Sunday 30 October 2011

POEM: 'Visions Of St Gerasimos'

“be peaceful with yourself…”
the Gospel of Saint Gerasimos (1506-1579)

from Mount Athos
an ancient thing,
St Gerasimos hunches hermit in his cave
scrutinising scripture, while
those performing lesser tasks, tilling earth,
caring for families, bring offerings of food
so he can intercede in their spiritual void,
this land where gods
reared up new people
from stones and dragons teeth &
they were strangers without faces
& no-one knew their neighbour,
until St Gerasimos, glimpsing out
over rabbit-island towards Lixouri

now strangers, in shorts & shades
Factor 50 & samaria-water bottles
climb to the church in the cleft
built around sanctified cave,
for jest he lights a candle
sets it before the icon
mimes stations of the cross
leaves no donation, no offering
she laughs & is first outside
sun smote, he’s not there,
she ventures back over threshold
into sacred whispering halflight
no sign, just shadows, candle,
& deep within the icons
a new face, screaming its terror…

(Kefalonia, September 2011)

CD - ROY HARPER: 'Songs Of Love & Loss'

CD Review of:

Well, the MBE he promised to sell to pay the Rentman, never actually arrived. And the hits didn’t exactly flow. There’s been light and shade, highs and lows, peaks and troughs, but the diary-like annual albums appear across fifty years with resolute consistency, and seldom deliver below expectations. All the fractured romance and squalor of a sophisticated beggar chronicling scripts from Beat-bohemia, poems, thoughts and doodles to gnaw on, mad travel postcards from the edge, in near-pictorial storytelling with heart, head and every other organ on sleeve and disc. He’s a weaver of tales, maker of myths. A personal style already intact from the first vinyls. This is not so much a ‘best of’, because it can’t be, some of his most ambitious songs are huge sprawling epics. Instead, this is a series of illuminating thumbnail snapshots, frames from a life-movie, flashes from the archives of oblivion, and an imperfect wish-list. “Davey” is about his older brother (from ‘Flat Baroque And Beserk’, 1970). The heart-wrenching “Little Lady” (from ‘Lifemask’, 1973) is from ‘Made’, the movie he did with Carol White. And there are the Arcadian dreams of his muse making her first daisy-chain ‘as her nipples hung hard in suggestion’, as David Bedford scores the strings for his rich poetry fast and slow (“Commune” from ‘Valentine’, 1974). We know about the Pink Floyd association, Led Zeppelin, Paul & Linda, and Kate Bush. But Ritchie Blackmore guests on some ‘Sophisticated Beggar’ tracks (“Black Clouds”, “Girlie” from 1966). Bert Jansch wrote the sleeve notes to ‘Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith’ (1967) from which comes “All You Need Is”, while Shel Talmy produces. From ‘Bullinamingvase’ (1977) the tune for the reflective “Naked Flame” is modelled on the traditional ‘Lord Franklin’s Lament’ – the same source as “Bob Dylan’s Dream” (from ‘Freewheelin’’), although both may be taken from Martin Carthy’s arrangement. But while other, lesser talents came and went scoring hits and awards in a blur, across a fifty-year career-arc this strummer never played without a tight cult audience there to carry him. Or the critical support of his peers. Something infinitely more valuable than hits or MBE’s.

Saturday 29 October 2011

'Last Exit To Brooklyn' by Hubert Selby Jr


23rd July 1928 – 26th April 2004
Hubert Selby Jnr is dead. His greatest novel lives on.
Andrew Darlington tries to make sense of it all...

‘a book that will explode like a rusty,
hellish bombshell over America…’
Allen Ginsberg’s prediction
for ‘Last Exit To Brooklyn’

They never got around to writing the ‘Great American Novel’. So Hubert Selby Junior perpetrates ‘Last Exit To Brooklyn’ instead. Hefting its title from a highway-sign midpoint Manhattan and Kennedy airport. Onto a huge shambling work vaguely derived from Henry Miller’s darker erotic imaginings speed-wrecked into William Burroughs’ coldly analytical violence. A book at once intriguing… and disturbing. Action orbits ‘The Greeks’, a ‘beat-up all-night diner’. A subterranean world populated by hoodlums, transvestites, Gays, Korean-bound conscripts, urban predators and perverts, racially stereotyped black hipster studs, Italians and Jews, plus the diversity of Peurto Ricans and wino’s who also haunt its Brooklyn environs. Their six mosaic-linked narratives form self-contained vignettes lurching spasmodically from World War II with Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker’s Bebop sax wailing on the radio, to roughly the fifties, and delinquent kids smoking marijuana in the playground. As locations shift from Red Hook to the housing ‘Project’, mapping the various family groups and antagonisms trapped there.

Post-apocalyptic, without the apocalypse having taken place, you can read it as a kind of mutant dystopian Science Fiction. It inhabits the Cold War terror-preoccupations of its time, a desolation-mindset derived from impending nuclear aftermath. Or it’s a novel of some squalid blood-capitalist alternate present, mirroring its alienation and moral corruption – up-dating Cyril Kornbluth, pre-dating Anthony Burgess’ ‘Clockwork Orange’, more bizarre that J.G. Ballard, more pointed and analytically jagged than John Brunner’s ‘Stand On Zanzibar’. While comparison with Harlan Ellison’s feral street-mythology needs little elaboration. Without Selby’s great vomit-back of beautifully tainted disgust, would there have been Lou Reed’s tales of junkie sleaze, New York Doll’s teenage queens, Bukowski, Patti Smith and beyond…? Probably. But there are debts and connections to be made.

Initially picked up and announced by the Beat Generation writers – with Allen Ginsberg declaring it would ‘still be eagerly read in a hundred years’, celebrated for its liberating honesty by the counter-culture press, and championed by the anti-censorship lobby, ‘Last Exit…’ is a novel of ultimate alienation. Alienation from any meaningful relationship, alienation from values, alienation from self. Here, the body is no more than an extension of commodity to utilise, display, arrange, and exploit in the quest for sensation. Love an acquisitive act, the usage ‘scoring’ an exact contextual definition. Violence – random and impersonal, serves much the same purpose (‘…tore her clothes to small scraps put out a few cigarettes on her nipples pissed on her jerked-off on her jammed a broomstick up her snatch then bored they left her lying amongst the broken bottles rusting cans and rubble of the lot…’).

