Thursday, 13 December 2012

Gost [sic] Stories for Christmas

This week I took delivery of a combined paperback volume (printed in the US) of ghost stories in the M R James style that I'd seen recommended in an old essay in the sadly defunct Book and Magazine Collector.  Written by contemporaries of James they seemed the perfect accompaniment to long dark evenings and a stint in front of a crackling log fire.  The two collections are The Stoneground Ghost Tales by E G Swain and Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye by Arthur Gray - I'd previously read a couple of these tales in anthologies.

I started reading with great expectations and was pleased by the atmospheric settings and archaic language, but after a while some of the language seemed a bit too strange to a modern eye and I suspected an incorrect word here and there.  Then the obvious typos started appearing:  'he gave up oven trying to sleep'; 'closing his hail door'; 'he sat down to road'; 'family relies' [I worked out this should have been 'relics'] and the irritating absurdity of 'Christmas Eye'.  It's good that long-out-of-print books get a new lease of life but the practice of scanning in text and then failing to proof-read the resulting file can lead to some extremely embarrassing errors - something the long-dead authors would no doubt abhor.  I suppose you could put a positive Borgesian spin on it by theorising that entirely new texts could ultimately be created, completely divorced from their authors' intentions, but I for one get very upset when I discover a typo in one of my printed books, and let's face it there are one or two in there (though not as many as in this current ghost story collection).  It also disrupts my reading and the pleasure of the text until I start searching for typos rather than absorbing the story and doubting some of the more arcane expressions.  It's definitely something that's getting worse.  I had a look to see if I could buy an original copy of E G Swain's book but discovered that it might be rather expensive - see here.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Christmas Concerts

To Islington Assembly Hall last Thursday to see The Fall.  On the train I was wondering to myself: why do I keep going to see this group?  Maybe this should be the last time; it's a habit I should break.  One terrific show later I remembered why I've been following this group since 1980.  Mark E Smith proved once again that he doesn't intend his group to be a heritage act regurgitating the 'hits'.  I thought they were more punky and garagey tonight, the band as tight as the proverbial sexual metaphor and MES on good form despite repairing to a comfy chair behind the amps now and again - at least he didn't walk off stage as he frequently tends to do.  I couldn't help laughing at the end when he tried to untangle a microphone from the mass of wires and mike stands that had accumulated at the front of the stage.  Great venue with friendly staff and very nice toilets for a rock gig - these are the things that concern the middle-aged fan these days.  A couple of equally positive reviews here and here.

Monday to Brighton Kommedia to see The Roller Trio.  Compact studio space and exhilarating support from Physics House Band who I'd read about in a Brighton music mag, but wasn't expecting to see: they looked barely out of their teens and played the kind of unselfconscious instrumental prog rock that would have been anathema a few years back.  Three hugely proficient musicians (the guitarist and bassist both double on keyboards) taking everything at lightning speed - great fun.  The Roller Trio never really fully took off for me, but they certainly create an interesting sound and I'd go and see them again if they played locally.  I was annoyed by the number of people around me talking as the set neared its conclusion and I had to rush for the train.

Thursday, 6 December 2012


On Sunday went to the Electric Palace cinema in Hastings Old Town to see Swandown the film of the collaborative project between Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kotting, in which they borrowed a swan pedalo from the lake on the seafront and pedalled it all the way up to the site of the London Olympics by sea, river and waterway in the Indian summer of 2011.  Interesting film supported by a limited edition book - I had to buy a copy - with emails and texts generated by the journey together with pinhole photographs taken by Anonymous Bosch using a Swan Vestas matchbox.  Kotting was on hand to explain the film and answer questions afterwards.  I couldn't agree with the questioner who found the imagery of river banks, forts and walls oppressive - I thought it seemed like a much more liberating experience.  I've still not decided whether to ask Iain Sinclair to contribute to the next book - we have a few big names onboard already.

By way of contrast with Swans, we saw 10cc in Eastbourne on Saturday: thoroughly professional and entertaining show with some very skilled and versatile musicians and singers (culminating in an acapella version of Donna) - it's easy to forget how many hits they had and the support set was Graham Gouldman (looking remarkably youthful) and most of the group playing his many memorable hits for others such as The Hollies and The Yardbirds.  Art or Art's Sake became a prog epic and I even found my foot tapping to Dreadlock Holiday, a record I loathed when it was all over the radio in 1978 and still wouldn't listen to out of choice.  Mick Wilson the singer and multi- instrumentalist also sings in Three Friends, who I enjoyed, with their new line up, at the Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham a few weeks back.  Looking forward to seeing The Fall in Islington tonight and The Roller Trio in Brighton on Monday.

