Thursday 30 December 2021





time freezes 
this brush of memory chills me, 
lavender fire outflows from ice 
a gateway through glaciers into 
the wall of nameless mountains, 
your name is the soft sigh I exhale, 
we shunt upwards into cloud 
halfway as high as Iapetus 
dancing in serpents of blue light, 
a mesa of methane storms, 
we sleep a thousand years, 
butterfly skeletons are 
snowflakes in terrible winds, 
nineteen rivers flow into 
a black sea too vast to envisage 
through a forest rimed with icicles, 
frozen music melts into shrill mornings 
as ice-flowers unfurl amid blue frost, 
time freezes, yet this brush of 
memory still chills me...



On track… THE HOLLIES: 



‘The road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where? Who knows where?’ 

 Everyone loved The Hollies. They were the ‘group’s group’. Never confrontational or rebellious, always smartly suited, always smiling. With an unbroken run of immaculate Pop singles which, while they seldom had that must-buy factor of the latest Rolling Stones or Beatles record, were hallmarked by tight harmonies and unfailing chart sensibility. Throughout the sixties and well into the seventies, everyone had – own up, at least one or two Hollies singles in their collection. No-one begrudged The Hollies their hits. 

When ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ and ‘Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress’ became global million-sellers, The Hollies were inducted into The Rock ‘n‘ Roll Hall Of Fame. Graham Nash – by then deep into his second career as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, was reunited with other members of the outfit, all on stage together in the March 2010 ceremony. 

This book tells the full story, from the band’s origins in Manchester, through the full arc of hits, and the albums – track-by-track, into the twenty-first century, then… now… always. 

Sonicbond publishing: 

ISBN 978-1-78952-159-7 
UK £14.99 USA $21.95 
Available from Amazon

‘The road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where? Who knows where?’ 

Everyone loved The Hollies. They were the ‘group’s group’. Never confrontational or rebellious, always smartly suited, always smiling. With an unbroken run of immaculate Pop singles which, while they seldom had that must-buy factor of the latest Rolling Stones or Beatles record, were hallmarked by tight harmonies and unfailing chart sensibility. Throughout the sixties and well into the seventies, everyone had – own up, at least one or two Hollies singles in their collection. When Tony Hicks mouths ‘Hello Mum’ as the Top Of The Pops cameras pan past him, even normally-disapproving parents were charmed. No-one begrudged The Hollies their hits. 

When ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ and ‘Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress’ became global million-sellers, The Hollies were inducted into The Rock ‘n‘ Roll Hall Of Fame. Graham Nash – by then deep into his second career as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, was reunited with other members of the outfit, Allan Clarke, Bernard ‘Bernie’ Calvert, Eric Haydock, and Terry Sylvester – although significantly without either Bobby Elliott or Tony Hicks, all on stage together in the March 2010 ceremony. 

Rock History tells how the origins of The Hollies can be traced back to post-war Manchester, with two gawky five-year-old pupils at Ordsall Board Primary School. Born within two months of each other, Allan Clarke (born 5 April 1942 in Salford, one of six children) and Graham Nash (2 February 1942), started out as schoolfriends. Hanging out together as fourteen-year-olds they bought their first guitars inspired by the Skiffle fad. Although born in Blackpool, Graham spent much of his childhood within 1 Skinner Street, Salford, a now-demolished back-to-back Coronation Street terraced-house with outside lav. ‘I have so many great memories of growing up in Salford’ he told me. ‘And first being turned on to the magic of music in Salford. I didn’t leave Salford until I was eighteen. So I have lots of great memories of the struggles and the joys and the heartaches of doing something that was different from anything any of your family had done. Nobody in my family had been in a band before. Ever.’ 

When his parents gifted him with a Dansette record-player as a reward for passing his eleven-plus exam, Graham’s first purchase was Gene Vincent’s ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ on a big old 78rpm disc, ‘I wanted that, and from that moment wanted nothing else.’ Meanwhile, Allan failed that same exam, but ‘I was working six days a week and getting £1-19s-11d’ he recalls amiably, ‘then going out at weekends and getting five quid for singing four songs.’ For the two friends were by then serving their musical apprenticeship together by playing local dates on the Manchester club circuit as The Two Teens. Then they were The Ricky & Dane Young duo, and briefly, they were also The Guytones – a play on the name of their Japanese guitars. Caught up in the generational energy-wave of Rock ‘n’ Roll, they were performing Lonnie Donegan, Everly Brothers and early-Cliff Richard covers, so hungry to play they’d have done it for free, but enjoying the as-yet-slight financial rewards too.

Competing in a pre-X-Factor talent contest, they played the Art Deco HippodromeTheatre on Wednesday 19 November 1958, in competition with Liverpool’s Johnny & The Moondogs. ‘Johnny’ – Lennon later went on to greater things. Allan and Graham became half of The Fourtones, then through a torturous process, pacted eventually with Eric Haydock (born Eric John Haddock, 3 February 1943 in Stockport) and drummer Donald Rathbone (born October 1942 in Wilmslow), as The Deltas, until – with Fender guitarist Vic Steele (born 8 May 1945), they finally evolved into The Hollies. It was for a December 1962 gig at the ‘2Js’ that The Deltas rebranded themselves with a name not entirely unconnected with their taste for the songs of another formative influence – ‘Buddy Holly didn’t swivel his hips or grease his hair, he wore glasses, he was one of us’ (Allan). 

Thereby hangs a tale. Along with Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers were vocal models for the burgeoning Hollies sound. A vital influence, there’s an argument that Everly harmonies also template those of Simon & Garfunkel, Status Quo and many others. And before The Hollies even got together, Graham and Allan managed to see the brothers when they played the Manchester Free Trade Hall, Wednesday 13 February 1977, as part of a U.K. tour. They even waited outside their Hotel at 2:30am to catch a glimpse of the duo. ‘We idolised them’ Allan tells me. ‘We tried to work out where they’d be staying. We decided it must be the Grand, which was the poshest place to stay (Graham recalls it was the Midland Hotel). So we went there and hung around on the pavement outside. Eventually they came out and chatted to us. They must have stopped talking with us for about twenty-five minutes.’ Graham takes up the tale, ‘they came out of a Night Club, slightly inebriated, and instead of patting us on the head and signing an autograph, they talked to me and Allan for twenty-eight minutes… it changed my life.’ Sure it did, six years later Don & Phil came calling, and the two Manchester graduates wound up writing eight of the twelve tracks for the Ev’s May 1966 album Two Yanks In London. Phil Everly was also the first artist to record Albert Hammond’s ‘The Air That I Breathe’, which The Hollies lift for their own no.2 hit in 1974.

