Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Radical Publishing: 'SAVOY WARS'


 As a direct result of his shock SF novel ‘LORD HORROR’
Savoy Books and Records supremo and Novelist Dave Britton 
spent time in prison in Manchester. But undaunted he talks to 
Andrew Darlington about Savoy’s CD’s, their comics and novels... 

 ‘Hello Mr and Mrs America, and all the ships at sea...’ 
 – PJ Proby on the ‘Lord Horror’ CD Talking Book 

‘They’re just scum’ explodes Dave Britton. ‘Fascists are scum, you just can’t deal with them, you can’t reason with them or excuse them. They’re shit. They are evil, purely evil. But can you name me one novel – just one, which captures that essence of pure evil? C’mon. Name me one...’ I flounder, before eventually settling on the only, too obvious candidate – ‘Lord Horror’ (1990) by Dave Britton.

‘Right. Ramsey Campbell is promoted as England’s answer to Stephen King. Who said that about him in the first place? I don’t know. He’s a great writer, and good luck to him. But I don’t see that element of pure evil in what he writes. Thomas Harris’ ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ (1988) is closer, but you tend to visualise Anthony Hopkins in the movie role, don’t you? Clive Barker comes even closer still, particularly in ‘The Books Of Blood’ (1984-1986). Clive Barker can be brilliant, also in the way he smears it across the mediums from short stories to movies. But even he rarely gets it exactly right. And that’s what I wanted to do with ‘Lord Horror’ – I wanted to create a character who is that personification of evil.’

Dave Britton and Michael Butterworth at Savoy

Perhaps he succeeds too well? Dave went to prison, following a series of high-profile legal actions brought against the novel, and related police raids on the bookshop premises then run by Dave with long-term associate Michael Butterworth. This all happened before an IRA bomb levelled the area for municipal redevelopment, or what Dave terms ‘Manchester’s creeping virus of gentrification. A process that involves shipping out the ‘lower orders’ by raising the rents, thereby providing space for yet more designer label dungeons and yuppie watering holes. We wish them the very best leprosy money can buy!’

Original Dave Britton artwork

Savoy is an independent publishing label run by Dave and Mike. Together they’ve created some of the most fiercely controversial and banned work ever to come out of the Science Fiction subculture. Savoy, they say, operates like a family. The Krays. But hey – Mike and Dave do believe in Family Values, even if they are Adams Family Values...! 

In the meantime Dave carefully reads out his entry in the ‘The Encyclopaedia Of Science Fiction’. And within this massive thick-as-a-brick tome, compiler Peter Nicholls writes that ‘Lord Horror’ is ‘a scatological examination of Nazism and the UK traitor Lord Haw-Haw, which made use of pornographic imagery upsetting to the Manchester Police...’ Dave throws up his hands – ‘‘pornographic imagery’ it says! Pornographic! There is NO sexual pornography in ‘Lord Horror’. Deliberately. There’s VIOLENCE, because it deals with a sick violent evil mind, but there’s no graphic depictions of sex.’ But Nicholls goes on to concede that the book is ‘clearly, if very offensively, a satire’. And if people take offence, perhaps that’s because they fail to correctly decode the right parts of the message? ‘Sure’ concedes Dave, ‘all people see is the violence. They don’t see the references.

Savoy dragged ‘THE JOY OF THE MANCHESTER A-Z’ into the harsh realm of litigation. ‘Lord Horror’ is a stunning vortex of deranged surrealism and fantastic imagery loosely based on the exploits and dubious multi/ quasi-sexual adventures of war-time traitor Lord Haw-Haw, ‘a character who is that personification of evil’. And it instantly succeeded in outraging Thatcher’s buttoned-up Britain. It’s a book that – to Elizabeth Young of ‘The New Statesman’, ‘outrages current taboos on racism so strangulating that no-one may transgress them’. Former Punk wild-child Julie Burchill declared that she was ‘up for a riot in Golders Green’ if this would prevent a paperback edition (in ‘The Spectator’), while Michael Winner – movie director of such highly moral fables as the ‘Deathwish’ film-series, self-righteously informed BBC Radio 4 that ‘Lord Horror’ is ‘exactly the kind of book that should be banned.’

