Friday 29 June 2018


(Peter Sarstedt, United Artists UP 2228) 

I look up from my book
and think, I am a cathedral,
I first heard those lines in 1968
been hung up by them ever since,
there’s a poem in there
if only I can tease it out…
now I’m here in ‘All Saints’
which smells faintly of mould
and decay, in Nafferton, e yorks
for Ava Rose’s family christening
and the lines drift back…
Peter Sarstedt, a swirl of Tijuana horns
as Arthur Lee on ‘Alone Again Or’,
never a hit, mostly forgotten, yet
still I’m chewing over those lines,
at base it’s ‘my body is a temple’
but no, it’s more than that,
turn it around, I am a mosque
I’m a synagogue, and it doesn’t work,
and what’s the book he’s reading?
has he already filched the lines
as I’m now taking them back?
sunlight streams in, irradiating
stained glass metaphors
for salvation, igniting the soul,
a body riddled with light, porous,
something close to spirituality,
which even non-believers can take
and atheist poets can steal…
this is not a cathedral
just a 13th-century lost village church
built on peasant sweat and muscle
striving beyond ancient wood beams
towards heaven beyond the sky,
a drone of sermon, Ava stirs,
I look up from my book,
yes, I am a cathedral…

Thursday 28 June 2018

Three Brothers: Eden Kane, Peter & Robin Sarstedt


 Unique in British Top Forty history, the three Sarstedt brothers 
 had three separate careers across three distinct and different 
 eras of Pop. Andrew Darlington traces the stories of 
Eden Kane, Peter Sarstedt and Robin Sarstedt

In the statistics of British Pop history, studied and analysed by chart academics, the Sarstedt clan are unique in one distinct aspect, they’re the only sibling trio to rack up separate solo hits independent of each other. There have been dynasties, Frank and Nancy Sinatra. John and Julian Lennon. While the Osmonds and the Jacksons – two brothers and a sister each with solo hits, come close to the Sarstedt achievement, as do the Gibbs – of whom Andy and Robin have hit as soloists while Barry has charted in partnership with Barbra Streisand. But no family has yet quite matched the Sarstedt record of three separate career arcs across different periods of Pop history.

It starts with Eden Kane, possibly the last of the sultry Pop teen-mag pin-ups to slip in under the wire, before the Beat Group Wave changed all the rules. He began life on 29 March 1942 as Richard Graham Sarstedt. Like Cliff Richard and Engelbert Humperdinck, he was born in India, where parents Albert and Coral were New Delhi civil servants. When Richard was a child, the family – including younger brothers Peter and Clive, plus their three sisters (Lorraine, Pam and June) – move to Kurseong, to run a Darjeeling tea plantation on the Himalayan foothills. He attends a boarding school until, with his father's death in March 1954, the family return to Britain. They settle in Norbury, Croydon, where young Richard attends Heath Clark Grammar School. Distracted from homework by the Bill Haley backbeat on the radio, like a thousand others, he learned guitar and formed the Fabulous Five, a skiffle-group with his brothers.

He supposedly appeared in a low-budget and now-lost film called ‘Drinks All Round’ (1960) – although I can find no trace of it, but fortuitously won a talent contest held at the Chelsea ‘Classic Cinema’ on the Kings Road, which resulted in him being signed by the contest adjudicators and management duo of Michael Barclay and Philip Waddilove – Simon Cowell-style. The product of careful planning, it’s said he adopted his stage-name from Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane’, well, perhaps, but there are obvious Biblical overtones intended to resonate too, after all – thrown out of Eden, Caine becomes the world’s first murderer.

The other contest prize was the opportunity to record a first record. Under the guise ‘Ricky Sears’ he wrote “Hot Chocolate Crazy” as a jingle – ‘man, she’s got it bad’, used to advertise a proprietary brand of Cadbury’s drinking chocolate, where it was heard on Radio Luxembourg almost as high-rotation as Horace Batchelor’s football pools commercial. But at a time when the BBC ruthlessly expunged all trace of advertising, long before product-placement became a vital part of funding, no brand-name could be seen or heard, excluded even from scenes in TV Soaps. As late as the Kinks “Lola” they had to rerecord the track – changing ‘Coca-Cola’ to ‘Cherry-Cola’, before Radio One would play it. During the less-innocent 1970s both the New Seekers and Bobby Goldsboro chart with cunningly re-drafted Cola adverts, while David Dundas hit no.3 in 1976 with a thinly-disguised Brutus “Jeans On” TV-ad. But meanwhile, denied air-time, even under the subterfuge as the ‘B’-side of August 1960 single “You Make Love So Well” (Pye Records), Eden Kane was pre-doomed not to chart. Yet it creates an awareness of his presence, sufficient to interest rival label, Decca.

Johnny Worth (alias Les Vandyke) had written “What Do You Want?” and “Poor Me” for Adam Faith almost two years earlier. Now, he came up with his third and final chart-topping song for another newcomer with a name taken from Genesis Chapter One! Produced by Bunny Lewis with a dancing-strings Johnny Keating arrangement, Eden’s Decca release “Well I Ask You” entered the ‘Record Retailer’ chart at no.33 (8 June 1961). For ‘New Musical Express’ it climbed to no.18 from no.27 (10 June). The listings published by rival papers rarely coincide, and frequently conflict. It climbed through 16, 15, 11, 5 and 2 before dethroning the Everly Brothers “Temptation” from the top slot for the single week of 3 August in ‘Record Mirror’ – two weeks for ‘NME’, before being replaced by Helen Shapiro’s “You Don’t Know”. It was propelled by what Phil Hardy and Dave Laing term ‘the hully-gully vein’, a combination of heavy beat and growl (‘The Encyclopedia Of Rock: Volume 1’, Panther, 1976). In the lyric his faithless lover wants to return, having learned her lesson, but ‘don’t think you’re getting away with it, you’re gonna pay me somehow’ he sneers, because ‘you cruelly wrecked my life’, now ‘get down on your knees and try, I won’t break till I see you cry.’ A tough-guy stance, contrasting the regular saccharine sweetness of contemporary Pop.

