Monday 20 December 2010

'Primal Leaks: For Julian Assange'


‘as to the evil which results from a censorship,
it is impossible to measure it, for it is
impossible to tell where it ends…’
– Jeremy Bentham

at 14:55 Johannes Gutenberg goes online
with the first PDF, portable document format folio
in individually cast icons of lead, tin & antimony
transmitting explosively subversive technology that
will snatch control from monarchs, popes & emperors
from the exclusive hands of priestly cabals
who exercise power through incomprehensible
incantations of contradiction & hypocrisies by
disseminating information through print-viral replication
inconvenient truths accessed cheaply for the first time
democratising radical opinion fit to transform worlds
blowing apart old hegemonies forever
in codes without borders, beyond censors
leading to wars, revolutions & modern science,
it’s not Gutenberg’s intention to uptilt authority
he doesn’t anticipate the Reformation
can’t envisage the shock of modern science
or the rise of new dissident classes and agendas
not he, nor anyone else at the time, ever dreams
just how profound the new media will impact
he just moves type, that’s all
yet unleashes everything, a database of
more books published in 50 years from
multiple servers than in a previous 1000,
paradigms shift & will not be unshifted
what’s invented will not to be uninvented,
new lines will not be undrawn
new accommodations will be made…

Captain Beefheart At The 'Unity Hall', Wakefield

Event Inputs: 16th November 1980

The Captain drinks Perrier water
during savage copulations of the moon
inspires horizontal illogics that slither
feral in conceptual proliferation.
He farts in ‘B’ to the sound of
falling piano’s, fractured public image of
spasmic-vomiting honks, and howling wolf
lunar-light fucks, vowels furtive,
slinking razor-cuts fearing immolation
of blood, until teeth ache with amplification pulse,
and Pentax-lenses claw detail-precision cuts,
slicing noise into neat permanences.
Such rationalisation is obscene.
Moondog bassman hair bubbles in
cartoon thoughts of huge exclamation marks,
a maze of Assyrian equations, a tangle
of limbs in dark sequential frames,
a jugular discord sucking in the circular
terror of drowning in exhalations
of Perrier moisture. Spurt by spurt.
The Captain hurtles at impact,
comes through splintered
but idiot-dribbling wise…

Don Van Vliet (15th January 1941 – 17 December 2010) doesn’t much like Punk. At least, not this night he doesn’t. Throughout the performance he snipes barbed scorn at what was then-happening in music. Which is disappointing, in a way. You’d imagine he’d recognise a certain congruence of strategy between what he was doing, and at least the provocative mischief that lay at the roots of Punk. Particularly as ‘Doc At The Radar Station’ – the album he was promoting, is his most raw and abrasive in a while, with stunning onstage attacks of “Run Paint Run Run”, “A Carrot Is As Close As A Rabbit Gets To A Diamond” and “Making Love To A Vampire With A Monkey On My Knee”. But ‘hippie music’ was suddenly uncool, and the tour was poorly attended as a result, which is probably more what his vile bile is about. The guitarist mentioned is long-term Magic Bander Jeff Moris Tepper. Beefheart wears voluminous white pants with immense baggy pockets crammed lumpily with mysterious artefacts. From the depths of his pockets he produces felt-tips, and sketches surreal cartoons which he passes out to people in the audience… unfortunately, I’m not swift enough to snatch one. Damn! It would’ve made legendary cover-art for my ‘zine…!

Published in:
‘STOMP’ (UK – January 1984)
‘MINOTAUR No.21’ (USA – July 1990)

Robert Silverberg 'Across A Billion Years' review


Retro Book Review of:
(Victor Gollancz, 1977. Magnum
Paperback edition, 1979 – ISBN: 0-417-03150-5)

Robert Silverberg wears many faces. Because the one he wears for ‘Across A Billion Years’ is playful doesn’t mean this book’s not a serious contender. Where it gives the impression of being produced quickly, enjoyably, with little revision or polishing, it’s inventive energy is formidable, it’s use of language is often hugely entertaining, and the ideas it throws away in passing are sufficient to keep lesser writers in novels for years to come. Even when he’s operating on cruise-mode, Robert Silverberg can still be startling. His High Ones are not exactly a new concept in the SF multiverse. Ever since fantasists first devised expeditions to Mars there have been extraterrestrial archaeologists excavating the lost cities of extinct alien civilisations. Then there’s the teasing evidence of ancient visits left by extra-solar races, such as Frederick Pohl’s luminous Heechee tales initiated by the discovery of incomprehensible star-sourced artefacts found within the swirling superheat of Venus. Alien meddling in antiquity is also an idea integral to the ‘Stargate’ TV-franchise, or the mysterious ‘Shadows’ of ‘Babylon Five’. Inevitably, Silverberg adds new aspects and angles to this continuum, researching back ten-million centuries into ‘a past so distant we could barely comprehend its remoteness’.

Set in 2375, the novel is conversationally related by archaeologist Tom Rice into a message cube intended for twin-sister Lorie back on Earth. Although paralysed and permanently confined to a hospital bed, she is telepathically hooked into the galactic network of telepaths that provides the only instantaneous communication grid between star systems. As Tom explains to her, his vocation is all about finding what is hidden. Archaeologists fight ‘the force in the universe that nudges everything towards chaos’, they are the ‘enemies of entropy’ who ‘struggle to recapture everything, back to the beginning of creation’. As such, he’s part of an expedition to bleak planet Higby V where remains of the so-called High Ones have been discovered, ‘separated from us by a billion-year gap’. It’s the twenty-third site, or outpost, to be discovered, although no home world has so far been identified. The High Ones’ culture dates from 1,100,000,000 years back, and seems to have survived a quarter-of-a-billion years. No-one knows where they came from, or what became of them. The party is made up of a deliberately comic collection of the diverse races encountered and linked into a more-or-less friendly community alongside the expanding human presence. Some species are relatively older, some younger, but none have histories stretching as far back as the time of the High Ones. Kelly is a ninety-year-old android with the body of a nineteen-year-old, focussing Tom’s confused feelings for despite a very sexy penchant for nudity her lack of navel betrays her vat-origins, so extinguishing any desire he may otherwise have felt for her. He’s also more than a little disturbed by the prospect that inter-breeding with androids might actually improve the human genetic stock. Merrik from Dinamon IX is a cross between a bulldozer and a blue-tusked rhinoceros, he recites love poetry and gets euphorically drunk on pollen. Dr Horkkk from the Rigel-system world Thhh has three bulging eyes on the top of his head, two mouths – one for talking, the other for eating, and he’s so thin that when viewed sideways he’s invisible. Pilazinool of Shilamak is a Borg-type man-machine who spends a lot of time polishing his artificial implants. He worries about getting grit in his gears, and at times of stress he unscrews his limbs into a pile. There’s also a yellow octopus called 408b, and others, but you get the point. Dr Milton Schein is the Marsport University paleoarchaeologist who first excavated High Ones artefacts near Syrtis Major.

The ‘racially balanced quota’ is part of the novel’s sly humour, early satire sniping at a kind of political correctness in which ‘liberals must have their way’. Tom also mentions in passing that Cairo, Syria and Baghdad are all part of Israel! There are Soap-Opera three-way attractions by way of diversion and distraction, while Silverberg also introduces a slang-vocabulary, somewhat in the Anthony Burgess’ ‘Clockwork Orange’ tradition of nadsat. People are ‘vidj’, and a conversation about the origins of the High Ones progresses through ‘Nonsense’ into ‘Feeby foolery’, then ‘unscientific blenking’ and ‘a lot of silly fission’. There’s an accusation of ‘idiotic slice’ and then ‘intellectual nilliness’, which all adds to the quirky oddness and – after all, language will not remain static. It will change, if not necessarily in this way, then in some similarly unexpected unpredictable directions. So this playful invention stands in for such changes.

On Higby V they excavate familiar High Ones’ artefacts, inscription notes, plaques, puzzle-boxes, ‘broken bits and rusty scraps’ until the game changes with the discovery of a sphere that projects images of the six-limbed dome-headed humanoid aliens and their aerial city of suspended teardrop dwellings. Observing a sequence dated to 941,285,008 ago, in which a robot is sealed into an artificial vault on an asteroid, they determine to find out if it’s still there. Lunar City Observatory identifies the revealed star-formation with billion-year compensation-adjustment, pinpointing what is now the Black Dwarf star GGG 114591. Despite Galaxy Central misgivings they set out through the twisty-twisty of ultradrive to go there. So that ‘a species only a million years or so away from apehood’ arrive, as in Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’, like ‘travellers from an antique land’ into the dead star-system. The hibernating robot is still there. 408b is vapourised by its protective lightning field, but once it has established they are essentially ‘friendly organsisms’, with them unable to decipher its ancient language, it simply learns theirs. He is Dihn Ruuu of the Mirt Korp Ahm, the true name for the High Ones. But the ‘dismayed and confused’ robot reveals that its creator’s home-star can no longer be seen. It’s not there. Instead it redirects and accompanies the expedition to the High One’s colony world on McBurney’s Star IV, although abandoned by its creators a mere eighty-four-million years ago it’s still a fully-functioning self-sufficient planet run by self-repairing, self-lubricating, virtually immortal robots. They reveal that the High Ones constructed a Dyson sphere around their own sun, hence its invisibility. ‘What about the laws of physics?’ protests one of the team. ‘Repealed, I guess’ suggests Tom.

