Thursday 28 September 2017

Poem: Bad-Rapping Of God-Cat Charlie


charlie is the god-cat
who digs the slurp-job grope-circle gobble-gobble
and dem teenybopper cuteniks just melt in his heat,
charlie is the cockroach-god
he swagger-jive and groove-talk,
he eyes luminous with lysergic wisdoms,
the four kings of EMI whisper him
death-codex in fat vinyl helter-skelter
stick the piggies where they squeal and mud-wallow
in stinking celebrity wealth, creepy-crawl them
cut and smash them to fuck-meat, see them bleed,
he has Capt Trips stoned-dream in desert vast eternity
of quad-bike dune-buggy apocalypse to
ignite the righteous global war smashback
at every stinging slight, cell-year and head-stomp,
charlie is the god-cat, freakin’ hair down to here
eyes bop to the house-of-blue-lights boogie
brain a dark star radiating ashes, watch out, 
coming down fast, manson – son of man,
when snakey-lake blow him she blow him good
each cum-sperm a glimmering intelligence
toxic with malignance, flood her they do,
sparkling in nova-swirl DNA throb as
she melt in his pulsing genetic-heat
a sewer-rainbow of dandelion-seed storm
spores adrift in idiot-wise fractel constellations
to rain in the mall, burger-bar, designer store
gated community, gay bathhouse, titty-bar
each irradiates infiltrates in lethal acid shine
detonates a hipster-jihad from the spahn ranch
to the if-world of everywhen,
I no longer see straight, bad dreams rape me raw,
my ears crammed with heavy-metal thunder
jaw juice-slack and drooling,
feed my head… now, now, now…

Previously published in:



 For a CREATURE like SIOUXSIE SIOUX, where does persona 
end and person begin? ANDREW DARLINGTON tries 
to discover the girl behind the mask, but winds up talking 
about ‘Hugely Inflated Breasts’ and spooky doppelgangers 
 from ‘THE TWILIGHT ZONE’ instead...! 


Two defining dates. 20 September 1976. And 1 December 1976. The ‘100 Club Punk Festival’. Then the ‘Today’ TV show.

Susan Dallion is there, from the Bromley contingent. Coming on stage, reciting a twenty-minute improvised ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, impromptu, with a one-off pick-up Banshees, their anti-musical technical inadequacies drenched in chilling cacophonies of electronic howl. Steve Havoc (Steve Severin) in bass, future-Ant Marco Pironi on guitar, and John Simon Ritchie (Sid Vicious) on drums – ‘Sid couldn’t play a fuckin’ note’ sneers John Lydon… then, TV talking-head Bill Grundy provoking a ‘tirade of filth’ from the Pistols – ‘not the nice clean Rolling Stones’ he snides. Picking on a punk-girl standing behind the Pistols, that same Susan ‘Siouxsie Sue’ Dallion straight-facing that she’s ‘enjoying myself, I always wanted to meet to you…’ ‘SIOUXSIE’S A PUNK SHOCKER’ howls ‘The Mirror’ the following morning.

These thoughts, and others, as I tube to London Bridge some twenty-years-&-+ later. Cold drizzle on a less angry, less subversive, more aspirationally conformist London. Along Toole Street, by Southwark Cathedral and ‘The Golden Hind’, to the silver door leading off the cobbled street that marks ‘The Italian Job’ PR. Then, with Alissandra to the Covent Garden hotel where Siouxsie is doing press.

Punk is a moment. Unrepeatable. Never intended to be a career. More an incendiary blast of apocalyptical discontent from the margins of society, intent on overwhelming the state in a blaze of insurrectionary filth. Punk said ‘everybody can be a star’. But not everyone was. Siouxsie Sioux is never less than a star. And always an Exterminating Angel. ‘We were never Punk’ she says now. But the Banshees weren’t Goth, and they weren’t New Romantics either. She and Severin have already gone far beyond such limiting definitions by the time of the first Banshees album, ‘The Scream’. Adapt and adopt. Mutate and survive. Neo-Expressionist. Art-Fetishism. Abrasive Outsiders. Austere Metal Postcards.

“Hong Kong Garden”, their debut chart single enters at no.25 on 2 September 1978, it will peak at no.7 a fortnight later, as the Commodores “Three Times A Lady” hangs in at no.1. Albums – ‘Join Hands’ (1979), ‘Hyaena’ (1984), ‘Through The Looking Glass’ (1987) with covers of “Strange Fruit”, and Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel”, ‘Peep-Show’ (1988), ‘Superstition’ (1991). And more. Streamlining into a more targeted dissonance, a more angsty unease, as the Cure’s Robert Smith, John McGeoch, John McKay, and Clock DVA’s John Carruthers drift through the line-up. The Banshees highest placing of their twenty singles chart entries comes a little later – 1 October 1983, when their cover of the ‘White Album’s “Dear Prudence” rises to no.3, under “Karma Chameleon”. Three more singles chart-hits happen between 1981 to 1983, coming under The Creatures alias (the dual alliance of Siouxsie and percussionist partner Peter ‘Budgie’ Clarke), whirling it into hypnotic ritual and repetitive electronic incantation, remix vocals reducing to samples of looped distortion.