Music for 2012

For what it's worth, here's some of the music I enjoyed this year, most of it even came out in 2012, which makes a nice change.

Christian Scott  Christian Atunde Adjuah (Concord, 2012)

Written using 'a new harmonic convention I call the Forecasting Cell' Scott has produced an endlessly fascinating double cd of jazz trumpet with a healthy injection of rock guitar and hip hop beats - fusion for the twenty-first century.  Special mention for the inventive guitar work of Matthew Stevens.  According to Scott in his pretentious liner essay: 'A Forecasting Cell is a harmonic convention that illuminates the end result of a harmonic sentence preceding its resolution.  Because the end result of a harmonic sentence is already outlined, the improviser and accompanist are coerced into a constant reevaluation of the topography of the harmonic/melodic landscape, ultimately resulting in the improviser being forced to question before he renders a verdict.'  Whatever, every time I listen I hear something new.

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti  Mature Themes (4AD, 2012)

The mantle of Guided by Voices' Robert Pollard has been successfully passed on.

Motorpsycho and Stale Storlokken  The Death Defying Unicorn - a Fanciful and Fairly Far-Out Fable (Rune Grammafon, 2012)

Heavy metal, prog, psych, jazz, orchestral and chamber music, it's all here in a wildly ambitious concept album based on the voyage of a ship, or something or other.  Moments of longeurs on the second cd (the whole thing could be about 20 minutes shorter, a common fault these days), but the first cd is a thrilling ride from start to finish - not keen on the compressed-sounding vocals though.

Swans The Seer (Young God, 2012)

Yet another massively long double cd this is the culmination of everything Swans have been working towards for the last 30 years.

Reissues and old stuff:

My Bloody Valentine  Loveless (Sony, 2012)

One of my top five records, we've been waiting a long time for the reissues promised around the time of the reunion concerts - an immersive experience in sound.

Eberhard Weber  The Colours of Chloe (ECM, 1974)

Innovative and influential music that I discovered courtesy of The Freak Zone - must have been in the late Pete Namlook's record collection and Ryan Beano was also listening in.

Can  The Lost Tapes box set  Some fascinating stuff on here some of it very ahead of its time.

Goblin The Awakening (Cherry Red, 2012)  box set I purchased in Bologna.

Le Orme Felona e Sorona  Again purchased in Bologna. As usual with Italian prog I prefer the Italian language version (rather than the Anglicized Peter Hammill version).  A couple of weeks after buying this I had a conversation with a young Italian waiter at a West End wine bar who was raving about it.

Monday, 3 December 2012

London Orbital

Sunday 9th December will mark the date on which the orbital passenger railway around inner London will be open for use.  I have been looking forward to this event for many months as my London bolthole is very near Clapham Junction and the new line will enable me to get to East and North East London without travelling on the increasingly crowded tube or taking two or three buses.  See here and here and various informative posts on London Reconnections such as this one.  I just wish the new trains on that section of line had some transverse seats.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Events in the coming months

Time to advertise a few events coming up over the next nine months or so.  Firstly, Sophie Parkin will be talking about the Colony Room Club at Westminster Reference Library on the evening of Thursday 13th December between 7 and 9pm.  Details here, an article on her history of the club here and a tour here.  There's also a talk at the same place on actress Ellen Terry this coming Tuesday 4th December, which I would recommend.

Another noble venture is London at the Library - A Salon for the City who are organising a series of events at the same venue on the last Thursday of each month.  I'm involved in one of them and other speakers will include Sukdev Sandhu, Rachel Lichtenstein, Matt Brown from the excellent Londonist, Catharine Arnold and possibly Robert Elms and Iain Sinclair.  The full programme should be available on this site at some point.

Also at the library, on Friday 8th February 2013 from 6.30 to 8.00pm, A Gentleman of Hastings will be talking about Aleister Crowley's final three years at the Netherwood guesthouse and Gary Lachman will discuss Madam Blavatsky, the subject of his latest book.

