Thursday 29 October 2020




the scorpion wind is past, 
sand drifts street corners in insect sleep, 
the horizon is fly-crawled with smoke, 
but no-one admits to starting the fires 
or hazards reasons for their igniting, 
light from beyond my window is threatening, 
there will be a storm before the day is out 
but inside there’s the same breath-stilled calm, 
I can see a cafĂ© table in the boulevard where 
two old men and a youth shout at each other dumbly 
over glasses of cheap local wine, smoke gathers 
like birds over the blackened balustrades 
of imploded villas, destroyed buildings that 
conceal scorpions, all else is tactile-calm, 
I watch the youth draw a pistol from his jacket, 
the gun-barrel catches and fragments in the light, 
he threatens the air with vague gestures, 
he is afraid too

Published in:
(USA - February 1977)
and my collection:
(Kawabata Press, UK - August 1978)

Sunday 25 October 2020

Classic Horror Movie: 'BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW'



Review of: 
with Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden, Anthony Ainley & Wendy Padbury 
(1971, Tigon/Chilton Films, DVD Odeon Entertainment, March 2010)


‘The Devil’s Children…!!! 
The Devil’s Touch Corrupts Them…!!!’ 

When the Judge raises a toast to ‘his Catholic Majesty James III, the King in exile,’ it dates the action to some time after the so-called 1688 ‘Glorious Revolution’, with the Jacobite Pretender sensibly banished to France. But when tousle-haired jolly ploughboy Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews) unearths something strange in his field, it brings satanic manifestations of an even more ancient religious conflict to the surface. Beneath the flimsy veneer of tepid Christianity there lies the more virile rituals of the pagan culture that precede it. Less kill-joy repressive than the dourly pervasive post-Cromwell Puritanism. More attuned to the rhythms of the natural world. And more female empowering. ‘The Grave Of The Devil Is Disturbed’ as the theatrical trailer bonus-feature warns movie-goers. 

When Ralph puts aside his flagon and ale, distracted by the agitated attentions of a crow, he finds a skull, a worm curling across its intact staring eye. ‘It weren’t human, sir, it was more like some fiend’ he reports to the Judge (Patrick Wymark in a fine Cavalier wig). The rational Judge is initially unimpressed. ‘Witchcraft is dead and discredited’ he chides the Doctor, ‘are you bent on reviving forgotten horrors?’ The Doctor is not so sure, ‘you come from the city and cannot know the ways of the country’ he explains gnomically, before referring to a dusty old tome, ‘these sages had access to much wisdom’. Well, maybe. 

The SF Horror continuum of the 1970s was a deceptively small world. Galaxy-spanning and crossing centuries in time, it nevertheless tended to gravitate around a recurring constellation of activists. Director Piers Inigo Haggard was the great grandnephew of H Rider Haggard who, through a bizarre kind of seven degrees of separation, wrote ‘She’ (1965) which provides the core drama for one of ‘Hammer Studio’s finest late-movies. Piers later worked with John Mills in Nigel Kneale’s SF-TV icon ‘Quatermass’ (1979), with its occult possessed-teens counter-culture overtones. While Patrick Wymark played around Oliver Cromwell twice, in a guest cameo as Cromwell himself in Tigon’s ‘Witchfinder General’ (1968), and as The Earl Of Strafford to Richard Harris’ ‘Cromwell’ (1970). Wymark also featured in Roman Polanski’s ‘Repulsion’ (1965), in cult odditity ‘Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun’ (1969) and more pertinently, in ‘Children Of The Damned’ (1963). 

With this highly watchable example of Tigon’s finest, there are connections to be made. Atmospheric, with occasional shock-moments even now, dominated by a strong vengeful Patrick Wymark performance, there are disturbing subcurrents for those who care to look. In this portrayal of a small enclosed community eroded by unreason, all evocatively set to a lush Marc Wilkinson score, there are the same intimations of the dark wells of irrationalism flowing beneath the logical world that you get from ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973). Meanwhile, a touch of romance is provided by dapper pretty-boy Peter Edmonton (Simon Williams), as he brings Rosalind (Tamara Ustinov) home to meet his stern disapproving Aunt. Rosalind is banished to sleep in the creepy attic. Slinking upstairs for a midnight assignation Peter is disturbed by her frantic screaming. When Rosalind attacks the Aunt, despite Peter’s protests she’s hauled off to Bedlam. But as she’s being dragged away he sees she now has a claw where her hand used to be. Distraught Peter investigates the attic, and noticing movements beneath the floorboards he gropes down into the dark, to be seized by a giant hairy claw. Later still he wakes to discover the same claw at his throat. He hacks at it with his knife… and, in a nicely grisly touch, severs his own hand! 

Yes, ‘there’s something very strange afoot’ admits Squire Middleton. And sure enough Reverend Fallowfield’s scripture classes are being disrupted by unruly youth. ‘Angel has taught us some new games’ they snigger, frolicking in insolent ungodly games in the old ruined church where something demonic is taking shape. Angel Blake is leading a kind of ‘Wicker Man’ heathen coven of feral ‘Devil’s Children’. With a ‘Children Of The Damned’ stare, flower-child lure, long white nightdress and painted-on eyebrows that remind you disturbingly of Sylar from TVs ‘Heroes’, she even invites the poor Rev to ‘come play our games with us, sir’, offering the inducement of beguiling full-frontal nudity. When he resists temptation she frames him for sexually molesting her anyway. Angel’s games tend to get messy. Mark is killed. ‘He had the devil in him’ she explains, ‘so we cut it out’. Then there’s Cathy. Angel presides as she’s raped, much to the delight of watching crones. Then Angel stabs her with shears.

More symptoms are displayed by Margaret ‘the Devil’s Child’ (the lovely Michele Dotrice) who grows a hairy patch on her leg – the ‘Devil’s Skin’. With no Immac available she’s tied down and the Doctor cuts it away. At the last moment the Judge returns, this time in full ‘Witchfinder General’ mode, with a huge mute assistant and vicious dogs to ‘tear the devil’s heel’. This time he’s wiser, convinced of the forces of evil, and embittered. He leads the angry villagers in the traditional Horror-movie procession lit by blazing torches to where Angel is using a nude dancing-girl to entrance poor ploughboy Ralph to cut off his own foot, which has become hairily deformed. It transpires she’s using all these severed body-parts as the final instalments of a demonic part-work Satan assemblage. The Judge wields a huge sword. In jerky freeze-frame slo-mo Angel is kebabbed on a trident and the dark-cowled bat-faced devil-beast is skewered and cast onto the blazing pyre. ‘You see, the way these old superstitions die hard’ says the Judge. 

