Friday 27 February 2015

Poem: 'Moonflower Meditations'


“ the midst of a wine-dark sea…” 

“I give you answer” 
she teases 
“when the dome 
of the Forteza 
the setting sun” 

as the Tzitziki 
striate the dusk 
scratching their 
ageless erosions 

her skin ripples with 
fields of oleander, 
her eyes unravel 
scrawls of promise 

I bite back Raki, 
taste its burn, 
the sea gives answer 
all the way to the 
Venetian harbor, 

the sun bleeds 
visibly lower, 
slices the black dome 
as razor through skin 

“I give you answer now” 

I watch 
“I forget the question” 

we throw time 
into the 

Published in:
‘TEARS IN THE FENCE no.12’ (UK - March 1994)
‘TARGET no.6: Final Issue’ (UK - April 1999)
‘THE FOUNTAIN / LA FONTANA’ edit Pete Presford (UK – Oct 2003)
and in the collection
‘THE MAN WHO DRANK THE MOON’ edit Pete Presford (UK - March 1994)

Thursday 26 February 2015

Music Interview: The ABC Of Democratic Dancebeats


An interview with the 
Moderne Funk-Vision group ABC 


The film goes blurred in horizontal bands of grey. Sat on a tubular steel chair watching jerky out of focus home movies I see the visual drift go further. Outside the ‘Illusions’ studio there is heat-drenched Sheffield lost in dreams of steel and heavy industry. Here, on this video, legends – or rather impressions of the London club ‘Legends’, are condensing. The eye of the camera swoops in through light-bursts of hellish ochre onto Mark White, dark flattop crop hair, intense concentration. His guitar is strafed by an itchy plectrum wreaking vengeance on air, erupting jangling clusters of chords. His fingers are tarantulas spasming up and down the fret.

Red light goes on, washing over burnished sax, Stephen Singleton, white-flesh cheeks inflated to precarious aural limits, exhales a solo as jaggedy and spacey as smoke crawling across a motorway interchange. Then he’s bouncing and weaving around the stage grinning at crooked angles. Behind him the backdrop is fractured mirrors so that Mark Lickley’s churning pulsing bass and David Robinson’s precision-sharp drumming are cloned into an infinity-orchestra down halls of repetitive reflections, each chorus-line image moving in exact choreography. And an audience who, ten seconds previous were majoring in apathy, are now on their feet and dancing. This music would make cripples dance.

Stage-front is fenced in, the band are caged heat bleeding sweat. Martin Fry in ‘Maverick’ string-tie – ‘if you can’t stand the heat, stay outta the kitchen,’ now laying slabs of vocal lines over the swamp operation rhythms, the muscular and tentacular dancebeats. The lyrics come fast, ‘standing by the Xerox machine, I wanna duplicate some money, build a fortune in black and white, but I need a master copy.’ The song is “Payback”, three minutes of the most concentrated danceable energy in recent Rock ‘n’ Roll memory. The film wows and drizzles, pupils of eyes blanking back into uniform white, igniting, gleaming paranormally. It goes on – ‘plan the perfect double-murder, maybe win the pools. When I get some money, Honey, I’ll be knee-high in consumer durables.’

The audience is largely music biz, Phonogram who have ABC under contract, Peter Powell from Radio One-One-Wonderful who’s been mouthing off praises of this ‘radical dance faction’ ever since, and has pressured them into studio sessions for his programme. I could be mistaken but somewhere I swear I also see the spectre of Jimmy James & the Vagabonds smiling (but that story comes later).

Screen ripples. Goes grey in storming monochrome hail.

Martin Fry’s screen-ghost, doubling percussive effects with voice, fades and is gone. Now he’s sprawled to my right and just behind me, he’s tall and loose-limbed, confident, blonde fringe hair, and stubble like he forgot to shave. ‘That’s July. Seems like a year ago’ he says, midway between memory and wonderment.

In levels of heat eight out of ten doctors would not recommend Stephen Singleton paces the bare concrete floor of the design studio cramped with posters, artwork, Xeroxed £20 notes and snaking wires. He pulses the video to death. Turns to me. ‘What do you think?’

In my head I’m constructing lists of responses. To me ABC is the band most likely to. The democratic dancebeat that hits your feet via the brain, backbone, and all points between – or vice versa (but that’s another legend!). ABC, to me is the total contagious intensity unleashed at the Leeds ‘Warehouse’ club, or the London ‘Moonlight’, or bases closer to home in Sheffield. A commitment to ENERGY that fizzes and bursts in incandescent clusters round your neural network. Visually they are five sharp mix ‘n’ match 1980’s, elusive reference points, but calculatedly clear of categories. Category is stasis.

Mark White, frontline guitar, early twenties, aggressively energetic, contends ‘you win the war by ignoring everything else out of existence.’ He’s right. You think Funk’s been going downhill since Otis Redding took that long last ride, since Sly’s ‘Family Affair’ took the dive? And don’t feed me revivalists like Q-Tips or Dexys, or Jazz-Funk or Punk-Funk. ABC ‘evolved as corporate isolationists,’ no copyists, no revivalists, they. ABC take it back to basics, then rebuild it different. To them ‘Disco is an excellent vehicle. We are utilising a sort of Funk vision. Conceptual beats-per-minute. While you Dance yourself Dizzy we will exploit your subconscious.’ The real Soul rebellion that involves tactical infiltration. ‘There’s a Disco in every town, humming hymns to consumerism and stylism.’

Rejoice, rejoice, you got no choice when ABC comes at you…

--- 0 --- 


Later, Martin and Stephen, two tall blonde men in white sneakers, and me, are sat around a table in a room above a coffee shop. Coffee is duly drunk, cheeseburgers consumed to background sounds of conversation and the hiss of steam.

