1977. Punk was making a big impact and like many other teenagers at the time I listened to John Peel for the latest records by the likes of the Sex Pistols, Damned and Stranglers. However, I was saving my pocket money for a handsome-looking 3 disc compilation that had garnered glowing reviews in the music press: Soft Machine Triple Echo, a compilation of the first 10 years of the group. It came in a striking box with a twelve-inch booklet with lots of photos and one of Pete Frame's excellent family trees. I knew next to nothing about them, but I recognised the names of some of the former members, especially the seminal first incarnation 'dream' group of Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayres, Daevid Allen and Mike Ratledge - along with Pink Floyd probably the most interesting and creative of the British psychedelic bands. Fortunately I still have Triple Echo.
The first two lps are brimful with avant garde ideas and the beginning of Wyatt's post-modern playfulness with lyrics and deconstruction of songs ('thanks for this coda Mike, you've done us proud'). This was also a characteristic of later groups such as Hatfield & the North - all part of the Canterbury Scene, together with others such as Caravan, Egg, Khan, Steve Hillage etc. who in many cases were more jazz-influenced than most prog groups of the time. My favourite track on Triple Echo was The Moon in June, Wyatt's contribution to the double album Third - however this was a specially-recorded Top Gear version radically different from that on the lp (I only heard the original a couple of years ago) with alternative lyrics and a stunning Lowrey organ solo from Ratledge. Another live version here.
The received wisdom has been that after Third the group became less interesting in its quest to become yet another fusion band. Many members were drawn from Nucleus - a fascinating group that really needs a reassessment - the first three or four lps are definitely worth checking out. In the later records there's interesting use of synths and sequencers and after years of operating without a guitarist the group had two (at different times) of the most proficient from the 70s: Allan Holdsworth and John Etheridge.
A couple of weeks back I made my way to the Borderline off Charing Cross Road to see Soft Machine Legacy. Confounding my expectations, the joint was absolutely rammed (to an almost unsafe degree by the entrance) - luckily there was an interval and I managed to find a less congested spot further back. It's basically some of the Softs lineup: Etheridge on guitar, Roy Babbington on bass, the ubiquitous Theo Travis on sax, flute and keyboards - John Marshall was unwell and Nic France from Travis's Doubletalk was on drums. A really good show with old songs interspersed with the new (they are not a self-tribute act) - a few of the later classics, Facelift, Kings and Queens, and two of my favourites: Hazard Profile 1 and Tale of Taliesin. Needless to say, they didn't play Why Are We Sleeping or We Did It Again (sadly).
Also recently saw Three Trapped Tigers at the rather shabby Heaven near Charing Cross. Much younger crowd and a genuinely exciting live band: volcanic guitar (doing some interesting stuff with harmonics), heavy keyboards and a drummer on steroids and Duracell batteries. They are usually classified as a jazz band, but if they ever appeared at the Hastings Jazz Club (I wish) most of the punters would head for the doors after the first guitar thrash. Highly recommended. Some music here (played on the night and reminding me of Todd Rundgren's Utopia c.1975) and here.
Having said that, Jazz Hastings is a very worthwhile venture and is apparently in some financial difficulties. There is a benefit performance to help remedy this situation on Tuesday 10th January featuring such eminent players as Jason Yarde and James MacMillan. See you there.
Jim Godbolt All This and 10% Published in 1976, this is the memoir of jazz fanatic and booking agent Godbolt, who was involved for many years with, amongst others, the careers of George Melly and Mick Mulligan. Melly's autobiography of life on the road with a jazz band in the 1950s Owning Up is a wonderful book and reminds us that the 'rock'n'roll lifestyle' was being lived well before the 60s. Godbolt's account offers an interesting sidelight. He claims to have introduced (via Damon Runyon) the phrase 'hooray Henry' to the lexicon - the female equivalent being a Henrietta and offers some amusing and at times score-settling (although not as vivid as some of Melly's) descriptions of characters on the British jazz scene at the time. At the end of the book we find Godbolt working for the Gerry Bron organisation (whose most famous act was probably Uriah Heep), but disillusioned with the pop and rock of the early 70s - Alice Cooper and David Bowie are singled out for their depravity. After retiring from the music business he apparently spent some time as a meter reader for the Electricity Board. This book was updated in 1986 as All This and Many a Dog: Memoirs of a Loser/Pessimist. He also wrote a history of jazz. Looking him up online I found he died fairly recently at an advanced age. Obituaries here and here.
This inspired me to re-read Owning Up for the umpteenth time - it's stood the test of time and I still found myself laughing out loud at certain passages - it's also very good at evoking the dark dreary towns of the 1950s with their awful 'digs' and drinking cultures as he endlessly traverses the country.
