Tuesday 30 July 2019



Notre Dame burns, Trump builds a shining wall
I write a poem
Twin Towers fall,
a terrorist bomb takes Manchester Arena
I write a poem
my head takes me on horror-trips
to places I never want to go
I write a poem
my brother dies and I’m haunted by guilt
the pain of things I didn’t do
I write a poem
the global population exceeds 7-billion
the Higgs Boson ignites,
the Endeavour Rover glitches on Mars
I write a poem
the white rhino goes functionally extinct,
my laptop crashes and loses my poems
I write new poems
right-wing anti-migrant parties
make electoral gains across Europe,
Brexit erodes sanity
I write a poem,
for everything we lose
at least we have poems,
while we have poems
we have hope

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Monday 29 July 2019



 My original overview of Michael Moorcock’s 
 ‘Dancers At The End Of Time’ stories 
 as it appeared in ‘Vector’ May 1978… 
only slightly tweaked

On their first meeting Brian Aldiss perceived that the seventeen-year-old Michael Moorcock ‘assumed dandified airs, as much to amuse himself’ as for the benefit of others (in ‘The Shape Of Further Things’, Corgi). This assumption of airs has since become a familiar component of the Moorcock persona, but has never seemed as dandified as it appears in his story-cycle, ‘The Dancers At The End Of Time’. The Dancers are ‘a people possessing limitless power and using it for nothing but their own amusement, like gods at play’ (from “Pale Roses”). The cycle is an affectation of vast invention, a series of largely dilettante poses and skilful sophistry, an absurd comic extravaganza set amid, and eventually beyond the ultimate decadence of world’s end.

If Moorcock’s fantasia can be interpreted in autobiographical terms then this mid-phase of his writing reflects a sense of wellbeing, a mellowing, and a maturity that nevertheless provides just as distinctive a set of motifs as the brittle frustrations and violence that surfaced through the dark malevolence of the Elric stories and the other early tales. And as if to counter the implied superficiality of the Aldiss observation he has one character quip that ‘it is sometimes the case that the greater the extravagant outer show the greater has been the plunge by the showman into the depths of his own private conscience; consequently the greater the effort to hide the fact’ (also from “Pale Roses”). In keeping with this credo ‘The Dancers At The End Of Time’ is a game of wit and occasional self-indulgence. And – unlike the Elric stories, deaths are exceptionally rare. Dafnish Armatuce and her son Snuffles die, but then, as he is merely her parasitic appendage, perhaps he doesn’t count. And two of the Lat brigand musicians are eaten by Eurypterid water scorpions, but as they’re not exactly human perhaps they don’t count either!

'Pale Roses'
The universe is drawing to a close, ‘entropy in king, and the universe has begun collapsing upon itself,’ the race faces extinction, yet seldom is there any attempt to seriously portray a worlds-end society millions of years hence as Brian Aldiss does in ‘Hothouse’ (1962) or his short story “Old Hundredth” (‘New Worlds’ no.100, November 1960), or as Olaf Stapledon does in ‘Last And First Men’ (1930), or even as Jack Vance does in his picaresque mythologies from ‘The Dying Earth’ (1950 on). But that’s not Moorcock’s intention. Instead his decorously fantastic characters merely fritter away their immortalities and their limitless power in games and parties. They use power-rings that originally absorbed the energy of whole suns, and which is now stored in the ‘rotted’ sentient cities of antiquity – one of which, significantly, is called Tanelorn. 

They use their power to create living dinosaurs made of edible jelly, to create entire continents complete with miniature wildlife, blazing cities made of water, or whole worlds within which they act out the entire military history of the Earth. They alter their bodies, alter their sex, become beasts, collect Space and Time Travellers in menageries, hold endless parties of polite sophisticated and bizarre excess. Perceptively, a writer in the ‘Glimpse’ fanzine points out that ‘this decadent life-style is the ultimate expression of the creed of aestheticism popular among the intellectuals of the late nineteenth-century – the idea that the only undeniable reality in human existence is the response of the brain to the impressions it receives from the senses.’

A short story – “Waiting For The End Of Time” had appeared as early as 1970 in the highly-collectable ‘Vision Of Tomorrow’ magazine, and although not strictly a part of the ‘Dancers’ cycle, it seems to contain germination points for the idea. Set on the far planet Tanet-tur-Tac among various evolved post-human species, the story features two pale-skinned hermaphrodite beings with limitless powers who attempt to come to terms with the contraction and imminent death of the galaxy. The two characters, called ‘Suron-riel-J’ryec’ and ‘Mis’rn-bur-Sen’ – anagrams of ‘Jerry Cornelius’ and Miss Brunner respectively, await the final implosion of worlds into the Mass by falling asleep, in which ‘time was a meaningless idea, just as death meant nothing and identity meant little.’ Although the story lacks the wit and sophistication of the later cycle it does provide the introduction of the concept of a cyclic universe. Moorcock was to reiterate the idea in ‘The End Of All Songs’ (1976) when it is suggests that the escaping Jherek Carnelian and Mrs Amelia Underwood could have travelled forwards in time – not backwards, into Earth’s prehistory.

The cast of the ‘End Of Time’ proper is extravagant. There is the Duke Of Queens, named after the legendary area of New York. He lives in an inverted palace, and is led to believe that he has killed the masked and suicidal Lord Shark The Unknown in a duel (in “White Stars”). There is Mistress Christia The Everlasting Concubine who chooses ‘to reflect with consummate artistry the desires of her lovers of the day,’ even to the extent of becoming the guiltless child Catherine Gratitude from whom Werther de Goethe learns of guilt and sin (in “Pale Roses”). De Goethe himself is one of the few natural-born denizens of the End Of Time, and flaunts the Romantic sense of unfulfilment that his name implies, through a created environment of storms and bare rock. ‘The Last Romantic’ he is the ‘solitary seeker after truth in a world no longer differentiating between the degrees of reality.’ Life, he opines paradoxically, ‘has no meaning without misery’ – in an age when there is no misery. 

Then there’s My Lady Charlotina Of Beneath Lake Billy The Kid, whose menagerie initially holds the doom-prophesying alien Yusharip. The alien was stolen and bartered for Mrs Amelia Underwood, and later travels the universe with Mrs Underwood’s original captor, the gloomy giant Lord Mongrove. For Mongrove the eventual death of the universe merely provides a vindication of his pessimistic life-philosophy. There’s also Argonheart Po, Bishop Castle, Gaf The Horse In Tears, Li Pao the ex-Chairman of the Twenty-Seventh-Century Chinese People’s Republic, Abu Thaleb The Commissar Of Bengal, Captain Oliphaunt, Korghon Of Soth, and O’Kala Incarnadine – who assumes the form of a bear, a gorilla, a goat, a sea-lion or a rhinoceros.

As the list suggests, and as Moorcock admits, there is an effect of ‘sensation piled on sensation, but rooted in nothing’ (in ‘An Alien Heat’, 1972). They ‘play mindless games, without purpose or meaning, while the universe dies’ around them. The most effective sequences consist of the introduction of elements foreign to the age. In “Constant Fire” Moorcock regurgitates the strutting egotistical Fireclown Emmanuel Bloom, the Messianic custodian of the Holy Grail, from his 1965 novel ‘The Winds Of Limbo’ – a title which occurs, obliquely, in the trilogy. “Ancient Shadows” brings two austere time-travellers, Dafnish Armatuce and her son – the sixty-year-old child Snuffles into the hedonistic ‘rotting paradise’ to provide some of the cycle’s most traumatic moments. For the first time Moorcock calls the postulates of the ‘End Of Time’ into question. For the first time he seems to be peeling back the layers of ‘dandified airs’. Hinting that by this device – the irreconcilable clash of contradictory ethics, the mythos can be used for a more serious purpose. Similarly, in the taut and well-written “Pale Roses” the element of long-extinct virginal purity is recreated for an ultimately trivial – if dramatically effective, purpose.

Then, of course, there is the unique temporal journeyings of Jherek Carnelian. This surreal odyssey begins in ‘An Alien Heat’, the novel which Moorcock himself chooses to recommend because ‘it has probably the broadest appeal and is the funniest and probably the most humane’ of all his work (in a ‘Club International’ interview). Carnelian is the natural-born son of ‘the most artificial of all creatures’ – The Iron Orchid (in “Pale Roses”), who often wears a profusity of breasts. Carnelian is also the latest incarnation in the name-alike ‘Champion Eternal’ karma, heir to Jehama Colyrahlias, Jerry Cornell, Jhary-a-Conel, Jermays The Crooked, (James Colvin?) and inevitably – from Moorcock’s ‘novels of inhumanity’ – Jerry Cornelius. Jherek, incidentally, gets a mention outside the ‘End Of Time’ stories, in ‘The Champion Of Garathorm’ (Dell, 1976).

Carnelian is an eternal naïve existing in a state beyond knowledge of death or fear, beyond good or evil. A perverse amoral Eloi, essentially benevolent and well-meaning in a universe where such concepts have become all-pervading. In Aldiss’ phrase he not only assumes, but embodies ‘dandified airs’. He observes all with the same bemused amused ambivalence. Faced with the end of time he asks ‘why would you wish to save the universe?’ with a genuine degree of perplexity at the absurdity of the suggestion. He meets, liberates, and attempts to woo Mrs Amelia Underwood, an involuntary time-traveller from 1896 who he merely concedes to be ‘the most beautiful human being, apart from himself.’ Although the chaste romance begins as an affectation, it becomes an obsession, and when she’s snatched back to the time of her origin he makes the first of two forays into the past in attempts to recover her. Carnelian acquires a convenient Time Machine from Brannart Morphail, a club-footed hunchback scientist. Morphail belongs to My Lady Charlotina’s menagerie, is an expert in Time Machines and has ‘always affected a somewhat proprietorial attitude towards Time.’

