Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Latest Book

The new book is now finished and is at the typesetting and proof-reading stage.  I've been working on it pretty much non-stop since Christmas and - unlike the Sax Rohmer/Fu Manchu book - it is absolutely on schedule.  I'm still hoping it will be out in September or early October.

Publishing it myself means a large amount of work on everything from the usual research and writing to    typesetting, book design, cover, printing, promotion, distribution, organizing a book launch and subsequent events and use of social media (not my strong point).  Fortunately I have managed to persuade Bradley Garrett to write a foreword and Gary Lachman an afterword.

It should be up on Amazon within the next ten days and I shall be posting some material from it in the near future.  More regular posts will hopefully resume soon.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Events and Concerts

I'm doing two underground London talks to promote City Reads:

Victoria Library Friday 10 April

Putney Library Thursday 30 April - info here.

Concerts booked so far:

Wire The Prince Albert, Brighton Monday 13 April

The Fall St Mary in the Castle Hastings Saturday 25 April

Amon Duul II Village Underground Friday 12 June

King Crimson Brighton Dome Saturday 5th September

Thursday, 29 January 2015

January 2015

Very little happening here at the moment as all my free time is being spent writing the next book, which I want to be out by September.  As far as Lord of Strange Deaths is concerned there have been so many false announcements of its appearance that I won't bother mentioning it any more - according to Amazon it's coming out in December this year.  I have much more control over my present book which I'd say is two thirds completed - more news in a month or so.

Despite promising myself that I wouldn't do any events during the writing of the new book, I've agreed to one or two.  The first, which should be very interesting, will be with Bradley Garrett details here under Salon No.24.  As City Read has a subterranean theme it's likely that there will be a talk in April somewhere or other.  Also a talk for the Dracula Society on Sax Rohmer, possibly in June.

Sad to hear of the death of Demis Roussos this week, my post on Aphrodite's Child here.  Also the passing of Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream - my first live concert was TD at Fairfield Halls Croydon 23rd October 1975, a memorable and very loud occasion.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

November concerts

I must just say, before the year ends, how much I enjoyed the Hedvig Mollestad Trio concert last month.  In a tiny, claustrophobic downstairs club it was LOUD and it ROCKED, the rockiest jazz rock I've heard for a long time.  Visibly pregnant, HM peeled off some chunky Sab and Zep-style riffs with some inventive soloing, not overdoing the loops and delays.  A number of early departures, as I've said before, always a good sign.  Some excellent backup from the bass - electric and stand-up - and drums.  The night before they had supported John McLaughlin at the Royal Festival Hall. Reviews here and here.

I also enjoyed Shiver deep in the heart of Dalston - trendy cocktail bar with a tiny basement venue.  Some technical hitches but exciting music - a bit too reliant on electronics sometimes I feel, but there were some great moments - they have an excellent song called 'Rudderless' - New Order meets Todd Rundgren.  The bus journey back to London Bridge was educational in terms of studying the Hackney and Shoreditch hipsters with their identical lumberjack beards and absurd short ponytails.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Netherwood and Borley

Still in a Halloween mood I've been looking through a few ghost books in my collection and came across photographs of the notorious Borley Rectory, subject of some highly imaginative 'psychic investigations' by ghost hunter Harry Price.  I couldn't help noticing a certain architectural similarity with Netherwood - both houses were built in the 1860s.  There's also a link to Price through C.E.M. Joad who was a regular visitor to Netherwood and who collaborated with Price on a number of projects.  Photos above: top Borley Rectory; two of Joad and Price in the Brocken, complete with goat; bottom Netherwood.  Some relevant text by me below:

Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad (1891–1953) was an English philosopher and prolific writer, a socialist and a member of the Fabian Society.[1]  Educated at Balliol College, Oxford, he later produced a steady stream of philosophical texts while working as a senior civil servant, until in 1930 he was appointed Head of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London.  He left his wife in 1921 and lived thereafter with a succession of lovers, introducing them all as ‘Mrs Joad’.  In his opinion sexual desire was like a buzzing bluebottle that had to be swatted before it distracted a man of intellect; he had been expelled from the Fabian Society in 1925 for sexual misbehaviour at a summer school (he did not rejoin until 1943).  Learned, opinionated, witty and a gifted explainer, through books such as his Guide to Modern Thought (Faber & Faber, 1933) and Guide to Philosophy (Victor Gollancz, 1936) Joad became this country’s foremost popularizer of that thorny subject.  He was interested in Eastern philosophy and regularly contributed to the Anglo–Indian Theosophical journal Aryan Path.  In 1932 he founded, with H. G. Wells (1866–1946) and others, the Federation of Progressive Societies and Individuals. 