Now, we talk. And she’s not difficult to talk to, despite what people say. From what it’s like to tour with Nico, and the Human League (through October 1978), to who it was who played ‘Steve Owen’ in ‘Eastenders’ – was it Spandau Ballet’s Gary, or Martin Kemp…?



ANDREW DARLINGTON: In the file of your press cuttings back at ‘The Italian Job’ there’s a quote about your ‘not liking to do interviews. SIOUXSIE SIOUX: I don’t think anyone does. It depends on the interview, really. The last interviews I did... for the Banshees, maybe they were just a bit disappointing. So we haven’t really done any for a long time. And it’s always hard doing your first interview when you’ve not done them for a while. It’s something you need to remember how to do. 

Are you difficult to work with? No. I’m lovely to work with. I’m very very nice. You couldn’t find a nicer person to work with.

Last time I saw you, you were preparing to do dates in Ireland. Yes, we hadn’t played in Ireland for a long time, ‘cos – I know the previous tour we did, didn’t go there. And – I don’t even know if the Creatures ever played in Ireland before then. The Creatures only toured once. So, they didn’t have a clue what to expect. And that’s good, it’s really exciting in a way because it’s good not to have any preconceptions. I don’t even think the Banshees ‘Peep-Show’ tour went there in the late eighties. I know we were banned from the Belfast Hall in Ulster for some reason. I remember we were trying to get to play there around the time of ‘Peep-Show’, but we were still banned from the late-seventies. Which is funny.

It must be nice to know that you’re still considered dangerous, though? YEAH! – well, y’know.

The Creatures third album is called ‘Anima Animus’. That means male/female, right? It’s the woman within the man, and the man within the woman. That there are both elements in both sexes. Interchangeable. It’s just something that I think exists, certainly within a lot of popular music. There’s a lot of stereotype-playing, still. I mean, it used to be really bad, and maybe still is really bad. This sort of macho Rock bullshit. I’ve never liked it – AND I NEVER WILL (done in a gruff comedy Old Codgers voice). Also for the roles that females are supposed to play within music. I always find it really insulting. It usually has been something that’s ornamental, more steered.

You’ve never accepted such restrictions. NOOOOO! No-No! And I was considered difficult because of that. That’s how narrow it was. And to an extent that still exists, although people are now very scared of being accused of being sexist, so they are not openly like that. But it’s still there. You can tell just in society, in the law. They’ve just passed a law that you can now have a Gay relationship – just, at the age of sixteen. While it was always legal for someone to be pregnant and married at that age. So that’s how backward things still are.

Aren’t Boy-Bands marketed in exactly the same way – as decorative sex-objects? I know. And I find it really vacuous. Totally vacuous. And it is very much that the industry seems to be grooming acts visually more and more and more. It seems to be much more the criteria. And it’s something that I was talking about with a friend of mine. It’s like – when we grew up, if we saw somebody – not always, ‘cos there’s always been record-hype to an extent, there’s always been that there, but obviously the ones that were a bit different – they looked that way because they dressed themselves that way. Rather than now it’s gangs of stylists. Y’know – even for a lot of people who are so-called credited with being highly individual and weird and freaky. There is a team of stylists and make-up artists there. You know – you’re talking armies!

You’ve also published a high-profile interview with ‘Attitude’, the Gay magazine. Was that done as a deliberate gesture of solidarity with the Gay community? Oh yes. During my first excursions up to London, my first sort-of pals were always Gay, it was only within the Gay community that I felt any kind of lack of pressure from the clichés that girls seem to go through, about the age of my late-teens. And it was the first sane place I felt I was in, whether it was a Gay Club or whatever. And as far as anyone being homophobic – I’ve never understood that, in the same way that I could never understand racism – or any kind of ‘ism’.

But there’s always been home-erotic elements to the way male Pop Stars have been presented. Even Elvis... Oh yeah... he wore make-up and dyed his hair, didn’t he?