Violence is multi-layered, the victim incidental, used as a proxy target in lieu of wife, parent, employer, cop, the city in general… the self? Sex – interchangeable with violence, serves for ego-gratification. A process of catharsis. A route to asserting superiority on the most basic animal level. Then again, violence reignites with the senses – shattering veneers of alienation, breaking through into a kind of hyper-reality. Characters live unreal lives. Permanently high on ‘bennies’ (Benzedrine) and/or booze (‘…spun centrifugally around stimulants, opiates, johns…’). Eating and drinking irregularly, hurriedly and badly. They are under a constant pressure of external hostilities and internal chemical imbalance – an unreality focused by the Drag Queen Ball façade where the ‘Fairies’ are more beautiful and more feminine than real women. Violence is a sensual act, a route back to reality, an act of ego-supremacy. Blood is real. Adrenaline is excitingly real. On an even simpler level, violence is instant fun, an escape from perpetual boredom.

Sure, Selby can occasionally be accused of using violence as a plot convenience too, to round off an awkward passage with fitting finality, to get rid of an unwanted character. Evidence the “Strike” sequence, climaxed by Harry Black being beaten to pulp. There seems no internal plot motivation for this – other than that the theme is exhausted while the character remains unresolved. It could be existential, to emphasise that random violence is a permanent Brooklyn sub-current, without needing logic, or reason, or any form of internal consistency. It just happens without any external stimulus whatsoever.

Selby, a writer of extremis, grew up in Brooklyn’s Red Hook district. He was self-taught, but knew what he was writing about. Yet the purpose of the novel is not to attain realism. Instead, he shoves situations to near-overkill caricature, where – by contrast, violence can serve a crude moral purpose. The “Tralala” sequence in particular (originally published in a 1961 issue of the ‘Provincetown Review’, followed by an immediate obscenity trial!) has the kind of exact moral development of the ‘Rake’s Progress’. Tralala is fifteen, on the fringe of prostitution and petty crime. She rolls sailors and ‘doggie’ GI’s. Goes uptown with an Officer in hope of greater material reward. Screws for money, or to spite other girls. She’s already instrumental in beating up one soldier who attempts to retrieve his ID card from a wallet she’s stolen from him. Until, with a two-dimensional inevitability she degenerates into an ‘Inebriate Woman’ inviting the gang-bang in a wrecked car on a deserted lot which presumably kills her. The moral, apparently – those who live by the cock die by the cock.

This Faustian (anti-)morality is a constant. All are corrupt, all deserve whatever they get by first living the laws that ultimately destroy them with such precision. The “Strike” sequence is pivotal, with the workers caught between venal Union Officials creaming private profits from funds, and a scheming management who engineer and benefit from the strike by tax concessions. Comparisons with the Miner’s Strike in Zola’s ‘Germinal’ are revealing, and parallels between the two writers have already been spun by Prof Frank Kermode (editor of the ‘Fontana Modern Masters’ book series), and by Anthony Burgess. But – unlike Zola, for Selby there are no clear-cut issues. There is, and can be no honour. Society is structured on greed-motivation, drawing its life-energies from hatreds and resentments universal on every social level and class. Workers and union are part of the same cancer. And in the light of subsequently uncovered Mafia connections with the American Teamsters Truck-Drivers Union, the degree of corruption seems hardly exaggerated.

It is relentless. Yet beyond images of disgust and hatred, characterisation is frequently shallow. Pompous Harry Black is sexually rejected by the gay Regina. A well-visioned sequence. But the vindictive Union man’s revelation of his own previously unsuspected orientation seems superficial. In Selby’s ‘macho’ world where sexual prowess is the key-stone to self-identity, there’s none of the trauma, disorientation or confusion it could be expected to produce. There’s accuracy in Harry’s rootless lack of identity. His anonymity. And the lure of belonging to such a sub-culture, identification as part of that minority – could be valuable even if, and perhaps particularly if, that new definition is reviled (and hence reinforced) by those outside its milieu. A fragmenting into ethnic, political and sexual sub-worlds can provoke even more powerful internal allegiances. But surely the initial acceptance of ‘gender deviance’ to as unsubtle a man as Harry Black would not come without some unease? A process of unease that Selby ignores.

The psychology is more effectively mapped in an earlier sequence, where the gay Georgette schemes to seduce the straight Vinnie. Here are passages of tactile description that give first intimations of the novel’s lyrical power. In the first section – “Another Day, Another Dollar”, ‘and the cars still passed and the drunks still passed and the sky was clear and bright with stars and moon and a light breeze was blowing and you could hear the tugs in the harbour chugging and the deep OOOO from their whistles floated across the bay and rolled down 2nd Avenue and even the ferry’s mooring winch could be heard, when it was quiet and still, clanging a ferry into the slip…’ Then, in the “Queen Is Dead” (one of two Selby titles later filched by Morrissey for the Smiths – the other being “Pretty Girls Make Graves”) Georgette observes ‘through a rip in the black shade she saw dancing points of grey and soon light would streak the sky and the shadows would soften and dance, and the soft early morning light would seep through the room pushing the shadows from the now darkened corners and the candles soon would be out’. Here are glimpses of what a 2003 issue of ‘The Guardian’ calls ‘the love buried under all this madness, behind the obsession’.

The book is copyrighted 1957, although it would be 1966 before a hardback edition appeared in the UK. Its publication followed by a protracted Old Bailey obscenity trial (November 1967). The verdict initially went against the book, only to be reversed by a subsequent appeal (July 1968). The later Corgi paperback edition is prefaced by Anthony Burgess who enthuses over its worth, while documenting this eccentric legal history. Selby’s words – he infers, are compulsive, singing with the well-observed beat of Brooklyn street-rap – words that cannon and telescope into each other reading phonetically with little regard to punctuation. It should be read in that same easy conversational manner, without stopping to analyse particularly obtuse conglomerations of consonants and nouns, the chances are it will sound right. Passages of conversation are not mapped by quote marks or acknowledgements – the reader works out who said what from context. Further amusing confusion arises from Selby’s insistence on referring to gays by their chosen, rather than their biological gender, leading to paradoxical statements such as ‘her cock’ (but then again, perhaps it’s saying hang-ups about sexual identity are merely symptoms of macro-social orthodoxy?).

Anyway, Selby’s skill makes it work, and the prose power is undeniable. He, after all, is part of the world he describes. His morphine addiction may have been acquired as a result of painkillers administered during a three-and-a-half year hospitalisation for tuberculosis, but it leads him to a prison spell. And it’s only later – in 1969, following the benefits – and problems of literary celebrity, that he’s able to quit both drugs and booze, although he continues to smoke compulsively until a month before he dies from ‘a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease’.