Joad also became involved in psychical research and from June 1934 was Chairman of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation (not an official body of the University and not based there), whose Honorary Secretary was the controversial psychic investigator and ghost hunter Harry Price (1881–1948).[2]  In June 1932, as part of the centenary celebrations of the poet Johan Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), Price and Joad had travelled to the Brocken in the Harz Mountains (where the Devil had tempted Faust) to conduct a black magic experiment, the so–called ‘Bloksberg Tryst’, in which a goat, through the incantations at full moon of ‘a maiden pure in heart’, was to be transformed into a ‘youth of surpassing beauty’; unsurprisingly, the demonstration, which in any case was intended to show the inefficacy of ritual magic, failed.[3]  On 5th October 1932 Harry Price invited Aleister Crowley to speak at his National Laboratory of Psychical Research at No.13 Roland Gardens, SW7.  The Great Beast delivered an erudite talk on ‘Amrita’, the ‘Elixir of Life’ while avoiding the subject of sex magick.[4]

A garrulous and gregarious figure like Joad could always be sure of receiving dinner and speaking invitations.  In his autobiography he described visiting an establishment very similar to Netherwood, although the book was published in the same year (1935) that Vernon and Johnnie took over the guesthouse:

‘I have been in the habit for many years of spending occasional weekends in the country with a couple who cultivate weekend entertainment as an art.  Very carefully they select their guests.  The chief qualification in a guest is that he or she should be a prominent person, with the reservation the kind of prominence should vary as much as possible from guest to guest and from weekend to weekend.  For example, if there are prominent politicians one week, there will be prominent painters the next.  If famous people cannot be had, they will stage a weekend consisting entirely of the relations of famous people.[5]

[1]  Geoffrey Thomas Cyril Joad (Birkbeck College, 1992); Kingsley Martin ‘Cyril Joad’ New Statesman and Nation 45.1154 18th April 1953 pp.446–447; ODNB article by Jason Tomes
[2]  Paul Tabori Harry Price, the Biography of a Ghost–Hunter (Athenaeum Press, 1950), Trevor H. Hall Search for Harry Price (Duckworth, 1978), Richard Morris Harry Price, The Psychic Detective (Sutton Publishing, 2006)
[3]  Harry Price Confessions of a Ghost Hunter (Putnam & Co. 1936) pp.334–343; Morris Harry Price, The Psychic Detective op. cit. pp.155–160.  This absurd publicity stunt was witnessed by, amongst many others, Dr Heinrich BrĂ¼ning (1885–1970), Chancellor of Germany, author Boris Pastenak (1890–1960) and artist Paul Klee (1879–1940)
[4]  Aleister Crowley ed. and intro. by Martin P. Starr Amrita, Essays in Magical Rejuvenation (Thelema Publications, Kings Beach CA, 1990) p.xv
[5]  C.E.M. Joad The Book of Joad, A Belligerent Autobiography [first pub. as Under the Fifth Rib 1932] (Faber & Faber, 1935) p.57 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Corvo Cult, The Yellow Peril and Netherwood

The launch party at Maggs for The Corvo Cult by Robert Scoble was very enjoyable.  Some reports with pictures here and here.  Fortunately, I resisted the temptation of buttonholing Barry Humphries and probably making a fool of myself talking about the 1890s.  I've always wondered if he's read Decadent London - I asked my publisher to send him a copy on publication, but I doubt that happened.  The book itself is very entertaining and would probably be of interest to non-Corvines: AJA Symons, author of the classic Quest for Corvo appears in an unflattering light as an untrustworthy individual and avid collector Donald Weeks as a belligerent obsessive - see earlier posts on Corvo.  One strange mistake - twice we are told that the Corvines celebrated the centenary of his death in 1960 - he was born in 1860 and died in 1913 aged 53.

Christopher Frayling's new book on Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril was reviewed in yesterday's Guardian.  It's a pity that Lord of Strange Deaths was not out last year as was intended as it's unlikely to be reviewed, given the fact that this book with a major publisher is already on the market.  I have to say this is not a new experience for me in the dog-eat-dog world of publishing.  The book is still being worked on and is unlikely to appear for the talk in December I would imagine.

