Sunday 25 August 2019



old men with white beards 
stand on podiums, pontificating, 
pay attention, we can benefit from 
their wealth of life-experience 
and accumulated learning, 
old white men with beards 
lecture interminably, listen, 
we are fortunate they deign 
to gift us with their wisdom, 
tell us how to think and behave 

old white men with white beards and 
portly waistlines, poets, professors 
curators and clerics, novelists, 
critics, politicians and historians 
pause for power-point punchline 
punctuation and dramatic effect 
as we hang on their every word, 
these venerable old custodians of 
whiskery white male cultural values 
fixed ideas, intractable philosophies 
and academic elitism 
…everything we reject 
and don’t need to learn, 
I’ll tell you how to dance in sunshine

Also featured online at:
(24 August 2019)

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Michael Moorcock's first 'ELRIC'


 ‘Science Fantasy’ no.47 – published in June 1961, 
introduces the world to a new fantasy character, the dark 
doomed-laden Elric of Melniboné, created by a 
 ‘new author to our pages’, Michael Moorcock. 
 This is where the legend begins…

In the 1981 novelette “Elric At The End Of Time” the sorcerer is described as ‘a somewhat unhealthy-looking albino with gaunt features, exaggeratedly large and slanting eyes, ears that were virtually pointed and glaring, half-mad red pupils.’ This is not quite the swashbuckling image that adorns the cover of ‘Science Fantasy no.47’, marking the first-ever print appearance of the brooding doom-laden Lord of Melniboné. The issue is dated June 1961, with editor John Carnell writing ‘this is the first of a new series of stories by a new author to our pages.’ Moorcock would later acknowledge ‘the encouragement and help given me when writing them (the Elric tales) by John Carnell.’ 

It seems strange to think of Michael Moorcock being introduced as a ‘new author’. It seems strange to imagine a time when Elric was not a vital part of genre Sci-Fi mythology. There have subsequently been prequels, novels, graphic novel adaptations, and all manner of tie-in elaborations. But as far as the world was concerned, “The Dreaming City” was the first glimpse of Elric. Born 18 December 1939, Michael Moorcock was twenty-two and a bit. Born some time later, I was halfway through fourteen. I did not discover ‘Science Fantasy’ until some years after, when I happened upon a cache of old issues on the shelves of a second-hand bookshop off Princes Avenue in Hull. But I was instantly captivated, and drawn into the dark imaginings of the savage destiny it describes. Carnell adds in a neatly summarised thumbnail sketch of what is to come, that ‘unlike many central characters, Elric is puny on his own, but as a wanderer in another place and time he has the power of sorcery to boost his strength,’ alluding to ‘Stormbringer’, the semi-sentient battle-blade that is also ‘The Stealer Of Souls’.

In that remote time-lost June 1961, eternal cowboy hero Gary Cooper died aged sixty, as well as psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung – aged eighty-five, whose concepts of ‘archetypes’ may well have contributed to the mix of influences feeding into Moorcock’s tale. American astronaut Alan Shepard followed Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into space, albeit in a sub-orbital shot, as the superpower ‘Space Race’ gathers momentum. Elvis Presley was no.1 for the month’s first three weeks with “Surrender”, with Del Shannon, the Shadows, Everly Brothers and Billy Fury vying for chart places beneath him. Tony Hancock’s ‘Half-Hour’ was on BBC-TV. Stirling Moss won the Brands Hatch Silver Cup Trophy. Although, at the time, I was more caught up with Dan Dare adventuring on ‘The Platinum Planet’ on the ‘Eagle’ front-page. In ‘Lion’ Keith Watson was illustrating the large-scale Space Opera ‘Captain Condor And The War In Space’. While over at ‘Tiger’ Jet-Ace Logan was encountering the shape-shifting ‘Giants From Space’.

Brian Lewis became one of the few artists to work on all three of those UK Space Hero picture-strips, which meant I immediately recognised his style in the glossy cover-art for ‘Science Fantasy’ no.47. It shows Elric looking more like a Roman soldier, wearing emerald cloak ‘of rustling green velvet’ draped over his shoulder, decorated armour with ‘breastplate of strangely-wrought silver’ and ornate flared runesword held loosely, with the faint futuristic lines of a ghost city behind him. Lewis was one of Britain’s finest and most imaginative graphic artists, producing a gallery of beautiful highly distinctive covers for all three of John Carnell’s Nova Publications. Of course, the portrayal of Elric would become increasingly stylised and sophisticated as the mythos developed through further tales. In fairness, this commission was the first attempt to capture his appearance, a preparatory sketch from which future images would evolve. There are no illustrations on the cheaper-quality interior pages.

Priced at just two shillings and sixpence, ‘Science Fantasy’ was a uniquely niché’d little magazine, straddling the fault-line its title suggests – the word ‘Science’ in clear black font, ‘Fantasy’ in more playful italicised script. A slipstream title more ‘Weird Tales’ than it was ‘New Worlds’. The issue also includes a second novelette – John Rackham’s “The Veil Of Isis” (pseudonym of John T Phillifent) – an amusing sequel in which the protagonists from earlier story “The Black Cat’s Paw” confront reanimated Egyptological undead slaves. Plus two short stories – “Blood Offering” by John Kippax, where a trader on a tropical island is menaced by the local’s Shark God, and the charming “Valley Of The Rainbirds” by WT Webb, a poetic offering in which a man called Peabody is devoured by a storm of starlings. The issue is wrapped up by the twelfth in Sam Moskowitz’s ‘Studies In Science Fiction’ series, a scholarly essay on Stanley G Weinbaum – creator of “A Martian Odyssey”. There’s a back-page panel advertising the current ‘New Worlds’ – no.106, highlighted by John Rackham’s “Blink” (also cover-illustrated by Brian Lewis), alongside tales by JG Ballard (‘The Terminal Beach’ story “Deep End”), Philip E High, Alan Barclay and John Ashcroft. While the Brian Lewis cover of ‘Science Fiction Adventures’ no.20 – advertised on the inside back-page, illustrates Robert Silverberg’s “The Wages Of Death” and Kenneth Bulmer’s “Wind Of Liberty”.

The annals of Moorcockiana continue to debate the provenance and authorship of earlier tales and comicstrips that the young Moorcock scripted, frequently in various combinations with the other teenage protégé Barrington J Bayley. Moorcock’s official adult debut came with “Peace On Earth”, in collaboration with Bayley – under the byline ‘Michael Barrington’, in ‘New Worlds SF’ (no.89, December 1959), the magazine he was later to edit. Carnell extends a welcome as ‘a new author makes his debut with a different approach to the immortality theme – two men with eternity before them searching for an ancient Earth-type antidote for restlessness.’ Two immortal post-humans two-million years hence, Fra-Thala and Bulik are on a galaxy-wide quest for meaning, guided by Aber Juillard’s black-bound Book. With an earnest striving for significance, they find the answer lies in accepting the finality of death on an arid empty Earth, because only death gives life meaning. He would follow the story with “Going Home” for ‘Science Fiction Adventures’ (no.25, March 1962), in which Bayley may also have had some input.

But the first adult publication as Michael Moorcock is in ‘Science Fantasy no.47’. Hold that issue in your hands now, plucked direct from the newsagent’s display. Smell that freshly-minted aroma of new paper. Flip past the ‘Contents’ page… pretend you’ve never seen those story-titles before. Read it as though you’ve never heard of Elric, or ‘the cruel, brilliant and malicious’ Bright Empire of Melniboné ever before, or Stormbringer ‘forged by an ancient and alien sorcerer’, or alternately ‘forged by gods before the world gave birth to human offspring’. Before the follow-ups, the rewrites and the reconfigurations. This is the original text. Re-experience that first time.