Manchester has an important niche in Pop history. There was a healthy club scene, with the Twisted Wheel, the 2Js (later the Oasis) and the Bodega. In that first wave of Beat Groups, as well as The Hollies there was Freddie & The Dreamers (with former-Fourtone Derek Quinn) and Herman’s Hermits. Later there were the Factory years of Joy Division and New Order, plus The Smiths, then The Stone Roses and the Madchester exploits of Happy Monday, before the all-conquering 1990s BritPop of Oasis. 

The Hollies started out as very much part of the Beat Boom’s first wave, when even the idea of the Beat-Group as a self-contained writing-singing-playing musical unit was still a novelty. There had been The Crickets, The Shadows, Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, but it was the advent of The Beatles that normalized the idea that a group could be a magical auditory Lego as unique as a retinal-print, each member an integral component playing interactionally, to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. But before they broke into chart-dom they were sitting up there in Manchester, reading the Music Press – just as I was, and imagining themselves on its pages. ‘That’s what you did. You imagined yourself on those pages’ Graham told me. ‘Yeah, every time you’d get Disc or New Musical Express, you could picture that’s what you could do. And you dreamed and you’d pull yourself towards that dream, and it happened with me. I was fortunate to have it all come true...’

The face of music was about to undergo a seismic lurch, and there was an urgent need to be a part of that newness. 1962 closed with business as usual – Elvis Presley enjoyed a run at no.1 with ‘Return To Sender’, but way down beneath him the world was shifting, as The Beatles made their very modest chart debut with ‘Love Me Do’ up to a high of no.17 (27 December). Into the New Year, there was ‘Please Please Me’, and nothing would ever be the same again. For British teens, 1963 was when everything changed. Throughout that year the Beat Boom was strictly a local U.K. phenomenon. This was a special time. It would never come again. For U.S. teens that firebreak in history didn’t happen until The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show with ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ in 1964. 

But first, the relentlessly London-based music industry was shocked out of its complacency, sending talent-scouts and A&R men scuttling up to the sudden Pop gold-mines of the dark industrial north-west of England in search of the next Fab Four. Things were starting to fall into place. Tommy Sanderson worked at music-publishers Francis Day & Hunter, he had his ear to the ground. He was given a nudge by a Manchester radio producer. As a result, as early as January 1963 he and Parlophone’s staff producer Ron Richards – George Martin’s primary assistant, headhunted The Hollies when they played a lunchtime stint at The Cavern Club. ‘Everytime we played there it seemed we would have something stolen’ laughs Bobby Elliott, ‘one time we had a Vox amp stolen. Given the fact that there was only one exit to the club, it amazes me how they even got the stuff out!’

Ron Richards was so impressed with what he saw that he invited The Hollies to audition in London. Guitarist Vic Steele didn’t want to risk turning professional, so group manager Allan Cheetham invited Tony Hicks (born 16 December 1943, in Nelson) to audition instead. Tony had started out playing with local group Les Skiflettes, who graduate into Ricky Shaw & The Dolphins when Tony was still just fourteen. They had ‘three Truvoice amps and wore pale blue jackets and black trousers, white shirts and red ties. Cliff Richard & The Shadows were obviously an inluence, as was Eddie Cochran’ (according to Bobby Elliott’s autobiography). By the time Bobby joined on drums (30 September 1961), with Bernie Calvert on bass they were simply called The Dolphins. Bobby recalls those memories in his 2010 song ‘Then, Now, Always (Dolphin Days)’, as sung by Tony ‘we sure knew how to cut it, back in Dolphin days.’ So why did Tony quit The Dolphins? Because The Hollies had the major-label contract. That was the lure. 

Destined to be the longest-serving band member, Tony joined The Hollies line-up in time for their EMI Studio test recordings. They were signed by The Beatles label – Parlophone, and assigned Ron Richards as producer. Born Ronald Richard Pratley (22 January 1929) Ron had worked his way up through the industry as a Tin Pan Alley song-plugger for Chappell Music, EMI promotions manager and then assistant to George Martin. When he discovered singer Jerry Lordan and produced his 1960 hit singles ‘I’ll Stay Single’ (no.26) and ‘Who Could Be Bluer’ (no.17) he’d begun forging his own distinctive path. Although he continued working with George Martin on Beatles sessions, he retained The Hollies as his own personal project. It was under Ron’s production guidance, that The Hollies first enter the charts the week ‘From Me To You’ was no.1. Their Famous Five Adventure was under way. 

‘It’s been a long strange trip,’ Graham tells me, ‘remind me to tell you some time…’

Tuesday 28 December 2021




According to Graham Nash the Hollies were ‘a great little band’. 
He tells their story to Andrew Darlington 




Album Review of: 

resurgence /rɪˈsəːdʒ(ə)ns/ 
resurgence; plural noun: resurgences an 
increase or revival after a period of 
little activity, popularity, or occurrence. 

 His real name is Harold. The title of his first solo LP, in 1972, told us so. But forty-seven years later the voice of the Hollies is back, and as distinctive as ever. There’s a strong Classic Rock spine, name-checking one of the Hollies biggest US hits with “Long Cool Woman’s Back In Town”, Allan’s voice slightly-echoed as his cutting harmonica works that same lethal femme fatale strut – ‘sometimes the right way is the wrong way to go.’ An obvious focal point, “Hearts Of Stone” – co-written with Carla Olson, also takes its fang-and-claw riff from the same source, eighties-style soft-Rock leaning heavy on the bass. But there’s more than just that, Allan’s “The Door Is Slowly Closing” has an unobtrusive ‘Om’ meditative chant to counterpoint a slinky southern ‘Black Velvet’ feel, giving its restless lyrics an edge, ‘nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.’ And a slow-paced acoustic interplay on a premature burial image for “I’m Only Sleeping”. Then gnawing electro-pulse with guitar slap-back on “I Don’t Know The Reason”, its lyric ‘they say Rock ‘n’ Roll is over’ answered by a stinging guitar solo as if to prove the doom-sayers wrong. ‘It’s the start of a new day, I’m going to jump and hope to fly, I’d be a fool if I didn’t try.’ Allan Clarke, for certain because… 

Published in: 
‘R’N’R’ Vol.2 Issue 78’ 
(November/ December 2019) 
(UK – November 2019)



Allan Clarke, the voice of the Hollies, is back, 
with his first new album of the century. Which makes for a 
good opportunity to look back – and to look forward too…

‘For many years, people would ask ‘why don’t you go back to singing?’ Well, what I couldn’t do was perform Hollies songs anymore. But what I should have said was, there may come a time when I’ll be able to sing again, because I’ll be doing songs I’ve written myself. Because, well, I never stopped writing, I never did. I jot lyrics down. Writing songs was always there, on the back-burner.’ His neatly-combed short iron-grey hair is combed into a fringe across his forehead, a slightly pained expression on his face to denote his seriousness. But when he grins, it’s that same ‘Top Of The Pops’ smile from all those hit records. 

