Thursday 31 May 2018

Poems From 'Tweak Vision': "FORGET"


maybe it’s time for the great forgetting
no more remembrance
no more commemoration
no more victory parades and poppy days
no more heroic war movies
no more cenotaphs and memorials
no more dignified patriotic speeches
no more histories of empire and genocide
forget those wars to end wars
which only ensured more wars
forget liberal interventionism
and cultural imperialism
forget kings, forget war lords
holy wars, jihad and papal crusades
aint going to study war no more
let’s blitz the world in peace bombs
hurt can only bring more hurt
no more stirring anthems that
legitimize centuries of blood feuds
no more medals for PTSD amputees
at the going down of the sun and
in the morning, let us forget them
it’s time for forgetting
it’s time to start all over again…

From my book...

 What is Tweak Vision? Snatch visions from the starry dynamo of the cosmos. Words are supernatural. In times of gathering modern-angst confusion, words defy temporal gravity, rearrange space-time, choreograph new constellations. Word-play is all I have to take your heart away. Now tweak them this way and that, shake them out into new configurations to your device of choice. This is Tweak Vision!

From the deepest inner psyche, to the farthest Hubble-glimpsed proto-galaxy.

Wednesday 30 May 2018

Interview: Dave Davies, The Man Who Would Be Kink


 Kinks guitarist Dave Davies has forgotten he ever played the 
Bridlington Spa Theatre. But he DOES remember the smell 
of his first ever vinyl. He doesn’t like CDs, Dire Straits, or 
repressive drug legislation, but he DOES approve of the 
Breeders, Jarvis Cocker and the coming 1990s revolution! 
And does he have any advice for the Oasis brothers…? 
Andrew Darlington finds out 

In Rock ‘n’ Roll chronology they’re slotted in midway between Everly Brothers Don and Phil, and Oasis brothers Liam and Noel.

Ray and Dave Davies that is. The brothers Kink, the longest running double-act in Rock ‘n’ Roll history. On ‘Phobia’ (1993) they sing ‘hatred, the only thing that keeps us together.’ That’s as maybe, but something has not only kept the Kinks intact, but remarkably creative too over thirty-plus years. ‘While other songwriters were metaphorically tearing up the ‘old’ in favour of the ‘new’’ writes Dave, ‘the Kinks were trying to point a way to a future where the good from the past could be interwoven with the new and radical.’

Perhaps that’s it?

The first hit – “You Really Got Me”, entered the chart at no.34, 13 August 1964. Dave heard it on the radio and ‘I was momentarily stunned with excitement and awe… as if its earthiness could cut through walls.’ Me too. It was the day the last UK executions took place. Peter Anthony Allen and John Robson Welby were hung by the neck until dead – at Walton and Strangeways, for the murder of a van driver. Simultaneously ‘The Mods Monthly’ featured interviews with Cathy McGowan and Vicki Wickham, BBC2 launched ‘Match Of The Day’ – Liverpool beating Arsenal 3-2, and Manfred Mann were no.1 with “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”. And I was sixteen. Watching the Kinks on ‘Top Of The Pops’ as they took a mere four weeks climb to reach no.1.

A different world. But now, three decades, twenty-three hits and three chart-toppers later, I’m sat in the boardroom of Boxtree Books opposite Dave Davies. We’re here to promo his book ‘Kink: An Autobiography’* which opens with a poem summing it all up. ‘Brandy, cocaine, beer and laughter, curly-haired Groupies with big tits, angels and whores, the innocent and lost, the users, the used…’ We talk about all that, and more.

But to begin, let’s get personal…

ANDREW DARLINGTON: I first saw the Kinks in 1966, a misty Yorkshire night when you played the Bridlington Spa Theatre. So we go back quite a way together, if at a slight distance.

DAVE DAVIES: No, really? I can hardly remember. Bridlington Spa?

AD: Do you still get a buzz from playing live?

DD: Yeh. I do. But sometimes you just don’t feel so good. Erm, I’m trying to think where else we went on that tour!

AD: Other than forgetting Bridlington Spa you exhibit a total recall of details in ‘Kink’, despite the obvious chaos that must have surrounded the band throughout that period.

DD: Actually, it’s strange that in’ it? ‘Cos… when they first asked me to write it, I sat down and thought ‘I can’t handle this.’ Apart from thinking that I couldn’t remember stuff, I was scared of stirring up all the emotions that it takes to do something like that. But as I started I found I was quite enjoying it. And it was… (long pause), a cleansing experience too. Getting rid of a lot of the emotional garbage that you carry around with you. It’s kinda good to get it off your chest. I was also spurred on by the fact that there hasn’t really been a very good Kinks book out. There’s been biographies (an official one by Jon Savage, an unofficial one by Johnny Rogan, and a cut-and-paste ‘Kinks: Well Respected Men’ by Neville Marten and Jeffrey Hudson, Castle 1996), but they’ve sort-of only just skimmed around it. In and out, you know? Hearsay. Here and there. A few interviews with Ray, and a few with myself. So that was my reason why I wanted to do it in the style that I did. Conversational, and yet factual – trying to get the facts across. Not only that, but I think Ray’s book (‘X-Ray’, Viking, 1994) was… er, interesting, but it didn’t really cover a lot of areas that I thought he could have. It was written in the third person…

AD: Ray’s book is a little more devious and convoluted.

DD: It was sort-of like, in a maze. So it was important for me to get my book out the way I did. And I enjoyed writing it. Y’know, ‘cos once I’d got a third of the way through I was really starting to get into it. It was a very enjoyable experience.