Commencing on the issue’s page two, Moorcock’s ‘Introduction’ to “The Dreaming City” sets its time-fix into the chronoflow as an aspect of ‘an agony of Now, and so it will always be’. Yet it’s also located ‘ten-thousand years before history was recorded – or ten-thousand years after history had ceased to be chronicled.’ There are further hints. ‘Ravaged, at last, by the formless terror called Time, Melniboné fell’ and ‘then history began: India, China, Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Greece and Rome – all these came after Melniboné.’ Which places these fictional events firmly in prehistory, as we understand it. Science Fiction has colonised the far future. But Robert E Howard had populated his archaic Hyborian age with a miscellany of monsters and magic, in which Conan has become an iconic archetype for mighty-thewed imitators clear down through heroic fiction to Sláine of ‘2000AD’. Also in those 1930s issues of ‘Weird Tales’ Clark Ashton Smith set his Poseidonis as a Miocene remnant of lost Atlantis, which plumbs into another persistent myth-strand.

Academic recorded history commences with the receding of the last Ice Age, a mere ten-thousand years ago. Although proto-humans have existed for around six-million years, within which modern humans evolved some 200,000 years ago. Either way this time-span is wide enough for entire chunks of earlier culture to be carelessly mislaid. We can speculate if there had been such an earlier protean civilisation that evidence could easily have become eroded by environmental change, flooding on one hand – inundation from melting glaciers causing rising sea-levels, and on the other, desertification as habitable zones shift. Which is not to say that the realms of Conan, Atlantis and Elric are likely, merely that there’s the vaguest tenuous wisp of possibility that distant antiquity is big enough to hold secrets as yet unsuspected by academe.

Moorcock was enthusiastically familiar with Robert E Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and had already chronicled the exploits of his own Conan – with a cycle of ‘Sojan The Swordsman’ tales for the juvenile ‘Tarzan Adventures’ comic under his own editorial regime. But Elric was a step beyond anything that had come before. Deeper, more nuanced and sophisticated. Closer in character development to Fritz Leiber’s ‘Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser’ series set in the Swords And Sorcery dimension of Lankhmar. Only more so. Elric attunes to the dark adolescent Gothic lure of fin de siècle decadence, as much Aubrey Beardsley as it is Brian Lewis. The florid prose revels in diseased pain and nihilistic decay, with Stormbringer as a powerful addiction metaphor. Huge in scope and dramatic, forged from incandescent anger out of Moorcock’s own furious impatience at the world’s intractable dullness, Elric captures the generational rebel angst burning within the time, and is yet timeless. There was as yet no such genre as Young Adult Fantasy, but it’s clear to see how its moody shadow appealed to the messed-up adolescent in me.

The story itself opens with an alliance of six marauding Sea Lords awaiting Elric’s arrival. He will guide the ‘mightiest fleet to sail the Sighing Sea’, using sorcerer’s powers to enable them to pass through the formidable seawall and treacherous waterways of the five-doored maze of high-walled channels to the secret ports of Imrryr the Beautiful, the Dreaming City. In doing so, he is betraying the last stronghold of the ten-thousand year Melnibonéan empire, where a decadent narcotic aristocracy play sadistic games of ‘soporific desolation’. In the romantic tradition of heroic fiction, outsider Elric is rightful King Of The Dragon Isle, the Ruby Throne to which his cousin – Yyrkoon, is usurper. With Yyrkoon’s sister, and Elric’s beloved Cymoril, held in an enchanted sleep. Yet, at odds with those fictional expectations, Elric regards ‘crowns and rulership’ with disgust. His motives are the revenge of nihilistic destruction.

First he ‘crooned his hideous mind-juddering song of sorcery’ and uses ‘unthinkable pacts with the elementals’ to draw a concealing mist down upon the fjord to hide the swift vessels of the fleet. He makes a solo reconnaissance journey to the city. Then, subverting mythic archetype themes, from the Sleeping Beauty fairytale image to the Homeric fleet attacking and ransacking Troy, ‘Elric hacked a blood-drenched path’ through the Imrryr defences. Again – as in all classic dramas, there’s the decisive confrontation between the two arch-protagonists, Elric faces Yyrkoon who wields runesword Mournblade, a twin to Elric’s sentient hellblade. Yet Moorcock turns the solo combat in unexpected ways. The blades take on urgencies of their own. In supernatural torment Elric becomes puppet to Stormbringer. Laughing ‘like a gibbering demon from the foulest depths of hell’ Yyrkoon deflects Elric’s blade, causing the albino to kill Cymoril. He is now not only outcast, but woman-slayer.

The prose is raw and vivid, loaded and overwrought with darkness, piling charged adjectives one upon the other where more calculating writers would show reticence or restraint, establishing a relentless momentum towards the inexorable climax. In a penultimate sequence the freebooter fleet leaves the ‘flame-spewing ruins of Imrryr’ even as the city inflicts a posthumous revenge in golden battle-barges and unleashed dragons. Elric summons witch-winds for his own escape, leaving the reavers to face decimation. All is destruction. Nothing remains. The past burns. There is no future. In his terrible misery, the Proud Prince of Ruins unsheathes his blade, ‘the frightful thing had used its wielder and had made Elric destroy Cymoril’, he loathes his dependence upon the runesword, without which he will lose vitality, and ultimately his life. He attempts to hurl it away into the depths of the sea. Yet it impales itself in the surface, refusing to sink. And despite his fear and resentment, he’s forced to retrieve it. Accepting the Faustian pact that bonds them, less parasitic, more a symbiosis. ‘They rode together, sword and man, and none could tell which the master.’

Elric, ‘the last mighty Nigromancer left in the world,’ returns to ‘Science Fantasy’ with “While The Gods Laugh” (no.49, October 1961), where more familiar elements fall into place. There is Moonglum the Outlander, from Elwher of the Young Kingdoms. There are the Lords of Entropy, and the eternal struggle/ balance between the forces of Law and Chaos. The tale opens as, guided by Shaarilla, the wingless woman of Myyrrhn, the duo cross the Silent Land and the Marshes of the Mist, face the Devil-Dogs of Dharzi and the Mist Giant, then sail a vast subterranean sea in search of the ‘Dead God’s Book’ which holds ‘the ultimate truth of existence.’ A distant cousin, perhaps, of Aber Juillard’s black-bound ‘Book’ from Michael Barrington’s “Peace On Earth”? For Moorcock strikes at the most primal myths of the collective unconscious, black castles, swords, epic crusades, caves, darkness and light… books that turn to dust.

Then there is “The Stealer Of Souls” (no.51, February 1962), as Elric – ‘poor white chosen plaything of the Gods of Time’ forms a pragmatic alliance with Imrryrian exiles, using supernatural forces in order to attack the gloomy fortress of Nikorn of Ilmar. Within the stronghold, Yishana, Queen of Jharkor is loved by Theleb K’aarna, rival sorcerer of Pan Tang, but she yearns for Elric, her lost lover. The plotting is occasionally porous, as when Theleb incapacitates Elric by stealing Stormbringer, Moonglum simply uses Yishana to steal it back, as ‘her breasts heaved beneath the flimsy fabric.’ Just as, similarly, it’s a useful narrative device having a sorcerer protagonist, as in the next Elric story. Chained to the sacrificial menhirs of the Org surrounded by flesh-feasting ghouls, Elric merely calls upon the Demon-God Arioch who responds with a convenient lightening bolt to smash the stones asunder and free him. Not that it matters. The tales work in weaving their enticing moody spell. Continuity is for nitpickers. Reality is there to be suspended.