I was intrigued by the track “I Was Me” on the Creatures ‘Anima Animus’ album. Is there a story behind that track? It’s got lots of different levels. Apart from a personal level. It has got elements of an early ‘Twilight Zone’ story to it. And there was also a film called ‘The Double Life Of Veronique’ (1991, directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski). I don’t know if you saw it? No, you didn’t. But it’s kind-of a spooky story about – I suppose, not quite meeting your doppelganger. But traces of that person having been there before you. An impostor – you think, of yourself. And I remember the ‘Twilight Zone’ story. It was one of the old black and white ones, and it was about somebody arriving at a Bus Station and people kind-of ignoring her, saying ‘but you’ve already checked that bag in’, and things getting really confusing – ‘but I’ve only just got here!’ Then she’s running outside and seeing the bus pulling away and a guy saying to her ‘but you just left on that bus...’, and she sees the face in the window pulling away as well. And it’s side-face, but it seems to be her! (the ‘Twilight Zone’ episode she’s referring to is ‘Mirror Image’ – first broadcast 26 February 1960, with Vera Miles as doppelganger victim ‘Millicent Barnes’). Then – on a much more frivolous throw-away level, I have been in places that I couldn’t physically be. Clubs, you know. They say ‘oh, but you come here every week. Yes – yes, it’s Siouxsie, I always put you on the door’. And I’m thinking ‘it’s somebody impersonating me’. And of course – in the eighties, even shop windows were dressing their dummies to look like me. Which was quite a double-take when you were walking down the street, and something that once repelled people is actually there looking out of C&A’s shop window at you. It was quite bizarre.

I’d interpreted the song lyric as being about your reactions to seeing a ‘Siouxsie-clone’. I didn’t write it purely from that angle. But there is that element about it, even though it was inspired more directly by the film. I like things that have that ambiguity and different levels to them. I don’t tend to write from just a flat one-way point-of-view. I tend to like to look at things from a number of angles. 

Another interpretation that occurred to me was that perhaps it was about your reactions to watching old videos of yourself, and seeing a person there that you no longer quite recognised. Er... possibly. I mean, subconsciously. That’s very weird. It is very strange to think that you are there on film – as you were, and that it is never going to age. That kind of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ thing... yes, that’s a very weird idea.


What do you remember most strongly about your appearing on the ‘Bill Grundy’s Today TV Show’ with the Sex Pistols? I remember after the TV show we were sort-of whisked off into this Green Room, and you could feel this, like… we’d just opened Pandora’s Box. Y’know – ? Pandemonium. And they put us in the Green Room which is where the switchboard was with all these phone-calls coming in from irate members of the public saying ‘I JUST WATCHED THIS DISGUSTING…’, and we were picking up the ‘phones and saying ‘FUCK OFF YOU SILLY OLD CUNT’ or ‘PISS OFF YOU OLD GIT’. No matter how much McLaren would like to take the credit for orchestrating all that, that was definitely… no-one knew what had happened. A lot of people were taken by surprise by it. He (Malcolm McLaren) had tried various tactics, and none of them really worked. But as usual – when you’re not really trying, something just… happens!

How do you define the difference between The Banshees – who now presumably no longer exist, and The Creatures – who once ran parallel to the Banshees, but are now your on-going project? The Banshees were very much a working band. Very much a live band. Four people. A democracy of sorts, and it had its – y’know, its way of doing things. It had its baggage that came with it. Erm – and, I think, the first time we did the Creatures it happened as a mistake. It wasn’t by any kind of design. It was while writing for the ‘Ju-Ju’ (1981) sessions. And it was during rehearsals. Me and Budgie happened to be in the room at the time while the other two were out of the room. And we just did something together. And I remember it was John McGeogh who actually said ‘oh – this track doesn’t need anything else doing to it’. And that was a song called “But Not Them”, that subsequently ended up being on an EP. At the time we were still going to include it on the ‘Ju-Ju’ album, but we had so much material we decided to hold it back. And we just put it aside for a weekend and thought, because it was just drums and voice it was quite unique sonically. Very unique. Just having those varied primal elements. Almost like using just primary colours. Just very simple and basic. It really had a sound of its own. And an approach of its own. It kinda seemed a lot more visceral. It is a very different dynamic. There’s a lot more air. A lot more space. And because of that, I think, it was just very immediate, and just the combination of elements was very immediate as well. And so – once we’d done something like that we said ‘well – it’d be nice to keep it separate’. So – then we did some more ‘Creatures’ material at the end of the sessions for the ‘A Kiss In The Dreamhouse’ (1982) album, that was New Year’s Eve 1982 into 1983. But, of course, the Banshees schedule got more and more busy, and it was only really when they allowed us some down-time from the Banshees schedule that we had time for anything else. And it was – I think, round about the time of the final Banshees album that I found I was actually looking forward to doing the Creatures. Before, it always kinda just happened when there was a break or some kind of window in there. I actually remember I was longing for a kind of ‘back to basics’. A real simplicity, I think – generally. It coincided with a lot of real changes in my life.