'The flavour of the different regional landscapes was enough: the flat featureless Dutch-like farmland of Lincolnshire; the honey-coloured stone and intimate scale of the West Country; the sprawling suburb of the Midlands; the hunting-print look of Cheshire and Shropshire; the kilns of the Potteries and the chimneys of the industrial north; the wild moors along the Pennines where the sheep are always black with the soot of Lancashire and Yorkshire.' (p.103)
The more I find out about Hastings the stranger the town becomes. Lord Tiverton who, like his friend Screaming Lord Sutch, seems to have invented his title - in fact he was Derek Howell, health food millionaire - lived in the Old Town and died in October 1999. According to the Evening Argus:
'The short route from Tiver's home above a shop in the historic Old Town of Hastings to the nearby St Clement's Church was packed with those eager to pay their last respects. A jazz band led the hearse, followed by a lively procession of mourners including members of the Monster Raving Loony Party of which Tivers was appointed chairman shortly before his death. Sadly he never heard the good news.'
He lived at 49 George Street, which, according to an article I found online, was decorated in an eccentric style. Unfortunately, I've been unable to find any images online of the interior, so the imagination will have to serve. Above, a general picture of the north side of George Street where the house is located.
A website set up by the adopted son of Marianne Foyster about Borley Rectory which I thought had been taken down seems to have recently reappeared. See here. It has some very useful resources, especially the scans of Sidney Glanville's Locked Book containing material from the period when Harry Price rented the rectory and installed a changing team of observers - notably he himself only visited on rare occasions. I notice from a quick perusal of the contents that the Rev Guy Eric Smith and his wife Mabel returned to Borley to stay a night in the company of Glanville in January 1938. Nothing happened. This incident is recorded in the chronology section of The Borley Rectory Companion, but I am not aware of it being mentioned in the rest of the Borley literature. Smith's letter to Glanville a few days later implies that strange things did occur during their time residing at the rectory 1928/9, but it's revealing that he puts 'spooks' in inverted commas, as many writers maintain that he and his wife never believed in ghosts. See here.
There is a very good and detailed review of Borley Rectory: the Final Analysis by Andrew Clarke writer of the excellent Bones of Borley website - a book I reviewed with similar conclusions in an earlier post. The response of the author and publisher to Clarke's review is most revealing.
Yet another 'lost' street has been in the news recently. This time it's in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, beneath a Georgian town house in the centre of Stockton known as Gloucester House, currently being refurbished. See here and here. The 'street' appears to be a series of storerooms and possibly accommodation for servants (although I think they are probably more storage areas), linked by passages. Talk in the articles of the 'secret tunnels' linking to other parts of Stockton is characteristic of all such discoveries and reports, but is extremely unlikely.
To Brightling in East Sussex on Sunday to visit some follies associated with John Fuller (1757-1834), member of an ancient family of local iron-founders, known because of his eccentricities as 'Mad' Jack Fuller. An MP and firm supporter of slavery, he also donated large sums to the Royal Institute of Great Britain, purchased Bodiam Castle when it was threatened with demolition, was a friend of the artist Turner, and had a number of unusual structures constructed in the locality which still survive and some of which can be visited. There is a nicely-produced pamphlet written by Geoff Hutchinson available to buy in the church that tells you most of what you need to know about the man and his follies.
Twenty four years before his death he had his mausoleum built in the form of a pyramid, probably modelled on the tomb of Cestius in Rome. It can be found in the churchyard of St Thomas a Becket in Brightling, an imposing 25 feet high and built of sandstone blocks. Folklore says that he was eventually interred within sitting at an iron table, a full meal before him, a bottle of claret at arm's length, dressed for dinner and wearing a top hat (also of iron in some accounts). Sadly, this was disproved some years ago: prior to removing the rotted wooden door and bricking the entrance up it was found that Fuller was buried in a recumbent position below the floor (there is now an iron grille, that enables a view of the interior). Another story is that Fuller offered to make a gentleman for life of any man who volunteered to live in the mausoleum for one year without washing, shaving, cutting his hair or having any human contact - there were no takers.
An impressive observatory (completed 1818, now a private house) can be seen further down the road and an obelisk 65 feet high and 646 feet above sea level. Two follies we did manage to get to were the Tower, an atmospheric structure, especially on a darkening winter's afternoon - in the middle of a small copse in dung-strewn fields close to the church. 35 feet high it can be climbed - it was damaged in the hurricane of 1987 but the previous night's hurricane (which smashed one of our windows) had no affect. From there we went to the Sugar Loaf, a conical building 35 feet high with a base 15 feet in diameter with a door and window, which was used as a house for many years. The story attached to it is that this strange structure was hastily thrown up to enable Fuller to win a bet made in London that he could see the tower of Dallington church from his estate. When he realised that he was wrong he ordered the tower to be built in one night. Photographed above in the fading light. The afternoon was rounded off by a first visit to the lovely pub close to the Sugar Loaf at Wood's Corner The Swan Inn for a meal in the back dining room with a welcoming log fire.