The cover-art for ‘Resurgence’, his first new album of the century, carries the enigmatic subtitle LXXVII, Latin for his age, seventy-seven. And the lyric for “I Don’t Know The Reason” observes darkly ‘I can’t hear the sound of music, there’s no dancers on the floor, they say Rock ‘n’ Roll is over…’ ‘But it’s not’ he counters emphatically. ‘It never went away. That was just a one-liner I came up with. I’m still a Rock ‘n’ Roller. The real thing, the 1950s Rock ‘n’ Roll. It never died.’ And the nakedly candid lyric for the closing track “I’m Coming Home” seems to be about returning, not to a physical destination, but to music itself, ‘doing something I left behind.’ ‘That’s right,’ he says, ‘those are words that were actually spoken to me, they came up in conversation while we were talking during a break when I was doing the album ‘I believed it when they told me, that I hadn’t passed my prime, didn’t think that this could happen, all good things can take their time, well – it showed me there could be a future …’ And subconsciously, seeing as it was one of the last songs I did for the album, I thought why not give it a go?’ 

There’s one obvious name-check on the album glancing back to the Hollies massive US hit, with “Long Cool Woman’s Back In Town”. ‘I was working on a different song when I wrote that lyric. It wasn’t meant to turn out that way. But The Long Cool Woman just emerged and took over. So I took the idea, and developed it, and I made the story up. It seemed she’d left the DA man, and I took the story from there, seeing what came next.’ While “Hearts Of Stone” seems to hark back to the same mood. ‘Again, it’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll song. My grandson plays on that track’ he adds as a casual aside. 

The Hollies were always about harmonies. Sure, once Graham Nash quit the line-up in order to hang out with his California pals, Allan became more of the group’s central focus, on later and even bigger hits – such as “He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother”, but we’re still used to hearing him as part of a band. Which is probably unfair. ‘Resurgence’ is his eighth solo album. ‘Originally, I was trying to get away from the Hollies sound, to do something different, which is difficult as I’m the lead singer’ he admits ruefully. 

The first solo shot, in its Hipgnosis sleeve-design, was ‘My Real Name Is ‘Arold’ in 1972, with Gerry Rafferty’s charming “Mary Skeffington”, but seven Allan-originals, including “Bring On Your Smiles” co-penned with Herbie Flowers. It was ‘me stripping myself bare of the past.’ Followed by the all-original gatefold vinyl ‘Headroom’ a year later, revisiting the Hollies “Would You Believe” in spirit. The 1974 ‘Allan Clarke’ consists of artfully selected covers – including songs by Lindsay Buckingham, Randy Newman, and an impressive “If I Were A Priest” from a tyro Bruce Springsteen demo, following it with “Blinded By The Light” (and a powerful bonus October 1975 single track “Born To Run”) for ‘I’ve Got Time’ (1976). Meanwhile, as part of his on-off dual-career he also recorded Bruce’s “Fourth Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” for the Hollies 1975 ‘Another Night’ album. Springsteen was gracious enough to say ‘thank you’. 

Allan contributes guest-vocals on The Alan Parsons Project ‘I, Robot’ concept extravaganza, then returned to originals for his solo ‘I Wasn’t Born Yesterday’ (1978), and most of his Elektra debut ‘Legendary Heroes’ (1980, retitled ‘The Only One’ for UK release), in collaboration with co-writer Gary Benson. Yet ‘Reasons To Believe’ in 1990, not the Tim Hardin song, became his final shot… until now. 

He says ‘what I couldn’t do was perform Hollies songs anymore.’ But why not? Paul McCartney still sings old Beatles songs. The Rolling Stones still do “Satisfaction”. ‘They’re lucky’ he chuckles. ‘They can still do that. I can’t. When I recorded those hits with the Hollies, they were really high songs. But later, my register changed. I didn’t really want to stop, but at the same time it got to the point where I was getting a bit fed up. Along with not being able to sing the high notes, not being able to perform in the way that I wanted to, that felt to me like I was letting people down. I was going on stage and singing, and it didn’t feel comfortable, it no longer felt right for me to be doing those songs that way. There is a time for everyone to say ‘that’s it’!’


--- 0 --- 

There was never a Big Bang moment for the Hollies, more a kind of gradual evolution with each single charting a little higher – “(Ain’t That) Just Like Me” (no.25), and another Coasters cover with “Searchin’” (no.12), Maurice Williams And The Zodiacs “Stay” (no.8), Doris Troy’s “Just One Look” (no.2), until their first no.1 (Clint Ballard Jrn’s “I’m Alive”) which seemed almost natural and inevitable. ‘Well, we were always Top Twenty’ he says defensively, ‘we had around eighteen Top Ten and thirty Top Forty hits.’ And he was always writing, from the very start, although fans might not have seen through the ‘L Ransford’ guise he – along with Graham Nash and guitarist Tony Hicks assume for songwriting duties. ‘That was only at the very beginning’ he avers. ‘The record company said that Clarke-Nash-Hicks was too long, and we had to come up with another name. So ‘L Ransford’ was one of Graham’s ideas. It was the name of his grandfather, or something. I always thought the B-sides we wrote together were good enough to be singles in their own right, but our producer – Ron Richards, thought better of it. He preferred to go with covers or songs by other writers. Although we wrote “We’re Through”, “On A Carousel”, “Carrie Anne”, “Jennifer Eccles” and all the others.’ And 1966 album ‘For Certain Because’ became their first to feature all original compositions. 

And soon there were covers of Hollies songs. “Tell It To My Face” by ‘98.6’ star Keith. “Pay You Back With Interest” for Dana Gillespie. And “I’ve Got A Way Of My Own” was recorded by the Electric Prunes, has Allan heard that one? ‘No, I don’t think I have. The Electric Prunes? What a great name. Was it a single?’ While “Have You Ever Loved Somebody” was the subject of a chart battle between two rival versions, by Paul & Barry Ryan, and by the Searchers. ‘I started writing that song as I was going into Abbey Road’ he recalls. ‘I thought the Searchers did a very good version of it. And there was another version, by the Everly Brothers…’

Thereby hangs a tale. Along with Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers had been vocal models for the Hollies sound. Before the group had even got together, childhood friends Nash and Clarke went to see the Brothers play in Manchester. ‘We idolised them, we really did. We tried to work out where they’d be staying. We decided it must be the Midland Hotel, which was the poshest place to stay. So we went there and hung around on the pavement outside. Eventually they came out and chatted to us. They must have stopped talking with us for about twenty-five minutes.’ Years later – July 1966, the Everly’s decided to take advantage of the British Invasion by recording an album, ‘Two Yanks In England’, in London’s Pye studios, with the Hollies, and using no less than eight Hollies songs! ‘That was wonderful, that was one of the biggest things that I ever did. I’ll always remember that. There was one time we were together in the vocal booth and Don turns to me and says ‘how do I sing this, Al?’ (Alan assumes an appropriate, and uncannily accurate Everly accent). 