And the demise of the Banshees – after twenty years (longer than the Beatles!), was one of those changes? As a band evolves and grows together, the characters in the band become much more defined and developed. And you tend to... I think it’s inevitable, and it happens with all bands that do last for a long time. It’s not normal that it does last for a long time. Because you know each other so well, or you relax a bit because you know each other so well, but the intuition and the spark of things just happening doesn’t happen the same. There seems to be less surprises with people you know really well.

How does the Siouxsie of today look back on the Siouxsie of 1976? I don’t know. I mean, really – I feel pretty much the same. Inside of me, I pretty much feel the same, I’ve just done a few more things, that’s all. I haven’t mellowed out as far as what appeals to me – whether it be a film or a song. And I know that I do like things that don’t sit in the middle ground. I find those things very safe and a bit cowardly. I like extremes. And I like people to be quite bold about what they do. I don’t see the point of – like, tip-toeing around an issue or something. I just find that really... ‘cowardly’ is the word. I think America has got a problem with sex, generally. England is repressed sexually. But in America it’s the hypocrisy. The acceptance of certain things. And the UN-acceptance of other things. It’s acceptable so long as you’re not caught doing it. Do you know what I mean? And in America you can’t see a film without these inflated breasts – you know what I mean? This overt... and it’s all about sexuality, but it’s all really distanced. It’s not TACTILE. It’s not AT ALL tactile. And they’d be so happy if the woman’s breasts didn’t have nipples. Because, y’know – oh, that’s quite individual there, ‘cos they can go in different directions and shapes and sizes. And I find it ridiculous. Say – for instance, it’s fine if it’s a cartoon, or if it’s phone-sex. It’s all about distance. It’s nothing to do with connecting with people. It’s not about getting close. It’s superficial. It seems WOW! – so explicit and up-front, but it’s not. It’s very clinical. Then they’ll have someone who’s – y’know, relatively small, and yet you can see their nipples, and it’s like – they have to be air-brushed out. It’s like – what the FUCK’S going on? A friend of mine – well, not a friend, an acquaintance, she had the boob-job, and the irony is that afterwards she couldn’t bear to be touched. ‘Cos it was too painful. I find it really bizarre. I don’t find them attractive at all.

When you put the stage make-up on, are you putting ‘SIOUXSIE’ on over Susan? No. It’s kind-of... that’s a very cartoony idea of what my ‘image’ is. It’s not always – I’ve never worn white pan-stick make-up. And I don’t just wear black, that’s a real misnomer. If the external attraction is all there is then I find it quite worthless. There’s got to be more than that. But the make-up is an important part of the spectacle. It’s almost a ritual. Part of the ritual is the preparation. It’s like any drug culture – it’s not just the drug, it’s the whole paraphernalia that goes with it. And with any fetish or obsession of some sort, it’s not just the end result, it is the build-up, the preparation, the lead-up and the whole ritualising of it.

There is a Fetishistic element to your stage persona. I hope so. I suppose there is a lot of Fetishism within the performer/voyeur relationship. That’s what it is really. People are watching something happening. And obviously – to an extent, the performer is responding to the voyeur. And it is two-way. It is interactive. It’s not a bad thing. But you can’t claim that it isn’t that.

So performing provides a sexual buzz. I suppose – yes, it’s got an element of that to it.

You’ve always had a high ‘cool quotient’. Yes and no.

But are you really having the time of your life on stage? Yes – but it’s not... having the time of your life isn’t always – ‘YEEEAAAHHH!!!! – like that, y’know. It can be quite... I don’t know, that’s not the only expression of having the time of your life. It can be frightening. But it can also be very emotional, it can be very uplifting. I think to be uplifted is kind-of... the REAL hooked drug of it. That kind of... elevation, and kind-of getting over frail human weakness and limitations. That is the real thing that makes it so appealing and mesmerising. It gives that addiction quality to it. Keeps you coming back for more.

An adrenaline thing? That as well. But you know – there are down-sides to it. When you’re failing. When you’re not quite making it in your own terms. Quite often you can come off and everyone says ‘great gig, great gig’, but you can NOT be consoled. YOU know IT WAS FUCKING SHIT…! And that’s the worst feeling in the world.