He goes on to write other books. But ‘Last Exit To Brooklyn’ is the one that marks him out. And juvenile delinquent Vinnie who provides a casual continuity-thread to its episodic narrative, right into his eventual marriage that makes him part of the ‘Project’. Selby almost manages a grudging affection for this street-punk, while using humour to show how the destructive system he’s part of is self-perpetuating. Yet not once does he attempt to analyse the forces shaping the society he portrays. Without ever stating it, the novel illustrates how raw Capitalism corrupts – and ultimate Capitalism corrupts absolutely to its every visceral level. He never seems to consider that perhaps a system taking ferocious internal competition as its first prerequisite, veneering it with the concepts of voracious expansion and growth for the winners, and the sink-hole ghetto for losers, is pre-programmed to produce something like this. That the Brooklyn nightmare (complete with Harry Black’s ‘Harpies’) is an integral part and parcel of the American Dream.
There can be no Greening for this America. No Exit from this Brooklyn…


‘LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN’ Novel (Grove Edition 1964 – UK 24th January 1966 through Calder & Boyars Ltd/ Paladin paperback) A book with ‘a studied disdain for the laws of punctuation… not an apostrophe from start to finish.’ Subject of a successful private prosecution for obscenity, brought by Tory MP Sir Cyril Black, at its November 1967 trial Selby himself was too in thrall to drugs and booze to attend, but at its appeal the following year Frank Kermode’s testimony was followed by the editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph’, the future Bishop of Liverpool David Sheppard, and Shirley Williams’ father Professor George Catlin. Movie critic Philip French was the 18th witness. Defence witness Anthony Burgess later admits to not particularly liking the book, but took the stand for the general principle of anti-censorship. Eventually, John Mortimer persuades the Court of Appeal to overturn the initial verdict. Re-issued as a ‘Penguin Classic’ edition in 2011 (£9.99) with new introduction by Irvine Welsh and afterword by Selby himself, placing the novel within biographical context. According to Charlotte Newman’s review its ‘surprising intermittent lyricism making it clear that Selby has some sympathy for his characters… saves what could have been a bitterly depressing book from being truly sadistic’ (‘Observer’ 16 October 2011)

‘LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN’ Movie (Summit Entertainment, 1989 USA, UK premiere 5 January 1990. Guild Video. DVD In-2-Film, 2005. 102 minutes) movie adaptation directed by Uli Edel– billed as ‘The Film That Shocked A Nation’, it features Stephen Lang (as Harry Black), Burt Young (as Big Joe), Peter Dobson (as Vinnie), and Ricki Lake, with a Mark Knopfler score and a Desmond Nakano screenplay. The novel’s extended time-span is compressed down into incidents across a single 1952 summer, and Tralala (Jennifer Jason Leigh) survives her gang-rape to be comforted by Spook. Selby himself cameos as the Taxi Driver who accidentally runs down transvestite Georgette (played by Alexis Arquette). Before the movie restored his celebrity Selby was reportedly living on welfare in a two-room LA apartment, doing menial jobs in gas stations and gift shops.

‘THE ROOM’ (1971) His second novel, a small-time crook in a remand cell has claustrophobic sadistic fantasies. Reissued as a 1988 Paladin paperback as a double with ‘Song Of The Silent Snow’

‘THE DEMON’ (1976 – UK Marion Boyars 1977) Successful tycoon Harry fulfils his dark side through sexual pick-ups, theft, and eventual murders. “Inside the piston beat of madness, he excels… the writing rises from the sludge to the same sulphurous heights as ‘Last Exit’” says Jim Neville (‘Sunday Times’). A Corgi 1979 edition features an atmospherically tacky nude-girl cover.

‘REQUIEM FOR A DREAM’ (1978 – 1979 UK Marion Boyars) Young hoods Harry & Tyrone fantasise about scoring a pound of heroin and getting rich. There’s a movie adaptation directed by Darren Aronofsky (2000)


‘SONG OF THE SILENT SNOW’ (1986 – UK Marion Boyars) Fifteen short stories including ‘The Coat’ and ‘Of Whales & Dreams’, “dips into scummy urban terror” says Valentine Cunningham (‘Observer’)

‘WAITING PERIOD’ (2001 – UK 2002) A homicidal loner plots a serial murder spree following an aborted suicide, while waiting for his gun licence to come through.

also ‘FEAR X’ (March 2004) Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s original screenplay collaboration with Selby, featuring John Turturro, James Remar, and Deborah Kara Unger. A trail of random clues to his wife’s car-park murder leads a Wisconsin Mall Security Guard (Turturro) to a Montana hotel where vigilantes punish bent cops.

also ‘OUR FATHERS WHO AREN’T IN HEAVEN’ (Widowspeak label – 1990) an LP of readings by Henry Rollins, Lydia Lunch, Don Bajema, and Selby + there are other audio titles such as ‘TOUGH GUYS TALK DIRTY’ and ‘LIVE IN EUROPE 1989’

Further revised from a feature published in:
‘CHAOTIC ORDER no.18’ (UK – January 2005)
which was a much-revised version of an original feature published in:
‘BOGG no.31’ (UK – March 1976)

JUVENILE SF: 'Kemlo & The Zones Of Space'


He is a boy born in, and perfectly adapted to space.
He lives in Satellite Belt-K, a huge wheel-shaped
‘Spaceworld’ Space Station. He and his pals have a
series of adventures across fifteen novels.
But were they any good…?
Andrew Darlington re-reads them all…


I admit it – even as a kid, I found the stories of space-brat Kemlo slightly indigestible. A review of ‘Kemlo And The End Of Time’ in ‘Authentic no.84’ (September 1957) explains that because he was space-born our hero and his companion Krillie don’t ‘need any sort of helmet or protective device, and all of space is his playground’. Adding ‘if you like logical science in your stories you won’t like Kemlo!’ And yes, even then, when I was part of what was presumably the target demographic for the books, I found the premise they were based around one step too implausible to seriously accept. I was happy to read about Space Kingley bathing in the water-oceans of Neptune. Space Ace using an anti-gravity belt to cross a volcanic lake of molten vibrillium on Jupiter. Jet-Ace Logan caught up in a war between the rival species inhabiting the climatic extremes of Mercury’s opposing hemispheres. Dan Dare conspiring against the Empire of the Nine Moons on Mimas ‘under the blazing heat of Saturn’s rings’. All that, yes, but not Kemlo, the boy who can breathe in space.

