If I manage to keep my job I'm hoping to organise some talks and walks for the spring and summer. More news will appear here.
Sunday 22 January David Torn - Son of Goldfinger, with Tim Berne and Ches Smith. Guitarist who's played with David Bowie, been meaning to check him out for years, but he doesn't play in this country very often. At the Vortex.
Friday 27 Jaga Jazzist Roundhouse. What We Must is a stupendous record and I saw them at the Astoria in London around that time - haven't really been keeping up, but the latest record sounds great.
Tuesday 7 March Oxley/Meier Guitar Duo Jazz Hastings Club. Nicholas Meier is in Jeff Beck's band.
I was shocked and upset to hear of the death of Mark Fisher last Friday - he had a lot of important things to say about the present human condition. I met him on a couple of occasions and he was a lovely stimulatingly philosophical man. There have been a number of pieces about him in the links column opposite in the last couple of days - for example herehere and here.
Christopher de Hamel Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts (2016) A Christmas present. Slowly making my way through - each chapter is devoted to a particular ancient manuscript and the library in which it is housed. The author, Cambridge academic and librarian, is an expert in his subject and creates the impression that the reader is looking over his shoulder as he carefully turns the pages of these manuscript masterpieces and imparts his wisdom about the materials, history of the document and its possible producers and owners, and the iconography. Lavishly illustrated, although maybe should have been a larger format. Highly recommended.
Guy Halsall Worlds of Arthur, Facts & Fictions of the Dark Ages (2013) Written by a professor of history at York University, the title is rather misleading as 'King Arthur' is relegated to a very minor role and pretty much dismissed as a historical figure and the author is more interested in putting forward theories about the 'Dark Ages' and Anglo Saxon invasions. Also I was disappointed with his promised examination of the 'lunatic fringe' literature, which I feel is often worth examining for some of the insights into the authors' mentalities or the zeitgeist, despite their negligible worth as historical research. Worth reading together with King Arthur Myth Making and History (2002) by N J Higham, another modern sceptical analysis of the Arthurian legend.
Paul Morley Earthbound (2013) One of a series of books commissioned by Penguin themed around the London Underground lines by a variety of authors (I wonder how much they got paid?), this one is ostensibly about the Northern line, but is of course mostly about Paul Morley. His claim to be possibly the first person in London with a Sony Walkman should be treated with caution, I feel. Quite entertaining none the less, and can be read in a single sitting. Clever cover picture.
Leonard Cottrell The Bull of Minos (1966) Pan paperback hagiography of 'archaeologists' or maybe that should be 'diggers' Heinrich Schliemann and Arthur Evans, which I imagine has been thoroughly discredited by more recent research. An easy and stimulating read however.
John Mortimer Rumple Forever A compilation of stories of Rumple of the Bailey. I never saw the television series with Leo McKern and have not previously read any Rumple stories, but I needed some relaxing bedtime reading. Some of the humour is a bit strained, but pleasant enough reading. At this rate, my middle-aged self may well finally get round - after years of resistance - to Jeeves and Wooster. Rumpole's first television appearance in the hugely important Play for Today BBC series can be seen here.
1977. Punk was making a big impact and like many other teenagers at the time I listened to John Peel for the latest records by the likes of the Sex Pistols, Damned and Stranglers. However, I was saving my pocket money for a handsome-looking 3 disc compilation that had garnered glowing reviews in the music press: Soft Machine Triple Echo, a compilation of the first 10 years of the group. It came in a striking box with a twelve-inch booklet with lots of photos and one of Pete Frame's excellent family trees. I knew next to nothing about them, but I recognised the names of some of the former members, especially the seminal first incarnation 'dream' group of Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayres, Daevid Allen and Mike Ratledge - along with Pink Floyd probably the most interesting and creative of the British psychedelic bands. Fortunately I still have Triple Echo.
The first two lps are brimful with avant garde ideas and the beginning of Wyatt's post-modern playfulness with lyrics and deconstruction of songs ('thanks for this coda Mike, you've done us proud'). This was also a characteristic of later groups such as Hatfield & the North - all part of the Canterbury Scene, together with others such as Caravan, Egg, Khan, Steve Hillage etc. who in many cases were more jazz-influenced than most prog groups of the time. My favourite track on Triple Echo was The Moon in June, Wyatt's contribution to the double album Third - however this was a specially-recorded Top Gear version radically different from that on the lp (I only heard the original a couple of years ago) with alternative lyrics and a stunning Lowrey organ solo from Ratledge. Another live version here.
