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 Brüning (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.  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 chronicler 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.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Brede Ogre

To Brede earlier this week, just a few miles outside Hastings, to do a little bit of research into a local legend.  The lovely church of St George's is a fascinating place to visit and contains in the Lady Chapel a recumbent monument to a local worthy from a noble family residing at nearby Brede Place.

Sir Goddard Oxenbridge of Brede (d.1537) in local legend has been transformed into a fearsome giant who roamed the countryside, carrying off children to devour them.  Jacqueline Simpson in her Folklore of Sussex tells us more (pp.29-30):

'Nobody could get at him to kill him, partly because of his great strength, and partly because a crow which was his familiar, always brought him warning.  Moreover, he was proof against all normal weapons, though it had been foretold that a wooden saw would be his death.  Meanwhile he was still unharmed and every day he ate one child for supper.

So at length, all the children of Sussex gathered together, and in great secrecy they brewed an enormous vat of beer (a drink previously unknown in the district), and fashioned a huge wooden saw.  They brought the vat to Groaning Bridge, at the entrance to Brede Park, where Sir Goddard could not fail to see it, and they lay in ambush near the bridge.  Sure enough, the giant saw the beer, smelled it and began to drink; in next to no time he had drained the vat, and was lying helplessly drunk on the bridge.  Then the children brought out their saw and laid it across him , as if across a fallen free.  Those from East Sussex rode on one end of it, and those from West Sussex upon the other, and so they sawed Sir Goddard Oxenbridge in half.  Long afterwards, his ghost was still said to haunt both the house and the bridge, in the form of a severed trunk.'

According to the church's guide book Sir Goddard 'is reputed to have been a man of unusually large stature' and is remembered locally as 'The Brede Giant'  In the 19th century the local pottery even produced plaques portraying the "Brede Ogre"'.  However, it regards this gruesome story as a 'monstrous calumny on a pious and generous benefactor.'  Simpson suggests that the reason for this hostile depiction was that Sir Goddard, together with other Sussex ogres and cannibals (such as 'Wild Darrell' of Scotney Castle) were Roman Catholics and that 'these legends reflect the deep religious and political hatreds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries' and I would tend to agree.  More here.

Reading old guidebooks it's clear that Brede Place had a beautiful interior and was open to the public.  Sadly a serious fire in 1979 resulted in it's rebuilding and closure to visitors.  In earlier days one visitor was the playwright J M Barrie who is said to have based the character of Captain Hook in Peter Pan on a rector of the church (1841-1851) John William Maher, who had travelled extensively and was reputed to have been associated with pirates.

More from the guidebook: 'On the east side of the early sixteenth century oak screen that separates the Lady Chapel from the chancel is a stone capital bearing a version of the arms of Sir Goddard Oxenbridge, irregularly quartered with those of his wife Elizabeth nee Echingham.  The outsize 'supporters' portray a man of the woods and his wife both clothed in skins.  As well as the heraldic shield, they also hold up a typical early 16th century helm; the small head, half concealed by the mantling, is popularly thought to be the woodfolk's baby.'  These figures were repainted c.1980.  All photos by me.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Coming Up

This is pretty much it for the rest of the year, attending and doing events:

Thursday 28th August Westminster  London's Divided Selves

Saturday 13th September Newhaven  Fort Process

Saturday 20th September  London Open House

Thursday 25th September  Westminster  The Big Smoke

Friday 26th September William Burroughs, An Alien in London

Monday 29th September Komedia Brighton Syd Arthur

Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th October Malmesbury Philosophytown

Saturday 15th November London Jazz Festival 2014, Servants Jazz Quarters, Dalston, Strobes and Shiver 

Friday 21st November London Jazz Festival 2014 Hedwig Mollstad Trio Club Inegales, London

Thursday 11th December Kensington Central Library Sax Rohmer Event with Phil Baker and Gary Lachman

Friday 19th December Forum, Kentish Town  Slowdive

I really hope that the Sax Rohmer book will finally emerge in the autumn.  I've made corrections to the typeset pdf file, but there's been a further delay with a redesign of the cover (how very 1970s prog rock).  Sincere apologies to anyone who's been waiting - I know there are a few out there.

