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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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