So why ABC – what’s it mean? A forgotten Jackson Five hit? – ABC, as easy as 1-2-3, Doh-Ray-Me? It carries little emotional charge, few attendant image-associations.

Martin shrugs, exudes candour, suggests the ‘first three letters of the alphabet. You can think alphabetically, place everything logically in a cool calculated fashion. But also it’s got international applications. ABC throughout Europe will always be ABC. It won’t have to be translated into another language.’

Stephen adds ‘we don’t really want a name that links us with any specific Movement.’

‘It’s just something that’s colourless, and we have to colour it in. It means that we have to stamp our character onto the name fairly fast otherwise it will just be faceless. The name ABC is big and simple, and into that we can throw a lot of different ideas.’ Flesh the letters out with the gaudy crayola synthesis of ABC’s component individuals. Laying chameleon nuances onto a pure bedrock of awareness.

So there’s no Jackson Five connection? ‘That’s the first record I ever bought’ teases Stephen through a twisted sideways leer beneath a landslip of hair. ‘Nothing to do with the name of the band though.’

Fry just bops up and down, sings a few choruses of ‘shake it, shake it, Baby oooh-oooh,’ and leaves that open to interpretation.

A dance stance. Sure. But, acting as agent provocateur, or devil’s advocate, I ask what’s the good of promoting a dance philosophy when there’s three-million unemployed. Are ABC advocating a danceable solution to teenage revolution?

‘Revolutions happen as forty-five or thirty-three-and-a-third rpm. You can’t disassociate Discothèques and dancing just because people throw petrol bombs. It’s one and the same, it’s just an energy-explosion. There’s room for the two, for political dissention and good contemporary Disco music. You just take pleasure when you can.’ Martin shifts the line of attack to me. ‘You mean ABC plays while Rome burns?’

You could make out a case for that argument. But cliché is emphatically, if stylishly booted. ‘We are anti docile mannequin’ Mark White pointed out earlier. ‘We want to usurp twee ‘moderne’ mannerisms.’ The Funk mutation might be a new emphasis – but change is the real permanency.

‘The balance is there when the Specials sing “Ghost Town”. They look pretty sharp, but they think pretty sharp too. I can’t believe you’ve only got to be on the barricades. Your time is just as well spent on the dancefloor. We’re more about personal politics than statements.’ Bob Marley – he’s an example of the one-percent of artists who also achieve something real on a level beyond mere entertainment, Fry suggests. But ‘it’s a weak association. It’s like saying why has the Milkman not got a political consciousness, or why has the girl who just brought the cheeseburger not got a political consciousness. The two exist and knock around together.’ He pauses, traces the patterns on the tabletop with his forefinger. Then grins. ‘We have got a political song. It’s called “Hide The Ghetto”.’

Coffee pumps hiss in the background. The title gets scrambled. ‘Hide The Gateaux’? You mean like Marie Antoinette – let them eat cake?

‘“Hide The Gateaux”, let them eat cake! Hey, that works even better.’ Barriers and barricades come down in laughter.

‘Yeah, we’ll use THAT instead next time!’

Record company politics are more exactly delineated. Although he neatly skates around recent press reports that ABC will be recording in Miami with producer Alex Sadkin – notable for his work with T-Connection (“Do What You Wanna Do”) and Hi Tension (“British Hustle”), Martin is vehement that control remains with the band. He contends ‘the problem arises when groups or artists don’t have a very clear idea of what they want to be, what they want to express, or how they wanna sound or look. That’s when you get the companies stepping on people and saying do this or do that.’

Stephen concurs, betraying a slur of Sheffield in his accent. ‘And then the band turn around and complain ‘I’ve been manipulated’. It’s not always the case.’ ABC’s answer was to seek a package deal, a leasing arrangement with artistic control riders. They inked to Phonogram for a lucrative advance. You’ve not heard their single “Tears Are Not Enough”. You will. It’s to be the initial vinyl incarnation, a taster for the album already formed in their quintuple heads, unlike any other you’ve heard. The single – backed with “Alphabet Soup”, is already slated, but is going out with their own ‘Neutron’ logo. A contract tied up and now in operation.

‘We thought we’d get a catalogue of songs together, and we’d get a five-year plan, then take it to the record company as a complete package, and then it’s up to them to take it or leave it. Rather than go and say ‘we’re a band, have you got any ideas?’ We know where we are going. And with having our own label within Phonogram if anything goes wrong we can’t turn round and say Phonogram are to blame. We are the people to blame, and that’s the way we want it to be, we want that responsibility…’ Stephen is good on policy.

‘…squarely on our undernourished shoulders.’ Martin is good on epithets.

‘Phonogram can’t force us to write hit singles. It’s up to us. If we want to do it badly enough, then we’ll do it.’ There’s nothing to betray lack of conviction as he adds ‘ – and that’s what we are aiming for!’

--- 0 --- 

Sometimes, historical minutiae is unavoidable, even when everyone’s bored with Sheffield. There’s the inevitable regurgitation of industrial bleakness and cybermen, an overkill race-memory of soulless technology, all digital-sterile and no gut reactions… right? The mention of names like Clock DVA, Cabaret Voltaire and Human League elicit predictably knowing reactions. It’s no big deal to come from Sheffield thus far through 1981, but although the ABC bio-file necessarily pokes areas already much-poked, the genealogy unearths new trajectories too. David Robinson and Mark Lickley hacked out taproots with Postcode S18 out in Dronfield, a well-established local band for some three years, heavy on complex jazz-infected rhythms.