Work on another book is well underway and I hope to publish it through Accumulator Press in spring or autumn next year.  I'm so excited by the cover design that I have to get the book written to go with it.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Rollo Ahmed in Hastings

The second part of Christopher Josiffe's piece on Rollo Ahmed can be found in this month's Fortean Times.  He lived in Harpsichord House in Hastings Old Town in the mid-1950s (according to electoral registers Abdul Said Ahmed and Theodora M. Ahmed lived there in 1954 and 1955).  When I was going through parts of the huge Yorke Archive at the Warburg Institute I found a letter written in 1954 by Ahmed's wife to Lady Frieda Harris asking to be put in touch with friends and followers of Aleister Crowley.   In the same year the Daily Sketch carried a story about him, wherein he is described as a 'black magic practitioner' and 'father of five, [a] dark-skinned slim man with white hair and a carefully trimmed Vandyke beard.'

His 'temple of black magic', a locked room on the first floor, consisted of 'a vast, clean, sparsely-furnished room with tall latticed windows...A cheap lithograph of Christ on the mantelshelf is crowded by jungle idols, an incense burner and a painted sphere used in occult rites.'  The room's walls are lined with '30 hard uncomfortable chairs' with a table at one end, where Ahmed sits, dressed in a 'red silk scarf, fawn beret and duffel coat'.  This is probably the room that's used as a studio by the Royal Academician who currently lives in Harpsichord House.   I've always thought this building had a slightly sinister appearance, the room in question sits above a footpath with steps down to the Old Town in Cobourg Place and makes this part of the path quite dark, although there is a lamp - opposite the front door a metal-covered opening (frequently peeled back) is presumably a disused entrance to the St Clement's Cave complex.  As I said in the previous post, John Martyn lived two doors down from here in the 1970s.

In the article Ahmed awaits the arrival at the weekend of a woman seeking to re-ignite the affections of a former lover; the ritual he has devised will be lit by a single candle.  He will 'receive her in a purple-cowled cloak and a black cardboard mask to the throb of jungle drums - a gramophone record.  Music will play too...'  Ahmed had already sent her a talisman (he had received the man's army identity bracelet and a lock of his mother's hair) which has 'called for work on two periods of the new moon.  The aim of the power is to compel the person to do as you wish.  If they do not then misfortune will be their lot.'  The article under the headline Father Practises Black Magic in Temple at Holiday Resort includes a rather unsettling photograph of Ahmed sitting hooded and masked at his desk in his temple.

A few years ago I went on a ridiculously sensationalized ghost walk around the Old Town (apparently Sweeney Todd spent his early years at a butchers in the High Street - see my Folklore of London for the history of this fictional character).  By Harpsichord House we were told that Aleister Crowley had lived nearby (place unspecified) and would repair to the nearby castle in the small hours to sacrifice children.  Crowley's only place of residence in Hastings was Netherwood on The Ridge (see the book - now going for £50, this is getting crazy, although the prices on Amazon are even worse) and by that time he was in no fit state to slaughter the innocent. However, I wonder if some confusion with Rollo Ahmed (who had known Crowley, as is clear from Josiffe's article - he helped him find lodgings in London according to A Memoir of 666 by Alan Burnett Rae that can be found in Sandy Robertson's The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook p.23) has fed this rumour about a so-called Black Magician living in that vicinity.

Looking for a photo of Harpsichord House I found this article (unfortunately it's from the Daily Mail) about Alastair (!) Hendy's restored Tudor house in All Saint's Street, which we visited once on an open day.  He also runs a very old-fashioned (and expensive) ironmongers (and occasional restaurant) where I bought my favourite much-used feather duster.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Fort Process

I've just heard about this event - sounds great.  My friends English Heretic and Haunted Shoreline should be appearing.  Many childhood holidays were spent on a caravan site next to the fort, which in those days was derelict and dangerous and became a site of fascination for me.   More here.