Never a hard Rocker, Eden’s swarthy photogenics and slicked-back quiff, with just a hint of Bad-Boy made him the ideal Teen Idol for the fan-mags and ‘Love-Story-In-Pictures’ romance-zines that regularly feature strip-tales ‘inspired’ by current hits. In that cosy contained very-English Pop world, Eden Kane was a gift for them, alongside Billy Fury and Cliff Richard who he’s now sharing tour-bills with… alongside Helen Shapiro. Larry Parne’s ‘The Big Star Show Of 1962’ saw Eden Kane in an immaculate white suit taking equal billing with John Leyton, Billy Fury and Karl Denver, with ‘Moody Guy’ Shane Fenton (he recorded Eden’s song “Fool’s Paradise” long before he became Alvin Stardust) and Joe Brown footing the bill – all for just 8s/6d, 6s/6d or cheap seats at 4s/4d.

The next single, “Get Lost”, follows that growl-soft template, all the way into the chart to a high of no.8 (‘NME’ 30 September). ‘We had a wining formula and we stuck with it’ Eden confides to Spencer Leigh (‘Record Collector’ 1988). The snarling go-away ‘Get Lost’ is the closest you could risk to ‘F**k Off’, although it gets immediately countered by the acceptable ‘but get lost in my arms’. ‘Do I gotta get a shotgun to make you name the day’ adds a further touch a soft menace. And he’s all over the radio and the TV Pop shows, from ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ to ‘Crackerjack’. A third Vandyke song “Forget Me Not” – ‘love’s a fire when the kisses go hot’, takes him through into 1962, and back up to no.3. Until “I Don’t Know Why” – with a talking verse, makes it a suite of hits, by reaching no.7. Unlike the ones that precede it, this is on oldie from 1931, which had been a big-seller for Frank Sinatra and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Perhaps Eden’s revival was prompted by a 1961 US no.12 version by Linda Scott? ‘The only time you hold me, is when we’re dancing’ makes for an odd line in the wake of the Twist fad which for the first time liberates dancers from actually touching! Whatever, it ends the Eden Kane chart run.

It could be argued that he was ill-served by his record labels. The debut album, ‘Eden Kane’ (Ace Of Clubs ACL 1133) issued on Decca’s mid-price subsidiary, is largely a hits-so-far compilation, with ‘B’-sides such as Vandyke’s “Music For Strings” (and its c/w “I Don’t Know Why”), “Kiss Me Quick”, “I Told You’ and “A New Kind of Lovin’” under Kane’s ‘Ricky Sears’ aka, with “My Girl Sue” and “I’m Telling You” – written under the guise of his first names ‘R Graham’. 

His second long-player – ‘It’s Eden’ (Fontana TL5211), boasts Les Reed arrangements, but is an unwieldy mix of standards – “Gonna Send You Back To Georgia” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” with current hit covers “On Broadway” and “I (Who Have Nothing)” plus a touch of Motown with “Shoppin’ Around”. There were also a couple of EP Extended Play packages, ‘Well I Ask You’ (Decca DFE 6696) which is the hit plus its ‘B’-side “Before I Lose My Mind”, alongside “Get Lost” and its flip “I’m Telling You”. A second EP – ‘Hits’ (Decca DFE 8503), with Tony Barrow liner notes, simply gathers the four chart hits. But such treatment was largely the format imposed on Pop Stars by label managements who neither understood or greatly valued their ‘artists’.

Inexplicably Les Vandyke’s “House To Let” – ‘houseful of misery, houseful of pain’, replete with all his characteristic touches, and “Sounds Funny To Me” fail to register, leading to financial problems, and a change of label. “Like I Love You” became his debut single for Fontana in 1963 – accompanied by Earl Preston And The TTs, by which time seismic changes have taken place. The Merseybeat deluge had shaken Pop to its core. Yet Johnny Kidd & The Pirates had made a major chart-return under the Beat Group flag of convenience, Adam Faith acquired the Roulettes and a new run of hits, Billy Fury fronted the guitar figure on “Do You Really Love Me Too (Fool’s Errand)”, while even Cliff Richard concedes in a half-spoof way ‘you can dance, Twist and Shout’ on his “On The Beach”.

  The guitar spine of “Boys Cry” brings it into line with the Mersey boom, and as it brought him back into the charts for a one-off return – entering at no.26 (‘NME’ 15 February 1964), and climbing to no.8 (14 March). By now he was sharing a chart with the Rolling Stones, the Hollies and the Dave Clark Five. A brief renewed visibility that leads to new TV slots, and a major tour with Roy Orbison, Del Shannon and the Searchers that takes him as far as Australia. Then, with no more hits here, he continues to be popular in Australia – where “Boys Cry” was no.1, and then relocates to work in the California music industry. He married Charlene, sister of movie star Stefanie ‘Hart To Hart’ Powers.

Music changes. And seven-and-a-half years later – in 1969 younger brother Peter (Eardley Sarstedt, born 10 December 1941) is making new waves in the singer-songwriter genre. He’d played back-up bass on Eden Kane shows, and briefly masqueraded as Peter Lincoln for a Major-Minor single “In The Day Of My Youth” c/w “My Monkey Is A Junkie” in 1967. But it was his debut single for United Artists that made me first take note.