I enjoyed this fascinating interview with Jonathan Meades on The Quietus site this week.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Appledore to Dungeness by rail

Photos taken by me on Saturday 24th November on an excursion train down the line from Appledore to Dungeness nuclear power station in Kent.  Weather suitably dismal.  Top: original route map; second:  passing ruin; third: view across the shingle to Dungeness nuclear power station in the rain and mist from the train (it wasn't possible to get off as there are no platforms, only facilities for loading the nuclear flasks) see here and here; fourth: Brookland Halt disused station, for more information see here and here; bottom: Lydd Town railway station disused since 1971, more information here and here.  The level crossing gates situated just before this station had to be manually opened and closed before the train could proceed.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Swans Down

To Koko in Camden Town last week, at the suggestion of Haunted Shoreline, to witness Swans in concert.  This was my fourth encounter (for the first, see post for May 2010) and many years had passed between this and the previous occasion, when I thought they were a bit restrained, with too many acoustic guitars in evidence.  No fear of that tonight, as I'd heard that they'd returned to being loud again, a statement that had me going to this gig with some trepidation, as I knew from experience what that would entail.

After a relatively restrained start the volume increased rapidly until after about half an hour I decided it was time for the ear plugs - even with them in it still seemed incredibly loud.  I had gone to one of the My Bloody Valentine reunion shows at the Roundhouse where staff were handing out earplugs but I soon took mine out as I couldn't hear the music properly - Swans were definitely a whole lot more than 1 louder.

This was sound that pummels you into submission, ritualised violence, that actually results in a kind of tranquility after a while; fortunately most of the noise was in the lower registers with no sudden squalls of ear-splitting feedback, so it could be coped with, just about.  The set length was also challenging, the kind of time taken by Bruce Springsteen or Led Zeppelin at Earls Court, clocking in at almost three hours, with one central 'song' lasting an entire hour it seemed.  A thrilling section marked a return to the Swans of old with one crashing chord being repeatedly played in unison, Michael Gira leaping like Pete Townshend across the stage and then running back to starting position to do it again - this went on for at least 10 minutes, probably a lot longer.

Nice to see a younger crowd than that which attends most shows I go to these days and I was also amused to hear Gira refer at the end to their first London concert supporting The Fall at Heaven (where I was one of the few who dared leave the upstairs bar to see them), remarking,'I sure made a lot of use of the glory holes there that night' - what could he mean?  There's a suitably pretentious review here and more straightforward ones here and here.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Paul Klee

Looking at the Tate site I see that the wish I expressed in an earlier entry this year - for a major London retrospective of the work of Paul Klee - will indeed be coming true in 2013.  Details here.  The painting above is called Walpurgisnacht.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Bologna, a city of elegant arcades, fascinating shops, great restaurants and some wonderful frescoed churches.  Inside the complex of medieval religious buildings of Santo Stefano, the earliest dating back to the fifth century, I found this odd picture; it was outside a chapel commemorating airmen, with photographs (many in uniform) covering the walls.

Another accidental discovery was the Oratory of St Cecilia.  Her recumbent statue by Stefano Maderno in the Basilica di S. Cecilia in Trastevere in Rome is wonderfully evocative and there is a painting of it in the oratory - the frescoes of her life, together with SS Valerian and Tibertius are equally beautiful.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

St Emilion

Another place visited this summer was St Emilion, a beautiful town with steep cobbled streets, albeit almost completely turned over to 'wine tourism'.  There are some vast wine 'caves' to explore beneath the streets and the amazing Monolithic Cathedral, also mostly underground and held up by huge metal supports.  My photos.

Montaigne's Tower

In August I had the opportunity to visit Montaigne's Tower near Bordeaux.  At the time I was reading How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakwell an excellent introduction to his life and work.  Also bought a bottle of Montaigne wine as the estate also contains a vineyard.  Photos by me.

Events in Hastings

There are some interesting events taking place in Hastings over the next couple of weeks - frustratingly I won't be able to go to any of them.  This weekend sees the first Ingrid Pitt Queen of Horror Festival (I think this is the official site).  There are some impressive guests including James Herbert, who I have to confess was a writer I read far too much as a teenager and the gorgeous Madeline Smith.

Less well publicised is the Black Huts Festival run by a local publisher and featuring Iain Sinclair who remains one of my favourite writers, many of his chums will be there as well.  I sometimes feel that there are too many events down here, but the most irritating thing is that the few I really want to go to nearly always take place when I have other commitments.

