Saturday, 29 June 2013

Clubs and Salons

After the well-attended Salon for the City on Thursday a chap recommended that I should talk at the Catalyst Club in Brighton (if they'll have me).  I'll think about it, but I'm trying to limit any further appearances this year, preferably to none - although I've now agreed to speak at a conference in October, as the subject matter is not underground London.  However, the Catalyst Club itself looks well worth supporting.  The revival of the salon continues apace, reassuring in these days of (anti)social media.  Earlier this month over 100 people showed up for the Balham talk, which was nice. 

The next Salon will include Bob Stanley from St Etienne, who kindly wrote the foreword to my book on the folklore of London and Paul Kelly who's made a series of excellent films about the city, which are about to be released by the BFI.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Tubular Bells for Two

On Wednesday evening to Hastings White Rock Theatre to witness Tubular Bells for Two.  Like millions of others in the early 1970s I bought Mike Oldfield's opus and helped make Richard Branson's fortune, but I haven't heard it for at least 30 years - I was attracted by the idea of just two musicians playing the whole thing themselves.  Obviously, thanks to modern technology it's now feasible for such feats to be attempted - phrases were continually looped and built upon, but timing and tuning must be absolutely crucial.  An element of showbiz could also be seen in one of the two having to run around the stage frantically adjusting mikes, swapping instruments and bashing away at a full drum kit - at one point towards the end he looked really out of breath.  They played all the instruments, numerous guitars acoustic, electric and bass, various sampled keyboard sounds, bass drum and cymbal, and of course tubular bells - they even did the 'female' vocals.  Also the best use of kazoos I've ever seen at a rock concert.  Only one obvious cockup almost at the end in the Sailor's Hornpipe section, which only required two acoustic guitars, but they had to restart after they started out of time with each other.  I'd forgotten how good parts of the music were, particularly the lovely gentle ending of 'Side One'on acoustic guitar - made we want to strap on my axe again.  The audience loved them.  Recommended.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Christopher Priest in Charing Cross Road

To Blackwells in Charing Cross Road yesterday to hear Christopher Priest in discussion with Simon Ings.  My personal favourites of his books (out of the ones I've read) are The Glamour, The Affirmation and his most well-known novel The Prestige (filmed of course by Christopher Nolan - with David Bowie as Nikola Tesla!).  I've admired his work for its unusual and original subject matter and most of all for its beautifully clear and grammatically rigorous style.  In the discussion he had some interesting points to make about science fiction: quite correctly, that once you get the bug in your teens it's impossible to ignore it, but that much of it is, with hindsight, terrible - the work of Heinlein and Asimov, for example, were described as 'shit' and 'a pile of bollocks' - can't really disagree with that.  However, he singled out the Sixties New Wave and M. John Harrison as the writers to read - again I have to agree.  Looks as if I need to read the first volume of Graham Greene's autobiography as well.  At the end he kindly signed a copy of The Prestige for me and I gave him a copy of my latest book as I thought, as a fellow resident of Hastings, he would enjoy it.  It appears that he did.  His latest novel is The Adjacent, the principal subject of the talk.

On the opposite side of the spectrum from the art and craft of Christopher Priest, last week I read the novel Chemical Wedding which was one of the worst books I've ever had to force myself through (I did so because there's a connection in the first chapter with my latest book): very badly written, obviously a hastily adapted screenplay, incoherent and incomprehensible in places, Rizla-thin characterization, gobbets of quantum physics and pseudo science chucked in to impress but failing to do so and an even higher than average count of typos and word mangling and mismanagement.  The final irony is that a proof reader is thanked in the acknowledgments (unlike the publisher of the song lyrics quoted).  Now I shall just have to see the film with Simon Callow...

Saturday, 1 June 2013

June Events

A couple of events to mention this month.  Firstly a talk on underground London at Balham Library on Friday 7th at 7.00pm.  It's part of Wandsworth Heritage Festival and the programme can be downloaded here.  Second I'm appearing at London at the Library on Thursday 27th at 6.30pm talking about the subterranean city with Tom Bolton who's written about London's Lost Rivers.  Hopefully they will be my final public appearances of the year.  I'm planning some repeat walks for 2014: William Burroughs, Sax Rohmer and Whistler over next summer - details here as and when.