Dancing in Caves is a very interesting project created by choreographer Katie Green. As part of her research she has been inspired by Bradley Garrett's essay in Secret Tunnels of England: Folklore & Fact. Her dance piece will incorporate elements of Discovery/Disorientation and Disappearing/Reappearing associated with underground spaces. More information here. Work in progress can be seen at Kents Cavern in Torquay on 13th January 2017 at 2.30.
Other artists who have contacted me about the influence of my books include Stephen Walter and Karen Russo. There may well be others out there.
As is common in memoirs of the early twentieth century Elliott O'Donnell claimed to have encountered Aleister Crowley (in this instance I am inclined to believe it). Although O'Donnell says that the meeting took place in Chelsea, it was most likely 33 Avenue Studios, 76 Fulham Road.
'I will now refer to a mystery performance that I once witnessed in a Chelsea studio, by the kind invitation of Mr Aleister Crowley.' O'Donnell was accompanied by two friends - on entering they passed through an ante room into a dimly lit apartment with a semi-circle of chairs arranged for the audience. Behind the chairs, against the walls, busts were placed at regular intervals which he was informed 'were those of Pan, Lucifer and other mystic beings of questionable reputation.' In the centre of the room was an altar. Behind this, against the wall 'stood three tall wooden structures, that one might have mistaken for bathing machines, minus their wheels, or some rather antiquated kind of sentry-box.
When the audience was seated: 'Mr Aleister Crowley, arrayed in quasi-sacerdotal vestments, read extracts to us from a book which he told us was the "Book of Death". This was followed by music described by O'Donnell as doleful and depressing; when this ceased a lady appeared from the left one of the 'sentry-boxes' wearing a flimsy green robe and carrying a a harp which she played for a short while before retiring to her box. Another lady then emerged from the middle box, played on a harp and then retired. The lights dimmed and Crowley 'strode out from behind a curtain and advanced in approved theatrical fashion to the altar', where he 'invoked certain gods of a none too respectable order.' He then 'raised his voice to a shrill scream' proclaiming 'Now I will cut my chest'. Then 'something bright flashed through the air and a short, sharp, crinkly sound was heard, a sound which was followed immediately by horrified murmurs from most of the ladies present, and from a whisper from one of my friends, consisting if I heard aright, of some vague allusion to isinglass, parchment and potato chips.'
O'Donnell then tells us that 'after a dramatic pause, sufficient to enable the ladies to recover from the fright,' Mr Crowley said, "I will now dip a burning wafer in my blood."' He then passed something which O'donnell admitted he could not see, through the flame of a candle, and 'then held it close to his bare chest, thereby electing more cries of horror from the ladies.' After this he paid his respects to the busts around the room, beginning each time 'O mighty and illustrious one' and ending 'we, thy servants assembled here to do the honour do now bid thee farewell.' Then 'after making a few passes in the air with a dagger - or rather, as my friends remarked, after making a few vicious jabs in the air with a bread-knife, jabs or passes, the effect was sufficiently alarming to call forth a chorus of 'Ohs' - he announced that the ceremonies for the time being were at an end.'
He claims that he heard that later that evening 'rites of an even more enthralling nature were performed in private for those desirous of being initiated into the various stages of the Eleusinian mysteries, but as we could not count ourselves amongst the persons so desirous, my friends and I took our departure.' He concludes by saying: 'I have heard many accounts of the weird things that are alleged to occur at the ceremonies and services presided over by Mr Aleister Crowley in Sicily, but if they are no more mystical and harrowing than those I and my friends witnessed in Chelsea, they are meat only for the most elementary type of thrill-hunter, the very rawest tyro in magic and occultism. We were looking for something more subtle and magical than the magic we had frequently seen at Chinese and Indian entertainments, but we certainly looked for it in vain in the much-talked-of mystery room of Mr Aleister Crowley.' [Elliott O'Donnell Rooms of Mystery, ch.XIX The Room of the Crab and Other Mystery Chambers London' Philip Allan & Co. 1931 pp.255-258. NB This is taken from an online transcription]
Reading Master Ghost Hunter, a Life of Elliott O'Donnell by Richard Whittington-Egan. It is one of the very few biographies I've read where I find it almost impossible to trust the accuracy of any of its contents (the biography of Sax Rohmer Master of Villainy is another, although not to the same extent. It's possible that the two writers may have met, as they were both members of the Ham Bone club in Soho). O'Donnell would appear to have been the Arthur Shuttlewood (see The Golden Ram of Satan post) of ghost hunting, having been witness to literally hundreds of apparitions, some terrifying enough to scare one to death - if his accounts are to be believed. He also seems to have met a vast number of unlucky individuals who had their death foretold by a ghost and to have experienced a statistically remarkable series of coincidences and uncanny encounters. I even wonder whether he actually did spend some time in the United States, travelling around and working on a ranch, or whether this was yet another product of his over-fertile imagination. The book itself is well produced, with some nice glossy illustrations, some placed at the beginning of each chapter. A huge amount of the text consists of long quotations from O'Donnell's books and unpublished autobiography and footnotes do not identify where passages have been taken from. There is almost no authorial comment on what is being presented.