'Ancient Shadows'

The machine Carnelian uses ‘was a sphere full of milky fluid in which the traveller floated encased in a rubber suit, breathing through a mask attached to a hose leading into the wall of the machine.’ It is remarkably similar to the device used by Karl Glogauer in ‘Behold The Man’ (1969), which was also a ‘sphere full of milky fluid in which the traveller floats enclosed in a rubber suit, breathing through a mask attached to a hose leading into the wall of the machine.’ Glogauer, the erstwhile Christ-figure and refugee from ‘Breakfast In The Ruins’ (1972) later makes a guest appearance in the trilogy’s third volume, as Sergeant Glogauer of the Lower Devonian Guild Of Temporal Adventurers. But in the meantime Carnelian is running amok in Victorian London, gets naively caught up in criminal activity, is brought to trial, sentenced and executed – only to reawaken at the End Of Time, while encountering further references to related Moorcockiana. In “Dead Singers” Jerry Cornelius rides a bicycle which is a time machine. In ‘The Hollow Lands’ (1975), during his second trip to 1896, Carnelian rides a bicycle he believes to be a Time Machine!

A large portion of the humour is based around similar misinterpretations of the past by the people of the future. Billy The Kid was thought to have been a ‘legendary American explorer, astronaut and bon-vivant, who had been crucified around the year 2000 because it was discovered that he possessed the hindquarters of a goat.’ Carnelian has ‘a toy fish-tank, capable of firing real fish.’ The people of the End Of Time throw a Ball – within a ball that was ‘inclined to roll a bit’. Moorcock also makes numerous satiric references to the movie industry. There’s a legend that ‘Casablanca Bogart wielded his magic spade, Sam, in his epic fight with that ferocious bird the malted falcon.’ There is ‘Mutinous Caine… cast out of Hollywood for the killing of his sister, the Blue Angel.’ Whereas Pecking Pa VIII – last ruler of the age of Tyrant Producers was the coordinator of whole civilisations-as-movies. Producer of epochs known as ‘The Four Loves Of Captain Marvel’, ‘Young Adolf Hitler’ and ‘a remake about the birth of Christ’ in which ‘Pecking Pa played Herod himself.’ Yet, considering the immensity of elapsed time, and of human history that has supposedly passed, the End Of Time seems to have a remarkable predilection for the couple of centuries around our own!

'Pale Roses'
 But then the fin de siècle late 1800s has long been another of Moorcock’s ‘assumed airs’, from the affectionately recounted anarchist passages in ‘Breakfast In The Ruins’ to the elaborate Jules Verne pastiche of ‘Warlord Of The Air’ (Ace Books, 1971) – the hero of which, Captain Oswald Bastable, also appears in the Devonian, to flirt with Mrs Underwood. In Oswald’s other starring-role novel, ‘The Land Leviathan’ (Doubleday, 1974), Moorcock nods in HG Wells’ direction, and on his second time-trip – in ‘The Hollow Lands’, Carnelian meets and discusses time machines with that same Mr Wells. He finds the writer to be ‘a narrow-faced, slight man with a scrubby moustache and startlingly bright pale blue eyes.’ During a train journey Wells tells Carnelian ‘people often ask me where I get my incredible ideas. They think I’m deliberately sensational. They don’t seem to realise that the ideas seem very ordinary to me.’ Gauche and innocently eager to please, the time-travelling Jherek replies ‘oh, they seem exceptionally ordinary to me.’ During the conversation it’s hauntingly possible to recall the jerky film footage of the real Wells, and rehear the writer’s distinctively high-pitched voice uttering the sentences. 

'Constant Fire'

The sensation is just as tantalisingly tactile when Carnelian meets George Bernard Shaw – with whom perhaps he should have discussed ‘Back To Methuselah’ or ‘Man And Superman’? Shaw is observed correcting proofs, ‘a red-bearded sardonic-looking man with eyes almost as arresting as Mr Wells, dressed in a suit of tweed which seemed far too heavy for the weather.’ Erotic autobiographer Frank Harris is also there, and is instrumental in setting up the novel’s climax. A scene in which temporal disruption upsets a garish night at the Café Royale, with nasty triple-eyed Lat aliens, coquettes, pursuing police intent on arrests, and guests from the End Of Time materialising amid the plush elegance. It is one of the most comically effective moments in the whole trilogy, and is one which leads directly to Jherek Carnelian and his lost love Mrs Amelia Underwood being cast back – or forward, in time to the desolation of the Lower Devonian era where the second part of the trilogy abandons them.

In ‘The End Of All Songs’ it appears that time is cyclic – but it is also spiral. In fact any theory about its nature ‘seems to apply in societies which accept the theory.’ They seek refuge in the Lost Cities from which their power-rings derive energy, only to discover that the apocalypse has begun, the sun has died, and doom is impending. Throughout the stories there’s talk about megaflow and the Chronon Theory which harks back to Moorcock’s ‘Pepin Hunchback’ stories (collected into ‘The Time Dweller’ anthology), and which plugs the entire phantasmagoria into the Multiverse superstructure. A Multiverse which – unlike Time, is conceded to be finite, through concepts such as The Conjunction Of A Million Spheres. Moorcock writes that ‘there is a particular theory which suggests that with every one discovery we make about Time, we create two new mysteries. Time can never be codified, as Space can be, because our very thoughts, our information about it, our actions based on that information all contribute to extend the boundaries, to produce new anomalies, new aspects of Time’s nature.’ The multiverse mythologies overlap. Characters in “Pale Roses” speak of Eric Of Marylebone (Elric Of Melniboné), they use the ornithopter – a device used by the Dark Empire of the Hawkmoon stories, and as ‘The End Of All Songs’ (1976) opens on an increasingly thronged Lower Devonian beach, time travellers Una Persson and Miss Brunner appear, or are alluded to.

'End Of All Songs' from 'Vortex'

Mrs Persson features in the three novellas collected into ‘Legends From The End Of Time’ (1976). The stories are interposed by comments from Your Auditor who supposedly transcribed the texts from the tales of Mrs Una Persson – one of the Guild Of Temporal Adventurers. Thus the series of novellas ‘assume the character of legends rather than history’. The fourth of the stories – “Constant Fire”, features Doctor Volospion’s Menagerie Of Forgotten Faiths, and the lesbian Miss Mavis Ming from twenty-first-century Iowa. It is oral history as narrated by one of Mrs Persson’s colleagues, an anonymous ‘Chronic Outlaw’, in much the same way that Captain Bastable supposedly related ‘Warlord Of The Air’ to Moorcock’s grandfather in 1904. Mrs Persson previously featured in Moorcock’s 1975 novel ‘The Adventures Of Catherine Cornelius And Una Persson In The Twentieth Century’. In ‘The End Of All Songs’ she first helps to return Carnelian and Mrs Underwood to the relative stability of the End Of Time, and later follows them to watch Lord Jagged implement his time-recycling scheme to save the Earth as the universe ends and the revels are, temporarily disrupted. Miss Brunner has an equally complex history. In ‘The Final Programme’ (Avon, 1968, Allison and Busby, 1969) she and Jerry Cornelius are fused into the ‘perfect hermaphrodite being’ in the form of Cornelius Brunner, a character resurrected in the singular for ‘A Cure For Cancer’ (Allison and Busby, 1971) as Captain Brunner, and later into ‘The Lives And Times Of Jerry Cornelius’ collection (Allison and Busby, 1976).

'White Stars'
There’s one final cross-over that demands mention, Lord Jagged Of Canaria, the ‘fantastico in yellow’, the unique and ubiquitous manipulator of fates. Jagged is the only one of the Time’s-End denizens to appreciate the dilemma facing Dafnish Armatuce, and the only one to elicit her approval. Jagged hangs forever around the outer edges of Carnelian’s travels in time, gradually assuming an insidious presence until it finally becomes clear that he is not one of the natives of the End Of Time at all, but is from the twenty-first century, nearer the era of Mrs Underwood. He is also, in the face of general apathy, intent upon averting the inevitable death of the species, and of time itself. To further this dénouement he not only fathered Carnelian in the first place, but kidnaps his bride and – incognito, becomes Judge Jagger who sentences Carnelian to death in ‘An Alien Heat’, as well as the reporter Jackson who assists Carnelian’s escape in ‘The Hollow Lands’. He could also be behind the well-mannered junior army officer Michael Jagger of ‘Warlord Of The Air’. Lord Jagged’s ultimate fate and subsequent travels in time are not fully explored. But then, as Mrs Amelia Underwood explains to My Lady Charlotina towards the end of the trilogy ‘the tale is not yet finished, I regret. Many clues remain to be unravelled – threads are still to be woven together – there is no clearly seen pattern upon the fabric – and perhaps there never will be.’ As this contention suggests, even though she ultimately rejects the meaningless façade of the End Of Time for the harsher reality of dynasty-founding in the Devonian, Mrs Underwood adjusts better to the rigours and contradictions of time travel that does Jherek Carnelian. 