The Galaxy Central Navy sends an ultradrive cruiser, first to arrest them, then to transport them to the Mirt system. They enter the sphere through a portal the size of Ohio, to witness the tragic melancholy fate of the ancients they’d sought. For here, the ‘hairy primitives that we are’, the story of the High ones explodes up out of archaeology into the real dazzle. The story has two endings. One downbeat, the other transformational. The civilisation of the High Ones reached a plateau of achievement, only to become sterile and static. Retreating from the universe that no longer interests them, into their sphere, as ‘empty creatures rotting in crystal cages’. They are here, ‘hideously frighteningly old’, the last of the dinosaurs, or a system of mummies come to a semblance of death-in-life. ‘I wish we had never been allowed to see this’ grumbles Tom. But inadvertently, through trying out Mirt technology, he – and all of the allied sentient races of the galaxy, acquire telepathic powers. A racial, no, a galactic transfiguration. He merges with twin-sister Lorie back on Earth, and realises it was he who has been the cripple all along. The High Ones were an evolutionary dead-end, the new races will not be. Tom warns that ‘it’s unhealthy to gulp down a surfeit of miracles, it gives one indigestion of the imagination.’ If so, for those about to read this novel, prepare for over-dose! If it’s playfulness is due to its targeting accessible tweenage readers, then that’s not to denigrate it. Robert Silverberg can be startling, whatever lit-face he happens to be wearing. Within its own vocabulary, to read ‘Across A Billion Years’ is to be truly ‘croggled’. It gives you the dizzies, eh?

'I Was Elvis Presley's Bastard Love-Child' Interview




Frank Zappa said ‘writing about music is like
dancing about architecture’. ‘I WAS ELVIS PRESLEY’S
BASTARD LOVE-CHILD’, collects eighteen music
interview features, revisiting highlights from twenty
years of on-the-road journalism, including
conversations with THE BYRDS, LEFTFIELD,
this is the sound of dancing architecture

‘False-colour photos from the dark side of Uranus. A switch-back of black rings no unlensed eyes have yet seen, a dance of ten new unpaced black moons in lost frigid orbits, beautiful and complex... but what the hell FOR? For whose benefit? If those moons, those rings, didn’t exist would it REALLY upset some vast eternal cosmic plan? The system runs in total impersonal isolation, according to its own illogics and for the apparent benefit of no-one. A Wonderful and Frightening World... like the Fall. Ring-systems of black vinyl noise across some ten albums, a spatchcock of LP’s with tracks not so much posed or even composed – more decomposed. A more extensive back-catalogue than that racked up by either Velvet Underground or the Doors. But a band hermetically sealed off in its own space-time continuum run on its own devious motives. As real, and as irrelevant as Uranus. The Fall are something of an enigma, and one worth probing...’ (extract from the chapter interviewing the Fall’s Mark E Smith)

‘Music is like acne. Zits. Teenage spots. In the vast eternal cosmic scheme of things, it’s not very important. But if it touches your life, if it affects you, if it alters your relationship with the world and with other people, then it’s important. If it’s important to you, then it’s important.’ Andrew (on the book-jacket, Andy in the flesh) Darlington’s current book is called ‘I Was Elvis Presley’s Bastard Love-Child’. Published by the ‘Critical Vision’ imprint of Manchester’s fiercely independent ‘Headpress’ it’s a glossy package made up of eighteen revised music interviews, personally selected highlights lifted from over twenty years of Music Journalism, and a life-time of slavery to the rhythm. And these are brain-biting, body-popping, paradigm-morphing, genetically-modifying, phase-realigning, gravity-neutralising, gender-reassigning, semantics-defying, shape-shifting, DNA-tingling pieces of Sex, Speed, and ‘See-You-Later-Alligator’ jive. ‘Andy is a poet, but he is also an intrepid pioneer at the edges of all things creative and life-affirming’ enthuses SF writer Michael Butterworth in his full-on foreword, ‘he is editor, publisher, journalist, writer of fiction, promoter /entrepreneur, Poet-for-Sale, often simultaneously’.

But ‘I was essentially a fucked-up adolescent,’ Andy confides in person, here and now. ‘I was wrecked on trashy Rock ‘n’ Roll, cheap Science Fiction, and masturbation. When I should have been doing homework revision for Algebra and French, I was memorising chart positions, B-sides, matrix-numbers. Compiling my own charts. There’s this thing now of saying ‘better than sex’. Football is ‘better than sex’. A movie is ‘better than sex’. For me – nothing is better than sex. But music – and books, have been more profoundly life-changing to me than any other artificial stimulant I’ve ever encountered. Even now, whenever I’m feeling bad, down, depressed, I whack on the Ramones, the Electric Prunes, Flamin’ Groovies, Prodigy, turn the volume up to eleven, and it gets me high. It never fails.’

‘What I’m essentially doing now, with this book, is sending a message back through time to that fucked-up kid that I was then, a message to say – hey, it’s alright. What you did then kind-of worked out OK.’ So what truth is there behind the title? The genetic lineage to Elvis Presley? ‘OK – I admit it. This book is based on a lie. It is not true. There was no Elvis Presley sperm involved in my conception. Sorry – does that mean I have to give the advance back...? But no, there’s enough truth there to exaggerate into reality. Which is what you do when you write these things. A story. A feature. You take an element of yourself, and you exaggerate it until it becomes a kind of focal point. The first chapter of the book is the most directly autobiographical. It’s all autobiographical in the sense that this is the music that has defined my life. Each chapter embodies as essential part of my life. Each chapter takes another little piece of my heart.’

‘Rock ‘n’ Roll is the ‘Schoolboy Crush’ you never grow out of. When Little Richard said ‘Awop-Bop-A-LooBop-A-Bop-Bop-Bop’ it was a shining truth expressing everything that later – more articulate, poets like Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Eminem never could, containing all you really need to know about Life, the Universe and Everything. It by-passes the logic centres of the brain and homes in direct at the non-verbal universal core of truth. The man don’t know, but the little kid inside you understands.

‘But the first chapter – the Elvis one, is the most directly narrative one. It’s true that I didn’t meet my ‘biological’ father until I was sixteen, and even then we didn’t really hit it off on any meaningful level. And – particularly during the mixed-up confusion of adolescence, you’re trying to interpret sexual behavioural codes through whatever role models you have available. And I was picking up twisted warped encryptions of it. As part of what was essentially a single-parent family in the early 1960’s, all my influences tended to be overwhelmingly female. Which is not necessarily bad. It gave me a heightened awareness of the feminine perspective. Which is no bad thing. But at the same time it came into direct conflict with other elements that I was already encountering, attitudes and gender double-standards which contradicted a lot of that. In the Elvis Presley chapter I use the mock-comic example that Elvis presents through movies like ‘King Creole’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’ – simple, one-dimensional images, as a way of getting through it. So no. It’s not true in the absolute sense. But sometimes truth can come in strange disguises. And there’s enough truth it there to fabricate what I hope is a comic-absurdist and not-unperceptive feature. But there is an accidental Elvis theme to other bits too. In the dressing room at the back of the Irish Centre in Leeds, Ian Hunter (of Mott The Hoople) relates this long anecdote about how he was in Memphis doing a gig, and how after the concert they drive out to see Gracelands – Elvis’ mansion, and when they’re refused admittance, Ian climbs over the wall and breaks in anyway. Then Robert Plant explains how Led Zeppelin got to meet and duet with Elvis in a Las Vegas Hotel suite. How I shake Robert Plant’s hand. The hand that shook hands with Elvis. So how – by proxy, I get to shake hands with my REAL father.... ‘

‘And, as we speak backstage at the Wakefield ‘Pussycat’ club in the lost wastes of West Yorkshire, it is EXACTLY twenty years to the month (22nd June 1965) that the rarefied stratospheric harmonies and janglipop Rickenbacker guitars of “Mr Tambourine Man” peaked on the British chart at no.1, over the likes of the Yardbirds (“Heart Full Of Soul”), Elvis Presley (“Crying In The Chapel”) and Joan Baez (with Phil Ochs’ “There But For Fortune”). It stays there two weeks, to be deposed only by the might of the Beatles’ “Help”. In those far-off time-lost days a 45rpm single costs a precise 6s 8d. And on a personal note – I get stranded in the Hull city centre with just enough carefully hoarded pocket-money either to go to ‘Hammonds’ Record Department with its luring listening booths to make the purchase I ache to make, or to pay for the long and winding bus-fare home. So – inevitably, I walk all the miles back clutching that orange-labelled CBS Byrds single tightly in my hand. For the Byrds – their harmonies carried on the futuristic mystique of Dylan’s methadrine-fuelled poetry, horizons seem infinite. The epitome of Beat Hip with Mod(ernist) Cool. In their first promo shots they are five immaculately aloof fringes posed ‘WITH THE BEATLES’-style out of the black. Superior. Articulate. As cool as every promise of tomorrow. A band of awesome vision and wondrous innovation, who opened the dayglo floodgates to all things West Coast esoteric and ultra-Hip, the Byrds personified, and made flesh, a seismic shift in popular culture that still reverberates now, across decades, up – to the Stone Roses, down – to Travis and Teenage Fan Club. Pop seldom came better ...”
(extract from the chapter interviewing Byrd Gene Clark)

