Sunday 30 June 2013



as I scratch paths
through lichen circles
on this Yorkshire wall,
a rain of memory
washes segments of
Martian landscape

the 1950’s books I read
said lichen grows on Mars,
as a child smearing dreams
I walked jungles of lichen
beneath violet Martian skies
watching a shimmer of canals
beaded with bright cities set
in a weave of strange forest,
tendrils of vermilion lichen
curling, burning with orchids
and crawling with the eyes
of man-tall insects

as I scratch paths
through lichen circles
on this Yorkshire wall,
I dislodge the ruins
of Martian cities

Published in:
(UK - June 1994)
‘FANTASY COMMENTATOR no. 45/46’ (USA - Dec 1994)
and quoted in
‘FOUNDATION no.68’ (Mars Special / Autumn 1996)
(UK - Aug 1998)
and in the collection:
‘EUROSHIMA MON AMOUR’ Hilltop Press (UK-Oct 2000)



Album Review of:
(2CD, 2005, Castle Music CHEDD 894)


Episode Six were a Smoothie-Blender of a group. An all-things to all-punters group. A composite of various stylistic devices whipped up together into a sometime satisfying completeness. At one time they seemed well on their way to becoming the go-to group for teen-angled programme-makers. An effectively safe Pop beat-group one minute, adept at covering appropriate audience-pleasers, yet sharp enough to pass muster among the more discerning. Plus they front-lined an easy-on-the eye girl singer in a mini-skirt. Every demographic catered to.

The main nexus of retro-interest now is that two long-term members of Episode Six – Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, evolved into key players in Deep Purple. At the time, that wasn’t the case. Far from it. The focus was on Sheila Carter-Dimmock, in every way the perfect sixties icon, composed and glamorous, big eyes outlined and intensified into blurry oblongs by black encircling eye-shadow, dark hair back-combed, teased, coiffed, and spray-fixed into the style every girl ‘Rave’ reader aspired to. ‘Five boys, and one dishy girl’ as a ‘Record Mirror’ snippet announced them. Female members of Pop-groups were rare enough to count on the fingers of Homer Simpson’s hand. Honey Lantree drummed with the Honeycombs. Megan Davies played bass with the Applejacks. And Sheila played WEM electric organ and fronted Episode Six, while brother Graham played lead guitar and – as the ‘owner of a wonder falsetto’, shared the mike as required. The group were visibly around for some five years, did all the important tours and TV-shows, issued a number of highly-rated singles, none of which actually charted. And yes – they were a ‘group’, or maybe Beat-Group. No-one talked about Bands. Not yet.

Their “Love Hate Revenge” forms the centre prong of a fine trilogy of 45rpm’s, a plateau of excellent Psyche-Pop. Its lyrical ingenuity depends on a hoodoo-voodoo doll called ‘Tanya’. The kind they use in the dark monochrome Horror-movies to hex, punish and kill by Juju proxy. And from the opening declaiming guitar the Six set their sights on revenging their lost lover, ‘if I want you to cry, bet your life you’re gonna cry, when I put two drops of water in this little doll’s eye’. There’s an unsettlingly creepy bowel-shaking intensity about ‘I’m in control of your subconscious mind… all I’ve got to do is break its heart and you’ll feel misery’, making it a serious proposition. In fact, it’s got a lot of what they called ‘the most’…


Episode Six were very much a presence on the scene. Always on the brink of making it big. While never quite breaking on through to the other side, into big-league status. Why? One reason could be lack of clear focus. Even Simon Robinson’s extensive insert-notes to their retrospective double-CD admits his doubts about the group’s struggle to find ‘a real identity’. He also expresses doubts about their ‘ill-chosen covers’. Witness their earliest demos – unreleased until their CD compilation years. These are home-rehearsal tapes from 1964, the tail-end of the first Beat-Boom wave, and it shows. A sing-along run-through of “ZipA-Dee-Doo-Dah” borrowed from Phil Spector’s Bob B Soxx And The Blue Jeans, but already covered by the Big Three. Competent harmony arrangements backed by catchy up-tempo guitar-and-drums, with Sheila soloing the ‘hey Mr Bluebird’ verse. There are two from the Fats Domino canon, an uncertain slow-paced retread of “Walking To New Orleans”, and “Let The Four Winds Blow” fronted by Sheila with the boy’s vocal back-up and inventive drum effects. As a nod in the de rigueur direction of R&B, they do a passable take on Little Walter’s “My Babe”, with harmonica-break and the boys trading vocals. Then it’s back to Sheila for her breezy version of “Cottonfields”, not exactly a classic, but at least five years before the Beach Boys chart with their own arrangement of the same song in May 1970.

At this earliest phase of their collective story they’d just amalgamated from two rival combos based around ‘Harrow County School’, a NW London redbrick boasting earlier alumni Michael Portillo, Clive Anderson, Simon Napier-Bell and old-time comedian Cardew Robinson. The two Carters, with vocalist Andy Ross (aka Tait), were performing as the Lightnings (although, due to the school’s boys-only policy, Sheila wasn’t a pupil!). While Roger Glover – ‘bass guitarist, poet, songwriter’ was with the Madisons, playing school dances and youth clubs alongside guitarist Tony Lander (aka Bareham), and Harvey Shield (aka Schildkraut), ‘Blues enthusiast and beat-layer-down in chief’ (‘Record Mirror’). Both groups competed at the End of Term Concert.

Once their schoolyard days were over – although Harvey stayed on a further year and despite Roger going up to ‘Hornsey Art College’, the two groups fused. Pooling resources to become Episode Six in April 1964, with shared vocals and support-harmonies democratically passed around from Andy, to Sheila and to Harvey. They learned their craft rehearsing in the Carter’s front-room, driven to venues by their Dad, piecing together an impressively wide repertoire. Turned down by Decca, they nevertheless scored a four-week German club-residency, at the Frankfurt ‘Arcadia’. When Andy dropped out, his place was taken by Ian Gillan – another old Harrow-boy, recruited from Wainwright’s Gentlemen, in time for their pro debut at the ‘Oldfield Hotel’ on London’s Greenford Road. ‘I joined Episode Six because they had a recording contract’ he later confided to ‘New Musical Express’ (27 March 1971). Well, not yet they hadn’t, although its first steps would take him into recording. ‘They were very professional’ he went on, ‘everything was very clinical and organised, but I didn’t realise that until later.’ The ‘Record Mirror’ snippet calls Ian ‘lead singer and fanatical Elvis Presley fan’ – well, he did score an October 1980 Gillan hit with Elvis’ “Trouble”!

Another tranche of demos from 1965 are more promising, headed off with the ‘What’d I Say’ chords and Sheila’s lead voice on “Love Is A Swingin’ Thing” with the boys doing the ‘bop-boppa-shoo-wop’ background harmonies (replicating the Shirelles old 1961 ‘B’-side of “Soldier Boy”). But the lyric, on closer examination has something of a prescient sexual liberation frisson to it, ‘I’m gonna tell my tale, I’m gonna have my fling’ she teases, ‘I may be young today, but tomorrow I will be grown’. Then, with piping organ solo, ‘some people say love is always this, that or the other’, all bright and bouncy, but ‘I don’t need a wedding gown, I don’t need a diamond ring’. Unexceptional sentiments today. At the time the freedom she was celebrating attacks the entire safe nuclear family ‘love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage’ thing. Before the decade was officially swinging, this was a definite advance tremor. Another track, “Steal Your Heart Away” was penned by Bluesmaster Bobby Parker, the ‘B’-side of his 1961 hit “Watch Your Step”. The Six add a playful vocal interplay. The male-voice vocalist – probably Ian, doesn’t care about her other man, he just ‘wanna squeeze you’. ‘Yes you can’ Sheila responds flirtatiously. ‘Ah – Oh – YEAH!’ he burbles with delight. And this time, when they auditioned for Pye, A&R man Tony Reeve signs them.


There were lots of aspiring Beat-Groups around at the time. Unknown to them, other parts of the future Deep Purple story were working in various line-ups in the same swinging scene. Jon Lord was out gigging with Mod-Soul group The Artwoods. Ritchie Blackmore doing session-work for eccentric producer Joe Meek, he can supposedly be heard on Heinz “Just Like Eddie” no.5 hit in August 1963, while he was playing with the Outlaws. By 1966 Ian Paice was drumming for The Maze, with vocalist Rod Evans. But Episode Six were burning with more drive and commitment than most.