Only one tale includes a secret tunnel. In 1952 O'Donnell assisted a group of Bristol University students in a seance and treasure hunt. The alleged haunted house on St Michael's Hill, Bristol, was: 'built on the ruins of the convent of St Mary Magdalene, founded in 1174 and destroyed by Henry VIII. For the past seven years the woman who owns it has been troubled by strange happenings. Silent vibrations shake the walls at night. Doors slam suddenly. The daughter of the house frequently finds her nylon stockings mysteriously knotted next morning or the buttons of a coat or blouse done up, apparently by no human agency.'
O'Donnell was present at a seance in which the following information was received about the site: 'Sister Mary, a nun, killed Sister Angela at the corner of a secret passage beneath the convent. She buried jewellery under the floor there. Later, in remorse, she threw herself down another well. She has haunted the area since, can find no rest until her bones are recovered and buried and the treasure is dug up and sent to a church in Italy.' Some parallels with the nun of Borley here.
A group of students went down to the cellars and attacked the floor, excavating some of the well.
'There, in a dark cobwebbed corner of what must have been the crypt of the convent. the students, stripped to the waist, dug down into the clay and rubble that filled the old shaft. At the depth of five feet [they] struck brick. [Fellow students] laid bare what appeared to be a brick-and-stone wall. It had a hollow ring, and is believed to conceal the entrance to a secret passage ...
'After probing the brick surface, which seemed slightly curved, as if it were the top of an arch, the treasure-seekers decided to suspend operations until an expert could examine the brickwork.' (pp261-262). We are not told if the expert was consulted.
It is rather a mystery how O'Donnell earned money in his early years to pay for all his travels. It seems to me that he took up writing purely to make money and had to thereafter keep coming up with the sensational goods. He wrote of his activities:
'Let me state plainly that I lay no claim to being what is termed a scientific psychical researcher. I am not a member of any august society that conducts its investigations of the other world, or worlds, with test tube and weighing apparatus; neither do I pretend to be a medium or consistent clairvoyant - I have never undertaken to "raise" ghosts at will for the sensation-seeker or the tourist. I am merely a ghost hunter. One who lays stake by his own eyes and senses; one who honestly believes that he inherits in some degree the faculty of psychic perceptiveness from a long line of Celtic ancestry; and who is, and always has been, deeply and genuinely interested in all questions relative to phantasms and a continuance of individual life after physical dissolution.' (pp.3-4)
I've just discovered that Richard Whittington Egan died in September at the age of 91. He was an acknowledged expert on Jack the Ripper, whom he refers to here as 'Saucy Jacky' (?!) When I was writing Decadent London I tried to read his biography of Richard Le Gallienne, but was defeated by the orotund style. Master Ghost Hunter was published earlier this year. Obituary here.
I did manage to get to the Folk Horror Revival conference at the British Museum last month. It was totally sold out and very busy (how I dislike modern lecture theatres with long continuous cramped rows with no aisles between them). A lot of the subject matter was already familiar to me, but one or two leads will be followed up. A few days earlier I watched Robin Redbreast for the first time, a Play for Today with a nicely sinister performance from Bernard Hepton. Two special guests put in an appearance towards the end - Shirley Collins and Reece Shearsmith, who both participated in the Q&A. Shirley Collins mentioned that when she lived in Hastings and walked with her mother and sister along the Ridge, there was one point where they crossed over the road - to avoid 'the house where Aleister Crowley lived' (Netherwood - see my book).
Even though I don't make an effort to see him talk any more (as I once did) Iain Sinclair was one of the most interesting speakers, making some insightful comments on Witchfinder General and its director Michael Reeves. A good review of the event here. Very nifty badges given out, by the way. I met English Heretic (who should have been asked to speak or perform - he was name checked at the conference) at the end and we went for a drink. We discussed doing a joint event next year in Hastings similar to the one at the Electric Palace in 2012, but at a different venue.
Richard Cavendish died a couple of weeks ago. A historian who wrote extensively on the occult before it was being seriously investigated by the Academy (very different situation these days), Cavendish was the editor of the hugely influential early 1970s journal Man Myth and Magic (I picked up a bound edition from Treadwells a few years ago) - he also wrote on Arthurian matters. Obituary here (cannot find one that is non-subscription at the moment).
Gary Lachman will be talking about his new biography of Colin Wilson at Westminster Reference Library on Friday 9th December between 6.30 and 8.00. This is a free event. Booking details very soon. Copies of the Secret Tunnels of England book will be on sale - Gary contributed an excellent essay.
The monumental Pink Floyd Early Years box set is released next week, at great expense. I think their transition from avant grade experimentalists to multi-million selling chart act is fascinating, although I could safely never listen again to anything since Wish You Were Here. Amongst a number of rarities are recordings made with the book-destroying artist John Latham. See this article by David Toop.