So how did you get into Music Journalism? ‘Well, I was always writing. And I was always listening to Music. As far back as I can go. But essentially, through the 1960’s, I was a consumer. I was living in Hull. And I saw all the big bands who came through. It was odd in the sense that other kids I was hanging out with would go to dances or whatever to pick up girls. And while I was always up for that when the opportunity arose, I was primarily there to see the bands. The shiny guitars. The curly leads. The red lights that glow on the amps. The Cuban heeled boots. The volume. The riffs. I saw the Beatles when they played the Hull ABC Theatre. I don’t remember much about it. But I saw them. I saw the Rolling Stones in – what must have been around 1964, at the Bridlington Spa. With Brian Jones. There must have been about fifty people in the audience. At Hull Beverley Road Baths they used to put flooring over the pool and put bands on there, I saw the Animals and Manfred Mann with the floor juddering precariously all the time. I hitchhiked down to London to see bands on a fairly regular basis. Saw the Who three times. Went to Leeds to see the Beach-Boys play the Odeon on the Headrow, missed the last train home, and spent the night just walking around the city. But my own real involvement began when I started writing for what was called the ‘Underground’ Press, ‘IT (International Times)’, ‘Styng’ and others. I interviewed Genesis P Orridge of Throbbing Gristle – badly, around that time. But I got better. I’ve always been semi-autonomous. There have been regular magazines I’ve written for – I’ve been a contributor to ‘Hot Press’ for over twenty years, and ‘Rock ‘n’ Reel’ too, but I’ve never been exclusively tied to one in particular. This means that they ring me up and say do I want to interview this band, and more-often-than-not I’ll do it. They know the areas I specialise in. ‘Hot Press’ arranged the Kraftwerk and Can interviews after I’d first done Cabaret Voltaire and other electro-bands in Sheffield. But it also means that I go out and do the pieces I want to do, then market them. So in that way, it’s a personal thing. I’ve never gone into an interview with the intention of mocking or ridiculing. I’ve always taken the attitude that these are creative people doing interesting things. And I’ve seldom been disappointed.’

For the Kinks interview you speak to Dave Davies, not Ray Davies. ‘Yes. And it’s weird. What you’re dealing with, in an interview, is the totality of people’s lives. And I’ve got something like 5,000-6,000 words to explain it. Any one of these people deserves a full book. Many of them have full books written about them. So Ray – yes, obviously. He’s been analysed, his work, his songs, his role in British Rock. But Dave has an equally intriguing story to tell. He was there throughout, a provocative presence at the centre of some of Twentieth Century music’s most seismic decades. And think – Don and Phil Everly. Liam and Noel Gallagher. Sibling love, and sibling rivalry is part of Rock history. And the strange combination of hurt, affection, pain and jealousy that comes across during that interview is very affecting.’

Favourite interviews? ‘For this book David Kerekes, of Headpress – who was astute and perceptive enough to first suggest doing it, asked to see a list of all the interviews I’d done, and from that we selected the contents for the book. There was some trading. He suggested putting the Fall piece in. That’s fine. I rather wanted to put the Moloko piece in, because that also ties in with a continuity angle, I’d already interviewed Mark Brydon in his earlier band – Chakk, and some kind of two-way synthesis of the pieces would have been nice. But Moloko went a bit quiet around that time so it got shelved. There are masses of other things that could have gone in – Deep Purple, Shamen, Erasure, Saint Etienne, ABC, Throwing Muses, Chumbawamba. But the Cabaret Voltaire piece in the book is probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. For lots of reasons I love the Grace Slick piece. It was incredible for me to finally get to interview her. But some of my favourite pieces are not necessarily the most obvious ones. Everyone says – yeah, the William Burroughs interview must have been great (not in the current book!). And it was. But I have an equal affection for things I did with now-neglected bands like Clock DVA, who were incredible... I mean, this book starts out with the 1960’s, but it’s not about the sixties. Probably my best time, as an interactive participant was the Eighties electro-industrial scene. That was an amazing time. But it goes on through the Stone Roses and Skunk Anansie. Until last year I saw Oasis, Prodigy, Sneaker Pimps, the Chemical Brothers. And the spirit is the same. At any given time 99% of what’s happening is shit. But it’s that remaining percentage that validates it.’

Where next? ‘Where it all goes from here is anyone’s guess. The next book might be a sequel to this one – called something like ‘I Was Charles Hawtrey’s Movie Body-Double’. Or it might be a Science Fantasy epic novel. Whatever – this book is like a definite punctuation. I’m obviously going to continue doing music journalism. But I’m also going in other directions too. Throughout the years I was doing all those interviews, hanging around soundchecks, watching gigs, doing clubs and festivals, I was also writing fiction and prose things for other areas. At the moment – now, I’m trying to concentrate on doing more fiction. Catching up on that. And that is happening. And that will continue happening. But Martin Amis was interviewed not too long ago about his vision of his own relevance, and he came up with something about ‘if my writing is still read and valued in a hundred years (or was it fifty?), then my work will be validated’. And I think it was Nick Hornby who said that being valued by posterity is less important than reaching a wide and responsive audience in the here and now. What I’ve got is this stupid vision of perhaps in ten or fifteen years time some messed-up kid might come across something that I’ve written stashed away in the chaos of some second-hand bookshop, and – not knowing a damn about the name, he’ll be mildly interested enough to buy it – 20p or 10 Euros or whatever it is then, and he’ll read it and think ‘that was quite good’. I like that idea. I’d be happy with that... perhaps it’ll happen with this book?’

‘A nervy subtlety. A sound like biting steel nails. The shock of the newer. Mal takes a bassline for a walk, a low-rider in a contraflow of rhythms with a low low drag factor. He’s leaving after-images of nervous shock and mind-games of terminal disorder hanging in the air, doing wheelies over your braincell tissue. Ideas sometimes disguised as sound, sometimes as a geometry of moving pictures. Watch the sounds. Listen to the pictures. Mal’s face is made up of vertical, planes and angles, sparse and economical. Richard’s is made up of curves, flourishes, and flowing lines. Richard chain-smokes and watches the wrap-around screens. Extracts from Japanese TV. Aerial shots of the Toyota / Xerox buildings. The screens overlap, overlay. A Harrison Marks nude housewife comes down the stairs... comes down the stairs... comes down the stairs, trapped in trick-frame repetition. A Blue Thunder whirlybird slides out behind skyscrapers into the sun. Over and over. Over and over. Cabaret Voltaire is a multipack of projects. Better. By lack of design...’ (excerpt from the chapter interviewing Cabaret Voltaire)


Published in:-
‘THE SUPPLEMENT no.28’ UK – May 2006

Saturday 27 November 2010

Poem: 'Scenes From A European Movie'


“Art makes visible the unseen” – Paul Klee

Along the edge of the Gothic archway,
starlings disturb the air, only slightly.
Its soft-focus architecture casts
exact shadows rippled by delicate wings.
Beneath misted silence
he waits, for the next victim.
Stubs out anticipated eyes
as if they’re cigarettes.
Envisaged screams are cyclic,
trapped into repetition.
Around him the air moves in
listless tides of tactile coolness,
siphoned by tangents of light
through time-scabbed brickwork;
past stone faces wrinkled as lizard skin,
its passage resembling that of
women howling through key-holes.
He conceals Sirius in his fist,
Scorpio in his molar cavities, and
dreams of cars that explode and cartwheel.
He remembers he first saw the girl
reflected in the wing-mirror of
a parked Renault, and turning,
no-one was there.
Now he imagines her
riding empty compartments
on midnight subways,
he throws clocks through
eternally shattering windows,
alarms ringing in 2am gutters.
And he waits for the next victim
to come out of the city of the dead,
and they will be like the dead,
dressed in rags
and with faces ravaged by disease.
As he waits
starlings disturb the air
only slightly…

Published in:
‘FIVE LEAVES LEFT no.1’ (UK – April 1984)
‘ZENOS no.7’ (UK – July 1988)
and the collection:
(Purple Heather Publications) (UK – January 1988)

Ivan's Meads: Interview & Band History

: at the Gondola Club, Hull, 1965

Ivan’s Meads came from the Manchester Mod-scene.
They never had a chart hit, but the night they visited
the Hull ‘Gondola Club’ was a night to remember. It
must have been late-autumn 1965… and I was there.
I've tracked down original member David Booker –
who now plays Blues in Denver Colorado,
for a wander through the band’s history!