An obvious closing sequence would perhaps show some other tousle-haired jolly ploughboy unearthing something strange in another field, to brings satanic manifestations to a different community, restarting the cycle again. But it doesn’t.


BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW’ (1971, Tigon/Chilton Films. DVD: Odeon Entertainment, March 2010) Producers: Tony Tenser, Peter L Andrews & Malcolm B Heyworth. Director: Piers Haggard. Writer: Robert Wynne-Simmons with input from Piers Haggard. With Patrick Wymark (as The Judge), Linda Hayden (as Angel Blake), Anthony Ainley (Rev Fallowfield), Wendy Padbury (Cathy Vespers), Barry Andrews (Ralph Gower), Michele Dotrice (Margaret), Charlotte Mitchell (Ellen), James Hayter (Squire Middleton), Simon Williams (as Peter Edmonton) & Tamara Ustinov (Rosalind Barton). Cinematography: Dick Bush. Music: Marc Wilkinson. US title ‘Satan’s Skin’ (93-minutes) 

‘The Tigon Collection: The Golden Age Of British Horror’ (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment, 2005) also includes ‘Witchfinder General’ (1968), ‘The Beast In The Cellar’ (1971), ‘The Haunted House Of Horror’ (1969), & ‘The Body Stealers’ (1969) 

Featured online at: 
‘VIDEOVISTA’  website 
(UK –March 2010)

Saturday 24 October 2020




 Book Review of: 
 (1981, Faber & Faber 1988, 
Victor Gollancz Ltd ISBN 0-575-04279-6)

This is probably not the book you expect it to be. It starts out as an exercise in world-building. Within the SF universe there’s a consensus future, one collectively built up through generations of writers, a convenient template used as a jumping-off point for multiple fictions. It’s an off-the-peg map of tomorrows made up of equations in which humans extend out beyond the solar system to colonise the worlds of nearer stars. For ‘Star Trek’ it’s done under the auspices of the Federation, Robert Holdstock selects the Galactic Co-operative, which also happens to be known as the ‘Federation’. Naturally, each world within the expanding sphere of human influence has its unique oddness – what Holdstock terms the planet’s ‘quirks and mysteries’, and it’s around the deciphering of that strangeness that the episode, or short story or novel revolves. Just as the Detective story requires an unsolved murder, so this particular style of SF requires a mysterious planet. Yet, with only the slightest of puns, Holdstock states clearly that his planet ‘Kamelios is not the last great frontier.’

Robert Holdstock in 1968
Born in Hythe, Kent – 2 August 1948, and schooled at Gillingham Grammar, Robert Paul Holdstock was already active in SF-fandom – interacting with fellow fan-enthusiasts and attending Conventions, while studying as an applied Zoology & Parasitology student at the North Wales Bangor University. Voiced through the persona of his central ‘Where Time Winds Blow’ character he recalls ‘that sense of excitement, of wonder. The sort of feeling we had at school when people talked about other galaxies, and all the worlds in our galaxy that had only been recorded, never explored. It’s imagination, the feeling of mystery that you get when people tell you stories about distant islands, hidden asteroids, secret locations, secret lands where things are strange, and where we’re infiltrators, or strangers. There’s something so magic about the unknown.’ Fantasy is something – as he says in his introduction to the ‘Stars Of Albion’ anthology, to ‘excite the wonder buds.’ He plays more than his part in creating those beguiling fantasies. 

His first fiction sale was prestigiously to the large-format Michael Moorcock-era ‘New Worlds’ – the ‘Special All New Writers Issue’ no.184 (November 1968). In the introductory ‘Lead-In’ notes he says ‘I find nothing more relaxing than writing SF unless it is reading SF, and I’m as lazy as a (Clifford D) Simak character when it comes to anything but those two occupations. My main and most enjoyed style is ‘Analog’-Yankee. Don’t think badly of me – I just enjoy spinning a yarn that’s action-packed and dialogue-crammed.’ Yet his “Pauper’s Plot” in that same issue is just the opposite, a bleak expressionist exercise set among drone-like slave-workers in a vast factory, a Fritz Lang ‘Metropolis’ (1927) image in which they plot and scheme to murder the sadistic whip-wielding Overseer – ‘this is the story of how we killed Mister Joseph,’ they discuss and mentally rehearse the killing, but eventually draw back from delivering the fatal blow. 

The decade tip-over into the seventies was not a good time for the tyro SF-writer. The magazines that had provided both markets and audiences for new talent, were extinct, so instead the writer had to take advantage of whatever transient markets were available, such as the ‘New Writings In SF’ anthology series, ‘Vortex’ magazine and the large-format NEL ‘Science Fiction Monthly’, plus projects such as the three-issue ‘Andromeda’ and the one-off ‘Stopwatch’ collections. In 1970 Holdstock moved to London to take up research in Medical Zoology, he married in 1973, and turned freelance writer in 1975 while living in Hertford and supplementing his income by continuing as a part-time lecturer in human anatomy. ‘How much courage does it take, we’ve asked before, to give up a secure professional career for the slightly more precarious life of a full-time freelance writer?’ asks ‘Andromeda’-editor Peter Weston, ‘that’s why it gives me particular pleasure to report Rob’s successes so far…’

His debut novel – ‘Eye Among The Blind’ (1976) qualifies as conventional ‘Analog’-Yankee style-SF only to the extent that it concerns a ‘map-space’ situation between star-travelling humans and their first sentient alien encounter, the Ree’hd. But this is placed within the context of a near-extinction plague called the Fear that is decimating the human worlds, while the action is spiced with cross-species sex-displays and erotic ‘feelies’ that ‘Analog’ might have found unsettling. The devolutionary interrelationship between the three native races of Ree’hdworld form a planetary enigma as equally detailed and exhaustively scrutinised as Kamelios would be. A balance disturbed by the insertion of the human Installation. Central character, Zeitman, is a biologist. As Holdstock had told ‘New Worlds’, ‘being a zoologist, I like to situate them on other worlds and invent believable aliens. To pose a biological problem and invent a biological solution.’ 