“I Am A Cathedral” is a strongly enigmatic song, vaguely in the Donovan vein. But “Where Do You Go To, My Lovely?” is the song of a lifetime, where all the elements come most perfectly together. With its French café-flavoured sway and catchy vocal hook it’s a movie or a Harold Robbins blockbuster novel about a poor little rich girl with a secret history all the way from the ‘back streets of Naples’. As with Bobby Gentry’s haunting “Ode To Billie Joe” there’s internal dialogue and hanging questions that hint at a wealth of more. There are product brand-names used as social-status signifiers in a way that was ahead of its time – even her name, Marie-Claire, is a glossy fashion-magazine, and there’s what passes for the risqué nudge-nudge humour of her ‘cleverly-designed topless swimsuit’ that gives ‘an even suntan, on your back and on your legs’. Clear through to the poignant closing verse where the two kids who have ‘shaken off their lowly-born tags’ recognize each other, and part for the last time.

The single entered the ‘New Musical Express’ chart at no.20 (8 February 1969), and climbed through no.9, and no.2 to occupy the top slot for four weeks from 1 March, before being nudged aside by Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”. “Where Do You Go To My Lovely” remains high-profile on nostalgia radio and a staple of those Fabulous 1960s CD hits compilations.

It was followed by “Frozen Orange Juice”, a playful summer record, at a time when ‘the sunny hills of Madrid’ were still considered as romantically exotic as Marrakesh would be. In the same way that Eden Kane was never a Rocker, Peter Sarstedt was never a bona fide hippie, his penchant for wide ties contrasts his luxurious Zapata moustache. Yet the record caught the mood of the time to perfection. Then there was “Take Off Your Clothes”. Where Radio One could just about live with a ‘cleverly-designed topless swimsuit’ they threw up their hands in horror at his lascivious tongue-in-cheek ‘my daddy is a priest, you know, and I am not a beast, you know’, such an invitation to immodesty – ‘stand as naked as nature intended’, deemed as sinful as advertising ‘Hot Chocolate’ on its pristine airways. Dooming a delightful single to chart failure. For Peter, there was to be no second bite of the Pop cherry, although his three albums from the period have considerable singer-songwriter merit.

In the seventies, Eden Kane re-emerged with brothers, Clive and Peter, as the Sarstedt Brothers, recreating the line-up of their skiffle group, the Fabulous Five, featuring tea-chest bass-player Peter’s “All Together Now” recalling those early days! For the album ‘Worlds Apart Together’ (1972) Bowie-producer Tony Visconti assembled a constellation of star session players, including his wife modestly appearing as Mary ‘Opkins. ‘We were singing about our lives and our beginnings in the business’ Eden explained, while the brothers promote the album with a joint concert at the Croydon Fairfield Halls.

For Eden Kane there were still occasional Golden Oldie and ‘Solid Gold Rock ‘n’ Roll’ tours with Marty Wilde, Mark Wynter, John Leyton and others. And even more bizarrely he resumed his acting career, with appearances in the ‘Star Trek’ franchise series ‘The Next Generation’, ‘Deep Space Nine’ (as a Cardassian) and ‘Voyager’, as well as uncredited roles in four movies ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’ (1991) as a Romulan, ‘Generations’ (1994), ‘First Contact’ (1996) and ‘Insurrection’ (1998).

While again, music changes. In one era, and out the other. 1976 is a shallow period at the end of Glam, dominated by Disco, and the lounge lizard posturing that had already become Bryan Ferry’s arch pose, with revivals of 1930s Jazz standard “You Go To My Head”. In October 1974 Australian Gary Shearston took Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out Of You” – complete with its ‘some get a kick from cocaine, I’m sure that if I took just one more sniff, that would bore me terrifically too,’ up to no.7. Surely there was no greater stylist than Hoagy Carmichael? So the third Sarstedt brother Clive – who’d once recorded for Joe Meek as ‘Wes Sands’, adopted his middle name Robin Sarstedt for recording purposes. And his smooth rendition of Carmichael’s “My Resistance Is Low” enters the ‘NME’ chart at no.21 (15 May 1976), climbing to no.11, then a high of no.3 (29 May) – where it stays for three weeks. He performs it on ‘Top Of The Pops’ as Pan’s People flounce in flimsy gowns. There were to be no further hits, but this achievement enabled the Sarstedt clan to become the only trio of brothers in British chart history to rack up separate solo hits.


1960 – ‘You Make Love So Well’ c/w ‘Hot Chocolate Crazy’ (Pye 7N 15284)

1 June 1961 – ‘Well I Ask You’ c/w ‘Before I Lose My Mind’ (Decca F 11353) no.1 for the single week of 3 August, 21 weeks on chart

14 September 1961 – ‘Get Lost’ c/w ‘I’m Telling You’ (Decca F 11381) no.10, 11 weeks

1961 – ‘Well I Ask You’ EP (Decca DFE 6696) with ‘Get Lost’, ‘I’m Telling You’, ‘Well I Ask You’, ‘Before I Lose My Mind’

18 January 1962 – ‘Forget Me Not’ c/w ‘A New Kind Of Lovin’’ (Decca F 11418) no.3, 14 weeks

10 May 1962 – ‘I Don’t Know Why’ c/w ‘Music For Strings’ (Decca F 11460) no.7, 13 weeks

1962 – ‘Eden Kane: Hits’ EP (Decca DFE 8503) with ‘Well I Ask You’, ‘Get Lost’, ‘Forget Me Not’, ‘I Don’t Know Why’