Sure enough, on charges relating to the publication and sale of what these – and other self-appointed moral guardians considered ‘objectionable’ material, ‘Lord Horror’ was confiscated, found obscene, and then made publishing history when it became the first novel to be banned in Britain since 1968. Since Hubert Selby’s ‘Last Exit To Brooklyn’. Dave blames the ‘cult of anti-Northerness’ for the continued lack of cause celebré publicity over their serial cases, despite the high-profile support in court of people like Michael Moorcock. ‘Yes. The only way we’ll get recognition is when we’re killed by some outraged Nazi’ he snorts with delicious derision. ‘Or when I wind up in jail.’ In fact – as a result of the charges, Dave Britton actually spent time as a guest of her satanic majesty. ‘His experience in Strangeways was the main spur that started him writing. He knew in that moment that he mustn’t waste any more time. If he got out, he must write his novel.’

It sometimes seems that to the London-based Literary Luvvies, Mike and Dave are the cutest couple to come out of Manchester since Myra Hindley and Ian Brady. Something like the crazed motorcycle gang who rode through the toxic waste spill and came out hideously mutated. Outlaws from some alien Northern Hell.

“It’s red-hot, mate. I have to think of this sort of book 
getting into the wrong hands. As soon as I’ve finished 
(writing) this, I shall recommend they ban it...’ 
Tony Hancock writes his novel (Radio Show scripts) 

‘This is Manchester, we do things differently here’ says ‘Tony Wilson’ in the ‘Twenty-Four Hour Party People’ (2002) movie. Mark Twain once claimed he’d like to have lived in Manchester, because ‘the transition between Manchester and Death would be unnoticeable…’

Dave and Mike, Manchester’s Badly-Drawn Boys, are not exactly treasured by this nation’s academic elite. Yet Dave wrote, and together they published this dazzling atrocity of dark enchantment, this black grotesque novel of mayhem and madness hot-wired into a Hieronymus Bosch triptych. This black absurdist comedy that casually opens ‘had it not been for the war, Hitler would have done well...’ The result was that the ‘Sinister Dexter’, the Obi-Wan-Kenobi and Que-Gon Jinn of radical publishing, left that previous dumb and vicious century dragging Horror’s fearful symmetry through the full vindictive contours of human stupidity, from Police Raids to Law Courts to a spell of incarceration.

Curiously, another of the ways you could access ‘Lord Horror’ was by tracking down a copy of their CD Talking Book edition... narrated by fallen 1960s Pop God PJ Proby (1999)! And here Dave’s prose blowtorches images of stunning surreality – a ‘vagina-hat with poppystalk clitorises’, while Proby – oddly, supplies the perfect voice to detonate its eerily visceral menace. Radio static buzzes like clouds of bee-sperm around his rich Texan drawl, intersected by hits of 1940s Swing echoing back through time to Hitler’s rants, and sound-grabs of English traitor Lord Haw-Haw himself, the Nazi propagandist and original model for the diseased Lord ‘Maximum’ Horror. But a line about 1950s Rocker Larry Williams provokes a Proby reminiscence to the effect that ‘Larry Williams? I saw him shoot a guy in front of me.’ The story is probably true. Later, while reciting that Horror’s lips are ‘oddly rotund and effeminate’ he laughs, ‘just for you Baby.’ Then the one-time Jett Powers does an Elvis-style “My Yiddisher Mama”, juxtaposed with demonic distortions direct from the chaos of his soul.

P J Proby on 'Savoy Records'

The seventy-one minute CD consists of three long novel extracts. “On The Isle Of Lord Horror” (the novel’s full first sixteen pages), “Lord Horror: Jew Killer” taking the action to Ladbroke Grove with Horror’s mutant malchicks Meng and Ecker (Pages 57 to 61), and finally into verminous nights of pervy obscenity hunting Hitler through New York’s Bacteria City in “Lord Horror On The Moon” (p 142–162). There are some necessary abbreviations, but some spontaneous interjections too – ‘Lady Labia Major? Y’all can say ‘Labia Major’ here? The labia major is the meatiest and biggest part of the pussy, do you guys know that?’ Yes – they do. Then Proby adds WC Fields vocal inflexions in perfect pastiche over melancholy pizzicato strings, until a Sandy Nelson drum-loop ratchets up the soundscape to the novel-sequence about the fetishistic Frogman’s evisceration and cannibalism into yet more skin-crawlingly atmospheric repulsion. There’s even a savage ‘Hokey Cokey’ that ends ‘and that’s what it’s all about – FUCK YOU!” which pretty much sums up Savoy’s attitude to this nation’s academic elite.

Original Dave Britton artwork

This is Dave Britton: his true story.