It’s interesting that in no.53 Moorcock was already commencing his parallel “The Eternal Champion” cycle, in first-person prose, separate, but related – ‘a story of the dim and distant past, or the far-flung future, whichever way you look at it.’ The scale of massacre and extermination is horrific as the resurrected Erekose, with his own ‘poisonous blade’, switches allegiances to aid the alien Eldren and end human life on Earth, while uniting and linking up fictional continuums towards the multiverse ‘where myriad dimensions blended under a never-setting sun.’ To what extent the pantheon was already worked out, or if it continually evolved as stories emerged is open to conjecture. But the strands were already coming together. Among the aspects of the Eternal Champion are ‘Roland, Ilanth, Ulysses, Alric…’

Elric returns in “Kings In Darkness” (no.54, August 1962). Hounded from Nadsoker, the City of Beggars, they meet Lady Zarozinia in the evil Forest Of Troos, and agree to escort her home to Karlaak, the City of Jade Towers. Their journey is interrupted by the bestial Orgians who unleash the millennia-dead King From Beneath The Hill, once ruler of the Doomed Folk. There’s a further temporal blurring in that the malignant forest and devolved beast-men are the result of a race ‘who had wrought such destruction upon the Earth an entire Time Cycle before…’ using ‘tremendous forces’ that ‘caused terrible changes among men, beasts and vegetation.’ The obvious inference, particularly within the context of Cold War SF, is gene-mutating radioactivity. Moving away from whatever Conan connections we’d maybe once assumed, and into pure Moorcockiana.

Bringing the story-cycle to a close, “The Flame Bringers” – cover-illustrated by James Cawthorne debuts in no.55 (October 1962). Now contentedly married to Zarozinia and settled in Karlaak, using Troos drugs to control his albino-needs, Elric learns from Moonglum that the Genghis Khan figure of Terarn Gashtek leads a barbarian army of five-hundred-thousand warriors across the Weeping Wastes to loot and pillage the Young Kingdoms of the west. And that the enslaved sorcerer Drinij Bara is compelled to do his bidding. Elric calls upon Meerclar, Lord of the Cats, to free Bara’s soul, then uses the Melnibonéan dragons – first glimpsed in “The Dreaming City”, to wipe out the horde. In another pleasing circularity he again attempts to rid himself of Stormbringer. Yet again the hell-blade returns of its own volition.

This trove of the first five Elric stories were collected into ‘The Stealer Of Souls’ (Neville Spearman, 1963), followed by the Mayflower paperback in 1968 with a JG Ballard cover-quote to the effect that this is ‘Moorcock’s most original creation’. Leslie Flood reviews the collection in ‘New Worlds’ (no.137, December 1963), the full review reads ‘Michael Moorcock’s stories of Elric, mythical hero-adventurer, apparently filled for many readers of ‘Science Fantasy’ an aching void caused by the lapse of similar material by the late Robert E Howard (to whose Conan stories a great debt is surely owed for the conception of Elric) and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Mr Moorcock adds an individual touch by deepening the purpleness of his prose and double-dyeing his mighty warrior with a dabbling of sorcery and insatiable bloodlust. All his five adventures are now collected in ‘The Stealer Of Souls’ (Neville Spearman, 15/-).’

Inevitably there’s a wealth of academic speculation concerning the antecedents and influences acting upon the tyro Moorcock feeding into the character of Elric, from Norse mythology, through Poul Anderson’s ‘Three Hearts And Three Lions’ (1961, expanded from a 1953 ‘Magazine Of Fantasy And SF’ novella), Fletcher Pratt’s ‘The Well Of The Unicorn’ (1948), as well as the albino ‘Sexton Blake’ antihero Monsieur Zenith, created by Anthony Skene. Moorcock himself has – perhaps playfully, suggested other inputs to tease and confuse, including Bertolt Brecht. I prefer to reread this original story in the pages of ‘Science Fantasy’, and envisage the young Moorcock sitting there hacking out the text on an old manual typewriter, and attribute its rich creativity more to Moorcock’s fertile imagination itself. In the same way that the early Beatles took from Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins and Motown Records, but remade it into something wholly new and original.

Needless to say, as a surly and messed-up adolescent myself, I was instantly captivated by Elric’s ghastly aura, and began seeking out further Moorcock tales. Something that I’ve continued to do through to… pretty much, now. Igniting a lifetime’s addiction. Begun with this beautiful and treasured little issue of ‘Science Fantasy no.47’.

More MICHAEL MOORCOCK on ‘Eight Miles Higher’...

Saturday 17 August 2019

Psychedelic Movie: PETER FONDA in 'THE TRIP'


 Review of: 
With Peter Fonda, Susan Strasberg, and Dennis Hopper 
(1967 American International Productions, 
DVD: MGM Home Entertainment, 2004)

23 February 1940-16 August 2019  

It’s impossible to emulate a dead hero. They’re forever out of reach. Dennis Hopper started his career with a part in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ (1955), and spent his life in awe of James Dean. Living heroes let you down. Dean himself was in awe of Marlon Brando, especially his cool biker role in ‘The Wild One’ (1953), riding that big Triumph Thunderbird 6T. There’s a story that when Dean learned Brando was to be there at a Hollywood party he was due to attend, he went in the full perfecto-style motor-cycle jacket and tilted cap ‘Wild One’ gear, in an attempt to impress his idol. But Brando had moved on. He was less than pleased. ‘Who’s this guy wearing my last year’s wardrobe?’ he sniped, ‘you’d better get him to a doctor, he’s very sick’. James Dean didn’t live long enough to betray his image. Had he lived he might have wound up doing a US Soap, or failing into mid-life tedium. As a cool-looking corpse he set an impossible standard for Hopper to follow. And hip tends to shift and assume new forms.

Hopper set his own brand of counter-culture generational cool with Peter Fonda riding Harley Davidson’s across America in ‘Easy Rider’ (July 1969). But before that, they’d appeared together in cult oddity ‘The Trip’ (1967). The third part of the ‘Easy Rider’ team was Jack Nicholson – as ‘Billy’. He wrote the screenplay for ‘The Trip’. Jack had already appeared in Roger Corman movies, and director Corman is renowned for granting his protégés opportunities. He encouraged Jack’s experimental writing styles and, in the DVD director’s commentary, allocates between 80-90% of the shooting script to him.

Peter Fonda, the son of a wealthy acting dynasty, seems an unlikely ‘Captain America’ hippie hero. But the self-styled ‘American Dreamer’ had already figured in Corman’s cycle of dope and biker flicks, taking the central role in ‘The Wild Angels’ (1966), from which his dialogue was sampled by Primal Scream. He was a mover on the bourgeoning counter-culture scene. John Lennon based his ‘Revolver’ song “She Said She Said” on Fonda, after meeting him at a LA poolside party where Fonda repeatedly related his acid-tripping experience, about how ‘I know what it’s like to be a dead’. A line he uses here. So there was already a potent talent-pool simmering even before shooting began. Like earlier drug-exploitation movies ‘The Trip’ opens with an escape clause pre-credit disclaimer, a warning of ‘great concern to us all’ about the use of ‘mind-bending chemicals’. In the light of what follows this is obviously a legal fig-leaf to deflect accusation. Much as ‘Reefer Madness’ (1936) had started out as a Church-sponsored morality tale, and wound up on the exploitation movie-circuit.