There are no neat conclusions to ‘The Dancers At The End Of Time’ mythology. But then, as Moorcock’s multiverse unfolds not in separate self-contained batches, but in interrelated sequences without apparent end, perhaps none were to be expected. But the mythos is a significant new phase in Moorcock’s development, and is technically his best, even behind the gaudy cavalcade of deliberately assumed inconsequence. Dazzlingly inventive and an endless delight. At one point, for example, as if addressing Moorcock directly, Carnelian suggests that ‘I was born so that you might be supplied with raw materials with which to exercise your own considerable literary gifts.’ Yet behind the playful self-indulgence the aesthetic credibility rating is definitely in the ascendant.

In keeping with the allusions to Mrs Underwood’s time, the titles of the stories are taken from period poems, from “Dregs” (‘The End Of All Songs’), “A Last Word” (‘The Hollow Lands’), and “Transition” (“Pale Roses”) written in 1899 by Ernest Dowson. Then there is “Constant Fire” from the poem “The Song Of Theodolinda” by George Meredith, while the title of ‘An Alien Heat’ comes from the 1896 poem “Hothouse Flowers” by Theodore Wratislaw. WB Yeats (“White Stars”), GW Russell (“Ancient Shadows”) and Alfred Austin poems are also quoted, as well as those from Ernest Wheldrake’s “Posthumous Poems” of 1881 which were ‘rediscovered’ by Moorcock.

But Moorcock’s own prose is seldom without its vivid poetic imagery. Evocatively he writes ‘she told him the story of Sir Parsifal as the gold, ebony and ruby locomotive puffed across the sky, trailing glorious clouds of blue and silver smoke behind it.’ Neither is the writing lacking in perceptive humour. Trapped by a policeman of ‘massive bovine dignity’ Carnelian fires a deceptor-gun, filling the room with naked female warriors of the late Cannibal Empire period, painted green and blue, decorated with small skulls and finger-bones, carrying clubs and spears. ‘I knew you was ruddy anarchists’ pronounces the policeman triumphantly.

In the late 1970s Michael Moorcock became one of the few writers who stood beyond genre, by evolving into a genre himself. People read Michael Moorcock who would claim neither to read Science Fiction or Fantasy. But these addictively readable stories deserve a wider-than-just-cult appreciation.


(1) ‘AN ALIEN HEAT’ 1972, MacGibbon And Kee Ltd, Mayflower paperback (60p). ISBN 0-583-12106-3. 158pp

(2) ‘THE HOLLOW LANDS’ 1975, Hart Davis MacGibbon (£2.75), Mayflower paperback (60p). ISBN 0-246-10876. 180pp

(3) ‘LEGENDS FROM THE END OF TIME’ 1976, Harper And Row/ WH Allen (£3.50) A collection made up of ‘Pale Roses’, ‘White Stars’ and ‘Ancient Shadows’. 182pp

(4) ‘THE END OF ALL SONGS’ 1976, Mayflower (96p). ISBN 0-583-121055. 307pp. Serialised in ‘Vortex: The Science Fiction Fantasy’ magazine nos.1, 2 and 3 through 1977


(5) ‘PALE ROSES’ from ‘New Worlds no.7’ (1974, Sphere Books) illustrated by Jim Cawthorn, also in ‘Best Science Fiction Of The Year’ edited by Terry Carr (USA, Ballantine, 1975). Mistress Christia assumes the guise of Catherine in order to reconcile with Werther de Goethe after destroying his rainbow, and ‘In Which Werther Finds Redemption Of Sorts’

(6) ‘WHITE STARS’ from ‘New Worlds no.8’ (1975, Sphere Books) illustrated by Mal Dean. ‘A Stroll Across The Dark Continent’, and a duel between Lord Shark The Unknown and the Duke Of Queens over the destruction of a lichen experiment

(7) ‘ANCIENT SHADOWS’ from ‘New Worlds no.9’ (1975, Corgi Books) illustrated by Jim Cawthorn. ‘A Stranger At The End Of time’, Time Traveler Dafnish Armatuce and her son Snuffles arrive at the End Of Time, ‘In Which Snuffles Finds A Playmate’

(8) ‘CONSTANT FIRE’ from ‘New Worlds Quarterly no.10’ (1976, Corgi Books) illustrated by Jim Cawthorn. ‘In Which Miss Ming Experiences A Familiar Discomfort’ and ‘In Which Mr Emmanuel Bloom Returns To Claim His Kingdom’ – ‘In The Museum And The Menagerie Of Forgotten Faiths’

(9) ‘ELRIC AT THE END OF TIME’ from ‘Elsewhere’ edited by Terri Windling and Mark Alan Arnold (1981, Ace Books), collected into ‘The Mammoth Book Of Extreme Fantasy’ edited by Mike Ashley (Robinson, 2008) Mrs Una Persson departs the local 1936 Time Centre to investigate a disturbance in the temporal megaflow. While Elric is caught up ‘by his own monstrous magickings’ during a battle with Grrodd Ybene Eenr who employs ancient spells left by wizard Cran Liret – ‘The Thief Of Spells’ on Sorcerers Isle. Cast into inter-dimensional void he’s drawn by Stormbringer to the ‘End of Time’, where De Goethe and Duke Of Queens fabricate fabulous adventures of rescue and conquest for Elric, with Bird-Monsters and Pierrots (confused with Parrots). ‘Dastardly poltroons’ roars the Duke. Bringing the two realms into juxtaposition shows Elric’s doom-laden moods to be as much an assumed guise as the denizens of the End Of Time. ‘There were similarities between Jherek and Elric which she (Una) could only sense at present.’ Finally Lord Jagged – it is assumed to be Jagged, assumes the form of Lord Arioch, the Lord Of Hell, to guide Elric back home.‘You’re exaggerating’ says Una. ‘Why not? Everyone else is’ says Jagged

(10) ‘THE TRANSFORMATION OF MISS MAVIS MING’ (1977, WH Allen, ISBN 0-491-01718-9) aka ‘A MESSIAH AT THE END OF TIME’ novel (a rewrite of ‘Constant Fire’) in which Miss Mavis Ming, Doctor Volospion and the residents at the End of Time, meet Mr Emmanuel Bloom, also known as ‘The Fireclown’. The ending originally involved a scene where the main character, Mavis Ming, is whipped into submission by Bloom. Moorcock later revised this

(11) ‘SUMPTUOUS DRESS: A QUESTION OF SIZE AT THE END OF TIME’ from ‘Postscripts no.15’ (Summer 2008) edited by Peter Crowther and Nick Gevers (PS Publishing)

(12) ‘THE MURDERER’S SONG’ included in Michael Moorcock short-story collection ‘Jerry Cornelius: His Lives And His Times’ (Gollancz, 2014, ISBN 978-1473200722), also featured in ‘The New Nature Of The Catastrophe’ edited by Langdon Jones and Michael Moorcock (Millennium, 1993)

Other Sources:

THE SHAPE OF FURTHER THINGS’ by Brian Aldiss (1970, Faber And Faber, Corgi) ISBN 9780571247240

WAITING FOR THE END OF TIME’ first published as ‘The Last Vigil’ in ‘Vision Of Tomorrow’ no.11, August 1970, then featured in ‘Moorcock’s Book Of Martyrs’ by Michael Moorcock (Orbit/ Quartet, 1976 ISBN 0-7043-1265-4)

MICHAEL MOORCOCK INTERVIEWED’ an interview with Michael Moorcock in ‘Club International Vol.4 no.3’ (March 1975)

DEAD SINGERS’ featured in ‘The Lives And Times Of Jerry Cornelius’ by Michael Moorcock (Quartet)

THE TIME DWELLER’ by Michael Moorcock (Hart-Davis, 1969, US Berkley Medallion, 1971) and anthology made up of ‘The Time Dweller’ aka ‘Scar-Faced Brooder 1’ (‘New Worlds’ no.139, February 1964), ‘Escape From Evening’ aka ‘Scar-Faced Brooder 2’ (‘New Worlds’ no.148, March 1965), ‘The Deep Fix’ (‘Science Fantasy’ no.64, April 1964, as by James Colvin), ‘The Mountain’ (‘New Worlds’ no.147, February 1965, as by James Colvin), ‘The Pleasure Garden Of Felipe Sagittarius’ (‘New Worlds’ no.154, September 1965, as by James Colvin with James Cawthorn inner art), ‘Wolf’ (from ‘The Deep Fix’ as by James Colvin, Compact Books 1966), ‘The Golden Barge’ (‘New Worlds’ no.155, October 1965 as by William Barclay), ‘The Ruins’ (‘New Worlds’ no.161, April 1966, as by James Colvin with Harry Douthwaite inner art), ‘Consuming Passion’ (also in ‘New Worlds’ no.161, April 1966). 176pp

REBEL AT THE END OF TIME’ (PS Publishing, 2011), a spin-off prequel to ‘An Alien Heat’ written by Steve Aylett

Other Michael Moorcock features on
‘Eight Miles Higher’...

This feature first published in:
‘VECTOR no.88’ (UK – May 1978)

'Ancient Shadows'

Saturday 27 July 2019

THE FALL INTERVIEW: Behind The Fall Guise


 Andrew Darlington in conversation with 
 Mark E Smith, Craig Scanlon and Brix Smith of THE FALL
 unedited at length, with repetitions and false starts intact…

What is this thing called Fall? Fall (Ger: Sturz. Fr: Chute. Sp: la Caida)

Is it Fall: as in verb – to fall (did he FALL or was he pushed? I’m not FALLing for this crock of crapola no more! FALLing in and out of love).