Mike is as tall and blonde as Dave is dark and rotund. Dave is in black. Black shirt hung out over black trousers. Black hair and black-tinted glasses. He looks like the guy who’d steal your X-Box if you turn your back on him too long. Butterworth is taller, leaner, pale and interesting. His blonde hair is close-cropped, ‘his ‘Rave look’ jeers Dave. We retreat across Deansgate from the ‘Drum & Porcupine’ where, during the course of a tête-à-tête during which Dave voraciously devours a heaped dish of spare ribs, Mike opting for the vegetarian tagliatelle, we discuss Iron Butterfly’s lost psychedelic artefact-album ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ (1968), Mersey Beat star Kingsize Taylor, the collapse of Factory Records (‘just down the road from here’) and the critical gush-factor accompanying holocaust-titillation novels by Martin Amis and DM Thomas.

Mike lives on the culinary cutting edge. ‘I’ve always been able to live healthily on vegan food. I decided to eat cheese etc at my vegetarian boarding school where I’d been sent by my father to be vegan – to get me away from my mother who thought the vegan diet too extreme for young children and was feeding my sisters and I dairy and eggs behind his back! But at school I found I was the only vegan, so I changed to a vegetarian diet in an attempt to fit in. The school staff turned a blind eye, as I think they thought Dad was too extreme as well. Later in life I swopped back to being vegan, then back to being vegetarian for reasons of convenience. I’m now largely vegan – I won’t eat any dairy produce at all, but I do eat eggs – for convenience, if I can be assured the hens are genuinely free-range and no undue suffering is involved. I am a big supporter of veganism, and I believe if sufficient attention is paid to the diet most people can live perfectly healthily on it.’

Original Dave Britton artwork

Then Dave reminisces about how ‘I used to sit in our bookshop and get first look at all the new second-hand stuff that came in, all the odd and esoteric books people brought in to trade. You got medical textbooks on rare diseases, and you’d go ‘I’LL HAVE THAT!’, and there’s some beautiful phrases in there. And books with antique and outdated terminology, like the guy who was ‘WOBBLED TO DEATH’. Isn’t that perfect?’ He rolls the words around his mouth, tasting them. ‘‘WOBBLED TO DEATH’. And you incorporate all these fascinating references mixed into new contexts. And the reviewers can’t relate to it all because these things are OUTSIDE THEIR EXPERIENCE and hence suspect or disturbing.’

Early Dave Britton magazine

These two unlikely negative role-models have been a volatile outlaw publishing and then recording partnership ‘since 1972 – man and beast’. One at permanent loggerheads with the highly moral Manchester Constabulary who they’ve satirised mercilessly in their various projects. Down the road from Savoy there’s a Survivalist store, and a Scientologist’s Dianetics Centre. Manchester – it’s murder out there, we pun it into Gun-chester, Grunge-chester and beyond. A city decomposing beneath a soggy sky into what Dennis Potter called the ‘quotidian ooze of ordure’, or what Dave and Mike might call the ‘creeping shittiness of ordinary life’. Dave is one of the few people who dare admit to enjoying one of Potter’s final and least critically respectable teleplays, ‘Lipstick On Your Collar’ (1993) – but only for the soundtrack. Rock music, and Science Fiction, are his obsessions, and the source of Savoy’s rearguard action against that ‘quotidian ooze’. ‘You can’t avoid the crumminess. But you can have fun trying.’ 

Dave Britton & Michael Butterworth as 'Meng & Ecker'

Upstairs at 279 Deansgate, in an office colo-rolled with ‘Aubrey Beardsley’ wallpaper, there are mounds of Savoy’s inventive ‘Meng And Ecker’ comic-books, and a few lavishly produced hardbacks of Savoy’s book of Michael Moorcock interview, ‘Death Is No Obstacle’ (1992). Dave sits feet-up on the desk, opens a glossy coffee-table non-Savoy book of kitsch-artist Jeff Koons erotically entwined with his pornstrel-muse Cicciolina. ‘LOOK, look – they’re openly selling THIS art-porn at WH Smith’s. And then they seize and impound ‘Lord Horror’. Tell me, where is the sense in that…?’

‘Horror was a sidewinding rattler. The Be-Bop-A-Lula
 of Auschwitz. Dreams in one hand. Shit in the other. 
Blood and disgrace. Drip-Drop on the worthless earth...’ 
‘Motherfucker: The Auschwitz Of Oz’ 
by Dave Britton (Savoy Books 1996) 

Manchester is burning. A monstrous amoebic multi-tentacled beast squats over its skyline farting and belching its foul noxious breath. But – although cloned from the alien growth in ‘The Quatermass Xperiment’ which smeared Westminster Abbey with its disgusting excreta, it is star-spangled like the 1950s ‘Quasar of Rock’ Little Richard and roars like every Kurt Cobain CD in the world played at max volume simultaneously. A vulgar nightmare of bad taste fitted with thermo-nuclear teeth shimmying and slavering voluptuously through the soot-silt, decay and pigeon-shit. Rock is the addictive proscribed substance that inoculates you into your most outlandishly primal desires. Rentokil have probably faced greater challenges than the Savoy offices. But maybe not too many.