The story? There is no story. Fonda is Paul Groves. He takes LSD and has a series of weird supposedly-significant cod-pretentious hallucinations. That’s about it. The character is going into a painful divorce. He wears ‘very groovy boots’. He shoots glossy TV-ads in the surf. Much as the film he’s part of is pretty much a glossy ad for LSD. Acid was then the magic elixir. The lysergic catalyst behind the psychedelic revolution. Behind ‘Sergeant Pepper’ and ‘Their Satanic Majesties’, behind ‘Axis Bold As Love’ and ‘Surrealistic Pillow’. Behind extravagant new art, poetry and innovative magazines. Timothy Leary was promoting it as an instant tool to meditation, a route to reaching the kind of nirvana-high it took eastern mystics decades of discipline to achieve. Leary is the ghost at this celluloid party. While Vietnam war-news is on TV, the sixties other persistent presence.

Filmed around Laurel Canyon, and Big Sur – where Jack Kerouac wrote one of his best novels, Paul drops in at a graffiti’d crash-pad strewn with stoned hippies. A scrawny Max (Hopper) passes Fonda a joint, ‘a heavy trip’. But Groves wants to take acid. Why? ‘to find out something about myself’. As in Leary’s ‘The Politics Of Ecstasy’ (1968) guide-book, he approaches his trip in the correct approved fashion. He prepares his mind-set, with music and poetry – the City Lights edition of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ prominently on-screen, with John (Bruce Dern) as his guide, who advises him to ‘turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream’ (Dern had also appeared with Fonda in ‘The Wild Angels’ as the doomed ‘Loser’). Fonda washes down a white capsule with a swig of apple-juice. And the trip begins.

Soon, there are kaleidoscopic low-budget effects, swirling drip-art, a girl on a primal beach, dark Tolkien figures on horseback, a girl in body-paint, a dwarf (Angelo Rossitto). His consciousness splits between vast desert, and a Gothic mansion, in a part-Corman exploitation horror style, part Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Seventh Seal’ – but no, that’s to rate it way too high. He’s suddenly aware of the radiant energy of everyday objects, holding an orange is like ‘the sun in my hands, man’. Words and phrases are loaded with hidden meaning, the living room becomes a room which is living. And ‘that whole sex thing’ is amplified with trippy light-show effects playing over naked bodies, making detail swim uncertainly. There’s clumsy symbolism. A child’s hand. An arboreal forest. His own death, awareness of his own transient mortality. He flips out, ‘I’m frightened to die, man’. Then ‘I’m dead, I’ll never get back’. Hopper appears within the trip as his Inquisitor on a carnival carousel. He poses an accusation, what is Groves guilty of? He’s guilty of TV commercial ‘lies’. Guilty of ‘total self-involvement’. Guilty of his middle-class life-style. Guilty of consumer materialism. In a numinous cascade montage sequence, allegedly contrived by Corman himself, there are flash-frames symbols of it all, of Che Guevara, LB Johnson, Sophia Loren, Khalil ‘The Prophet’ Gibran, and a dollar bill. Plus ‘The Bay Of Pigs’ invasion. LSD shows a better way.

Then he hallucinates that guide John is dead, he panics and escapes into ad-spattered LA, a collage of tacky signs and images. He stumbles into a Laundromat which becomes an ‘incredible’ thing of wonder. He investigates the washing machine’s spin. Its groovy vibrations. ‘Shazam’. He descends into a trippy Sunset Strip Disco where clubbers idiot-dance to endlessly noodling improvisational swirls and where painted nipples shimmer. ‘You’re stoned out of your mind, aren’t you’ observes the waitress, ‘what’s the matter with you guys? Isn’t the real world good enough for you?’ leaving a parting barbed-humorous ‘Love Freak!’ When a pair of cops enter the club Groves runs. Eventually he winds up back with Max who tries to interpret his account of what’s going on in his head, ‘let’s sort the real from the Trip’. There’s a rapid-fire riffing of motifs in a blur of flashbacks. The black hooded figures are revealed as his competing love-interests. Love, sex and death. Does he come out of the Trip any wiser? Does he resolve his dilemma? Waking the following morning with girlfriend Glenn he’ll commit no further than ‘well, I’ll think about that tomorrow’, as his face splinters. What’s it all about? Ask Alice…!

Is the film an accurate representation of what it’s like to experience LSD? A true celluloid portrayal of the scrambled transcendent images dancing across the cortex, the derangement of the senses? No. Obviously not. By taking an inner landscape of altered consciousness and projecting it onto a screen, how could it be? But it precedes later attempts at visualising a drugged state, such as Ken Russell’s ‘Altered States’ (1980) or David Cronenberg’s movie of William S Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch’ (1991) (in a further connection, Hopper worked on an aborted screenplay of the same writer’s ‘Junkie’ during 1977, with Terry Southern and Burroughs himself). But it also precedes Homer Simpson’s surreal trip after eating the ‘Guatemalan Insanity Pepper’ in ‘The Mysterious Voyage Of Homer’ (episode 162) too.

So is ‘The Trip’ dangerous? Is it likely to subvert vulnerable minds? After all, it was rejected by the British Board of Film Classification four times – in 1967, 1971, 1980 and 1988, before it was finally screened by Film Four in 2002, and not granted an uncut DVD certificate until June 2004. The three protagonists responsible for ‘The Trip’ – Hopper, Fonda, and Nicholson, would lift cult underground into massive overground with ‘Easy Rider’ a few years later. But this slight opportunistic and – objectively, rather silly movie is not consciously a dry run for what is to come. It’s striving for gravitas, but winds up mostly psychsploitation trend-mugging. Yet in its odd way it is sincere, an attempt to express intangible changes that were effecting and transfiguring their lives, individually and collectively, and would continue to do so in their separate future trajectories. With Hopper in particular as the awkward outlaw rebel that James Dean never lived to be.


THE TRIP’ (1967, American International Pictures) Produced and Directed by Roger Corman. Written by Jack Nicholson. With Peter Fonda (as Paul Groves), Susan Strasberg (Sally Groves, Paul’s wife), Bruce Dern (LSD guide John), Dennis Hopper (Max) and Salli Sachse (Glenn, Paul’s girlfriend), plus Barboura Morris, Judy Lang, Angelo Rossitto (the dwarf) and Luana Anders (as the waitress). An uncredited Peter Bogdanovich can be glimpsed at the party. Special Psychedelic Effects created by Charlatan Productions Inc. Music score credited to The American Music Band, but actually Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield. Running Time: 1hr 16mins/ 85-minutes. DVD: MGM Home Entertainment, 2004

A related movie – also on DVD, is ‘PSYCH-OUT’ (American International Pictures, 1968) with Susan Strasberg as deaf-runaway Jenny who arrives at the Haight-Ashbury Hippie nexus hunting her lost brother. She gets involved with free-loving Jack Nicholson (as Stoney, an unconvincing member of the outta-sight ‘Mumblin Jim’ Rock band) – ‘it’s not money, it’s life, it’s human life’ he tells her, and they track down brother Steve in the manic guise of ‘The Seeker’ (Bruce Dern). Despite a soundtrack by Storybook, plus guest sequences showing The Seeds and Strawberry Alarm Clock, with glimpses of a street-vendor selling u/g magazine ‘The Oracle’, and protestors protesting with blank placards, it’s a little too contrived to feel authentic. Produced by Dick Clark. Directed by Richard Rush. Story and Screenplay by E Hunter Willett (with Betty Ulius) 

Originally featured on website:
‘VIDEOVISTA’ (UK – September 2010)
and published in:
‘THE SUPPLEMENT Issue 53’ (November 2010)

Friday 16 August 2019



Review of: 
With Hayley Mills, Simon Ward and Sterling Hayden 
(Silhouette Film Productions, 1974 DVD, Orbit Media) 


He pulls into the petrol station forecourt. There’s no attendant in sight. So, he circles around the rear of the building where, through a window-crack, he happens to see a girl in white underwear changing into her yellow uniform. His eyes narrow in close-up as he spies on her. This is a film that questions assumptions about male sexuality. A film that plays uneasily with gender expectations. What would be a normal response to this situation? Does his sly voyeurism indicate pervy tendencies… or is his prurient reaction only natural? Something every red-blooded male would do, gifted with the opportunity. Later, he enters the ‘Old Bakery’ store, pausing to glance at a window magazine display of soft-core pin-up magazines, ‘Fotos’ and ‘Men Only’. Of course, his interest is natural – isn’t it? Or is his longing glance evidence of a deeper disturbance?