1962 – ‘House To Let’ c/w ‘I Told You’ (Decca F 11504)

1962 – ‘Eden Kane’ LP (Ace Of Clubs ACL 1133) with ‘House To Let’, ‘Kiss Me Quick’, ‘Well I Ask You’, ‘Before I Lose My Mind’, ‘I’m Telling You’, ‘Music For Strings’, ‘Forget Me Not’, ‘My Little Sue’, ‘Get Lost’, ‘I Told You’, ‘A New Kind Of Lovin’’, ‘I Don’t Know Why’

1963 – ‘Sounds Funny To Me’ c/w ‘Someone Wants To Know’ (Decca F 11568)

1963 – ‘Tomorrow Night’ (Geoff Stephens, Les Reed) c/w ‘I Won’t Believe Them’ (R Graham) (Fontana TF 398)

1963 – ‘Like I Love You’ (R Graham) c/w ‘Come Back’ (Fontana TF 413) with Earl Preston And The TTs

10 May 1964 – ‘Boys Cry’ c/w ‘Don’t Come Crying To Me’ (Fontana TF 438) no.8, 14 weeks

1964 – ‘Rain Rain Go Away’ (Les Reed, Tommy Scott) c/w ‘Guess Who It Is’ (Fontana TF 462)

1964 – ‘It’s Eden’ LP (Fontana TL 5211) with ‘Gonna Send You Back To Georgia’, ‘I Know A Man’, ‘Sticks And Stones’, ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’, ‘Shoppin’ Around’, ‘Rain Rain Go Away’, ‘I (Who Have Nothing)’, ‘On Broadway’, ‘I Should Care’, ‘Charade’, ‘Guess Who It Is’, ‘The Last Leaf’

1964 – ‘Hangin’ Around’ c/w ‘Gonna Do Something About You’ (Fontana TF 508)

1965 – ‘If You Want This Love’ c/w ‘Have I Done Something Wrong?’ (Fontana TF 582)

1966 – ‘Magic Town’ c/w ‘The Whole World Was Crying’ (Decca F 12342)


1967 – ‘In The Day Of My Youth’ c/w ‘My Monkey Is A Junkie’ (Major-Minor) as by ‘Peter Lincoln’

January 1968 – ‘I Must Go On’ c/w ‘Mary Jane’ (Island WIP 6028)

September 1968 – ‘I Am A Cathedral’ c/w ‘Blagged’ (United Artists UP 2228) arranger Ian Green, producer Ray Singer

5 February 1969 – ‘Where Do You Go To, My Lovely’ c/w ‘Morning Mountain’ (United Artists UP 2262) no.1 for four weeks from 26 February, 16 weeks on chart

1969 – ‘Peter Sarstedt’ LP (United Artists SULP 1219) with ‘I Am A Cathedral’, ‘Sons Of Cain Are Abel’, ‘No More Lollipops’, ‘Stay Within Myself’, ‘You Are My Life’, ‘Sayonara’, ‘Where Do You Go To, My Lovely’, ‘Blagged’, ‘My Daddy Is A Millionaire’, ‘Once Upon An Everyday’, ‘Mary Jane’, ‘Time Was Leading Us Home’, ‘Many Coloured Semi-Precious Easter Eggs’, ‘Time Love Hope Life’

4 June 1969 – ‘Frozen Orange Juice’ c/w ‘Aretusa Loser’ (United Artists UP 35021) no.10, 9 weeks

1969 – ‘As Though It Were A Movie’ c/w ‘Take Off Your Clothes’ (United Artists UP 35041)

1969 – ‘As Though It Were A Movie’ LP (United Artists UAS 29037) with ‘Overture’, ‘As Though It Were A Movie’, ‘Open A Tin’, ‘Step Into The Candlelight’, ‘Take Off Your Clothes’, ‘Letter To A Friend And Intermission’, ‘Overture’, ‘Boulevard’, ‘The Sunshine Is Expensive’, ‘The Artist’, ‘The Friendship Song (Hey Nena)’, ‘Juan’, ‘I’m A Good Boy’, ‘The National Anthem X Doors Close At 10:45pm’

1970 – ‘Without Darkness (There’s No Light)’ c/w ‘Step Into The Candlelight’ (United Artists UP 35075)

1971 – ‘Every Word You Say Is Written Down’ LP (United Artists UAS 29247) with ‘Every Word You Say’, ‘Down On The Flesh’, ‘You’re A Lady’, ‘Lay Down My Alibi’, ‘Let The Music Flow’, ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Nexus’, ‘Mind Of Man’, ‘What Makes One Man Feel’, ‘Slow’, ‘Stand Outside Ourselves’, ‘Politics Is Showbusiness’, ‘Rain’, musicians include BJ Cole (steel guitar), Clive Sarstedt (slide guitar), Max Middleton (piano), Cozy Powell (drums)

May 1972 – ‘Every Word You Say’ c/w ‘What Makes One Man Feel’ (United Artists UP 35369) produced by Vic Smith, Clive and Peter Sarstedt

Peter Sarstedt died 8 January 2017 


1973 – ‘Worlds Apart Together’ LP (Regal Zonophone SRZA 8516) with ‘A Way Leading Out’, ‘Kurseong’, ‘Mohammedan Girl’, ‘Here We Are In London Town’, ‘All Together Now’, ‘The Genuine Romanoff’, ‘You’re Just An Image’, ‘Searching For The Truth – Love Love Love’, ‘Sea Wall’, ‘Glory Glory’, ‘Catch The Next Train’, ‘World Apart Together’ with Eden Kane, Peter and Clive Sarstedt, produced by Tony Visconti with Dave Mattacks (drums), Roy Babbington (bass), Danny Thompson (double bass), Ray Cooper (percussion), Blue Weaver (piano), Mary ‘Opkins


