Saturday 30 July 2011

Poem: 'Beautiful Pagan'


in this flame-dark land
my lips are stolen
by wolves

the melding of new
and ancient geographies
from meson and grimoire
opened this passage south
through ice-fields to the
unexpected continent
beneath this cold dark moon

on this nightmare beach
within skulls of eagles
my blood sweats acid

redefining physics
mapping new metaspheres
under strange constellations
we were drawn to this shore
by the dream-sending spores
of monstrous fungi howling
from their forest into my sleep
of gem-encrusted chimera
that breed from the drip of
condensing shadow in glaciers
as chill as death

my eyes extinguish
in pools of bone,
my own and others

we find the empty city
in pirouettes of stone
and chill blue illuminations
that freeze breath and eyes
to tears of living crystal
leaving them locked in dread
of night’s encroaching demon

under ghost moons
we skirt the isle
of weeping statues
fearing its corpse stench, its
horrible miscegenation of form
and the grotesque putrefaction
of each carapace, and
nowhere finding life

beautiful pagan,
you who gnaw my waking dreams,
I tell you this so you may know
of the sunken citadel and
its web of spider’s limbs
that you must fear it, yet
know that somewhere far north
beyond this derelict land is
the world forever lost to me
that they must never reach

in this flame-dark land
my thoughts are stolen
by those who lurk
beyond death

Published in:-
‘STAR * LINE no.16-5’ (Sept/Oct 1993 - USA)
‘TEARS IN THE FENCE no.17’ (UK - April 1996)
and ‘EUROSHIMA MON AMOUR’ Hilltop Press (UK-Oct 2000)

Live: Flamin' Groovies at the Fforde Green, 1978

at ‘The Fforde Green’, Leeds (21st May 1978)
£1.50 admission

‘We’ve played gigs clear across the country’ drawls Chris Wilson, mouthpiece of the Groovies, ‘but this one’s sure the hottest’. ‘Bet you say that to all the gigs’ flashes back quicker than laser light in lunar night. Smart arse! The music lounge of the Fforde Green Hotel – on Roundhay Road, is cavernous, there’s a bar down one side that sluices sound into vicious shockwaves that roll across tables and aisles to make sonic assignations with naked eardrums. Chords and riffs trapped and piling up in corners shattered raw and fragmented. For decades these memories have lain fallow in my atrophied brain cells, now they’re regurgitating LIVE into grey memory chambers. My ears still abuzz with beautiful tinnitus.

First up is the Australian Radio Birdman, playing hard, fast, tight Rock. They’ve been doing antipodean dates around Brisbane for four years. Later, vocalist Rob quotes the Doors and the Stooges as influences to us, but there’s also sharp disciplined changes and a degree of control sometimes déjà vu-ing Lynyrd Skynyrd at their finest. They do mostly riff-orientated band compositions but for a mid-section insertion of memorabilia item “Hanky Panky” which they assert was a huge Australian hit for Tommy James & The Shondells. Birdman do it well too – it would’ve made a fine single for them. Interval. Audience jostling for better vantage-point positions, an odd mix of leathers and denims, slack-jawed retired hippies and last years brave young things, while Bowie ricochettes from the sound system. Roadies in freebee T-shirts juggle amps across an apparently fully interlocking lego-constructed stage made up of red canvas segments, the same self-assembly once stalked by the pre-Grundy Sex Pistols. As girls shunt intricately balanced towers of empty beer-glasses from the tables back to the bar for re-cycling.

Then the Flamin’ Groovies file on. The first jangling guitar-slivers of Gene Clarke’s “Feel A Whole Lot Better” separating out the lines of demarcation. The neglected flip of the Byrds’ “All I Really Want To Do”, they punch-out and sharpen its changes into a realisation of just how fine a song it always was. Then the embryonic Van Morrison garage-band standard “Baby Please Don’t Go” further delineates the musical interface. Radio Birdman have the accessible common reference points that could have resulted – in, say, two years time, in selling out American stadia. The Groovies finely-focused intensity of vision means they’re never gonna make it on that level. They’ve given up even trying. Their reference points are to the trash aesthetics of Rock history. Their reference points are too tied to subtlety and literary interpretation of its artefacts. In an impatient iconoclastic time, they treat vinyl archaeology like other’s savour wine. Not with over-reverence, more an impeccably calibrated hipness. They are five sharply-dressed rock archivists in perfectly observed, perfectly mixed/matched style – Cuban-heeled Chelsea boots, pressed chord pants, waistcoats, tab collars in Bridget Riley monochromatic stripes, reflector shades. Stylish selection right down to key-player Cyril Jordan’s Rickenbacker – and for one number a transparent Perspex model, smouldering cigarettes impaled on antennae-strings, hair slightly more stylishly receded than I remember from the Roundhouse Ramones double-header a few years back. Now, a few dates ago, the ‘partially crippled’ Jordan fell off a Brussels stage onto broken glass – his right hand in pink plastic bondage concealing the resultant severed tendons.