AD: Throughout the years you write about I was buying your records, watching you on ‘Top Of The Pops’, following the progress of each single as it climbed the chart. I wondered how conscious you were of the same process, caught up in it as it happened.

DD: I was very aware. Obviously it was just a whole part of the total momentum of the time. But I found what helped me remember things was actually the music. Although I had a sketched-out kind-of diary that I’d kept. It was really the music itself which is sort-of redolent of memory, isn’t it? Of certain things that happened. But that first two or three years (1964-1967) was, like, unbelievable, it was a roller-coaster ride. The amount of work that we did! And the recordings. The record companies expected us to churn out singles every other week, virtually. Which we did, y’know. It was… I don’t think times will ever come like that again (laughs), I mean, it was an AMAZING time. You can understand why there’s so much romanticism about that period now, can’t you. When we’re talking about bands like Oasis, Blur, and people like that. They’re obviously inspired by a lot of sixties music, our music, and a lot of the other music that was going on then, the Beatles and stuff. ‘Cos it was a very energising time. It was great. It was spontaneity as well. At the time, wasn’t it? Which was quite incredible. I mean, they’re trying to do it now. Oasis recorded their first album in three weeks. Which is good. That’s hard going in this day and age.

AD: The Kinks recorded albums in a fortnight during the sixties.

DD: The first album we had less than a week to record it.

AD: Whereas the Stone Roses took five years to create their ‘Second Coming’ (1994) album!

DD: Yeah. But we were under so much pressure then. Because we were on a roll. You get on a roll, don’t you? And it was just coming out. New music was pouring out of us. Almost as if it was on automatic. There was no real kind-of structure or method to it. It just happened. It was only later, when it got to round about 1968, 1969, when we WEREN’T achieving the same levels of success, and we were having problems in America (the Kinks were banned from performing in the USA 1965-1969), that we kinda started to realise what we were actually doing. Well, I did. I started to realise that we were actually doing this for a living. That it was an occupation. Or a vocation, or whatever you call it. Other than just being one long party.

AD: The Kinks have been active over a period of remarkable technological advances in studio techniques and hardware.

DD: Yeah, I mean, that was a big problem in the years that followed. In the seventies particularly. That barren period at the beginning of the 1970s. People were really getting into those things then. When you think of the stories you’d head about Mick Fleetwood taking five days to just record a tom-tom beat. People were really getting into all that stuff.

AD: Do you enjoy taking full advantage of that studio technology now?

DD: I think what’s happening is that it’s kind-of evening out a bit. There was digital stuff. And people who liked digital recording weren’t particularly… erm, I’m not a great fan of CD technology at all. I don’t think it gives us all the information. I know everybody tells us that it does, and unfortunately I don’t know enough about it technically to offer a strong argument against that. But from what I can gather, and from what my senses tell me, I don’t think a sixteen-bit technology is advanced enough. There’s all kinds of things that happen in music. But CD is cold. It’s not a warm sound. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the harmonic distortion, or something else that happens.

AD: In a ‘Mondo 2000’ interview Neil Young describes the vinyl/CD difference as ‘analogue is a mist spraying your face, digital is tiny ice-cubes all the same size.’ Whereas in ‘Kink’ you argue that you can SMELL vinyl, but you can’t smell CD!

DD: (Laughs) Yeah well, you see, that was the big thing with me as a kid. When I was growing up. The first record I ever bought I paid 4s9d for it (25p). It was “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen” by Johnny Cash. And the first thing I did was smell it. It’s weird. And the same with Buddy Holly records. I loved that smell of vinyl. It was great. But Johnny Cash had such a cool track on the ‘B’-side of that first record too. It was called “Big River”, and it was SO cool – ding-ding-da-ding-ding ding-ding-da-ding-ding. It’s a GREAT riff. ‘Cos it’s always riffs with me. I was looking out for riffs all the time.

AD: You’ve frequently been accused of adapting the Rock ‘ n’ Roll riff – on records like “You Really Got Me” (‘G, F, Bb’), in ways that inspired the entire Heavy Metal genre which grew out of it.

DD: Yeh-he-he-he. I suppose so. In a way. There wasn’t a guitar sound like that before us. I remember the Who – when they were still called the High Numbers. They played with us early on. And their sound wasn’t THAT heavy. It was a ‘chingier’ guitar sound. But I noticed that when they started to get in the studio – and Shel (Talmy, Kinks producer) got involved with them as their producer as well, then their guitar sound started to get heavier. So obviously that was Shel borrowing a bit from me and then passing it on to them. They obviously drew a lot of ideas from us. But then it gave them their own identity. (Pete) Townshend found his own way of doing stuff, and they became their own force. We all have to borrow things from other people don’t we? To find our own sort-of way.

AD: There are lots of myths and stories that have built up around the Kinks over the years. For example, there’s a persistent rumour that Jimmy Page was a session musician on those early Kinks records. Is that true?

DD: UUURGH! This thing about Jimmy Page playing on “You Really Got Me”, it drives me INSANE! I can’t imagine why he said that. But you see, at the time, he was – like, the in-house session guy. A lot of people used him on different sessions. And he was always there, in the background. I don’t know whether it was the record company who were nervous that we couldn’t make a record properly. But we wanted to make it ourselves, virtually. And in the end that’s just what we did. There’s NO way that Jimmy Page played on “You Really Got Me”. I mean – that solo!, that crazy kid playing guitar! It doesn’t make sense at all. I think it’s more likely that in the early seventies when Zeppelin were going over big and they were doing a lot of drugs and everything, that he probably thought he’d INVENTED the guitar!