Yet while his ‘serious’ novels appear under his own name, he was also publishing work under a variety of alternative guises, including ‘Robert Black’, ‘Ken Blake’, ‘Chris Carlsen’, ‘Richard Kirk’ and others. Significantly – as author of ‘The Stalking’ (1983), he writes under the name ‘Robert Faulcon’. For the central character in ‘Where Time Winds Blow’ is Leo Faulcon, on planet Kamelios – ‘chameleon, the inconstant one, a world of changes.’ Originally known as VanderZande’s World, this ‘confusion of identity’ is one that stretches ‘to the very world itself.’ It orbits the huge red solar disk of Altuxor, and has a retinue of six moons – each with human bases, the pink striated Merlin with its silvery companion Kytara, Tharoo the largest and ugliest moon, Threelight with its three dust deserts, Aardwind and tiny Magrath. 

Leo is engaged in an on-off relationship with Lena Tanoway, who arrived on the planet a year earlier than he did. They’re joined by mischievous Kris Dojaan, a younger more-recent arrival who is yet to be dulled by the Kamelios-effect into losing his sense of wonder, ‘worlds have auras, and those auras impose different psychological constraints or enlargements upon an alien population.’ Yet the planet’s unique strangeness lies not in its Fiersig – atmospheric electrical storms that alter moods and perceptions, its Night Eye orbital station, or the planet’s southern hemisphere made up of thousands of oceanic islands. In a knowing pun at Clifford D Simak, Holdstock says ‘time’ is not ‘the simplest think on Kamelios,’ because it is the ‘Time Winds’ of the title that justify the Michael Moorcock cover-quote describing Holdstock as ‘an inspired and original author’. 

Masked and black-suited against the planet’s ‘choking organic pollen poisons’ the three travel on rift-bykes to the shore of the dark Paluberion Sea, where they stumble upon a huge spherical alien wreck. It has been disgorged by the time-winds that spit out fragments of past or future-time into the present, or alternately snatch people into the labyrinth of time. A random phenomenon that makes the world a ‘fairground of Otherness’, with artefacts that provide no evidence of their creators, although readers of a speculative nature may already be forming their own theories. After all, there are various colonisation attempts in process, any of which could provide the root-origins of future cultures, from the sealed and seasonally-mobile Steel City – biggest of the human settlements, to the bio-engineered manchanged. 

Kris’ energetic impetuous curiosity contrasts Leo’s loss of wonder. ‘This whole world is wrong’ he cautions. ‘It’s a world of constant change and it changes man along with it. If you spend long enough here your body and mind will be twisted and torn until sometimes you’ll be walking when you’re sitting and awake when you’re asleep.’ Each of them carries a ritual charm, a flotsam of time-junk. Kris retrieved a fragment from the time-wreck – but did he enter the sphere? For he has his own agenda. He believes that the glimpsed Time-Phantom who can ‘ride the time winds’ is his time-lost brother Mark. Leo suspects it could be Kris himself, switched into Othertime. Kris absconds to discover the truth. 

If the reader anticipates a rapid fall through the time-stream into fast-action adventures across a vortex of glittering civilisations, flitting across eras as in Brian Aldiss’ ‘Cryptozoic’, or across Michael Moorcock’s multiverse time-phases… that is not Holdstock’s intention. It’s not that kind of novel. The centres are human as much as they are fantastical. Everyone has secrets and motivations that are painstakingly articulated. The text is dense with detail. As an exercise in world-building it exhaustively explores every aspect of the seven canyons or rift valleys, of which the two-hundred mile Kriakta Rift is the biggest, and the ‘cosmic linkage’ of the six-moon influence on the indigenous creature’s mating pattern, as well as the character’s internal landscapes of conflict, moods, arguments and rivalries. 

Then Lena and Kris are lost in the time-winds, but it’s only after Leo takes refuge with the stoic philosophical manchanged that he comes around to accepting that he must follow them. Meanwhile, there is a Catchwind project operated by ‘Mad’ Commander Gulio Ensavolio who claims to be the only human to have seen a gold pyramid of time-travelling Kamelios aliens, and ‘lived, brooded and planned’ to discover their truth. And it’s as part of Catchwind research that Leo deliberately places himself in the path of the Time Winds. Although even that long-awaited eventuality is not quite as the reader may anticipate. Neither are the Time Winds actually Time Winds… but, in a giveaway Plot Spoiler – ‘an immense intangible creature, trying to communicate.’ Yet the resolutions work, within the novel’s logical framework. 

I never got to meet Robert Holdstock, although we appeared together in a few magazines. I was never really a Fan-Convention sort of person, although I went to a few. But writer Bryn Fortey knew him, he recalls that ‘my short story “Wordsmith” (first published in Ken Bulmer’s ‘New Writings In SF’ (1976) had a protagonist whose name was a bastardisation of Rob Holdstock, and one line of dialogue was a direct lift from a letter he wrote to me. To get his own back he called a dwarf warlord Bryn in one of the three ‘Beserker’ novels he wrote. He was a lovely young fellow in those days. I’m sure he was still lovely as a big name author.’ 

‘Where Time Winds Blow’ is Holdstock’s third novel under his own name, although there were others published through guises. It’s an elegantly structured although largely static work, as the characters cross and re-cross the same terrain accumulating detail with each transit. Robert Holdstock would make his mainstream breakthrough a few years down the line with a sharp thematic turn into ‘Mythago Wood’. But if building Kamelios is an early exercise in discovering his own identity as a writer, it remains a remarkably powerful and mature novel.


2 August 1948-29 November 2009 

October 1968 – ‘VECTOR no.51’ BSFA (British Science Fiction Association) Journal, includes a book review of ‘The Cassiopeia Affair’ by Harrison Brown and Chloe Zerwick 

November 1968 – ‘NEW WORLDS no.184’ includes “Pauper’s Plot”, edited by Michael Moorcock with James Sallis. Subtitled ‘Special All New Writers Issue’, also features Graham Charnock and M John Harrison. Described as ‘a remarkably consistent and intricate parable,’ in which ‘white, wide eyes flicker from machine to machine, from machine to Overseer, from Overseer to work; from work to the weapon in his belt; fingers close delicately around the cool metal and test its flexibility; it will sink deep into the body, they say to themselves’

Spring 1969 – ‘VECTOR no.52’ BSFA Journal, includes short fiction “Fire King” and poem “Nearing”, plus book review of ‘The Rose’ by Charles L Harness 

Summer 1969 – ‘VECTOR no.53’ BSFA Journal edited by Michael Kenward, includes reviews of ‘Rite Of Passage’ by Alexei Panshin, ‘Living In Space’ by Mitchell R Sharpe, and the Michael Moorcock novels ‘The Jewel In The Skull’, ‘The Mad God’s Amulet’ and ‘The Sword Of The Dawn’ 