Or is it Fall: as in noun – The Fall. Fall from grace, vis. theology.

Does it matter?

‘…of course, you don’t actually REVIEW the Fall. You hover in the shadow of the aura and attempt to catch some of the sparks’ said ‘Melody Maker’ (6 March 1982).

These are sparks…

‘The longest-running Manchester Punk group, the Fall, refined their demented Rockabilly while singer Mark E Smith told his shaggy dog stories with a delivery that was part-Ranter, part stand-up Comedian’ begins Jon Savage (‘Observer’, 27 July 1986). Mark E takes up the tale, and continues to writer Barry McIlheny, dating it all from the pivotal first-ever Manchester Sex Pistols gig ten years earlier, ‘there were so few of us there that Malcolm McLaren said ‘hello’ to each of us as we went in. I remember seeing the Buzzcocks and thinking, bloody hell, I could do better than that. It’s a cliché now, but that honestly was the attitude at the time – anyone can do it. Up until I saw the Pistols doing stuff like “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and other garage songs, the idea of us playing in public was pure fantasy. Then suddenly we find ourselves second on the bill to people like the Drones! We were just happy to be playing… I look back on it all now with interest and find it funny that we’re still seen as the remnants of the great Manchester Punk scene when, in actual fact, we were always apart from most of them, and they had spiky hair while I was going about in my pullover and cords’ (in ‘Melody Maker’, 12 July 1986).

These are also sparks…

ANDREW DARLINGTON: After ten years of Indie cult success Fall finally go Top Twenty during May 1987 with a revamp of R Dean Taylor’s ‘Northern Soul’ classic “There’s A Ghost In My House”. Was Northern Soul an early influence on you?

MARK E SMITH (lead vocals): An influence on me? Yeah, I was well into it. I still am. But only ‘cos it was badly recorded, with bad bad songs and cheap guitars.

AD: Your 1981 single “Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul” references that scene too. (‘I’m a bit jagged right now, in a tongue-tired, wired state, cause Sunday morning dancing, I had an awake dream…’)

MES: Well, obviously.

AD: Fall’s origins lie in Manchester’s Punk scene where it was Buzzcocks, Penetration, Magazine, and Slaughter And The Dogs who grabbed most of the kudos. But it’s been Fall who’ve proved to be the longest runners. Mark’s the only constant figure in the line-up, but Craig goes back almost to the origins of the band too.

CRAIG SCANLON (lead/acoustic guitar): Pretty much, yes. I wasn’t in Fall from the VERY beginning. The band started in 1977 – I joined in 1979, but I’d been watching, more or less, since they started. Fall were never neglected, but they attracted a kind of elite audience. An audience who KNEW who the good acts were.

AD: Mark’s been quoted as saying Fall felt no sense of being part of a ‘Manchester scene’ with those other bands?

CS: No, there was no affinity with those bands. We were pretty aloof really. I got that impression even when I was just watching them from the audience. Fall were a kind of ALOOF band. We never got into that back-slapping kind of thing with the Buzzcocks.

AD: If you felt no regional affinity, did you feel affinity for other Indie bands operating in similar vaguely experimental musical zones? Cabaret Voltaire for example, who were also well into Northern Soul in their early days.

MES: You wouldn’t think so would yer? The Disco rubbish they turn out now! But I remember seeing Cabaret Voltaire – right? – in 1982, and it was like the best live show I’D EVER FUCKIN’ SEEN. It was INTIMIDATING, loud, and a real experiment on its own. That was before Chris (Watson) left y’know. He used to play keyboards with ‘em. He had a really good attitude to keyboards and tapes. His idea was – like, to make the keyboards not sound like anything on the Earth. He’s a really nice lad, Chris, works for Tyne Tees TV now. I think they miss him a lot, y’know.

AD: There was a great freedom of ideas and a sense of limitless possibilities back then. While one of the supposed socio-political aims of the Punk thing was to destroy the barriers between artist and audience. Did Fall share that idealism?

CS: I don’t know about breaking down the barriers between audience and band. What do you do? – buy them all a drink or something? Pat ‘em all on the back? It’s pretty condescending to try and do that. We don’t act like superstars. If someone wants to talk to us, if they’re interested in what we’ve got to say, then that’s fine – we want to talk to them. But surely it’s more condescending to go out and play the ‘Hero Of The Common Man’ bit.

AD: The Damned are a good example of a band evolving out of Punk attitudes into a mainstream Pop-Rock Band.

CS: Yeah. People say they broke down barriers. That they’re really close to their audience. But I’ve seen them. I’ve seen Dave Vanian at Clubs and he’s got a bodyguard and crowds of people there with him. He lives that more than anyone. Billy Idol too, he does that, doesn’t he? He knows he’s doing it, and enjoys doing it.

AD: Doesn’t a ten-year career-structure make that inevitable? The sheer fact that Fall’s been trading as a band for a decade and has an extensive back-catalogue of albums means that, like it or not, you’re now just as much a part of the current Establishment as Cabaret Voltaire – or the Damned.

BRIX SMITH (guitar/ vocals): NO – I would HATE to be like the Damned! They have enough money now that they don’t HAVE to do it. Probably. I’m not saying they’re rolling in money, but WE certainly aren’t in that position. That’s the difference, within us the real urge and need to play is still there. That’s what’ll keep us going.

AD: To what extent does Mark set the tone for the band? There’ve been many personnel changes but the sound’s remained remarkably consistent.

CS: The sound’s changed quite a lot, but it’s all from the one area. We all know what the Fall is, there is a common link. It’s just a good collection of people, a simple thing, although we don’t necessarily write consciously for ‘The Fall’.

AD: Marc Riley’s departure from Fall in October 1982, after the exquisite ‘Hex Enduction Hour’ LP (March 1982) and the near-bootleg ‘Room To Live’ (September 1982) mini-album is often seen as a watershed in the band’s history. People talk of the Marc Riley period as being more chaotic and unpredictable. Then the post-Riley period...?

CS: (l-o-n-g silence) I know. There’s no answer to that. There ARE little sections of people who… (sniff)…

BS: His days were numbered. Towards the end, Marc Riley’s days were numbered.

AD: The first post-Riley gig you played was here in Leeds (‘this little club in Leeds with about a hundred people (who) booed and everything’ Mark told ‘Soundmaker’, (16 April 1983)). Was that ‘The Warehouse’?

CS: The first one we did WAS ‘The Warehouse’ Club, yes.

BS: What was that like, Craig? Fun? Did YOU see it, Andy?

CS: It was good. It was really hard work, but really good.

AD: Are you pissed off with journalists asking questions about Marc Riley?

BS: It’s alright.

CS: No. We’re still talking about him.

AD: Do you have a favourite Fall album?

CS: Erm – I don’t. I mean, I only ever play whatever’s the latest one. It’s only historians who look back. The albums all stand up on their own thingy, y’know, but I’ve done it and I don’t really… know.

BS: I enjoyed that last one, and ‘Slates’ (a ten-inch EP from April 1981) for me personally. Everyone has a different one – there’s plenty to choose from!

AD: Reading back through reviews and press-cuttings there’s a curious lack of consensus about what constitutes GOOD Fall. I’d choose ‘Hex Enduction Hour’. Journalist Colin Irwin describes how Fall recorded its “Iceland” track during a tour in that country. ‘Iceland’s rich history of legends and folklore fired Smith’s already rampant imagination, and he’d jotted down a series of scattered thoughts, fantasies and genuine incidents surrounding the visit, while the rest of the band concocted a weirdly haunting tune in the studio. The track, opening with a cassette recording of the wind blowing outside Smith’s hotel window, was done first-take with the band and their leader having only the vaguest idea of what the other would be doing’ (‘Melody Maker’, 6 March 1982). That ‘inspired accident’ method of working seems to imply that you rely to a degree on intuition?

MES: Yes, sometimes. Not all the time. It’ll be about half ‘n’ half. Half of our stuff is very very worked on. But I like that ‘accidental’ aspect, I like that, yes. It’s not good to go into the studio with songs that you know backwards, y’know? – and just get ‘em down. I don’t want to do that because I just don’t want to be stale. I don’t want to go on tour and practice a load of songs and then go in the studio and just recreate them. You end up not even feeling what you’re singing.

CS: Yeah, well – the writer’ll obviously have some vague idea of what’s going to happen. But there is a common link that we all share, some kind of telepathic link. We all think as one at one point, y’know.

BS: I think that comes across live too. I think we’re a real sort of ‘supernatural’ band. Sort of, like in a magical way. In a sort of DARK way. Not like – (giggle) – the DEVIL or anything, but you know what I mean? There’s something really binding us together that you can’t see…

CS: We all play mistakes at the same time – in a line. (General laughter)

AD: Many bands now use the studio itself as a compositional tool, but Fall seem to be the antithesis of the Fairlight/ Trevor Horn syndrome. I get the impression that Fall are more a ‘live’ band, and in the studio you prefer to work in as close to a ‘live’ situation as possible.

BS: Yeah, that’s true. We don’t use the studio deliberately in that way. But a few things come out of it. Different sounds, you don’t KNOW you get them, but they just ‘appear’ on the tape. That happens, but we don’t lock ourselves in there for years and manipulate things. We usually get the rough sounds ready, then we go into the studio, do it, and then we come out.