AD: Jimmy did play that eerie ‘bent’ guitar sound on Dave Berry’s single version of “This Strange Effect” – which is a Kinks song (no.37 on 22 July 1965, Decca F 12188).

DD: I think so, yes. It’s a lovely record that. Evidently it was one of the biggest-selling records of all time in Holland. Beautiful song. Dave Berry had an interesting voice, didn’t he? A haunting kind-of dry and clinical voice.

AD: Around the same time there was a single version of Ray’s song “I Go To Sleep” recorded by the Applejacks (1965, Decca F 12216).

DD: Did the Applejacks do it? Do you know, I don’t remember that version. Gawd!

AD: It says in ‘The Encyclopedia Of Rock’ by Phil Hardy and Dave Laing (Panther Books) that the Applejacks bassist, Megan Davies, was your sister.

DD: No. Never ‘eard of ‘er. Peggy Lee did record “I Go To Sleep” though, didn’t she? She did a great version of it. It was released on one of her albums, wasn’t it? (it’s on her 1965 LP ‘Then Was Then – Now Is Now!’, Capitol T2388). A great record that. ‘Cos Ray and I grew up with Peggy Lee as well. There were so many different influences and oh, so much music in our house. Like Anita O’Day, she was a big influence. She sounded so cool then. So in control. Perry Como too, everything. Each sister had their own favourite (Ray and Dave had six older sisters). My sister Dolly liked Fats Domino. She was a big fan of Fats Domino and all that sort-of shuffley kind-of Blues. But there were sentimental things as well, like that “Indian Love Call” by Slim Whitman. I always used to find that a little bit creepy when I was a kid, but she always used to have tears in her eyes listening to it. It’d make her cry. So there’s so many different elements that you absorb, and it comes out in some other form when you regurgitate it.

AD: I can see Fats Domino and Buddy Holly, but I can’t see Slim Whitman and Anita O’Day in the music of the Kinks.

DD: No, but I mean, it goes into the kinda computer, don’t it? Where it gets all sorta meshed around. You can see Peggy Lee coming out in something like “I Go To Sleep”. It’s perfect. In the same way that there’s a lot of things about Cole Porter too, amazing melodies, amazing chord shifts and stuff. Although it’s now incredible to think that you or anyone could write a song even vaguely on a par with any of the work he did. I don’t know where he got his art from. The gods probably. I don’t know.

AD: Talking of Kinks myths, I was interviewing Kim Deal of the Breeders. She told me she’d seen the Kinks on tour in the USA, and during the show a fist-fight broke out between you and Ray. She was really excited to witness what she thought was Rock ‘n’ Roll history in the making. But she went to a further show on the same tour, and at exactly the same point in the set, exactly the same fight broke out!

DD: And she thought it was a set-up (laughs). When was this? Mid-eighties? That’s funny that is. It’s quite possible. We used to play around a lot. We used to play around for our audiences a lot. I remember we did… erm, we were doing a lot of tours in the early seventies when we were sorta getting back into America, and we used to get bored playing some nights. So sometimes Ray and I might deliberately wind each other up just to get a bit of energy happening. You know what I mean? I remember one night which was really fun. We started the show with “Victoria”, and we actually played it BACKWARDS!, you know – going Shee-ooo-ooo She-ooo-ooo slurp slurp nya nya. We were all, like, walking round and playing backwards. And the stunned audience were just sitting there going… (blank expression). They must have thought we were… (he dissolves in laughter). It’s all a bit daft. But sometimes you have to do things like that to keep the spirits up. Y’know. It can be quite miserable sitting in a shitty Hotel when everybody really just wants to go home. You’re depressed and you’re looking at cold pizza from last night, with only a bottle of Heineken for company. Then you think that all the things that surround you come together when you get on that stage. But you know, when things are great it’s worth the effort.

AD: The Breeders line-up features two sisters (Kim and Kelly Deal).

DD: I like that record they made. What was that hit they had last year – ‘Last Splash’ (1993)? I loved that record. Yes. I wonder how they get on.

AD: And Oasis are going through the same problems. Do you have any advice for the Gallagher brothers?

DD: I don’t know to what degree… how do THEY get on? What’s the general thing with them?

AD: Similar to you and Ray. A loving contradiction. A loyal rivalry.

DD: That’s really strange (wonderingly). I mean… the thing is, over those first three or four years with the Kinks, Ray and I didn’t really have any problems. Personally, I think things started to go wrong with me and Ray after his first marriage ended. When he sort-of felt the world had caved in on him, and he felt the world had let him down, kind-of. In a way (Ray’s marriage to Rasa effectively ended 21 June 1973), I think he realised then how much he’d actually relied on Rasa for emotional support. Which you do. You do. When you’re in a highly charged creative environment with creative people there’s a lot of interchange that goes on. And you need somebody there, particularly. When you’ve got somebody like that – then all of a sudden that support is taken away it’s kind-of like ‘What the fuckin’ ‘ell? What am I doing here?’ I think that was a much bigger hole in the Kinks career than people realise. I felt it was. This, really is also what my idea of a perfect record producer is, somebody who is a rock of help, nurturing, providing encouragement and emotional support. I also think (cough) Ray changed a lot when he felt we were being ripped off by Music Publishers. Which we were. But Ray probably felt it more because he wrote most of the songs. And it makes you a bit bitter. I understood. But I think that I was always a little bit too optimistic for me own good. I used to think that if it’s done, it’s done. What can you do? But it really made Ray more thoughtful. Less trusting. More paranoid. A bit bitter da-da-da-da-da. But maybe that helped his writing as well? So you just don’t know. You can’t… it’s like, I was talking to someone the other day and they were commenting on this thing that I say in the book about Ray, about how… how he abused me. But it’s a relationship BUILT on abuse! Really. Maybe it’s because of it that the work that we’ve done is so good. Y’know – if it had been all sort-of Lovey-Dovey and darn the pub together, then the music would have been different. Not as good. Maybe.