While in Sheffield proper, Vice Versa existed as the perfect post-modernist trio, but even in early 1979 when I first spoke to them they were mixing regulation influences – Kraftwerk, Malcolm McLaren, Andy Warhol and David Bowie, with Chic and Giorgio Moroder. Mark White boasting of dancing to early Donna Summer while Martin retaliates with tales of gate-crashing Kraftwerk at a London University concert.

But Vice Versa rode the new-austerity line to the extent of kick-starting Neutron Records, responsible for the now much-valued compilation EP ‘1980: The First Fifteen Minutes’ featuring the aforesaid Clock DVA, as well as Stunt Kites, and I’m So Hollow (with production trace-lines to Cabaret Voltaire, and family-tree connections to Human League). As Vice Versa, Singleton, White – and now-reneged David Sydenham, also did the ‘Music 4’ EP which ‘Melody Maker’ reviewer Chris Bohn described as ‘the darker side of Human League’s breezy melodrama.’ Vice Versa themselves offered an alternative explanation, a group Manifesto announcing them as a ‘chainsaw Pop group, more related to Northern Soul than Rock ‘n’ Roll.’

They toured in Europe, played the Leeds Sci-Fi Festival, did a Sheffield ‘City Hall’ date with Clock DVA, and guested on a Cowboys International slog around the UK. I met them as they got back from playing return Rotterdam engagements. Sample dialogue ran to Martin – by then replacing Sydenham, reporting belief in speed, change, dynamism, ENERGY both physical and intellectual.

Subsequently they released ‘Eight Aspects Of April ‘80’ which exceeded even those expectations, a magnificent cassette-edition that held permanent place on my tape-deck clear through to the new year when it was dislodged by the Scunthorpe Dada Psychedelicatessen ‘391’.

Rotterdam’s Backstreet Records sealed off the Vice Versa discography with a much-delayed single coupling “Stilyargi” – a song about Russian Teddy Boys, with “Eyes Of Christ”.

End of phase.

--- 0 --- 

From the ‘Illusions’ studio we cruise Sheffield city-centre hunting a clean parking meter, 391 on the in-car sound-system. As Sly phrased it, different strokes for different folks, and so on and so on…

ABC, a brand new name, a new brand name. A cabinet re-shuffle. A latest millstone to be cast off, cracked, and used to sharpen tools for the phases to come. So far, trial runs for the line-up have been limited, but strategically targeted for maximum effect. The London ‘Moonlight’ Club in mid-May where Stephen unintentionally created undiscovered chords when his sax began destructuring in mid-solo, shedding pads like bronze-flashing lizard scales. And the ‘Legend’, Martin Fry moving vaguely like Richard Jobson used to with the Skids (‘It’s the fringe! I’ve got a new pair of dancing shoes now. I’ve learned a few more steps since that video’).

So why so little live work? ‘We didn’t want to grow up in public’ explains Stephen. ‘Some bands might like to do a hundred gigs. We’d rather do a hundred songs. We prefer to operate that way. We want to bring back the tradition of the songwriter, rather than the groups who get together an image and then songs to follow the image. We’ve got this catalogue together, and when we play live we just do – like eight or nine songs from that roster, to keep it fresh for us.’

Martin offers ‘we’ve written, like, one new song a month.’ He lists titles that have emerged from this period of furious creativity, songs like “Surrender”, “Speak No Evil” and “Boomerang”. Music still being worked out on stage, still in high pressure gestation.

Stephen elaborates their attitude to the process. ‘We do see ourselves as songwriters. We discipline ourselves to work on that craft. Writing is a question of locking ourselves in a room – the five of us, in a factory-style situation. Ninety percent of the things we write get chopped and changed or trashed. We can spend a week working on a song, and in the end drop the thing.’

I suggest that lyrically the new songs they played on the ‘Legend’ video are more direct that the Vice Versa stuff. Less arty. In fact, they are love songs…? ‘Twist in the tail love songs though’ concedes Martin. ‘More direct in that they are easier to comprehend.’

The catalyst bridging the two stylistic lifetimes is “Democratic Dancebeat”, a number from the ‘Eight Aspects Of April ‘80’ cassette (‘Black Echoes… Soul Power... Casino in Wigan… Motor City to the Twisted Wheel…’). ‘ABC grew organically out of Vice Versa. It wasn’t amputation, but evolution. The basic elements are all there in that song. It’s the same sentiments, just expressed in a different way. First of all you need something that grabs your attention, then you can dig deeper into the lyrics.’

‘It’s more interesting to try to touch more areas, to say things to a larger amount of people, rather than walking up a cul-de-sac that might only involve – say, two thousand people, initiates. But the basic statements aren’t radically different. The idea of an international Europe, the idea of date-stamping, changing, those doctrines stand fast. Just that sometimes the focus turns away from Art Movements in the 1920’s , and onto Boy-meets-Girl.’

Supreme twentieth-century designer Raymond Loewy, architect of the Coke bottle, considers style to be a ‘fleeting thing better left to ladies’ hairdressers.’ ABC would probably agree. Sheffield’s no place for dreaming. No place for affectation or posing assumed styles. ABC wear their integrity like all-over suits, they got integrity so bad it hurts. So where do Jimmy James & The Vagabonds – stylish Soul band of venerable antiquity, slot into such a scenario?

Jimmy James & The Vagabonds
 Furtive glances are exchanged. A ‘shall we construct a mythology’ conspiracy? Stephen opts for straight narrative. ‘When we’ve actually written the songs as a five-piece we don’t see it being a full-stop. When we go in the studios we develop the songs even further, take them to what we think are the logical conclusions.’ The studio becomes a ‘songwriting tool’, allowing scope for dubbing strings or horns on top of the blueprints – to ‘develop the craft of songwriting and production.’ ‘I play sax and Mark (Lickley) plays a trumpet…’ 

‘…but he’s only got two hands!’