CS: The LP ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ (October 1985) used the studio more in the sense that it was giving us ideas, getting a very simple song and making, like, an epic treatment for it.

AD: I find the eerie surrealistic track “Paintwork” the most intriguing title from that album (‘sometimes they say, Hey Mark, you’re spoiling all the paintwork’).

MES: (Bored) Really.

AD: I like the dislocation between its sections, layered like a painting, the tempo changes and splicing are not typical of regular Fall construction.

MES: Mmmm – huh. Yes, there’s a lot of savage edits.

AD: Did that track ‘evolve’ in the studio?

BS: Yeah, in a sense it did ‘evolve’ in that way. Well – Craig wrote it, then half of it was recorded in Simon’s studio, in his house (Simon Rogers: Bass/ DX7). But then we couldn’t recreate that sound in the studio properly with all the other instruments. So we just used part of the original tape, and then we put part of the recreation of it, and then… I don’t really know what happened! There’s, like, the weather on there or something, HaHaHa!

CS: That’s what I meant about the studio thing. It was basically a very simple song, something pretty crude to work with, but giving it the studio effects turned it into a very dreamy kind of thing. It’s a bit more ethereal.

AD: Was the technical side of that down to producer John Leckie?

MES: No – I did all that. Me and Simon did it all. We made it so it was dead sloppy, like. Well no – actually it isn’t SLOPPY, it’s GOOD. It’s strange the way we… I mean, we recorded it at three different times. But it’s all basically cassette stuff, you know. That sort of thing. There’s only like two bits of it that’s actually done in a studio. We were putting, like, cassettes of the same track over different versions of the same thing so they would clash, and things. I really enjoyed doing that one, I thought it was great. I’m DEAD phased that people like it, y’know? ‘Cos a lot of people have said that to me; that they think that’s the best track – which I’m DEAD pleased with. The way we record is very uncompromising, and you always suffer a lot if you work… like we always work. And YOU’D BE A-M-A-Z-E-D AT THE PREJUDICE YOU E-N-C-O-U-N-T-E-R! Even though the songs ‘ave been brilliant you always get them saying ‘it’s a brilliant song ‘cept it was recorded in a garage’. Like they’re trying to insinuate you’re sloppy or summat. When in fact I went out of my way to GET that sound. It’s the sound that we wanted. I ALWAYS wanted that sound, y’know? I didn’t want any smooth shit. I’m glad people like “Paintwork” – ‘cos that’s the way it should be done.

AD: Do you have tapes of failed Fall experiments?

MES: No, not really. My experiments never fail. No, I’m just saying, y’know… there’s a lot of groups who have an odd attitude to experimentation. They think that they’ll put brilliant improvisation on their record, so they just do it and it comes out like dosh. Like Public Image or something like that. You know what I’m saying? They think their every utterance is brilliant art. We’re very conscious of getting away from that. We can’t PLAN anything really. You can’t PLAN improvisation, which is what a lot of people TRY to do. You know what I mean?

AD: There’s a mystique to Fall that’s perhaps largely due to the – often inaudible, lyrics. There’s a lot suggested…

BS: Yeah, right, Mmmmm.

CS: Yes. It’s very difficult to explain it. But we DON’T insult your intelligence.

AD: How do you decide what is good Fall and what is bad Fall?

BS: It’s just a personal opinion. It’s just what we like, what’s right for us. I think most people who really like the Fall, like everything. People that really dislike it, hate it all.

AD: So how do you decide what goes onto the album and what stays on the shelf?

MES: It’s just what I like, what we like. What I and, say – what to the producer sounds good. What he picks that sounds good.

AD: Is the producer’s role important? You’ve used John Leckie on two albums, ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ and ‘Bend Sinister’ (September 1986). Does he function as a contributing member of the sessions?

MES: John Leckie’s VERY important. Yes. He has everything so LOUD. He used to work with Phil Spector, so he’s got a very good attitude… my sort of attitude. He has everything sort of SEMI-perfect, he wants it BIG, but he doesn’t want it smooth. I’m inclined to think the Fall miss out a bit on that. We never captured the big sound ALONG WITH the garage cheapness, like. I always thought that element of it was the best bit.

CS: John’s helpful to us. He’ll tell us if it’s bad.

BS: He doesn’t try to change the music though. He just gives suggestions. Tells us what he thinks, but we don’t always act on his suggestions. But he does tell us if we played it bad. He makes out he’s a perfectionist, and so if we play a little riff or something wrong, we just stay in there for three, four or five hours until it’s right. He’s the greatest. He’s really good.

CS: He’s more over the top than us really. So we just curb his excesses, ‘cos he’s full of ideas, sounds and that. He doesn’t try to take over though, he’s much too peaceful. He just meshes in with us, and lets us go, you know?

AD: Although traces of Rockabilly have been detectable in Fall records since the very beginning, the first cover version you did was the Gene Vincent song “Rollin’ Danny” as a 1985 single (adapting Gene’s opening riff with old Motown hit “Needle In The Haystack” by the Velvettes).

CS: Gene Vincent, he’s good. I’ve quite a few of his LP’s.

BS: Mark loves him. Mark chose that song.

MES: We only did that track as a… hobby, you know? I never thought it’d be a single. It wasn’t until it was mixed that I sorta thought it should be a single. We just did it to keep the voltage going. We weren’t even thinking of recording it. We went down there to record something like “Cruiser’s Creek” or “Couldn’t Get Ahead”, and just did that as well. It’s a song that’s very hard to do actually, come to think of it. We had to do all the backing vocals, and they’re REALLY intricate, y’know? ‘BOOP-BOOP-BOOP’ – really complicated. And the guitar solos on the original, they’re just like avant garde jazz! Pretty damn good.

AD: Brix, how did you come to cover the Old Strawberry Alarm Clock hit “Incense And Peppermint” – with your spin-off group Adult Net, a song from 1967? I remember it first time round!

BS: Do you? I was four years old, HaHaHa!

CS: How old was YOU, Andy?

BS: SHUDDUP Craig! But yeah – that wasn’t the Fall (HaHaHa). That’s completely different. Let’s not talk about Adult Net. No, that’s a completely different subject. We should talk about the Fall now. So go on, Andy, ask me more questions about the Fall.

AD: You’ve praised the ‘bad songs and cheap guitars’ of Northern Soul, and cited ‘garage-band cheapness’ as a desired sound quality. So is musicianship an important part of what Fall do?

BS: The thing that really KILLS me, the thing that really infuriates me, is that people say we can’t play our instruments. And that is COMPLETELY…

AD: I wasn’t inferring that.

BS: No, I’m not saying you are. I’m saying this myth is completely a myth. I mean, we may not play like orthodox perfectly classically – you know, like THEORY trained musicians, but we can play. And we can play anything we like. We can play with ANY band. And if we wanted to learn classical, we could do it. And Simon – he’s a professor of music (keyboard-player Simon Rogers entered the London Royal College Of Music in 1976, and became an associate ARCM after winning their 1980 guitar prize). So there you go – HaHaHa. But, um – anyways, I think what we do is just STRIP it down and just play what we feel.

CS: What we find is that Musician’s Musicians, in the real sense of the word, couldn’t really think of the stuff we write. Because, for them, the imagination’s been stifled.

AD: There was a review in ‘Melody Maker’ of ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ – your tenth album, saying you’d just remade Captain Beefheart’s classic LP ‘Safe As Milk’ ten times.

BS: That’s full of shit. We saw the ‘Melody Maker’ that week. Oh god – that guy just hates the Fall. I mean, if you hate the Fall you hate it. If you hate something you just don’t like it. What’s the point of reviewing something you don’t like and you know you’re going to hate?

CS: People who have an idea in their mind about something just won’t listen. They’ll just review the album by one or two tracks, or by reading other people’s reviews and interviews. That guy said we should shoot ourselves!

BS: No – he said HE would shoot HIMSELF if he ever saw us again. I’m gonna send him a gun!

AD: I thought what he wrote was rather harsh, but he obviously saw the Fall as a band who hadn’t achieved any real progression. Do you see there being progression yourself?

CS: Yes. Of course.

AD: But don’t you ever see Fall reaching a point where there’s no clear direction left forward?

BS: Oh no. ‘Cos each album… I mean, some people say everything of ours sounds the same, but it is NOT. Not to me. No, I think we just keep on changing. Like, on ‘Perverted By Language’ (December 1983, the first to feature Brix contributions) the song-structures were much tighter and more verse-chorus verse-chorus, a beginning and an end. While ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ went back to being a lot looser, a lot more – not really experimental, but it just evolved itself without having to be put into an… um… structure.

AD: We began by talking of the ‘career structure’ which took Damned from Punk’s idealism into becoming a mainstream Pop-Rock Band. And Cabaret Voltaire, you describe their current output as ‘Disco Rubbish’, yet their initial experiments in tape-splicing were really innovatory.

MES: They’re clever lads, yeah.

AD: But once they’d exhausted all the possibilities and permutations of that style they evolved to where they are now. They had to go somewhere, and they matured pretty convincingly.