Last week on the same excursion to West Sussex to visit Lyminster we also went to Pulborough to see the house - Arun Bank (no blue plaque) - in which Harry Price lived from 1908 to 1948 and in which his wife spent most of her time while he was travelling around investigating spirits and poltergeists and having affairs. He died there in his study on 29 March 1948 from a massive heart attack - he was working on a third book about Borley Rectory, which was never finished or published.
We also went to St Mary's Pulborough where Price and his wife are buried and found the grave. On this occasion there was a small bunch of flowers by the gravestone with a message "Dear Harry, Hope you enjoy your conversations with Gef the Mongoose." Christopher Josiffe's long-awaited study of this extremely bizarre case investigated by Price will be available next month. I can't wait to read it.
Roger Bristol The Last Bohemians: The Two Roberts, Colquhoun & MacBryde
See post below.
Michael Hastings Tom and Viv This is Hastings' most well-known play about the disastrous marriage of T S Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood. Coincidentally, in a biography of George Devine (a founder of the English Stage Company responsible for the 'golden age' of plays at the Royal Court) I read:
"Devine went along to the New Lindsay production of Don't Destroy Me [by Hastings] and discovered not only that its author had talent but that he was in some danger of destroying himself. Besides his eight-to-six tailoring job, he was drunk nightly in the Fitzrovian company of Colquhoun and MacBryde ... Devine thereupon 'in a most fatherly manner' warned him off the literary life and the Beaverbrook Press and advised him to get on with writing and finish his apprenticeship: telling 'me in no uncertain terms that Radiguet was a finer writer at this age than I was and young Raymond never required a Colquhoun or a MacBryde to carry him home at night.'" Irving Wardle The Theatres of George Devine (Cape, 1976) pp.195-196
Geoffrey Household Rogue Male First read at secondary school and reread a few times since then. Still a great thriller. And due for yet another remake, this time with Benedict Cumberbatch. Interesting article about it here.
John Russell Taylor The Art Nouveau Book in Britain
Allan Bryce Amicus The Friendly Face of Fear Just published, arrived appropriately on Halloween. I've enjoyed Doctor Terror's House of Horrors and The Skull this year. While Amicus' output was very mixed to say the least, it would appear that there are still one or two other films worth seeking out.
R K R Thornton ed. Poetry of the Nineties
David Hare The Secret Rapture
My play is now finished and I intend to send it to a professional (many advertise their services online, but one wonders about their real qualifications) to read through and comment on before any further progress.
To Lyminster in West Sussex to investigate an interesting piece of local folklore. Knucker Hole is a deep round pool, close to the church, fed by a strong underground spring. According to Notes & Queries (1855) such deep pools:
are called by the people thereabouts Nuckar Holes. They are very deep, and considered bottomless, because such strong springs arise in them that they never require to be ... emptied and cleaned out. A mystery ... attaches to them among the common people, who seem to have a vague notion of their connexion with another bottomless pit.
The Lyminster pond has been measured to a depth of thirty feet, but a local story says that village men once took the six bellropes from the church tower (a pub nearby is called The Six Bells) tied them together and still could not touch the bottom. The word Knucker derives from the Anglo- Saxon 'nicor' or 'water-monster' (nicoras appear in Beowulf) and the Lyminster pool was said to be the home of a fearsome dragon. For years he ravaged the surrounding area until a brave knight slew him. A very worn medieval tombstone, believed to be that of the knight, could for centuries be found near the church porch, but more recently was moved inside to stand by the font.
Another local tale ascribes the slaying to a young villager called Jim Pulk. The canny lad baked a huge pie, lacing it with poison, and drew it on a horse cart to the pool, where he hid behind a bush. The dragon emerged from the water, sniffed the pie, ate it together with the horse and cart, the poison soon took its course and the dragon curled up and expired. Having cut off the creature's head, to celebrate his victory Jim went to the Six Bells for a beer, but collapsed and died when he wiped his hand over his mouth - he'd forgotten to wash the poison off his hands; the tombstone has also been claimed as his. Another version features a hero called Jim Puttock. For more see Folklore of Sussex by Jacqueline Simpson (Tempus, 2002, pp.34-39).
Inevitably, there is a secret tunnel involved. Simpson notes that: 'Some seek a rational explanation, saying, for example, that there was a nunnery in Lyminster, linked to the church by a tunnel, and that the nuns invented the story of the dragon to scare soldiers away from this tunnel at the time of the Conquest.'
Inside the church of St Mary Magdalene we were pleasantly surprised to find a stained glass window commemorating the Knucker Hole tale. Between two angels representing sun and moon a fearsome dragon is approached by the figure of Jim Pulk bearing a much-reduced pie that would have been unlikely to finish off the monster. The window is, however, very beautiful. It was made by Caroline Benyon.
Unfortunately, the Hole itself - a couple of hundred yards down a wide grassy path from the church - cannot now be easily seen and sits heavily fenced off (complete with barbed wire!) and behind thick high hedges. Only small glimpses are available through a gate.
Pictures above: Stained glass window, tombstone and limited view of Knucker Hole through gate.