The Hollies were another group very much around. They’d begun as a covers band too, like pretty much everyone did. But were now making concerted efforts to push their own material, which Allan Clarke, Graham Nash and Tony Hicks wrote under the collective alias ‘L Ransford’. A songwriter’s demo of their “Put Yourself In My Place” – destined for their September 1965 LP ‘Hollies’, reached the group. So it became ‘A’-side for the debut Episode Six single issued in January of the New Year, with ringing guitar and tambourine, pleading vocals and harmonica break. Admittedly, the Hollies original does have more bite and tension, compensated for by the cover’s more melodically-smooth ooze. But it’s a strong song, open to creative interpretation. It established Episode Six as a name to watch out for. Flip the record over though, and the ‘B’-side perhaps packs more significance. “That’s All I Want” constitutes Roger Glover’s songwriting debut. Its deceptively light wafting harmonies soften a manipulatively controlling lyric, firmly asserting ‘I want you to show me your love, in every possible way, and every time that you can’. Meanwhile, the group does studio try-outs on a couple of other titles. The standard “The Way You Look Tonight”, and Burt Bacharach-Hal David’s jumpy “My Little Red Book”, most closely associated with Love. Although the songs continue to be a part of their live set, and there would be later studio outtake attempts to record the definitive Episode Six versions, they were shelved.

The Tokens wrote themselves into Pop history with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in 1961, but continued as a creative writing and production unit for outfits as diverse as the Chiffons through to Dawn. Meanwhile they entered the US ‘Billboard’ chart in April 1966 with their “I Hear Trumpets Blow” (BT Puppy 518), which peaked at no.30. Sensing hit potential Episode Six grab studio-time over a fast turn-around 48-hours into Good Friday to get their UK version out first. Not that it does them much good. An attractively effervescent single with a ‘ba-ba-ba-ba’ chorus framing the tale of a poor boy’s love for ‘a fair young maiden’, it’s an adornment to their retrospective CD in decades to come, but was largely passed over at the time. Again, it’s backed by a group original, “True Love Is Funny That Way” – penned by drummer Harvey Shield this time. Fuzz-guitar flashes adding a harder edge to its call-and-response ‘how does it feel?’ – ‘it feels good!’

Where next? Ah yes, the infallible golden ticket into the Top Ten is that magical Beatles cover-song. It always works. Doesn’t it? And there it is, in amongst the strange weirdness’s of ‘Revolver’, Paul McCartney’s soft-focus close-harmony “Here There And Everywhere”. All manner of no-hoper non-entities had broken through with fortuitous Beatles songs – who now cares about the Overlanders, St Louis Union or Truth? It was a means to an end, a utilitarian no-effort guaranteed hit. Except it wasn’t. Ian takes lead vocals. The label is Pye red. It was voted a resounding ‘hit’ by BBC-TV’s ‘Juke Box Jury’ panel. They showcase it live as part of package tour headlined by Dusty Springfield, with the Alan Price Set, Dave Berry, The Settlers, plus Davis & Jonathan. It got heavy rotation radio-play across the Pirates – especially ‘Radio London’, yes. But massive sales, no. Flip it over, sweet-tempered and eclectic, there was Roger Glover’s “Mighty Morris Ten”. Betraying and warping his affection for the West Coast surf and drag-racing scene, by distorting it through a singularly English quirkiness. He’s ‘doing the ton’ in his ‘ninety-six year-old Morris Ten’, burning up the inside lane ‘down the Harrow Road’ (not far from the Gayton Road address of their old school). A diverse, strange incompatibility of tracks. But already a pattern that would continue.


So far, three strong hotly-tipped singles. Still no major breakthrough. Time for a rethink. A shift of strategy. The label was happy to go along with a little diversification. So Sheila does her solo single. Charles Aznavour – satirised by hipsters as ‘Charles As-no-voice’, does his smoocher “I Will Warm Your Heart (Je Te Rechaufferai)” on his 1965 Reprise-label LP ‘His Love Songs In English’. Sheila wasn’t exactly keen. But Dusty Springfield had been doing fine with big Euro-centred ballads. And with its doomy organ leading into lushly romantic strings, the label insisted it was perfect for her. Others would consider that the ‘B’-side, “Incense”, showcases her vocal range and what ‘Record Mirror’ called her ‘belting-style’ strength to better effect. A deep club favourite written by Jimmy Miller it had started out recorded by Steve Winwood under the now much sought-after alias of the Anglos.

Safely back under their regular nomenclature, “Love Hate Revenge” was laid down immediately prior to Episode Six winging out for eight-week cabaret dates in the Beirut ‘Casino Du Liban’. For its American release via Elektra the Yardbirds-style ‘hey-hey-hey’ clash of gong break is edited out and replaced by the kind of freaky theramin-quaver electro-whine designed to target the newly-emerging Psychedelic scene. Uniquely of its time, again there’s a contrasting flip, borrowed from Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers ‘Drivin’ You Wild’ LP (Music For Pleasure MFP 1121, 1966), with a faux-Soul ‘in the midnight hour’ lyric.

Then, “Morning Dew” might just about be as good as Episode Six ever got. The song has a disputed history, with probable trad roots. Although credited to Canadian Folkie Bonnie Dobson it was lifted by Fred Neil, but became most powerfully associated through Tim Rose’s raw intensity. When the Grateful Dead cover it for their debut album, it carries credits to both Dobson and Rose. The lyric is sufficiently evasive to allow all manner of interpretations, but centre around a two-way post-apocalyptic dialogue. A complex simplicity wound around and into the CND anti-nukes thread running through and irradiating the decade. The clean riff picked out semi-acoustic, with the doomy bite of crashing drums. Three Episode Six voices switch in the Jefferson Airplane manner, with haunting effect, most tightly and effectively alternating between Ian’s ‘now there’s no more morning dew’, followed by Sheila’s ghost-response ‘what they were saying all these years was true’. There’s undeniable power here, which captures over into the later live version. This might have been the breakthrough moment. I remember it on the radio. In fact, it climbs the ‘Radio London’ chart, as high as no.6, but the Pirate’s charts were based on DJ’s whims, not hard across-the-counter sales. More vitally, the newly-launched BBC Radio 1 effectively ignores it. Admittedly I bought the Tim Rose single, but rated the Episode Six version too.

But wait. To be convincing, a song like “Morning Dew” requires commitment. And flip the single over and you find…? the cutesy-coy “Sunshine Girl”. It opens with the rhythmic crunch of a stomping great drumbeat some might relate to the Beach Boys “I’m Waiting For The Day” ‘Pet Sounds’ track, before lapsing into the kind of fizzing ‘ba-ba-ba-ba’ Bubble-Pop left over from a Herman’s Hermits or Cowsills session, with soaring West Coast falsetto swoops. Two sides, two different bands!


As the tectonic plates of Pop shift, Episode Six were busy keeping it all in the air, endlessly in play. Into that brief and singularly British brand of freak-beat where all the former Mod-Soul groups overnight discover phasing, fuzz-boxes, beads, and off-the-shelf nonsense-surrealist lyrics. Glorious while it lasted. In a very strange and rare place, it marked the outer limits of the Episode Six style-adventures. When I talked to Jon Lord about his changes with the Artwoods across the same period he laughed ‘at least we never wore kaftans’ – a pointed snipe at Episode Six. Check the psychedelic cover-swirl of the ‘Love, Hate, Revenge’ compilation CD, showing the Six in very Hippie regalia. Not that they were ever totally convincing psychedelicatessens. Their first manifestation came in the guise of a Graham Carter solo single. Sheila had already done her solo project. Graham undertook his through the strange alias of Neo Maya, which determined not only that it escaped notice at the time, but that it was subsequently forgotten – until reclaimed much later by Deep Purple researchers. “I Won’t Hurt You” uses gauzy vocals inviting ‘strike me with your lightning’ against what sounds like stand-up bass, with sudden outbreaks of horns and strings, and a spaced-poetry lyric worthy of Marc Bolan – ‘your mouth’s a constellation’, caught in a spacey-pale blue storm.