Bun Ceremony Under Threat

The latest Folklore Society newsletter contains some bad news regarding one of London's most unusual and interesting annual commemorations, which takes place every Good Friday at the Widow's Son pub in Bromley-by-Bow.  On this occasion a sailor from the Royal Navy places a bun in a net above the bar containing the buns from previous ceremonies; it commemorates the hot cross buns a widow is said to have baked every year in a cottage on that spot in the hope that her son would return home from sea, sadly he never did.  The legend can be found in my Folklore of London book amongst other places and there is an earlier post devoted to it.

It now appears that the pub has been bought by a property developer who wants to turn most of the building into the inevitable apartments ('luxury' no doubt).  The local newspaper covered it here.  It would be a very sad thing to see yet another pub-related piece of folklore vanish - when I was writing my folklore book I was dismayed to discover how many pubs had totally disappeared, been converted to flats or had stopped ceremonies and commemorations that in some cases went back many years.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Easy Money?

An interesting post in Robert Fripp's online diary, wherein he outlines his present financial situation and muses on the lot of the modern musician trying to earn a crust.  It seems that today everyone is trying to exploit the internship/work-for-nothing trend, including touring musicians who don't want to pay their backing groups (see the link in the diary entry).  Fripp is someone I've long admired, one of the most creative, innovative and talented musicians to have emerged from the world of 'rock'.  I've particularly enjoyed attending some of his 'soundscape/Frippertronics' performances (usually free), an especially memorable one was held in the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall a few years ago.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Kingsway Tram Tunnel and Crossrail

Recent developments at Kingsway, former tunnel in central London originally built to be used by trams carrying passengers from Holborn to Waterloo bridge and providing a link between the north and south London tram networks.  Opening in 1906, it served stations at Holborn and Aldwych and was enlarged to accommodate double-decker trams in 1929; it closed in 1952.  The southern end was converted into the busy Strand underpass, which opened in 1964.  The northern section has been mostly abandoned, being used as a store by Camden council and occasionally by the odd film-crew and art installation.  Now it's been reported that Crossrail is using the northern entrance to construct  a grout shaft 8 metres deep and 5 metres wide.  To minimise ground settlement during tunnelling activity these shafts allow grout to be pumped deep into the earth to stabilise it and protect nearby buildings from any potential ground movement.  Tunnel boring machines Phyllis and Ada are due to pass beneath this area in 2013. According to Keith Sibley, Crossrail Area Director West: 'The Kingsway Tram Tunnel has played a fascinating and unique role in London's transport history.  Now it will play a vital part in helping prepare the ground for the city's most ambitious transport project to date.  As the tunnel is a Grade II listed structure, crossrail will return the Camden section to its prior condition when the works are completed.'

Talking of Crossrail, you may be interested to learn that there will be tours this weekend (22nd and 23rd September) of Bond Street Crossrail station (although it looks from the text as if you won't actually be going into the construction area).  Details here (scroll down to Westminster).  I hope to go on Saturday morning, but if the queues are impossible I won't be hanging around.

Monday, 3 September 2012

English Heretic AGM

I shall be one of the speakers at the English Heretic AGM to be held in the highly atmospheric surroundings of Bath Masonic Hall on Saturday 13th October.  Details here.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Ghost Stories for Christmas

Well, this year's Christmas present is sorted.  The BFI are releasing all the BBC adaptations of MR James' ghost stories on a series of  DVDs.  These were a real highlight of festive season television.  Personal favourites are The Treasure of Abbot Thomas and A Warning to the Curious.  A more recent adaptation that was highly effective was A View from a Hill, which is only available in the 5-DVD set coming out in October.  Unfortunately that one also includes the hugely disappointing 're-imagining' of [Oh]Whistle and I'll Come to You [my Lad] with John Hurt that irritated me a couple of Christmases ago (see earlier post).  However, we did have the creepy pleasure earlier this year of seeing Robert Lloyd Parry's excellent interpretation of that story on stage at the White Rock Theatre, including the ingenious use of a large pocket handkerchief.  Also included in the bunch of releases are the outstanding Dickens adaptation The Signalman with Denholm Elliott, one of the most atmospheric films I've ever seen, coupled with related spooky late-70s tv films Stigma (never seen it, but anything with standing stones is a must-see) and The Ice House (similarly unseen).