He’s working on that, right? ‘It was either a graft or a transplant.’

‘Anyway, we put adverts in the papers to try to get some brass players, and these guys that worked with Jimmy James came up. They live in the area – Kim Wear (trumpet) and Andy Gray (trombone). Jimmy himself lives in Retford now.’

So it was random in a sense. No scope for a New Funk Rebels searching for the Old Funk Rebels scam? A Rico for the Specials? A ‘Geno’ for the Dexys? ‘We didn’t actually audition them’ offers Stephen. ‘We just said ‘we’ll have you’, and stopped looking, because we knew the records and we knew they’d be exactly what we wanted.’

They’re just for recording work? ‘No, live as well. We remain a five-piece band, but with additional musicians. We needed to play gigs as a five-piece. But now we’re in a position where we can hold back, and put together a better show. We got the finances to do that. We don’t play live very often, but when we do, we want to make it an event. A show rather than just another appearance. When we play live we want to get everything we can across.’

We digress. Jimmy James’ Vagabonds went through a number of line-up changes through the ephemeral lushness of sixties Mod cultdom, into the splendid isolation of the years that followed. They ran neck and neck with Geno Washington’s Ram-Jam Band in in-sect appeal. Geno marginally more popular maybe, but the Vagabonds cultivating a mythos of aesthetic purity, a cell of fervid Gospel-tainted authenticity that gave the music greater credibility with the perceptive.

‘Sure, but Jimmy James found his mass audience in the end’ Martin adds, nudging in the brief liaison with writer-producer Biddu that gave the Soul giant his deserved hits “I’ll Go Where Your Music Takes Me” (no.23, in April 1976), and “Now Is The Time” (no.5, in July 1976).

 Historical rumours time! ‘What happened is, he (Jimmy James) came over from Jamaica to work the band with another guy. Like, it wasn’t Jimmy James who was the original frontman, but the other guy became part of the clubland mafia, and Jimmy had to take over. They said ‘Oh, you can sing now’, and he was really very nervous…’

‘…according to legend.’

‘And he’d sing with his back to the audience. He’d stand near the drummer, you know, until he gradually blossomed. Apparently, when he plays live now he still turns his back to the audience.’

As far as sixties Soul bands are concerned, I confess a personal preference for Zoot Money. ‘You got his phone number?’ flashes Martin Fry…

--- 0 --- 


Mark White offers further minutes from the Board Meetings of the Corporate Isolationists. ‘Tell them they have no option, we’re the Radical Dance Faction, the world’s first swaying mass elite. Radio interference to Radio One.’ This style of smart-sloganeering with its positive-charge arrogance is subverted by deliberate conceptual absurdism, an integral humour. The self-righteous detractors of the Neutron Manifesto miss out on this whole point, which is GAME PLAYING. A game as intense as life. A game as serious as breathing, as serious as creating.

Contradiction? That’s no contradiction. All contradictions, all arguments, all resistance dissolves in the aural wash of the most compulsively euphoric sounds you’re likely to hear this side of the year 2000. Ephemeral? Ephemeral as the girls you see in the TV hairspray ads. As ephemeral as the sound evaporating into the cloud of shimmering heat vibrating above the dance-floor.

ABC means to me, initially, a Dance therapy. A tribal re-education in Dayglo living, easy as Doh-Ray-Me, as easy as 1-2-3. That’s how easy it will be…


16 October 1981, the single “Tears Are Not Enough” issued in two formats: Seven-inch “Tears Are Not Enough” (3:35-minutes) c/w “Alphabet Soup” (5:25) Neutron-Phonogram NT101 and

Twelve-inch “Tears Are Not Enough” (7:55) c/w “Alphabet Soup” (8:02) Neutron-Phonogram NTX101 Produced by Steve Brown. Both tracks are later re-recorded for the album ‘Lexicon Of Love’ It enters the UK chart 31 October 1981, and reaches no.19 (‘Record Retailer’) and no.18 (5 December, ‘New Musical Express’), the same week that “Under Pressure” by Queen & David Bowie is no.1


Published in:
‘HOT PRESS’ (Eire)

Travel - 'Crete 1992: Sex & Death On The Island That Time Never Forgot'


 Crete, this magic is no myth. But in 1992, on nightly 
TV, death is a spectator sport. And grudges 
die hard on an island with a 5,000-year history

Outside it’s heat-blasting in the upper 90’s.

Here, the rippling shade of mauve bougainvillaea washes the TV colour into odd distortions. There’s some on-screen confusion blurred with a gibberish foreign commentary. Local men with spiky moustaches and George Michael eyes watch with heightening interest.

Outside, beat-up cars in the super-heated air orbit a traffic island. Beyond that, the beach.

Explosions of milling TV people throw stones. Some carry blue flags. Cops wield batons and perspex riot shields. There’s tear-gas, and there are shots. The locals begin stamping their feet and shouting at the screen. One of them yells to a friend in a passing cab. The taxi sags to a stop in half-orbit, the guy gets out. He’s built like Bluto from ‘Popeye’, but perhaps his Engelbert Humperdinck moustache is a mistake. He ambles leisurely across to the bar where he gets into the excited pointing, yelling, stamping and gesticulating.

Meanwhile, car horns blast as they veer in a Demolition Derby around the slewed and abandoned taxi, passing on the inside or the outside at whim.