AD: They said the same thing about the Who. It was the creative tension within the group that gave it it’s edge.

DD: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, when Keith Moon died, old Pete Townshend didn’t know what to do. I bet you that’s where he used to get his – whatever it is, you have to get that energy from somewhere. Even if it’s ugly. You know what I mean? It’s like, I can understand that totally. I was talking to someone else the other day on the radio, about the Knopfler brothers, about the way they first started. The stories that I heard about David Knopfler, and why he left Dire Straits (he quit in July 1980 after disagreements with brother Mark). I’ve met David Knopfler. We talked. And like, he’d really gone downhill in their relationship. I felt like I was trying to pull him back.

AD: You’re not very complimentary about Dire Straits in your book (‘someone invited me to a Dire Straits concert at Wembley. I put on a brave face, but when we drove into the car park I just couldn’t go through with it. When I saw all those BMW’s and Golf GTi’s it was more than I could bear. I made my excuses…’).

DD: I guess it’s all related to the same thing we were talking about earlier (he’d applauded Jarvis Cocker’s stage invasion during Michael Jackson’s performance at the Brit Awards). It’s so over-glamourised. It’s totally unnecessary. I don’t mind the Kinks being called a Garage Band. Because when we started that’s probably all we were anyway. It’s probably like that even now, if we set up in here, that’s probably what we’d sound like today. The whole thing about Dire Straits is, he’s a good guitar player with a good sound. But it’s the kind of band you’d expect to see in a Pub. Notice the connection? – the mention of ‘Pub’ was deliberate! But all this kind of amazing glamour, and the glamour situations that we put around ‘Stars’, what they do doesn’t warrant it. I don’t know if that sounds a little bitter? Do you know what I’m saying? Am I making any sense?

AD: It makes perfect sense to me. You write openly about drug use too, in ‘Kink’. From necking Mod pills (‘heroin was considered very old-fashioned, the drug of choice for an older generation – Bums and Jazzers who had serious drug problems’) through to your traumatic use of LSD. Psychedelic writer Timothy Leary claimed that acid should be taken as a sacrament, as a tool to achieve the kind of spiritual insight you claim to have later experienced. Whereas in practise, as your book implies, it became just another I-can-do-more-acid-than-you thing.

DD: Just a fad, or fashion, or one-upmanship. Yes. But the thing is… we are living in the 1990s. And we’ve got so much at our fingertips to actually help create real change in the world. We have everything from metaphysics, to yoga, to religion, to technology – in particular. And yes – drugs, if you like. We’ve got so many tools that we can use to actually create real change in the world. But there are people in control who don’t want to LOSE control. It’s really boring if you’re not interested in it. But I find it really significant. And I’ll try and be as brief as possible. Astrologically, what happened last year was that the outer planets were moving, and Saturn has moved into the sign of Sagittarius. What that means, to cut a long story short, is that it’s influencing people to do things. It’s like, people are going to HAVE to change some way or the other. We all change differently, ‘cos we’re all at different states or stages of emotional, mental, spiritual da-de-da-de-da growth and everything – that’s probably why I’m communicating it to you so badly! But, to bore you further, we’ve somehow got to try and communicate with each other quite quickly. Because something is gonna happen. And I think that all the ideas about revolution in the sixties that everyone was talking about, all those things are actually going to happen in the nineties. Because it makes more sense now. There are still people around that were a part of that culture, like you and I. There’s people in corporations that were taking acid when they were sixteen and seventeen. And now they work in Big Business Corporations. So it’s all there. There’s certain elements that are out there that need to be pulled together now. The whole element of competition becomes anti-productive in the end. It’s like Margaret Thatcher thinking ‘I’ll make everyone a millionaire and everyone will be happy.’ That’s the way a child would think.

AD: In later sections of your book you talk about your new-found Gaia-consciousness, your contact with alien ‘intelligences’, and people’s scepticism about these insights (‘the media thought I was crazy. Perfect. I was dumbfounded. Every time I talked to anyone about, you know, um, things… well… ah, I felt like a fucking Klingon, and I was SO angry that I probably looked like one as well’).