‘Deadly Strangers’ opens uncompromisingly with a primed syringe. And a nurse pushing a trolley down a corridor of sealed rooms. She checks the spy-hole into room twelve. Once inside, she’s attacked with her own momentarily untended syringe. The occupant of room twelve has escaped. ‘A Nutter escaped from Greenwood’ mental hospital for the ‘guilty but insane.’ Later, a house is burgled, the bedroom ransacked. And a car is stolen as the driver uses a phone-booth. As he rushes out to stop the car, he’s struck and left for dead.

I must have seen this modest film during its first cinema run, and retained a strong memory. But was it Malcolm McDowell? Or was it Hywel Bennett? It’s only when Simon Ward died 20 July 2012, reading his obituary that I realised yes, it could only be him. The role of Stephen Slade could never by Malcolm McDowell, his cruel assured guilt would be an automatic conclusion. Nor Hywel Bennett, his easy charm would take him above suspicion. Slade must have an element of both, but also a weakness stronger than either. And Simon Ward captures that flawed quality as no-one else could. Maybe that’s the very element that kept him from major stardom? He’d started out well as an uncredited schoolboy in Lindsay Anderson’s ‘If’ (1968), then as the romantic interest in Hammer’s ‘Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed’ (1969). He played Winston Churchill in ‘Young Winston’ (1972), and the Duke of Buckingham in both Richard Lester’s ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1973) and ‘The Four Musketeers’ (1974). But it was own easygoing lack of ruthless ambition that determined he’d fail to realise such latent promise. Yet he’s perfectly cast against Hayley Mills in ‘Deadly Strangers’. Likeable, sixties fringe, modish belted suede jacket, fawn slacks, but carrying the hint of something hidden.

It’s a road movie of a particularly English kind. A bleak, flat, colour-drained countryside. Rain drizzles. A tanker from Birmingham pulls into the Roadhouse. The forecourt pooled with lakes of rainwater. Simon Ward feeds five-pence coins into the one-armed bandit. He sees Hayley Mills enter, and the trucker who offers her a lift to Greenwood Station. He drinks directly from a brandy-bottle, and leaves hurriedly as cops arrive to check out the travelers. ‘A maniac on the loose.’ ‘To look at them you’d never think they were dangerous.’ ‘Half of them don’t even know it themselves.’

There was a gratuitous flash of thigh as the nurse is attacked in the opening sequence. Now a titillating glimpse of leg as Hayley settles into the truck-cab. It’s only later that the driver pulls off-road into a lay-by to ‘settle the fare’. A ride for a ride. She struggles with him, spilling out onto the roadside. But the trucker speeds off as Ward happens by in his blue Austin Maxi saloon. He sternly advises ‘you’re asking for it, hitching lifts with those drivers.’ ‘I can take care of myself’ she retorts. He is Stephen Slade, She is Belle Adams. He drives her to the rail station, but deceives her that there are no trains due… but he can take her further, if she wants? As the journey resumes the car is forced to halt at a level crossing. A train speeds by. His lie found out. Are all guys on the make? Is his approach merely a more subtle variant of the trucker’s frontal assault?

She accuses him, that he’s lied. No, he argues back defensively, he just enjoys her company. Can she trust him? In a flashback it seems he’s unable to sexually perform with a party pick-up, something he finds ‘difficult to talk about’. In another flashback a girlfriend finds his stash of pin-up magazines. He’s socially clumsy, uses a primer on making friends to prompt conversation ‘Do you know how long it takes to boil an ostrich egg?’ pause, ‘Four hours.’ But she finds a letter and a farming magazine in the glove compartment. Suggesting that perhaps the car isn’t even his!

But she has flashback secrets too. The childhood car accident that killed her parents. Staying over with her pervy uncle and glimpsing him romping in the hay with a stable-girl. Then the recurrent nightmare of the drunken Uncle raping her. Hayley Mills had been an engagingly cute child-star of the Disney house-of-the-mouse. As the second of six films for them she played both sisters in the original ‘The Parent Trap’ (1961), even dueting with herself on the spin-off hit single “Let’s Get Together” (no.15 in ‘New Musical Express’ 11 November 1961). In the UK she was an outstanding innocent in the Bryan Forbes-directed ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ (1961), as a gullible schoolgirl mistaking fugitive murderer Alan Bates for Jesus. Such iconically charming and hugely popular roles necessitated an uneasy transition to more mature roles. She starred opposite Hywel Bennett as a newly-wed couple unable to consummate their marriage, in the kitchen-sink drama ‘The Family Way’ (1966) – with music by Paul McCartney. The same need to grow presumably legitimises the brief topless sequence in ‘Deadly Strangers’, gratuitous maybe, although there’s some plot legitimacy, for it’s also a defiant assertion of her adult independence. Miley Cyrus, another Disney alumni, would much later go through her own very public growing pains.

Stephen is speeding. The cops give chase. He can’t afford to be stopped – he says, because he’s been drinking. So he veers off onto a dirt-track to avoid them. Later, at a Greasy Spoon, two bikers muscle in. They give chase afterwards, buzzing the car. She advises him to pull over as they smash through a farmer’s roadside milk-churns. But no, it gets personal, he ramps it up into a feud, rams one of the bikers off the road. The bike bursts into flame. She drives now. They’ve another reason to avoid police checkpoints. The biker might have been killed (he’s not, both bikers are later seen in a pub drinking beer). Now they’re both on the run. They both have their reasons.

There’s an odd mid-sequence in which the awkward couple are accidentally parted. They sleep – separately, in the car. In the morning he wakes and finds she’s gone. ‘Bitch’, and he speeds off, passing her as she buys bread for their breakfast in the local shop. Nevertheless, she’s soon picked up by bearded Fortesque-Robarts, a hugely over-the-top eccentric performance by American actor Sterling Hayden in a vivid cameo (he’d been General Jack Ripper in the classic ‘Dr Strangelove’, 1964). As he passes by a petrol station, Stephen sees Robarts’ ‘magnificent motor vehicle’, and gives chase. They maneuver in a series of exchanges and close encounters, teasing out tension and coincidence, by the pier on a windy seaside promenade, in the ‘Crazy Hazy’ out-of-season funfair, the two cars passing each other in alternate multistory spiral-ramps. Director Sidney Hayers knew about mixing light and shade, he’d earlier directed Hammer’s shocker ‘Circus Of Horrors’ (1960), as well as Cliff Richard And The Shadows nuclear hide-and-seek musical ‘Finders Keepers’ (1966). Now, after Belle and Stephen are reunited, Robart buys the ‘Daily Press’ with the headline story of the Greenwood escaper and the murdered filling-station girl, and he makes the connection. But which of the two is he attempting to warn?