Yet the ‘B’-side is stranger. A high-hat cymbal shimmers, drums rattle an accelerating riff as a voice-over narration recites details of unexplained X-Filed “UFO” sightings. A January 3rd Boeing airliner pilot reports a wingless aircraft holding close-formation with them, then veering away at five times their velocity. A conical ‘glowing object’ sighted March 12th over SE England, Kent, Middlesex and Surrey. And three orange discs observed April 7th over New York. Radar reports read negative in each instance. There’s a percussive barrage. But no melody. No song. Almost a great leap forward to the ‘sampling’ fad of Paul Hardcastle’s 1985 “19”. A hugely underrated curio.

While the group itself responds a month later with tunesmith Roger Glover’s first ‘A’-side composition, “I Can See Through You”, a perfectly charming Pop-Psyche single with dancing flute. For the line ‘though you’re living underground’ there’s faint phasing on the last word, then the bassline descends into a fast-switching instrumental sequence over time-changes and drum stomp – until it reduces back down to just woodwind. Although the wistful line ‘you will never touch the sky’ proved prophetic, the track is very much in a groove with Roger’s “Plastic Love” outtake recorded around the same time, but unissued until decades later. Here he’s going to a ‘paper station, riding on a cardboard train’ – no ‘plasticine porters with looking-glass ties’, but we get the picture. And ‘did you hear the dying poet scream?’… well, there are other excursions into oddness. Their live 1968 “I Am The Boss” is a nursery-rhyme populated by ‘Hans Christian Handkerchief’, plus nonsense lines ‘Charlie the chair was sat-upon’, ‘Cyril Celery is crunchable’ and a possible political snipe at ‘Old Wedgewood Benn is a funny chap, he’s a door-stop’? It closes with the other group members chiming in ‘He’s quite mad and you’ve been had!’ The previously unissued “Time And Motion Man”, is a kind of ‘Poor Man’s Son’ which is neither freaky enough to be Freak-beat nor Pop enough to be Pop. And there’s Roger’s self-pitying hard-luck story “Only Lonely People”.

But to offset all that healthy madness, just check the immaculately tailored flipside of “I Can See Through You”… “When I Fall In Love” is pure cheese, the Lettermen via a Beach Boys ‘B’-side, within the same closest-of-harmonies context as outtake “The Way You Look Tonight”. Perfectly executed, sure, but in the repertoire of another band maybe, another career. Is this an exercise in hedging bets? In the group’s curious hodge-podge of styles which takes eclectic – which is good, out beyond the rim of cohesion – which is not. Although the single dragged their Pye contract limply to an end, and drummer Harvey was the first group-member to parachute out of the line-up, there was more to come. On the upbeat, they signed a management deal with NEMS. And there were two one-off singles, the first – abbreviated to The Episode, with the yellow-label MGM, and the second through the personal intervention of Les Reed’s Chapter One Records.

With stand-in drummer John Kerrison (ex of a reformed post-Johnny Kidd Pirates), “Little One” consists of Ian’s lead voice surrounded by light pleasantly-building harmonies that might have worked for the kind of studio-concocted candyfloss confections contrived usually by Rogers’ Greenaway and Cooke, and fronted by session-men like Tony Burrows under such names as Vanity Fair, White Plains, Edison Lighthouse or Harmony Grass (say, “Move In A Little Closer Baby”). Nothing more substantial. New producer Mike Hurst – who had scored hits for Cat Stevens and Dusty Springfield, introduced soft horns and a catchy Fortunes-style ‘You’ve Got Your Troubles’ falsetto hook. It was backed by the first Glover-and-Gillan songwriting collaboration, although “Wide Smiles” is a paradigm shift away from their Deep Purple compositions. Its ‘be-doobie-doobie-do’ is as catchy as a viral TV-ad jingle, or the theme-tune for the kind of youth-trendy TV sitcom that used to feature Paula Wilcox or Richard O’Sullivan. Why are we talking such insubstantial disposable Pop trifles? Because such bright shiny baubles were guaranteed cash-generators. Maybe for Episode Six there was a sense of opportunities missed. Of time slipping away. They’d tried their damnedest with all their abilities set to stun, a row of class singles bristling with fire and energy, and fallen below expectations. Maybe coasting it easy might yet do the trick? Naturally, it didn’t.

Their live set-list and demos hardly inspire confidence either. Take a listen. Grouped for the ‘Cornflakes And Crazyfoam’ compilation CD as ‘The Ultimate Covers Band’, their competent “Him Or Me” perfectly replicates all the Paul Revere And The Raiders harmony-breaks with nothing of the originals energy or urgency. There’s an unnecessary showband take on Simon And Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade Of Winter”. Plus Love’s intricate “The Castle”, as well as other stuff by Bob Dylan (“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”), Moby Grape (“Can’t Be So Bad”) or the Doors (“Light My Fire”). The point, surely, is not how accurately they Xerox, it’s to create something as uniquely original of their own. Even Simon Robinson’s insert-notes concede that ‘their live shows had become an eclectic mix of Pop covers, West Coast songs, comedy turns and originals. This made for a great night out, but left audiences wondering exactly where the band themselves wanted to go.’ A PR promo-blurb from Gloria Bristow management seems equally confused, describing ‘A kaleidoscope of vibrating vocal excitement 8 miles high and 9 miles deep that’s Episode Six live on stage… and in cabaret they’re pure professionalism in motion.’ Despite which, crowd-pleasing ‘YouTube’ clips of “Morning Dew” and “I Hear Trumpets Blow” – salvaged from a 1967 German TV Pop-show, catch them in full off-the-peg Carnaby Street Hippie regalia, with Graham in face-paint and Ian in headband and beads. They retain considerable period magic.

There were ups, downs and knockbacks. As, elsewhere, the first Deep Purple line-up was already firming, issuing its debut single with their heavyed-up take on Joe South’s “Hush” climbing to an American no.4. Episode Six’s live “Slow Down” – Larry Williams via the Beatles, at least shows trace-elements of the same guitar heavyosity. But things were fraying. Although Kerrison was a fine drummer, he’d never quite found his place within the group’s tight-knit loyalties, rooted in their shared schooldays. In July, he was replaced by Mick Underwood of the Herd. His more Rock-solid playing is there underpinning the quasi-liturgical voices of “Lucky Sunday” – written by Johnny Worth under his ‘Les Vandyke’ alias (he’d already written “What Do You Want?” for Adam Faith, plus many more hit-songs), backed by Gillan/Glover’s “Mr Universe”, a howl against god, destiny, or existence personified, asking cosmic question ‘are we just the bubbles in your beer?’. Stronger than recent releases with percussion, keening guitar and Glover’s solid bass foundation, manic laughter and absurd voice exaggeration, even while borrowing a raft of Traffic’s “Mr Fantasy” bass-build to do it. Alone among all the Episode Six back-catalogue it would survive to become part of Ian Gillan’s repertoire, titling the 1979 Gillan LP ‘Mr Universe’.

Finally, “Mozart Versus The Rest” was definitely a last-chance grab at the passing moment. Dave Edmund’s Love Sculpture had charted with a speed-guitar Khachaturian. They could do the same with Ludwig Van? No. Vivaldi? No. Why not… Mozart? It was fast. Nifty fretwork. It was deranged, with Tony Lander’s matching more moody instrumental ‘B’-side. They played it live on the BBC’s ‘Radio One Club’ (16th December). It caught on. Got radio-played to general enthusiastic response. Like so much of what had gone before, it seemed on the brink of breaking out into bigger things. Then it vanished.

“Mozart’ was totally unlike anything they’d done before. But then again, there was never a single Episode Six ‘sound’ – only several identities. This was merely another of their multiple personalities. They never really found their path and went down it. In their grab-bag of styles any one of their singles might have caught on. The close-harmony surf-derived ones. The sharp Pop-Psyche. The Folk-Rock of “Morning Dew”. The deranged instrumental. But collectively they form an unwieldy body of work. A Smoothie-Blender of a group. An all-things to all-punters group. A composite of various stylistic devices whipped up together into a sometime satisfying completeness.