Frayling's book is an admirable attempt to cut through the more fantastic aspects of Rohmer's biography - rather than revealing any new information about him, he trawls through the types of newspapers and journals that Rohmer wrote for in the period just prior to the First World War, uncovering the roots of the spread of Yellow Peril coverage in England and the appearance of proto-Fu Manchu figures in their pages.  I found this the most interesting part of the book - it clearly showed the influences, not just on Rohmer, but on an entire population, of this type of journalism.  The historical side of things was less sure I felt, but the final chapter on the long lingering death of Rohmer's fiendish villain in popular culture is characteristically encyclopedic.  There was stuff in there that I knew nothing about, but then Frayling had access to archives in the US that I had no chance of seeing and presumably had some funding for his efforts.  The illustrations are imaginative and excellent.

However, from this week I plan to work solely on my next Accumulator Press book, which is about 25% done, with the aim of publishing it myself as soon as possible.  Given the tiny amount of time I now have in which to write I hope to enlist the (paid) aid of two or three experts in the area to boost its credentials.  It will revisit a couple of subjects I've covered in the past, but in more detail and will hopefully be attractively designed, by me and the street artist Stewy and his partner, like Netherwood.

Talking of Netherwood, I recently subscribed to the British Newspaper Archive which includes a long run of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer and have gone through every reference therein to Netherwood.  Fortunately it doesn't appear that I missed much in plodding for weeks through the microfilm version, but one area that I couldn't face scanning every week was the ad section in which for example the date of the sale of Netherwood by Vernon and Johnnie Symonds was recorded.  On 21st December 1949 it was sold to Harry J Kaye and his wife.  In February 1951 a case was recorded in the County Court, with Vernon Symonds claiming a £99 balance on the sale; the plaintiffs eventually withdrew their action and the defendants agreed to pay £75.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Catching Up

Returned from the beautiful Wiltshire town of Malmesbury, where I spoke at the Philosophytown Festival, much expanded from my previous visit and covering much more ground.  Michael Cuthbert and his team of volunteers have produced something of great worth here - it's a very low-key affair and all the better for it.  Mark Vernon, who lectured on 'The Good Life' according to the ancient Greeks, is an excellent speaker and I should search out some of his books - unlike me, he didn't bring his books along to sell.

I have to confess that I wasn't very impressed by the Syd Arthur concert in Brighton a couple of weeks ago.  For once, I probably was the oldest person there - very young and enthusiastic crowd, but I just couldn't get excited about the music I was hearing.  Their much-vaunted 'Canterbury Scene' sound' (one of my favourite genres) was conspicuous by its absence in my opinion, although one member played multiple instruments a la Geoffrey Richardson in Caravan - for some reason the music of Dave Brubeck kept popping into my head.  Incidentally, one group from that period who I never heard at the time was Egg who made some very interesting music, as I've discovered recently.  A very late arrival home marred by train delays made me question the wisdom of travelling quite so far to concerts.

Another recent arrival in the now hugely overcrowded world of underground London books is Subterranean London compiled by intrepid urban explorer and academic Bradley Garrett.  A friend managed to get me a signed copy at the recent launch, which I couldn't attend.  It's possible I might meet Mr Garrett some day.

At the moment the news on the Sax Rohmer book Lord of Strange Deaths is looking good, although apparently it's still touch and go whether it will come out this year.  Pity if it doesn't as I went to the trouble of arranging a promotional event for it on 11th December.  By chance I caught one of the contributors Christopher Frayling talking on the Today programme yesterday about the Yellow Peril, Fu Manchu, and Western images of China.  It will be a real shame if our book doesn't come out in 2014, as it's already a year late.  Despite what it says on bookseller sites the book is likely to be around 350 pages in length, possibly more.