The ‘Kemlo’ books were written by Reginald Alec Martin, under the alias ‘E.C. Elliot’. Some few years earlier I had enjoyed the same writer’s Pocomoto western yarns – written simultaneously under the further pseudonym ‘Reg Dixon’. Born in 1900, Reginald Martin was nothing if not prolific. He produced no less than twenty-three Pocomoto adventures between 1953 and 1963, during the years he was also churning out the Kemlo stories. Kemlo debuted in 1954 with ‘Kemlo And The Crazy Planet’ (1954), going on to add ‘Kemlo And The Zones Of Silence’ (1954) and on. Although each novel is stand-alone, and self-contained, the intention is obviously for the reader to compile a full set. And ‘Kemlo And The Space Lanes’ (1955) follows on from his earlier encounter with the ‘Martian Ghosts’ of the previous novel. Kemlo and Earth-born Calvin Lester are charting space lanes for the construction of a new Satellite Belt when their survey is disrupted by the appearance of a fiery zigzag spectrum of light. Although hazardous, no-one believes in the existence of the spectral patterns, and he’s forced to conceal his fears about the danger they represent. There are detailed descriptions of the construction of the new belt, built in the wheel-shape that orbital space-stations were frequently conjectured at the time. Until a patrol ship is crushed ‘like a plastic drinking cup’. Captain Heralgo is now persuaded of the ‘somewhat fantastic danger’ of this ‘new weapon for a new age’. Eventually, the manoeuvres of a space armada, acting on Kemlo’s plan, succeed in first disabling the hostile spectrums in a ‘Battle of the Rays’, then tracking them to their source, an ‘electronic ray impulse generator’ in space, but controlled by the Eastern International powerblock on Earth. So, no extraterrestrial intervention. No nasty aliens with evil intent. Not even a proper confrontation with the villains responsible. Just a gentle reminder of political tensions and espionage on the home planet that Kemlo has never visited.

The books were published by Thomas Nelson, first with lavish colour plates and spot art by RJ Jobson, then with illustrations by sometime ‘Dan Dare’ and ‘Jet Morgan’ artist Bruce A Cornwell, up until ‘Kemlo And The Zombie Men’ in 1958. Later titles – including ‘Kemlo And The Space Invaders’ (1961), featured art by George Craig, although by then the lavish frontispiece had been budgeted away in favour of black-and-white line drawings.


Kemlo’s parents, and his grandparents who had participated in the construction of the orbital habitats, were ordinary Earth-born ‘air-breathers’ who colonised the huge ‘world in the sky’ high above the planet. But the first-generation space-born neatly reverse the situation. Space is their realm, their natural element. Their metabolism is perfectly adapted to survive within it. They need life-support, not in space, but within atmospheres. Even within their ‘Spaceworld’ home they must live in ‘open’ sections segregated from the Earth-born, and from their parents, because too much oxygen will kill them. Arthur C Clarke was called to account for the ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ movie-sequence in which astronaut Bowman leaps from the pod to the airlock, briefly exposed to raw space – a stunt replicated in the later film ‘Sunshine’ (2007). Clarke offered scientific justification for such a brief exposure. Two minutes maximum, if properly prepared. Much earlier Stanley Weinbaum includes a similar sequence in his story “The Red Peri” (1935), and Lester Del Rey phrased it as “Let ‘Em Breathe Space” in his ‘Space Science Fiction’ story of 1953. But for Kemlo ‘there’s a special ‘something’ in space that lets us live’ he explains. Depressurisation? they’re protected by a sheen of ‘holding rays’. And breathing? in space he’s capable of living by breathing ‘plasmorgia’. It’s possible to conjecture plasmorgia as some kind of highly tenuous plasma micro-particles. After all, even space is not a total vacuum. But that’s a kind of special pleading. The ability to speed comfortably through the vacuum of space unprotected is the attribute of comic-book Super-heroes, not serious SF. Even as a kid I was aware of the difference, Superheroes are not expected to conform to science. SF should at least stay within touching distance of it. Kemlo’s abilities are certainly a fictional device, nothing more. Elliott cheerfully admits as much when he has Kemlo explain how technical detail ‘takes such an awful lot of explaining and people get bored with it, but you must explain some of these things if you can’. Does it matter? this is, after all, literature intended to entertain children. But if it’s a literary device, a gimmick for the edification of juvenile readers, why should they be subjected to lower standards than adults? Why should it be OK to disregard the laws of physics for children, but not their parents? And even suspending disbelief for that one anomaly, there’s more, arguably worse to come.

With its three-mile circumference and a 15,000-mph orbital speed, Satellite Belt-K is one of a number of alphabetised Space Stations – there’s also S, M, T & O, with the new one under construction in prefabricated sections on Earth. But growing up in space also means that Kemlo can never visit his parent’s home-world. That is, until the later intervention of ‘compressed plasmorgia’ and the assistance of ‘gravity rays’. The orbital space habitat has long been a fixture in SF, clear through to movies such as ‘Silent Running’ (1972). While EC Tubb deals with the readjustment problems of colonists born on Mars having to adapt to the greater gravity of Earth upon their return. Critics similarly demolished Kemlo And The Gravity Rays with ‘this one deals with the fact that Earth-born men had been able to travel to space, but till now space-born men had not been able to travel to Earth. As usual, the science is not all it could be, but this lack is more than made up by the action and fast pace’ (‘Authentic no.69’ May 1956). The main characters, Kemlo’s companions on his adventures, are also alphasort coded after the call-sign of their Belt. There is tall gangling pubertal ‘Krow’ Kerowski – much humour derived from the fact that his voice is breaking. There’s Kartin, and curly-haired Krillie, the youngest of them. While Kemlo has a bossy sister called Krinsetta. Quite possibly, when they study the classical music of Earth the Kinks will feature prominently on the syllabus! There are no surnames. For this fiction is a kid’s continuum, a ‘Boy’s World’ with elements common to other literature aimed at juveniles. Similar to the all-male boarding school setting with all its behavioural peer pressure, rivalry and bonding. When he's excited Kemlo exclaims ‘jumping meteorites’ or even ‘great sizzling meteors’, and when angered he threatens to ‘poke you in the snoot’. Then they pause at regular intervals to scoff grub and gulp fruit-juice. Kemlo occasionally wonders how his group compare to their Earth-born counterparts, ‘we don’t know what it’s like to have streets and buildings surrounding us like you have on Earth’ he points out. The space-born are ‘handsome healthy youngsters with the same love of fun’ but with noticeably wider shoulders, deeper chests, and a grace of movement owing to lack of gravity. He wonders if the space-born are more serious than Earth children. They play, but their hazardous environment means they must study hard too.