‘In the end, there were two ways of thinking in the band’ Gillan told ‘New Musical Express’ (27 March 1971), referring to the conflicting Pop/cabaret and Heavy Rock tendencies, ‘and for about a year I felt really stagnant.’ Elsewhere he explained how he felt he was treading the proverbial mill, ‘I’d been a Rock ‘n’ Roll singer, then I got into Episode Six and I was really beginning to go downhill a bit, singing-wise. I was writing too, but Episode Six didn’t want to record any of Roger’s or my songs because none of the others were involved’ (‘Melody Maker’ 17 September 1971). If there had been hits it might have been different. As it was first Ian, then Roger Glover jumped ship to shift into the second Deep Purple line-up in mid-1969. There’s talk of negotiations with Episode Six lawyers and manager Gloria Bristow who was looking out for the group, and a release fee being paid, but the new configuration was finalised in time to create the epic ‘Deep Purple In Rock’ (June 1970). Graham Carter took the opportunity of dropping out around the same time.

For a while Episode Six carried on as a four-piece, drafting in Johnny Gustafson on bass, before he split off to form Quatermass – taking Mick Underwood with him. A final line-up centred on Sheila – and alternated as The Sheila Carter Band, with the loyal Tony Lander on guitar, and a rhythm section of Tony Dangerfield (bass) and Dave Lawson (drums, later of Greenslade). It took the name through until 1974. So Episode Six had lasted a decade. Longer than most of their contemporaries. But there would be no more. Not until the archivists and Rock archaeologists began delving into their history, and the first of the LP compilations was pieced together to answer a new ripple of interest in the group’s lost legacy.


21 January 1966 – “Put Yourself In My Place” c/w “That’s All I Want” (Pye 7N 17018) Deep Purple’s Gillan and Glover’s recording debut, not the later Isley Brothers song of the same name, but credited to ‘L Ransford’ which is Hollies Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks and Graham Nash songwriting alias. The ‘B’-side is written by Roger Glover.

29 April 1966 – “I Hear Trumpets Blow” c/w “True Love Is Funny That Way” (Pye 7N 17110), cover of US hit by Tokens (Mitch Margo, Phil Margo, Hank Medress and Jay Siegal), recorded in fast turn-around 48-hours on Good Friday, ‘B’-side written by Harvey Shields

19 August 1966 – “Here, There And Everywhere” c/w “Mighty Morris Ten” (Pye 7N 17147) Lennon-McCartney ‘A’-side, Roger Glover ‘B’-side

4 November 1966 – “I Will Warm Your Heart” c/w “Incense” (Pye 7N 17194) issued as by Sheila Carter & Episode Six. By Lees/Charles Aznavour, ‘B’-side written by Jimmy Miller/Fallon, with Ian Gillan on organ

3 February 1967 – “Love, Hate, Revenge” c/w “Baby Baby Baby” (Pye 7N 17244) by Adams/Levin, with ‘B’-side by Jam

9 June 1967 – “Morning Dew” c/w “Sunshine Girl” (Pye 7N 17330), written by Bonnie Dobson/Tim Rose, and recorded 10 and 11 May with Gillan/Shields vocals. ‘B’-side written and vocals by Roger Glover

September 1967 – “I Won’t Hurt You” c/w “UFO” (Pye 7N 17371) Graham Carter’s solo single, issued as by Neo Maya. The song was originally done by the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band

6 October 1967 – “I Can See Through You” c/w “When I Fall In Love” (Pye 7N 17376) recorded 3 and 4 July, ‘A’-side written by Roger Glover

3 May 1968 – “Little One” c/w “Wide Smiles” (MGM 1409) issued as by The Episode, recorded 20 and 21 February. ‘B’-side written by Glover and Gillan. Reviewed by ‘Disc’ as ‘probably their most commercial release’

25 October 1968 – “Lucky Sunday” c/w “Mr Universe” (Chapter One CH 103) recorded 3 September, ‘B’-side by Gillan and Glover. Reviewed by ‘Melody Maker’ as ‘a glorious sound, bristling with hit potential. Here are a group who have long deserved a hit and look like breaking through at last’

14 February1969 – “Mozart Vs The Rest” c/w “Jack D’Or” (Chapter One CH 104) recorded 20 December, ‘A’-side an arrangement of Mozart’s “Rondo À La Turk” by Tony Lander, and ‘B’-side written by Lander. Produced by David Balfe

‘RRReady… Steady… RRRave!’:
The Albums

1987 – ‘Put Yourself In My Place’ (PRT Records PYL6026) with side one: (1) “Put Yourself In My Place”, (2) “That’s All A Want”, (3) “I Hear Trumpets Blow”, (4) “True Love Is Funny That Way”, (5) “Here, There And Everywhere”, (6) “Mighty Morris Ten”, (7) “I Will Warm Your Heart”, and side two: (1) “Incense”, (2) “Love, Hate, Revenge”, (3) “Baby Baby Baby”, (4) “Morning Dew”, (5) “Sunshine Girl”, (6) “I Can See Through You”, (7) “When I Fall In Love”. Liner notes by Brian Hogg

1991 – ‘Footsteps To Fame Vol.1’ (Repertoire REP4184-WZ) one of a multitude of Sixties and Psychedelic compilations to include Episode Six tracks, this one has “That’s All I Want” and “Put Yourself In My Place” alongside other tracks by Riot Squad, Spectres and the Bystanders

1991 – ‘The Complete Episode Six: The Roots Of Deep Purple’ (Sequel Records NEX CD156) (1) “My Babe”, (2) “Put Yourself In My Place”, (3) “That’s All A Want”, (4) “I Hear Trumpets Blow”, (5) “True Love Is Funny That Way”, (6) “Here, There And Everywhere”, (7) “Mighty Morris Ten”, (8) “I Will Warm Your Heart”, (9) “Incense”, (10) “Love, Hate, Revenge”, (11) “Baby Baby Baby”, (12) “Morning Dew”, (13) “Sunshine Girl”, (14) “I Won’t Hurt You”, (15) “UFO”, (16) “I Can See Through You”, (77) “When I Fall In Love”, (18) “The Way You Look Tonight”, (19) “My Little Red Book”, (20) “Plastic Love”, (21) “Time And Motion Man”, (22) “Only Lonely People”, (23) “Little One”, (24) “Wide Smiles”, (25) “Lucky Sunday”, (26) “Mr Universe”, (27) “Mozart Versus The Rest”, (28) “Jack D’Or”

1997 – ‘BBC Radio 1 Live 1968/1969’ (RPM Records RPM178) Intro: Radio One Club Sheila and lan Interview: “A Hazy Shade Of Winter”. Sheila Picks The Numbers 1: “Morning Dew”, “That’s The Way Life Goes”, “Light My Fire”. Sheila Picks The Numbers 2: “Jesse James”. Sheila Picks The Numbers 3: “Monster In Paradise”, “Slow Down”. Tony and Sheila Interview, lan Gillan Interview: “Mozart Vs. The Rest”. Sheila Picks The Numbers 4: “Rolling Stones Medley”, “Stay With Me Baby”, “The Castle”, “Spanish Caravan”, “I Am A Cloud (take 2)”, “I Am The Boss”, “Orange Air”, “River Deep Mountain High”, “I Am A Cloud (take 3)”, “Can’t Be So Bad”, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”, “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart”, “Morning”, “Been Such A Long Way Home”, Coda

1999 – ‘All You Need Is Covers: The Songs Of The Beatles’ (Castle 1396 CM000) includes Episode Six “Here There And Everywhere” alongside other Lennon-McCartney songs done by Tommy Quickly, the Truth and Overlanders. The album reissued in 2006

2001 – ‘Pre Purple People’ (Purple Records Ltd) compilation of various groups which included members of the later Deep Purple, with four Episode Six rarities not available elsewhere. “Have You Ever Been There” is a previously unreleased folk-pop ballad by Roger Glover, “Love Hate Revenge” is the American single edit, with the weird psychedelic instrumental break of oscillating sounds, “I Am A Cloud” and “I Am The Boss” are taken from a March 1969 radio broadcast, different from those on the Episode Six compilation ‘The Radio One Club Sessions’

2001 – ‘Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From The British Empire And Beyond 1964-1969’ (Rhino R2 76787), with “Love Hate Revenge” by Episode Six, plus other tracks by Creation, Smoke, Idle Race and Tomorrow