When did you first write your name ‘SIOUXSIE’? Were you practising it while you were at school by writing it on the cover of your school-book during algebra? No – I didn’t. Although I had written ‘SIOUX’ a lot, I hadn’t made the ‘SIOUX-SIE’ connection until just literally – when I opened my big mouth, and said I had a band that could play at the Festival that Malcolm McLaren was putting together in 1976. It was then that ‘SIOUXSIE’ just slipped out, very quickly and easily. I didn’t have to rack my brains too much. So yeah – I suppose, again – a lot of what’s happened to me is all pure accident. There’s certainly not been any design on my part. I just seem to have been responding or reacting at the right time to certain things.

Which Pop Stars did you stick up on your bedroom wall when you were fourteen? Marc Bolan (you did do a Banshees cover of his “Twentieth Century Boy”!). OOO – Mick Ronson. Bowie. Bolan. David Cassidy even – but that was when I was eleven! And pictures of horses. I think it was horses I was really into. But actually it was more Mick Ronson. I loved his first solo album – ‘Slaughter On Tenth Avenue’ (1974). And he had such a pretty face.

I never saw Mick Ronson as a glamorous figure. He always looked more like a Brickie. NO! NO! That picture on the cover of ‘Slaughter On Tenth Avenue’? He wasn’t at all like a BRICKIE! No – some of the others (in David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars band) were. Trevor Bolder. And Woody Woodmansey with the HUGE sideboards – gross, gawd they were HORRIBLE! They were Brickies in Glam-Rags. And I hated Sweet as well. I really wasn’t fooled by the likes of Sweet. But no – Mick Ronson was a sweet pretty face. Not a BRICKIE!

Did you have a difficult adolescence? Julie Burchill once wrote that ‘no sensitive person survives adolescence unscathed’. I tend to agree. To an extent, when adolescence hits you, you tend to – depending on your background, if you’re feeling particularly vulnerable or whatever, you either kind of shrivel up and go hide in the corner, or you deal with it by finding some really good armour. By standing in the middle of the road and screaming at the top of your voice. And... that’s the way I went (she laughs). And that’s really what’s underneath. It’s still something that... I know it takes a long time for you to actually understand and feel confident with it. And that’s part of just growing up. The hardest lessons are the ones you learn at that age. If you don’t have a skin like a rhino. They’re very hard lessons. And you learn from that. And you end up toughening the exterior. Hopefully without becoming totally cynical and losing that innocence. ‘Cos I find that really ugly, when people lose the ability to look at things as a child. And that’s what... there usually is a price to pay for over-protecting yourself. You can just harden yourself to everything, and lose what’s really precious. I think people are convinced that cynicism is the modern attitude, they really are convinced of that. And – y’know, to an extent, yes – there is a veneer, and yes – being sensitive and stumbling at every stone that’s thrown at you can be destructive – you’re not going to survive it. But I think you are killing a part of you off when that hardness penetrates the centre…

What TV programmes do you video when you’re away on tour. ‘Eastenders’? ‘Star Trek’? I don’t. No – it’s not the first thing I’d think of. Maybe if there’s an interview with Stanley Kubrick, or a programme on about Man Ray, or one of those documentary-type programmes about ‘The Sex-Life Of A Dwarf’ or ‘The Sex-Life Of A Newt’.

But not ‘Eastenders’? I used to watch it, but of course, since I now live largely in France I’ve got a bit out of touch with ‘Eastenders’. Of course, when I come to London I watch the omnibus thing on Sunday. And I see Gary Kemp’s in it…!

“the surface shiny and silken…” 

THE SCREAM (Oct 1978) Producer: Steve Lillywhite. Includes “Overground”, The Beatles “Helter-Skelter”, “Pure”, “Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)”, “Mirage”, “Carcass”, “Suburban Relapse”, etc

JOIN HANDS (Aug 1979) with “Icon”, “Premature Burial”, “The Lord’s Prayer”, “Placebo Effect” etc

KALEIDOSCOPE (Aug 1980) with singles hits “Christine”, “Happy House”, “Lunar Camel” and more

JUJU (Jun 1981) with “Into the Light”, “Voodoo Dolly”, “Spellbound”, “Sin In My Heart” and more 

ONCE UPON A TIME: THE SINGLES (Nov 1981) Compilation, with “Hong Kong Garden”, “The Staircase (Mystery)”, “Playground Twist”, “Spellbound”, “Israel”, “Christine”, etc

A KISS IN THE DREAMHOUSE (Oct 1982) with “She’s a Carnival”, “Circle”, “Slowdive”, “Melt”, “Obsession”, “Painted Bird”, “Green Fingers”, “Cacoon”, and “Cascade”

NOCTURE (Nov 1983) Live versions of “Dear Prudence”, “Spellbound”, “Cascade”, “Israel”, etc

HYAENA (Jun 1984) with “Belladonna”, “Swimming Horses”, “We Hunger”, “Dazzle” and more