MES: N-a-a-a-h. It’s a bit Art School. It’s very Sheffield in’it, let’s face it? Y’know, not to knob ‘em. The Cab’s will never admit to themselves that basically they never really got over the Human League becoming Pop Stars. They’ve always been, like, sort of trying to do that, and lying to everybody that they want to be Independent. THAT’S the honest brutal truth. I like Richard (Kirk) a lot. I think he’s a REALLY nice lad. But that’s always been the problem for me, with them. They can’t seem to make their minds up whether they want to be Experimentalists or, er, Pop Stars. You shouldn’t really have to think about something as basic as that, it’s a waste of time even bothering about it. But they’re real uptight about the fact that they shared a studio with the Human League. I mean – who are the fucking Human League? I mean, they’re a good Pop group. But the Cab’s had more promise. But they blew it ‘cos they wanna be… once any group goes to Virgin Records, man, they’re fucked! S’right. A sure sign of death. Always has been.

AD: But won’t there come a time when Fall exhaust the possible permutations of their style? Do you have any conscious goals left to achieve?

CS: Girls – or goals?

AD: Do you feel that Fall albums are evolving towards something?

CS: No. Not really.

BS: We consciously try and make our albums better than the last one. Or different, or whatever. But we don’t set out deliberately to…

CS: Not as far as making a ‘grand statement’ is concerned. ‘Cos we’re always doing that. We’re doing it every day. Every time we play we’re making a grand statement. But there’s no sort of long-term military goal. We try our hardest, which is important, ‘cos there’s so much dross around. It keeps you on the ball. All these bad things are just unhelpful.

Other Fall features:

Friday 26 July 2019



 Album Review of: 
 (2006, Deram 983 214-7) 

Hush! Listen carefully to the silence between the tracks, and you can hear the sound of history being re-written. Of course, we’re all so post-modern smart and knowingly informed we now know that Rock ‘n’ Roll is all about post-CBGB’s worn leather jacket austerity poses, and immaculately wasted junkie pallor, not polite middle-class white boys in turtle-neck jumpers and ludicrous moustaches on a prog-Rock quest to find the musical equivalent of the holy grail. Only we didn’t know that in 1968. Back then – sure, we worshipped at the altar of Gene Vincent, I had singles by the Electric Prunes, Count Five, and Question Mark And The Mysterians, but when I saw the Moody’s play the ‘Skyline’ Ballroom (over the Co-op store) in Hull I was pretty much impressed.

‘Mojo’ magazine once compiled a CD box-set of the best British Psychedelia collecting a wealth of strange stuff from mostly forgotten vinyl, but a kind of hipper-than-thou snobbery excluded anything by the Moody Blues. Yet – say, the jousting guitar interplay of “Ride My See-Saw” or the trilling Roland Kirk flute taking you into the ‘astral plane’ of “Legends Of A Mind” from this newly expanded edition of ‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’ would have fitted seamlessly into their selection. Here’s the original twelve album tracks as issued in July 1968, plus a bonus fifteen-track CD of related material filched from John Peel’s 16 July ‘Top Gear’ show, plus the regular outtakes, alternate versions, and lost ‘B’-sides (including the pretty strong Mike Pinder original version of the later Four Tops hit “Simple Game”, and a radio-session take on the haunting urban hymn “Tuesday Morning” from their previous ‘Days Of Future Past’ album). And it’s a curio very much of its time.

Phil Travers’ sleeve-painting opposes a skull with a Kubrick embryo – birth and death, womb to tomb, with the life-force crushed in between them. And the album itself opens with Graeme Edge’s silly pseudo-profound poem “Departure” about lying in the meadow and hearing the grass sing. He returns later to add another about ‘the scent of sound’ and ‘the sounds of colour’. Until manic laughter leads into their cerebral quest, one which Ray Thomas’ jaunty “Doctor Livingstone I Presume” equates with forays into the African rainforest, Columbus’ voyage over the horizon or Scott’s snow-bound sojourn (are there really ‘giant Antarctic eels’?). Soon, “Thinking Is The Best Way To Travel” rhymes ‘high as a kite’ with ‘faster than light’ – neatly combining two favourite tripper’s metaphors, while adding quirky Floyd-ian electro-pulses, odd pauses and strongly inventive Beatle-style harmonies, wrapping exactly the same lyric-message as George Harrison’s Beatles’ ‘B’-side “The Inner Light”. And who else was writing about LSD guru Timothy Leary? Well – the Who mention him in “The Seeker”, but the Moody Blues got theirs in first.

“Voices In The Sky” carries an effective wistfulness that still makes all the right connections, the acceptable face of yearning. And Justin Hayward plunders the play-in-a-day sitar manual for “Om”. Unfortunately the keyboard minuet, the opening ‘doors of wisdom’ and the symphonic excess of the linking sequences provide the first real symptoms of overblown pretension, and there’s evidence of wimpy limpness to come on “The Actor” and “Visions Of Paradise”. But on America’s west-coast this album was listened to with stoned awe alongside ‘Electric Ladyland’ and ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’. In many ways its credentials were impeccable. They’d produced a cult album with ‘Days Of Future Past’ which failed to chart. Even “Nights Of White Satin” – now regarded as one of the ubiquitous ‘Heartbeat’-compilation bookmarks of the age, had only charted as high as no.19 so hippies could justifiably call it neglected or overlooked. In fact it was only rediscovered – and charted higher, much later. And although the Moody’s are now slagged off as the purveyors of orchestrated concept-albums, there are no strings here. Instead they use the mellotron, the kind of elaborate tape-operated proto-synth used on “Strawberry Fields Forever”. And the distorted sound-bending they contrive on “The Best Way To Travel” surely anticipates Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn”?

‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’ remains an intelligent, aspirational album. And beauty was still very much a valid part of the equation, after all ‘Forever Changes’ strives for a kind of fractured beauty too. But whereas Love’s great album is legitimised by its unsettling subtext, there’s nothing vaguely unsettling here. And that’s its real flaw. While unlike, say, Pink Floyd, who went on to reinvent themselves across still highly-regarded subsequent albums, the Moody Blues never really evolved beyond this point. ‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’ would remain the high-point of their creativity. Each album that followed would be a repetition of its blander moments with even more vacuous prettifications. Their final moment of credibility – the single “Questions” with its abrupt tonal shifts, would chart at the end of the decade (no.2 in May 1970). So by the arrival of Punk they were no longer even considered legitimate targets, and the New Wave aimed its gobs of derision at Jethro Tull or Yes instead. But that’s only obvious with the benefit of hindsight. Rock history was not going their way. But we didn’t know that in 1968…

Originally featured on the website:
‘SOUNDCHECKS’ (October 2006)

DVD Review of: 
 (EAGLE VISION) www.eagle-rock.com 

Before Justin’s Timberlake and Bieber, there was Justin Hayward. He maybe can’t dance like Timberlake, but unlike ‘Brat’ Bieber he knows his way around a good tune. You know Justin Hayward. If you don’t remember him as Marty Wilde’s sideman in the Wilde Three you’ve overdosed on all that Moodyblues classic-Rock stuff. Coming out the other side, and clearly less than loot-driven, this is a modest small-scale four-piece concert at the ‘Buckhead Theatre’, Atlanta, showcasing his songwriting across all phases of his career. “Captivated By You” – from his 2013 ‘Spirits Of The Western Sky’ album, opens (and closes) the credits over a sepia blur of old press photos, promising ‘a beautiful adventure is waiting’.

On a stripped-down stage-set he backtracks through the Moody’s from “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Questions” with some neat fills from second guitarist Mike Dawes, to “Your Wildest Dreams” from the 1986 album ‘The Other Side Of Life’. Justin prefaces “Land Of Make-Believe” from US no.1 LP ‘Seventh Sojourn’ with a tale of changes taking place within the apparently successful group. “The Eastern Sun” downsizes further, and is done solo. Then he ducks back for the terminally tasteful “Forever Autumn” from Jeff Wayne’s overblown ‘War Of The Worlds’. Sweetly forlorn and exquisitely gloomy he’s never less than clever, literate, articulate. An ornate poetry of ‘glorious halls’ and ‘exploding stars’ sung at the service of ‘your blue eyes’. Employing an anguished yearning quality only failed by its soft-core pseudo-profundity. It’s very… pleasant, which is like saying that polite intelligence is a bad thing. There’s bonus ‘On The Road’ docu-features and extra tracks, Justin time.

Published in:
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol. 2 No. 48 
(November/December 2014)’ 
(UK – November 2014)

Thursday 25 July 2019



 SF-pioneer Murray Leinster wrote a trilogy of novelettes set in a bizarre
future-world overrun by giant insects, where the remnants of humanity
struggle to survive. He was writing at a time when the genre was still
young enough to ignore the rules…

As the literature of science, SF conforms to the principles of evolution. It evolves. It has evolved from simpler forms, into greater complexity. ‘One of my lunacies is that I enjoy doing things which the authorities in such matters say can’t possibly be right’ proclaimed William Fitzgerald Jenkins – aka ‘Murray Leinster’. Myth-wise, the alias ‘Leinster’ was derived from a province and an ancient Kingdom of Ireland. But, born 16 June 1896 in Norfolk, Virginia, he was one of the genre’s pioneers. Commenting about his 1926 story “The Mad Planet” he points out that ‘one of the essentials for maintaining the reader’s interest, say the pundits, is dialogue. But those who have read it will have noticed, perhaps, that there is not one line of dialogue in “The Mad Planet”, and there is only one short speech in its sequel’ (in the essay “Writing For The Fun Of It” in ‘Tales Of Wonder’ no.9, Winter 1939).