And even later, there’s another connection. “The Air That I Breathe” became the Hollies final huge hit record in 1974, an Albert Hammond song they’d originally heard on the Phil Everly album ‘Star Spangled Springer’ (1973). ‘Ron Richards secretary, Shirley, heard it, and she drew our attention to it. She said we should do it. And she was right. It became our last really big record. We carried on working. We kept trying different things. But that was our last really big record.’ 

When I talked to Graham Nash some time ago he spoke with great respect and affection about his Hollies years, and he told me ‘Allan and I are the same person in a lot of ways, but he’s the me that didn’t leave for the States, and I’m the me that did.’ I quote this back to Allan now. ‘Did he really say that? That’s interesting. I’ll have to ask him about that the next time I see him. We are still friends. In fact, I had lunch with him just three days ago…’


--- 0 --- 

Allan quit music in 1999 when his wife – Jennifer, was given a second cancer diagnosis, and he decided that spending time with her took priority. ‘It’s quite scary when those things happen. We’ve been married fifty-five years now and Jeni getting cancer was one of the reasons I left the group. It was like ‘Bam!!!’ We decided we didn’t want to be apart for any length of time and instead see which way it goes. So then, when you’ve got into a life away from the business and you’re involved with your kids helping to bring up two grandchildren that are now men, in that twenty years that I wasn’t in music, the thinking was that I needed to be within the family to be a guiding figure or whatever. I got a better relationship with them for being there. Rather than being on the road. Thankfully, Jeni is still with me and it worked out OK.’ I fact, they’re still living together – not in Manchester, but in Buckinghamshire. ‘I’ve been living my life for the last twenty years, and enjoying it. The last twenty years of my life have been the happiest I’ve ever been. I am in a very good place. I’ve got a great family and have got great grandchildren. Life’s been good and I hope it carries on being as good to me. Let’s say this – I don’t worry, I do fine, but I wouldn’t put myself in the Paul McCartney bracket.’ 

The lead-off single is “Journey Of Regret”, with curling steel guitar, solid ridges of guitar and a catchy ‘Oh-Oh-Oh’ chorus. Regrets…? I have a few. But then again, too few to mention. ‘That’s just notifications of the time when I was writing. I just got to thinking of one-liners, and the first thing that came to me was ‘blistering sands are shifting across an ice-cold moon’, and I thought ‘that feels pretty nice’. It’s sorta, it grows… you have a picture of things happening through lyrics, and that is what… I painted this picture, which means this man standing in a desert singing when the moon is bright-white. So these are one-liners that have happened within my own life situations that I either did, or didn’t do. And each time that I didn’t do that there was a regret about not doing that. So I’ve felt that my life has been full of regrets, because I do go back in life and say ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’ or ‘I should have done that.’ And that’s what this song – I feel, means. I’ve been on a journey of regrets. Not that my whole life has been a regret, but there’s been many regrets in my life. These are just a few of them.’ 

‘I wrote all the songs, five of them with Denis Haines. He’d played keyboards with the Hollies from around 1983, I’d worked with him in the past so I knew how great he was at arranging demos, so I invited him to my home and played him some of these tunes and he said he liked them, but still wanted to make them a little bit better.’ And ‘I mean, I was waiting for my wife, I think she’d gone to do some shopping and I usually take a book with me, and one of those books was one of my favourite books, which was all about mythology. And by the time she’d done, I had the idea for the song...’ There’s wailing harmonica on “I’ll Just Keep On Walking”, and a lyric that runs ‘I tried reading all the books that profess to know the truth, always seem to miss their point of view.’ And “Hearts Of Stone” – written with Carla Olson (Allan plays guest harmonica on her Textones track “Twenty Miles South Of Wrong” on the 2018 ‘Old Stone Gang’ album). In a 2014 ‘Strange Brew’ interview he’d teased about the collaboration ‘at the moment I’ve got somebody doing a song that I wrote called ‘A Love That Never Blooms’. I sent the lyrics to this particular person that I like and she’s putting music to it. So I’m just waiting to see how that turns out and get back into doing a few more lyrics and maybe doing a few vocals here and there. Maybe I could sing in a lower voice?’

Unfazed by the transformation of the music industry by new technology that’s happened since his previous album, Allan secured a new record deal after teaching himself how to use GarageBand on his computer. ‘I said to my son Toby – who’s been involved musically in the family since the year he was born ‘I’ve got a song I’ve done on guitar, but I don’t know what to do with it, what do you suggest?’ He said ‘you should learn to use GarageBand’ and he showed me how. Once I managed to learn GarageBand, I realized I could probably do more. So I started writing more lyrics, and as I wrote lyrics, I began putting tunes to them. So I’m piecing songs together, at my own pace. I was quite pleased with the way things were going. I put some lead guitar on a couple of them. Then I’m playing bass. I’m playing harmonica. If you’ve got your own time and there’s no-one with a stopwatch, it can be very relaxing. I wasn’t thinking that this would turn into an album in any way, shape or form. It was not my idea to turn it into an album. Not at that point. I was just writing, and playing for myself. But when Hartwig Masuch, CEO of BMG heard about it and wanted to release it, well, you don’t argue. And streaming, downloading and Spotify, I’m pretty much up with that. To me, as long as they’re listening to the music it doesn’t matter in which way they happen to be listening to it.’ 

The Hollies still perform, ‘yes, they’re still doing it. I have to smile and giggle, by the way, because there’s barely an original player left in the band. I don’t even know who is in the Hollies these days. But I’m never going out on tour or anything like that… I did that for over forty years. And though I miss it… slightly, I wouldn’t want to go out and do the tours that I did with The Hollies. I wouldn’t want to be a part of that sort of circus again. I’m not really ready for that yet. But I’ve had lots of offers by lots of people, so who knows?’ 

Manchester was always a hub for new music. Was there any feeling of kinship with later Manchester bands – the Smiths, the Stone Roses, Oasis? ‘Don’t forget that by the time they came in, I was living in a different world’ he explains carefully. ‘But my son Toby did take me to see a Smiths gig, and it was very good. And afterwards, we went backstage to say ‘hello’. They were friendly and made us very welcome. Although they probably thought I was just some kind of old fogey. But my son was pleased. He was into the Happy Mondays too, and the Stone Roses.’ 

Resurgence? ‘It’s the start of a new day, I’m going to jump and hope to fly, I’d be a fool if I didn’t try.’ ‘Yes, it’s given me a new lease of life in doing something I thought I’d never do again.’ And he grins that same ‘Top Of The Pops’ smile from all those hit records. 