Having acquired a lithograph by Robert Colquhoun earlier this year I decided to read The Last Bohemians, The Two Roberts - Colquhoun and MacBryde by Roger Bristow. The two Roberts met at Glasgow School of Art and were inseparable until Colquhoun's death from a heart attack at the age of 47 in September 1962. MacBryde survived until May 1966 when he was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Dublin following an evening's drinking. They were one of the homosexual double-acts that have cropped up a few times in the history of art: one immediately thinks of Ricketts and Shannon and Gilbert & George.
The Last Bohemians is an interesting study of the pair, but I felt by the end that I still didn't really know them that well. Bristow is more forgiving than some commentators have been about their drunken and abusive behaviour and it has to be said that after Colquhoun's initial success and fame they certainly experienced some misfortunes. They were, however, extremely fortunate in having a number of well-off and not so well-off friends who supported them, paying their rent and lending them cash, in some cases for years.
The book introduced me to the artist John Kashdan who I hadn't come across before, whose work seems worth looking for, as well as two enterprising ladies from Lewes, Frances Byng-Stamper and Caroline Lucas who founded the Miller's Press and ran an art gallery in the town that attracted a lot of big names. There is an informative piece about them in Country Life (16 April 1987). More information here and here. Apparently, the portrait of them painted by Cedric Morris in 1935 (National Museum of Wales - see above) offended them so much that they never wanted to see it again once he had shown it to them.
I was also going to write more about some of the contemporaries and friends of the Two Roberts but I see that Richard Warren (see blog links opposite) has already done a wonderful job here.
Modern guides to play writing recommend brevity in many areas, not least stage directions, favouring the Pinteresque (Pause.) Dipping into one of my favourite literary studies/commentaries Invisible Forms by Kevin Jackson - a series of essays on paratexts eg. epigraphs, footnotes, appendices etc. - I find a chapter on stage directions. Probably the most famous stage direction comes from The Winter's Tale Act III sc. iii: Exit, pursued by a bear. Samuel Beckett in Act Without Words and Breath succeeded in making plays only from stage directions.
A type of discursive stage direction that is rarely, if ever, encountered nowadays comes from the beginning of J M Barrie's Peter Pan:
The night nursery of the Darling family, which is the scene of our opening Act, is at the top of a rather depressed street in Bloomsbury. We have a right to place it where we will, and the reason Bloomsbury is chosen is that Mr Roget once lived there. So did we in days when his Thesaurus was our only companion in London; and we whom he has helped to wend our way through life have always wanted to pay him a little compliment. The Darlings therefore lived in Bloomsbury ...
My favourite of Jackson's examples comes from Thomas Hardy's The Dynasts (1904-8). While Hardy in his preface describes it as 'presented to the mind's eye in the likeness of a drama' insisting that it is 'intended simply for mental performance and not for the stage' there apparently have been attempts to stage parts of it. Admittedly, with modern technology it might be possible to realise the stage direction below, but it would be interesting to see how it is done:
At once, as earlier, a preternatural clearness possesses the atmosphere of the battle-field, in which the scene becomes anatomised and the living masses of humanity transparent. The controlling Imminent Will appears therein, as a brain-like network of currents and ejections, teaching, interpenetrating, entangling, and thrusting hither and thither the human forms.
Will Carruthers Playing the Bass with Three Left Hands
I had the opportunity to see Will Carruthers (one-time bass player with Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized) at the splendid Wow and Flutter record shop in Hastings a couple of weeks ago. Very entertaining speaker and conversationalist and the book is really good too. It's often more interesting reading the experiences of the lesser known musicians struggling with poverty and addiction than the dull superstars like Elton bloody John. Apparently Spiritualized - in the early days at least - were fuelled more by booze than drugs - leading one wag to rechristen their excellent debut lp Lager Guided Melodies. I saw Spiritualized a number of times - memorable occasions were at the Hackney Empire with Aphex Twin and the short-lived Levitation (who had the plug pulled on them for over-running) and Middlesex Polytechnic playing within a stunning laser tunnel.
Michael Hoskin The History of Astronomy A Very Short Introduction
Harold Pinter The Dumb Waiter, The Birthday Party, The Room
Terry Johnson Imagine Drowning, Hysteria, Dead Funny
Simon Gray Quartermaine's Terms - I remember seeing this back in 1981 directed by Harold Pinter and with Edward Fox in the title role. Gray's autobiography The Smoking Dairies is also highly recommended.
Steve Gooch Writing a Play
Writing of the play is about 80% complete. Of course the likelihood of it ever being performed in public is extremely remote - we shall see.