1963 – ‘There’s Lots More Where This Came From’ (Hal David, P Hampton) c/w ‘Three Cups’ (Meek) (Columbia DB 4996) As ‘Wes Sands’, produced by Joe Meek

1969 – ‘Lo Mucho Que Te Quiero (The More I Love You)’ c/w ‘Picture On The Wall’ (SNB/ CBS 3965) as ‘Clive Sands’

March 1969 – ‘Hooked On A Feeling’ c/w ‘Marie’ (Clive Sands) (SNB 55-4058) as ‘Clive Sands’

July 1969 – ‘Witchi Tai To’ c/w ‘In A Dream’ (C Sarstedt) (SNB 55-4431) as ‘Clive Sands’

December 1969 – ‘A Very Lonely Man’ c/w ‘You Made Me What I Am’ (Clive Sands) (CBS 4672) as ‘Clive Sands’

8 May 1976 – ‘My Resistance Is Low’ c/w ‘Love While The Music Plays’ (Decca F 13624) no.3, 9 weeks. Arranger Ian Green, producer Ray Singer

1976 – ‘Let’s Fall In Love’ c/w ‘So Long Lonely Nights’ (Decca F 13662)

November 1976 –‘Sitting In Limbo’ c/w ‘Love Is All I Need’ (Decca F 13677)

1977 – ‘Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello’ c/w ‘All Said And Done’ (Decca F 13705)

1978 – ‘Something For The Weekend’ LP (Decca TXS 130) with ‘My Resistance Is Low’, ‘Something’s Goin’ On’, ‘Written On The Wind’, ‘Down The Disco’, ‘Manhattan’, ‘Slip Away’, ‘Keepin’ My Head Above Water’, ‘French Waltz’, ‘Sitting In Limbo’, ‘Blackjack’, ‘Jewellery Store’, ‘Let’s Fall In Love’


1997 – ‘Asia Minor’ LP (Disky BX 880242) with ‘Dream Pilot’, ‘Teradactyl Walk’, ‘Glider’, ‘India’, ‘The River’, ‘Corigador’, ‘Vaguely Connected’

Wednesday 27 June 2018



 Book Review of: 
(2010, ISBN 9-781442-110274, 223pp)

‘Australia does not exist, until we actually get there.’

When Charles Platt visited Philip K Dick in his plain, modest apartment in Santa Ana in May 1979, he was anticipating a straight interview on the practicalities of the craft of Science Fiction, similar to the profiles he’d done with EC Tubb or Brian Aldiss. But instead found himself subjected to a strangely unsettling inquisition questioning the very nature of existential reality.

An earlier Science Fiction writer, L Ron Hubbard, briefly died in order to experience spiritual enlightenment that prompted him to set up Dianetics and the Church of Scientology. Dick’s insights were too personal and individual to ever be codified in that way. Yet, if certain writers tend to embody the spirit of the age, as Arthur C Clarke did for the optimism of the Apollo programme or JG Ballard did for the rusting factories of post-industrialism, them Dick most perfectly inhabits our era of Fake News. Where nothing is real, and everything is open to relativistic interpretation. If news can not only be contrived, but invented, then it calls into question the bias shaping our every preconceived certainty. For each of the major stories defining our age, from 9/11 to JFK to the Moon Landings, there are counterfactual views offering various covert alternatives. What is real becomes porous all the way from the behaviour of sub-atomic particles to the extravagances of theoretical cosmology.

Philip K Dick with Tessa B Dick
Tessa B Dick is Phil’s fourth or fifth wife, depending on whether you include his first marriage to Jeanette Marlin, which lasted a few teenage months (May to November 1948) and which he didn’t count. Which makes Kleo Apostolides (from June 1950 to 1959) his first – or second wife. Second, or maybe third wife Anne Williams Rubinstein – from April 1959 to October 1965, had him confined to a mental institution and wanted him to quit writing altogether, although ‘he needed to write the same way that he needed to breathe.’ Next wife Nancy Hackett (July 1966 to 1972), left him for a neighbour who happened to be a Black Panther militant. Leslie Tessa Busby, as she then was, met Phil – he didn’t like being called ‘Philip’, at a Santa Ana beach party at a date which was probably 3 July 1972 – she was eighteen, he was forty-two. Married in April 1973 they lived in a kind of hand-to-mouth romantic bohemian poverty. He always wrote on a manual typewriter – anything faster ‘would make it too easy to write a lot of garbage instead of taking the time to write something short and good.’ Yet he wrote, a lot. 

Among the loops, repetitions and recurring themes to her book is the afternoon of 17 November 1971 when Dick’s San Rafael apartment was ‘hit’ and burglarised. At the time, it was being used as a kind of crash-pad party-house by all manner of drop-outs and ‘insect-eyed’ weirdo’s, ‘people would come and visit, drink and take drugs, eat Phil’s food and fall asleep on the couch and the floor. Some of those people he knew, and others he did not’ (says Tessa), useful source material from where he lifted ideas about the ongoing War on Drugs. The incident was later modified into ‘A Scanner Darkly’ (1977), a novel for which she was with him ‘throughout the process of writing editing and proofreading,’ but not for the break-in itself. 