Michael Butterworth as character
in the Meng & Ecker' comicbooks

‘“Garbageman” should have been recorded by Little Richard’ enthuses Dave Britton. ‘Can’t you just hear it? – ‘DANCE TO THE BEAT OF THE LIVING DEAD…!!!’’ He howls the lines in perfect Penniman, pumping imaginary piano-runs up and down the Savoy desktop. A murderously full-orchestral six-minute version the Cramps song is on their launch CD ‘Savoy Wars’ (1994), in full barking-at-the-moon madness. Because there’s more to Savoy than just texts.

P J Proby covers Joy Division
as Savoy Records 12" single

‘Savoy Wars’ is a sound that’s as easy as ABC – if you spell that Atomic * Bacteriological * Chemical, a stunning cross-welding of Prince with 808 State. New Order bass-player Peter Hook guests, dislocating his “Blue Monday” riff across the Square One Studios killing floor, with artful thefts from the original New Order blueprints. Rowetta – occasional Happy Mondays’ vocalist blends her voice into a nourishing miscegenation of LaVerne Baker samples, while D’Nise Johnson (who sings on Primal Scream’s “Don’t Fight It, Feel It”) does a bend on the vocal refrain from S’Express. And then there’s PJ Proby – star of yet a further Savoy CD, ‘The Savoy Sessions’ (1995). He may no longer even be a household name in his own household, but here at Savoy he’s portrayed crucified on a twelve-inch sleeve tacked to the wall above us as we talk. An icon to Dave and Mike, of martyrdom, the burn-out of those who take it to its extreme, without compromise. It’s audaciously bizarre techno-collage at its most incandescent. The Cream of Manchester...

Michael Butterworth pre-Savoy magazine

The album ties together many of the loose strands that – as a series of pre-emptive twelve-inch singles, were often dismissed as stunts, or just plain Northern weirdness. Perhaps the CD should have come first? ‘No-one told us. It just happened that way because we didn’t plan it’ explains Dave. ‘None of it was planned. It was all just a series of coincidences. We met Proby – and no-one was recording him. He had no contract. He’s the last of the great Rockers, and no-one was recording him. So we had to do it. We had the shops and the publishing, but we didn’t have a record label. We knew nothing about making records. But we saw Proby up there in the stage production of ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’ and he’s up there alongside people dressed up to be Gene Vincent, Elvis, and Eddie Cochran. And he’s the only one of them left alive. He was the one most LIKELY to burn out, but he’s still here.’

‘He’s given up the booze now’ confides Mike, ‘and some of the stories he’s been coming out with are... amazing! If only we’d had a cassette recorder handy to preserve them!’

Proby, real-name James Marcus Smith, had a string of Sixties hits, including “Hold Me” and “Somewhere”. The Beatles wrote one of them – “That Means A Lot”, especially for him. Led Zeppelin play back-up on his highly-collectible ‘Three Week Hero’ (Liberty, 1969) album. But he also wrote some fine Pop songs himself, including hit songs for the Searchers (“Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya”) and Johnny Burnette (“Clown Shoes”). Does he still write? ‘He comes in the studio and says he wants to record his ‘new song’. It’s always different, but it always sounds like “The Games People Play”, you know the one – ‘da da da diddle dah dah, da da da diddle dah dah’,’ explains Dave. ‘So we say ‘yeah that’s great Jim, but let’s just get warmed up with this one first,’ and we coax him into it. He’s got a great range of voices. When he’s fooling around with the musicians he’s got this camp send-up falsetto voice he uses. We wanted him to do “Sign ‘O The Times” – the Prince song, but we couldn’t get it right. Then we said ‘try it in your camp voice’ – so he does it that way, and it works. Proby really gets into it. Then, at the end of the session he realises that we haven’t done his ‘new song’, and he yells ‘you’ve CONNED me you DUNDERWITS…!!!!’’