The ‘Gondola Club’ on Hull’s Little Queen Street was where the scooters gather. By day, a coffee house, absolutely no alcohol, just a big hissing Italian espresso machine. By night, you walk in off the street, into a ground-level dive with intense dim-lit body-heat generated by strictly limited space, and Coke – not coke but Cola. It was late-1965, and I was crammed in there to see sharp-dressed Manchester five-piece Ivan’s Meads, and it was wonderful. They play “Please Stay”, an achingly intense version of the old Drifters’ song shot through with yearning passion that seared its way into my consciousness where it stayed, and stays. Sure, there were other versions of the song around. On 22nd February 1966 the Meads shared a bill at Manchester’s ‘Oasis Club’ with the Cryin’ Shames, who came closest to high-charting with “Please Stay”, taking it all the way up to no.26 a month later. But Ivan’s Meads is the interpretation I recall.

With neatly-fringed, sometime centre-parted hair in the Steve Marriott-style, Ivan’s Meads came roaring out of north Manchester’s Middleton area, gravitating around Ivan Oliver Robinson hoarse vocals, lead guitarist Roger Cox and drummer Alan Powell. Then there was bassist David Bowker from Wilmslow. ‘Memories? Ivan’s Meads were a great R&B Mod-Pop band’ he enthuses now, ‘fantastic – yes I have some memories’. David had grown up on both sides of the Atlantic, absorbing “Heartbreak Hotel”, and Lonnie Donegan’s skiffle as a young Manchester kid. Then spending more childhood years in Connecticut, USA, discovering Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, the Coasters, and the lure of pure R&B. All of that, even before bouncing back to Manchester while still a pre-teen. His first gig was playing borrowed guitar at his Wilmslow School dance in 1962 aged fourteen, graduating to doing youth centres, pubs and clubs. Although not part of the formative Meads line-up, he was already off and running fronting guitar with struggling hopefuls the Drifting Hearts, then ‘round about 1963-‘64 the Hearts opened up for the Meads at Manchester’s ‘Jungfrau Club’. I was floored by the band. I went up to one of them – possibly Roger Cox, and made it clear that if ever a position came up in the band, ‘call me’. Three months later, I’m toiling away at my job at ‘Wilson Advertising’ in Manchester, the phone rings, and my mum says that Ivan’s Meads called, and want you – on bass! Within hours I was Ivan’s Meads bass player. I’d never played bass before but quickly got all the Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Chuck Berry licks down pat. Shortly after I joined we got hold of Rod Mayall, and he joined on Farfisa organ!’

Together with keyboard-player Rod ‘Stan’ Mayall – half-brother of Blues-giant John, the Meads headlined all the Mod-trendiest Manchester venues, ‘The Twisted Wheel’, ‘The Blue Note’, and on ‘Oasis’ double-bills with the likes of the Measles (23rd November 1965). ‘We gigged all over the place. I recall Bury Palais was a strong gig for us. Herman’s Hermits broke big from playing there, and we were hopeful of the same thing happening. Our manager at that time was Harvey Demmy, son of Gus Demmy the betting shop king of Manchester. On one occasion, as early as 1964, we were ushered backstage at the ‘Free Trade Hall’ to meet Howlin’ Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson. Got a nice photo of Sonny Boy with the band somewhere tucked away, in that picture is a small bottle of whiskey we were sharing with Sonny Boy!’

Within the Mod-pantheon, Ivan’s Meads were considered pretty cool. Own up, I was never a Mod. Not properly. For a start I drove a Honda motorcycle, not the mirrored Lambretta. But I wore a mustard-hued pvc jacket with black roll-neck sweater and tight loud-check hipsters with Cuban-heeled pointed-toe boots with a row of silver buckles down the sides. And later I blew a week’s wage on a silk floral shirt because Mick Jagger wore one doing “Paint It Black” on ‘Ready Steady Go’. I was fanatically into Stax. And Junior Walker & The All-Stars. I was lured in by the cool trend-superiority of Mod, an In-crowd predicated not on wealth or class but by ahead-of-the-game awareness of subtle street-codes that shifted week-by-week. As well as the ‘Gondola’ there was the ‘Kon-Tiki’ off Whitefriargate which spun a danceable programme of Motown, but it missed out on the Gondola’s elitist hipness. We also ranged up as far as Scarborough’s two-level ‘Penthouse’ where Amen Corner did a set. But the ‘Gondola’ was where it was at… in Hull, at least. Wall-posters announced live guest-bands booked by promoter John Science, including jaunty Wayne Fontana just prior to his breakthrough with “Stop Look And Listen”, and Vance Arnold who would later become Joe Cocker, supported by local groups Tony Martin & the Mods or Eric Lee & The Aces. But, although I saw Ivan’s Meads there, I can’t be sure if they played their collectable “Sins Of A Family” at the Gondola…?

By 1965, establishing their most stable line-up, momentum was gathering across the north, until ‘the band were gearing up to go professional. And it was taking its toll on my pretty rigorous day job’ recalls David. ‘I was not ready to quit my job for the ‘big time’ so regrettably I handed in my notice to the band. After I left, a big re-shuffle occurred. Out went Roger Cox – no guitar now, and in came sax-player Pat Dempsey. Rod procured a Hammond organ. And…’ with what he generously calls ‘the classic line-up’, ‘…the Meads went on to limited success, releasing a couple of 45’s on Parlophone.’ Ironically, although replaced in the Meads by bass-player Keith Lawless, due to his reluctance to turn pro, David went on to gig around the Blues scene with the legendary Champion Jack Dupree, with Paul (Manfred Mann) Jones, and with Rock star Del Shannon, as well as playing Portugal, Beirut, Lebanon, and the Bahamas, while never quite neglecting his roots. ‘Have you been to, they have a site there with pages on the Meads? I contributed a lot of that stuff.’

It must have been around, or just before the time I saw them, that they issued their debut single – a cover of PF Sloan’s “Sins Of A Family” (Parlophone R5342), recorded at George Martin’s AIR studios. It now fetches around £50 on eBay. Coming off the success of writing “Eve Of Destruction” Sloan was a happening name, a new Sloan song was a big deal, and although it was a record company/management-suits scam, and uncharacteristic of their live set, “Sins Of A Family” is a driving single. With proto-protest Dylanesque lyrics nailing moral double-standards and attacking social hypocrisy. Ivan delivers the bratty vocal-lines over a swirling keyboard-driven momentum carrying intimations of the trippy ‘new thing’ then convulsing the scene. Inconveniently PF Sloan’s own version was also issued as a single, and benefiting from a strategic promotion-slot appearance on ‘Ready Steady Go’, it charted as high as no.38 in November. Effectively killing off the Meads’ version. Anyway, they were instinctively more attuned to the kind of Graham Bond, Zoot Money Hammond organ-driven soul. A style more represented by the jazzy instrumental “Little Symphony” which they stuck on the ‘B’-side, written by newcomer Keith Lawless. Listen to that and you’re hearing a truer incarnation of their live sound (it’s on the ‘New Directions: A Collection Of Blue-Eyed British Soul 1964-‘69’ CD from Past & Present). They repeated the trick with the Booker-T groove of “The Bottle”, a group-composition on the flip of their second single, Toni Wine & Carole Bayer (Sager)’s “We’ll Talk About It Tomorrow” (R5503 – September 1966). It achieved even lower visibility, and things began falling apart after the failure of the two singles. Alan Powell quit and went on to work with Vinegar Joe, then cut ‘Warrior On The Edge Of Time’ as part of Hawkwind, while he was temporarily replaced by Drachen Theaker, then by Ian Starr. Finally Ivan himself quit music entirely, with Tommy Rigby standing in for a while to fulfil engagements, after which they finally disbanded. Rod Mayall later joined Flaming Youth alongside Phil Collins, during the band’s final free-form phase.

David, meanwhile, managed to squeeze in two musical tours of the Seychelles in the early seventies, and had what he terms ‘many uproarious adventures while part of the notorious ‘Pub Rock’ scene in London, recording a solo album for RCA in 1977’. But he eventually washed-up in Denver, Colorado in 1981 where, following a stint as a radio personality, he was soon fronting The Red Hot Blues Band named after the title of his radio show. Over the years since he’s built a solid reputation playing Blues all over the State. ‘I continue to play full time, cos’ that’s what I do. Book – mainly me, and occasionally a band of up to five members will turn up!’ So why does he work as David Booker now when he was David Bowker back then? ‘I was a member of San Francisco’s Dynatones for a while, and during that time the band changed my name to Booker. Onomatopoeia? – I went along with it. And professionally I’ve been ‘Booker’ ever since’.

Me, I could never quite reconcile the contradictions of Mod when the guy who’s name I forget, the Mod who first played me the first Who album tried to convince me that the Hull Ace Face was Rodney E who I’d always thought of as the Secondary Modern thicko, the equivalent of Nelson in ‘The Simpsons’. And after all this time, was Ivan’s Meads a failed arc of years…? Naw, they were a great little band, leaving good vibes in their stylish Mod wake, which some of us still recall with a degree of affection.