For Kemlo, there are compensations, ‘life on the Satellite Belt was never dull’. Across the spread of novels, as Captain of the Space Scouts Kemlo and his pals are ‘pretty wizzo’ at travelling on colourful space-scooters powered by self-generating pellets of ‘urania’. His space-scooter goes ‘KREE-OWW!’ and then ‘SHROO-UUSH!’ as it hurtles through the blue void. They cross the vast distances in space that are plotted in Leenas, protected by their canopy of holding rays through a ‘skyful of fantastic phenomena’. They visit the moon – ‘so grim and dead’, they get caught up in magnetic storms on Martian moonlet Diemos, and, when Krillie and Kemlo lose their way, they find themselves on the ‘Crazy Planet’ too. Once there they help the friendly Laughing People fight off an attack by ferocious Wood Beasts, and encounter less-friendly marooned Earthmen. It’s not exactly clear where the Crazy Planet is located within the solar system. In ‘Kemlo And The Sky Horse’ Dane and Lesa – Krilllie’s cousins arrive, and the stories they’re reading determine Kemlo to construct ‘a new-world Pegasus, a horse that can gallop in space’, despite the hazards of the chapter-heading ‘Meteor Menace’. There’s more of a sense of sinister mystery in ‘Kemlo And The Zones Of Silence’ in which Krinsetta is kidnapped by three boys from Belt-S and taken to ‘Dead World’. Again, it’s not exactly clear where the Dead World lies, but it is ringed by the zones of silence, a ‘small dark green necklace’ that ‘hung ominously in the blue void’. The prank goes wrong when the rescuers meet Bat-Men there, and an untypical macabre edge when, while exploring ‘The Mangling Caves’ ‘they knew they had discovered something which was almost beyond their power to understand’, a grotto containing old space-suits, ‘and each space-suit contained a human skeleton and in every case the top of the skull was neatly severed’. They encounter a survivor ‘Sid’, through whom they learn more about these worlds controlled by ‘Thought Transference’.

Then, in another mangling of factoids, ‘Kemlo And The Star Men’ begins as a routine test exercise in which the Space Scouts are sent to investigate a phenomenon described as a ‘wandering minor galaxy’! This is ‘a general term used to describe anything from a gas-cloud to semi-solid spheres or a disc-shaped constellation’. And this wandering galaxy is only ‘several hundred-thousand miles from Satellite Belt-K’ – hence well within the solar system, less distant than Mars! Once near they become snared by its gravitation and dragged into the Star World, a place of ‘weird voices, solid land inside a cloud of stardust, and the usual, extravagant adventures of the boys who live on the Satellite Belt-K’ (‘Authentic no.66’ in February 1956). Krillie provides a diary-commentary as they set down on an organic surface within the pearly glow, beneath a bridge of coloured light. He muses that they might have landed on a star – ‘some stars are really minor planets, and that means they are a substance’. Their radiotronic waves begin picking up alien voices and a spinning flame-spouting circular craft appears, crewed by hostile egg-shaped robotic Humpties. Eventually, trapped inside the alien ship, Kemlo and Kerowski succeed in destroying it. The Space Scouts are finally rescued by the Belt’s special Star Men squad, who reveal that the Humpties craft originated on Mars, and was also investigating the new phenomenon. ‘Our job is to investigate all the minor galaxies which appear and report whether they are likely to become, or have a chance of becoming, a planet’ he tells the boys, ‘it is reasonable to assume that every major planet in the universe began as a minor galaxy millions of years ago.’ Reasonable? Actually, it’s gobbledygook! Such sloppy writing really is inexcusable.

Yet the fifteen ‘Kemlo’ books were so successful that Elliot launched a parallel series featuring ‘Tas’, beginning with ‘Tas And The Postal Rocket’ which lifts off from the Woomera Complex in 1955. Tas was also visualised by Bruce Cornwell. By the time Reginald Alec Martin died of cancer in Sussex, in 1971, his work was enjoying renewed popularity through a reissue series of Merlin paperbacks, even though the cover misspelled his pseudonym ‘Eliot’. Re-reading them now it’s reassuring to find my childhood impressions confirmed. Yes, the Kemlo books are rather poor examples of juvenile fiction. Yet the first SF book Iain Banks confesses to reading is ‘Kemlo And The Zones Of Silence’. Ken Macleod, author of the ‘Engines of Light’ Space Opera series, also admits to reading Kemlo books at the age of eight or nine, something he now considers ‘perhaps best forgotten’. Paul Barnes (John Grant) even claims that discovering Kemlo transformed his life, and that later ‘I discovered that half the writers active in UK SF had gone through the same experience. EC Eliott moulded a generation’. Horror writer Simon Clark read Kemlo. Fellow Horror Writer Peter Crowther ups the ante by claiming he read Kemlo – as well as Patrick Moore’s ‘Mars’ books and Angus MacVicar’s ‘Lost Planet’ series at age six or seven.


I recall much preferring ‘The Future Took Us’, a time-slip novel written by David Severn. Although first published in hardback by Bodley Head in 1957 illustrated by Jillian Richards, I bought the three-shilling 1962 Puffin paperback edition at a school book-fair. Lured by William Stubbs’ atmospheric cover-art showing two boys cascading through the rippling vortex of time. Writer David Storr Unwin – who lurked behind the ‘David Severn’ alias, died as recently as 11 February 2010, at the credible age of ninety-two. Snatched into a dystopian post-apocalypse 3000AD his schoolboy heroes only recognise they’re on future-Earth by the continuity of a recognisable pylon. If the denouement was less impressive, in which, through some kind of H Rider Haggard reincarnation twist the religious dictator resembles their old headmaster, and uses a maths primer as his holy book, the book still left a positive impression. As did Hugh Walters’ ‘The Domes Of Pico’ (1958) in which hostile Moon-based aliens with evil intent project neutron streams that disrupt Earth’s atomic installations. ‘Of course, Arthur C. Clarke has done it all before, and so much better’ snipes critic Leslie Flood, while conceding that the novel is ‘far superior to the usual run of juvenile SF’. A verdict echoed by Kenneth F. Slater writing in ‘Nebula no.33’ (August 1958), who adds ‘primarily a juvenile, it should not be overlooked by adult readers’. In fact, ‘Pico’ was the sequel to ‘Blast Off At Woomera’ (1957), in which seventeen-year-old Chris Godfrey, due to his short stature, was first launched into orbit to document the ‘strange unnatural shapes squatting balefully in the midst of the wild lunar scene’. Writer Walter Llewelyn Hughes, who simply reversed his name into the pseudonym ‘Hugh Walters’, ran his own furniture store in the west-Midlands, but was also a member of the British Astronomical Association and the grandly named British Interplanetary Society. The future he portrays is a curious mix of steam trains – presumably coal-fired, and an increasing reliance on nuclear power due to the depletion of coal-reserves! The Calder Hall reactor, subsequently renamed Sellafield – high-profile then due to its recent opening as the world’s first commercial nuclear station on 17th October 1956, is the first installation to be affected by the lunar domes, and to go critical. To be followed by other reactors around the world. Cold War rivals unite in the face of extraterrestrial threat, and Hughes again uses the Australian spacedrome to reignite the escapades of his hero, who must plant a guide-beacon on the moon for the USSR and USA to target. Hughes’ prose is consistently more serious in its approach than that of Reginald Alec ‘E.C. Elliot’ Martin. In a bleaker more realistic take on technical adventure, both the science and the political balance are well-integrated, without becoming intrusive. Over the course of further sequels Chris finds himself stranded on the moon in a stand-off with Serge, a cosmonaut from Murmansk. In a microcosm of global necessities they are forced to reach an understanding that will enable them both to return home. They become long-term friends, joined by the American Morrison ‘Morrey’ Kane and young Brummie Terry in the newly-formed UNEXA (United Nations Exploration Agency), in journeys to each planet of the solar system. The four travel to Venus in an attempt to discover an antidote to an extraterrestrial grey fungus-mould spreading devastation through the African rainforest, then use an ion-drive ship to reach Mars. At the rate of one book per planet – all the way to Pluto, with bonus adventures in subterranean Earth civilisations, the stories continue into the 1970’s, by which time Chris Godfrey has become UNEXA Deputy Director. The books received generally positive press reactions. ‘Excellent plotting and straightforward style tend to overcome the somewhat naïve simplicity for older readers’ opines no less an authority than Leslie Flood – in ‘New Worlds no.97’. While Theodore Sturgeon, in his ‘New York Times’ review opines that ‘reading a Hugh Walters novel fills this old hand with a poignant nostalgia… no kid who reads this can possibly come out of it without knowing more than what he went in with’ (24th July 1974). Unlike the ‘funniosities’ of reading a Kemlo novel.