DD: I think we have to take a big step into the unknown now, before the door is closed on us completely. So experimenting with knowledge, even with drugs, has its place. You were talking about Timothy Leary, OK, so it’s not the be-all and end-all, but it does have its place. What I found really encouraging was a programme on TV the other night, about a group of young people who had gone through the beginnings of the ‘E’-culture, subculture, or whatever. And through the experiences they’d gained from using those things they’d decided to set up their own little group in which they were trying to manifest the feelings of love that they had transmitted between each other, but this time through just working at relationships. Now, in that sense, a positive good had come about by the use of drugs. And I applaud that. Because that’s learning something from experience, then trying to utilise it in everyday situations. There are things around us that offer us tools to get out of this prison, and the confines of theology. I think that’s much more productive than going and saying three ‘Hail Mary’s’ because you beat your Missus up when you came home drunk on Friday night. It’s much more constructive. Yet kids are getting arrested for it. You hear some horrendous stories from America about this whole area of drugs and the way that the Police are involved. There was that poor kid who got arrested for selling a tab of acid. He was on tour with the Grateful Dead – he was a Deadhead. And he sold a tab of acid to another kid so that he could pay to stay in a Hotel room. They arrested him, and the guy got put away for twenty years! I mean, it’s FEAR that does that. I mean, why are Governments in such a terrible confusion about it? Why can’t they just see what that guy was doing? But no, they have this terrible fear of drugs. A fear of losing control of people. All this ‘I’ve got control, and I don’t want to lose it.’ I don’t know if I’m expressing myself very clearly. But it’s a major area of frustration for me. I have some friends who are part of UFO groups, and people say ‘Oh yeah, but they sound like a cult to me.’ I mean – the Roman Catholic Church is a cult. Just because there’s more of them than there are of me. I’m a country of one. I’m a universe of one. How many millions of Catholics are there around the world? Let’s say there’s ten-million… is that about right? OK – so there’s ten-million of them and only one of me, does that make me wrong? Y’know, might isn’t always right. An individual’s point of view is just as important. Particularly nowadays when there’s so much misery, suffering and shit happening. But they can’t see it. It’s because of all this misinformation. Not giving people enough information. It keeps people ignorant. And if you’re ignorant you can’t get out of bad situations. If you don’t have the information or the tools to get out of that situation, you’re trapped by it. Do you know what I’m saying…?

AD: To conclude, I saw the Kinks in 1966 when – according to the Rock history books, you were at your peak. Then I saw you again more recently at the Leeds ‘Town And Country’ (1994), when your set was not only tighter and stronger, but you even seemed to be enjoying it more too.

DD: Oh, that’s good. That’s nice to hear. That’s encouraging in me old age, ha-ha-ha. It WAS quite a good little tour, that tour. I remember, that’s the night we’d played the ‘Empire’ the night before. No, we’d come across from Ireland. That’s right. A good little tour. It was fun. But I hope I’ve learned… no, I hope WE’VE learned a bit since then. Since 1966. So – do you live in Leeds…?

Boxtree Books Ltd ISBN 0-7522-1695-3
 £16.99 Pan Paperback, 1997

My other Kinks features:

Saturday 26 May 2018

New CD: JOE WILKES 'Japanese Elvis'


 Album Review of: 
(Frontline Records FLR009, 2018) 

What is the Japanese for ‘All Shook Up’?

The piano intro to “Ironstone Sky” has a stately classicism, scattering the kind of Bob Seger wide-open skies little white-note keyboard figures. The sound of the cosmos may be loud, the water may appear tranquil, but sometimes that’s all you need. You ask where all the poets and short-story fictioneers have gone? Don’t worry, they’re here. Joe has an infectious way with four chords and a vocal hook. Across eleven new tracks and forty-five minutes playing time, his groove settles in resonant diversity through a range of themes, essentially upbeat despite occasional moments of existential angst. ‘We used to look at children’s smiles, now we just talk about paedophiles’ is the wry quality of line no amount of creative writing courses could ever come up with.

Following three strong defining albums – ‘Spotlight’ (2006), ‘Here On This Frontline’ (2009) and ‘Looking For The Grave of Garcia Lorca’ (2012), Coventry-born troubadour Joe mangled his left hand, the injury disabling him from finger-picking guitar. So instead, he found an old mould-damp piano and taught himself how to play that, while getting recuperative physio and surgery. Part-recorded in Paris and London, then dubbed demo-style in his rainy south London flat on mostly borrowed instruments, this is an uncluttered album that’s beautifully sparse, careening around alternating dextrous guitar figures and piano. While the lyrics bark and bite.

The actual ‘Japanese Elvis’ does his thing in “After The Sorrow Has Passed”, a fractured warm embrace of a romance-narrative with only the facts replaced… even when he rhymes ‘city’ with ‘pretty’. The urgent classical gas of “Down In The Alley” is snatched from a ‘Boy In The Bubble’ news-feed, direct from the frontline, armed with a scheme and the element of surprise, yet retaining a sense of mystery. Then, for the stand-out “If The Angels Don’t Welcome You They Can Go To Hell” fake skinny writers masquerade with rhymes that would make god jealous. Into an Americana-style duet with Charlotte Something – of Madonnatron, which tells both sides of the tale about “Sleeping On The Floor”, taking a verse dialogue each, building their shared break-up history.

So many lines to quote. ‘Je suis Charlie Manson’ occurs in a drive-by attack in a burnt-out car, “We Believe In Nothing” – ‘I wanna kill the President, and I wanna kill the Queen, the war with North Korea is gonna be the best one we’ve ever seen.’ Joe as the guitar merchant feeding subversive misfit glimpses of what it takes to survive in a fake-news world, delivered with the kind of melodic attitude that wears Kerouac’s battered leather jacket and sees the world through a lip-curled chewing gum sneer. But there’s more to come. Closing track “The High Life” is an intricately-wrought ‘a star is born’ short movie, thoughtfully fashioned, meticulously punctuated, with a narrative that carries you along its flow. Taking a taste – maybe, of nights at the Peckham ‘Easy Come’ acoustic club, he meets her one night when he’s the singer who ‘sat upon the performer’s stool’ playing to a drunken audience that talks through his songs. But when she comes out to take her spot, they listen well. The two of them gel, and work together, until they get signed. She has a voice like heaven. They say he wasn’t too bad. Forward to now, while he’s still scuffing, and he catches a glimpse of her on TV ‘one part memory, one part dream’.