The received wisdom has been that after Third the group became less interesting in its quest to become yet another fusion band. Many members were drawn from Nucleus - a fascinating group that really needs a reassessment - the first three or four lps are definitely worth checking out. In the later records there's interesting use of synths and sequencers and after years of operating without a guitarist the group had two (at different times) of the most proficient from the 70s: Allan Holdsworth and John Etheridge.
A couple of weeks back I made my way to the Borderline off Charing Cross Road to see Soft Machine Legacy. Confounding my expectations, the joint was absolutely rammed (to an almost unsafe degree by the entrance) - luckily there was an interval and I managed to find a less congested spot further back. It's basically some of the Softs lineup: Etheridge on guitar, Roy Babbington on bass, the ubiquitous Theo Travis on sax, flute and keyboards - John Marshall was unwell and Nic France from Travis's Doubletalk was on drums. A really good show with old songs interspersed with the new (they are not a self-tribute act) - a few of the later classics, Facelift, Kings and Queens, and two of my favourites: Hazard Profile 1 and Tale of Taliesin. Needless to say, they didn't play Why Are We Sleeping or We Did It Again (sadly).
Also recently saw Three Trapped Tigers at the rather shabby Heaven near Charing Cross. Much younger crowd and a genuinely exciting live band: volcanic guitar (doing some interesting stuff with harmonics), heavy keyboards and a drummer on steroids and Duracell batteries. They are usually classified as a jazz band, but if they ever appeared at the Hastings Jazz Club (I wish) most of the punters would head for the doors after the first guitar thrash. Highly recommended. Some music here (played on the night and reminding me of Todd Rundgren's Utopia c.1975) and here.
Having said that, Jazz Hastings is a very worthwhile venture and is apparently in some financial difficulties. There is a benefit performance to help remedy this situation on Tuesday 10th January featuring such eminent players as Jason Yarde and James MacMillan. See you there.
Jim Godbolt All This and 10% Published in 1976, this is the memoir of jazz fanatic and booking agent Godbolt, who was involved for many years with, amongst others, the careers of George Melly and Mick Mulligan. Melly's autobiography of life on the road with a jazz band in the 1950s Owning Up is a wonderful book and reminds us that the 'rock'n'roll lifestyle' was being lived well before the 60s. Godbolt's account offers an interesting sidelight. He claims to have introduced (via Damon Runyon) the phrase 'hooray Henry' to the lexicon - the female equivalent being a Henrietta and offers some amusing and at times score-settling (although not as vivid as some of Melly's) descriptions of characters on the British jazz scene at the time. At the end of the book we find Godbolt working for the Gerry Bron organisation (whose most famous act was probably Uriah Heep), but disillusioned with the pop and rock of the early 70s - Alice Cooper and David Bowie are singled out for their depravity. After retiring from the music business he apparently spent some time as a meter reader for the Electricity Board. This book was updated in 1986 as All This and Many a Dog: Memoirs of a Loser/Pessimist. He also wrote a history of jazz. Looking him up online I found he died fairly recently at an advanced age. Obituaries here and here.
This inspired me to re-read Owning Up for the umpteenth time - it's stood the test of time and I still found myself laughing out loud at certain passages - it's also very good at evoking the dark dreary towns of the 1950s with their awful 'digs' and drinking cultures as he endlessly traverses the country.
'The flavour of the different regional landscapes was enough: the flat featureless Dutch-like farmland of Lincolnshire; the honey-coloured stone and intimate scale of the West Country; the sprawling suburb of the Midlands; the hunting-print look of Cheshire and Shropshire; the kilns of the Potteries and the chimneys of the industrial north; the wild moors along the Pennines where the sheep are always black with the soot of Lancashire and Yorkshire.' (p.103)
The more I find out about Hastings the stranger the town becomes. Lord Tiverton who, like his friend Screaming Lord Sutch, seems to have invented his title - in fact he was Derek Howell, health food millionaire - lived in the Old Town and died in October 1999. According to the Evening Argus:
'The short route from Tiver's home above a shop in the historic Old Town of Hastings to the nearby St Clement's Church was packed with those eager to pay their last respects. A jazz band led the hearse, followed by a lively procession of mourners including members of the Monster Raving Loony Party of which Tivers was appointed chairman shortly before his death. Sadly he never heard the good news.'
He lived at 49 George Street, which, according to an article I found online, was decorated in an eccentric style. Unfortunately, I've been unable to find any images online of the interior, so the imagination will have to serve. Above, a general picture of the north side of George Street where the house is located.