Next there’s “Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown” and “From Me To You” performed perfect as-the-record – vinyl groove for vinyl groove. The song-source pedigree is pristine, just as the bands own DNA is a self-contained fanzine in its own right. Jordan and bassist George Alexander go right back to the first 1965 incarnation of the Groovies, riding the changes through the ‘Supersnazz’ (1969) and ‘Flamingo’ (1970) albums, through the period when the anarchistic Roy Loney was co-writing the apocalyptical “Slow Death”. Chris Wilson and James Farrell were both grafted onto the band around the early Seventies, with the Groovies surviving through records put out by the Dutch Skydog label and Greg Shaw’s ‘Bomp’ releases. Previously they’d both played guitar with the Charlatans, a band who, according to Rock historian Lillian Roxon, were the first real perpetrators of the San Francisco ‘sound’. The Groovies drummer, David Wright, playing precise forceful pre-cussion configurations to the rear of the stage, entered the band around the same time via a production association with Kama Sutra’s David – husband of ‘Melody Maker’s Lisa, Robinson.

But this band, elegantly crouching, guitars slung low, leaning forward to give the sound an even sharper-edged momentum, have gone a quantum leap beyond ‘Teenage Head’ (March 1971). The band, with its four-guitar phalanx mowing down the idiot-dancers crammed into the space beneath the stage, hemmed in by amps and beery tables, can still rock younger than yesterday, newer than tomorrow. No fetishistic guitar-runs merely preserved in aspic. They concentrate on material from the two Dave Edmunds-produced Sire albums, ‘Shake Some Action’ (1976) and ‘Flamin’ Groovies Now’ (1978). There’s a blend of influences from their own compulsively contagious “All I Wanted”, “Between The Lines”, and the ponderous thundering “Don’t Put Me On”, alongside disinterred obscurities – what other current band even remember boogie-piano thumper Merrill E Moore, let alone play his “House Of Blue Lights” on a humid Sunday night in Leeds? The same band, I suppose, who not only remember Huey ‘Piano’ Smith, but personalised his “Rocking Pneumonia And The Boogie-Woogie Flu” as their debut single! But no, to re-emphasise the obvious – the Groovies are much more than revival merchants. Their whole fifties and sixties fundamentalist ethos, its nuances and stratifications predating the complications of Prog, are channelled through blistering power-punk 1980’s energy, spun through a twinkling multi-layered sound that perfectly off-sets the occasional lightness and/or lyrical trivia of the older stuff. Eclectic music for the mind and the body, indeed. The set closes with an encore, a mighty “Paint It Black”, churning and pulsating like the beating of huge metallic wings – then the band are gone, with surprising abruptness, and the whole thing breaks up beneath the deluge of house lights.

A niggling set regret would be the meagre selection of their own songs, the Jordan/Wilson stuff that forms the standout portion of their two most recent long-players. They even neglect to include their epic teen-manifesto anthem “Shake Some Action”, despite constant audience demands, ‘shake some action’s what I need, to let me bust out at full speed, I’m sure that’s all you need, to make it all right’. That’s how it felt, that’s what Rock was always about, and what those edgy energies provide. But to demand more is to nit-pick. Instead we wind up hanging around under the stars, gabbing to Rob Birdman beneath the door-awning to the car-park. It was a great night.

A ‘troubled’ venue, the ‘Fforde Green’ eventually closed. It is now a continental supermarket...

Thursday 28 July 2011

Album Download: Cousin Silas 'Complex Silence No.9'

Album Review of:
(Treetrunk Records 109, November 2010)
Free download from

Shimmering on the edge of forever. Being and nothingness. A single note. Then another. A cluster of notes. Another cluster. So chilled-out it’s as frigid as the atmosphere of some distant sunless planet. You thought Philip Glass was minimalist? You thought Moby was glacial? They’re nothing compared to Cousin Silas. Future-music was intended to sound this way. The soundscape of ‘Bladerunner’ cities, of spiralling galaxies turning in infinite slowness. Of falling through the tenuous strands of a nebula. Vibrations on the theme of the universe, its atmospherics form the background shadow-radiation remaindered from the Big Bang. “Northcoates Point” is an impressionistic sound-poem that uncoils as still as an exhalation of breath (yet it’s named for a Lincolnshire naturist beach near Cleethorpes!). Tides of stillness swirl around “Pollard’s Moor”. The near-imperceptible hum of sub-atomic particles in incremental flux.