Philip Kindred Dick was working in a record store when Anthony ‘Tony’ Boucher originally accepted his story “Roog” – told from a dog’s point of view, which became Phil’s first professional sale, but the second to be published (‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And SF’, February 1953). His second story to be sold, but the first to be published was “Beyond Lies The Wub” in ‘Planet Stories’ (July 1952), which asks whether the crew should talk to, or eat the pig-like Martian creature. They end up doing both! As early as 1960, Kingsley Amis was commending his “The Defenders” (‘Galaxy SF’, January 1953) – in ‘New Maps Of Hell’, which neatly pre-inverts the ‘Matrix’ future as wise robotic systems supposedly fighting a war of attrition have called off hostilities, leaving their human creators safely sealed up in their subterranean fall-out bunkers. In “The Impossible Planet” (‘Imagination’, October 1953) starship Captain Andrews assumes he’s conning ancient Irma Vincent Gordon and her robant (loyal robot servant) by taking her to a ruined world he assures her is mythical lost Earth, only to discover a US dollar coin embedded in its salt ash surface, indicating that yes, this is the forgotten racial home-world after all. 

Immediately noted as a versatile and prolific new talent, the ‘awareness of reality’ theme soon emerged as a distinctive trait. Brian Aldiss notes that ‘the many novels of Philip K Dick have sometimes been seen as one long novel, because he is haunted by the same theme, the tenuous and debatable nature of ‘reality’’ (in notes to ‘Space Odysseys’, 1974). Debut ‘Solar Lottery’ – where future politics is run along game-show lines, was published as one half of a 1955 Ace Double, bound in with Leigh Brackett’s ‘The Big Jump’. ‘The Man Who Japed’ (with EC Tubb’s ‘The Space-Born’, 1956) followed, with its puritanical Moral Reclamation regime, and then the Fedgov post-apocalypse dystopia of ‘The World Jones Made’ (with Margaret St Clair’s ‘Agent Of The Unknown’, 1956), with the pre-cog Jones who can see one year ahead of time. Serialised across three issues of ‘New Worlds’, the protagonist of ‘Time Out Of Joint’ (1959), Ragle Gumm, gradually realises he’s living in a fabricated 1950s Wyoming within an Earth-Luna 1998 war.

Brian Lewis artwork for 'New Worlds' February 1960

With ‘The Man In The High Castle’ (1962) he was breaking on through into award-winning classic status, and ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep’ (1968) took Dick beyond cult into legend with its ‘Blade Runner’ movie adaptations. Although, as Tessa points out, he never survived to see the success of the movies based on his stories, even Ridley Scott’s iconic ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) proved a slow-burner, gradually accumulating momentum through the VHS-video and DVD long-tail, a technology from which he contractually received no royalties. 

Yet almost by default he found himself absorbed into the extended SF community. Tessa provides neat pen-sketches of Harlan Ellison ranting at his audience, Harry Harrison – ‘an ordinary man with a touch of genius,’ Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon and others who she knew only as Phil’s friends. Ray Bradbury reads a very long, very bad poem instead of his banquet speech, ‘but he was such a nice man and distinguished author that everybody listened to it.’ While Phil was so in awe of Robert A Heinlein that he feigns illness to avoid meeting him at a Nebula Awards ceremony, afraid of repercussions from some off-the-cuff criticism he’d made about Heinlein’s radical right-wing politics on KPFK-FM radio. After Phil’s death Tessa got to visit the Heinlein’s fortified octagonal Half Moon Bay bunker-house, which more-or-less confirms the rumours Phil was repeating. Although Heinlein himself was also a benefactor, to the extent of loaning $2000 when Dick fell into problems paying his income tax. 

Harlan Ellison bragged that Dick’s ‘Dangerous Visions’ (1967) story “Faith Of Our Fathers” was written on LSD – which is typical Ellisonian attention-grabbing hyberbole, and untrue. ‘The fact of the matter is that I took it (LSD) two times, and the second time, it was so weak a dose, it may not even have been acid’ he explains to Charles Platt in the excellent ‘Who Writes Science Fiction?’ (Savoy, 1980). ‘The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch’ (1965) is Dick’s ‘classic acid-head novel’ even though ‘all I had to go on when I wrote it was an article by Aldous Huxley about LSD.’ Dick did speak to LSD-guru Timothy Leary, who advocated lysergic acid as a chemical tool way of expanding the conscious mind. Following Leary’s demonization by the authorities, Dick suspected he was targeted by surveillance as a result of their brief connection. 

The systematic derangement of the senses has long been seen as a valid strategy for liberating the subconscious, jolting free conventional thought-paths into new configurations. For example, there’s a common misconception that a blind person gains additional awareness through other senses. Yet it’s more that, as we grow, we accumulate certain learned techniques that have successfully seen the species through a million years of growth. But deprived of certain sensory inputs there’s a potential to rediscover over perceptual avenues. Brain-scrambling narcotics can help open those temporarily by-passed options. But the LSD experience is intensely personal, and the visions it vouchsafes can have no objective verification. While the one occasion Dick smoked dope at home, he conceals it from his wife by hiding in the john. 

Both Tessa and Phil harboured unresolved issues from dysfunctional childhoods. He already had suspicions that nothing is quite as it seems, although – as she asserts, ‘his tendency to experience wide mood swing had nothing to do with drugs,’ and that ‘I believe he had always experienced our solid world as plastic and illusory.’ He studied Manichaeism, Gnosticism, the I Ching, Zoroastrianism and Mithraism, as well as the Bible in a quest for occult and arcane explanations. But 22 March 1974 is the date of his first genuine flip-out vision. A month earlier he had an anticipatory hallucinogenic ‘anamnesis’ vision via Percodan – a synthetic codeine substitute, given as a sedative following oral surgery for an abscessed wisdom tooth. But it’s in March that ‘Firebright’ descends and enters his skull – ‘not so much a sentient entity as a conduit’ to other levels of awareness beyond what he terms life’s ‘Black Iron Prison’. As Ragle Gumm articulates, ‘I think we’re living in some other world than what we se, and I think for a while I knew exactly what that other world is… I almost got over the edge and saw things the way they are. Not the way they’ve been arranged to look, for our benefit.’ 