Published in: 
‘R’N’R’ Vol.2 Issue 78’ 
(November/ December 2019) 
(UK – November 2019)

Tuesday 30 November 2021




birds dream of trees 
fish dream of tides 
toads dream of moist shady places 
ice-moons feel secure in the 
gravity-embrace of gas giants 
virus multiply in a 
nurturing bloodstream 
stars swarm in the coil 
of the galactic spiral arm 
earthworms slither in cool soil 
parasites feed deep within 
warm pulsating gut 
ants dissolve into the horde 
amoeba divide into 
the completeness of new wholes 
molecules cluster into 
ever-complexifying structures 
sperm and ovum conspire to ignite life 
phantoms convene in moonlight 
seeking the comfort of the crypt 
and I yearn 
for your touch…

from my book:
'Tweak Vision: The Word-Play
Solution To Modern-Angst Confusion'
(Alien Buddha Press, USA, 2018)

Monday 29 November 2021

The 'UFO' Industry: Flying Saucers Are Real



‘Watch the Skies’. They are here. And they are Alien. 
Never mind Mulder & Scully. Never mind Spielberg’s ‘Taken’
The ‘UFO Magazine’ was the cult Bible of UFO-watchers, 
an unlikely publishing success-story, and just possibly 
our connection with future worlds of fantastic tomorrows…


‘There’s a Starman, waiting in the sky 
he’d like to come and meet us 
but he thinks he’d blow our minds…’ 
(‘Starman’ by David Bowie) 

There are lights in the sky. The authorities say they are weather balloons, meteorites, falling space hardware, freak lightning. But maybe they’re something else? Something extraterrestrial? Something resembling the heart-stopping moment in ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ (1977) when the alien mothership appears over the mountain-top. 

George Wild, former Prison Warden and once-owner of ‘Leo’s’ second-hand bookshop off the Springs in Wakefield is quite matter-of-fact about UFO’s. Of course he’s seen them. It’s no big deal. They’re there. He leans up against shelving crammed wall-to-wall with well-thumbed paperbacks and tells whoever cares to listen. The Pennines form a UFO hotspot. He knows other people who’ve seen them. Some more than once. He’s not alone. NASA’s sixth moon-walking astronaut Edgar Dean Mitchell – who flew the Apollo 14 mission with Commander Alan Shepard, has repeatedly stated his certain belief that not only do alien visitors exist, but there’s incontrovertible proof of what he terms ‘an extraterrestrial presence’ that military and intelligence circles suppress with deliberate ‘misinformation and disinformation.’ Then there’s a previously-sceptical Noddy Holder, he was amazed to see a flying saucer from a midnight hotel window in Bournemouth. His story was supported by reported sightings from a flight-path tracked clear across the south of England, despite official denials. ‘There’s no way it was a meteor shower’ argues Noddy emphatically. 

To basics, the term ‘flying saucers’ was coined in 1947 by American newsmen, and soon became virtually synonymous with ‘unidentified flying objects’ – or UFO’s. After a rash of sightings in the late 1940s flying saucers became a craze, a global phenomenon. On 7 January 1948 a UFO was radar-spotted over the Godman U.S. Air Force Base at Fort Knox, Kentucky. An eager Captain Thomas F. Mantell took off to investigate, in hot pursuit. At 03:15pm he radio’d back that he’d climbed to 20,000ft… after which he vanished. Debris was later discovered. One of the first major books resulting from the craze was ‘The Flying Saucers Are Real’ (1950) by Donald E Keyhoe, a prominent UFO investigator, and it seemed for a time to be a science fiction concept come real. Kenneth Arnold, a man who saw the first ‘saucers’ in 1947, was induced to tell his full story in ‘The Coming Of The Saucers’ (1952). In the UK Associated Newspaper’s ‘Sunday Dispatch’ ran extracts from Frank Scully’s ‘Behind The Flying Saucers’ and Donald Keyhoe’s ‘The Flying Saucers Are Real’, declaring this extra-terrestrial threat ‘bigger than the Atom Bomb Wars’ during a period when the government was busy attempting to suppress such Cold War scare-mongering.

This, in turn, was reflected by the SF of the day, and particularly in magazine covers, paperbacks, movie posters and comic-book art, the characteristically inverted-saucer shape, which was the most popular conception of the UFO, became part of the iconography of media-dreams and fantasy. ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ (1951) helped popularize them by showing a flying saucer landing on the White House lawn, particularly with its notion that they are piloted by morally superior aliens concerned at our civilisation’s drift towards atomic doom, playing to a popular fear that only a benevolent force from the ‘outside’ could save humanity from nuclear doom. 

Throughout the 1950s it was ‘The Flying Saucer Review’ – published every other month at the annual subscription rate of £l.1s.0d, asking ‘What was THE THING tracked over Paris by Orly Airport Radio? The materialised vision of science fiction writers... a ship from outer space... a flying saucer?’ But it was not just geeky cultists. The 19 November 1951 issue of ‘Time’ magazine reports sightings of Green Fireballs in the skies over New Mexico (p67 Derleth’s ‘From Other Worlds’). The sensational ‘non-fiction’ book ‘Flying Saucers Have Landed’ (1953, revised and republished in 1970) by a certain George Adamski with Desmond Leslie built upon this premise that the occupants of the saucers were not a threat, but Earth’s saviours. Allegedly, supposedly, on 20 November 1952 Adamski first encountered a Flying Saucer and conversed with its Venusian crew in the Californian Desert, (a story featured in the ‘Vargo Statten Magazine’ no1’ p17, as well as ‘Eagle Annual 1983’ p.62). His books details this, and Adamski’s further meetings with extraterrestrials. 

According to academic David Pringle (writing in ‘The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’) this ‘marked the end of the period in which UFO’s could be taken seriously, and the beginning of the more religious phase of UFOlogy which has persisted since. The Aetherius Society, founded in 1954, is an eccentric cult which believes that Jesus Christ is alive and well and living on Venus, but still day-trips to Earth on flying saucers every and now and then.’

In September 1961 Betty and Barney Hill were abducted by aliens from a ‘pancake-shaped’ craft while returning from holiday through New Hampshire. The first widely publicised abduction case, their story was serialised in ‘Look’ magazine, and recorded by John Fuller in his book ‘Interrupted Journey’, then the 1975 ‘fictionalised but based on fact’ movie – 1975s ‘The UFO Incident’. It began with their attempts to explain an unaccounted lost two-hour period. They were placed under hypnotic regression in which both of them were separately able to recall being taken aboard the spacecraft, undergoing medical examinations, and being shown a shimmering three-dimensional star-map by the aliens. She was able to replicate the map sufficient to identify the aliens’ home-system as Zeta Reticuli. 

Most SF writers are hostile to flying saucers and their strange advocates, a fact not generally appreciated by the public. Isaac Asimov, for one, wrote articles denouncing ‘saucer-mania’ and its more extreme manifestations. Indeed, when SF writers use UFO lore in their tales, they usually do so in an ironic, symbolic, or merely opportunistic fashion. CM Kornbluth uses the UFO fad in a slyly humorous way in his “The Silly Season” (1950), in which Earth is invaded but nobody pays attentions because the newspapers have cried wolf too often. 