There are two perspectives on this phenomena. It can be argued that – yes, the literature evolved from its cruder simpler pulp forms, and sophisticated as it grew. But it also renews for every new initiate. It is forever new, at the point of its first discovery. That moment of ignition is the same now, as it was for readers of earlier decades. That teenage opening up of possibilities that flashes in your head like neon. But alternately, those first statements were unique, existing in a separate continuum. When EE ‘Doc’ Smith, or Isaac Asimov, or Robert Heinlein were first expanding the scope of SF out into the galaxy, it had never been done before. They were inventing it. Subsequent writers have benefitted by taking advantage of being able to dip and delve from their image-bank, mixing-and-matching from their pre-existing archive of ideas. Various reconfigurings of Hyper-Drive Starships, world-wrecking Planet-Killers, Galactic Empires ruled by corrupt and despotic Emperors, wars between worlds and clashes with alien cultures.

Science Fiction is a genre with its own designated bookshop alcove, its own analytical critical studies, its conventions and recognisable tropes which can be used and abused in different ways for allegorical purposes, or merely for escapist thrills. Just as Crime Detection fiction and Westerns have their tried and trusted accoutrements, so Space Armadas blasting through warp-fields and dynastic planetary sagas are part of the reliable tested hardware and software of media Sci-Fi. It can reset itself by integrating new relativistic theories or probe data from the near and distant reaches of the solar system. And it can reinforce its cross-over marketability with sharp dialogue, character back-story and relationships more typical of mainstream fiction. In the same way that twenty-first-century Rock music has the luxury of plundering from a menu of styles, poses, riffs and a library of stances with all the inconvenient wrinkles and inconsistencies ironed out by earlier generations of rebel experimentalists.

That was not always so. There is also the rough edges and rawness of first statements. When Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker was accelerating Jazz into BeBop, that sound had never before existed. When the Beatles recorded “Strawberry Fields Forever” nothing like it had happened before. Just as when the Dadaists upended the concepts of what art meant and could become, or when Jackson Pollock daubed his way into Abstract Expressionism. There is the shock of newness, as well as the reassurance of continuity. Those first few decades of Science Fiction had that same exploratory uniqueness. It was making itself up through each garish issue of those early newsstand magazines. It was inventing itself.

A freelancer from age twenty-one, Murray Leinster ‘starved to death only twice,’ and was already adept at writing Western tales, Jungle stories, Detective fiction and even Romances for pulps such as ‘Argosy’ and ‘All-Story Weekly’. As for SF, he writes ‘I have always been fanatically fond of it, and though I wanted to write it myself, I doubted my ability to do so at first; and it was in rather a lunatic fashion that I started at all. At that time, I was writing some very domestic family-life stories for one of our American magazines, and tiring of them, decided to turn to something more exciting. So I wrote the editor telling him that I was starting a new story entitled “The Runaway Skyscraper”, the first sentence of which read: ‘The whole thing started when the clock on the Metropolitan Tower began to run backward.’ Actually, I had not the faintest idea of writing such a yarn; but the editor replied demanding to see the manuscript when it was finished, and rather than admit I was a liar, I wrote my first science fiction story.’

“The Runaway Skyscraper” novelette – shifting an office-block back in time from the Manhattan skyline to Native American pre-Columbian forests, made its spectacular lift-off into the third issue of ‘Amazing Stories’ – dated June 1926, alongside such heavy-weight names as HG Wells, Jules Verne, Otis Adelbert Kline and G Peyton Wertenbaker. ‘From that beginning, I went on and on – and still do’ he adds with wry humour. “The Mad Planet” followed in the eighth issue – November 1926 (although, as with “The Runaway Skyscraper”, it had been previewed in ‘Argosy’). It was a time when Science Fiction wasn’t even yet called Science Fiction. The story introduces Burl in his far-future world where vast evolutionary changes have transformed the Earth into a realm of giant insects and fungus forests. Where the devolved remnants of humanity have become the endangered species. Many years later Colin Wilson would write his ‘Spider World’ novel-series – commencing with ‘Spider World: The Tower’ (1987), taking a far more pedestrian glimpse into the evolutionary consequences of humans enslaved by monster arachnids.

Despite the self-admitted literary deficiencies and rule-breaking limitations of his story, Leinster’s vigorous energy manages to build up a complex biosphere, a fully interactive ecosystem crawling with nasty cannibalistic and vicious creatures. ‘The insects of the night – the great moths whose wings spread far and wide in the dimness, and the huge fireflies, four feet in length, whose beacons made the earth glow in their pale, weird light.’ It’s more in keeping with Brian Aldiss’s excellent ‘Hothouse’ (1962), with its detailed worlds-end given over to grotesque vegetable life-forms squirming into every available evolutionary niche. Yet, born in August 1925, young Brian Aldiss was scarcely yet around to take notice!

As Leinster readily points out, against the prescriptions of literary pundits – ‘the authorities in such matters’, there is no dialogue in “The Mad Planet”. Characterisation is minimal. The reader is carried along purely on the momentum of adventure, discovery, shock and amazement. Editor Walter Gillings of Britain’s pioneering magazine ‘Tales Of Wonder’ reprints “The Mad Planet”, making it the dramatic cover-story of no.6 – showing a crouching man armed only with a spear, menaced by a giant bee. Accompanied by line-illustrations supplied by Manchester artist Harry Turner, Gillings writes ‘one of the most popular stories we have published was “The Mad Planet”, which took us thirty-thousand years into the future to a fantastic world where giant insects thrived amid nightmare fungus growths, and man was an insignificant creature living a precarious existence.’ So that its sequel “Red Dust” (in no.9), is blurbed ‘to the primitive Burl and his tribe came a new peril, even greater than the hideous monsters of that mad planet.’

Dulled by the necessities of mere survival, the human tribe are ‘little pink-skinned creatures… struggling to contend with the manifold dangers that beset the last surviving remnants of mankind in that distant era.’ Only Burl possesses the vestigial imagination to see a little way beyond their plight, ‘he had found that if he persistently asked himself a question, some sort of answer came from within.’ In “The Mad Planet” he is separated from his people and forced to undergo a hazardous trek through nightmare realms, ‘carried down the river on his fungus raft’, in order to reunite with the tribe again. ‘He had stood by when the purple hills had burned and formed a funeral pyre for a horde of army ants, and for countless thousands of flying creatures. He had caught a leaping tarantula upon the point of his spear, and escaped from the web of a banded spider by oiling his body so that the sticky threads of the snare refused to hold him fast. He had attacked and killed a great, grey labyrinth spider.’

‘“The Mad Planet” and its sequel, “The Red Dust”, came out of my enthusiasm for the works of Jean-Henri Fabre on insects’ divulges Leinster. A French entomologist and naturalist (1823-1915) Fabre wrote populist books on the lives of insects. Leinster continues ‘while I was writing the first, it seemed to get out of balance, and when it was finished, I felt there was something lacking in a certain part of the story. So I sat down again and really let myself go, throwing all inhibitions overboard – and did the chapter about the burning of the purple hills, which I like better than anything else in the yarn.’

In “Red Dust” the tribe are menaced by a spreading invasive fungus-species with pollinating spores that take on cataclysmic destructive properties, and Burl must lead his people to safety beyond its poisonous reach. Wearing ‘the snowy-white, velvety wings of the dead butterfly’, with ‘two three-foot stumps of the feathery, golden antennae of a night-flying moth bound to his forehead’ and a chitinous spear ripped from the body of an unknown flying creature, Burl – with soul-mate Saya ‘of the swift feet and slender limbs’, assumes natural leadership of the naked tribe, and is forced to use the unfamiliar process of thinking his way out of this – and subsequent, crises.

First he co-ordinates a revenge attack on the suspended hemispherical nest of a giant clotho spider which had devoured a man of the tribe. Then he leads his people, ‘at once brave and pathetic, venturing forth in a world of monstrous ferocity and incredible malignance,’ detouring around a war between ant-hill cities. Separated from his tribe by a crazy ride on the back of a huge meat-eating bug, he finds Saya just as she’s being interred by burying-beetles. They enter ‘The Forest Of Death’ and cross ‘The Fragrant Swamp’, then construct rafts from shelf-fungus which carry them down the river. They brave ‘four-inch mosquitoes, that were driven off by the tribesfolk with lusty blows, glittering beetles, and flies whose bodies shone with a metallic lustre, buzzed and flew above the water. Huge butterflies danced above the steaming, festering earth…’ Strengthened by the journey, ‘they knew the exhilaration of brave adventure’, they eventually reach a valley beyond the Red Dust threat, with cave-like burrows left by tunnelling hunting-wasp grubs to provide a safe refuge, leading off a plateau with fresh water and food sources.

‘One doesn’t often get a chance to write something just for the fun of it, without particular regard for the accepted rules of story-writing’ says Leinster. And the only dialogue in the story consists of a single paragraph in which Burl and Saya pledge to each other as leaders of the tribe. ‘Forty-thousand words of fiction in which the leading character keeps his mouth shut… and I hope you like it! If you don’t, I leave it to the individual to heave brickbats according to his personal taste.’

This story is not a metaphor. There is no satire, political or social relevance. It’s not even speculative fiction in any real sense of making calculated predictions about the future. It’s simply extravagant adventure-fantasy, a foray into wild imagination, at a time when SF was still a vigorous disreputable outlaw literature. Leinster is gleefully thumbing his nose, Punk-style, at highbrow academics and literary pundits, accepting the ‘inalienable right’ of the critic, ‘whilst assuring him, honestly, that I have tried to do my best.’