Rethymnon, Crete. On TV, an incident from the Cyprus Green Line. Volatile divide and UN buffer-zone between Greek and Turkish zones of that divided neighbouring island. August. Solomos Solomou, a 26 year-old Greek Cypriot tried to climb a Turkish flagpole to rip down the flag. He was hit five times by Turkish gunfire and killed on prime-time TV. This happened during a massive protest demonstration following an earlier death when his cousin – Nationalist activist Tassos Isaac, had his head beaten to a bloody pulp with staves and crowbars by a Turkish mob. The burial rites needle an already flashpoint situation, becoming a deliberate provocations against the island’s 110-mile faultline partition. There are police and National Guard cordons with circling security helicopters.

The Greek Archbishop Chrysostomos, while making coded appeals for calm, praises the ‘Greek fighting spirit which leads’ the demonstrators, calling them the ‘descendants of heroes and martyrs’. Turkish Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller retaliates by adding ‘no-one lays a finger on the flag. If anybody has the nerve to do that, we will break their hands.’ Neither community admits the possibility of conciliation. The 22-year mutual intransigence is a fact of life. Earlier that year Greek and Turkish forces clash over the ownership of an uninhabited Aegean islet off the Turkish coast. This is cold war in a hot climate. Grudges die hard here. Its TV coverage is a spectator sport.

Crete is a time-sliding foray into multiple levels of pre and post history, from landing at Heraklion where runway flight-path lights are made up of blazing oil-drums direct from Fred Flintstone (‘YABBADABBADOO!’), to an apartment with regular power-cuts and irregular undrinkable water with the consistency of warm sand, where Greek narrow-gauge plumbing means don’t flush toilet paper – place it in the bin provided for collection later. And it’s still stunning. Beyond the balcony, goats, chickens and children scrat while semi-feral cats eat slim green lizards in the kind of picturesque squalor that the Aegean sun makes magical. Dry rusting Martian rocks hold the lean-to roofs in place, but they’re simultaneously drenched in vines and luminous pink oleanders.

At 250km Crete is the largest Greek island. And the most southern. Next stop that way is Egypt. That way to Libya. It has Hersonissos for Clubbers, where dedicated dancers can, with persistence, find the best Belgian House or Italian Techno, not quite at Balearic density, but enough bpm to sweat to. There’s Aghios Nikolaos for the family touristy thing. And in Arkadi they’ve got the naked skulls of nineteenth century martyrs leering out from the ossuary wall. But I’m in the outer rim of Rethymnon by the darkly romantic warrens of the Old Town. Behind the harbour is a small Roman amphitheatre from something-something BC. It’s still in occasional use for musical or theatrical events. Above the harbour there’s a Venetian Fortress from five hundred or so years later. And built into its highest point there’s a mosque from the Ottoman Turk occupation from 1669. Deliberately sited in a kind of bragging religio-cultural triumphalism, a Muslim monument surmounting a Christian bastion.

When they first brought civilisation north from the Nile towards barbarian Europe, Crete was its most obvious first landfall. Here is where Europe began. Its Egyptian matrix still conspicuous in the exclusively sideways facing figures on the wall mosaics at the Palace of Knossos. This most ancient of strongholds is a Conan fantasy of immense wood and stone. These are the labyrinths, already ancient when Rome and Athens were tribal settlements, where the monstrous man-eating bull-headed Minotaur was butchered by the heroic Theseus. It probably became a swords-&-sandals epic for late-night TV starring Steve Reeves and Minotaur-SFX by Ray Harryhausen. This is a place so old it’s where history dissolves into myth. It’s a Stone Age palace, built into the slope of a hill because they hadn’t yet mastered the architectural subtlety of constructing a second storey above the first. The modest throne room has a modest wooden throne. Something like four thousand years ago the neighbouring volcanic island of Santorini, black sand and white houses, blew itself to pieces – some say giving rise to the legend of Atlantis. Its subsequent volcanic nuclear winter hastened the collapse of Crete’s antique Minoan culture. They’re digging out similar structures on the crescent of what’s left of Santorini.

In the eucalyptus shade of Heraklion square, men wear expensive watches, but seldom glance at them. Menu displays outside the Tavernas are all identical, and bear little relation to the food on offer. By the Rimondi fountain just 5km from Knossos, there’s a Quinten Crisp look-alike heavy loaded with expensive gold jewellery. One of Crete’s last Stately Homo’s, he preens and struts with limp-wristed dignity, before taking a camp cappuccino like he’s holding court at some effete soiree. His story must be an equally intriguing one. But hey – the Greeks invented it, didn’t they? Explicit Man-2-Man love is there on the urns and wall-murals, still available in reproduction ‘museum’ copies in most tourist shops. It’s there in Plato’s ‘Symposium’ with Pausanias and Agathon, and in Aeschines prosecution of Timarchus in the fourth century BC. Well – no, they didn’t really invent it. Every culture on the planet did.

But Cretan sexual politics are still in uneasy flux. There are unreconstructed hominoids lounging outside every corner eaterie, strutting macho poses of the most neolithic pre-Feminist kind. And the boringly predictable Mediterranean stereotypes hang out in every bar, working their inexorable knicker-dropping sexual magnetism on English, German and Irish tourists from paler, colder climes. While the Cretan girls exist on an entirely more advanced evolutionary plane, smartly efficient and upwardly mobile. They weave on scooters through the medieval shadows of the Old Town past the leather shops and the luminous jewellers where they negotiate sales of ‘Museum Copy’ Octopus broaches, ear-rings made of Cretan Double-Headed Axes, figurines of the bare-breasted Minoan Snake Goddess, vases decorated with the vaulting bull-dancers of Knossos and priaptic Satyrs.