Autumn 1969 – ‘VECTOR no.54’ BSFA Journal edited by Michael Kenward, includes reviews of ‘Termush’ by Sven Holm and ‘Tarnsman Of Gor’ by John Norman 

1970 – ‘VECTOR no.55’ BSFA Journal edited by Michael Kenward, includes reviews of ‘Reflections In A Mirage’ by Leonard Daventry and ‘The Ring’ by Piers Anthony and Robert Margroff 

December 1971 – ‘MACROCOSM no.1’ Robert Holdstock’s own fanzine, produced with Greg Pickersgill, Leroy Kettle and John Brosnan, includes short stories “Island In The Moon” self-illustrated, and “Inside Story” written with Leroy Kettle as by ‘Robert Leroi’. Also editorial ‘The Story Of Three Bores’ and ‘Apologies For Appearance Dept’ essay 

Easter 1972 – ‘MACROCOSM no.2’ edited and published by Robert Holdstock with short story “Death Of An Immortal” and essay “The Shape Of Things”. Also features EC Tubb, Lisa Conesa, Bryn Fortey and Charles Partington 

Summer 1972 – ‘MACROCOSM no.3’ edited and published by Robert Holdstock – as variously ‘Rob Holdstock’ or ‘Robert P Holdstock’, includes his poem “See, Bird” and short story “Consumation” written with Chris Morgan, plus three essays “In Search Of Inspiration”, “Burke, Bugs And Big Brother” and “Heston Versus The World – Again” 

1972 – ‘NEW WRITINGS IN SF – 20’ (Corgi Books) edited by John Carnell, with “Microcosm” by Robert P Holdstock, where the character’s forty-seventh chromosome is an entity within, an Aurigae Sam II virus, heavy with symbolism, he’s trapped in a place between life and death 

1972 – ‘NEW WRITINGS IN HORROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL no.2’ (Sphere Books) edited by David A Sutton, with Robert Holdstock’s “The Darkness” – republished in David A Sutton’s ‘Horror! Under The Tombstone: Stories From The Deathly Realm’ (March 2013, Shadow Publishing), plus fiction by Ramsey Campbell and Bryn Fortey 

January 1973 – ‘SFINX no.7’ the fanzine of the Oxford University Speculative Fiction Group, edited by Allan Scott and Kevin Smith, features “To Lay The Piper” later reprinted in ‘Science Fiction Monthly Vol.3 no.4’ (April 1976) edited by Julie Davis. In a series of jumps, the main characters time-travel back to Germany March 1270 to discover the truth about the Pied Piper of Hamelin legend, teasing out evidence from crippled survivor Hansel, then witnessing an orgiastic conjuring of the dead induced by the LSD-like ergot fungus in the bread the townspeople eat 

March 1973 – ‘VECTOR no.64’ BSFA Journal edited by Malcolm Edwards, with review of ‘Worlds Apart: An Anthology Of Interplanetary Fiction’ edited by George Locke 

Summer 1973 – ‘SFINX no.8’ the fanzine of the Oxford University Speculative Fiction Group, edited by Allan Scott and Kevin Smith, features “A Further Process Of Decay” by Robert P Holdstock. Also includes fiction by Ian Watson 

October 1974 – ‘STOPWATCH’ edited by George Hay (New English Library, ISBN 0-450-02142-4) includes “Ash, Ash” (later rewritten for ‘In The Valley Of The Statues’ collection (1982)), described by Hay as ‘existential unease, the kind not to be remedied by any slick ending.’ Taking its title from a Sylvia Plath poem, it opens ‘I am Joseph Questel, killer of men’ as the most hated Spiral war-criminal in the galaxy he’s hunted from planet to planet, as he escapes from planet Timeslow, Joni tells him he is a fictional character, implanted with false-memories as a punishment. He kills her. The collection also includes John Brunner, Christopher Priest, Ian Watson and Andrew Darlington 

January 1975 – ‘ZIMRI no.7’ fanzine edited by Lisa L Conesa with Holdstock’s “The Touch Of A Vanished Hand” illustrated by John Mattershead, also Chris Priest, Steve Sneyd and John Brunner interview. Story republished in ‘VORTEX no.1’ (January 1977) edited by Keith Seddon, which also includes Michael Moorcock’s “The End Of All Songs”, then collected into ‘In The Valley Of The Statues’ 

May 1975 – ‘SCIENCE FICTION MONTHLY’ (Vol.2 no.5) with Holdstock “Ihl-Kizz” illustrated by Lucinda Cowell, three colonist children on a supposedly native-free planet play mind-games with their alien friends, Ihl-kizz and sister Catta. But a night of murder reveals the ‘imaginary playmates’ as agents of the supposedly-eradicated Dormann race. There’s a hostage stand-off with an alien ship, then a horrifying shape-shifter conclusion. A hard-SF story, with Bowman – a name familiar from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ 

Summer 1975 – ‘VECTOR no.69’ features a Holdstock book review of ‘Yesterday’s Children’ by David Gerrold 

1976 – ‘FRIGHTENERS 2’ (Fontana) edited by Mary Danby with “Magic Man”, also includes Sydney J Bounds (“An Eye For Beauty”) and Bryn Fortey (“The Substitute”) 

1976 – ‘NEW WRITINGS IN SF no.28’ (Sidgwick & Jackson/ Corgi paperback) edited by Kenneth Bulmer, Holdstock’s “On The Inside” is slowly unfolding, Ray Burton is inside Andrew Quinn (who keeps his wife’s body in the closet), back from a 300-year trip to Proxima C into a conformist Christian future, a tree in the park, and a diary in its hollow, leak clues… 

April 1976 – ‘EYE AMONG THE BLIND’ debut novel (Faber and Faber, ISBN 0-571-10883-0). Biologist Robert Zeitman (man of zeitgeist) returns to the 600-year-old human Installation on Ree’hdworld and to wife Kristina Schriock, from whom he’s been long separated, and who is now involved in a cross-species relationship with Urak. The planet is increasingly unsafe as humans upset the world’s natural ecological balance, and their exodus from ruined Earth is set to inundate it, with the friendly Ree’hd and their more primitive forest-dwelling kinsmen, the Rundil – both restless, complicated by sightings of the supposedly-vanished Pianhmar progenitor race. Anticipating ‘Where Time Winds Blow’ Holdstock writes about ‘a timeless feeling, a feeling of past and future, intermingled and indistinguishable.’ As the Installation burns, the answer to the metaphysics of the three racial stages of devolution, and the evolutionary parallels between the lost Pianhmar and doomed humans is held by blind psi-enabled Kevin Maguire, a man who should have died centuries ago but who, still living, has seen the secrets of the lapsed Pianhmar star-empire. Zeitman does not get the girl, but he is bio-reconstructed into a replacement for Maguire to negotiate a new settlement between the species and worlds