By the third section they’ve booked in at the ‘Hillcourt Hotel’. He signs in as Mr Jones – ‘Is it your wife?’ ‘Yeah, sure’, and they take the fishing lodge, £10 a night, in advance. There’s a stuffed fish in a glass case, and a chart of waterfowl on the wall. This is more than just a Slasher-Movie, it is a film that questions assumptions about male sexuality. Whatever his intensions, she makes it clear they will sleep separately. She even braces a chair against her bedroom door, to keep him out. So he spies through the keyhole as she undresses, as he’d fantasised about her in black stockings and suspender-belt earlier. His single close-up eye narrows as she slips her bra off, straining to see better. He selects a sharp knife to enlarge a chink in the chalet-wall, to peer through. Does this furtive voyeurism indicate pervy tendencies… or is his prurient interest only natural? Is this stepping outside normal acceptable behavior patterns, or something every red-blooded male would do, gifted with the opportunity? Is the male always predator, the woman always the victim? These sympathies and gender expectations have been teased and exploited throughout this tense and intriguing film. Now it flips them over.

Finally, the plot spoiler to end all plot spoilers. Re-spool to the opening, who was the ‘Greenwood Escaper’? We never see the face. Later, when they pull in for fuel Stephen tries the phone around the corner. Belle stays in the car… doesn’t she? So who attacks and kills the petrol-attendant girl? When Belle picks up the evening paper, Stephen’s face is prominently headlined. When he later finds the same paper and opens it up fully, the subhead ‘This Man Is In Danger’ runs under his photo. Too late. She attacks and garottes him from behind, as she had her evil uncle. The police arrive. But he’s already dead.

As the police drive her away she tells them ‘do you know it takes four hours to boil an ostrich egg?’ quoting his primer chat-up line with a curious smile on her face. The cell door slams shut again behind the ‘maniac’. Audience preconceptions neatly skewed. But wait. If her murderous insanity was precipitated by her Uncle’s attempted rape, hasn’t she also been the victim of predatory male sexuality all along? This is a film that questions assumptions about gender roles, and it is still asking them.

DEADLY STRANGERS’ (1975, Silhouette Film Productions) Producer: Peter Miller. Executive Producer: Patrick Dromgoole. Director: Sidney Hayers. Screenplay: Philip Levine. With Hayley Mills (as Belle Adams), Simon Ward (as Stephen Slade), Sterling Hayden (as Malcolm Robarts), Ken Hutchinson (as Jim Nicholls), Peter Jeffrey (as Belle’s Uncle), Hubert Tucker (as Café Owner), Nina Francis (as Petrol Station Attendant), George Collis (as First Biker), Ralph Arliss (as Second Biker), Juliet Aykroyd (as Stephen’s Girlfriend), Roger Nott (as Motorcycle Cop), Norman Tyrrell (as Hotel Receptionist). Music: Ron Goodwin. DVD, Orbit Media

Originally featured on website:
‘THE ZONE’ (UK – January 2014)

Wednesday 14 August 2019



 TV SMITH – frontman of legendary New Wave 
 “One Chord Wonders” THE ADVERTS, plays 
 a solo gig in Leeds, throwing his past and 
 present incarnations into detailed perspective… 


Is this the end of Punk as we know it? Or just new shapes for the nineties?

Tonight at the Leeds ‘Duchess Of York’ TV Smith wreaks angst with ‘what if my teenage clothes, will never again fit?’ thrashed out to stark ‘three-chord-wonder’ acoustics. He’s a hunched-up figure on a nervous twitch of spindle-legs that operate as if independent from his body. But nothing about tonight would fool you into thinking this voice of righteous vengeance once spread chaos and mayhem from ‘Top Of The Pops’ to the ‘Live At The Roxy’ album and beyond. That this TV was once Advert-ised, frontman on the cutting edge of the New Wave. Tonight he’s solo, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Billy Bragg comparisons come easy, but aren’t too helpful.

Ignoring yells from unreformed Punks for his Adverts hit “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” he opens with one-time ‘New Musical Express’ Single Of The Week “Third Term”. Ignoring shouts for Ads-hit “No Time To Be Twenty-One” he sings “Luxury In Exile”. But no, this New Age TV is just the New Age stuck in a microwave oven for fifteen seconds, and though his teenage Adverts leathers no longer fit quite so stylishly, TV Smith is still not about to grow up gracefully.

Not tonight, not yet awhile.

--- 0 --- 

‘It’s the latest thing to be nowhere, 
you can blend into the wallpaper, 
but you know we’re always there anyway, 
without the New Wave, 
what about the New Wave? 
did you think it would change things?’ 
(“Safety In Numbers” by TV Smith) 

TV (Tim) and girlfriend Gaye form the ramshackle Adverts in early 1977. And it’s everything a garage-band is supposed to be. The Punk counter-culture is individualistic, aggressively self-centred, and it had odious table manners. Its soundtrack is no hardcore dancefloor, nor interminably improvised guitar solos that extend like knicker elastic. Punk is based on a style Big-Bang – a Bhopal, a Chernobyl, a Challenger Shuttle, with a cult fall-out that soon becomes a global menagerie. It was ‘just a chance to break out of the terrible rut music was in’ says TV (to ‘Vox’, November 1991), ‘an opportunity for youth to get out and DO something.’

He’d been drawn to London from his native Okehampton by the lure of the Punk detonation. And early Adverts are four strutters from the gutter led by an insectoid with a death-throes twitch. Gaye is their visual focal point – but if she’s not a Siouxsie or a Polly Styrene she’s certainly a Honey Lantree (Honeycombs) or a Megan Davies (Applejacks) for the New Wave. Hers is a withdrawn vamp-sexual quality quintessentially captured by her close-up mug-shot on the sleeve of their debut single. ‘The first female Punk star’, while on stage she chews gum with sullen bored charisma, her eyes dark – but luminous.

‘NME’ journalist Chris Salewicz writes up an early ‘Vortex’ gig – an ‘unpleasant amphetamine aggression in the air’ with the band flaunting a ‘fine sense of unhealthy neurosis’ and TV himself ‘so frail, so fragile and vulnerable that you sometimes wonder if he’ll make it through the set’ (13 August 1977). In the sweat, vomit and gob of early ‘Roxy’ dates the Adverts totally epitomise the cult of “One Chord Wonders”, with Howard ‘Pickup’ Boak (guitar) and Laurie ‘Driver’ Muscat (drums) as foil to Gaye Black’s bass and Tim ‘TV’ Smith’s guitar/vocals. London is a city in a state of youth revolt. A city that stinks and shines at one and the same time. But there’s no pain without gain, no action without reaction, no revolution without counter-revolution. On 21 June TV and Gaye are physically attacked by rampaging Punk-baiting Teds in Hammersmith, while a month later (22 July) they sign to Anchor Records.

From its drum-thump intro, “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes”, their second 45rpm vinyl, is – to ‘NME’ ‘easily the most macabre hit single of ‘77’ – ‘Gary didn’t need his eyes to see, Gary and his eyes have parted company.’ It’s a Horror Movie. A true-life drama ripped from the tabloids based around the American mass-killer who demands his right to be executed by firing squad, yelling ‘LET’S DO IT!’ at the levelled guns. The single reaches no.18, and TV is on TV – the distance between playing live at the ‘Roxy’ to miming a chart hit on ‘Top Of The Pops’ measured in weeks. But – according to ‘NME’s ‘Book Of Modern Music’ ‘they fail to capitalise on the hit, due largely to their own technical inadequacy.’ At the time, Tim seems to agree, ‘the Adverts were formed by accident. Everything that happens to us is an accident. The Adverts work as a flawed community.’ And Pickup’s creativity is equally ragged, ‘…you can’t write guitar solos, they have to be stumbled over.’