Storm Constantine Interview


Sense and Sexuality. STORM CONSTANTINE is
the author of best-selling fantasies including the
‘WRAETHTHU’ trilogy, ‘CALENTURE’, the vampire
extravaganza ‘BURYING THE SHADOW’, and
‘STALKING TENDER PREY’. While in fiction –
and in conversation, she has opinions, angles, and
new definitions on unfamiliar areas of phychosexuality
and genuinely unsettling gender equations.
Here she explains it all...

‘The phallus of the Har resembles a petalled rod,
sometimes of deep and varied colours. It has
an inner tendril which may only emerge once
embraced by the body of the Solme,
and prior to orgasm...’

Storm Constantine writes at Warp Factor Ten. And hits all the right literary G-Spots.
Her fiction is concerned with gender, fantasy, and sexual politics. At its most confrontational it can ram-raid the psyche. From the hype you expect some kind of cross between Kruella DeVille and Siouxsie Sioux. A fusion of ‘Tank Girl’ and Morticia Adams, with more than a dose of ‘2000AD’s ‘Durham Red’ thrown in. But she’s never less than readable, encouraging a playful confrontation that gives her Science Fiction its uniqueness. ‘Storm Constantine shares her birthday with Aleister Crowley, and her home with two cats, and a hidden variable...’ reveals her contributors notes to the ‘New Worlds no.1’ relaunch. And here, now, in that home, I swear she’s smiling, but I can’t be sure because there’s a blinding halo of sunlight blasting into my eyes through the window behind her. Her novels – from ‘This Monstrous Regiment’ and ‘Hermetech’, to ‘Sign For The Sacred’ and ‘Stalking Tender Prey’, can high-jack the ‘toxic feminism’ of ‘Thelma And Louise’, then alternate personas to teasingly encourage a kind of androgyny – ‘if women wanted equality of the sexes, they’d encourage the female side of men, not try to subdue their own’ (‘This Monstrous Regiment’).

‘Women are not ashamed of feelings or emotions’ she explains. ‘It’s a reflection of the way our society operates. To men it’s seen as weakness to show emotion, or to feel emotionally vulnerable. So they feel uncomfortable exploring that part of their sexuality. This sounds terribly patronising, and I know it’s generalising too. I’m sure there are many men who don’t feel that way. But in general – it’s true! And as a writer you have to get into your characters in order to write about them. That includes the weakness that you’d experience there. That weakness is something male writers feel uncomfortable with when they’re exploring that kind of situation...’

Yet despite lavishings of praise, Storm Constantine’s fiction has not always been received uncritically. Sometimes her worlds can come direct from the Science Fiction image-bank, neither innovative or even particularly original, with situations drawn intact from central casting. There’s the ‘lost Earth colony’ in an alien star system (‘This Monstrous Regiment’), the development of new mutations that signal the next stage in human evolution (the ‘Wraeththu’ trilogy), and a post eco-disaster future-Earth (‘Hermetech’). All familiar terrain to even the most casual reader of Sci-Fi. There’s sometimes a cosy domesticity to her universe too – one that’s beautiful, but totally devoid of shock, strangeness, and all but the most cosmetic alienness, what writer Elizabeth Hand is describing when she calls the Wraethtuh books ‘an MTV dream’. Or when Bruce Sterling describes Storm Constantine’s books as places where ‘you have a desert, then a forest, then another desert, then another forest, and so on and so-forth’ (‘Vector no.159’ February 1991). And this is before you get to the ‘designer under-statement’ and ‘personal space’ buzz-words used in a context of meticulously observed coiffure, design and clothes (particularly in ‘Aleph’), all techniques looted from the porno-populism of the Sex-&-Shopping brigade. Although over the space of ten years-plus her books for MacDonald, for Headline, and more from Penguin’s cred list, even the most sceptical doubter would have to admit she’s getting there.

‘It was in… I think it was ‘Locus’, that ‘This Monstrous Regiment’ was compared to an episode of ‘Star Trek’’ she tells me with obvious enjoyment. ‘I thought ‘I’d like to see a ‘Star Trek’ episode with THIS in it!’ The ‘this’ that she adds is the certain post-Feminist slant that stirs her ingredients into newly off-centre tangents. She writes for the age of the ‘Shero’. But is the reader profile demographic predominently male or female?

‘I don’t know if you’re familiar with Tarot symbolism?’ she enquires obliquely, by way of explanation. ‘I’ve been a Tarot-reader for a number of years. And I see it as being like ‘The Tower’. You know what the Tower represents? – it’s the raising of the ground. It’s the bolt out of heaven that completely KER-RRRRR-RASHES – and unsettles everything. It’s like the burning of fields. You HAVE to do that before the new shoots can come through. When people are taking steps towards emancipation or equality, or whatever, they need that sort of Tower-card to get things moving. If you look at the totality of society as a single organism – as I do, it shocks that organism into taking notice. It’s a real shock to the whole social organism...’


Storm Constantine – novelist, is very much her own creation, right down to the name. An alias, surely? ‘No, it isn’t, not now. It’s my official name. I changed it by deed-poll, quite a long time ago. I feel that as people grow up they don’t always fit the names they’ve been given by their parents. So I decided quite early on that I wanted a different name. I chose one I felt would give me assertiveness and confidence. And it helped. Especially when I was trying to establish a career in writing. In a way, the name becomes the person. I’m quite a shy person naturally – as you see.’ Her smile is disarmingly distracting, yet, adopting pychoprobe mode, such name-changing can also be seen as a rejection of family roots. Particularly when it’s combined with a novel dedication that runs ‘for my Father John, whose misogynistic view of female writers I hope to have changed somewhat’. Is tongue firmly in cheek then? Or does this reflect some deep well-spring of her need to write. ‘No, not really. My father is the person who led me into the genre. He’s always been into Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, anything in that area. Even when I was very small I was trying to get at his Library books. My Mother would say ‘I don’t think you should be reading those’. But at the same time, he always had a bias against female writers, I don’t think he liked the ‘emotional content’ of women’s work. Later I got into Tanith Lee as you can probably work out from looking at my book collection, and I was always trying to get him to read her books. I’d say ‘read this’ and he’d go ‘yeah, yes, yes’. But – he’s backing me. He reads all my stuff, and he likes them. So – no, the dedication was really a little joke between us. Possibly that was the worst of my books to dedicate to him, because I think it’s my worst to date. Perhaps there’s a message there somewhere? My Dad’s got a really good sense of humour, and he’s a bit of a writer too. I’m always encouraging him to write. He’s an amazing talent, and one day – perhaps, he will.’

I’d initially wondered just how aware she was of the female writers working in the genre before her. But looking at her bookshelves now, I see that she’s well prepared for the question. ‘Oh yes, I discovered Tanith Lee when I was quite young, probably as her books were first emerging. I just loved them. And I’ve collected them ever since. I’ve got them all. If she has a new one out I’ve just got to have it for my collection. It’s just one of those compulsions. Jane Gaskell as well. She’s another favourite. But I’ve always been into the genre.’ There’s an unfortunate tendency – which I’ve tried to resist, to put writers into categories. There can’t really be an identifiable ‘Female SF’ genre, can there? After all, Alice B Sheldon masqueraded from 1968 as ‘James Tiptree Jrn’ and was accepted as such, long before revealing her true gender identity as late as 1977. But the writer most frequently referred to in the context of Storm Constantine’s work is Ursula LeGuinn. And there are certain common points where what they both seem to be doing tend to coincide. ‘Maybe so,’ she sounds unconvinced. ‘I can’t see it myself. Funnily enough I’ve never really been into Ursula LeGuinn that much. I read one of her books – ‘The Lathe Of Heaven’ (1971), when I was in my teens. I liked that one. I tried a couple of other ones and couldn’t get a hold on them. But when McDonald’s published me for the first time they said ‘Oh yes... like Ursula LeGuinn’. And I said ‘I’m sure I’m not!’ So I read ‘The Left Hand Of Darkness’ ‘cos that’s about hermaphrodites. I thought it was nothing like my stuff. I don’t even like it that much. I admire her prowess, and I admit I haven’t read any of her more recent stuff, but she’s not one of my favourite authors. It’s not something I can curl up with and really enjoy. The female writers I’m avidly into would be Liz (Elizabeth) Hand, Pat Cabden and Pat Murphy – I really loved her ‘The City, Not Long After’. They’re all American unfortunately, but – I really admire them. The person I admire most as a writer in Britain, possibly, is Mary Gentle (the author of ‘Rats And Gargoyles’)...’