TINDERBOX (Apr 1986) with “Candyman”, “Cities in Dust”, “This Unrest”, “Lands End” etc

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (Feb 1987) Covers of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, Sparks’ “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us”, Doors “You’re Lost Little Girl”, etc

PEEL SESSIONS (Feb 1987) recorded 29 November 1977 with “Love In A Void”, “Metal Postcard”

PEEP SHOW (Sept 1988) with “Peek-A-Boo”, “Killing Jar”, “Scarecrow”, “Turn to Stone” etc

SUPERSTITION (Jun 1991) with “Shadowtime”,” Silver Waterfalls”, “Kiss Them For me” etc

TWICE UPON A TIME (Oct 1992) Compilation with “Fireworks”, “Slowdive”, “Melt”, “Dazzle” etc

THE RAPTURE (Jan 1994) Produced by John Cale, with “Stargazer”, “Sick Child”, “O Baby” etc


WILD THINGS (Sept 1981) EP with “Mad-Eyed Screamers” – hits no.24

“Miss The Girl” b/w “Hot Spring In The Snow” (May 1983) no.21 single

FEAST (May 1983) includes “Dancing On Glass”, “Festival Of Colours”, “Flesh”, “Sky Train” etc

“Right Now” b/w “Weathercade” (July 1983) singles cover of Mel Torme song, no.14 hit

“Standing There” b/w “Divided” (Oct 1989) single, also on 12” vinyl

BOOMERANG (Nov 1989) with “Pluto Drive”, “Manchild”, “Venus Sands”

“Fury Eyes” b/w “Abstinence” (Feb 1990) single, also on 12” vinyl

ERASER CUT (Aug 1998, SIOUX CD/Ltd ed 10” vinyl) EP on ‘Sioux’ label, with “Pinned Down”, “Guillotine”, “Thank You”, “Slipping Away”

“Second Floor” (Oct 1998, SIOUX 3CD) with “2nd Floor”, a stripped-down 5:10min “Turn It On (Bound ‘n’ Gagged Mix)” + “2nd Floor (Girl Eats Boy Remix)” with 6:11min dance-friendly looped-voice samples

ANIMA ANIMUS (Feb 1999) on ‘Sioux Records’, ten tracks including “Another Planet”, “I Was Me”, “Say”, “Exterminating Angel”, “Don’t Go To Sleep”, “Disconnected”, “2nd Floor”, “Take Mine” etc

“I can see a lot of people getting confused 
about us, it’s amusing…” Siouxsie (1981) 

Published in:
‘CHAOTIC ORDER no.17’ (UK – May 2004)

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Michael Moorcock: 'The Whispering Swarm'


Book Review of: 
 (Gollancz 2015, Orion paperback 2016) 
cover art by Patrick Knowles – 480pp – £9.99p 
ISBN 978-1-473-21333-3 


Michael Moorcock is more a continuum than a single defining work. Some make claims for ‘Behold The Man’ (1969). Personally I loved his ‘Dancers At The End Of Time’ (1972-1977) series. While he’ll he remembered as the creator of brooding albino sorcerer ‘Elric Of Melniboné’ and multi-dimensional Jerry Cornelius, described here ‘as much a technique as a character’. But to select just that one book is problematic.

There’s a magically hidden London street called Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter mythos, which the tyro wizard visits by passing through ‘The Leaky Cauldron’ inn. There’s also a concealed quantum Trap Street in ‘Dr Who’, an alien refuge where the lovely Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is temporarily killed. Moorcock’s Alsacia resembles neither. But, as Brian Aldiss perceptively observes, ‘when one is hard up for secret worlds, one can find them under the Earth, in a puddle, in an atom, up in the attic, down in the cellar, or in the left eyball: and all of these vantage points have been explored by hard-pressed fantasists’ (in ‘Billion Year Spree’, 1973).

This book is probably as close to the fractured Michael Moorcock autobiography as the avid reader is ever likely to get. It’s all here in dense lucid detail. His insider insights into the austerity post-war Welfare State years. A description of Fleet Street at its full power brought alive in taste and smell, so tactile it’s real. He brings the inside out. Those with a fleeting familiarity with Moorcock’s life-story will recognise references to his teenage fanzine ‘Burroughsiana’, graduating to him becoming Fleet Street’s youngest editor of Westworld’s ‘Tarzan Adventures’ comic.