November 2002 – ‘Cornflakes And Crazyfoam’ (Purple Records PUR 319D), fifty-two track compilation of largely previously-unissued tracks taken from the group’s 1964-1969 archive of demos, live material and acetates. Includes “Gentleman Of The Park” – previously only available on the soundtrack LP of the ‘Bicyclettes De Belsize’ movie, plus Ian Gillan singing Sandie Shaw’s “Always Something There To Remind Me” and Sheila doing Gene Pitney’s “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart”

2005 – ‘Love, Hate, Revenge’ (2CD set, Castle Music CMEDD 894) expanded double-CD of earlier Sequel ‘Complete Episode Six’ compilation, with twenty-two extra tracks, thirteen of them previously unissued. CD1 (1) “Put Yourself In My Place”, (2) “That’s All A Want”, (3) “I Hear Trumpets Blow”, (4) “True Love Is Funny That Way”, (5) “Here, There And Everywhere”, (6) “Mighty Morris Ten”, (7) “Love, Hate, Revenge”, (8) “Baby Baby Baby”, (9) “Morning Dew”, (10) “Sunshine Girl”, (11) “I Can See Through You”, (12) “When I Fall In Love”, (13) “Little One”, (14) “Wide Smiles”, (15) “Lucky Sunday”, (16) “Mr Universe”, (17) “Mozart Versus The Rest”, (18) “Jak D’Or”, (19) “I Will Warm Your Heart”, (20) “Incense”, (21), “I Won’t Hurt You”, (22) “UFO”. CD2 (1) “Love, Hate, Revenge (US)”, (2) “The Way You Look Tonight”, (3) “My Little Red Book”, (4) “Plastic Love”, (5) “Time And Motion Man”, (6) “Only Lonely People”, (7) “Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah”, (8) “Cottonfields”, (9) “My Babe”, (10) “Love Is A Swingin’ Thing”, (11) “Steal Your Heart Away”, (12) “Walking To New Orleans”, (13) “Let The Four Winds Blow”, (14) “Mozart Versus The Rest (live)”, (15) “Him Or Me”, (16) “Hazy Shade Of Winter”, (17) “Monster In Paradise”, (18) “Orange Air”, (19) “The Castle”, (20) “Slow Down”, (21) “I Am The Boss”, (22) “Morning Dew (live)”

2007 – ‘This Is Psychedelia’ (Metro Triples METRT CD827) includes Episode Six track “I Can See Through You” plus others by Smoke, Yardbirds, Byrds, and Strawberry Alarm Clock

2008 – ‘Girl On A Motorcycle And Les Bicyclettes De Belsize’ (RPM Retro 840) double-soundtrack CD of Les Reed’s movie scores, includes Episode Six rare track “Gentlemen Of The Park”

2008 – ‘The Sound Of The Sixties’ (EVA 080150), Episode Six track “I Can See Through You”, alongside others by Maze, the Sorrows, Blossom Toes and Creation

Friday 28 June 2013

Live: 'FELIX DENNIS - Did I Mention The Free Wine...? Tour 2004'

Event Review of:
TOUR 2004
at ‘The Wardrobe’, St Peter’s Square, Leeds

A Lit-Trip into ‘the pull of dreams
where death plays hide-&-seek…’

Can a poet BUY Literary credibility? The ‘Wardrobe’ is one of the nation’s Top Fifty Bars according to an ‘Observer’ guide. A ‘New York’-style Jazz Bar hung with moody monochrome photos of Miles Davis, Francis Bacon, Bobby Darin, Roland Kirk and John Lennon, frequented by the likes of Brian Auger, Marc Ribot, Sam Rivers… and me. And tonight it’s been subsumed into hosting a unique literary launch. Most poetry publishing means a visit to the nearest Mall instant-print, followed by kitchen-table collating and stapling, or perhaps – more ambitiously, that pile of five-hundred litho’d booklets you can’t get rid of stashed under the bed. But when you’re ‘maverick’ publisher Felix Dennis – listed no.65 on ‘Business Age’s ‘Rich 500’, your ‘Lone Wolf’ (Hutchinson, 2004) collection gets the full lavish print-job plus CD and tour-DVD insert, promoted through a full high-profile international tour, helicoptored to venues, with (‘Don’t Forget The…’) free wine and canapés. That don’t necessarily make the poems any better. Or – by the same token, any worse. After all, wasn’t his previous volume – ‘A Glass Half Full’ (Hutchinson, 2002), the best-selling poetry book for forty years? Sure it was. Nothing to do with the sixteen-piece road-crew, support-team audio-visual people, or the promo tour T-shirts.

He slumps down now in a grey frizz of hair and beard, saffron shirt and brown waistcoat, intoning ‘never go back, never return to the haunts of your youth’. A poem to his mother. Affectionately, and effectively attacking his parents’ generation who ‘murdered what was decent, for respectability’. Then whiplashing ‘perhaps YOU’D like to tell them Madam?’ at some lone woman who has the temerity to whisper as he reads. Born in Kingston-upon-Thames, by age fourteen he’d already been expelled from four schools (‘I was a failure at everything except cross-country running and English literature’), he drummed Howlin Wolf covers with R&B no-hopers The Flamingos (remembered in a poem that rhymes ‘Charlie Watts’ with ‘acne spots’), and worked as a Harrow County Council grave-digger. His poem “Snakeskin Boots” remembers seduction, sex, and ‘her streaming flesh aglow’ in Harrow-on-the-Hill in 1964.

He wasn’t in at the start of ‘Oz’, but – broke, and needing cash to fund his girlfriend’s abortion, he joins as a street-seller around issue no.11. To Richard Neville he was ‘younger than me, longer-haired, scruffier, with a rough-and-ready London charm’. To Felix “we were clappy-happy, we were hippy-dippy / we were building Eden by the mighty Mississippi” (a poem he shamelessly pipes through the ‘Dennis Pbl’ phone-stacking system as you await your connection). Another poem finds him on the Kings Road, 1967, in wolfskin coat, loon flares, with a snake-hipped eighteen-year-old girl by his side. Part of a revolution where ‘we talked a lot… but I’ve forgotten what we said’, and where their ‘ladies’ made the tea. By edition no.17 he was fully on-board, writing reviews and recruiting music ads for his ‘mOZic’ section, even setting up a Jimmy Page interview. As Company Director he accused Richard Neville of editing ‘for your mates with degrees’, suggesting that by not going ‘over the heads of our readers we could… triple our circulation’ (in practice 50,000). Two things are at first apparent from this. His feel for the popular touch. And his instinct for commercial possibilities. On 5th August 1971, Judge Argyle sentenced him to nine months for his involvement in the ‘School-Kids Issue’, less than his co-editors because he was ‘younger and very much less intelligent’. Yet after capitalising on the trial by lampooning it in his ‘Cozmic Comics’ he jumps the interactive CD-Rom boom with ‘Personal Computer World’ and ‘MacUser’, the next step up in building a publishing group with an estimated value of £155 million with ‘Blender’, ‘Stuff’, ‘This Week’ – and his flagship title, ‘Maxim’. Today, publishing is all about focusing demographic profiles, niche marketing, consumer-group targeting to maximise advertising spend – perhaps we’re all too fragmented and post-modern aware to launch on naiveté and enthusiasm as ‘Oz’ did. With ‘Maxim’ the radicalism extends no further than a 2005 calendar of photo-elision nudes – Margaret Thatcher, Cherie Blair and Diana Spencer. Not that he’s looking back.

He champions science, but fears its potential in “23 Roads To Hell” about Crick & Watson’s DNA, “Where Knowledge Falters” for Darwin, a “Sonnet For H2O” about life’s origins as a sea-borne ‘weeping fuse of slime’, then attacks the make-over cult of plastic surgery as ‘mad greedy fools with steel scalpels’. He even gets to rhyme ‘know not’ with ‘robot’. Because his poems all rhyme, they use traditional verse and metre structure, they are direct and narrative. They can be effective, in “White Vase” about Hitler’s suicide, ‘two figures on a sofa side by side’ (delivered with an electronic pulse soundtrack), and “Who Was The Better Man” – a competing dialogue for dead friend and fellow ‘Oz’ veteran Jon Goodchild. You might have reservations about his forthcoming customised Nursery Rhymes project, until he reads “The House That Crack Built” about his period of cocaine dependency. Less convincing are the poor little rich boy regrets, of sacrificing ‘the fawn’ of love for ambition. The mansions with room enough to lose yourself in. The pain of firing staff (in “Downsizing”). This is the man who once turned up at Marylebone Magistrate Court dressed in a school uniform. A man whose genitals have been sketched by David Hockney. A man who once chanted ‘die die’ to David Frost and then shot him live on TV – with a waterpistol. A man once articulately defended at the Old Bailey by John ‘Rumpole’ Mortimer QC. Now his poems spoof ‘all the young dudes, grown old,/ hair a whiter shade of pale,/ memories a purple haze,/ getting limp instead if laid’.