There were other novel series, the mere fact of their hardback appearance tending to invest often highly tacky literary product with an illusory parentally-approved respectability – licensing plot-lines and scientific liberties that their more trashy picture-strip counterparts wouldn’t be allowed to get away with. Sometimes Dan Dare’s exploits seem almost level-headed by comparison. So – just how scientifically plausible are those novels? The prolific Patrick Moore – already wild-eyed and in ill-fitting suit, wrote a book of critical essays called ‘Science And Fiction’, proclaimed by ‘Nebula no.20’ (March 1957) as ‘the most important book of recent months’. In it he takes space fiction and slips it like a microscope-slide under a scrupulously analytical eye, concluding that the only worthwhile examples of the category are ‘those which are accurate as they can be made in the light of our present knowledge’, allowing only, and grudgingly that ‘a good deal of license must necessarily be allowed’. Moore contributed a regular ‘Sky At Night’ column to ‘The Children’s Newspaper’ which I read week-by-week, and produced his own text-book ‘Guide To Mars’ (Muller at 10s 6d) which I borrowed from the local library. He professed to consider his own fiction to be both educational and agitational-propaganda for astronomy and space exploration. Promoted as an astronomer and hence a ‘credible’ voice, he churned out a dozen SF novels aimed at young readers throughout the fifties. His first novel, ‘Master Of The Moon’, arrived in 1952. While ‘Mission To Mars’ – blurbed ‘THE BOOK FOR BOYS WITH AN EARNEST INTEREST IN SPACE TRAVEL’ (1956), became the first of his ‘Mars’ quintet. When I met Patrick during his 2000 visit to Bradford I passed a carefully-preserved first-edition of the novel, with its childish cover-art, across the table for him to sign. ‘Oh goodness me’ he exclaimed, examining it critically as though a strange alien artefact from before the dawn of time. But there, within those hardback covers, his young heroes were launched from Woomera rocket range, to discover life on the red planet, a creature ‘in the nature of a huge bat, with a body as long as a man’s, and flapping membranous wings that beat against the tenuous air as the creature hovered’. In the sequel, ‘The Domes Of Mars’ (1956), Patrick’s protagonist survives helmetless in the hostile Martian terrain by plunging his head into oxygenating plants. Then, in ‘Peril On Mars’ (1957), his human colonists discover Martian dragonflies, and groves of gas-plants which exhale breathable oxygen. Elsewhere within his fictional solar system, in his 1956 novel ‘World Of Mists’ Gregory Quest provides the heroics while ‘Venus provides the locale of action, with its choking atmosphere and thick fogs’. So, his fantasies, although less extravagant than some, have proved to be just as factually inaccurate. And bearing in mind Patrick’s assertion about SF being useful largely as agitational-propoganda for Astronomy and Astronautics, I asked him, did he believe that such prose presented an accurate portrayal of Mars as it was understood at the time? ‘Good heavens no’ he burbled in absurd amusement, ‘it was just fun.’


Even the mighty Isaac Asimov made a foray into the juvenile fiction zone, beginning with ‘David Starr, Space Ranger’ in 1952, although he felt it necessary to assume the alias ‘Paul French’ to do so. Venus was conventionally portrayed in fifties fiction as a young planet, with primitive swamp and rain-forest jungles beneath its obscuring clouds, which were mistakenly assumed to be composed of water vapour. ‘Paul French’, contributes ‘Lucky Starr And The Oceans Of Venus’ in 1954, equally light-years wrong in his vision of the planet, as even its title indicates. His series, running to six ‘David Starr’ titles, was later republished under Asimov’s own name, on which occasion he seized the opportunity of inserting an escape clause introduction explaining that, although the science in the novels is now known to be ‘ludicrously obsolete’, ‘Paul French’ was writing within the confines of what was known, and what could be extrapolated in the 1950’s. And at that time the solar system was a very different place. It’s tempting to suggest Captain WE ‘Bill’ Johns’ SF novel series for comparable levels of oddness. The creator of ‘Biggles’ died in 1968, so when his ‘Kings Of Space’ books returned to print through Piccolo paperbacks in 1980, he was denied such retroactive self-defence. His stories suffered critically as a result. Yet he’d have no truck with space-breathing youngsters. In ‘The Man Who Vanished Into Space’ (1963) Rex Clinton is travelling in the Tavona spacecraft when they encounter a body in space. ‘Should he himself step out of the ship unprotected, he reflected with a shiver, he would join the corpse already there, dead within a minute, his lungs deep-frozen and the blood in his veins solid ice. Empty space. On Earth, men spoke of it glibly without realising what a fearful thing it really was’. Even as a young reader myself, I could respect the stark truth of such passages where I could not accept Kemlo. ‘It is easier’ W.E. Johns claims in a kind of pre-emptive self-justification, ‘to write a book on a subject about which nothing is known, for then nothing can be denied’, and with the ‘dark spaces of the universe… we know just enough to put a check on over-indulgence in fanciful imagination. But still, a little may be permitted’. After all, ‘theories of today are scrapped tomorrow as fresh information comes to hand… let them scoff!’