To Dick, a Schubert symphony communicates a hidden code. The couple’s dead cat ‘Pinky’ visits in the guise of Kellogg’s cartoon ‘Tony The Tiger’. There’s electronic spy-scan equipment in the next-door apartment monitoring and interfering with his mind. He hallucinates ancient Rome behind the architecture of LA. ‘Phil held two beliefs at the same time. First, human agents had brainwashed him. Second, demons had attacked him. They were not mutually exclusive.’ Tessa strives to understand, but is unable to see the things that he sees. She clinically and dutifully recalls details of his visions, so meticulously that there’s little trace of personal warmth about their actual relationship, or a sense of their day-to-day domesticity. When it came to 1950s gender roles, Dick conforms strictly to stereotype, she does the housework and cooking, while he never even changes a diaper for their infant son, Christopher. He snorts ‘Dean Swift Snuff’ which – because he mentions it in a couple of novels, they send him discount.

Philip K Dick TV-adaptation from 1962
 There’s no description of what drew her to this man in the first place, this ‘dignified, thoughtful, slightly portly figure, with black hair, greying beard, and an informal but distinguished presence’ (Platt), other than – maybe, two damaged souls finding mutual solace in each other? Was she muse to his creativity – she’s the model for the character Beth in ‘VALIS’ (1981) – which ‘insults me’, and the mother of Emmanuel in his final novel ‘The Transmigration Of Timothy Archer’ (1982) –which ‘flatters me’? Was he tutor for her own writing, or surrogate father? Was there interdependence, humour and loving tenderness as well as trauma? If so, she instead documents her recollections in as matter-of-fact a way as is possible, given the disruptive nature of their time together. There was a subsequent misunderstanding and separation, but they remained connected. He talked of two further planned novels to be titled ‘The Owl In Daylight’ and ‘Firebright’, which never happened, due to his death from stroke complications 2 March 1982, in Santa Ana. Tessa subsequently wrote her own ‘The Owl In Daylight’ (January 2009) partially based on his notes. 

Phil had ‘a diagnosis for every occasion, but none of them actually fit him.’ He himself ‘wrote thousands of pages about it, but he never found a satisfying solution to the puzzle of his visionary experiences of 1974 (part-published in 2011 as ‘The Exegesis Of Philip K Dick’ by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).’ Yet this troubled spirit created some of the most startlingly prescient fiction the genre has ever produced. His ideas resonate through the culture of the twenty-first century that he never got to see. 

When Dick tells a bemused Charles Platt that ‘Australia does not exist, until we actually get there’ he’s probably making playful use of Kantian spectacles, the idea that humans mediate ‘the thing itself’ – ‘Ding an sich’, by overlaying it with what we know. We create what we see, by the very act of perception. Or maybe not. 

This is the third, revised and expanded edition of ‘Firebright’. For Tessa, ‘after about (more) than thirty-five years, I’ve finally put together some of the pieces of a puzzle that I once thought insoluble.’ Yet, ‘in the final analysis, Philip K Dick was unique and indefinable...’

Monday 25 June 2018



 Book Review of: 
edited by DAN COXON 
(June 2018, ISSN 2515-7590, 202pp) 

The iconic ‘Pan Book Of Horror’ paperback series launched modestly in 1959 curated by Herbert Van Thal, it offered a fiendish cauldron of classic tales stirred in with tyro untried writers. Accused of down-market bad taste and vilified as garishly nasty, it nevertheless nurtured and fed the gory thrill-hungry appetites of a misfit generation. It survived for thirty editions, before finally winding down in 1989. Yet it’s legacy lingers on like a noxious aroma, suggesting further possibilities of otherness.

Until now – as Dan Coxon explains, there’s ‘The Shadow Booth’, ‘a bi-annual journal of weird and eerie fiction I’m editing, published as a mass market paperback with a nod to the old ‘Pan Books Of Horror’.’ The concept of this beautifully-produced pocketbook is that the ‘Shadow Booth’ itself offers an outré portal into a Twilight Zone located just around the dogleg of your subconscious, a step off the path into a parallel realm of weirdness. ‘Enter the Shadow Booth, and you will never be the same again.’ The first volume included fiction by Paul Tremblay, Malcolm Devlin, Sarah Read, Timothy Jarvis and others. And already its momentum accelerates…!

The voyage into unfamiliar strangeness is one of the earliest human story-telling devices, all the way back to Homer. Gareth E Rees innovatively utilizes climate-change oddness to infiltrate renewed dimensions of the unknown in “We Are The Disease”, as his Research Vessel ‘Salvo’ investigates mutant spores and microbial biochanges released by the melting icecap of ‘a planet in awful transformation.’ And elsewhere, subaquatics form a meme that deep-ripples through other tales. ‘The water wants to drown us’ protests George Sandison in “Keel”, ‘it’s all it knows.’ Caught in the lure of past times, haunting yesterdays that submerge beneath the former festival site lakeside. While the mismatched duo in Dan Grace’s “Waves” are also camping, on Jura this time, to encounter a creature that’s not quite a bird. ‘Life and art feed off each other’ in postmodern awareness, ‘we’re copying the movies, but then they’re copying us copying them,’ into a place where memory becomes ‘the Tardis of my skull.’ Then Chikodili Emelumadu details the problems and etiquette of interspecies relationships with aquatic life-forms.