Can a poet BUY Literary credibility? Felix Dennis sings, he shouts, he emotes, his voice dips into a curiously Ben Elton gruffness for emphasis. But take away the choice of French red or white wine, the four screens (two live blow-ups, one running tie-in video, another scrolling the poems line-by-line), the podium decked out with his own lyncanthrope image, the mike and spots, the name-drops to Melvyn Bragg, Sean Bean, Courtney Love, beam him down to read a twenty-minute slot to thirty people in a grimy room over a pub… and there’s stuff here that would still work – his ‘Friends Reunited’ poem “On Attending A Reunion” written just four hours earlier, his Blues For Robert Johnson (‘I sat last night in Soho / blues falling down like hail’). Perhaps – unlike the Sancerre Blanc 2003 Domaine Vacheron, it’s only sour grapes that makes you suspicious. Perhaps, in an ideal world, new poetry would be promoted with all the razzamatazz of a Pop CD. Just that you leave wondering, how much of that good response is really down to the free wine…?

Visit:- for more insights, and
details including video-footage of the tour

Published in:
‘TEARS IN THE FENCE no.40: Spring’
(UK – April 2005)
visit the excellent



I first discovered her in the school library around 1962.
After all, Rosemary Sutcliff (14 December 1920 – 23 July 1992)
is most widely known as the author of fine historical books
for juveniles. Yet her greatest novel – ‘The Eagle Of The Ninth’,
made a powerful adult movie in 2011.
Andrew Darlington explores her extraordinary literary legacy.

Ancient Rome has a way of exerting its mystique. So advanced, so like us. So barbarically bloody, so unlike us. Here, in the film, there are severed heads and lopped-off limbs. The corpse-victims of rogue warriors are suspended naked from trees like strange fruit. And centipedes crawl over human skulls in ‘the killing ground’ of an old battlefield. This is not gratuitous content. These are violent times. The Roman Empire is big business. It has been for some time. But even more so now. From the latest in Conn Iggulden’s ‘Emperor’ series, ‘The Blood Of Gods’ (Harper Collins, 2013), through David Anthony Durham’s ‘Hannibal: Pride Of Carthage’ (Bantam, 2006). From Harry Sidebottom’s ‘Warrior Of Rome’ series (Michael Joseph) through Ben Kane’s novel-series drawing in ‘The Silver Eagle’ (Arrow, 2009) and ‘The Forgotten Legion’ (Arrow, 2008). It was ever thus. Back as far as Robert Graves’ richly-plotted chronicles of ‘Claudius’, and beyond.

Truth to tell though, I came to such fiction by way of Rosemary Sutcliff, poet-novelist Henry Treece (1911-1966), and Geoffrey Trease (1909-1998). I must have been around twelve years old, maybe a tad younger. Snuck into the school library high in Cottingham Secondary Modern on Harland Rise. Although I guess that’s not entirely true either, for I’d already been prepared and ensnared by the heroic escapades of ‘Olac The Gladiator’ in ‘Tiger’, the lavish picture-strip epics of ‘Heros The Spartan’ in ‘Eagle’ and ‘Wulf The Briton’ on the cover of ‘Express’. But yes, Rosemary Sutcliff’s books were always special. And particularly ‘Eagle Of The Ninth’ (1954), the novel in which all the greatest elements come together most perfectly.

Long acknowledged as a children’s classic, it nevertheless transfers seamlessly to screen as an adult movie – ‘The Eagle’ (2011), with very little plot tinkering and no concessions to age differences. In the DVD-bonus ‘Making Of’ documentary, director Kevin Macdonald explains how ‘I knew the book as a kid. And I loved it’. As the movie-ads used to proclaim, it is ‘Ripped from the pages of History’. With Channing Tatum acquitting himself convincingly as Marcus Flavius Aquila, the young Roman Officer and dark star of this unquiet masterpiece. His objective is to vindicate his father’s reputation by restoring the honour of the lost Ninth legion he’d commanded. By retrieving the ‘regimental standard’, the treasured Eagle of the legion which had marched into the mist of Scotland, and never come marching back. Sharing his adventure is Jamie Bell as Esca, his more conflicted British slave, and companion.

The film opens with Romans aboard ships gliding upriver through a green wilderness, into a heart of darkness. An analogy that Macdonald makes clear is deliberate. Beyond the ‘white cliffs of Dubris (Dover)’, Britain is not only at the rim of the empire, but the outer fringes of the known world. Cold and dark, thinly-populated, a place of rain and endless forests. In a kind of early north-south divide, according to Rosemary Sutcliff, prior to invasion the southern tribes were already half-seduced by what Rome had to offer, and fell easily into occupation. The Henry Treece novel ‘Legions Of The Eagle’ (1954) shows this Roman invasion of Britain witnessed through the eyes of the boy Gaius. But the northern tribes were obstinately different.

She balances out their opposing ‘Two Worlds Meeting’ attitudes with beautifully effective simplicity. As Marcus refurbishes a Celtic shield, Esca uses the wave-break curves flowing from its boss to illustrate their contrast to Roman straight ordered lines. ‘These are the curves of life’ he argues, ‘and the man who traced them had in him knowledge of things that you people have lost the key to.’ As native Americans would later represent the mystical power of nature against the cold mechanised culture of European expansion, so the native British tribes were to Rome. Something had been gained, and something lost in the civilising process. But there are comparative cultural standards that also apply to Rome. Marcus bows ‘to my god, to Mithras, the Light of the Sun.’ Slyly making the point that the 24th evening of December is not only the eve of the winter solstice, but the eve of the birth of Mithras too. No truck with that upstart Christian cult.

For his first posting Marcus discovers that ‘Rome was a new slip grafted on an old stock – and the graft had not yet taken.’ The outgoing commander – Centurion Quintus Hilarion, warns him of travelling Druids stirring up old resentments, and with inevitable precision, soon after Marcus assumes command, there are sinister rumours of just such a holy man. Despite modern claimants to the tradition, little is known for sure about Druidism. The only written records are those left by Caesar and Tacitus, Roman writers who just may have had an agenda. Rome had an equal-opportunities attitude to deities, more than happy to draw elements of other people’s religions into their pantheon, from Greek and Egyptian gods to the Persian cult that Marcus follows. The Roman poet Ovid makes that quite clear. The awkward squad of Christianity was only suspect because it refused to coexist with others on an equal-but-different basis. So why did Rome choose to eradicate the Druids? Supposedly because of their ‘wicker man’ practice of human sacrifice. We can’t be sure. To Sutcliff it’s enough that they represent the ‘old religion’ simmering resentfully beneath the façade of Roman rule.

Soon after the rumours, comes the attack. With the chariot that inflicts such terrible wounds on Marcus ridden into battle by Cradoc, a Briton he’d hunted beside (in a ‘deleted sequence’, Cradoc is played by Douglas Henshall). ‘For a splinter in time their eyes met in something that was almost a salute, a parting salute between two who might have been friends.’ In light of what results, the use of the word ‘splinter’ is particularly apt. But the passage also establishes the uncertainty that must underlie Marcus’ later friendship with Esca. Does Esca, too, harbour deeper tribal loyalties that will lead to treachery? When Marcus’ life – as Placidus asserts, will hang ‘by so slender a thread as the loyalty of a slave’.