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Perseid Meteor Shower

Since moving out of London I've had the opportunity to see the night sky more clearly and occasionally observe some interesting celestial phenomena I would never have seen in the capital. One of my favourites is coming up this weekend: the Perseid meteor shower. All you need to know can be found here. The best viewing so far took place when we were camping near Bodmin Moor where there was little light pollution. I got up in the wee small hours and stood outside the tent for half an hour or so marvelling at the shooting stars. The cold and the rather disconcerting noises emanating from the nearby wood eventually sent me back to my sleeping bag.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Robert Hughes

This is getting disturbing. After mentioning Gore Vidal to my wife last week I found out the following day he'd died; at the weekend I thought, after a gap of many years, that I'd renew my acquaintance with some of the articles written by the irascible art critic Robert Hughes. Now it's been announced that he's died as well. One of the few art critics who could also make you laugh out loud, he was certainly one of the major reasons I became interested in art when I saw his television series The Shock of the New and received the accompanying book as a Christmas present.  Obituaries via {Feuilleton}

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Gore Vidal

And so farewell Gore Vidal. Obituary here and more about his acid humour here and here. Coincidentally I'd been telling my wife the day before his death of one of my favourite putdowns, courtesy of Gore. In the long lost days when I listened to Start the Week on Radio 4 he was a guest, together with Watership Down author Richard Adams. When asked what he thought of Vidal's latest novel, Adams,who had come across throughout as a pompous ass, declared that he considered it 'meretricious'. Vidal's instant response was, 'Well, Mr Adams, meretricious and a happy new year to you.' Never read any of his books, but I enjoyed his feline presence in interviews. As some of the obituaries claimed, he could well have been the 20th century's Oscar Wilde. He famously hated Truman Capote (see earlier post) whose Answered Prayers I read recently: very funny and outrageous in parts, I'm glad that he didn't finish it, as what I assumed was the plot, involving an insanely jealous plutocrat husband, which slowly emerged from all the bitching, seemed pretty dull compared to the stories of bad behaviour amongst the American upper classes; presumably it bored Capote too. Also managed to see the second Capote biopic Infamous which was aired on BBC1 late one night recently: possibly better than the award-winning Philip Seymour Hoffman film with a brilliant performance from Toby Jones and a scary pre-Bond Daniel Craig.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Pirates etc.

I have to apologise for not keeping this blog as up to date as frequently as I once did. I see that I've even failed to mention the appearance of a book by a chap calling himself 'a gentleman of Hastings' about the Netherwood guest house on the south coast. I understand that the majority of copies have been sold and that potential buyers should secure one in the next few weeks before they've all gone. Pirate Day in Hastings last Sunday was extremely busy and hot: we now hold the world record for the largest number of people dressed as pirates (14231 - including me, my wife and son) according the the man from the Guinness Book of Records) assembled in one place. At 5.30 precisely the Red Arrows zoomed above our road and performed a half-hour display over the sea - the crowds were huge and traffic was reduced to a standstill for about an hour. Last night saw the Bauhaus exhibition at the Barbican ( we went between 8.30 and 10.00pm, when it was quiet). I'm always impressed by Kandinsky's abstractions and I'd love to see a proper retrospective of Paul Klee's work in London at some point. It's fun to play the influence/rip off game (particularly thinking of 1980s designers) as you go round. We need more of these utopian projects today.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Julian Maclaren-Ross at 100

Saturday 7th July will mark one hundred years since the birth of cult writer and Soho dandy Julian Maclaren-Ross (1912-64), whose work has attracted admirers as varied as Harold Pinter, Evelyn Waugh, Iain Sinclair, Graham Greene and Sarah Waters. Brought up on the French Riviera during the 1920s, his subsequent life encompassed fame and literary success as well as alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness and a psychotic obsession with George Orwell’s glamorous widow. On the day before his centenary (Friday 6th July) at Westminster Reference Libary, Maclaren-Ross’s biographer Paul Willetts and writer and stand-up comedienne Virginia Ironside will discuss his life and work; they will also be presenting rarely seen footage of Maclaren-Ross and friends talking about the long lost world of Soho bohemia. The event will start at 6.30pm and is FREE. I'll probably be introducing it. My favourite book by Maclaren-Ross is Memoirs of the Forties, especially his account of meeting Graham Greene at his house on Clapham Common.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Penda's Fen