More seriously, John Wyndham plays on UFO fears to set the scene for his ‘The Kraken Wakes’ (1953). Henry Kuttner uses a flying saucer as a device for a moral parable in “Or Else” (1953), as does Theodore Sturgeon in “A Saucer of Loneliness” (1953). Robert A Heinlein exploits saucer fears – as he exploits communist-conspiracy fears, in his invasion novel ‘The Puppet Master’ (1951). Gore Vidal’s ‘Messiah’ (1954) opens with an analysis of UFO’s as portents, which in some ways anticipates the theories of the psychologist Carl Gustaf Jung in his ‘Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth Of Things Seen In The Skies’ (1958, translated 1959). 

Other fictional routes have been provided by the saucer enthusiasts themselves, who became the subject of JG Ballard’s “The Encounter” (1963, in ‘The Venus Hunters’) which leans heavily on Jung, and Fritz Leiber’s ‘The Wandered’ (1964) which deals in part with the reactions of various UFO-logists to an actual celestial visitor. ‘Seed Of The Gods’ (1974) by Zack Hughes is a satire on the lunatic saucer theories of Erich Von Daniken, as expressed in his mass-popular ‘Chariot Of The Gods?’ (1968, translated 1969). A good non-fiction book on UFO’s is ‘The UFO Experience: A Scientific Enquiry’ by J Allen Hynek (1972).

‘CTA-102, we’re over here receiving you 
signals tell us that you’re there 
we can hear you loud and clear…’ 
(“CTA-102” by The Byrds) 

Dave Davies, of the Kinks has a fascination with UFO’s. ‘We need to get into this world of the unknown’ he tells me. ‘I did an interview the other week, and we were talking about UFO’s, I was talking about aliens and messages from outer space. This – that, and the other. And the guy thought I was crazy. Yet he probably goes home and watches the ‘X-Files’ on television. So that’s alright, OK? Because we’re detached from that. But the thought of us being attached to it, that’s a very different psychological process. I think that’s really strange.’ 

Steven Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ propelled the quasi-religious perception of UFO-logy into the pop mainstream, just as Roland Emmerich’s ‘Independence Day’ (1996) and ‘Mars Attacks!’ (1996) deliberately reverts to 1950s-style Flying Saucer terror. ‘Little green strangers in saucer-shaped lights.’ Aliens with eyes like ‘aviator shades’ that go around the side of their heads. 

In March 2007 France became the first country to fully open its UFO files to the public when a team of space agency researchers from its national space agency launched a dedicated website documenting five decades of sightings, some ten-thousand documents including photographs, police reports and witness videos. Although other countries also collect UFO data, they continue to be less admirably open, in the UK files can only be requested via the Freedom of Information Act on a case-by-case basis. Now the French ‘Office Of Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena’ offer explanations for some of the sightings – for example when a thousand people reported seeing flashing lights in the night sky one November seventeen years earlier. They were able to prove it had been rocket fragments during re-entry. But it concedes that only about 9% of French UFO cases can be explained. And of the 1,600 cases registered since 1954, nearly a quarter are subject to the Category D classification – meaning that in spite of reliable data and witnesses, the sightings remain inexplicable. The online archive is intended to be open to on-going up-dates…

‘Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely 
mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way 
down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space…’ 
(‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams) 

Like most issues of vital global importance, there are at least two takes on the dawn of the UFO phenomenon. One centres on the late 1940s. This is where it begins. This is where sightings first proliferate. Foo-Fighting in WW2 perhaps present the irresistible spectacle of human’s predilection for mass slaughter on a global scale. While the coincidence of nuclear testing, H-bombs, Hiroshima, is not – according to this theory, purely chance. With the suddenly proliferating atomic fire-crackers alerting the local galactic community-watch that a planet previously categorised as ‘mostly harmless’ now worryingly warrants closer scrutiny. Of course, Roswell is central to this thesis. A major part of UFO-ology’s twentieth-century mythology, the saucer crash and subsequent Government cover-up has been sucked into just about every Sci-Fi context, from ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ in which the ditched starship belongs to errant Ferengi, through the inevitable ‘X-Files’, ‘Dark Skies’ – and ‘Roswell High’, before you even get to Spielberg’s ‘Taken’ mini-series, and ‘Independence Day’ where shadowy agencies attempt to retro-engineer from retrieved alien technology. 

Sentience, it says, attracts sentience. Technological markers even more so. The other take goes further. The halo’s on medieval saints? – crude visual representations of space-helmets. The Biblical Ezekial’s Wheel, voices from burning bushes? All signs of alien intervention confusingly reported by confused scribes. Because we are a technologically-based society we look at strange lights in the sky and furnish technological answers. Pre-technology societies would supply answers from within their own range of references, angels, dragons, portents from the gods. Further – Erich Von Daniken sold millions of pulps on the premise that not only did the gods come from the stars, but that they actively interfered – big style, genetically modifying and shaping the Naked Apes they encountered. Again, this is territory pretty well staked out by SF hacks by way of contra-logic archivist Charles Fort. But we see unexplained lights in the sky, and we decide they are machines. Vehicles. But if they do not originate from any know source, taking into consideration the possibility of covert experimental technologies or secret weapons-systems, and if we discount unknown terrestrial sources, and there has been speculation about hidden civilisations within the hollow Earth, visitors crossing over from some alternate-dimension parallel Earth, or time-travellers from some future Earth, by a process of logical elimination, sooner or later the only theory left involves some kind of space aliens. Once we said Venus, or Mars. But advancing science has virtually eliminated the other solar system worlds as abodes of advance life. Which leaves the stars… 

15 May 1963 Major Gordon Cooper begins his twenty-two Earth orbits – the last of the solo Mercury shots, but as the mission approaches its final stages he contacts the Australian Muchea tracking station to report a ‘glowing green object’ approaching his capsule. Machea radar systems confirm his sightings. Later ‘in 1964, the first unmanned Gemini flight was followed around Earth by four UFO’s, distinctly seen on radar’ writes Eando Binder in ‘Night Of The Saucers’ (1971), ‘Ed White, James McDivitt, Frank Borman, John Young – they all reported UFO’s. And Devitt took photos of the ‘bogeys’ following his spacecraft.’ Then ‘Lunar Orbiter Two, in 1966, photographed perfectly shaped domes on the moon, and also strange spires. The domes had moved when next photographed.’ But there was still more. Commander Eugene Cernan – of Apollo 17, told a 1973 issue of the ‘Los Angeles Times’ ‘I’ve been asked (about UFO’s) and I’ve said publicly I thought they (UFO’s) are somebody else’s, some other civilisation’s.’