All shook up? You will be. There’s blood on these tracks. On any normal planet ‘Japanese Elvis’ would be a landmark album.

Friday 25 May 2018

Poetry: PAUL BROOKES 'She Needs That Edge'

Book Review of: 
(Nixes Mate Books, 2018, ISBN-978-0-9993971-0-7, 68pp)

Paul Brookes has that edge.

There’s a poem he tells about working a supermart checkout, and an ancient customer who wordlessly processes through, who turns around with parting shot to say his wife just died in the Care Home, no-one else to confide it to, other than the checkout operator.

A world of isolation in that poem’s briefness. Sometimes, words can be so huge that they crush us. Sometimes words are so small they slip through the space between the molecules of being and vanish unheard.

Now, here, there’s more ‘life defined by what is missing.’ These five sequences inhabit the same crawl-way between words. Five vignettes of raging calm. In the first salvo, the absence of dead children aches behind the semblance of normality. He sups and dilly dallies, eyes-up the waitress, ‘rare bloody meat on his plate.’ A life counted out in fridge-magnets. Risqué banter masks needs unsaid, as lives submerge in a slow silt, ‘sometimes a ripple, then a wave.’ Kitchen-sink dramas where dull men ‘need to be chivvied and mithered.’ She might be searching, but she’s not lost. Each line a scar of damage with stories attached. Tales that either play with your feelings, or try to make sense of their own. These are not grotesque warp-spasm poems – although Paul does that too, these are slow tick poems, that worry away at the gnaw of unease, a cancer of grudges that fester, cell to cell, with silence in the creep-space between words.

Sharpened and honed, Paul Brookes has that edge.

Thursday 24 May 2018

SF Novel: Stephen Baxter 'THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND'


Book Review of: 
(Gollancz, 2017, ISBN 978-1-473-20511-6) 

 ‘But who shall dwell in these worlds if they 
 be inhabited?... Are we or they Lords of the World? 
... And how are all things made for man?” 
(Kepler, quoted in the preface to ‘The War Of The Worlds’) 

The original HG Wells ‘War Of The Worlds’ of 1897 has a cliff-hanger ending. It’s very much a first season closer. The invading Martians are thwarted, not by any human agency, but by terrestrial bacteria. The equation remains unresolved. The Martians are still there on dying Mars, driven by the same imperative to escape the slow extinction of their world. The Earth still their only viable target, at each close opposition orbital pass. To Wells, ‘to carry warfare sunward is indeed their only escape.’ It invites a sequel.

Following Wells’ pioneering example the human race has been regularly inundated by fictional alien invasions, not only from Mars, but from all points of the galaxy, and beyond. There have been two major movie versions of the seminal tale, first from George Pal in 1953, enhanced by Chesley Bonestell’s evocatively atmospheric matte paintings. As a schoolboy already familiar with Wells, I was sufficiently mesmerised by the movie to overlook its location-switch to America, and even the condescending religious platitudes inserted as a sweetener to mid-West sensitivities, in direct contradiction to Wells atheistic Darwinian intentions. The second film, in 2005, from Steven Spielberg’s digitally-tweaked DreamWorks, with Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning, reinstates Wells tripod war-machines and red weed, while further switching location from America’s west to east coasts.

Although neither of them bears much resemblance to the novel, both extract sufficient fragments to vindicate their apocalyptical vision. The only previous attempt at an actual sequel was a two-season 1988 US/Canadian TV-series, based around the premise that the aliens from the 1953 movie were not dead, but simply comatose, to be accidentally reactivated by unwitting terrorists in time to create new global mayhem. Meanwhile, there’s been a plethora of related media elaboration projects, one of the most intriguing being ‘The Space Machine’ (1976), a Scientific Romance conjured by Christopher Priest, which cunningly links predatory Martians with a nod at Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’ (1895) which now logically shifts across the solar system through space as well as time. Baxter himself devotes a chapter to listing other inputs he used as precedents for his work, both fictional, and academic. There’s a lot there for him to draw from. 

Today, at a time of overkill prequels, sequels, remakes, pastiches and re-boots, a follow-up novel – authorised by the HG Wells estate, is an obvious option. With no-one more qualified to do it than Stephen Baxter. He’d already performed conceptual magic in his authorised sequel to ‘The Time Machine’, with ‘The Time Ships’ (1995) expanding and complexifying the original novella into realms of astonishing wonder. Born 13 November 1957 in Liverpool, he’d purportedly applied to be an astronaut, hoping for a jaunt to the MIR space-station, but got turned down. Instead, he turned his hand to early try-out fiction, which would be subsequently published, until his “Something For Nothing” launched him into the ‘Interzone’ continuum (no.23, Spring 1988) as a significant new talent. Unlike much contemporary Sci-Fi which merely uses Space Opera settings and accoutrements for entertaining action adventure and dynastic epics, he retains the mind-wrenching ability of stretching ideas, which was once the characteristic motivator for speculative fiction, while convincingly exploiting the new relativistic possibilities of the quantum multiverse.