A woman from Wicklow, in her late forty-somethings, is on a menopausal ‘Shirley Valentine’ dream-trip, hunting her dark Tom Conti. A postcard home about it will cost her just 120 GRD (Greek Drachmas). She lounges on the beach showing enough bareable flesh to make several regular-size volleyballs. Her red mosquito-bitten tan defined in glistening strips of painfully successive exposure. She’s playfully tutoring Stefanos, the parasol attendant, in correct Wicklow pronunciations. He exudes athletic horniness, has chest-hair like black palm trees, cut-off jeans, and a cash-belt. He humours her patiently as she flirts ineptly. Then he shoves her lounger rental into his belt and stalks off. She smiles approvingly. He smiles knowingly.

Time only seems to fully up-gear from pre to post-history on the beach. Here there are liquid-dark girls in minimal clothes who make the ‘Baywatch Babes’ look well-overdressed, and enough bare breasts to emphatically prove that all women are not born equal. Just what is the fascination that these quivering protuberances of fleshy fat tissue exert on the vulnerable male psyche? Who knows? Just enjoy. They, the cheap wine, the Tzatziki Dip, the Xifias Swordfish, the veggie Kolokithea Tiganite , the Tsantalis Ouzo – and even the Demolition Derby traffic, all conspire to make new myths rich enough to drown in.

But in the meantime, this is the island that time never forgot. It is now exactly twenty-four hours since this time yesterday. A black crone shoo’s irritably at the German with the camcorder. This is good. She’s shrivelled-up, a wrinkled Mother Theresa with a moustache. He screws his eye harder into the view-finder and zeroes in on her. She sits on a wall of dry stones. There’s a leafless tree above her. And above that the sheer stratification of the Samaria Gorge, a vast Cathedral of Rock. Nature on acid. Here, geological ages are squashed one on top of the other. Scrawny Kri-Kri goats climb in the tree. The German with the camcorder focuses closer. She lops down off the wall to avoid him, hiding her face. She moves away between the goats. He follows her, video raping relentlessly. She scrunches up pebbles and hurls them inaccurately in his direction. This is even better. Action! It’ll look great back home in Düsseldorf.

The Samaria Gorge is 300 metres deep, and – at 18km is Europe’s longest. The hallucinogenic air is pine-scented. The freezing stream down its centre is fed from the flower-filled NW valleys and the rugged White Mountains, including Mount Ida which often stays snow-capped into early spring.

I watch the German video-raping the Cretan crone. The most recent invasion in Crete’s long history and prehistory of invasion (at least, prior to the Turkish attack on Cyprus in 1974 which established the Green Line enclave) was the German airborne assault and mass parachute-drop in May 1941. Grudges die hard here. I feel a strong compulsion to intervene, a kind of ‘hey, leave her alone can’t ya?’, but I don’t. Instead I go back to the apartment where ants crawl across the floor and stranger insects crick and whirr somewhere beyond the balcony, and I write this. Here’s-Backatcha-Kraut! From the balcony, as the sun sets, the dome of the Turkish mosque above the Greek harbour bites an exact curve from its red disc. Probably the alignment is deliberate.

Crete has five thousand years of history. Five millennia. But Greece and Turkey are now joint members of NATO, and may soon be partners in the European Union. Political faultlines and Cypriot Checkpoint Charlie’s may have to be resolved. The alternatives are already spectator sport on nightly prime-time TV.

Two days later, off the long-winded island-hopping ferry at Bodrum, the Turkish customs guy sees my Knossos T-shirt. ‘You like Greece?’ Then snorts a derisive laugh as I nod. ‘Turkey much better!’ Grudges die hard here.

Published in:
‘LATERAL MOVES no.21’ (UK - June 1998)

Tuesday 24 February 2015

'Jeff Hawke: Titan Of The Spaceways'


The classic JEFF HAWKE science fiction picture-strip ran in 
the ‘Daily Express’ from 1954 to 1975. Now ‘Titan Books’ 
have produced two lavish collections of stories from the series. 
ANDREW DARLINGTON explores the books and examines 
the fascinating history behind them… 

My paper-round took me through the ‘Profumo Scandal’, ‘The Great Train Robbery’, and the early American Gemini space-shots – roughly 1961 to 1964. Reading door-to-door I got pretty-well genned up on such topical events while elsewhere, though I confess I also followed ‘Garth’ regularly in the pre-Maxwell ‘Daily Mirror’, my favourite daily picture-strip fix was ‘Jeff Hawke’ in the pre-tabloid ‘Daily Express’. Just three meticulously executed frames a day could rock my fervid adolescent imagination through dark infinities of space and vast eternities of time in the company of comicdom’s most intoxicatingly bizarre creations – Tallid The Reasonable Fish, Crab Creatures from the Crab Nebula, the mischievously evil Chalcedon, the nervously apologetic single-eyed Kolvorok, Ramedd-Flaa the ultra-entity – who contains the blueprint of all galactic life-forms, and much more – a querulous, bickering, bombastic, cowardly and ludicrous menagerie of beings with beautifully conceived biologies and irresistible characterizations.

‘Jeff Hawke is the best science fiction strip EVER’ opines Dave Gibbons – artist for ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Dan Dare’ and ‘Rogue Trooper’, ‘the rich complexity of its writing and artwork are unsurpassed.’ Of course, he’s correct. An alien sphinx that doubles as a starship? A kidnapped Loch Ness Monster abducted and taken to mate with a similarly endangered species on another world?, and always the fascinating overlap between ancient mysteries and future terrors. Hawke’s creator – Sydney Jordan, describes his favourite tale, “The Immortal Toys”, as one that shifts from a ‘Spielberg-like opening sequence, where the latest in Edwardian technology is set against a science infinitely older,’ to a storyline that moves ‘effortlessly forward in time, so that we are reminded how transient the term ‘latest’ can be when applied to scientific progress.’ Heavy stuff. Yet hugely readable.