This is the stuff of weirdos, nerds, and socially maladjusted obsessives. But it also connects directly into the most profound questions of existence. The kind of questions primitive peoples once invented religions to answer. The ‘why are we here’, ‘what’s it all mean’ kind of questions that has philosophy cul-de-sac’d into an existential quandary. Is life something that happened once, against impossible odds, here on this one lonely third-rock-from-the-sun? If so, why? In the ‘Star Trek’ universe every star system has an ‘M’-type planet. Every ‘M’-type planet has life, usually humanoid in appearance, and sufficiently close that – after a few initial problems, by the end of the episode, they’re exchanging ambassadors and setting up trade agreements. It’s not necessarily like that. Or even something vaguely like it. 

Or then again, just maybe it is. On a BBC2-TV ‘Earth: The Power Of The Planet’, a Dr Iain Stewart explains the contradictory ‘rare earth’ theory, that we’re not intelligently designed and handcrafted by deities, but just a chancy cosmic fluke. We only arrived here because we have a nice planet. There’s enough gravity to stop air leaking into space – just look at the state Mars is in, and there’s Jupiter which fortuitously assumes the role of the system’s fat kid, becoming a magnet for stray cosmic debris that might otherwise come hurtling our way. It was a chance in a trillion that all those random numbers came up to produce complex life as opposed to just algae. Or just… nothing. Perhaps it’s only the Jurassic extinction-asteroid that uniquely determined the course of life on Earth, and if it didn’t occur elsewhere, every other inhabited world in the galaxy could be dominated by reptilian dinosaur-evolved intelligences? 

Carl Sagan says ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.’ So the reason it’s so important to find life on Mars… or even Europa, even microscopic spores of life, even microscopic spores of life which briefly flickered then died out in some lost window of Martian opportunity a thousand-million years ago, is down to odds. The odds of life appearing on a planet. To formulate a probability-equation you need more than just one base. The only world we know with certainty that has produced life, is Earth. To find that this occurred independently on two worlds in the same solar system would boost the odds that life is fairly common, and will arise whenever conditions are right. 

But even this could be deceiving. Two recent examples. The detection of methane in the Martian atmosphere which could only be the result of some kind of organic activity – or maybe not, it could be volcanic in origin. Nevertheless, tabloid front-covers follow. Earlier, a trace of supposed Martian fossil micro-biology was discovered here on Earth, within a volcanic meteorite projectile-vomited from Mars, and then attracted by terrestrial gravity. Prompting headlines. Yet that implied life within the solar system could be interactive, and arise as the result of cross-seeding across space. We could be Martians. Or vice versa. So any equation based on this premise would be skewed. But how else can we configure such a basic equation? And who – really, gives a toss, beyond geeky X-Files no-mates? Well, anyone who has ever paused to wonder briefly about what this thing called life is all about. 

People once assumed the Earth to be the centre of the universe, and everything revolved around it. Now we know better. We don’t yet know if the Earth is galactic central in that one significant sense of being home to life. It’s only relatively recent astronomical developments that have even begun to guess at the probable distribution of extra-solar planetary system. Close-scrutiny of winks and wobbles in the motion of stars indicate the presence of unseen companions that are assumed to be planetary in nature. Complex mathematics have worked out the mass and orbital distances involved. But no extra-solar planets have actually been directly observed, and the only ones so far detected have by necessity been those large enough to influence the motion of their primaries, hence most probably Jupiter-size gas-giants. Presumably, if there are gas giants, there must also be smaller rockier, more Earth-type exoplanets within the temperate ‘Goldilocks’ zone? But we can’t know for certain. Not yet. Perhaps not ever. 

The stars are a long way away. More distant than we can conceive. Perhaps there will never be Captain Kirk’s out there to bridge those vast gulfs of emptiness. Perhaps we’ll never escape the limits of the solar system. And after awhile, will no longer even consider doing it. As the cold inhospitability of space becomes more apparent, and matters on Earth take a more central urgency, we’ll look increasingly inwards, and away from the worlds of space. The opportunity will be lost forever, and the human race will live out its allotted span on this single warm planet. After all, Einsteinian science says there are certain limits that can never be exceeded. Except by some kind of hibernation-technology, or generation-ships that would take centuries to reach their destination. Others say that human will can transcend all limits. That if there are obstacles, sooner or later human ingenuity will devise a way of surmounting them. 

Either way, the future’s up for grabs. Other, older, worlds may have gone beyond those limitations already. Or they may have biology’s more adapted to centuries of travel between stars. Longer-living metabolisms given to periods of low-intake inactivity. Perhaps what we see as UFO’s are not machines, but are the organisms themselves? Astronomer Carl Sagan (9 November 1934 to 20 December 1996) co-founded the ‘Planetary Society’, a million-strong group with a worldwide membership, to promote the exploration of the solar system and the search for extraterrestrial life. But he also persuaded NASA to carry messages on its deep-space missions intended to be deciphered by any passing aliens who are curious enough to investigate the probes. There’s a gold plaque within the Pioneer-10 mission of 1972 that depicts the chemical symbol for hydrogen, a named man and woman, the position of the sun in our galaxy and a solar system schematic. Pioneer-10 should reach the star Aldebaran in about two-million years. Sagan’s interest in scouring the universe for other forms of life was crystallised in 1982 when he encouraged seventy eminent scientists to co-sign a letter to the journal ‘Nature’ making the case for SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), an organisation which sends out signals through radio telescopes, laser beams and numerous other media just in case someone out there is listening. 

David Bowie – as a student at Bromley Tech, worked with two other guys who edited a UFO-zine, claiming he’d seen alien spacecraft in the Watford area, ‘UFO’s came over Watford so regularly we used to time them’ he said, ‘I made sightings six, seven times a night for about a year when I was in the observatory. We had regular cruises that came over’. This, before the LSD had kicked in. 

Fact or fiction… men from another planet or an optical illusion? The riddle of the ‘flying saucer’ remains unsolved. And yet, for fifty years, every important government in the world has been trying to find the answer. Brilliant scientists, expert meteorologists, and top Air Force brass have worked on the problem of the ‘UFO’s – unidentified flying objects’, but remain baffled. Fiction? Well, let’s revisit some cold hard facts. Let’s time-shift back to that sunny afternoon of 7 January 1948, high up in the sky over Kentucky’s Fort Knox. Leading a flight of F51 pursuit planes, Captain Thomas F Mantell was climbing into the clouds on full boost to locate a mysterious object reported over the area. Suddenly a bright light flashed in front of his eyes, blinding him with an intense glare. Mantell knew there was no time to worry about textbook flying techniques. This was the crunch. Instant evasive action – or else…! Throwing his aircraft across the sky with brutal desperation, the pilot heard the tortured spars shrieking with strain as the Mustang fighter stood up on one wing. Sweat gleamed on his forehead as the mystery object flashed past, he could feel his hands trembling on the control column. This was the narrowest escape he’d ever had – and that included two years combat flying during the Pacific war against Japan. Reaching for his radio, he flicked the switch down – ‘Blue leader to base… the thing is definitely metallic. It’s enormous! I’m going up to 20,000 for another look. Over and out.’ Back in the control tower at Godman Base, Colonel Guy Hix listened grimly as the pilot’s laconic report crackled through the loudspeaker. He turned away from the window and joined a group of officers huddled around the radar screen. Two bright spots glowed on the flickering green tube as the giant scanner on the roof above swept across the sky. One of those spots was Mantell’s F51… but what was the other? 