May 1976 – ‘ANDROMEDA 1’ edited by Peter Weston (Orbit-Futura, ISBN 0-86007-891-4) includes “Travellers” (later in ‘In The Valley Of The Statues’ collection (1982)), about which Weston says ‘Holdstock succeeds in achieving almost the impossible – in finding a fresh way of looking at one of the oldest and hoariest of SF themes. Yes, indeed, zoology’s loss is our gain.’ The theme Weston refers to is Time-travel, which he handles with a beautifully visionary intensity. Time-nodes appear intermittently – pulled in the wake of a black alien ‘Traveller’, which allow mind-shifts into other times. Jaim Barron searches for Margaretta who he met in a previous node, only to discover they have a daughter, Jayameeka. He takes her virginity without realising who she is, although it is the ‘social custom’ of her fourth-millennium future-era. He takes the Big Run back to the Age of Dinosaurs to locate her. One of Holdstock’s finest tales. Anthology also includes Brian Aldiss, Christopher Priest and Bob Shaw 

September 1976 – ‘LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF’ novel as by ‘Robert Black’ (Sphere) ISBN 0-7221-5468-2 

November 1976 – ‘SUPERNOVA 1’ (Faber & Faber) anthology, includes two Holdstock tales, “The Time Beyond Age” (republished in ‘Stars Of Albion’) and “The Graveyard Cross” 

January 1977 – ‘VORTEX: THE SCIENCE FICTION FANTASY’ (Vol.1 no.1), 45p edited by Keith Seddon, with Holdstock’s “The Touch Of A Vanished Hand” illustrated by Stephanie Little. A beautifully haunting tale of transmutation and decay, a blind man on the seventh world of Sirius, then a man named Christopher Gable, ‘something more than friendship’, holding hands in order to beam from Rigel Nine to the third world of Bianco’s Star they become separated… but he can still feel the touch of his hand as he returns to ruined Earth and seeks out Gable’s son who rides an air-horse. Or is it he who is lost between worlds and Gable still living?

June 1977 – ‘ANDROMEDA 2’ ‘original Science Fiction stories’ edited by Peter Weston (Orbit-Futura, ISBN 0-8600-7947-3) with “A Small Event” by Holdstock (later in ‘In The Valley Of The Statues’ collection (1982) which Weston calls ‘a movingly human tale’ of the MFM triad of Harmony, Silver and narrator Walker who travel to the banks of the Taim where the MECH-dwarf predicts a ‘quantum black hole’ will fall. The characters resemble the playful post-humans of Moorcock’s ‘Dancers At The End Of Time’, altering body-form at the whim of ‘anatomical amusement’, until Silver falls into the singularity in an Icarus ‘creative death’, as the temporal-effect created by the space-time rift releases an outpouring of time-relics. It is one of Holdstock’s finest short stories. Other stories by Ian Watson, Bob Shaw, David Langford and Richard E Geis 

August 1977 – ‘SHADOW OF THE WOLF’ ‘Beserker’-series novel as by ‘Chris Carlsen’ (Sphere) ISBN 0-7221-4631-0 

September 1977 – ‘EARTHWIND’ novel (Faber and Faber, 1978 Pan paperback) ISBN 0-571-11119-X 

1977 – ‘THE SATANISTS’ novel as by ‘Robert Black’ (Futura) ISBN 0-7088-1361-5 

October 1977 – ‘THE BULL CHIEF’ ‘Beserker’ novel as by Chris Carlsen (Sphere) ISBN 0-7221-4632-9 

March 1978 – ‘SWORDSMISTRESS OF CHAOS’ (Corgi) ‘Raven 1’ novel by Robert Holdstock and Angus Wells as ‘Richard Kirk’ 

1978 – ‘THE NINETEENTH PAN BOOK OF HORROR STORIES’ edited by Herbert van Thal, with Holdstock’s “The Quiet Girl” 

September 1978 – ‘FOUNDATION no.14’ published by the North East London Polytechnic ‘on behalf of the Science Fiction Foundation’ edited by Malcolm Edwards, David Pringle and Ian Watson, includes Robert Holdstock’s review of Cherry Wilder’s ‘The Luck Of Brin’s Five’ 

November 1978 – ‘NECROMANCER’ novel by Robert Holdstock (Futura) ISBN 0-7088-1406-9 

1979 – ‘THE HORNED WARRIOR’ third in the ‘Berserker’ cycle as by ‘Chris Carlsen’ (Sphere) ISBN 0-7221-4633-7. The three novels published as a single volume as by Robert Holdstock in 2014 by Gollancz SF Gateway Omnibus 

1979 – ‘STARS OF ALBION’ fiction anthology edited by Robert Holdstock and Christopher Priest (Pan Books) ISBN 0-330-25872-9, includes ‘Afterword’ and “Whores (Dream Archipelago story)” by Priest. Holdstock contributes the ‘Introduction’ and novelette “The Time Beyond Age: A Journey” (originally published in the 1976 Faber anthology ‘Supernova 1’), experimental MMA-grown Martin and Yvonne are reared from artificial wombs, ‘the effect of the chemical ‘Chronos’ is seen only in the acceleration of their developmental rates, and the false experience implants seem fully capable of compensating for their accelerated lives’. Although the focus is also on the Life Plan observers who watch them in ‘Truman Show’ style, their accelerated lives age beyond the two-hundred mark, into death. The anthology includes Brian Aldiss, JG Ballard, Ian Watson, Barrington J Bayley (as PF Woods), John Brunner, Bob Shaw and others 

Autumn 1979 – ‘FOCUS no.1’ BSFA magazine edited by Robert Holdstock and Chris Evans, with essays by Christopher Priest (“Writing A Novel? Do!”) and Kenneth Bulmer (“The Problems Of Genesis”), plus Simon Ounsley, Garry Kilworth and Cyril Simsa. Also ‘Focus no.2’ (Spring 1980) with David Wingrove, Simon Ounsley. ‘Focus no.3’ (Autumn 1980) with Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove. ‘Focus no.4’ (Spring 1981) Lisa Tuttle, John Brunner, Steve Ince. The title continues with other editors 

