was it the same man? History is not exactly clear about these credits. Swift is 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! And more ‘unchartered (sic) territory’.

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-1950s. His decline eclipsed by more famous Space Heroes with more ambitious colour-art, higher-profile distribution, and yes – superior tales. There were to be no revivals or reinventions. 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. What happened to Swift and Silver afterwards? We can but speculate. She was never the pushy Miss Peabody scientist type. Did they marry and set up that little homestead on the Syrtis Major Planum irrigated by the sweet meltwaters of a nearby canal, and raise strange children? I’d like to think so. We’ll never know.

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. As a child, I collected them, and loved them, especially the features on what we’d now term Native American history and culture. Although he was also responsible for painting the full-colour covers for as many as 700 paperback and dust-jacket novels, Cowboys and Romances. His art adorns 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 picture-strip 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 story-arc that begins in ‘Thunder’ (1970-71), then – following a merger, continues in ‘Lion’ (1971-72). The ‘family’ consists of escaped performance-beasts from Downer’s Circus, and the charismatic Fury who is able to speak the beast’s language in eloquent speech-bubbles declaring ‘Murb thoora jooka nij prakka!’ McLoughlin’s penmanship brings the characters to life, Chieftain The Lion, Rajah The Elephant, and a giant gorilla. Another much-admired strip carried by McLoughlin art is X-Agent ‘Jake Jefford’, whose Secret Service adventures begin with ‘Sign Of The Shark’ running in ‘Wizard’ from 14 June 1975-77. So he was working for both IPC and DC Thomson, for ‘Victor’ and ‘Bullet’, for ‘Warlord’ as well as the pocket-sized ‘Commando Library’.

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 WORLD3d ‘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(12-pages)

(no.9 – November 1948) SWIFT MORGAN: AND THE FEATHERED SERPENT’ 

(no.16 – June 1949) SWIFT MORGAN: IN ATLANTIS’ 

THE SUPERCOLOURED COMIC ANNUAL no.1 (Moring/ TV Boardman – 1949) includes text-story “Swift Morgan: And The Antarcians”


(no.30 – August 1950) SWIFT MORGAN: AND THE FLYING SAUCERS (12-pages)

THE SUPERCOLOURED COMIC ANNUAL no.2 (Moring/ TV Boardman – 1950) includes previously unpublished “Swift Morgan: And The Knights Of The Round Table” and text-story “The Fortress Of Phantoms”

(no.38 – April 1951) SWIFT MORGAN: AND THE GREEK WARS’ 

SUPERCOLOURED COMIC ANNUAL no.3 (Moring/ TV Boardman – 1951) includes only Denis McLoughlin spot-art for text stories featuring ‘Roy Carson’ and ‘Blackhawk’

(no.50 – March 1953) SWIFT MORGAN SPACE COMICnew-format 6d ‘POPULAR PRESS’ 28-page with colour cover and black-and-white interior, includes “Planet Of Destiny” (16-pages) – ‘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”, the story opens ‘the year 1948, a flash high in the sub-stratosphere’ and a King-size monster grows in the African jungle. Art: Denis McLoughlin Story: Colin McLoughlin. Later reprinted in ‘GREAT BRITISH FANTASY COMIC BOOK HEROES’ (Ugly Ducking Press, 2011 Edit: Phil Clarke and Mike Higgs from ‘Blasé Press’, Hazelwood, Birchfield Rd, Redditch B97 6PU blasebooks@aol.com)

THE ADVENTURE ANNUAL no.1 (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 and 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

(no.54 – 1954) ROY CARSON COMICincludes “Swift Morgan: On The Isle Of Giants”

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

see also THE COMIC ART OF DENIS McLOUGHLIN no.1: A COMICS MONOGRAPHS SPECIAL ISSUE(2007) 96-pages, includes ‘Swift Morgan And The Ancient Egyptians’, ‘Swift Morgan And The Flying Saucers’, ‘Swift Morgan On The Planet of Destiny’, ‘Swift Morgan And The Robot Empire’, ‘Swift Morgan And The Beast from Outer Space’, ‘Sam English: Museum Rover’, ‘Roy Carson And The Old Master’, ‘Roy Carson At The Festival’

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).

Revised and extended version
of a feature originally published in:
‘DREAMBERRY WINE (August)’
(UK – August 2006)


Thursday, 31 January 2019

Poem: 'Shakespeare Never Meant Shit To Me'



SHAKESPEARE NEVER 
MEANT SHIT TO ME 

 ‘Elvis was a hero to most, 
but he never meant shit to me’ 
– Chuck D 

when Elvis recites ‘someone said the world’s a stage’
that’s sacred black vinyl back then, not this Bard,
not this Shakespeare dude, I only found that out later,
and yes, when I think Mark Anthony, it’s Sid James
his face as crumpled as an old leather glove
ogling sweetly naked bath-time Amanda Barrie,
the only Cleopatra I can ever truly love,
in the infamy of poetry that carries on forever,
Shakespeare might be a hero to most
but he never meant shit to me,
Forbidden Planet’s got Robby the Robot
who pisses booze from a chest cavity, battles
invisible monsters on Altair’s 4th planet and watches
Altaira, coy by the swimming-hole in that short tunic,
after that, I got no time for Prospero and Caliban,
it’s me that got thrashed for giggling at comicbooks
at the back of the English class when we’re
supposed to be lit-critiquing Merchants of Venice,
still feeling the pain when we get to Verona
where the tour-guide shows us this balcony,
I mean, that Bard never left creaky old England
how can they say this is the one in his rom-com
where those doomy teen-twink kids get it on?
next we’re in Stratford and I’m expecting thatch,
I mean, you’d expect thatch at the very least,
but they got Costa and they got Dominoes,
and a statue down by the lake where
bored pigeons crap and peck at pizza,
and the stage is bare, I’m standing there
with emptiness all around, thinking
Shakespeare might be a hero to most
but he never meant shit to me…


From my book:
‘TWEAK VISION: THE WORD-PLAY 
SOLUTION TO MODERN-ANGST CONFUSION
Alien Buddha Press (USA – March 2018)
www.facebook.com/groups/1199211926755548/