In another area of creativity, Lady GaGa and Madonna before her, are successful – at least in part, because they exploit the vacuum left by the total exploitation of every possible aspect of male Rock sexuality. Presley, Sinatra, Jagger, Morrison, Bowie, Cobain – it’s all been done to death. There’s no scope left for new angles. But a woman can reinterpret those same old sex-shock strategies and make them seem new. To a lesser extent the same is true of writing in general, and SF in particular. A woman can write explicit sex scenes and it’s seen as liberating, it’s exploring the outer limits of free expression and breaking new taboos. Kathy Acker and Jeanette Winterton make careers out of it. Whereas expressions of blatant male sexuality is dismissed as just reactionary old porn. Storm responds that women can write more convincingly on male sexuality than men can write about female sexuality. Perhaps that’s because male sexuality is blunter, simpler, less complex, easier to understand? Whatever – from Richmal Compton’s ‘William’ to Sue Townsend’s ‘Adrian Mole’, on up, or on down, it’s something they’ve always done remarkably well. ‘Men were unaware that through sex they could reach a higher form of consciousness’ writes Storm, ‘to us (the Wraeththu) it is virtually commonplace’. To the bisexual Wraeththu eroticism has numerous variants, it can be ‘Grissecon’ (GRISS-uh-con)’ a sexual communion between ‘Hara’ to achieve a kind of sexual magic, sex for occult power purposes. Further down the scale comes ‘Aruna’ which is ordinary hetero copulation.
But Storm has powerful precedents. Miriam Allen DeFord proves an intriguing taster, her 1969 collection ‘Xeno Genesis’ marks her out as an accomplished writer of sexual fantasy, whereas Ursula LeGuinn (the ‘Earthsea’ Trilogy) features androgynous sex-change people in ‘Left Hand Of Darkness’, and Angela Carter – in ‘The War Of Dreams’ uses sexual energy as a means of destruction where, for Storm – most notably in ‘Hermetech’, it is a means of transcendence. Then there’s Anne McCaffrey (particularly the ‘Dragonquest’ books), the beautifully poetic fantasies of Leigh Brackett, and the harder-SF of CL (Catherine) Moore. ‘I like CL Moore. There used to be a prevailing attitude in SF similar to how my father’s used to be – that women can’t quite cut the mustard. Obviously that’s no longer the case. One thing I’m always asked is ‘don’t you think it’s terrible that men dominate the scene’ But you can’t really say that, when I look around, there’s so many women writers giving good accounts of themselves, winning awards and being really respected everywhere. It’s certainly not as bad as it was. And in the future it’ll get better and better.’

At one point she also divides women into two distinct flavours, ‘Flamist’ – ‘a creature of action, wielder of intellect and tongue’, and ‘Angeldt’ – ‘a creature of grace, intuition’. In which category does she place herself? ‘Oh yeah, that!’ A moment of slightly phased indecision. ‘Yes – er, both I think. On a good day I’m Flamist (flame-ist), on a bad day I’m Angeldt (Anne-gelt). There’s always more than two sides to everything. I’m not a dual-ist. I don’t believe that a system like that would work in real life. That’s just my ‘Ripping Yarns’ stuff really...’

The traditional route into writing SF was to serve an ‘apprenticeship’ with short stories. Storm never did that, and – even though that particular route is now complicated by scarcity of magazines, she seems to have emerged fully formed. ‘I did do short stories. I just didn’t send them off anywhere. I didn’t really think I could have a career in writing. It was just something I did for pleasure. The reason I started writing ‘seriously’ (in inverted commas) is that I was galloping towards thirty, working in a Library, and thinking ‘this is it for the rest of my life. I’ve got to do something about it’. I reviewed my talents. I was a bit of a rebel at school so I’ve not got many academic qualifications. So I decided WRITING HAS GOT TO BE THE WAY OUT. So RIGHT! THIS IS IT! – I threw myself wholeheartedly into the novel. And this is the one that got sent off. And luckily... it was accepted!’ This is the first – how do you pronounce it – Wraeththu book? ‘Yes. ‘WRAYTH-THREW. It’s an interesting old English word actually. It has two meanings. It can either mean ‘wrath’ or ‘rake’ – as in garden implement.’ Were there prior attempts at testing the water by sending out a chapter-and-outline synopsis? ‘I did send off a synopsis and a couple of sample chapters to start with. Mainly because I was in the ‘Andromeda’ bookshop and I happened to meet a rep who worked for MacDonald. I showed it to him first. From there they asked to see the rest of it, and it went on to publication.’ Was it always intended to be a trilogy? ‘Well – no, originally it was a single thousand-page book. But as a first novelist it was totally impractical to try and produce it in that way. It’s very rare that a first novel that size would be accepted and be successful. So – er, it was a case of having to break it down, and that’s when I decided to do it from different viewpoints. Originally it was one story, told through one person’s perspective. But when I split it up it kind-of developed from there. I started writing in it 1985, and it eventually came out in ‘87.’

Then came ‘This Monstrous Regiment’. ‘Yes, to me – it was like a first novel, because ‘Wraeththu’ had been with me for ten years, and when I came to write that book it just came out BLUUUUURGHH!!!!, like that. Previously I’d just sit upstairs and write solid for hours and hours. No problem. But ‘Monstrous Regiment’ was hard for me to write, because it was something completely new. I hadn’t lived with it for ages, so I wasn’t cut through with the idea, I didn’t know all the ins and outs of the plot. For that reason it wasn’t as good as the ‘Wraeththu’ stuff. I needed a lot of guidance, which I didn’t get. So, I tend to look on it as a learning experience. I learned a lot from writing it. A lot of mistakes I shall avoid in the future.’ The final paragraph of its sequel ‘Aleph’, seems to be laying the seeds for a third novel in the cycle. It speaks of ‘revelations’ that await the generation after next? But ‘no – I don’t think so. That’s just a little bit stuck on the end. I don’t really feel the need to explore that any more. I mean – I didn’t really want to do a second one, which is why the second one is so different from ‘Monstrous Regiment’. It’s not really examining the same concepts or anything. It’s just a Science Fiction story...’

Her initial impact was heightened by a prolific flow of new titles, as well as a side-order of shorter works. ‘It seems that way, yes. Since I started I’ve averaged about a book a year. The first short story I had published was in ‘Zenith’. Then there was one in ‘Zenith Two’. I had one in ‘More Tales From The Forbidden Planet’, one in the American ‘Weird Tales’. Then there’s ‘Digital Dreams’ and ‘Tarot Tales’ – I sold to ‘Midnight Rose’, ‘Scheherezade’ and ‘Orion’ and… I ought to have a list to give to people actually.’ Add to that list her “Immaculata” in David Garnett’s ‘New Worlds’, while she has also ‘worked in experimental video... exhibited and sold her own artwork’.


Down the A449. Right at the ‘The Telegraph’. Ingestre Road – 1pm.

And I’m here with Storm Constantine, a writer who writes at Warp Factor Ten. And hits all the right literary G-Spots.

But there are very strong elements of New Age mysticism and spirituality to her books too. ‘Aleph’ in particular – with its ‘Lord of the Rocks’, Yehhuk – the ‘Shadow-Lover’, and Freespacer Corinna Trotgarden’s interaction with the legendary ‘Greylids’ (Artemis’ indigenous population), and a creature of pure energy in a vaguely womb-like cave, all have mystical significances expounded through New Age references to Tarot and related flim-flam. ‘Mmmmm. I’m afraid I’m very scathing about so-called ‘New Age’, actually. I think... I don’t know how to say this without sounding superficial – I have to be very careful. It’s like people have picked up on the commercial aspects, and to me – if there is a New Age, which is about the turning of the heavens and the Age of Aquarius taking over from the Age of Pisces – which is supposed to be a time of enlightenment, and people becoming more evolved, then that is something that happens IN HERE, it’s not something you can go into a shop and buy. No amount of group therapy or whatever those little crystal gizmos and gimmicks they come up with can take you there. It’s simply a case of sitting down – with a mirror if necessary, and saying ‘who or what am I?’ – and looking for the answers within yourself. Nobody else can tell you. No book can tell you. But then again, I think there are some people who have had that experience themselves, and they can write about it. And it is possible to read their book and get support from them, but they’re not trying to tell you how it is, they’re just saying this is how it was for me. This is what I do, my friends. If you can use any of this – GREAT!, if you can’t – or if you want to adapt it or change it, then that’s even better. But there’s no BOOKS that can tell you how to do it.’

It’s good to be open to influences. But that kind of mysticism can so easily be sabotaged by gullibility into total escapism. ‘Which it shouldn’t be. It should be quiet, dramatic and cathartic. Life-enriching, because you get stronger. You’re not trying to escape into pretty little pictures. A lot of this New Age stuff comes down to this creative visualisation. But there are two kinds of... I shouldn’t call it that, but there is ‘guided’ visualisation which are aids to meditation – you either listen to a tape or somebody reads a story to you, like a little fantasy story – and you ‘live’ that story. To me, that is escapism. People say you look for symbols in your story, but it’s still a weakened version of what you should be doing.’ But fantasy – as Michael Moorcock explains in an early essay, is all about the manipulation of archetypal primal symbols – the ring, the quest, the sword. While there is your character L’Belder, who undergoes a transfiguration which would lend itself to New Age religiosity, while that same ‘spirituality’ runs right through a number of your novels, from the ‘Wraeththu’ on up. ‘I am very interested in religion. It fascinates me. It also fascinates me why people are into it. I just love exploring it. What it provides for people. And what they get out of it.’