Already the mainstream contemporary edge and character depth goes places those dusty old Pan writers never suspected. Into the unsettling trauma of never-born children, the Halloween anniversary of a stillborn son, from Mark Morris in “Buddy”, as children slip by like a shoal of fish, and assume the Mer-horror costume-guise of ‘sharp teeth and mean faces and hair like octopus legs.’ Or the terrible memories of an absent father blurred by merciful amnesia, in Giovanna Repetto’s “My Father’s Face”, translated by Amanda Blee. There’s also a surreal continuum about Kirsty Logan’s “Good Good Good, Nice Nice Nice”, a step sideways from anything as unsubtle as visceral shock, where post-war mutant shark-children are hatched from net-cage pods, with all the tenderness of a maternal lullaby. And the deceptive normality of Aliya Whiteley’s “Ear To Ear” about the butcher’s daughter persuaded to wear floral hats in order to disguise the hole that runs through her head, temple to temple. Then the elegant poised prose of two slipstream tales from Anna Vaught, a haunted old house in the sleepy French village that is ‘a living breathing organism’ thronged with a company of ghosts (“Feasting; Fasting”), and the mesmerizing sorcery of the strange cold street in the beguiling “Cave Venus Et Stellas”.

Ralph Robert Moore’s “Monkeys On The Beach” documents the most disaster-prone of Caribbean family-bonding holidays, while Johnny Mains’ stunning “The Joanne” returns to the voyage into unfamiliar strangeness theme beneath a double-sun, nudging Samuel Taylor Coleridge through a space-time anomaly, combining elements of the surreal with epic nautical adventure and downright eldritch ‘Weird Tales’ fantasia. Interestingly enough, there’s another continuity loop at work here, for Johnny wrote an introduction to a ‘Pan Book Of Horror’ relaunch edition published in 2010. But on this evidence, let’s just ensure that ‘The Shadow Booth’ continues as long as its illustrious predecessor.

Friday 8 June 2018

Book Review: 'NIGHT LIGHT' edited by Trevor Denyer


Book Review of: 
edited by TREVOR DENYER 
(Midnight Street Press, May 2018, ISBN-9781980699651, 264pp) 

Darkness has a spectrum of colours. Since, say – Stephen King took the horror genre overground, it has diversified into all manner of unexpected contortions. This is a book in point. There’s horror here, and each page is dripping in darkness. But it’s more than just that. Stephen Laws opening story “The Greek Widow” is a pursuit thriller with a shock dénouement, totally unexpected despite all of the clues and hints artfully strewn in advance. Tracking down the six Pygmet brothers, a dwarf acrobat team who once appeared on ‘The Billy Cotton Band Show’, ‘The Good Old Days’ and the ‘London Palladium Royal Command Performance’… lurking just around the corner of our collective memory. Tony Richards “Shadow Town” comes in from another angle entirely, seemingly by taking the pre-existing ‘Underworld’ movie mythology of an eternal war between vampires and were-beasts, but giving it new Nazi twists in a downbeat atmospheric cleverly-contrived post-war setting – Rita Hayworth divorcing Orson Welles is in the news, to where a new supernatural alliance is set to reshape the future in ways we almost recognise from today’s telecasts.

Just as David Turnbull’s “Scaffold With Green Tarpaulin” uses kitchen-sink 1950s settings and tele-jingles to suggest the origins of today’s rampant consumerism. Until Rhys Hughes “The Ostracons Of Inclusion” takes it off the scale entirely, into a series of magical realist vignettes of immaculate strangeness. Not even generic Horror any more, but taking skewed literary structures into new definitions, word games that juggle off the edge of space-time into spacey timelessness. Allen Ashley’s “Under” constructs another parallel troglodyte mythology that fundamentally shifts concepts of reality.

Simon Clark never writes the same tale twice. He knows his way around the destabilising concepts that unsettle the genre. This time round he mines his love of Rock music and recording technology to activate “240 Volts Past Midnight”, as scratchy as big spools of turning demo-tape. Mat Joiner adds “Other Voices”, a viral earworm tune that was ‘all the bedtime songs your mother had never crooned to you, the fairy tales you’d wanted to hear but never had,’ mixing it with the phonoghasts who feed on music. Andrew Hook’s “Shipwrecked In The Heart Of The City” is as beautifully tragic as a stillborn child. Terry Grimwood’s “He Didn’t Want To Go Home That Night” takes minutely observed ordinariness into a purely psychotic nightmare, while Ralph Robert Moore ignites a ‘Hunger Games’ variant into original terrain with “How I Beat The System”.

It’s impossible to comment on every story here, and it would be unethical to mention my own alien-monster First World War Sci-Fi grotesquery… so I won’t. But instead there’s the heart-shredding poignancy of Jiya, Susan York’s first-ever published tale, about the abused exploited “Little Lighter Girl” of Mumbai, Maria VA Johnson and Yvonne Chamberlain’s quicksilver poems, Robert D Richards triggering school-shooting aftermath trauma, Alexander Zelenyj’s psycho-brother versus demon-possessed Julie in “Sister-Biter”, Stephen Faulkner’s dazzling phantom phase-shifting “The Thinned Veil” ‘in random patterns of wonder and perplexity’, Gary Couzens, Ian Steadman’s taxidermy, and much more. 

The Midnight Street Press, energetically curated by Trevor Denyer through various but always valuable incarnations, is the premier Indie publisher taking darkness through new spectrums of colour.