Friday, 4 July 2014

More Hastings Characters

Rollo Ahmed, who I discovered when trawling through the Gerald Yorke Archive (in a letter sent by his wife to Frieda Harris) at the Warburg Institute (presently under threat of closure, please sign this petition) lived nearby in the mid-1950s - in fact next door to the house that would later be home to John Martyn (see earlier post), has a two part article devoted to his life in this and next month's Fortean Times.  He was a friend of Dennis Wheatley and appears in Phil Baker's excellent biography which is where I obtained most of my information on him for a footnote in Netherwood.  Ahmed's a mysterious character and someone I thought about doing more research on myself, so I'm glad Christopher Josiffe has saved me the trouble.

Personally I think that Edge of the Orison is Iain Sinclair's worst book (way too long and self-indulgent), but part of that project the walk of humble poet John Clare from Epping Forest to Northamptonshire, has been made into a film that includes Toby Jones, son of that bizarre actor Freddie (who's apparently also in it) and directed by local film maker Andrew Kotting (mentioned in earlier posts).  Funding is needed to complete the editing and can be contributed to via Kickstarter.  Northampton resident Alan Moore is also involved - he's one of the contributors to the forthcoming Lord of Strange Deaths.   A straw man from the Whittlesea Straw Bear festival plays a part - I visited this amazing event a few years ago and took some photos - one above.  

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


The Motorpsycho show at the Jazz Cafe was excellent, a number of moments of pure transcendence - hard psychedelic rock, few traces of the prog evident on The Death Defying Unicorn (none of it was played) - guitarist from Dungen amazing on mellotron and guitar.  Looking at their gear afterwards someone pointed out a set of Taurus bass pedals as used by Mike Rutherford of Genesis in the glory days; also got to meet the group backstage afterwards, which was nice.

Last week went to the Electric Palace to see the Mott Road Crew reminisce about working for Mott, David Bowie, Queen etc.  Some interesting home movies from Morgan Fisher.

Also went to the London Fortean Society to see Gary Lachman give an impassioned talk to a very crowded room about the late Colin Wilson - Wilson's wife and daughter were there.

This sounds as if it could be interesting.

Details of the Whistler walk here.

The William Burroughs walk I did with Bill Redwood will probably be repeated in early September, in the meantime another exhibition in London.

The Philosophytown weekend events can be found here.  I'm speaking on Sunday, but hope to get there for Saturday.

It looks as if Lord of Strange Deaths, the book about Sax Rohmer may be appearing this summer, a bumper 400 pages now apparently.  I've arranged an evening with Phil Baker, Gary Lachman and myself talking about Rohmer, Fu Manchu and the occult at Kensington Central Library in December.  More details to follow.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Walk the Lines

Having just navigated my way through Bryan Magee's wonderfully lucid and readable The Philosophy of Schopenhauer (five star reviews here justified), of which more anon, I felt in need of some light relief, so I borrowed Walk the Lines, the London Underground, Overground by Mark Mason.

From June to December 2010 the author decided to follow the 250 miles (402 km) of London underground line, passing all 270 stations, above ground - of course 55% of the network is above ground anyway.  This is the kind of eccentric journey memorably parodied many years ago in the Ripping Yarns episode Across the Andes by Frog.  Mason succeeds in his task although one stretch of the Piccadilly line at Heathrow proves unwalkable and he reluctantly has to take the bus.

Sadly this book was never as interesting as I was hoping it might be.  The absolute antithesis of the type of psychogeographical walking popularized by Iain Sinclair, it suffers considerably in comparison with say my favourite examples Lights Out for the Territory and London Orbital (the latter a similarly masochistic undertaking), both much better written and more magical, containing moments of real insight, with some brilliant descriptions and feeling for place.  I got the impression from Mason's book that he'd become weary with his mission pretty early on and just wanted to get it out of the way - you can admire his stamina, but all too often very little is revealed about the many parts of London he passes through.

Too many times whole sweeps of London are dispensed with in a sentence and you long for more, especially the parts that are rarely written about.  Admittedly some of these areas on the edge of the city are dull, but someone like Iain Sinclair can usually find some snippet of fascinating history or link with a writer, rather than trot out pub quiz trivia, as happens frequently here.   The book is partially redeemed by some of the humorous comments and by the encounters with characters such as the woman taxi driver learning the Knowledge, biographer John Pearson and especially Bill Drummond, a man always full of unusual ideas (I heartily recommend his book 45), the latter showing up the shallowness of much that has gone before; without these interludes it's pretty thin gruel.