In 1937 Sydney Glanville wrote to Arthur Foyster hoping to be put in touch with his brother Lionel. No longer living at Borley Rectory and by that time residing in Ipswich and pretending to be his wife's father after she had been married bigamously to a younger man (it's a long story - see The Widow of Borley) Lionel was badly afflicted with arthritis and wasn't keen on receiving visitors. The reply from Arthur to Glanville is interesting however for further light it sheds on investigations at the rectory:
'... Your letter much surprised me, as I had understood from my brother that during the last years of his stay at Borley the phenomena had entirely ceased. Prof. Cook of Cambridge, whom I met at Aldeburgh, told me that he had been to Borley and investigated the matter, while the phenomena were supposed to be active, and found there was nothing in it.
I am afraid that I know nothing about it at first hand but I am writing to my brother to ask him whether he would care to send you any details. He is now crippled with rheumatism and I would fancy that writing is rather an effort, so he may not want to do so.
Prof. Cook was apparently rather keen on these sort of things and only came to the conclusions he did after a very thorough investigation of the full particulars he got and with great disappointment.
... PS I never mentioned to my brother that I met Prof. Cook as I understand that Cook's conclusions very much annoyed him.' (quoted in Robert Wood The Widow of Borley pp.128-9)
What is interesting is that I can find no mention of Prof. Cook's investigations in any of the Borley literature, even the supposedly comprehensive The Borley Rectory Companion (2009). This collection of material comes down pretty firmly on the belief side, although it does feature most of the countervailing evidence and arguments.
Some other links of possible interest: Lionel and Marianne: a Psychiatric Interpretation here.
BBC documentary with the great Borley believer and chronicler Peter Underwood here.
An extract from Michael Aspel's memorable series Strange But True here.
I think it would be fair to say that most books about 'real-life' ghosts and haunted houses are very poorly researched, relying principally on all the previous books talking about the same haunts, which are based on earlier books ad infinitum, rather than a bit of hard-headed consideration and analysis. It only takes someone to introduce some spurious event into their account for it to be repeated unquestioningly in many subsequent works (of course this has been much magnified by the internet, where you can now find hundreds of copies of mistaken information widely disseminated).
I thought I'd sample one of my small collection of British ghost books (mostly collected for the illustrations) to see what they have to say about Borley Rectory. Here's an extract from Haunted England (p.179) by Christina Hole, a popular folklorist (more on her here) with my comments:
'Who or what haunted Borley Rectory in Essex is still uncertain even after ten years' intensive investigation by Harry Price and a band of trained assistants. [Price visited Borley on only a handful of occasions and his observers during his year of tenancy (1937-8) were deliberately selected by him for their lack of training in investigating supernatural or paranormal phenomena]. This house was built in 1863 on the traditional site of a fourteenth-century monastery [no evidence has ever been uncovered that a religious house stood on the site]. Notwithstanding its modernity, it seems from the first to have been a sort of storm-centre for manifestations of all kinds. A nun was constantly [??] seen in the garden, sometimes in daylight. On one occasion, a black coach drove into the farmyard and disappeared there [more than one report of this, although some are ambiguous and may merely have been a misidentification of a car at night]. Inside the house noises of all sorts were heard, and objects were hurled about in a manner suggesting the presence of a poltergeist. After Harry Bull, the builder, died in 1892, his ghost appeared there, as well as other unidentified spirits, including a girl in a blue dress .
The most notable manifestations, perhaps, were messages asking for help, masses and prayers [light mass and prayers - title of a track by Porcupine Tree I have since discovered] which appeared on the walls and on scraps of paper during Harry Price's tenancy [the most important of the dubious wall writings first appeared during the Foyster incumbency 1930-35, some were also alleged to have been found during Price's tenancy, but one visitor accused Price of making them.] These apparently emanated from a spirit named Marianne who may or may not have been the ghostly nun [at that point Marianne Foyster, wife of the rector Lionel was very much alive - Hole probably means the supposed spirit of a murdered 17c nun calling herself Marie Lairre, who appeared in a series of seances]. The phenomena continued until 1939 when the house was burnt down, and some, including an appearance by the girl in blue, persisted even after its destruction...The study of ghost lore suggests that some places are nearer the edge of the spiritual world than others; and here, perhaps, lies the only explanation yet available of Borley's curious history [the only explanation? Not that the 'phenomena' may have been misperceptions, hallucinations, or outright fraud and fakery?]
Another character who has appeared in these pages before was also briefly involved with Borley Rectory. For insight into the true nature of this ardent patriot, sportsman and naturalist with a 'love of old houses and old traditions' see this interview by our friend Dan Farson. Maybe it should be shown on one of those current tv shows where stand-up comedians sit smugly open-mouthed at the appalling nature of much of the old telly, although it's probably too offensive even for that. Wentworth Day's prose is almost beyond parody, for example the chapter from which this extract is taken begins:
'There died on Monday, March 9th, 1936, an old friend whom I mourn. He was a man unique - the best storyteller and the best cricketer, one of the best shots and, after Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart [who he?], the most picturesque soldier of his world and time - Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Foley.' [Here are] Ghosts and Witches p.58
Here is his experience at Borley (pp.70-71):
'I spent a night under a harvest moon of 1939 in Borley Rectory, which is on the Suffolk-Essex border. It is they say "the most haunted house in England". The late Mr Harry Price, who was the Honorary Secretary of the Psychical Research Society [no he wasn't], wrote a book about it under that title. They will tell you that an uneasy spirit throws things about in the rectory. Doors open and shut. Footsteps ring where no feet walk. Bloody fingermarks appear, suddenly, on the dining-room walls, oozing blood. [I've read a lot about Borley this year and I've not come across a single report of this phenomenon.] And there are one or two lighter sides.