Wing Commander Jeff Hawke was launched just four years after Dan Dare had exploded ‘Eagle’ into national mythology, and – like Dan Dare, sometimes used photogenic sessions posed by professional models for art reference. ‘The discerning may recognise, from my drawings of Hawke, that I used Hans Meyer as a model – he was later to be cast as the sympathetic Hauptmann Ullman in the BBC-TV series ‘Colditz’.’ Sydney Jordan, a skilled graduate of the Aeronautical Technical School in Reading, worked on ‘Dick Hercules: Sixth Form Muscle-Boy’, going on to invent and run Jeff Hawke, which he did from 15 February 1954 – with a story called “Space Rider”, until 1 November 1975, by which time syndication had spread its readership to the ‘Scottish Daily News’ and beyond, into foreign translations. Re-runs and reprints have continued across the years since, in – for example, the ‘Huddersfield Daily Examiner’, while two lavish eighty-eight-page collections ensure Jeff Hawke’s idiosyncratic exploits are now available to a new generation, alongside Titan Books more contemporary titles. And Jeff Hawke stands up to such comparisons remarkably well. 

If Jeff Hawke was blonde and sometimes wooden in the way 1950s Space Heroes were expected to be blonde and wooden, then it was the strong alien characters, and the sophisticated plotting skills – courtesy of Sydney Jordan and his most accomplished collaborator – the late Willie Patterson, that lifted the strip into overdrive. With a mixed target audience on up to adult ‘Daily Express’ readers, they could afford to pitch narratives at a number of levels, with each tale prefaced by playful dialogue from a Greek chorus of demonic commentators. ‘What you are going to see will be VAST’ promises Mephisto in one such prologue, ‘no trifling with the universe here. I will show you great ships and astonishing creatures… but that will be only the beginning.’

“Counsel For The Defence” satirically explores the labyrinthine legal codes practiced in Galactopolis, the planetwide city-hub of a star-spanning empire that is inventively visualised by Jordan’s ‘tight, technically claustrophobic’ art. While “Pastmaster” features Ap Tiryns, a meddling time-travelling interloper from 30,000AD who materialises into a 1989 Luna base. Tiryns is intent of restructuring history, but is himself pursued by ‘Time Guardians’ who eventually snatch him the moment BEFORE he first appeared on the Moon – so ensuring that the entire story is wiped clean and never happens! I’m not sure how I managed to digest stuff like THAT on a day-to-day door-to-door paper-round basis, which makes it so much better to have these stories in book form.

The detailed checklist in the second volume reveals that Harry Harrison – SF superstar creator of ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’, co-wrote a 1957 Jeff Hawke story called “Out Of Touch”, while ‘2000AD’s ‘Judge Dredd’ artist Brian Bolland inked for the series final syndicated adventure, “Heir Apparent”. But such intriguing connections fail to detract from the joint achievement of fellow Scots Sydney Jordan and Willie Patterson in creating and sustaining Jeff Hawke through the two fantastic decades these collections draw renewed and timely attention to (devotees can locate even more tales reprinted in lavish issues of ‘Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos’ through the excellent ‘Jeff Hawke Club’). Even in movie form the Profumo romp (‘Scandal’, 1989) and Great Train Robbery lark (‘Buster’, 1988) now appear seriously dated. While Jeff Hawke still looks as sharp and dangerous as tomorrow.

The collections are:
OVERLORD: JEFF HAWKE BOOK ONE’ by Sydney Jordan and Willie Patterson (1986, Titan Books - £4.95 – ISBN 0-907610-35-8) expanded hardback edition featuring ‘Overlord’, ‘Survival’, ‘Wondrous Lamp’ and ‘Counsel For The Defence’ published February 2008, ISBN 1-84576-597-4)

COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENCE: JEFF HAWKE BOOK TWO’ by Sydney Jordan and Willie Patterson (1986, Titan Books - £4.95 – ISBN 0-907610-35-7)

THE AMBASSADORS: JEFF HAWKE’ features ‘The Ambassadors’, ‘Pastmaster’, ‘The Immortal Toys’, ‘The Gamesman’ and ‘A Test Case’ published in July 2008, ISBN 1-84576-598-2)

Sunday 22 February 2015


Book Review of: 
(Hawkwood Books 2015, 
ISBN 978-1-908577-44-3, £8.99, 448-pages) 

Let me tell you. Let me tell you… Grimm’s Fairy Tales are sometimes grim. Not always kid’s stuff. There’s menace and nastiness that intimates an otherness about this world, through its fantasies of imagined quasi-worlds. ‘Brunt Boggart’ is not exactly like that. But there are similarities. The village exists in a removed reality, a kind of recognisable medievalism complete in itself, functioning according to its own laws of illogic. The boys-who-would-be-men are called Hamsparrow, Crossdogs, Bullbreath, Scatterlegs, Larkspittle, Scarum, Longskull and Shadowit. Posturing brave, yet scared uncertain. The girlen who dance entrancing rings around them are Riversong, Ravenhair, Dewdream, Silverwing, Moonpetal, Duskeye and Dawnflower. Teasing clever. Who knows what strangeness lies beyond their knowing? What ensorcelled fate lies in wait for the unwary?

Let me tell you… ‘David Greygoose’ sounds like he could be an alias, and yes, in other continuums, the writer is known as Liverpool poet Dave Ward. But neither is Greygoose entirely fictional either, he’s derived from David’s great grandmother’s maiden name. In much the same way that Brunt Boggart has reality overlaps via the rickety-rackety bridge into the netherworld. Here, ribbons night-black are sold for sprinkled secret songs. Dreams are embroidered into scarves of wondrous design. Even the rain is made up of falling stars. The Crow Dancers’ frantic dervish feet whirl to the beat of the drummer by the Fever Tree. The trickster Snizzleslide slithers from Old Mother Tidgewallop’s well as Thunderhead, in his cloak of feathers, counts the moons. And there are tales within tales of the cunning fox who sips hot nettle-tea from fine crockery, or the straw-doll Tom Tattifer who kisses Scallowflax as she sleeps. Nothing as unsubtle as magic, nothing more supernatural than the natural magic of turning seasons, and the ripening of bodies beneath the metaphor-moon of blood. But beautifully melancholy when sad and embittered Oakum Marlroot finds the lumpen stone that is his own crystallised sorrow, which shatters above the grave of his dead wife, releasing them both.