Pause. Once… in a previous lifetime David W Hughes piloted the innovative SF magazine ‘Works’ from Huddersfield. And while there are geographical reference points to that, thematically it’s a continuity linked more into the desolate landscapes of “Vermillion Drift” and “Concrete Island” on his dedicated JG Ballard album-suites. And under his Cousin Silas nom-de-guerre he’s prolific, select from any number, try the anatomical ‘Adrift Off The Islets Of Langerhans’ (Earthrid) found elsewhere among his free-downloadable back-catalogue. Here, “Something Landed In The Forest” buzzes, saws and scratches like mosquitoes disturbed by a settling extraterrestrial organism of wondrous strangeness. “Standege Tunnels Disused” takes it yet further into a disturbed silence as shapes pass by or chatter in the luminous darkness. Actually, ‘Standedge Tunnel’ is on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal overlooking Marsden Moor, although here it’s mixcrafted into elliptical musique concrète zones. Where it provokes words like ‘ambient’. Where it suggests music for installations at pristine white galleries. With its micro-adjusted spacial geometry as a form of soft brain-washing. A contemplative therapy for atheists. But in a good way. A single note. Then another.


at the ‘Duchess Of York’, Leeds (1 July 1990)

In ‘King Creole’ the sleazy Barfly asks ‘what kind of songs are they you’re singing? Folk songs?’ Elvis says ‘I guess so’. Barfly looks askew for a moment, then comes back ‘that’s what I thought. What planet?’ Leon Rosselson wears a ‘VANCOUVER FOLK FESTIVAL’ T-shirt. The Music Lounge is stark dark. He looks up, and slowly round. ‘Thirty years to reach the ‘Duchess of York’. It’s been a long climb to the top!’ From the adjoining Bar come ‘cries of pain and rejoicing’ from World Cup TV. Leon Rosselson is a protest singer from another planet, another space-time continuum, another age. I first saw him some twenty years ago at the ‘Blue Bell’ in Hull’s dockland where he was a cerebral napalm of righteous raging, his songs too complex, too intelligent for commercial Pop, but articulating the times incisively. Now the times have gone off on some other, some less vital tangents...

The Cold War evaporates. He sings “Where’s The Enemy?” in high straining wordbends, and sometimes the caricatures that once served so well – militaristic Hawks versus Worthy Proles, seem just too simplistic. But when it comes to song subject-matter ‘there’s always the drug war’ he offers, ‘and the cat down the road’. So he sings “The Neighbours’ Cat”, about a ferocious feline neo-recruit to the IRA and hits the humour gas-pedal. While “Free Press” and “Fish Finger” – ‘from my fishy period’, also snipe effectively using that humour to dig sly digs. He’s been sporadically performing “Jumbo The Elephant” for two decades now. Originally, he explains, he saw it as political satire, now as just a song about an elephant. All elephants are called ‘Jumbo’. The satire lies in the subjugated beast’s final revenge on its tormentors. The elephant is also the symbol of the American Republican Party which brought us Ronald Reagan and both President George Bush’s, perhaps that was in there too. Now it’s Leon’s ‘token charming Rosselsong’. After which he reverts to a scathing “Who Reaps The Profit, Who Pays The Price”, prefacing it with a Gaia-conscious Green anti-nuke text, then concedes ‘that’s the trouble with topical songs. They date so quickly.’

Leon Rosselson, dark and tousled, was a protest singer on that other CND, left-of-centre, idealistic, more radical, pre-Thatcher planet. Thirty years. Some three-hundred songs. The Galliards group. ‘That Was The Week That Was’ appearances. Albums like ‘A Laugh, A Song, And A Hand-Grenade’ (1968, with poet Adrian Mitchell), and ‘The Word Is Hugga-Mugga-Chugga-Lugga-Humbugga-Boom-Chit’ (1971, with Martin Carthy), ‘That’s Not The Way It’s Got To Be’ (1975) and ‘If I Knew Who The Enemy Was’ (1979, with Roy Bailey, and snarling synths), and the stark solo ‘Palaces of Gold’ (1975), issued on labels as diverse as Acorn, Trailer, Bounty, Fuse, and performed at Festivals, Rally’s, Colleges, and Folk Clubs like the ‘Blue Bell’ (‘yes, that must have been around the time the Watersons were there’ he accurately recalls to me), clear down to a near-charting single – “Ballad Of A Spy-Catcher” in 1987, setting Peter Wright’s much-banned book to music.

Tonight he’s on cold at the ‘Duchess of York’ following Laurie from local band Little Chief (who does “Cock Of The Shop” and a kind of Folk-Reggae called “Tribal War”), and he’s unequally competing with the World Cup from the adjoining Bar. How can he reconnect through these philistine times? He steps back apace. Takes the long view. Plumbs into a Socialist continuity that’s survived – and will survive, centuries. William Morris dreamed utopian dreams. Leon sings “Bringing The News From Nowhere” which does ‘honour to the man, honour to the dreamer’. Then steps even further back to the English Civil War, 1649, the Diggers, and “The World Turned Upside-Down”. Oddly, it charted recently for Billy Bragg – ‘sung by people even more famous than me’ quips Leon mordantly. And the circle is complete. The vision vindicated. When he writes well, when he performs well, it’s with an incandescence that transcends the times. Leon Rosselson – honour to the man, honour to the dreamer...

‘FUSE RECORDS’, 28 Park Chase
Wembley Park, Middlesex HA9 8EH