He’d made other forays into Wells’ terrain too, by including Cavor and the Selenites in “The Ant-Men Of Tibet” (‘Interzone’ no.95, May 1995), then through the beautifully retro pages of “Columbiad” (collected from 1996 ‘Science Fiction Age’ into his 1998 short-story collection ‘Traces’). To Baxter himself the latter represents ‘a collision between my meditations on the fate of the modern space programme’ with ‘my work on Wells and Verne’, by melding elements from Jules Verne’s ‘From The Earth To The Moon’ (1865) with Wells himself, who visits the Florida Space Canon launch-site just as a second projectile is approaching a very-contemporary arid Mars. Until his taster “The Martian In The Wood” appeared on the webzine ‘’ (August 2017).

But, back to origins, Wells’ astoundingly vivid writing first resonantly captures his ‘Remarkable Story From Woking’, with the abrupt intrusion of unearthly horror into the touchably familiar lost Home Counties realm of paperboys, publicans, tobacconists and the horse-drawn traffic on Horsell Common, Chobham Road, Weybridge, and Amersham. The full realisation of the enormity of what’s happening dawns only slowly. There are only sceptical newspapers, no social media to link cosy gas-lit communities. So that outside the immediately affected disaster area, life goes on blissfully unaware, apart from casual gossip and speculation. Even as panic spreads it’s rife with rumour and misinformation, although ‘it was the beginning of the rout of civilisation, of the massacre of mankind.’

Attempting to reach his wife evacuated to Leatherhead, travelling through zones of stark devastation, the narrator encounters an artilleryman and a timorous curate, as his brother rescues two Elphinstone sisters-in-law, when their pony-chaise comes under thuggish attack. Then he meets the fatalistic artilleryman again, on Putney Hill who claims ‘I went for the Martians like a sparrow goes for man.’ He’s the cunning realist who more clearly that anyone else sees ‘cities, nations, civilisation, progress – it’s all over. The game’s up. We’re beat.’ Until the Deus ex Machina that ends the invasion. In his ‘Epilogue’ Wells speculates on the likelihood of further attacks. Maybe the opening lines about ‘intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic’ who ‘regarded the Earth with envious eyes’ are familiar only from Jeff Wayne’s unlikely musical, but Stephen Baxter takes things beyond that cliff-hanger ending. Into second season events.

As he explains in his ‘Afterword And Acknowledgements’ chapter, ‘The Massacre Of Mankind’ is very much a alternate history, one in which Wells’ Martian invasion of 1907 is a recent memory. By brisk mid-March 1920 there are convincing newly-diverged timelines. The Titanic survived its destined iceberg collision through being reinforced with retro-engineered high-grade Martian aluminium. And the narrator travels from isolationist New York to Liverpool as part of a convoy on the Lusitania. Baxter’s writing is a little more knowingly self-aware. His steam-punk world avoided the mass-slaughter of Mons and the Somme, but with its Martian-devastated ‘Surrey corridor’ Britain is knocked out of international politics. ‘Never before in the history of warfare had destruction been so indiscriminate and so universal’ – excepting the Blitz, of course. 

Instead, a ‘rather shabby non-aggression’ pact with the Kaiser has allowed Imperial Germany to become ascendant in Europe, already facing-off Russia in the Schlieffen War, and increasingly influential in the UK. While a right-wing coup – following the assassination of PM Campbell-Bannerman and a quasi-legal 1911 election, is predicated on a state of martial law preparatory to new incursions from our red planet neighbour. Oswald Mosley-style PM Brian Marvin has his biography authored by Arthur Conan Doyle, he has ‘Secretary Of State For War’ Winston Churchill and Lloyd George in his cabinet, and bans suffragettes as proscribed agitators. While Baden-Powell organises Junior Sappers to cleanse ‘the national moral character.’

That this is a parallel continuum – another ‘Long Earth’?, sprung not from our world, but the worlds as they were perceived to be at Wells’ time, is further evidenced, not only by the Martian ecology, but by the Cythereans of Venus, and the distant Jovians. As in the nebular hypothesis of solar system origins, the outer planets cooled and solidified first, hence are progressively older the further they are from the sun. So their inhabitants are more evolved. Except Pluto of course, which had yet to be discovered and given its erroneous planetary status!

HG Wells appears in the Baxter novel as the author of ‘The Man Of The Year Million’, the utopian ‘Great Narrator’ who dreams of ‘golden cities of the future.’ While the Wells novel – which first appeared as a ‘Pearson’s Magazine’ serial (April to December 1897) bears a dedication to ‘My Brother Frank Wells, This Rendering Of His Idea’. Now, that great first-person chronicler of the Martian War, ‘the man who first wrote the history, with some degree of eloquence’ – unnamed as a ‘literary affectation’ in the book itself, is newly named as Walter Jenkins. And the First Martian War has left psychological effects that go beyond the devastation of London, in trauma and broken relationships unanticipated by Wells himself. Jenkins, divorced from (previously unnamed) Carolyn, is in Vienna undergoing treatment from a therapist called Freud. Baxter’s new narrative takes a number of contributing voices drawn together from observers around the world, but is female-centric, focused around Julie Elphinstone, the thirty-two-year-old divorced wife of Walter Jenkins’ younger brother, Frank, first encountered in Wells’ pony-chaise attack. ‘None of us are story-book heroes’ she counters. Yet it all ties in like Lego.