Following this logic, his Professor Brane even encounters strange life-forms on the Moon. But Johns, ‘an author who is recognised as one of the foremost writers in the field’ – according to ‘Authentic no.72’ (August 1956), is far from alone in discovering lunar life. M.E. Patchett – whose initials modestly disguise the identity of Australian grandmother Mary Osborne Elwyn, born in 1897! had ‘Adam Troy’ – an Astroman who travels to the Moon as London is threatened by a giant meteor-strike and Kraken-style radiation-monsters begin rising from the ocean depths. She targets the Moon again in ‘Send For Johnny Danger’ as the crew of the first Luna-bound spaceship find themselves stranded there ‘with little air and less hope…’. Naturally, they survive such inconveniences by finding and investigating strange buildings, meeting stranger creatures, and finally arriving home triumphantly.

Mars had already built an incredibly rich mythology by the time Captain W.E. Johns’ spacefarers got there, and his depiction of dead cities beside ancient canals is far from being the most outlandish. Perhaps – in fictional terms at least, as Professor Brane phrases it, planets are better ‘dangerously alive than drearily dead’, and Johns’ conjures an effective ‘sense of wonder’ – ‘unless I am mistaken we are on the verge of such wonders that no living man ever saw’. One which does not neglect the vast melancholy of dead civilisations, evocative ruins from lost antiquity, the ‘eternal desert’ of planetary extinctions, or the ever-present threat of nuclear conflagration with its potential to end life on Earth. ‘Politicians wonder what has gone wrong with civilisation when the answer is staring them in the face’ Brane exclaims in the second novel, ‘the world is sick with fear. It lost its peace of mind when it became possible for one man to destroy it by pressing a button. This they understand’ – sobering and pretty profound stuff to aim at socially-aware 1950’s adolescents, yet this troubling text offers a gravitas and a feel of relevance that those school-age readers were only beginning to grapple with and properly comprehend. The first tremors of a generational unease that would uniquely overshadow their lives in ways that it had seldom touched their parents. This – if only subliminally, John’s readers understood. This ever-present possibility of military misuse is precisely the reason Brane refuses to reveal his secret cosmo-technology to the world. The only real way to judge the worth of such work is within the context of the bizarre myths and morés of the time, and by comparison with its contemporaries. So where space-brat Kemlo fails this literary litmus – Johns emerges reasonably creditably. So be prepared… I’ll return to the ‘Kings Of Space’ at a later date.

OF THE 1950’s AND 1960’s

BY ‘E.C. ELLIOT’ (pseudonym of Reginald Alec Martin, who died in 1971):
For the Merlin paperback reprints the author name is mis-spelled ‘E.C. Eliot’

(1) ‘KEMLO AND THE CRAZY PLANET’ (Thomas Nelson 1954)
(2) ‘KEMLO AND THE ZONES OF SILENCE’ (Thomas Nelson, 1954/ Merlin paperback – art: RJ Jobson)
(3) ‘KEMLO AND THE SKY HORSE’ (Thomas Nelson, 1954 – art: Bruce A Cornwell)
(4) ‘KEMLO AND THE MARTIAN GHOSTS’ (Thomas Nelson, 1955/ Merlin paperback)
(5) ‘KEMLO AND THE SPACE LANES’ (Thomas Nelson, 1955/ Merlin Books paperback)
(6) ‘KEMLO AND THE CRATERS OF THE MOON’ (Thomas Nelson, 1955)
(7) ‘KEMLO AND THE STAR MEN’ (Thomas Nelson 1955 – 5s/ Merlin Books paperback, April 1968)
(8) ‘KEMLO AND THE GRAVITY RAYS’ (Thomas Nelson, 1956 – 6s)
(9) ‘KEMLO AND THE END OF TIME’ (Thomas Nelson, 1957 – 196pp – 6s)
(10) ‘KEMLO AND THE PURPLE DAWN’ (Thomas Nelson, 1957)
(11) ‘KEMLO AND THE ZOMBIE MEN’ (Thomas Nelson, 1958)
(12) ‘KEMLO AND THE SPACE MEN’ (Thomas Nelson, 1959 – illustrations: George Craig)
(13) ‘KEMLO AND THE SATELLITE BUILDERS’ (Thomas Nelson, 1960 – illustrations: George Craig)
(14) ‘KEMLO AND THE SPACE INVADERS’ (Thomas Nelson, 1961 – b/w illustrations: George Craig)
(15) ‘KEMLO AND THE MASTERS OF SPACE’ (Thomas Nelson, 1963 – b/w illustrations: George Craig)
‘TAS AND THE POSTAL ROCKET’ (Thomas Nelson, 1955, art: Bruce Cornwell/ Panther paperback, 1962)
‘TAS AND THE SPACE MACHINE’ (Thomas Nelson, 1955, art: Bruce Cornwall/ Panther paperback)


‘SPACE CADET’ (1948)
‘RED PLANET’ (1949)
‘STARMAN JONES’ (1953) – to British astronaut Mike Foale, ‘on a motivational level it was science fiction that really fired me up’ and he quotes this book as an influence ‘when I was eleven’

(Willy Ley listed as ‘Technical Adviser):
Pseudonymous novels published as spin-offs from the TV, radio, and comic-book franchise, loosely based on Robert Heinlein’s book ‘SPACE CADET’ (1948)

comic-book editions include:
‘TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET’ (Dell Publishing) January 1952-September 1954. Adapted from the 1950-1952 TV series with art by Al McWilliams (nos. 378, 400, 421), John Lehti and Frank Thorne
‘TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET’ (Prize Publications) May 1955-September 1955 numbered Vol.2 no.1-3. Art by Mort Meskin who’s cover for no.2 shows Tom fighting off hordes of dwarf orange aliens emerging from a yellow sphere spaceship
‘TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET’ (Eternity Comics) January 1990-April 1990. Black-&-white strips


‘SPACE CAPTIVES OF THE GOLDEN MEN’ (Bobbs Merrill Company, 1953) reprinted as ‘KIDNAPPERS OF SPACE’ (Lutterworth Press, 1953)
‘ADAM TROY, ASTROMAN’ (Lutterworth Press, 1954)
‘SEND FOR JOHNNY DANGER’ (Lutterworth Press, 1956 – 6s 6d)
‘THE VENUS PROJECT’ (Brockhampton Press, 1963)

BY ISAAC ASIMOV (originally as by ‘PAUL FRENCH’):