Yet more fine singles follow, both “Safety In Numbers” and “No Time To Be Twenty-One” (‘life’s short, don’t make a mess of it’) snare and perfectly encapsulate the explosively abrasive roar of the time, ‘we’ll be your untouchables, we’ll be your outcasts’. They tour with the Damned, the posters say ‘THE ADVERTS CAN PLAY ONE CHORD. THE DAMNED CAN PLAY THREE. COME AND SEE ALL FOUR’. The Ads become the first Punks to play Hippie Graveyard ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ on BBC2-TV, with “Bored Teenagers”. They tour Europe and appear in German television documentary ‘Punk In London’, and TV-movie ‘Brennede Langweile’, both produced by Wolfgang Buld. They play north, and beyond – including Wakefield’s ‘Unity Hall’ where I see them for the first time. Visually, in and out of the flesh, they are shattering. The screeching play-in and heavy riffing, the skronking guitar betrayed by the defensive self-deprecating lyrics of “One Chord Wonders” suddenly more naked than you’d expected, ‘I wonder what we’ll play for you tonight? Something heavy or something light, something to set your soul alight, I wonder how we’ll answer when you say ‘We don’t like you – go away, come back when you’ve learned to play…’.’

But, swept up on the New Wave, ‘hope it’s not a passing phase’ – they’re soon stranded by it.

Subsequent vinyl shows TV Smith’s development as a writer outpacing the band’s capacity to keep up. Beyond the regulation Punk minimalism of ‘I don’t care, I don’t care’ TV’s lyrics always hang together as a narrative of wordplay and longform character study, and with the Adverts, the words begin to speak louder than the action. An album for the specially formed Bright label showcases his ‘witty, engaging songs, but again suffers from those inbred musical shortcomings.’ Even so – ‘Summer Salt’ fanzine no.3 deems ‘Crossing The Red Sea’ ‘the best New Wave LP so far, very much superior to ‘Bollox’, ‘The Clash’ et al.’ Perhaps that’s estimating too high, but it IS a chain reaction of everyday stories of politics, power, pain and perversity on a fuel of anger and a barrage of broken riffs. Then original member Laurie Driver is replaced by ex-Generation X drummer John Towe – and then by Rod Latter. The band’s momentum slows. And TV is already thinking beyond the collective restrictions. He’s writing with Kid Strange of Doctors Of Madness, collaborating on the B-side “Back From The Dead”. The respect is mutual. Strange says that ‘TV is the only New Wave songwriter who can string two sentences together and still remember what the first one was’ (‘NME’, 12 November 1977).

Keyboardist Tim Cross joins for the 1979 album ‘Cast Of Thousands’, with its scope broadening into a more experimental direction, but by now it’s too late. Latter and Howard Pickup quit, replaced by Paul and Rick Martinez (guitar and drums) – TV’s lyric ‘birds of a feather, drop dead together’ (“I Surrender”) sounds almost like an Adverts epitaph. The last gig the group play together is at Slough College 27 October 1979. Then Mike Dempsey – book publisher and Adverts manager, dies in what is described as a ‘home accident’ 6 December 1981. From a detached nineties perspective – to ‘Vox’, the Adverts were ‘interesting, but ultimately less than influential.’ While more personally, Steve Lamacq remembers buying ‘Crossing The Red Sea’ ‘as a wide-eyed thirteen-year-old’ and finds it ‘still an absorbing, agitated, but sussed album’ (‘NME’, 31 March 1990).

TV goes on to record with Nick Griffiths, producer of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, for sessions that would become his ‘Last Words Of The Great Explorer’. His lyrics emphasise ‘you can’t please everyone, you have to have fun’ (“Have Fun”) in a way that reads like a personal manifesto. The reaction is, initially, far from sympathetic. The album is dismissed as ‘determinedly dull and criminally uninteresting’ (‘Melody Maker’, 13 June 1981). Equally, the single “Tomahawk Cruise” is ‘widescreen production, weeping synthesisers’ while ‘thundering drums prop up TV’s multi-tracked vocals.’ The Adverts are dead. But Tim Smith is a going concern. He’s exploring the art of splendid solitude. Brought up on the nihilist epiphany of Punk, some music journalists refuse to accept that their heroes are capable of evolution. It will take time and perseverance for TV Smith to return to critical favour.

More perceptively, Waterboy Mike Scott writes in his ‘Jungleland’ fanzine ‘TV Smith knows about disappointment and degradation, about hope and effort, about pain and passion. He knows his faults and his limitations and his successes and ambitions. Enigmatic in black… he walks straight, searching out honesty and justice with an acoustic guitar and a band called the great explorers.’

--- 0 --- 

Tonight at the ‘Duchess Of York’ MC Richard Mason calls TV Smith ‘the finest lyricist in England’. Perhaps he’s not too wrong. Tim retunes into a song called “Atlantic Tunnel”. Harry Harrison once wrote a Science Fiction novel about that, but then again – Gary Gilmore’s cornea eye-transplant horror-show was Cyberpunk before its time. And TV’s “Atlantic Tunnel” is a huge churning spitting ‘Desolation Row’ of sinister simile and grievous metaphorical harm with lines about ‘smashing through the bedrock and culture shock’ in a high full-frontal whine, then rhyming ‘dinosaurs’ with ‘ocean floors’ in a moment of manic inspiration…

The end of Punk as we know it? Hardly, but instead there’s continuity. Conceding that ‘one way or another, you’re defeating your ideals’, he yet emerges with his political integrity intact. “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay” from his 1992 solo album, leads into an over-prescription of Legal Drugs – in “Ship In A Bottle”, and an exploding smash-and-grab essay on teenage homelessness (“Gather Your Things And Go”), while – if the excellent “Tomahawk Cruise” he wades into the Belgrano-Falklands mess, his “News Hounds” does the same for the Gulf War. Old Waves and New Age merge and microwave into each other. Who needs teenage clothes with a set as confrontational as this?

Perhaps these ARE new shapes for the nineties?


29 April 1977 – ‘One Chord Wonders’ c/w ‘Quickstep’ (Stiff BUY 17) produced by Larry Wallis of the Pink Fairies

June 1977 – ‘THE ROXY: LONDON WC2 (JANUARY-APRIL 1977)’ (EMI/Harvest SHSP 4069, reissued on Harvest January 1987) features Adverts ‘Bored Teenagers’ alongside live material by Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex, Eater, Johnny Moped, Slaughter And The Dogs

19 August 1977 – ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ c/w ‘Bored Teenagers’ (Anchor ANC 1043) produced by Larry Wallis. ‘It’s the sickest and cleverest record to come out of the New Wave’ (says ‘Sounds). Enters ‘NME’ chart at no.18, 3 September 1977 and rises to no.16, 17 September. Reissued July 1983 (on Bright Records Bulb 1) it enters ‘NME’ Indie chart 16 July 1983 for eight weeks peaking at no.9. Reissued again March 1990 to coincide with ‘Gary Gilmore’ HBO TV bio-pic ‘Shot In The Heart’

28 October 1977 – ‘Safety In Numbers’ c/w ‘We Who Wait’ (Anchor ANC 1047) produced by Miles of ‘NME’

17 February 1978 – ‘CROSSING THE RED SEA WITH THE ADVERTS’ (Bright BRL 2001, reissued in August 1981 with bonus track ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ as Butt ALSO 002, then reissued in December 1988 as Bright BUL2 and CD CDBUL2, and in March 1990 on Link Records). Produced by John Leckie. ‘A hasty statement that captures an exciting time’ (‘Trouser Press’). Reaches no.38 in 1978. Features TV Smith (guitar/ vocals and all songs), Gaye Advert (bass), Laurie Driver (drums), Howard Pickup (guitar). Includes side one: ‘One Chord Wonders’, ‘Bored Teenagers’, ‘New Church’, ‘On The Roof’ (‘blank-faced, was this what our elders taught? Dim the lights and live like story-book’), ‘Newboys’ ‘Bombsite Boy’. Side two: ‘No Time To Be Twenty-One’, ‘Safety In Numbers’, ‘Drowning Men’, ‘On Wheels’, ‘The Great British Mistake’