The revelations are delicious, in chunks of conversational anecdote, with unexpected lunges of throwaway prescience about how he ‘almost died in Texas’, or swipes at the Thatcher-Reagan regimes to come. With contentious claims about those rationalist mid-century decades when atheism was taken for granted, before the resurgence of various fundamentalisms marked a return to dark superstitions, or how his was the last self-educated pre-Google generation. Meanwhile, he visits ‘The Globe’ pub, the famous SF watering-hole where writers gather, and he turns in candidly recognisable pen-portraits of the likes of John Brunner, Ted Carnell – ‘dapper in his fashionable casuals, with a Ronald Colman moustache’, and ‘rangy six-foot-three-inch raconteur’ Ted Tubb. This escalates to conspiring with Jim Cawthorn on early plans for something resembling what ‘New Worlds’ would become. Taking elements of SF, and evolving it into new relevances. Although, as far as SF itself, ‘I had no particular interest in the genre beyond what was useful to me.’ This at a time when ‘I was growing quickly bored with Science Fiction, which had never been my first love,’ because ‘I really didn’t like space. Space bored me.’

But there are oddnesses too. Who is writer ‘Jack Allard’? a recurring and respected presence. Until he publishes a thinly disguised ‘The Savagery Show’ (‘The Atrocity Exhibition’), and the suspected penny drops. Allard is Ballard, just as Malcolm Bix, his editor at ‘Ajax’, is Martin Bax of ‘Ambit’. And Hilary Bailey’s brilliant alternate history “The Fall Of Frenchy Steiner” (in ‘New Worlds’ no.143, July 1964) becomes Helena Moorcock’s “The Haul Of Frankie Steinway”. Why this partial evasiveness, why this subterfuge? Is it simple game-playing, or will revealing JG Ballard in some way violate contractual confidences?

But things get decidedly odder. After the young Moorcock is visited by Sam, a smart-ass wisecracking raven, he checks the carpet for bird-shit. And there’s the oaken gates to Alcasia itself, encountered when he ‘turned the corner into Whitefriars Street off Greystoke Place into Carmelite Inn Chambers’. Check your London A-Z. As this is a Michael Moorcock novel the automatic assumption must be that this fabulous harbour, where ‘time and space were truly skewed’, accesses another plane of the multiverse, and that Moorcock is writing himself into his own mythology as a further aspect of the Eternal Champion. ‘Kafka, indeed.’ He becomes Master Maur’s Cocke, in a place where ‘time goes backwards and forward’. He’s initially sceptical. Has he surreptitiously been dosed with LSD by the White Friar in Ludgate Hill’s ‘ABC Tearooms’? Or is the spliff he’s been toking responsible – or is it just a ‘psychotic episode’? Aldiss paternally advises him to lay off the wacky backy.

It all conspires. The Sanctuary lies within a maze of streets between Fleet Street and the Thames. The realm of Carmelite monks with pre-Christian roots and not only a pantheistic but pan-dimensional bent. He first encounters Friar Isidore while proofing ‘Tarzan Adventures’ pages at the typesetters. From there he’s drawn into a parallel reality where the comic-strips he’s been scripting come alive. An elision of real historical, and fictional. Dick Turpin, The Three Musketeers, Kit Carson.

And Captain Claude Duval. I avidly followed the exploits of the Laughing Cavalier highwayman stripped in colour-frames across the ‘Comet’ centrespread. Even then I suspected that the politics was not quite right. The dowdy Puritan Roundheads were, after all, establishing the supremacy of a People’s Parliament. The Cavaliers might have more flamboyant satin-and-tat fashion sense, but they fight to support the dead hand of absolute monarchy. Moorcock, in his own feathered hat and hippie regalia, has similar qualms, yet finds himself aligned with the royalists.

More central is Meg/ Moll Midnight, both a Robin Hood highwaywoman with a social conscience – ‘holding up brass-and-steel electric double-decker trams’ who becomes his lover, and the subject of his profitable run of ‘historical’ text-tales for ‘Tiger’ and fiction-strips in ‘Lion’, as well as a ‘Thriller Picture Library’ edition titled ‘The Haunted Blade’. Was there ever such a theme character? I read ‘Lion’ at the time. I don’t recall her being there. Check out Moorcock’s own retinue of scripted characters in his other oblique foray into autobiography – ‘The War Amongst The Angels’ (1988, Orion 1996), and she’s not there either.

Sometimes the rationalist Moorcock himself doubts Alsacia, as acid hallucination, ‘where coke and speed met the Mary Jane and wine’, or some psychic outgrowth of his own subconscious. ‘It was almost as if I’d brought them to life myself; conjured them from thin air. Maybe I was addicted to these inventions now like a smoker to nicotine?... I had such a lot of questions. Many I was reluctant to ask. Could I really make a world? Were all these people just shadows of my childhood imagination? What we called ‘ghosts’?’ Or the teasing suspicion that ‘we are protagonists in our own novels’, but ‘was I now a character in someone else’s fiction?’