So, I've finally seen Penda's Fen and I would say that it lived up to its considerable reputation. The picture and sound quality were ok but deteriorated badly at the end - someone's home video - when is this going to be released on DVD with other examples of David Rudkin's work? What I liked most, apart from the strange unsettling visions, was the unashamed introduction and discussion of powerful ideas about religion, politics and national identity. The Only Way is Essex it wasn't. As I've written here before, I loathe the 'Spacehoppers and Spangles' media view of the 1970s: the Dominic Sandbrook series that's just finished was adequate, but had a distinct right-wing bias (constant reiteration of 'unreasonable' demands by workers) and didn't take enough risks - also couldn't the BBC have used someone who was an adult at the time? Anyway, Penda's Fen addressed many of the issues at the heart of the 1970s in a far more interesting way; at one point I thought it was going to turn into an episode of the X Files and there was an intriguing reference to the construction of a large bunker for government personnel (similar to Burlington) in the local landscape. There is an excellent review of it here which says much of what I would probably have written here - I love his phrase ' a world of controlled triviality' (unfortunately the links at the bottom don't work). The writer puts it in a trilogy with The Owl Service (see post below) and The Changes by Peter Dickinson, which I shall now have to seek out. Found it on You Tube but it will take a while to watch - don't remember it, but it definitely looks like the kind of thing I would have watched.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Medieval Cellars of Winchelsea

On Sunday we went on an excellent tour of subterranean Winchelsea. The guide was a member of the Winchelsea Archaeological Society and did a really good job of explaining the history, geology and archaeology of the town and Cinque Port (or, more accurately, Ancient Town). We visited three medieval cellars, which were much larger than I had been expecting - when I saw the size of the group I thought we would have split into two groups but there was plenty of room underground. One of the houses above was for sale, if anyone is interested in acquiring a property with a cellar large enough to host some great parties. The guide thought that they were originally used as wine shops rather than purely for storage and advanced some convincing evidence to support this thesis. At the time of their construction the wine would have come from Gascony in the two great voyages from Bordeaux to English ports that took place each year; apparently because of its low alcohol content medieval wine had to be drunk within a year and couldn't be 'put down'. There are a number of these tours each year and more information can be found here. All photos by me.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Owl Service

Just finished watching The Owl Service on DVD - how this could have been shown on children's television seems inexplicable these days, with its very adult subject matter. I found parts of it quite disturbing and I'm still not sure if I actually understood it - no wonder Granada included a resume at the start of each installment telling you information that hadn't in fact been made clear in the previous episodes! Based on the book by once-popular author Alan Garner (I asked for it in East Sussex libraries and they don't have a single copy)it tells the story of a recurring piece of Welsh folklore and its effects on a two boys and a girl in their late teens. The girl is played by Gillian Hills, a bit of a cult star, with a career in French pop and parts in A Clockwork Orange and Blow Up (now married to the manager of AC/DC apparently). There are some amazing camera angles in the earlier episodes that make parts of it fairly avant garde and a scene at the end that prefigures The Exorcist. It's one of those productions that is supposedly 'cursed' and I was very upset to read that Michael Holden who played the Welsh boy Gywn (not a great performance but he showed promise) was beaten to death by two louts in the Rose & Crown pub, just off Piccadilly (mentioned in my Folklore of London) in an unprovoked attack in September 1977. Talking of cult early 1970s television - Found Objects (see list opposite) has a link to Penda's Fen mentioned in an earlier post (Old Weird Britain) - at last I (and you, dear reader) have a chance to see it in its entirety.

Friday, 4 May 2012


One of the most impressive Roman works of art that I've seen is the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome (although since 1981 the original has been in the Capitoline Museums). This week I've been reading the emperor's 'Meditations' (Penguin Classics edition, 1964, trans. Maxwell Staniforth) in which the following can be found: 'When meat and other dainties are before you, you reflect: This is dead fish, or fowl, or pig; or: This Falernian is some of the juice from a bunch of grapes; my purple robe is sheep's wool stained with a little gore from a shellfish; copulation is friction of the members and an ejaculatory discharge. Reflections of this kind go to the bottom of things, penetrating into them and exposing their real nature. The same process should be applied to the whole of life. When a thing's credentials look most plausible, lay it bare, observe its triviality, and strip it of the cloak of verbiage that dignifies it. Pretentiousness is the arch deceiver, and never more delusive than when you imagine your work is most meritorious.' '...does the bubble reputation bother you? Keep before your eyes the swift onset of oblivion, and the abysses of eternity before us and behind; mark how hollow are the echoes of applause, how fickle and undiscerning the judgments of professed admirers, and how puny the arena of human fame. For the entire earth is but a point, and the place of our own habitation but a minute corner in it; and how many are therein who will praise you, and what sort of men are they?'