Invalided out of the legion Marcus painfully recuperates with his Uncle Aquila (an authoritative Donald Sutherland in the film) in Calleva (Silchester). It’s here that he rescues Esca – son of Cunoval of the Brigante, from the arena, and purchases him as his body-slave. Strapped to the table, and held down by Esca in their first close physical contact, Marcus endures excruciating secondary surgery carried out by Rufrius Galarius, to extract deeply embedded splinters, saving the ruined leg botched by the ‘blue-jowled Spaniard’ field-medic. The interdependence of Marcus and Esca is now established. The slave Sassticca compares them to ‘the two halves of an almond’. When Marcus later consents to Esca joining a wolf-cull, there’s a clear message that’s repeated, as if to add further clarity, when Marcus attempts to free the orphaned wolf-cub that Esca brings him. Both are tests of loyalty, to determine if the need for kin and freedom outweighs the obligations of friendship. Cub provides the link. Both it – and Esca, are offered the opportunity of escape. Both return. When Marcus gives him his papyrus of manumission – his freedom, Esca counters with ‘I have not served the Centurion because I was his slave.’ If there are currents of homo-eroticism in this relationship, hinted at more strongly in the movie, that can scarcely have been Rosemary Sutcliff’s intention. Although in many ways cleaving closely to the original text, the film significantly omits Cottia, the young auburn-haired Iceni who resents her Aunt’s attempts to Romanise her. It’s her tentative affection for Marcus that adds a balance missing from the strictly masculine bonding seen onscreen. Nevertheless, if we are to believe Petronius’ ‘Satyricon’, values were different in ancient times. They saw no necessity for strong emotional connections to be absent from the bond between warriors.

There’s little condescension to young readers. When Marcus orders his troops to ‘Form Testudo’, there’s no explanation what a ‘testudo’ is. The formation becomes clear as the narrative continues, but there’s no patronising those unfamiliar with Roman strategy. Yet when we see rioting protesters assailing a Police Perspex shield-wall, we are seeing Roman military formation. These things persist. Born in Surrey in 1920 Rosemary Sutcliff writes of her own childhood in ‘Blue Remembered Hills’ (Bodley Head, 1983). Due to her father’s various postings as a naval officer she grew up in maritime bases from Malta to Sheerness. Her mother was stern and unyielding. Yet above all, her childhood was overshadowed by Still’s Disease, a debilitating arthritic condition that would limit her movements throughout her life. This necessitated escape into the fantasy alternative worlds of books. She devoured Rudyard Kipling, but also read Scots novelist George Whyte-Melville’s ‘The Gladiators’ (1863) and Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s ‘The Last Days Of Pompeii’ (1834), which conspired to ignite her interest in antiquity.

‘The Eagle Of The Ninth’, not her first book, but the breakthrough novel which first revealed her genius, was conceived as she nervously awaited still-further medical treatment. She began writing within three days of the operation, meticulously researching it from a lengthy bibliography at the County Library. As a result, her books are richly-detailed, inserting the telling minutiae of daily Roman life with deceptively casual authority. The libation to the households gods ‘whose bronze statues stood with the salt-cellars at the corners of the table.’ And, when they return, there are crocuses scattered on the table – in the Roman style. Her writing also has a direct descriptive simplicity that is never less than apt, the military trumpet-call ‘piercing through the unreality like a sword-blade through tangled wool’. Uncle Aquila who’s ‘joints appeared to be loosely strung together as if with wet leather’, yet carrying an ‘authority (that) seemed to hang on him in easy and accustomed folds, like his toga.’

Uncertain of his future, it’s the arrival of two guests, Aquila’s friend Senator Claudius (played by Dakin Matthews in the film) and his haughty tribune Legate Placcidus (Pip Carter), who seed the idea of a mission north of Hadrian’s Wall, the barrier that marks ‘the end of the known world’. Placcidus sneeringly suggests that the ‘Hispanas’ – the Ninth Legion mutinied, butchered their officers, and joined the local tribes of ‘Painted People’. That there’s ‘wind-blown market-talk’ of their standard, the Eagle ‘receiving divine honours in some tribal temple in the far north’. And that the Eagle could be used by its captors as a weapon against Rome. ‘Britain is full of nothing but rumour’ argues Aquila dismissively. But there’s a clean moral simplicity to the venture Marcus now envisages.

As she explains in her brief Foreword, ‘R.S.’ based her fiction around a genuinely intriguing historical conundrum. The real-life ‘Legio IX Hispana’ was certainly active in the suppression of Boudica’s rebellion in Norfolk, after which they were garrisoned at Eboracum (York). Then, she writes ‘sometime about the year AD117’ (AD120 in the film) they ‘marched north to deal with a rising among the Caledonian tribes, and was never heard of again’. Historians continue to debate their fate. Some make claims founded on the slightest hints of evidence that they were subsequently stationed in Germania, others suggest they were lost even later during campaigns against the Persians. While there are those who continue to cleave to their annihilation by Picts in the ‘swirling mists of Caledonia’. Another, less nuanced and altogether less satisfying film – ‘Centurion’ (2010) also utilises the story of the AD117 march north, with Michael Fassbender as Quintus Dias. But for the purposes of fiction – as in John Ford’s much-quoted movie ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ (1962) ‘when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.’

Marcus and Esca reach Eboracum to find it ‘ghost-ridden’ with memories of the departed legion. With Marcus in the guise of Demetrius of Alexandria, they travel beyond the Wall through Valentia, an area briefly under Roman occupation following Agricola’s campaign, but now a hinterland before the darker Caledonia, ‘the great emptiness beyond the frontier’. ‘Didn’t they tell you, this is the end of the world’ mocks the wall-guard, ‘see you in the afterlife, Roman’. They are venturing into primitive mystery in every way as threatening as Conan wandering into the supernatural dark of Robert E Howard’s imaginary realms of Hyboria. They are entering a place where the Ancient People and the little Dark People had left their long barrows. As Esca warns him, ‘5000 men can disappear in a single glen. There are thousands of glens.’ For the film, the Celtic chants, Uillean pipes and bodhran scored by Atli Orvarsson and Dave Fleming add eerier atmospherics. Matched by the novel’s vivid prose. The evening sky above what is assumed to be Loch Lomond – which provides one of the film’s actual on-location sites, is ‘coloured like a dove’s breast’ (the bleak Coigach Peninsula in NW Scotland is also listed in the credits, as well as the forests of Hungary). Above ‘the Loch of Many Islets’, they witness ‘far out on the dreaming brightness many scattered islands’ that ‘seemed to float lightly as sleeping sea-birds’ within the mist-crested shadows of Cruachan ‘the shield-boss of the world’.

Eventually they encounter Guern the Hunter, who Marcus correctly identifies as a Senior Cohort of the Hispana by a tune he whistles (in the film it’s Esca who spots Guern as a former legionary, not Marcus). Reluctantly he’s persuaded to tell how his ‘doomed legion’ was cursed by Boudicca, queen of the Iceni. How they marched north suffering continual guerrilla attack, until they were encircled at Agricola’s old northern headquarters. With the remnants retreating south, wounded, he’d dropped out, and been taken in by Selgovae tribal villagers, nursed back to health by Murna who became his wife and the mother of his children. It’s from Guern that Marcus also learns the name of the tribe who took the Eagle, the Epidaii.

Back in Calleva, Cottia had mocked the Roman troops as they do drill. This is not how warriors fight. Yet historically, every military encounter the legions fought north of the wall, they’d won. Only they were never able to make Caledonia a Roman province. There’s no civil structure for them to requisition. Only tribes with loose affiliations to family and warlord. Much like American troops in Afghanistan, they fight elusive phantoms against which military technology and discipline are ineffective. The same scenario is seen in the ‘Gladiator’ movie (2000), with the legion of General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) pitted against equally decentralised Germanic tribes.

Following Guern’s directions, their quest takes them into ‘the green woods, beyond the snowy mountains.’ For the movie there’s no pretence of Marcus being an Alexandrian Eye Doctor, something I always viewed as a dubious proposition anyway, instead there’s an effective role-reversal. Esca leads, with Marcus the silent partner. The Celts – including the Druid, speak in subtitles. The Romans, presumably speaking Latin, do not. Esca speaks the native language. Marcus does not, and his accent would give him away. In the novel, Marcus gains favour by saving the eyesight of the chief’s son of the Dergdian tribe. In the film, Marcus is introduced to the convincingly terrifying Pictish seal-people as Esca’s slave. Marcus must kneel to maintain the pretence. And when Esca explains ‘my heart hurts for a place to be free’, even Marcus himself is unsure of his motives.