November 1979 – ‘PULSAR 2’ (Penguin Books) edited by George Hay, with Holdstock novelette “High Pressure”, plus fiction by EC Tubb, Garry Kilworth and Alan Dean Foster 

February 1980 – ‘INTERFACES’ (Ace Books) edited by Virginia Kidd and Ursula K LeGuin, anthology includes Holdstock’s “Earth And Stone” (collected into ‘In The Valley Of The Statues’), plus fiction by Hilary Bailey and James Tiptree Jr 

May 1981 – ‘WHERE TIME WINDS BLOW’ by Robert Holdstock (Faber and Faber) cover-art by Caspar David Friedrich, ISBN 0-571-11679-5. Pan Books paperback September 1982 

July 1980 – ‘AD ASTRA no.11’ magazine edited by James Manning. Includes Holdstock’s “Surviving Forces” 

September 1981 – ‘THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SF’ (Vol.61, no.3/ no.364) edited by Edward L Ferman, the cover-art illustrates Holdstock’s “Mythago Wood”… from which the next phase of his writing career will develop… 

April 1982 – ‘IN THE VALLEY OF THE STATUES’ (Faber and Faber, 0-571-11858-5) Robert Holdstock debut collection, includes short stories “The Touch Of A Vanished Hand” (1975) and “The Graveyard Cross” (1976) plus novellas “Ashes” (1974, variant of “Ash, Ash”), “Travellers” (1976), “A Small Event” (1977), “In The Valley Of The Statues” (1979), “Earth And Stone” (1980) and “Mythago Wood” (1981)

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Interview: Gordon Haskell



It took him 35 years to become an overnight sensation!!! 
When George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” was no.1 for the 
 FIRST time, Gordon Haskell was already a musician with a novel-full 
 of Rock ‘n’ Roll history. Until – with “My Sweet Lord” no.1 for a 
 SECOND time, Gordon Haskell finally achieved a massive hit single  
of his own, from his high-charting ‘HARRY’S BAR’ album. 
Rock ‘n’ Roll he gave you all the best years of his life. Now – at 55, 
 he’s here, to tell Andrew Darlington that the best is yet to come... 

‘I played here as a solo in 1972’ Gordon Haskell reminisces. ‘At Leeds University when it first opened. I remember because they had new carpets. And everybody was sick on them. And I thought ‘oh, I see, that’s what you do on new carpets’. I was always like that.’ Then – in 1972, he was like that. Now he is like this. A grizzled Beat Poet in a brown leather jacket and a black trilby pulled low. ‘Dressed up special’ he jokes with what I swear is a perfect Tommy Cooper delivery, ‘we’re only in it for the money.’ As if. Gordon is a survivor of 1960s extreme Mod-squad gods Fleur De Lys, then psychedelic trippy power-Popsters Rupert’s People and then Prog-Rock leviathan’s King Crimson – followed by a long period hoboing in the commercial wilderness. When George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” was no.1 for the FIRST time, Gordon was already a Rock veteran, already a musician with a novel-full of Rock ‘n’ Roll history behind him. But it’s not until round-about the time that “My Sweet Lord” goes to no.1 for a SECOND time, that he finally has a massive hit single of his own, from his high-charting ‘Harry’s Bar’ (2002, EastWest) album. True, subsequent material hasn’t achieved quite the same high-profile level of recognition, but now they all know his name.

‘Thirty-five years is a long time to wait for a bus’ he grimly points out on liner-notes. But that bus eventually arrived. And that sudden ‘Overnight Sensation’ status must have seemed strange after thirty-odd years – and thirty sometimes extremely odd years, as a pro muso. ‘Yes, I’m sick of being a Pop Star’ he deadpans. Then he considers the vagaries of fate for a long moment across the bar table. Until ‘no, it doesn’t feel any different, to be honest. I don’t feel any different. I’m working tonight. It’s what I’ve always done. I’ve done seventeen years of playing places just like this. How could this be different?’ 

Rock ‘n’ Roll he gave you all the best years of his life. Now – at 55, he’s here, to show that the best is yet to come... 


You want Rock ‘n’ Roll Weirdness? The Long Lost Weekend Starts Here...! 

Fleur De Lys were a 1960s proto-Freakbeat combo with a convoluted history. With guitarists including Phil Sawyer, Bryn Hayworth and Pete Sears – alongside a young Gordon Haskell and drummer Keith Guster, they sign to Andrew Loog Oldham’s legendary Immediate label. ‘They were crooks’ he says bluntly. ‘Andrew Loog Oldham. And his partner Tony Calder. They’re still crooks. We’d never have got our money even if the records we made for them had been big hits. They did everything right. But for themselves. I made my first record in 1966 with the Fleur De Lys and producer Glyn Johns. And the way we made that record was exactly the same method that I copied when I produced “How Wonderful You Are” (Gordon’s big hit single). I went right back to the beginning. Because I never made a better record than I did in 1966.’ Primary colours, simple, direct. “Circles” c/w “So, Come On” (IM 032) – the Pete Townshend song was augmented by a young Jimmy Page until its sound-compression levels become so dense that the reverb-OD near-melts the speakers, and just about fillets the Who original. This collectable piece of Pop-Psyche sonic-overload was originally released in March 1966, and is now saved onto Jimmy Page’s ‘Hip Young Guitar-Slinger’ double-CD.

‘We were sharing a flat with Jimi Hendrix for a while’ Gordon would recall later. ‘And our manager was the man who brought over Otis Redding and the Stax revues. So we got to meet all the legends, they were all very humble, intelligent and aware’. The group later move to Atlantic for lesser singles like “The Gong With The Luminous Nose” c/w “Hammer Head” (1968, Polydor 56251) – ‘B’-side co-written by Gordon, and also spend time backing soulster Sharon Tandy, while they simultaneously mutate into Rupert’s People. Rod and Gordon recruit Adrian Curtis (later ‘Gurvitz’ of The Gun) for a run of paisley singles beginning with one called “Reflections Of Charles Brown” c/w “Hold On” (July 1967, Columbia DB8226) – ‘B’-side part-written by Gordon. ‘We didn’t want to promote it as the Fleur De Lys. So the singer – and EMI records, put it out under the ‘Rupert’s People’ name, and we sort-of side-stepped and said ‘well OK, you promote it, we’re not really interested’. ‘Melody Maker’ slagged it off at the time. They said it was like ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’. So – I think, we were right not to put the Fleur De Lys name on it because we had a very ‘pure’ name, if you like. People are really concerned with image at that age, you know what it’s like. I don’t give a damn about image any more.’ There were more Rupert’s People singles, “A Prologue To A Magic World” c/w “Dream On My Mind” – also for Columbia in July 1967 (DB 8278), and “I Can Show You” c/w “I’ve Got The Love” (1968, DB 8362) the following year. The Lynton-penned B-side of the second single – “Dream In My Mind” with its solid morphine-shots of Gordon’s bass, is now collected onto the cult ‘Acid Drops, Spacedust And Flying Saucers’ box-set assembled by ‘Mojo’ magazine. 