First, a message conveyed by crackling trans-Atlantic cable from Walter brings the various characters together, taking the opportunity to complain to each other about how their roles were misinterpreted in the original ‘Narrative’. As he prepares for an American lecture-tour with Prof Schiaparelli, the artilleryman Albert Cook accuses Jenkins – and by implication, HG Wells, of being a ‘pompous over-educated toff’. There are also accusations of his misogyny, although Wells regarded himself as a fellow-traveller with the liberated ‘New Woman’ (as in his ‘Ann Veronica’ 1909) – within the limits of his own social frame of reference, even if that meant little more than taking advantage of guilt-free Free Love. Stephen Baxter scrutinises the text for hints and slight suggestions to weave and develop into logical new configurations. The artilleryman’s curious evolution is all anticipated by Wells’ ruminations when he meets ‘The Man On Putney Hill’. He then extracts a single phrase – ‘one, Major Eden, was reported to be missing’ from ‘War Of The Worlds’ Book 1 Chapter 8, and expands it into the character Eric Eden (a name ‘Eagle’ fans will also associate with ‘Dan Dare’!). The cast later reconvene in the private Ottershaw observatory where Wells describes his narrator first glimpsing the ominous flashes on the surface of distant Mars.

With the continuity links meticulously established, what follows, despite the militarisation instigated by Marvin’s regime, despite massive troop-mobilisation and near-totalitarian civil defences, the Martian’s return turns out to be less a war and more as the title suggests – a massacre, as fifty-two Martian cylinders impact in central England, within the Chiltern cordon, and instantly commence their mechanised slaughter. Eric Eden is on the defensive King’s Line. ‘Under a lurid, smoke-laden sky’ there are support waves of German bombers – Gothas and Giants, with multiple engines fixed to their biplane wings to resemble the ‘Wings Over The World’ spectacle from the visionary HG Wells/Alexander Korda movie ‘Things To Come’ (1936). But they fall as much victim to Martian heat-rays as the Fyrd, the unit taking its name from the Anglo-Saxon militia that Frank joins, and with whom he becomes stranded behind Martian lines. 

As Horror-writer Simon Clark discovered when writing his excellent sequel to ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ authorised by the John Wyndham estate, it is not enough simply to replicate the events of the original novel. In order to maintain the shock-effect, the threat-level must escalate. Hence ‘The Night Of The Triffids’ (2001) has giant sixty-foot-tall Triffids inundate Manhattan. So too for Stephen Baxter. Despite their more ancient civilisation the Martian technology seems not much more advanced than its human counterpart. George Pal’s war-machines hover on contra-grav rays, and have force-field shielding capable of withstanding H-bomb blasts. Yet Baxter’s armoured fighting-machines can be brought down by concentrated artillery, or by a lucky shot, by German incendiaries or the New York Edison Flux-bomb… and they have only their lethal heat-beams and Black Smoke. Wells’ battery brings a war-machine down in Shepperton, with early twentieth-century weaponry. His narrator’s brother watches the ironclad ‘Thunder Child’ smash two Martian tripods off the Tillingham coast. So how would the Martians fare against the Shock And Awe of twenty-first-century drone-surgical laser-guided strikes?

Yet ‘the Martians have tweaked the design.’ They have obviously devised biohazard shielding, for the novel’s second section is ‘England Under The Martians’, a very English affair, with life going on in a semblance of normality within the occupied cordon, as the rest of the world continues nervously unaffected. Julie undertakes a covert mission to carry an ‘archaic killer’ into ‘the Martians dark empire on the earth’. The setting details seem authentically of the period, with immense trench-works – no Maginot Line across France, but gouged into the English countryside in a vain attempt at containment. With Ironclad ‘Land Leviathan’ secret weapons.

And the text is immaculately genre literate. The strangely flooded Misbourne landscape is tilted into surreality by infestations of red Martian weed and basking Venusians, as in ‘a romance of some distant future when our civilisation had decayed and its remnants were slowly subsiding into a weed-choked marsh.’ And Bert who embraces the apocalypse, is also JG Ballardian in that he rationalises that ‘it’s not a phase, it’s not a destination. It’s an end.’ While Olaf Stapledon’s fictional fantasia of ‘happy flyers’ in Venus’ dense steamy clouds seems an obvious reference to the doomed winged humans of his ‘Last And First Men’ (1930), albeit through the lens of Svante Arrhenius speculations in his ‘The Destinies Of The Stars’ (1918).

It remains so English a disaster – until a second wave of Martian cylinders makes the war global. From a lavish Long Island ‘Great Gatsby’ end-of-the-world party. Then to Los Angeles, as in the George Pal movie. To Melbourne through aboriginal eyes – ramming home Wells’ colonial metaphor ever more nakedly. And a Peking that is not yet Beijing.

At over twice the length of its progenitor, Stephen Baxter’s ‘The Massacre Of Mankind’ is an immensely inventive, relentlessly innovative, consistently entertaining novel that never once fails to fulfil its remit. Written as a history of the Second Martian War, ending – as in the ‘Things To Come’ movie, with a new global federation based in Basra, Iraq, the reader is aware from the outset that the invader’s nefarious schemes will not succeed, and that the Deus ex Machina in some way involves the sigils branded into planetary surfaces. Yet the Martians are not entirely vanquished either. So, just as the original HG Wells ‘War Of The Worlds’ has a cliff-hanger ending, so does its sequel, emphasising as Wells does not, that invasion from Mars is more than interplanetary conflict, it’s an irreversible evolutionary watershed. Awareness of other life-forms within the solar system compels a fundamental shift in human perception. Nothing will literally ever be the same again. In our own continuum robotic probes crawl the arid Martian surface hunting microscopic inhabitants, or even fossil evidence that such microbial life may once have existed, seeking exactly that kind of knowing.