In that same issue of ‘Tales Of Wonder’ Alfred Gordon Bennett contributes an article concerning ‘an amazing forecast of the far-off future, when Earth may be ruled by monster insects of supreme intellect!’ Bennett had made his own fictional foray into such possibilities with his novel ‘The Demigods’ (1939) – with a hive-mind of giant ants emerging from an underground African realm, and it’s a subject that will recur throughout fantasy fiction. Although there are very sound scientific arguments against insect super-growth ‘on the grounds that the insects’ respiratory system is such as would prevent them obtaining sufficient oxygen from the air to sustain life,’ there’s nevertheless fossil evidence that, under altered environmental conditions, it has happened in the distant past. And it has proved irresistible to Sci-Fi, from the monster radioactive mutations of ‘Them!’ (1954) through to Earth’s implacable and convincingly alien Big Bug enemies in the ‘Starship Troopers’ (1997) movie. Editorially prompted by the inclusion of Leinster’s novelette Bennett speculates, declaring an intention to ‘dispose of all the romantic frillings with which the subject has been draped, and search for such factual evidence’ as he can. His conclusions admit the possibility that ‘with the lapse of astronomical and geological eons, the insect race may even become the lords of this planet.’

A much-delayed third instalment of Leinster’s saga – “Nightmare Planet”, first appeared in Hugo Gernsback’s ‘Science Fiction Plus’ in June 1953 (Volume 1, no.4). When the three novelettes were combined into novel form into ‘The Forgotten Planet’ (Gnome Press, 1954), the preface introduces the new concept that Burl’s world is not far-future Earth after all. Despite having stated this on a number of occasions, instead it seems that the little human tribe are descended from the survivors of a crashed starship on a partially terraformed alien world run riot. Whether this was the intention all along, or if he later decided to fine-tune his theme to make it conform more easily to mainstream expectations, must be something known only to Leinster.

As one of the few early contributors to the garish pulps to efficiently navigate the changes John Campbell introduced through the ‘Astounding/ Analog’ period, his style sophisticated and he continued to appear as a respected author – the ‘Dean Of Science Fiction’, producing an impressive fiction output spanning decades. A rationalist, he sees a sense of basic logic underlying the apparent chaotic nature of the universe, as in “The Ethical Equations” which ‘gave mathematical proof that probabilities and ethics are interlinked, so that final admirable results cannot be expected from unethical beginnings,’ as in his May 1945 ‘Astounding SF’ tale of a ten-thousand-year-old alien derelict made of exotic particles that drifts into the solar system. The ends, he says, do not justify immoral means. It’s a theme reiterated in “Symbiosis” (‘Colliers’, January 1947), ‘the life of humanity is a symbiosis, a living-together, in all its stages. It begins with the symbiotic relationship of members of a family, each of whom helps and is helped by all the rest. But it rises to the symbiotic relationship of nations, of which each is an organism necessary to the others, and all are mutually helpful.’ At a time of international walls and disaffiliations, his fable of Kantolia invaded by, but outwitting its more massive neighbour, takes on new contemporary relevance.

Even when he turns his attention to BEMs – Bug-Eyed Monsters, as he does in “De Profundis” (‘Thrilling Wonder Stories’, Winter 1954), he operated from the eighty-eyed point-of-view of Sard, one of the monstrous tentacled deep-sea-dwelling Shadi, who attempts to reconcile conflicting theories of the nature of reality and its own mutually cannibalistic species, yet nevertheless retrieves a human bathysphere and returns its two tiny aquanauts safely to the surface. There’s a clever moral irony to the tense claustrophobia of “Time To Die” (‘Astounding SF’, January 1947) too. It consists of a nuanced two-way death-row conversation between Rodney and Limpy Gossett, neither prisoner can see the other, as moments tick by towards execution, and he’s tormented by tentative hints at an escape method into an alternate time-stream supposedly achieved by Fellenden through pure mental powers. Then, in “Interference” (‘Astounding SF’, October 1945) TV reception-problems are traced to an interdimensional portal, through which messages are warily exchanged, including star-maps from a popular science magazine to confirm the relative time-fix.

At this point he was no longer the rebel. With SF growing away from its ‘Buck Rogers’-stuff trash reputation into a grudging acceptance, he was writing clever tales rich with character detail, modest original ideas and – yes, an interplay of well-observed dialogue.

William Fitzgerald Jenkins – aka ‘Murray Leinster’, died 8 June 1975, aged 78. Leaving a legacy of fine writing.

1934 – ‘SIDEWAYS IN TIME’ (‘Astounding Stories’, June 1934), in his ‘Astounding Days’ Arthur C Clarke writes that ‘when Murray Leinster set a regiment of Roman soldiers marching down a street in Joplin, Missouri, on 5 June 1935, he created a whole new genre’, the genre being the meshing of alternate time-streams

1934 – ‘THE MOLE PIRATE’ (Astounding Stories’, November 1934) Arthur C Clarke says ‘the story inspired one of Howard Brown’s most memorable covers showing what looks like the ghost of a submarine, half-in and half-out of a bank vault, while the frustrated guards attack it vainly with ineffectual weapons.’ A scientist invents a burrowing machine, slipping through the spaces between atoms, which he uses for criminal purposes

1945 – ‘FIRST CONTACT’ (‘Astounding SF’, May 1945) when exploration ship ‘Llanvabon’ meets an alien vessel within the Crab Nebula, Leinster introduces the concept of the ‘universal translator’ into SF. Leinster’s estate even – unsuccessfully, sues Paramount Pictures for ‘Star Trek’ using the idea, which by then was considered ‘generic’

1945 – ‘PIPELINE TO PLUTO’ (‘Astounding SF’, August 1945) ‘the Pipeline was actually a two-billion-mile arrangement of specks of infinity. Each of the specks was a carrier. Each of the carriers was motorless and inert. Each was unlighted. Each was lifeless’ endlessly ferrying materials out to the Pluto mines, and carrying the metals back. Except there are stowaways, who don’t realise that ‘you’ll freeze so fast y’wont have time to die’. A resuscitated Hill returns, seeking revenge

1945 – ‘DE PROFUNDIS’ (‘Thrilling Wonder Stories’, Winter 1945), despite the dramatic cover-art of ‘memorial anthology’ ‘The Best Of Murray Leinster’ edited by Brian Davis (Corgi, 1976), the giant octopus from the ocean depths helps the two humans to return safely to the surface

1948 – ‘THE DEVIL OF EAST LUPTON’ (‘Thrilling Wonder Stories’, August 1948), as Mr Tedder runs away to escape vagrancy charges he discovers three objects, a sphere not more than ten-feet in diameter (a projectile from Jupiter carrying a life-form which snags its life-support on barbed-wire, and melts), a thing that resembles a gun, and a ‘pot’ which he places on his head for ease of carrying, but which becomes fixed irremovably by chin-straps. Subsequently, wherever he goes he finds unconscious people and animals, more confused than seeking criminal advantage, he tries to help the victims. Slow-witted he eventually realises the helmet is an alien weapon projecting a defensive zone, just as the army moves in and begin blanket-shelling the area. He drops the gun and the ‘pot’ down a well causing a massive explosion, ‘but Mr Tedder’s intellectual processes would never grasp such a thing’. Hospitalised, he ‘disappeared into the vast obscurity of the world of tramps, bums, blanket-stiff and itinerant workmen’ leaving the mystery unresolved

1951 – ‘IF YOU WAS A MOKLIN’ (‘Galaxy’, September 1951), ‘they sure do like humans, these Moklins! Humans are their idea of what people should be like!’ Friendly and helpful, the native Moklins are swell folks who appear more and more human. ‘Humans is tops on Moklin. And Moklins get humaner every day.’ ‘They’ve got a queer sort of evolution on Moklin, darling. Babies here inherit desired characteristics. Not acquired characteristics, but desired ones!’ Until red-headed Inspector Caldwell arrives (as the ‘Palmyra’ prepares to land the trees uproot and move out of the way) intent on confronting a new rival trading post, only to discover that it’s a Moklin imitation. She and Brooks decide the post must be abandoned before Moklins begin to infiltrate the human worlds. Except that Joe Brinkley is already a Moklin

1955 – ‘SAM, THIS IS YOU’ (‘Galaxy’ March 1955) the complications that arise when telephone repairman Sam Yoder gets a phone call from himself a week into the future with a get-rich scam, but his intended – Rosie, suspects his intentions. They capture some bank-robbers following a tip-off from future-Sam, and now ‘nobody around home will ever bet with him on who’s going to win a baseball game’

1956 – ‘SCRIMSHAW’ (‘Astounding SF’, February 1956), Pop Young lives in a dust-covered shack on the Moon’s dark side where he sketches attempts at recovering the lost memory of his murdered wife and children. His attacker – Sattell, works in the diamond mine in the Big Crack beneath him. Pop foils an attempted diamond-heist – by a red-headed man in league with Sattell, causing the ship to explode, then salvages a clear-white plastic stair-rail from the debris that he can carve into a ‘scrimshaw’ sculpture, ‘because that was the way to get back the missing portions of his life.’ There is no resolution, no reveal of his lost memories, no hint of what his revenge, or reaction, or reconciliation will be

1967 – ‘APPLIED SCIENCE FICTION’ (‘Analog’, November 1967), his last appearance in an SF magazine, an article on his own invention – Jenkins Systems, the front-projection backdrop technique which is now an accepted part of the TV and movie-making industry