But Rupert’s People were the product of a period when – according to Gordon, ‘the clothes shops were full of original designs, people were thinking, choosing alternatives, questioning. With the pill everyone could sleep around. We were physically free to behave as we wanted. Love really could change the world. It wasn’t about arrogance and ego then. We were all much happier. It was a genuine movement. It really was ‘Make Love Not War’. The Clubs were great. The scene was fantastic. And we were boys. Really – we were like apprentices. And I suppose you don’t really expect to get paid – as an apprentice, if you like...’ It was a strange period for Pop. The 1960s. But it gets followed by the even stranger Prog-Rock excesses of the early-Seventies. 

‘That was a new start, yes. Much colder. More pessimistic actually. I read a phrase in the book (see later) – it said ‘(the 1970s) did away with the air-heads of the sixties’. Airheads? OK – so I believed in beauty and love. If that’s being an ‘airhead’ we are in a sad state...’ And so to – ah yes, King Crimson! Gordon session-guests for Robert Fripp and lyricist Pete Sinfield on their bizarre March 1970 single “Cat Food” c/w “Groon”, and is then invited to join the band full-time when Greg Lake quits the line-up to form ELP. And he joins in time to work on ‘In The Wake Of Poseidon’, which soon climbs to no.4 on the album chart. ‘If Wagner were alive today he’d work with King Crimson’ raves journalist Richard Williams in ‘Melody Maker’ (9 May 1970), singling out Gordon’s vocals on “Cadence and Cascade” for particular attention. Yes, they really wrote like that back then. He stays with the band through to the ‘Lizard’ album. Viewing King Crimson from the outside it seems to have been an impressively serious and musicianly outfit. ‘No. It was fake. It was business-like. His (Robert Fripp’s) eye was on the money. It just so happened that they did something very original. And critics give you ten-out-of-ten for that. Whereas, for example – they won’t give Otis Redding ten-out-of-ten for singing “Dock Of The Bay”. There’s a book out about it all – ‘In The Court Of King Crimson’, written by Sid Smith from Durham. It’s a good book. It tells the truth.’ 

‘With King Crimson, we got stamped with the label of ‘Classic Rock’. Which I never was. I was always doing – the sort of music I’m doing now. I was always that. I haven’t shifted really. The word ‘simple’ keeps cropping up when people talk about “How Wonderful You Are”. As though it is so simple – and, say, King Crimson is so complicated. But it’s so very much HARDER to write simple. It’s very hard to write a song like “How Wonderful You Are” – or Tim Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter”. And what the hell does listening to King Crimson tell you anyway? That the world is a terrible place? You can see that on the news every six o’ clock. You don’t need to be informed by a Pop group that the world is terrible. You need to be informed by music that there is an infinite amount of possibilities for all of us. And you don’t get that on the news. So you’ve got to find something in music that you don’t get on the news. Now – you get terror on the news. You get killing. You get crime and urban decay. The critics would say that ‘real’ artists imitate and tell you what is forthcoming from all that. So they put King Crimson as ground-breaking, predicting the future. But you don’t need to predict the future with a negative side. It’s negative. It’s saying ‘the world is coming to an end. It’s terrible’. Well – OK, but how is that going to help you? You’ve got to go to work tomorrow. You’ve got to feed your children. So why not be uplifted, instead of pushed down? But there is a very mixed-up attitude in England about what ‘art’ is, and I’m on one side, and they’re on the other. I don’t think I’ll ever agree with the definition of art in Rock. I’ve kind-of given up on that question. Because there’s so much pretentiousness. And this whole thing about art is upside-down in my book. I’m the only one saying it. So I don’t expect to get any support. But I know I’m right – for me.’ 

Meanwhile, there are more Strange Days. He tours with Tim Hardin. Doomed writer of achingly beautiful songs “Black Sheep Boy”, “Reason To Believe” and “If I Were A Carpenter”. ‘Tim Hardin, to me, is what being a real artist is all about. I did an album with him down in Worthing. I don’t know what happened to the tapes. We went to Scotland together. And I hung out with him a lot in London. But he was a very expensive ‘date’ if you like. Because he never had any money, he’d sold off all his rights to some horrible publishing deal. And he wasn’t in very good shape. He was sad, because he was an ex-heroin addict, and he was still on the alternative, whatever it is, methadone I expect. He was on his way to his deathbed. Living on people’s floors. Sleeping with people’s wives. He was lost, really. But when he sang his big songs – “Black Sheep Boy”, “Hang Onto A Dream”...! And do you know who was in that little trio? Tim Hardin on guitar and vocals. There was me on bass. And Chaz Jankel playing piano, Chaz Jankel of...’ Ian Dury & The Blockheads? ‘Yes, The Blockheads. It was good...’


Tonight Gordon Haskell performs “Test Drive” – the ‘Oldsmobile’ song which he describes as a ‘pre-Margaret Thatcher electric Blues’, enhanced by shimmering slide guitar from ex-Paul McCartney Band-er and sometime Pretender Robbie McIntosh, to enthusiastic response. It can be found on his 1998 ‘Butterfly In China’ album, which also includes Gordon’s version of the Beatles’ “Things We Said Today”. He goes back to Robbie’s ‘Emotional Bends’ set, then he does “Voodoo Dance” and “Al Capone” from recent, bantering that his performance has ‘always been a little loose round the edges, it’s the only way’, but that’s deceptive. Behind the casual repartee about why there are no birds on the island of Guam, or about Dee – the ex-girlfriend who left to follow the “Freeway To Her Dreams”, to Acton! ‘acton’ on a hunch?’, there’s the kind of verbal-musical dexterity and assurance you only gather from decades of playing. From the authentically battered country of ‘Freeway’ to the easy jazzy swing of “A Little Help From You” (dedicated to Hoagie and Ian Carmichael), and the James Taylor timelessness and ripples of guitar enlivening “All The Time In The World” (for Ronnie Biggs!), this is slickly clever stuff. He closes with “Look Out, There’s A Lot Of It About” – a ‘Too Much Monkey-Business’/‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ word-tumble left off ‘Harry’s Bar’ because it was ‘too scary’.  