A website set up by the adopted son of Marianne Foyster about Borley Rectory which I thought had been taken down seems to have recently reappeared. See here. It has some very useful resources, especially the scans of Sidney Glanville's Locked Book containing material from the period when Harry Price rented the rectory and installed a changing team of observers - notably he himself only visited on rare occasions. I notice from a quick perusal of the contents that the Rev Guy Eric Smith and his wife Mabel returned to Borley to stay a night in the company of Glanville in January 1938. Nothing happened. This incident is recorded in the chronology section of The Borley Rectory Companion, but I am not aware of it being mentioned in the rest of the Borley literature. Smith's letter to Glanville a few days later implies that strange things did occur during their time residing at the rectory 1928/9, but it's revealing that he puts 'spooks' in inverted commas, as many writers maintain that he and his wife never believed in ghosts. See here.
There is a very good and detailed review of Borley Rectory: the Final Analysis by Andrew Clarke writer of the excellent Bones of Borley website - a book I reviewed with similar conclusions in an earlier post. The response of the author and publisher to Clarke's review is most revealing.
Yet another 'lost' street has been in the news recently. This time it's in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, beneath a Georgian town house in the centre of Stockton known as Gloucester House, currently being refurbished. See here and here. The 'street' appears to be a series of storerooms and possibly accommodation for servants (although I think they are probably more storage areas), linked by passages. Talk in the articles of the 'secret tunnels' linking to other parts of Stockton is characteristic of all such discoveries and reports, but is extremely unlikely.
To Brightling in East Sussex on Sunday to visit some follies associated with John Fuller (1757-1834), member of an ancient family of local iron-founders, known because of his eccentricities as 'Mad' Jack Fuller. An MP and firm supporter of slavery, he also donated large sums to the Royal Institute of Great Britain, purchased Bodiam Castle when it was threatened with demolition, was a friend of the artist Turner, and had a number of unusual structures constructed in the locality which still survive and some of which can be visited. There is a nicely-produced pamphlet written by Geoff Hutchinson available to buy in the church that tells you most of what you need to know about the man and his follies.
Twenty four years before his death he had his mausoleum built in the form of a pyramid, probably modelled on the tomb of Cestius in Rome. It can be found in the churchyard of St Thomas a Becket in Brightling, an imposing 25 feet high and built of sandstone blocks. Folklore says that he was eventually interred within sitting at an iron table, a full meal before him, a bottle of claret at arm's length, dressed for dinner and wearing a top hat (also of iron in some accounts). Sadly, this was disproved some years ago: prior to removing the rotted wooden door and bricking the entrance up it was found that Fuller was buried in a recumbent position below the floor (there is now an iron grille, that enables a view of the interior). Another story is that Fuller offered to make a gentleman for life of any man who volunteered to live in the mausoleum for one year without washing, shaving, cutting his hair or having any human contact - there were no takers.
An impressive observatory (completed 1818, now a private house) can be seen further down the road and an obelisk 65 feet high and 646 feet above sea level. Two follies we did manage to get to were the Tower, an atmospheric structure, especially on a darkening winter's afternoon - in the middle of a small copse in dung-strewn fields close to the church. 35 feet high it can be climbed - it was damaged in the hurricane of 1987 but the previous night's hurricane (which smashed one of our windows) had no affect. From there we went to the Sugar Loaf, a conical building 35 feet high with a base 15 feet in diameter with a door and window, which was used as a house for many years. The story attached to it is that this strange structure was hastily thrown up to enable Fuller to win a bet made in London that he could see the tower of Dallington church from his estate. When he realised that he was wrong he ordered the tower to be built in one night. Photographed above in the fading light. The afternoon was rounded off by a first visit to the lovely pub close to the Sugar Loaf at Wood's Corner The Swan Inn for a meal in the back dining room with a welcoming log fire.
Dancing in Caves is a very interesting project created by choreographer Katie Green. As part of her research she has been inspired by Bradley Garrett's essay in Secret Tunnels of England: Folklore & Fact. Her dance piece will incorporate elements of Discovery/Disorientation and Disappearing/Reappearing associated with underground spaces. More information here. Work in progress can be seen at Kents Cavern in Torquay on 13th January 2017 at 2.30.
Other artists who have contacted me about the influence of my books include Stephen Walter and Karen Russo. There may well be others out there.
Author of Subterranean City, Beneath the Streets of London, London's Coffee Houses, Decadent London, The Folklore of London, Subterranean City (Revised and Expanded Edition), Netherwood, Last Resort of Aleister Crowley, Lord of Strange Deaths, the Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer; Secret Tunnels in England, Folklore and Fact