20 January 1978 – ‘No Time To Be Twenty-One’ c/w ‘New Day Dawning’ (Bright BR1) On BBC chart from 25 February, up from 43 to 42, peaks at 38. ‘…the Adverts definitely come of age, settling down and hinting at future consistency’ (‘NME’ review). Tony Blackburn introduces them for their ‘Top Of The Pops’ slot

November 1978 – ‘HEROES AND COWARDS’ (Stiff Seez 0) compilation includes ‘One Chord Wonders’ and ‘Quickstep’, plus ‘IT’S WHERE YOUR WORLD BEGINS’ (RCA UK1) with ‘Television’s Over’

10 November 1978 – ‘Television’s Over’ c/w ‘Back From The Dead’ (RCA PB 5128) produced by Tom Newman

February 1979 – ‘TWENTY OF ANOTHER KIND’ (Polydor POLS 1006) with ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ plus previous singles by Jam, 999, Skids, Generation X and others, plus ‘GEEF VOOR: NEW WAVE’ (Ariola) Dutch hits compilation which includes ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’

1 June 1979 – ‘My Place’ c/w ‘New Church (Live)’ (RCA PB 5160) ‘…as simple and as effective a song as ever. Their sound has a lonely desperation now – no more communal stomping, but TV Smith is still master of the minimal chorus chant’ (review in ‘Melody Maker’ 23 June)

September 1979 – ‘Cut-Ups’ anti-vivisection solo GAYE ADVERT single written by TV Smith

12 October 1979 – ‘CAST OF THOUSANDS’ (RCA PL 25246) musicians are Gaye Advert (bass), TV Smith (guitar/vocals), Tim Cross (piano, synthesiser), Rod Latter (drums), Howard Pickup (guitar). Produced by Tom Newman. With ‘Cast Of Thousands’ (featured Richard Strange on synthesiser), ‘The Adverts’, ‘My Place’, ‘Male Assault’, ‘Television’s Over (New Version)’, ‘Fate Of Criminals’, ‘Love Song’, ‘I Surrender’, ‘I Looked At The Sun’, ‘I Will Walk You Home’ (with Tom Newman on synthesiser)

19 October 1979 – ‘Cast Of Thousands’ c/w ‘I Will Walk You Home’ (RCA PB 5191) ‘rape, runaway wives, other people’s lives, births deaths loonie left, murder, divorce, suicide political intrigues, hospital cases, British weapons to foreign places, earthquake, flood, bodies in the mud, poison, crowds, a cast of thousands…’

November 1980 – ‘Tomahawk Cruise’ c/w ‘See Europe’ (Big Beat Records NS 64, reissued February 1981 on Chiswick CHIS 140) as by TV SMITH AND THE EXPLORERS, issued in a Ralph Steadman sleeve. ‘…a slightly hysterical, clean-cut and well-received flop’ (‘NME’, 9 May 1981)

April 1981 – ‘The Servant’ c/w ‘Looking Down On London’ (CBS Kaleidoscope KRLA 1162) by TV SMITH AND THE EXPLORERS

June 1981 – ‘THE LAST WORDS OF THE GREAT EXPLORERS’ (Kaleidoscope KRL 85087) by TV SMITH AND THE EXPLORERS. Musicians are Dave Sinclair (drums), Erik Russell (guitar), Mel Wesson (keyboards), Colin Stoner (bass). Produced by Nick Griffiths. Sleeve by Edward Bell. With ‘The Easy Way’, ‘Have Fun’, ‘The Servant’, ‘Perfect Life’ with free single ‘Walk In A Straight Line’ c/w ‘World Of My Own’

June 1981 – ‘Have Fun’ c/w ‘Imagination’ (Kaleidoscope KRLA 1359)

October 1981 – ‘The Perfect Life’ c/w ‘Imagination (New Edit)’ (Kaleidoscope KRLA 1590) by TV SMITH AND THE EXPLORERS

March 1983 – ‘War Fever’ c/w ‘Lies’ (Expulsion OUT2) TV SMITH solo

May 1983 – ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes (US mix)’ c/w ‘We Who Wait’ + ‘New Day Dawning’ (Bright Bulb 1) by THE ADVERTS

June 1983 – ‘CHANNEL FIVE’ (Expulsion EXIT 4) as by TV SMITH – originally titled ‘Surprise Surprise’. Musicians include Tim Cross (keyboards), Tim Renwick (guitar). With ‘War Fever’, ‘On Your Video’, ‘Burning Rain’, ‘Dominator’, ‘The Suit’, ‘Cracking Up’

December 1983 – ‘GRIME OF THE CENTURY’ (Anagram KILO 1) six-LP set of compilations includes ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’

May 1985 – ‘Coming Round’ c/w ‘Woodpecker’ (Production House PH1) by TV SMITH AND TIM CROSS

September 1987 – ‘MINDLESS SLAUGHTER’ (Anhrefn 010) Animal Rights compilation features ‘Lies’ (re-recorded) and ‘New Ways Are Best’ by CHEAP (featuring TV SMITH) with other tracks by The Three Johns, Membranes, Conflict etc

October 1987 – ‘THE ADVERTS: THE PEEL SESSIONS’ (Strange Fruit SFPS 34) Twelve-inch EP recorded 25 April 1977, makes ‘NME’ Indie Chart for one week at no.23 on 7 November 1987. Tracks are ‘Quickstep’, ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’, ‘One Chord Wonders’, ‘New Boys’, Bored Teenagers’

November 1988 – ‘TAKING THIS PLACE APART’ (LP TTPA3) includes live ‘Luxury In Exile’

March 1990 – ‘Third Term’ c/w ‘Buried By The Machine’ (Deltic) as by CHEAP ‘…spot-on in a head-shaking earth-quaking way, TV… venting his wrath on Fatch (Mrs Thatcher) with his customary lyrical guile’ (review in ‘NME’ 3 March). Cheap did a ‘John Peel Session’ for BBC, but an album – ‘RIP… EVERYTHING MUST GO’ was shelved until 1993

February 1991 – ‘LIVE AT THE ROXY’ (Receiver LP/CD) by THE ADVERTS, full live set includes ‘Bored Teenagers’, ‘One Chord Wonders’, ‘Safety In Numbers’, ‘Great British Mistake’, ‘On Wheels’, ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’. Also Live LP ‘LIVE AND LOUD!!’ (1992, Link Records)

July 1992 – ‘MARCH OF THE GIANTS’ (Cooking Vinyl LP/CD) with ‘Freeworld’, ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ etc. Further solo albums followed, including ‘IMMORTAL RICH’ (1995, Humbug Records), ‘GENERATION Y’ (1999, Cherry Red), ‘NOT A BAD DAY’ (2003, TVS), ‘MISINFORMATION OVERLOAD’ (2006, Boss Tuneage), ‘IN THE ARMS OF MY ENEMY’ (2008, Boss Tuneage), ‘COMING IN TO LAND’ (2011, Boss Tuneage), ‘I DELETE’ (2011, TVS) and ‘LAND OF THE OVERDOSE’ (2018)

1997 – ‘THE WONDERS DON’T CARE: THE COMPLETE RADIO RECORDINGS’ (Burning Airlines LP) – title lifted from the ‘One Chord Wonders’ lyric, and ‘THE PUNK SINGLES COLLECTION’ (Anagram Records) followed by ‘THE BEST OF THE ADVERTS’ (1998, Anagram Records)

2003 – ‘THE ADVERTS: ANTHOLOGY’ (The Devil’s Own Jukebox CD)