But it was Gordon’s long period hoboing in the commercial wilderness that gave him that assurance. ‘Oddly enough, towards the end of that period I was actually making good money. I was playing five pubs, regularly. I had my own faithful – three hundred fans, they fed and clothed me. And I had the days free to write songs or whatever. Then this arrived... just in the nick of time.’ ‘This’ – of course, is the 3:56-minutes of oozing lyricism which is “How Wonderful You Are”, which soon becomes the most-requested track EVER played on Radio Two. And the ‘Harry’s Bar’ album (East-West, 2002) on which it appears, embellished by the tastefully precise drums of Sam Kelly, Pete Stroud’s bass, and Paul Yeung’s rich sax. 

And suddenly, every late-Forties muso who once played in a band that once played a support spot to Atomic Rooster in 1974, and had begun to think that their moment has long past, began taking new hope. All it takes is that one song, and they can be the next Gordon Haskell. Surely that’s also strange? ‘That’s nice. That’s lovely’ he concedes graciously. ‘It’s nice to be able to champion musicians. Because they get a raw deal. They do get a very bad deal. And it’s then that only your inner spirit talks to you. Because everybody tells you to give up. Except your inner spirit which says ‘it is who you are – so what do you mean ‘give up’?’ You’re a success if you love what you’re doing, aren’t you? You don’t need the Headmaster to say you ‘could do better’ or ‘I’m sorry, but you’ve come bottom of the class’. You’ve only got yourself at the end of the day. Because nobody actually cares about you. When you get to be sixty-years old – and you’re penniless, who’s going to help you? The Government? I don’t think so. There are people who have always done safe jobs who will say ‘well, you’ve made your bed, you must lie on it’. I’ve had that said to me many a time. There isn’t a lot of sympathy for people who carve their own furrow in life. There are very few people who appreciate it.’ 

Yet there’s an undeniably ragged pride in the voice of this solitary carver of life’s furrow. ‘So ultimately, yes – you are on your own. Most people say ‘you gambled, and you lost’. But that’s what they said to me for fifteen years...’

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Gig Review: GORDON HASKELL live in Leeds



Gordon Haskell: 27 April 1946-15 October 2020 

‘I played here as a solo in 1972’ he reminisces. ‘At Leeds University when it first opened. I remember because they had new carpets. And everybody was sick on them. And I thought ‘oh, I see, that’s what you do on new carpets’. I was always like that.’ Then – in 1972, he was like that. Now he is like this. A grizzled Beat poet in a brown leather jacket and a black trilby pulled low. ‘Dressed up special’ he jokes with what I swear is a perfect Tommy Cooper delivery, ‘we’re only in it for the money’. As if. A survivor from 1960s extreme Mod-squad gods Fleur De Lys, psychedelic trippy power-Popsters Rupert’s People and Prog-Rock leviathan’s King Crimson – followed by a long period hoboing in the commercial wilderness, ‘thirty-five years is a long time to wait for a bus’ as he grimly points out on liner-notes. But finally, that bus is here. Probably BBC demographic repositioning is responsible. At first they threatened to make Radio Two a wasteland of Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, but then this had the accidental side-effect of also making it Britain’s most-listened-to station, and a strategic chart launchpad for soft-Rock acts like Shania Twain, the Mavericks, and the Corrs. Ironically, Gordon Haskell has merely become its latest beneficiary. Especially of Johnny Walker’s late-travel-time chat-slot which championed his “How Wonderful You Are” all the way up to a Christmas no.2 – just behind Robbie Williams & Nichole Kidman. ‘I love doing radio (the Johnny Walker interview). ‘Cos it stretches your mind. They throw things at you. It’s interesting to use your intelligence.’ At last – after thirty-five years, Gordon Haskell has become an ‘Overnite Sensation’! 

But first up tonight there’s Kwame D ‘from across the Atlantic – Leeds 3’, urging us to ‘enjoy the music’ The programme says ‘think Labi Siffre or Aaron Neville’, he warily accepts the definition, and – with just guitar, voice, and percussion, the similarities are more about the same categorisation-problem as Siffre’s easy songwriterly swing. But they are good songs. And when he does “Don’t Give Up” – about street-sleepers, I can’t help thinking of Haskell’s hobo busking years. 

As tonight Gordon performs “Test Drive” – the ‘Oldsmobile’ song which he describes as a ‘pre-Margaret Thatcher electric Blues’, enhanced by shimmering slide guitar from ex-Paul McCartney Band-er and sometime Pretender Robbie McIntosh, to enthusiastic response. It can be found on his rare (and now highly collectible) 1998 ‘Butterfly In China’ album, which also includes Gordon’s version of the Beatles’ “Things We Said Today”. He also goes back to Robbie’s ‘Emotional Bends’ (1999, Vandeleur VANCD005) set, then he does “Voodoo Dance” and “Al Capone” from now, bantering that his performance has ‘always been a little loose round the edges, it’s the only way’, but that’s deceptive. Behind the casual repartee about why there are no birds on the island of Guam, or about Dee – the ex-girlfriend who left him to follow the “Freeway To Her Dreams”, to Acton! ‘acton’ on a hunch?’, there’s the kind of verbal-musical dexterity and assurance you only gather from decades of playing. From the authentically battered country of ‘Freeway’ to the easy jazzy swing of “A Little Help From You” (dedicated to Hoagie and Ian Carmichael), and the James Taylor timelessness and ripples of guitar enlivening “All The Time In The World” (for Ronnie Biggs!), this is slickly clever stuff. He closes with “Look Out, There’s A Lot Of It About” – a ‘Too Much Monkey-Business’/‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ word-tumble left off ‘Harry’s Bar’ (East-West 2002) because it was ‘too scary’. And I’m thinking, this is music like poetry – to paraphrase Eddie Izzard, only with more notes and less words. But then, some of the words work as poetry too. Here, in this virtual ‘Harry’s Bar’, ‘what does it matter if it’s three or four? I still can’t make sense of it all…’