PJ Proby’s voice is a metal spike dragged through a breath of gravel. ‘Savoy Wars’ opens with a stretch Cadillac radically customised “Blue Monday”, and climaxes with Proby’s “Hardcore M97002”. The latter is an erotic ‘canzona francese’ for two vices/ voices originally issued on vinyl as an August 1987 twelve-inch. At the time a deliberate scam scored a million tabloid inches claiming that a certain Ms Madonna Ciccone was there in the mix. Needless to say, she isn’t. But the other album stand-outs include Iggy Pop’s “Raw Power”. ‘The first vocalist on the ‘Raw Power’ track was the guy who used to deputise for Ian Curtis when he was too smacked up to appear live with Joy Division’ narrates Mike. ‘The second lead vocalist is Bobby Thompson who, with Kingsize Taylor, made just about the best early Mersey/ English Rock records in the late Fifties and early Sixties, as you well know.’ Then there’s “Reverbstorm” – a stunning Tamla Mo-chester Rare Groove, a Northern Soul Dance-Floor Inferno of Wagnerian Anarchy written by Paul Temple, with Savoy’s Martin Flitcroft, who acted ‘as the go-between who brought Paul to us, and then became our anti-publicity manager’. Unfortunately, well before the final album mix-down, Martin suicided by walking into an oncoming train.

‘And I did say ‘FUNK’ you...’ 
PJ Proby on the ‘Lord Horror’ Talking Book 

Savoy are two room-mates of the mind who mainline on Elvis Presley, Bo Diddley, Joe Meek, Little Richard, Henry Treece, PJ Proby, Screamin Jay Hawkins, Klaatu’s eight-foot robot from ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, New York Dolls, LaVern Baker, Michael Moorcock, Prince, Larry Williams, Hawkwind, William Hope Hodgson, Kingsize Taylor, ‘New Worlds’, the Electric Prunes, M John Harrison, Lou Reed, Harlan Ellison, Ted Nugent, Burne Hogarth, Jack Trevor Story, Cramps, Robert E Howard, Lydia Lunch, William and ER Burroughs, Flamin Groovies, Yardbirds, Keith Richard, Cabaret Voltaire, Phil Spector, and Sid Vicious... To Mike And Dave the opening bars of a 1950s R&B single are more potent temporal disruption devices than Marcel Proust’s Madeleine ever was. Rock’s break-beats may get sampled and remixed with accelerating BPM’s, but it’s a tainted love that infiltrates their bloodstream as surely as leukaemia. It (im)matures with age. And it’s music they’d die for.

To Dave Rock ‘n’ Roll ended somewhere around 1960. But Mike discovered House. He likes Prodigy and the Orb, drawing elements from A Guy Called Gerald and 808 State into ‘Savoy Wars’. Because Savoy is an attitude. Relics with a cause. And Rock, at its best, is magnificently over the top. It’s that unifying absurdity that gives the Savoy projects their continuity. The outrage. The energy. The exhilaration.

Britton is the kind of guy who’d stick his head into the run-away Chernobyl nuclear meltdown to see how hot it gets. ‘Why compromise?’ he demands, ‘what’s the point of compromising? Why draw back from the edge? Everyone who ever created anything worthwhile has taken it right to the very extreme limits. Sure, if you take it to the brink, sometimes you fall over. That’s too bad. But that’s the price you pay.’ The end of neighbouring Factory Records in Manchester brought things into perspective. ‘I always used to think how great it would have been to live in Memphis in the 1950s when Sun records was happening’ Dave muses, looking out over the chaos of Deansgate. ‘But then Factory happened just around the corner from us, and I didn’t even realise. It’s like, in an alternate lifetime I might have lived in Memphis in the 1950s and I WOULDN’T EVEN HAVE LIKED SUN RECORDS...! It’s like ‘what the hell do those people think they’re DOING with all that ECHO?!?’ But no, that’s not exactly true. We knew about Factory because they’d all come around to the Savoy shop, all the guys from the bands, probably looking to pick up bootleg albums. Started with Pete Shelley and the Buzzcocks, then all the way down to New Order.’ Then, of course, there’s Peter Hook on the album...

As I leave, the sun is going down over Manchester like an A-bomb explosion in reverse. Rock has been low-life Memphis, New York, Hamburg, Notting Hill, Liverpool, Haight-Ashbury, Detroit, and now it’s burning asquat on the Manchester skyline farting and belching its foul noxious breath. Rock is a social disease that’s seen the best minds of four generations destroyed in madness, screaming, hysterical, naked, feeling sick, dirty and more dead than alive. It wears Buddy Holly’s glasses and Gene Vincent’s leg-brace. It is the self-abuse that gives you acne and grows hair on the palm of your hands. And it’s music you’d die for.

by T.S. ELIOT’ (CD SA4) read by P.J. PROBY 
(Both Savoy Records Talking Books)


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