As ‘New Worlds’ begins its iconoclastic New Wave phase, fighting the censorial instincts of WH Smith, he’s also married, living in the burgeoning counter-culture milieu of what he’s elsewhere termed ‘Mother London’. As if his shared life with Molly in Alsacia is a metaphoric elaboration of extramarital complications. A coded infidelity. The separate-worlds confabulation that illicit lovers self-lie in mitigation and guilty justification. The narrative smoothly elides both of these parallel lives, Moorcock the hack-writer up-gearing into novels, married to Helena with two growing daughters, Sally and Kitty. And Moorcock standing sword-in-hand to defend the Alsacia from Roundhead incursions, shoulder-to-shoulder with Prince Rupert of the Rhine and his loyal dog Boye. In a London that time forget where the monks have a quantum Cosmolabe, and a Fish Chalice that might or might not be the Holy Grail. And his awareness of the irony of being a writer of fantasy, caught up in a fantasy only a no.15 Routemaster bus-ride away from Ladbroke Grove.

There’s a long detailed attempt launched by Prince Rupert to rescue King Charles I from the beheading block, which metamorphoses into spiriting the Yoda-like ancient Chief Rabbi Elias over the frozen Thames to safety in Amsterdam. Moorcock, it seems, has a ‘second sight’ talent for ‘stepping over dimensions where the Black Aether ran like a deadly tide.’ He utilises silver roads to a conjunction of worlds, nested one-inside-the-other, where he plays Tarot and agonises over the religious conundrums set up by the Alsacia’s impossibility. There’s a considerable amount of dubious pantheistic spirituality and rumination about the being or non-being of a supreme god. ‘Part of me was a sceptic – even a cynic, but part of me was also romantic and gullible.’ Who knew?

‘The Whispering Swarm’ of the title is a kind of tinnitus that attacks him whenever he attempts to leave Alsacia. While the novel, although a defining departure, remains very much part of the Moorcock continuum. Much of it would be incomprehensible to a browsing reader without at least a prior awareness of its protagonist’s real-life epic journeys. Yet its teasing conundrums bedazzle and intrigue those who already consider themselves devotees.

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Simon Clark Book Review: 'Case Of The Bedevilled Poet'

Book Review of: 
(NewCon Press – June 2017 – £6.99, 
106pp – ISBN 978-1-910935-48-4) 

War unleashes monsters. Monsters more terrifying than the most macabre fantasist can conjecture. The conundrum being that those who strive selflessly to rescue a puppy trapped in an underground sluice-pipe are the same species who enter a crowded tube-train to detonate a suicide-jacket explosive device. The two extremes of human nature, the instinct for life – and the dark lure of death, are what concerns Simon Clark in this immaculately-produced novella. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, if indeed it is Conan Doyle’s sleuthing duo – the enigma is never quite resolved, are more into psychic investigation, plumbing the Jungian depths of the subconscious, than straight crime detection. Albeit briefly using a gloriously mad-scientist SF-pulp technology in their hunt for clues to the mind-demons responsible.

Jack Crofton is the bedevilled wannabe poet of the title, reduced to scripting jingoistic propaganda movie-shorts for the war effort as the Luftwaffe attempt to blitz London into submission. There’s much detail concerning the actual duties of ARP wardens, about Goebbels, rationing and the black-out, as though anyone whose ever watched a ‘Dad’s Army’ episode will not already be familiar with such minutia. Unless Simon is consciously targeting new-century readers to whom this history is as distant as the Napoleonic wars, or the American market where maybe these aspects of our adversity are less familiar?

In keeping with Simon’s position as Britain’s finest disseminator of scary thrills, there are genuinely unsettling sequences layered within its multiple levels, with Crofton pitted against his own dark suicidal impulses manifested in horrific forms, catalysed by unresolved issues hung-over from his dead brother, and finally redeemed by love, through the lens of Baker Street’s finest. All set against the continuing existential uncertainty of imminent death from Nazi killware. But Simon has expanded the Sherlock Holmes casebook before, even editing the excellent ‘The Mammoth Book Of Sherlock Holmes Abroad’ (Robinson, 2015). And elsewhere, on the pretext that Holmes is ‘ageless, invincible and unchanging’, Basil Rathbone had already timeshifted him into hunting Nazi agents in the Universal movie ‘Sherlock Holmes And The Voice Of Terror’ (1942). War unleashes monsters. Simon Clark is a macabre fantasist who’s conjectured more than his own fair share of fictional terrors. And this fusion of the several results in a blitz of devastating prose.

The official Simon Clark website is “Nailed by the Heart”