The idea of walking the Jubilee line at night might sound interesting, but it means that there's even less to see and comment on than in the other daylight walks - similarly walking the Metropolitan in the snow just before Christmas leaves you longing for a Betjeman to do it justice.   On the whole it was an undemanding relaxing read, but I couldn't help but feel pretty disappointed by the time I'd finished.  Oh, and the shop he passes in Charing Cross Road is not called "Let's fill this town with artists' but Cass Art -it's been an art shop for over 100 years - now that is worth mentioning.  Maybe I'm being a bit harsh - the book is very readable and I'm sure many will enjoy it,

Apropos books written by London explorers I was reminded in a lengthy pub conversation a few weeks ago with Matt from the excellent Londonist to read Scarp by Nick Papadimitriou.  I used to listen to Nick's broadcasts on Resonance and had made a mental note to buy the book, but as often happens, other distractions intervened - I have to admit I read very few London books these days but I shall try to get round to that one this year.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Visions of Battersea

Battersea has been much in my mind this week.  At work, the latest Survey of London volumes covering the architecture of the borough arrived and I spent an entertaining couple of hours yesterday truffling through, concentrating on Sir Walter St Johns School, industry by the river, railways, cinemas such as the Granada, Clapham Junction (scene of my cinematic education, especially when they were putting on double bills of action films and thrillers in the late 1970s) and Battersea Power Station.  These more recent volumes also include cultural references so we obviously have Pink Floyd (not sure if The Who are mentioned), Up the Junction and even the infamous 'Battersea Smell' originating from the Garton's Glucose factory, which I used to walk past on my way to school - long gone and since redeveloped.

There's a site here for Battersea in film.  The most famous film The Lavender Hill Mob was not actually filmed there, but a real obscurity called The Optimists of Nine Elms was - as schoolboys we saw the filming in Battersea High Street in the early Seventies - a friend of mine got me Peter Sellers' autograph (I've since mislaid it).  Nostalgia also brought up Battersea Funfair, which I was often taken to in the 1960s.  The industrial dereliction of the area was attractive to filmmakers and photographers during that period - the area is now much transformed with most riverside industry replaced by luxury apartment blocks such as Montevetro (not one of Richard Rogers' finest works).

All of this brings me to a walk I'm planning to do on Whistler (whose atmospheric Nocturnes feature views of Battersea Reach and the local smoke-shrouded industry such as Morgan's Crucibles) on Thursday 24th July starting at Chelsea Library at 6:00.  More details when available.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

May Concerts

Coming up next month:

1st Fairport Convention at St Mary in the Castle Hastings

2nd to 5th  Jack in the Green my personal highlight of the Hastings year

8th Yes at the Royal Albert Hall (well, they are doing three classic lps)

28th Motorpsycho  Jazz Cafe - I do hope the guitarist from Dungen will be playing with them

Netherwood Updates

I've been meaning for a while to add any additional research and information here for the benefit of those who may have purchased the Netherwood book - still just about available I believe.

I recently wrote a letter to Julian Bream, who I idolized as a young man attempting to play the classical guitar and I saw him give recitals many times in London, especially at the Wigmore Hall.  I wasn't really expecting a reply, so I was very chuffed to receive a hand-written letter in beautiful copperplate last week.  My enquiry was principally about the online interview with 'Johnny' Symons, wife of the proprietor of Netherwood, wherein she says;

'A couple called Caplan frequently brought down a boy named Julian Bream who would play the guitar for the guests. After his recital we would pass the hat around and the money collected would pay for his next lesson. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves.'

The book on Bream's early years by Stuart Button contains no mention of this and I was unable to contact the author.  I thought I'd go to the horse's mouth, so to speak.