Saturday, 28 April 2012

A talk in May

I'm giving a talk at Westminster Reference Library on Friday 18th May which will probably be called 'Secrets of Subterranean Westminster' - starts at 6.30pm, FREE entry.  It will cover the usual topics: disused underground stations, deep cable tunnels and bunkers amongst other things.  I'll have a few copies of my books for sale, although probably none of the new book, as it won't be out until late May; it's being published under the auspices of Accumulator Press.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Gimme Shelter

The new book is almost ready to go to the printer: in this case, as it's self-published, I've had to oversee everything, including the cover design, getting permission to use images, the weight of paper and printing specifications, as well as doing the index (which was fun). Not sure if I'd do it again, but I may have no choice.

It's time to start catching up on some of my other interests and books.

The excellent London Reconnections has had two interesting articles in recent days. One on the deep-level shelters of WW2 (covered in my Subterranean City book) and another on progress on Crossrail. Last week when I was in London I had a look at the work at Blackfriars: you can now cross the Thames on the Blackfriars rail bridge thanks to the new station entrance on the south bank and the underground station closed for many months has reopened. London Reconnections has covered these developments here. Picture above from London Reconnections site.

We also went on a 'heritage' train trip from Hastings to Southend last week via a fascinating route around London that travelled on part of what will, later this year, be the Clapham Junction to Dalston route, then by various freight lines in west London to the Gospel Oak to Barking line, a stop at Fenchurch Street and thence on to Southend and Shoeburyness. At Shoeburyness a mysterious line snakes away at the back of the station (which we didn't travel over) to a place with the even more unappealing name of Pig's Bay - more can be found on it here.

By the way, the new book is nothing to do with the above.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Lamb lies down on Hammersmith Broadway

To the HMV Apollo (I used to go regularly when it was the Hammersmith Odeon) last night to witness a re-enactment of the Genesis double lp from 1974 The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a record that affected me greatly when I first heard it that year as an impressionable teenager; it's still one of my favourite records, if not the favourite. I have always given tribute bands a wide berth (although most reformed groups these days are their own tribute acts) but I'd heard good things about The Musical Box from Canada.

The recreation of the group and the show from this period was uncanny and at times I had to tell myself that this wasn't actually Genesis playing. The level of detail even extended to the narration delivered by 'Peter Gabriel' in a pretty good impersonation of his speaking voice (albeit with a slight French accent) including his habitual nervous coughs and hesitations - bizarre. I was interested in seeing the original slides that had accompanied the 'real' concerts in 1974 and 1975 projected onto 3 screens above the group - Musical Box had purchased them off the band. Apparently on the original tour they rarely worked properly but last night seemed to function perfectly, the contemporary shots of New York now look like period pieces, but certain songs such as Counting Out Time benefitted from the visual accompaniment. What do you know - they're also available to view on You Tube.

The playing was immaculate and some songs really came off well live - The Chamber of 32 Doors for example. The Waiting Room, probably the most avant garde track Genesis ever recorded, sounded even better than the one on the lp: a tribute group improvising in the style of Genesis, very strange.

Not as great as the first time I saw the real group in 1977 at Earl's Court but surprisingly good and the only chance I'll ever have to see the live version of the Lamb.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Lanterns on the Lake

So much of my free time has been taken up finishing my new book that I have little time for anything else. That work is almost done, so posts should increase soon. Earlier this month I ventured into darkest Hoxton to see Lanterns on the Lake at Cargo, underneath the arches. Venue extremely full, so I stood at the side of the stage and had a very enjoyable experience. Surely, the most reverential and silent crowd I have witnessed in decades. I'm always complaining about how you can barely hear the music over the sound of chattering punters these days, but in this instance silence reigned, until about half-way through someone shouted out, 'What a band, what a fucking band!' There's some bowed guitar a la Sigur Ros and a definite resemblance to Mazzy Star at times, but the soundworld they create is enticing and hypnotic. Read a review here.