The same publisher is bringing out a new book on the Cult of [Baron] Corvo (see previous posts here).  I'm very much hoping to be able to get to the launch at Maggs Bros next week.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Der Tod als Freund

Another coincidence regarding a recent addition to the art collection (I collect Whistler's friends and pupils, can't afford the master): Music (pencil and india ink) by George du Maurier (image above is another version), who first met Whistler at the atelier of Charles Gleyre in Paris in 1856.  From the Leonee Ormond biography (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969):

'He had some facility as a translator, and his English version of Sully Prudhomme's L'Agonie was later chosen for the Oxford Book of Victorian Verse under the title 'Music'.  Du Maurier originally published  it in the English Illustrated Magazine for June 1884, without a title, accompanied by a drawing of a death-bed scene.  The first, third and fourth stanzas of the original more or less correspond to Du Maurier's, but he has taken general themes from the whole French lyric.' [pp.373-374]

In the latest issue of Folklore Gail Nina-Anderson has written an essay entitled 'Artlore; An Introduction to Recurring Motifs Generated by the Study of Art' [Folklore 125 August 2014 145-160].  In the section 'Subject and Artistic Personality' she mentions two wood engravings by the German artist Alfred Rethel (1816-1859) Der Tod als Erwurger [Death as Avenger] and Der Tod als Freund [Death as a Friend] - the latter appears on the wall behind the figure playing the keyboard instrument in Du Maurier's image.

Death as Avenger was inspired by Heinrich Heine's account of a cholera epidemic during the Paris carnival season of 1831.  A robed skeleton plays fiddle with a pair of bones while those costumed revellers not already dead flee in terror.  Its companion piece Death as a Friend similarly depicts the skeleton of Death tolling the bell for the elderly sacristan who has just died.  According to Nina-Anderson 'Details such as a crucifix, keys, bread and wine, and a pilgrim's hat and staff add to the message that this is a hallowed "good death", while a stylized sunset seen through the window of the bell tower creates a mood of fulfilment.' [p.151]

The story goes that Rethel's friends, on being shown Death as Avenger were so disturbed by the image that it haunted their dreams, so as an act of expiation Rethel produced Death as a Friend.  Both prints were published in Dresden in 1851:  'apparently intended to be a pair, the story (although in this case feasible) can hardly be true.  It not only communicates a (less supernatural) variant of the 'cursed artwork' trope, but adds a concomitant antidote in the form of a companion image designed to counteract the effect of the first.'  Rethel suffered from severe mental illness that contributed to his comparatively early death.  Another interesting example Nina-Anderson uses of a 'cursed painting' is The Hands Resist Him by Bill Stoneham, about which much can be found online.

William Burroughs in London

Preparing for Friday's walk I'm reading chunks of Barry Miles' hefty William Burroughs A Life, which came out this year for the centenary.  There's a lot of information in here that's new to me and, as usual with Burroughs, a whole new group of people I'd never heard of before, even in the London years, which is the period covered by the walk.  The book is based on a massive amount of research undertaken by James Grauerholz, who couldn't finish the writing and asked Miles to take over. It's very thorough and probably the best Burroughs biography I've read - Miles also knew many of the main players.  He is supposed to be mounting an exhibition based on his archive at Westminster Reference Library next year and hopefully a talk will also be arranged.

As is often the case, unexpected intersections occur, such as Burroughs' visit to Chelsea to see Christopher Gibbs (see the posts on Blow Up Locations and Whistler below - it was Gibbs' flat that was the location for the party scene - see the photo above):

'Bill and Christopher first met in Tangier, when Mikey [Portman] took Christopher around to see Bill at the Muniria, but it was in London that they became friends, and Bill would visit Christopher at Lindsey House at 100 Cheyne Walk, a mansion dating from 1674, remodeled from an even older building.  Bill appeared very at home, lounging on the sofa smoking hashish in front of the huge bay window with its magnificent view of the Thames (James McNeill Whistler, who did many studies of the Thames in the 1870s, had lived next door), attended by his smartly turned-out boys.  The room was dominated by an enormous painting by Il Pordenone that had previously belonged to the duc d'Orleans.  A huge Moroccan chandelier cast a thousand pinpoints of light over Eastern hangings and silk carpets.  In the summer, afternoon tea was taken under the mulberry tree in a garden designed by Lutyens.' [pp.409-410]

Another intersection takes place with Mikey Portman (boyfriend of WSB in his early West London years) and Michael Wishart, the latter an artist who today is almost totally forgotten.  His autobiography High Diver is worth reading - he seemed to meet almost everyone who was anyone in twentieth century art and letters (and dance) and also slept with most of them.  I was annoyed by the usual privileged complaint of poverty ('we didn't have a bean, my dear') while swanning around the south of France swigging champagne and taking copious amounts of drugs.  Portman was one of his many boyfriends - who also included the notorious Denham Fouts and Nicky Haslam:

'He is far more beautiful, capricious and unpredictable than any of the monkeys and marmosets I have entertained and been obliged to dispose of in despair.  Michael's years in the Medina of Tangier, where he was William Burroughs' naked lunch, had hardly equipped him for terra firma.  During his occupation of my house, gramophone records became ashtrays, sheets tourniquets.  The house became a rallying ground for le tout Marseillaise (quartier Arabe).'[p.168]

Burroughs also visited, in the company of Francis Bacon, the Watermans Arms on the Isle of Dogs owned by Soho and Fitzrovia chronicle Dan Farson, who had also enticed, on separate occasions, Jacques Tati, Clint Eastwood and Judy Garland.  I've seen film of this pub (most recently in Paul Kelly's film How We Used to Live) but can't find it on YouTube

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Fort Process

To Newhaven last Saturday, an uphill climb to the fort for the music/culture event Fort Process.  Having to work in London that morning, I didn't arrive until the middle of the afternoon (it kicked off at 12:00).  On the way from the station to the fort I was latterly engaged in conversation with a middle-aged man who looked like he might be a performer and asked him who he was.  He didn't say, but told me that he was playing with the headline act Peter Brotzmann - I later discovered he was Steve Noble, a legend of the free improv scene - oops - it's an area of music I've occasionally dipped my toe into over the years, but I'm no expert.

The main reason I went was because two of my friends English Heretic and Haunted Shoreline were giving talks in the 'School Room' (both of which I missed because of aforesaid late arrival).  I was intrigued by the location and the few acts that I'd heard of and it was reasonably local to Hastings.  Walking around, I was hugely impressed by the venue.  In the 1960s and 1970s Newhaven was our regular family holiday destination and we stayed on a caravan site close to the fort - in those days it was dilapidated, dangerous and strictly off limits, surrounded with barbed wire and deep ditches, but to a teenage boy it had a massive mysterious appeal - it was not that long since the end of WW2 and perhaps my interest in underground sites and tunnels was already festering.  Before entering I wandered up the road to the caravan site, only to discover that it's been completely built over, as are the fields opposite where we used to watch horses graze.

I had no idea of the size of the fort and was shocked when I gained access - it's very large (and deep) and I'm not sure I managed to see all the parts of it over the course of the afternoon and evening.  I'm sure I'll regret not making more of an effort to see everything that was going on (and there was a lot), but performances were taking place all over the site, some in tunnels and subterranean spaces, others in bunkers looking out over the sea, or in former barrack rooms or storerooms.  A large nissan hut in the considerable open space in the centre of the fort was home to many of the more 'well-known' performers and was where Peter Brotzmann chose to play at the end of proceedings.  An inflatable stage had been erected in the central space, but there was lots of room to wander round, and tables and chairs to sit at.  The good weather really benefitted the event - you could stand or lie on the ramparts and watch the sun set, look dreamily out to sea, while a cacophonous noise was taking place behind you or wander in and out of other events in the central area.

I really liked the fact that there was no heavy security whatsoever - ie. thuggish men searching bags for bottles of water and sandwiches to be wastefully confiscated, or telling you where you could and couldn't go - you could wander around wherever you wanted - some events took place in a really deep cellar down a massive steep staircase - quite a hippyish vibe actually.  Some of the musical installations were a highlight for me: the glass harmonica; motorized plastic strips flailing against a wall sounding like a fountain etc.  The audience was surprisingly young - the Brighton contingent? - many of the usual suspects with huge Hoxton beards and tattoos.

From the small amount of music I heard the band I enjoyed most was Ex-Easter Island Head, who were probably the most conventionally 'rock' of all the musicians there - an invigorating propulsive mix of Steve Reich and Glenn Branca, with obvious memories of Sonic Youth concerts in the 1980s - they hit electric guitars on tables with mallets and have a powerful drummer - go see.  A real contrast with the Artaud Beats who seemed too studiedly precious and anti-rock for my tastes - sad, as they featured a number of ex-members of Henry Cow.  Other highlights were John Butcher who summoned up unbelievable sounds from a saxophone and Peter Brotzmann and Steve Noble (a formidable drummer) - I have to say that Brotzman sounded exactly as I expected him to, but even so it was impressive to witness - it started on a climax and built up from there, as they say.  It was also lovely to meet up with Haunted Shoreline again.  A really great event.