Julian Bream's concert debut was in Cheltenham on 17 February 1947 at the age of 13, so the visits would have to have taken place during the following  couple of years, before the house was sold.  According to his written recollection he visited Netherwood in 1948 in the company of 'commercial artist' David Caplan who drove him down from London.  Interestingly, he says that he only played one recital there and that the 'small fee' he received was 'not for the next lesson...but the next meal!'  The intriguing possibility that his audience might have included Aleister Crowley can therefore be dismissed as he had died at the guest house the previous December.

The Hastings & St Leonards Observer is now available online and fully searchable for much of the period of Netherwood's existence.  As I had to spend many hours trawling through the microfilm version I intend to subscribe, hoping that I didn't miss some vital news story (looking through the headlines it doesn't look as if I did, but I will certainly check).

A couple more Hastings characters

The Professionals has been released on Blu-ray and some excellent and very funny reviews can be found here and here.  Interesting to read that Jon Finch was pencilled in for the role of Doyle, but lost the part as he said he 'couldn't possibly play a policeman'; he'd also turned down playing James Bond after Sean Connery bowed out of the lucrative series.  Finch nevertheless enjoyed an eclectic career, serving in the SAS, playing Macbeth in Polanski's famous 1971 film (also featuring a young Keith Chegwin) and bringing Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius to the screen in The Final Programme (1973) rereleased on Blu-ray in 2013.  Finch spent his final years in Hastings and it seems that he led a fairly typical Old Town life - he was found dead in his flat at the end of 2012 aged 70.

This reminded me to check where John Martyn lived during his years in Hastings in the early 1970s: it turns out to have been No.10 Coburg Place, a couple of hundred yards from our house.  Live at Leeds, the album Island didn't want to release, was sold by Martyn by mail order from his house - printing his address on the music press advert unsurprisingly resulted in many an unwanted visitor.  Apparently in the early 1990s he did an impromptu concert by the fisherman's huts, although he had moved away from the town many years before.  It's well known that his song Over the Hill, off his most critically acclaimed record Solid Air, is about Hastings West Hill.  The photo above by Brian Cooke shows Martyn at home in Hastings on 8 August 1971 and was taken from this site.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Visions of Enchantment

A couple of weeks ago I attended a two-day conference in Cambridge entitled Visions of Enchantment - Occultism, Spirituality and Visual Culture, and a very intellectually stimulating event it was.  It appears that at long last occultism and esotericism have been recognised as important areas of research within the academy - obviously some, such as Ronald Hutton, have been blazing a trail for some time.  A number of big academic names in the field were present including Profs Antoine Favre, Massimo Introvigne and Wouter Hanegraaf, as well as such important younger scholars as Dr Marco Pasi (I was very flattered to hear him praise my most recent book when I asked him to sign a copy of Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics - a much recommended study into hitherto under-researched areas of the Great Beast's life and friendships, such as those with Fernando Pessoa and Tom Driberg).

By the end of Day Two I was relieved that I wouldn't have to hear the words 'embodied', 'multivalent' and the grating 'problematize' for some time, but on the whole the lecturers steered clear of too much academic obfuscation.  High points for me were Dr Ulli Segers on Sigmar Polke and the Hermetic Tradition; Judith Noble The Wedding of Light and Matter: Alchemy in the Films of Derek Jarman; Dr Marco Pasi Western Esotericism and Artistic Creativity: Searching for a New Interpretive Model; Dr Nicholas Campion Surrealism and Astrology: The Esoteric Art of Xul Solar and Dr James Riley Pandemonium 69: Magick, Performance and The End of the Sixties.  Another highlight was the opportunity to dine at Peterhouse in the magnificent hall with its William Morris stained glass - probably the one and only time I'll enjoy such a privilege.