Let me tell you… Greychild – the feral boy they once mistook for a wolf, follows the winding Pedlar Man’s track beyond the village to Arleccra, the city-port he’d glimpsed in the eye of glass, on a quest to find his mother. For a quest is an essential genre device. He meets goose-girl Saffron who riddles sun to moon and moon to sun, the sister reflected in the water, and the enchanted sleepers. He’s trailed by Ravenhair, whose gold brocade shoes dance her to the house of the sea, and by Crossdogs who meets the Changeling Crow-Babe and sees to the edge of the world. But the city where nothing is ever what it seems holds only new hazards and strangeness to seize the reader’s head with dreams. Surreal and symbolist, myth and metaphor, tumbling over and over. It’s happening now, yet it happened long enough ago to forget what we want to remember, and to remember what we want to forget.

Each new skein begins ‘let me tell you, let me tell you’ in the way of confiding a confidence, spinning a tale, weaving a romance in the original sense of the word – to romance, to beguile with fabulous wonderment. A new-old folk-tale to be recited in the darkest midwinter around a log-fire where sparks dance and pirouette in captured constellations. With the rhythms, word-games and language-ticks of oral tradition. Of a romancer – and sometimes a grimmancer too, with troubadour-tellings that take one step beyond imagining. This storybook is a delicious medley of tales that taste as dark as thunder, as sharp as ginger, as tangy as cinnamon. As loaded with dream-stuff as the golden-brown poppy seed. The classification is ‘Young Adult /Adult’, which seems about right. For these are stories with the moon in their eyes and wind in their hair. Let me tell you, let me tell you…

Friday 20 February 2015


Album Review of: 
(Wrong Revolution) 

So, sometimes you despair. Sometimes you wonder where the next great soundwave is coming from. You listen around where fads flash and fade, rejoicing in the stupid things, and it’s not good. There’s some extreme confrontational electronics from eastern Europe which strives to reconfigure your faith in experiment, and some of it can be scarily powerful. What it lacks, let’s lay it down here, is vox. There’s lots of pale white angsty Ian Curtis alikes and some clean pure female vamps that adequately do what they’re supposed to do. But when it comes to VOICE, what it needs is Peter Hope. Those who delve into other lifetimes will recall Sheffield’s Box and know just how shattering he can be. At that time, critics strove for descriptive analogies through Captain Beefheart to Howlin’ Wolf, and sometimes yes, that’s undeniable. Even this CD title has a Van Vliet handful of magic beans flavour to it on your tongue. But it’s deceptive to merge reflections by wandering too far down that zigzag route. Peter is his own man, transcending deeper into sonic darknesses, into other modes of alien absurdity, pressing matters and sequencers.

Listen – “Red C” is grating biting-on-wire electricity, ‘she was ahead of her time’ or maybe a head of her time? Soldered into ear-corroding circuits where colours run and heat-throbs skitter. Originally a digital download with lost track “Parasites”, from Sheffield 2001, overlaid in Vienna 2012, ‘dirty deals and bad cocaine’ pulse in vocal bruises where breaking glass shatters in splinters. Ice-cream for the “Hot Crow” itself has a techno-tribal rawness, with the sound-texture depth of a field-recording where the wind blows forward, and the wind blows back. “Oh Death” shoves gothic voodoo intimations of mortality freighted with ghastly gospel visions. Lord his time ain’t long. 4:00-minutes to be exact, but hot-wired to eternity. “She Talks Wild” is a lurching steampunk machine with plasticine eyes screwed into the dash-flexure like winking valves ticking pulsing and talking blah-blah-blah. Then, an echoing terrorist mask erases identity, to lose face, keep faith, “Deface”, wearing it in, wearing it out. “Up From The Floor” is where the robots dance to post-apocalypse Kraftwerk, leaning forward to look back, fuelled on mutant bio-chemistry from the “Super Love Pharmacy”. These are songs to sing through broken teeth. These are transmissions picked up by NASA’s New Horizon Probe as it approaches the Pluto-Charon dwarf-planet system. From positive to “Negative” is paramilitary snap-beats with Cabaret Voltaire-style sampled ‘work hard’ voice. While the head-ripping talk-over 7:56-minute “Radio Hit” probably won’t be, but ‘try this little test, what’s the measure of your success?’ Radio-activity in the real world is a form of success too.

This Exploding Mind consist of Natascha Schampus (of Naum), DeafNoise anarcho-punk Luna Menta and Mahk Rumbae (who co-writes “Super Love Pharmacy”), recorded in Sheffield and Vienna with external inputs by Richard Barratt (Warp) and Ross Orton (with roots back to Add N to (X)). The nucleus of Hope, Menta and Schampus were there on the previous Exploding Mind product ‘Ex-Auge Gottes Kino’ (2012, Santos Productions), spaced in amongst Peter Hope’s other diverse electro-projects. But concentrate, this voice is not a bartered commodity, ‘Hot Crow On The Wrong Hand Side’ has deep back-brain reptilian roots. It’s a walk beneath starless existential nights closer yet to the perimeter. A moment’s reverent cacophony where pixels breathe and exhale.