‘Well, at least we know he isn’t imagining things up there’ the Colonel commented dryly as he turned away from the screen, ‘I want to hear his report immediately he gets back to base.’ But Mantell never returned. Not alive, anyway. His fighter disintegrated at 35,000ft and crashed in a million pieces. There was a full-scale investigation. Anxious newspaper-men besieged USAF HQ for details. But Mantell’s tragic death was now a top-secret matter. The journalists pressed for a story… could they see the wreckage? Officials shake their heads. Was it true the debris was radioactive? Air Force top brass refuse to answer. Every question was met with the same bland ‘No Comment’. And so the mystery remains. Over one-hundred witnesses saw the strange bright disc in the sky that day. Radar observations confirm that an unidentified object flew over Fort Knox. Captain Mantell, an experienced combat pilot, had tailed it and reported by radio on its ‘tremendous’ size. Had he flown too close and been blasted out of the sky by unknown weapons from an invading spaceship – or did he just black-out and crash through lack of oxygen? No-one has ever come up with an answer. 

Seven months later another ‘saucer’ was sighted, this time by the crew of a DC-3 airliner en route from Texas to Boston. Flying at night, the pilot suddenly saw a cylindrical object hurtling towards his aircraft on a collision course. Then, at the last moment, it jerked sideways and disappeared in a steep vertical climb. This time the object was not a disc. The pilot – Clarence S Chiles, described it as cigar-shaped with two rows of brightly-lit portholes along the side and flames belching from the tail. His co-pilot confirmed every detail of the story. Exhaustive checks by officials showed no other aircraft near the DC-3 that night and the USAF said it was not one of their rockets. Both men were experienced pilots with war-service – level-headed aviators who did not indulge in seeing fantasy objects in the night sky. Yet both persisted in their story. 

More facts? There’s no shortage when it comes to flying-saucers. In 1952 the USAF received two-thousand reports of UFO activity. Each report was checked out. The experts were able to account for 1,200 reports by known facts… but had to classify the remaining eight-hundred sightings as UNEXPLAINED. Take the case of Professor Clyde W Tombaugh. As the discoverer of dwarf-planet Pluto in 1930, the Professor was highly-regarded as an expert astronomer. Yet he saw a flying saucer on 20 August 1949, and so did two members of his family who were with him. Like the DC-3 incident, Tombaugh’s saucer was metallic and cigar-shaped, with two rows of port-holes. It remained in clear view for twenty-seconds before vanishing. 

But don’t imagine that saucers are purely an invention of the ‘Space Age’. Records reveal sightings back through many centuries of history, and they all show a remarkable similarity to recent reports. In 1873 the astonished citizens of Bonhem, Texas, watched a large torpedo-shaped object circle the skies over their town – and this was thirty years before the Wright brothers coaxed their first aeroplane off the ground. The very next day the mysterious visitor flew over Fort Scott in Kansas, starting a minor panic amongst the frightened soldiers. Only two years earlier an identical object was reported over Marseilles. Delve further into the past, Gregory of Tours mentions ‘globes of fire’ in the sky way back in AD583, and to top that, Roman writer Pliny refers to flying discs in his ‘Natural History’. British army officers saw them in the sky just before the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and assumed it be a Napoleonic secret weapon. A famous English admiral watched a disc cross the Moon on 26 September 1870 – and there were four similar sightings that year, including one by Lord Brabazon in Berlin. In 1897 a Colonel HG Shaw described in Stockton, California’s ‘Daily Mail’ about how he and his friends fought off three tall, slender humanoids covered in fine, downy hair who were trying to accost or kidnap them. Many of these antique reports can be written off as legends and ignorance of natural phenomena. But the vast number of sightings and their strange similarity to modern observations leave a nagging suspicion that flying saucers have been seen over this planet right back to the dim and distant past. 

Fact or fiction? The balance seems decidedly skewed in favour of… something. Despite the sheer number of sightings there are few reports of landings. Most famous was the claim by George Adamski that he’d actually interacted with aliens. The incident took place in Arizona in 1952, and Adamski’s book subsequently revealed that the saucers came from Venus. French customs official, Jean Latappy, also saw a mysterious object resting on the ground at Marignane airport the same year. Experts questioned the man for hours and, although he did not claim that he’d seen a saucer, they were satisfied that he’d seen something… something which seemed inexplicable. The Marignane saucer was also cigar-shaped with four lighted windows. It made no noise and took off so rapidly that, within three seconds, it had disappeared. This is a world of anal-probes, where ‘AA’ stands for Alien Abduction.

Many theories have been advanced concerning the origins of UFO’s, and experts have spent many hours arguing about the motive-power that propels them. The most favoured is that of magnetic-force – a source of power that modern science is still investigating. If magnetic fields of force can be harnessed for the purposes of propulsion, many engineers consider that the fantastic speeds of the saucers could be achieved without the tremendous bulk necessary with rocket-technology. At present, mass is directly proportional to energy whenever acceleration is required – a fact that can be readily observed by the progressively larger rockets built during the Space Race. The use of retro-engineered magnetic force might be one way to break the mass-energy law. If saucers are powered by magnetic force – or some equally advanced system, they must come from some distant world where superior intelligences have already far surpassed human science and technology. But the fact that they’re here at all is evidence of that already… 

Or is there some other explanation? Perhaps they have come from Earth after all… but many thousands of years into the future? Are saucers, in fact, time machines? It’s an attractive, as well as an alarming, theory, but it could account for many conundrums. It could explain why saucers have been seen in the skies for many thousands of years. Surely, if they are visitors from Space they would have plucked up courage to say hello by now? But if, instead, they’re from Earth themselves they’d be able to obtain all the data they need by observation. The time-machine concept also explains why saucers have shown no aggressive intentions directed at intruders. They are here to learn – not exterminate. Many observers have been puzzled by the tremendous acceleration of the machines – but maybe that’s an illusion too. If they are time-machines then they would obviously disappear from sight as soon as they move into that dimension. In other words, the flying-saucers do not apparently disappear, they do disappear! It’s a fascinating thought. Men from the future flying back in time to watch the people on Earth, living history as it happens. See-it-yourself history lessons by flying saucer? Well, it’s an idea! 

Despite the conspiracy theorists darkest imaginings, there has been a degree of official opening up. President Jimmy Carter saw a UFO himself during a campaigning trip. It proved to be a transformational experience. He did pledge to open up the suppressed government UFO files.

(1977) Files previously held by the MoD’s special UFO department suggest that among the most credible reports was one made by an RAF pilot and two NCO’s at RAF Boulmer in Northumberland in 1977.