As guests they watch the ‘Feast Of New Spears’ presided over by ‘The Horned One’ – an antlered priest, as possessed animal-spirits dance within the flame-shadows of an ancient Henge. Yet, lest we assume a Roman cultural superiority to this pagan ritual, Marcus recalls ‘the smell of bull’s blood in the darkened cave of Mithras’ during his own initiation. Soon after, there’s a doom-laden swords-and-sorcery frisson as the two furtively enter the ‘many-fingered dark’ of the secret chamber where the Eagle has spent its twelve-year captivity. As if it’s a living thing – ‘Marcus felt that at any moment he would hear it breathe, slowly and stealthily, like a waiting animal’.

Although there’s greater bloodshed in the film, there’s more coincidence in the book. Fleeing back towards the wall with the retrieved Eagle, pursued by ‘the hunters of souls’, they encounter Guern the Hunter again. Then, seeking refuge in an abandoned Roman signal tower, the first of the pursuing tribesman they overpower proves to be Liathan, whose cousin Marcus had cured in his healer’s guise. He also happens to have the ring of ‘green fire’ belonging to Marcus’ father. Coincidence, or something more – ‘a link of fate.’ In the film Marcus kills the chief/priest who wears his father’s ring. As he dies he mocks Marcus’ father as ‘the coward who knelt and begged for his life’. Esca refuses to translate this.

In a harrowing film variation, hindered by his lame leg, their horses gone, the two are swirled and stumble down a river-torrent between towering mossy-dark stone cliffs, surrounded by pursuing Seal warriors in drenching rain. Esca kills and skins a rat. Revolted by the idea of eating it raw, Marcus protests that he’s no savage. Esca retorts ‘so die a Roman!’ Marcus eats it. By now weak and hallucinating, there’s an effectively moving sequence where the ragged remnants of the scattered legion, gathered from their various places of concealment for one final battle beneath their Eagle, materialise like wraiths from the mist. In the ensuing fight Marcus kills the chief’s son by drowning him in the stream, the water cleansing away the paint from his dead face, leaving just a young man. After which, there’s a choice of endings. His father’s honour is vindicated as Guern tells Marcus the truth about the legion’s heroic last stand, that ‘the last Roman holding the Eagle was your father’. In a deleted alternate ending he then consigns the Eagle to the funeral pyre of the fallen. As it melts away in tears of gold, his funeral oratory recognises their kinship, and resolves their differences. The Eagle does not belong to Rome. It belongs to the men who died fighting in the name of honour. ‘Let us remember the men who fought and died in the name of honour. Romans and British. My father and yours.’

With the duo safely back south of the wall, in the less convincing multiplex film-version, Marcus and Esca brandish the Eagle into the Senate, presenting it ‘for my father’. The legion will be reformed. Marcus is offered command. But he declines, and instead leaves for fresh ventures with Esca at his side. In the novel, ‘there is no way back through the Waters of Lethe’ for the legion. Instead, Marcus is rewarded with a Centurion’s gratuity, and Esca with Roman citizenship. Yet Marcus chooses not to return to his family-lands in Eturia, but to stay in Britain with Esca, and with a grown Cottia. The Eagle is interred in the floor of Uncle Aquila’s villa in Calleva. The mission’s reward lies not in the retrieved standard, but the understanding that had grown between former antagonists. This accords with the second historical strand that Rosemary Sutcliff skilfully entwined to create the novel, when, ‘during the excavations at Silchester nearly eighteen hundred years later, there was dug up under the green fields which now cover the pavements of Calleva Atrebatum, a wingless Roman Eagle’. She reiterates that ‘no-one knows what happened to the Ninth Legion after it marched into the northern mists’, but ‘it is from these two mysteries, brought together, that I have made the story of ‘The Eagle Of The Ninth’.’ And it is a tale that continues to resonate down the decades. To my twelve-year-old self snuck into the school library high in Cottingham Secondary Modern. To director Kevin Macdonald who also ‘loved the book as a kid.’ And for those who will use the movie or the DVD as a route to follow Marcus and Esca into Rosemary Sutcliff’s enticing worlds of antiquity

But for Esca, their great shared adventure was just ‘good hunting’.


‘Eagle Of The Ninth’ series:

(1) ‘The Eagle Of The Ninth’ (1954, Oxford University Press, Puffin paperback 1977) illustrated by C Walter Hodges. Adapted for BBC Home Service ‘Children’s Hour’ as a six-part radio serial 27 February to 3 April 1957 (repeated 7 September to 12 October 1958). The subsequent book-series is linked by the Aquila family’s Dolphin ring

(2) ‘The Silver Branch’ (1957, OUP) illustrated by Charles Keeping. ‘Continuing the story begun in ‘The Eagle Of The Ninth’. It is Collen The Fool, with his strange musical instrument of silver apples, who brings a most unexpected message to Justin, and Flavius’. The first Saxon attacks on Britain are bringing grave new perils, but the real danger lies with traitors within. Flavius (a descendent of Marcus) and his kinsman Justin lead a resistance movement which eventually brings the Province of Britain back to the Roman fold

(3) ‘Frontier Wolf’ (1980, OUP). ‘In disgrace after a mistake that had lost a fort and the lives of half his men, Alexios (a scion of Marcus’ blood) arrived in Castellum, a beleaguered garrison beyond Hadrian’s Wall. As a senior officer soon told him, the Frontier Wolves who manned this outpost in the far north of Roman Britain were a fierce and savage bunch, a far cry from the regular legions he’d served in before. He would only survive if he learned to understand them and win their respect – and he was determined to try.’ He saves himself and his men when they’re cut off by rebellious tribesmen

(4) ‘The Lantern Bearers’ (1959, OUP) illustrated by Charles Keeping. ‘A historical novel set in Roman Britain, full of stirring incident and bitter conflict.’ During the coming of fierce Anglo-Saxon invaders, the nineteen-year-old Aquila (also a descendant of Marcus) sees his home and family destroyed, he becomes a slave before escaping and making his way to join the free men in Wales where he meets youthful leader Artos the Bear, and a grim struggle begins against the barbarians

(5) ‘Sword At Sunset’ (1963, Hodder and Stoughton) ‘officially for Adults’, following the character of Artos the Bear (Rosemary Sutcliff’s interpretation of King Arthur) from ‘The Lantern Bearers’, although Aquila’s son plays a minor part

(6) ‘Dawn Wind’ (1961, OUP) illustrated by Charles Keeping. ‘Owain was fourteen when the British war-hosts gathered in a desperate attempt to hold what territory they still had against the Saxons. He could never stop hoping that one day the dawn wind might blow and some part of the Britain he had known might be restored.’ Owain – descended from Marcus, is the only survivor of the great battle that kills his father and elder brother, but after attempting to save Regina, a waif he has befriended, he voluntarily becomes a slave. Eventually, his new Saxon masters becomes his friends, and through his self-sacrifice he is rewarded with his freedom

(7) ‘Sword Song’ (1997, posthumous) exiled for killing a Christian holy man, sixteen-year-old Viking swordsman Bjarni Sigurdson becomes a mercenary, travelling through England to Dublin, then fights among the clan chiefs of the west coast of Scotland. After five years he attempts to return home, only to be shipwrecked, and becomes involves with a girl facing execution as a witch

(8) ‘The Shield Ring’ (1956, Oxford University Press) illustrated by C Walter Hodges. A group of indomitable Vikings, including Beorn – last descendent of the Marcus line, though with Norse blood, lives in the Fells of Lakeland, trying to hold out against the resources of Norman England

Three Legions’ (1980) or ‘Eagle Of The Ninth Chronicles’ (2010) collects the first three published titles, ‘The Eagle Of The Ninth’, ‘The Silver Branch’ plus ‘The Lantern Bearers’

The Eagle’ (Universal/ Focus Features in association with Film 4, 2011) Directed by Ken Macdonald, Producer Duncan Kenworthy, with a Jeremy Brock screenplay based on the Rosemary Sutcliff novel. With Channing Tatum (as Marcus Flavius Aquila), Jamie Bell (as Esca), Donald Sutherland (as Uncle Aquila), Mark Strong (as Guern, aka Lucius Caius Metellus), Tahar Rahim (as ‘Prince Of The Seal People’), Denis O’Hare (as Lutorius), Dakin Matthews (as Senator Claudius), Pip Carter (as Legate Placidus), Ned Dennehy (as ‘Chief of the Seal People’) (114 minutes) DVD, Universal 2011