As an art historian you're encouraged to look for influences and borrowings, often where they simply don't exist and there were quite a few instances of this, although they were usually criticized by members of the audience.  I was glad not to be in the shoes of one particular researcher who had delivered what I thought was the weakest lecture of the lot and had committed the aforesaid spurious connections sin, only to receive a scholarly put-down from (I think) Antoine Faivre, who ended with that withering academic kiss-off, 'But, of course you are much more knowledgeable in this area than I am.'  There was plenty of material for research - if only I had the time - but maybe some will seep through into future work.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

April Fools

There were some particularly impressive April Fools this year, my two favourites being this and this.  In both cases I really wished that they were true - I didn't make my way to Charing Cross.  I hope the invitation to Malmesbury wasn't another April Fool.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Philosophytown Revisited

Looks like I'll be speaking once more at the Philosophytown Festival in beautiful Malmesbury this autumn, probably on London coffee houses; previous speakers have included John Cottingham and Ray Monk.  Talking of philosophy (and related matters) the Radio 4 In Our Time archive is an amazing source of stimulating ideas - so far I've listened to talks on Neoplatonism, Schopenhauer, Existentialism and Epicurianism.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Blow Up Locations

Watched Antonioni's Blow Up last week for the third or fourth time - still loved it, although Vanessa Redgrave's performance is becoming irritating.  This time I was interested in the locations and lo and behold there is an excellent obsessive website that offered me (nearly) everything I was hoping for in my post-viewing research.

Comparing then and now it's depressing how many buildings that looked perfectly fine in the film are no longer there now - those near the hostel, for example, would, I'm sure, had they survived redevelopment - and how bland and boring it is - be highly desirable.  How many of us would want to visit that antique shop, original here?

The film really captures the massive architectural changes that London was undergoing at the time: the huge new office blocks flanking London Wall that Thomas (the perfectly cast David Hemmings) drives past in his Roller (previous owner Jimmy Savile) - already being demolished by the 1980s.  The hostel where he spends the night roughing it in homage to Don McCullin still there, but probably 'luxury apartments' today; his studio now no doubt worth millions in the obscene madness of the London 'property market' (in recent reports of the prescient floods, homes are now invariably referred to by the media as 'properties').  I'm sure I wasn't alone in assuming that the park where the central 'murder' scene takes place was in central London (I thought Holland Park) and it wasn't until many years after my first viewing - through an Iain Sinclair essay (Lights Out for the Territory) - that I discovered it was Maryon Wilson Park in Greenwich.  I'd forgotten the strange scaffolding sign looming behind the park, apparently deliberately constructed for the film and intended to be a 'meaningless' logo.

One scene that I hadn't remembered towards the end intrigued me as to its location: Thomas goes to an archetypal Swinging London party in a very posh house with wood panelling and paintings, stuffed with dolly birds and dope and ends up partaking.  In the hazy morning he awakens sprawled alone on a bed and takes in the surroundings: through the window the Thames is clearly visible, with some houseboats moored alongside, so the location is probably Chelsea, certainly perceived as the heart of what was 'happening' at the time.  Blowup Then & Now confirms this and delighted me by revealing that the building was in fact Lindsey House, a nice piece of synchronicity as I've recently been researching, in a minor way, Whistler's followers and their views of his house in Cheyne Walk.

Lindsey House was built in 1674 and in the late 18thc was divided into four separate dwellings: Whistler lived at No.2 Lindsey Row (now No.96 Cheyne Walk) between 1866 and 1878 - today the divided Lindsey House is numbered 96-101.  A couple of years ago I managed to visit it on a London Open House weekend, although I was disappointed to be only allowed into the hallway, ground floor and garden of one house - it's owned by the National Trust, an institution whose often extremely limited 'access' to many of its properties, paid for by ordinary people so that toffs can carry on living there, is discussed in The Gilded Acorn.

The room in Blow Up has been set-dressed to look suitably patrician but dishevelled: the 'paintings' include the cherubs at the foot of Raphael's Sistine Madonna (later to become a hackneyed cliche, were they already by that point? was this a framed Athena-type poster from the King's Road?)  The painting to the left above the chaise longue looks like a Rubens nude, but it's hard to tell.  No doubt the paintings were chosen especially by Antonioni.  Above stills from Blowup Then & Now and a photo I took of a club in Palermo in February 2013.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

William Burroughs Walk

The walk this Wednesday is fully booked.  Unfortunately a tube strike has been planned and it looks as if the rain will continue, although it may not be as heavy that night as it has been.  I had my doubts about doing it at this time of year, but it was important to mark the centenary.  Should be interesting.

I've since been informed of this site with details of similar events this year, including an unusual one in Greenwich this week which I probably won't be able to get to.