One of the more disreputable trends in recent SF / Fantasy must be that most escapist of all modern genres, the ‘Fantasy Trilogy’. There are dozens of them. After reading her books it’s obvious that there’s considerably more to Storm than that. But – although she’s undoubtedly managed to encompass something of the commercial appeal of that sub-genre, and yes it’s unfair – but it’s so easy to confuse Storm Constantine novels as part of that movement, surely there must be many who prematurely dismiss her on covers value alone? ‘I know’ she concedes wearily. ‘That’s a problem...’


‘THE ENCHANTMENTS OF FLESH AND SPIRIT’ (Macdonald/ Orbit, 1987) Part one of ‘Wraeththu Trilogy’

‘THE BEWITCHMENTS OF LOVE AND HATE’ (Macdonald/ Orbit, 1988) Part two of ‘Wreaththu Trilogy’, includes poems by Valor

‘THE FULFILMENTS OF FATE AND DESIRE’ (Orbit/ Drunken Dragon Press, 1989) Part three of ‘Wraeththu Trilogy’. A ‘Wraeththru Omnibus’ was published in 1993, and revised editions of all three Wraeththu novels were published by Immanion Press 2003-2004

‘THE MONSTROUS REGIMENT’ (Orbit, 1990) First Book of ‘Artemis’ cycle

‘ALEPH’ (Orbit, June 1991), sequel to ‘MONSTROUS REGIMENT’, dedicated to ‘Forbidden Planet’ (Dick Jude), the Unlimited Dream Co (Gaiman – for ‘advice and suggestions, which have helped me begin mapping the territory of my chosen metier’), and Shona Cooke (‘for her thesis on female genital mutilation’)

‘HERMETCH’ (New English Libraries, 31 Dec 1991)

‘TAROT TALES’ (Legend) edit Rachel Pollack & Caitlin Matthews, with stories by Moorcock, M. John Harrison, Garry Kilworth, and Storm’s “As It Flows To The Sea”

‘TEMPS’ edit Neil Gaiman and Alex Stewart (Penguin/ Roc, Aug 1991) Shared-world theme anthology about British Superheroes of ‘The Dept Of Paranormal Resources, based at the back of the Home Office’, also includes Dave Langford, Brian Stableford, David Barrett and Kim Newman

‘INTERZONE no.58’ (April 1992) story “Priest Of Hands” + interview by Stan Nicholls

‘AN ELEMENTAL TALE: A MAGICAL FANTASY’ (Inception, 1992) an illustrated ‘short magical fantasy’ (£2.50), very limited edition from ‘Inception’ Steve Jeffery & Vikki Lee France, 44 White Way, Kidlington, Oxon OX5 2XA

‘INTERZONE no.64’ (October 1992) story “Built On Blood”

‘BURYING THE SHADOW’ (31 Dec 1992)

‘INTERZONE no.73’ (July 1993) story “The Green Calling”

‘SIGN FOR THE SACRED’ (31 Dec 1993)

‘CALENTURE’ (Headline, 30 April 1994) Steve Wallace cover. Expansion of short story “Priest Of Hands” which was a BSFA short story award nomination

‘COLURASTES’ (Inception Press, 1995) limited edition 40-page illustrated collection of ‘poems by Storm Constantine’ (£3.50)

‘STALKING TENDER PREY’ (Signet / Creed, 30 Nov 1995) First Book of ‘Grigori’ Trilogy

‘THE EDGE no.3’ (April/ May 1996) Storm interview

‘DANCER FOR THE WORLD’S DEATH’ (Inception, Sept 1996) 300 numbered 28-page copies at £3.50, cover by Dave Mooring

‘SCENTING HALLOWED BLOOD’ (3 Oct 1996) Second Book of ‘Grigori’ Trilogy

‘INTERZONE no.117’ (March 1997) story “The Rust Islands”

‘STEALING SACRED FIRE’ (4 Dec 1997) Book 3 of the ‘Grigori’ Trilogy

‘THREE HERALDS OF THE STORM’ (MM Publ, 1997) 64-page small-press collection of three stories plus short biography

‘DARK HORIZONS no.37’ (1998) high-quality fantasy fanzine includes ‘Roots Of The Writer’ by Storm Constantine, as well as artwork, articles and fiction (by D.F. Lewis, Rick Cadger and Rick Kleffel)

‘THE THIRD ALTERNATIVE no.15’ (August 1998) Storm interview & profile

‘THE INWARD REVOLUTION: SUMMONING THE SACRED POWER WITHIN’ non-fiction co-written with Deborah ‘Debbie’ Benstead (6 Aug 1998)

‘SEA DRAGON HEIR’ (Gollancz, 1998/ Tor, 2000) First Book Of The ‘Magravandias’ cycle. ‘Sisterhood Of The Dragon’, set in Caradore with the Palindrakes Family. Original cover by Anne Sudworth. Dust-wrap illustration by Doug Beekman

‘THIN AIR’ (Warner, 18 Feb 1999) Charismatic Rock Star Dex, and initially dubious Music Journalist Jay who loves – and attempts to decipher his disappearance in a ‘sensual romance’. With Gregg Child

‘BAST AND SEKHMET: EYES OF RA’ (1999) no-fiction with Elouise Coquio

‘THE THORN BOY’ (1999)


‘THE CHRONICLES OF MAY’ (1 June 2000) Sequel to ‘Sea Dragon Heir’

‘CROWN OF SILENCE’ (Gollancz, 2000) Part 2 of The ‘Magravandias’ ‘Sea Dragon Heir’ cycle

‘SILVERHEART’ by Storm Constantine and Michael Moorcock (Simon & Schuster, November 20000), features the city of Karadur set in Moorcock’s ‘Multiverse’, includes Shriltasi and a character called Cornelius Coffin.

‘WAY OF LIGHT’ (28 June 2001) First Book Of The ‘Magravandias’ cycle

‘EGYPTIAN BIRTH SIGNS’ (2002) non-fiction

‘THE WRAITHS OF WILL AND PLEASURE’ (2003) First Of The ‘Wraeththu Histories’


‘THE SHADES OF TIME AND MEMORY’ (2004) Second Book Of The ‘Wraeththu Histories’

‘THE GHOSTS OF BLOOD AND INNOCENCE’ (2005) Third Book Of The ‘Wraeththu Histories’

‘THE HIENAMA: A STORY OF THE SULH’ (2005) Wraeththu Novella

‘FROM ENCHANTMENT TO FULFILMENT’ (2005) Wraeththu Role-Playing Game Book with Gabriel Strange & Lydia Wood


‘MYTHANIMA’ (2006)



‘STUDENT OF KYME’ (2008) Wraeththu Novella

‘INCEPTION’ a fanzine produced by ‘The Storm Constantine Information Service’ with reviews, Convention reports, correspondence and exclusive Storm-related advance details

Friday 29 October 2010

Poem: "Slits In Aerosol Green"


There’s a skill to
making a clean incision
symmetrically around the scalp,
then inserting thumbnails
beneath the layers of skin
and folding it carefully back
from the exposed porous flesh.
Shaping the scalp from
a convex to a concave,
until the contours of the
dome of head correspond exactly
with the contours of the
inverted scalp poised above it.
The effect thus produced
is aesthetically pleasing,
the intersection of
mathematically precise curves
and segments of damply gleaming
the hollow formed
by the inverse scalp is
also convenient for the
storage of half-written poems,
cigarette ends, biscuits,
and pieces of string…

Published in:
‘SEPIA no.1’ (UK – July 1977)
‘EMPIRE no.15’ (USA – May 1979)
also in collection:
(Purple Heather Publications) (UK – January 1988)
on cassette:
(UK – C60 – September 1981)

The recent discorporation of Ari Up of wonderful Punky-Reggae iconoclasts The Slits (Ariane Daniele Forster 17 January 1962 – 20 October 2010), suggests maybe I should divulge the secret history of this poem’s title, which was attacked by a certain Feminist critic as gratuitously violent. The story goes thus. Driving the trans-Pennine M62, at the highest point of Britain’s highest motorway there’s the breathtaking arc of a bridge like a knife-cut across the sky, and there, on the visible underside of this soaring structure, someone had managed to graffiti the name of Ari Up’s band, there it was ‘Slits’ in green aerosol. I felt such heroic fan-dedication deserved some small tribute. Later, when this poem formed the title of a DIY-Indie C30 cassette collection, it was reviewed in ‘New Musical Express (NME)’ as ‘poems from a twisted mind’. Recommendation seldom came better…!

Charlie Parker: 'Blues For Bird'


Book Review of:
(Santa Monica Press - $16.95 -
ISBN 1-891661-20-5)

We argue jazz. I map a connection direct from intuition to expression without the filtering of intellect or literal articulacy. Steve Sneyd says no, musicians – like everyone else, rely on an accumulation of technique and phrases they randomly permutate on whim or inspiration. We’re both right. On a sliding scale from one extreme to the other. Sometimes within the same musician. Sometimes within the space of a single phrase of breath.