(‘…they are jovial, though stereotyped…’ Peter Nicholls ‘Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’)

‘EARTH SATELLITE’ (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1955 – factual history of orbital vehicles)
‘WORLD OF MIST’ (1956)
‘DOMES OF MARS’ (1956)
‘PERIL ON MARS’ (1957)
‘SCIENCE AND FICTION’ (Harrap, 1957 – critical essays, 192pp – 10s 6d)

BY HUGH WALTERS (WALTER LLEWELLYN HUGHES 15th June 1910-13th January 1993):
All have cover-art by Leslie Wood.
‘BLAST-OFF AT WOOMERA’ (Faber & Faber, 1957 – 15s)
‘THE DOMES OF PICO’ (Faber & Faber, 1958, 196pp – 13s 6d)
‘OPERATION COLUMBUS’ aka ‘FIRST ON THE MOON’ (Faber & Faber, 1960 – 16s)
‘MOON BASE ONE’ (Faber & Faber, 1961 – 15s)
‘EXPEDITION VENUS’ (Faber & Faber, 1962 – 15s)
‘DESTINATION MARS’ (Faber & Faber, 1963 – 15s)
‘TERROR BY SATELLITE’ (Faber & Faber, 1964 – 13 6d)
‘MISSION TO MERCURY’ (Faber & Faber, September 1965 – 16s)
‘JOURNEY TO JUPITER’ (Faber & Faber, 1966 – 15s)
‘SPACESHIP TO SATURN’ (Faber & Faber, February 1967)
‘THE MOHOLE MENACE’ (Faber & Faber, 1968)
‘NEARLY NEPTUNE’ aka ‘NEPTUNE ONE IS MISSING” (Faber & Faber, October 1969)
‘FIRST CONTACT?’ (Faber & Faber, November 1971)
‘PASSAGE TO PLUTO’ (Faber & Faber, February 1973)

… plus many more novels

This feature originally published (in edited form) in the very wonderful:
‘JEFF HAWKE’S COSMOS Vol.6 No.2’ (UK – October 2010)

Friday 28 October 2011

ALBUM: 'There Will Be Fireworks'

Album Review of:
(The Imaginary Kind, 2009)

‘there will be fireworks, and they will light up your eyes,
and you will feel more alive than ever before…’

The future of Rock ‘n’Roll? or at least the future of a certain kind of arty Indie Rock. Sensitively intense gender-balanced, white and articulately literate, Glasgow-based There Will Be Fireworks do all the variant soft-to-loud bits from acoustic stillness with an emphasis on words, abruptly arcing through near-Proggy frills into throat-scraping power-bursts of fine-spun rage. It’s already all there as opening track “Columbian Fireworks” fades in from barely perceptible insect ticking into spacey scintillation. Stornoway poet-author Kevin MacNeil adds narrative voice-over, a magical realist Latin-American text of a dead sister and the coming festival, leading into crashing waves of controlled distortion. No chorus. No riff. No middle-eight. Just three sharply distinct movements forming two states – ‘water and ice, ice and water’, all in just 3:17-minutes.

The cover photos by Jonathan Pritchard are wild rural emptiness, unpopulated, huge darkening sky over sparse trees. A minimalism in direct contradiction to the musical-density within. “So The Story Goes” has a more conventional song-structure build, barely, over a clattering soundscape that gently condenses into long-drawn-out strokes of muted colour. In “Midfield Maestro”, over an acoustic strum singer/guitarist Nicholas McManus complains his ‘tongue gets tied in knots’ and ‘the words they never stick’. These assertions are delivered in a Fran Healey ‘Travis’ vocal burr, but contradicted by the lyrical structure about how the songs he always plays are the songs she hates. Again, a midpoint switch into reverberating instrumental interplay propelled by Adam Ketterer (drums & glockenspiel) and bassist David Madden as the situation resolves in screams about setting these tapes on fire as she unravels in his arms. In “Guising” the words spill out of his cloudy head while she remains eloquent and elegant, another pair of door-to-door ghosts defined in just 1:26-minutes, it crashes directly into “Off With Their Heads”. A balance of contrasts. Nimble guitar from Gibran Farrah (guitar, violin & piano), pitch and power, painting kinetic movements in pandemonium shadow-shows, before further-seguing into the classy purity of “I Like The Lights”. An alphabet of loss in a language he can’t speak, although it sounds pretty articulate to me!

Recorded at the seventeenth-century Old Mill Studios in Strathaven this album is a continuity of memes, incoherence contrasted with light, no moment that is not considered and premeditated, nothing as cheap as hooks, yet illuminated by lights in the sky, roman-candles, constellations, shooting stars that ignite and collide. “A Kind Of Furnace” is a near-Prog epic that plunders the group’s full rich palate, a work of considerable intelligence, too thought-through for hits, and all the better because of it. Intense and relentlessly serious with moody sweeps and melodic repetitions, a textured blizzard of dynamics, a quote from Ian McEwan read by studio-engineer Marshall Craigmyle, and a sharp false-finish that merges into the more percussive up-tempo “We Sleep Through The Bombs”. Moving track-by-track, “Headlights” is a road-movie of the mind driven by keyboards and chiming guitar, and “We Were A Roman Candle” another anguished romantic bout of over-thinking, riddled with melancholy regrets for a brief and intense encounter done soft, then repeat-screamed against a dense wall of noise, finally closing with Elvis’ ‘wise men say only fools rush in… and I’m no fool’. Three more tracks bring the CD up to its required full thirteen, “Says Aye” starts all ‘cold hand and starry-eyed’ but closes with a bleak radio-news sample of ‘let us face, without panic, the reality of our time, the fact that atom bombs may some day be dropped on our cities, and let us prepare for survival by understanding the weapons that threaten us’. “Foreign Thoughts” recapitulates the theme of ‘words that won’t come out’, ‘the sounds you never speak’ and ‘the words left out’, again repeated at volume. And finally, this all-joined-up album is all tied off with “Joined-Up Writing” with ‘the things I could have said… but you never asked, so they just stayed inside my head’, with again the precise mid-point switch into a second-movement with the subtlely hurtling pulsations of reverse-tapes, and a reprise of “Foreign Thoughts” feeding into the open-ended question first posed by Doris Day, ‘que sera sera’ whatever will be, will be.

This hugely impressive debut forms a continuity not light-years from the Songdog thing, whether an oblique take on the Celtic bardic ‘verse in dusty books’, or just thoughtful poetics, it’s a positive sub-genre worth book-marking among your ‘favourites’. There Will Be Fireworks are currently said to be working towards a second album. The future of Rock ‘n’Roll? Maybe not, but at least the future of a certain kind of arty Indie post-Rock.