This site has been very useful in research for the walk.

The films that Burroughs made with Antony Balch can all be found on YouTube:

Towers Open Fire

The Cut Ups    still tough to watch even with the irritating rapid editing of modern media

Bill & Tony

Also a very popular exhibition of his photographs and collages at the Photographers Gallery just off Oxford Street.


Warpaint at the Brighton Dome were excellent - probably how The Slits would have sounded if they'd stayed together longer.  A grooving rhythm section (prominent bass) and guitar channeling Robert Smith c.1980 with ethereal vocals from Wayman and Kokal.  Unusually these days a group with their own unique sound.  I'd heard one session track by them on the Marc Riley 6 Music show last year and decided to give them a punt - avoided listening to anything else until the concert so that I might be pleasantly surprised; rare enough these days.  This reviewer differed in his opinion - I wouldn't say it was soporific at all, but there we are.  The crowd loved them - surprisingly large number of older people - great venue, great sound; pic above from Brighton Dome.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Coffee Houses and Catching Up

Andy Sharp, English Heretic, who shares many of my interests and contributed to the Netherwood book, is interviewed at The Quietus.   Anti-Heroes was one of their albums of 2013 - check it out.

During Soho investigations for next month's Burroughs walk I was shocked to discover that the green plaque formerly on the front of 59 Old Compton Street marking the birthplace of British rock'n'roll - the 2i's coffee bar - is no longer there.  I was present on 18th September 2006 when the plaque was unveiled - all sorts of early rock royalty was there - various Shadows and Skifflers.  I met Big Jim Sullivan and chatted with Cliff Richard, who, whatever you may think of him, was a gentleman throughout the event, signing stuff thrust at him by fans outside and unfailingly unruffled.  He graciously accepted a copy of my coffee house book - I wonder if he still has it?  The wine bar that was there at the time has gone, to be replaced by The House of Ho, a fashionable eaterie.  I do hope the removal is temporary.  [By mid-April the plaque had returned].  If not, it may be time for a petition.  Walker's Court, home of sex shops and the Raymond Revue Bar, just around the corner from Burroughs' 'portal doorway' in Peter Street, Soho (now site of a hideous replacement) has been given the green light by Westminster City Council for redevelopment - another local landmark erased (popular for band publicity shots - Felt spring to mind).

Another London coffee house related item.

Coming up:

Warpaint at Brighton Dome.

William Burroughs Walk (see previous post)

Yet another Underground London talk this time at the new Artizan Street Library in the City of London.

I'm not sure what's happening with the Sax Rohmer/Fu Manchu book now that the centenary has passed - it will be out sometime in the next few months I imagine.  It's out of my hands I'm afraid.  All future projects will appear under my own Accumulator imprint.  One of the contributors to the Fu Manchu book, Alan Moore, has an interesting (last?) interview here.  I can certainly sympathize with his reluctance to do public appearances in the future.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

William Burroughs Centenary

William Seward Burroughs was born 100 years ago this February 5th.  To mark this auspicious occasion Bill Redwood asked me if I would like to repeat a walk we did together on the controversial writer for The London Adventure on 10th September 2005 (was it really that long ago?).  I readily agreed, although with slight misgivings about the possible weather conditions - but this is London after all, so there should be places to shelter.  That walk attracted a very varied and interesting crowd, including one or two who had met the great man, so I'll be interested to see who turns up this time.  On that occasion we started in Earls Court, where WSB lived in the early 1960s; there was a wonderfully Burroughsian moment outside the Empress State Building - on the site of one of his residences - where the large group put the security guards in a panic and we were escorted a 'safe distance' away to deliver out talk - the subject 'CONTROL'.  This time we can only cover the West End, although that will be in considerably greater detail than we had time for previously, with a number of places we didn't have time to see before.  At the time of writing there are still places left - must be booked in advance.  Details here.  If there's enough interest we may do the full version in the summer. Pic above WSB and Brion Gysin at Dalmeny Court, 8 Duke St, St James's.

There's also an event in Bloomington Indiana, which looks great, but there's no way I'd be able to get there.