During the mid-to-late 1940’s, using only an alto sax – ‘a metal pipe / with keys to him’, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker created a spontaneous warp-speed fluidity that derailed all jazz since, yet his mission-statement claims he was merely looking for the ‘pretty notes’. While – incidentally, a mission that wordlessly achieves what poetry aspires to, but never comes close, so that ‘what he thought and played / was instantaneous’. An (in)articulate speech of the heart. Via the gut. Harmonies in the head. Sonics that bend space-time. On the Dial record-label. In ‘Anthropology’. ‘Ornithology’. On The West Coast. On 52nd Street. With Dizzy Gillespie. In Paris. In the Yardbird Suite. On Verve. With Strings. He introduces an ‘architecture of strange voices new to jazz’ by playing anthems for fleeting moments. Celebrations of the dispossessed.

His saxophone is ‘moist, / warm like the human voice, / yet also it is cool / supremely logical’, breaking out beyond the diatonic-scale using complex harmonic changes, grace notes and an obliquely accented relationship to the beat, into a chromaticism that seems angular and unsettling to ears of the day, yet has a nightmarish beauty of infinite elasticity. Where squares hear only cacophony, hipsters peak with epiphany. ‘Music is a game / private, intimate / individual, yet / a conversation with / each person in the crowd’. Beat-writers try to catch those Bop cadences with a kind of free-scat jazzetry, tracing Bird improvisations by distorting vocabulary into a deliberately disconnected dance of cracked syllables.

Even Charlie Watts – Rolling Stones’ drummer, and no mean jazz-slouch, writes his own ‘Ode To A High-Flying Bird’ in percussive stanzas. While Ross Russell’s biog ‘Bird Lives’ remains essential. And – coming later, Martin Gray acknowledges its ‘infectious enthusiasm’, but while developing his own verse-biography form (through earlier shots at Modigliani and Pollock), he ducks any attempt at catching Bird’s sound, with no attempted mood-enhancing through experimental typography or Wow-mad incendiary ruptured texts to give his words flight, preferring technically well-researched fact-oids line-cut into narrative chapters interspersed with etched-sketches, middle-eights and a useful glossary-of-terms cadenza (‘appoggiatura’, dig, fix, cat, horse, lick, tea/grass, gruppetto). In fact, he deliberately chooses ‘the neglected’ iambic trimeter and syncopated hexameter, a regular – and predictable sliced-text form. Yet one uniquely suited to the re-telling of anecdotes, myths, one-liners, and reported-conversation speech-patterns, and he uses this dramatic directness to its full potential. His is a narrative that prefers an anatomical scalpel-exactness – ‘Bird’s little finger was long as the others were’, located more to Steve’s cool technique than my hyper-physical extemporisation. Charlie Mingus called Parker ‘King Spook’.

And Bird – Yardbird, was a Goof Demigod, a human contradiction, as capable of selfless generosity – with no concept of value, as he was of pawning a borrowed sax to raise drug-dollars. Whatever, he accelerated, revolutionised and evolved tonal possibilities through immaculately stoned flesh, vomit, sadistic games with heroin, syringes, sex, food and piss. Until, with references outside of jazz – to Debussy, Toscanini, Varese, Heinrich Heine and elsewhere, Martin Gray finally talks of Bird talking of working with Hindemith, or Yehudi Menuhin, while he was too juiced to even play the horn that was his last true friend. Feeling ‘what men at war must feel, / a love tinged with despair... his stellar music gifts / disrupted by his need / to tamper with his flesh... till drink and drugs combined / to quiet his instrument’. The dissonance of speeding highways. Kinetic galaxies spattering. He made it cerebral by smashing it. Poets envy it. Dream of doing the same. But must always fail. Now’s The Time...

For further details contact:
PO Box 1076, Santa Monica, CA 90406, USA
or MARTIN GRAY, 918 Collinson Street #305, Victoria BC, Canada V8V 4V5
(Tel: 0171-420-5555 Fax: 0171-240-7261)

Published in:
‘THE PENNILESS PRESS no.18’ (Nov 2003 – UK)

Miles Davis: The Autobiography


Book Review of:
(Simon & Schuster 1989, Picador 1990
- £6.99 - ISBN 0-330-31382-7)

Today, John Coltrane is seen as the most spiritual performer in jazz history, with his visionary ‘A Love Supreme’ viewed as a transcendental vindication of the purest epiphany music can aspire to. Yet back then, Miles was forced to fire him from the group for nodding out between solos, picking his nose on stage and sometimes eating it. At the end of one Café Bohemia club set Miles allowed young gun Kenny Dorham up on stage to jam and was mortified when the guest’s playing proceeded to blow the group to shreds. ‘Man, was I pissed’. Fuming and nursing his hurt pride Miles schemed revenge. The following night he purposefully invited Dorham to join them earlier in the set, immediately following his solo by ramming into top gear, pulling every slick trick and maximising every technique from his not-inconsiderable resources of virtuosity, to wreak visceral havoc on the ‘hippest audience in the city’, and establish once and for all his supremacy in the pecking order.

Miles mistrusted and resented the white man, with good reason. ‘Racist to the bone’, segregation was still enforced, with lynchings used as a means of control and intimidation in the southern states, while even in more liberal NY whitey controlled every aspect of the music industry, radio, records, touring, deciding on arbitrary whim who would and would not achieve stardom. He respected and admired Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, but despised what he saw as their wide-grin capitulation to minstrelsy white show-biz preconceptions. ‘I wasn’t about to kiss anybody’s ass and do that grinning shit for nobody’. Yet, in a way unique to jazz, beyond wealth, popular status – or colour, cutting contests such as the one at the Café Bohemia, established respect. The one thing that set you apart was your improvisational skills. You could do it, or you were nowhere. When the more militant brothers protested to Miles why did he employ white musicians in his group when there were black players who needed the work?, his retaliation was instant, ‘I’m hiring a motherfucker to play, not for what colour he is… if they’re cool, they’re cool, no matter what colour they are’.

Miles could be considered arrogant. Part of that was defensive. The press branded him difficult, aloof. He refused to announce the titles of the numbers he played on-stage. If the people were hip to what he was doing, they knew the titles already, if they weren’t hip to it, they didn’t matter. He extended his silence to deleting liner notes from his albums. Miles Dewey Davis III never condescended to anyone, and ‘didn’t take no shit off nobody’. He was not born poor-black. The son of a middle-class East St Louis dentist, he’d never come up through the impoverished blues tradition. He had absolute conviction in his ability, and that was enough. He knew his own value, and would accept nothing less. Supposedly at Julliard, he was taken in and adopted by the bop pantheon of 1940’s New York, through whom he accelerated his chops, and picked up a heroin-habit. But neither drugs nor sex were as vital stimulants as music.

The eighteen-year-old Miles was ‘sucking in everything. Man, it was something’, with ‘music all up in my body’. Chief among those ‘scientists of sound’, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker was a genius musician, but a failed human being. ‘I loved Charlie Parker as a musician – maybe not as a person’. Sharing a downtown cab on 52nd Street, Miles protested that Bird’s gargantuan fried-chicken eating habit – not to mention the white girl down there fellating him, were unsettling. Bird suggested Miles stick his head out the window if he was offended. He did, but could still hear every damned chomp and slurp. ‘Bird did more weird shit than anybody I ever met’. Later, dressed sharper than ‘a broke-dick dog’, Miles was hitting the first of his own multiple musical peaks with his ‘classic sextet’ (’Trane, Cannonball Adderley, drummer Philly Joe Jones, bassist Paul Chambers, with pianist Bill Evans replacing Red Garland). Each member playing ‘above what he knows’. Miles was stripping the complexities of bop down into a new modal melodic simplicity named ‘Birth Of The Cool’ (1957), while collaborating on the new LP ‘long-playing format’ with Canadian arranger Gil Evans.

Yet by then, jazz was well into being relegated as the world’s music of choice by the crude upstart Rock ‘n’ Roll. Miles never accepted such demotion. He evolved his clean unadorned style into the greatest jazz of the second half of the century through a series of audaciously inventive albums that did much to retain the profile and relevance of jazz itself. Later, hanging out with Jimi Hendrix and snorting coke with Sly Stone, he was intrigued as much by their musical innovations as by their access to the kind of mass sales-figures he felt he deserved. The results, the spacily electric million-selling psychedelia of ‘Bitches Brew’ (1970) and the ghetto-funkified ‘On The Corner’ (1972) spun the genre almost single-handedly into what became known as ‘fusion’. Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, John McLaughlin, and Weather Reporters Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul all perfected their art as part of the Miles Davis group, through his inspired tutelage. Miles died 28th September 1991, aged 65, soon after taping this autobiography. In (largely) his own words he’s every bit as confrontationally extreme as his music, and as his spikily bristling reputation would suggest (while recalling exact detailed personnel lists from obscure sessions he’d played even in the depths of addiction). Much of what is now considered edgily cutting, he was doing back then, clear down to the hip-hop vocabulary. Everything is ‘motherfucking’. Whether that means good or bad depends on context. As does good or bad. He lays out the evidence. The story as he lived it. Then leaves you to draw your own conclusions. He’d expect no less.

Originally Featured on the website:
(UK - July 2007)