Some years ago Borley Rectory was burnt out.
I went into the roofless room, taking a friend and a double-barrelled gun. We found no bloody fingerprints downstairs. We stood at the foot of the staircase and looked up it to a landing and passage where wallpaper flickered in tattered streamers and the moon made shifting shadows.
"Let's go upstairs" I suggested to my friend, who is young and a soldier. He shuddered.
"Not for anything." There's Something up the top of those stairs. it's watching us. I can feel It. I can damn nearly see It - huge and black. Something squatting. "
I raised my gun.
"Come outside" he said. "For God's sake, don't shoot. I don't like it. In any case, you'll fetch the neighbours, and we shall get into trouble for being here.
Now there are no neighbours near to Borley Rectory, but an old empty church and a farmhouse. But we went outside. We stood under a tree in the bright moon and looked at the black, staring, empty windows of the house that no one could live in for long. And Something seemed to be watching us, malevolently, from those eyeless windows.
Then it shot between my legs. I felt its harsh bristles, its snaky undulating muscles. It was a black cat. It went into the house with a bound. And it did not come out again.
Now one can put what construction one likes on that. Harvest mice are the likeliest. But when, a year later, I met a man whose London newspaper had sent him to spend an inquisitive night at Borley he said:
"I wouldn't go up those stairs for a fortune in the dark. There's Something very odd in the upper regions. I stood outside and watched the house - and do you know a damn great black cat came between my legs like a bullet and went into the house like a shot out of a gun. It never came out again. And when I asked at the farm they said they had no black cats. No one round there has a black cat. But anyone who stands in that garden at night always [always??] sees that cat go into the house. It's a spook! That's what I think."
So do I.'
Another unreliable ghost 'researcher' Elliott O'Donnell has been honoured with a biography this year by Richard Whittington Egan that I must get round to reading at some point.
Saturday 17th September The Happy Mondays & The Orb Hastings Pier. Not very interested in seeing the 'Mondays' (I saw an early London show of theirs at the long-gone Clarendon in Hammersmith supporting The Weather Prophets), but more keen on The Orb. I was a big fan of Adventures from the Ultraworld in the dim and distant ambient past. Caught them once on an incredible bill at the RFH with Gong and Acid Mothers Temple.
Sunday 16th October I shall try to get to this event at the British Museum put on by this group Otherworldly: a Special Event for Halloween
Wednesday 2nd November GoGo Penguin (terrible name) ACCA Brighton (dependent on Southern trains ongoing problems, see below)
Friday 11th November Three Trapped Tigers & The Physics House Band Heaven, London. Owing to the extremely poor Southern train service for much of this year I've had to miss some concerts I'd planned to see in Brighton and elsewhere, TTT's gig there a few months ago being one of them. Hopefully I'll get to this one. I've already seen Physics House Band (see earlier post) and look forward to seeing them again.
Friday 9th December Visit to Down Street 'ghost' underground station.
Friday 9th December I've organised a talk by Gary Lachman on his forthcoming biography of Colin Wilson. Details to follow shortly.
Of the art exhibitions I've been to this year one of the most impressive (certainly in terms of display) is the Jeff Koons show at the Newport Gallery near Vauxhall station ) on until 16th October. Just caught the Raymond Pettibon show at Sadie Coles recently (there's a work by him - limited print from the Whitechapel show - in my collection).
[p.128] 'It is axiomatic that pretentiousness makes no one look good. But pretension is measured using prejudiced metrics. The baselines against which authenticity and pretentiousness are calibrated vary wildly. Anti-pretension critics conscript words such as "logic, "reason" and "the facts" to make their assessments look objective. The accuser of pretension - naturally thinking themselves to be the real deal, in possession of an educated and discerning mind - believes that somewhere else in the world there is a genuine article that the pretentious thing or person aspires to be, but is falling short of or exaggerating it.' Very good book - I'm glad he seems to like the record, but it's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. A review here.
Robert Wood The Widow of Borley
A return to the rectory (still cannot exorcise it). Another essential book to understand the full story. Reminds me of the commentator on the case who concluded it was 'a house of cards built from a pack of lies.'
Eric Ambler The Mask of Dimitrios
An excellent example of the early thriller and still relevant.
Len Deighton Funeral in Berlin, Billion-Dollar Brain, SS-GB
Deighton is a great writer, his 'Harry Palmer' books (although the protagonist was only given a name for the Michael Caine films) are very atmospheric of the Cold War, if rather convoluted; Billion-Dollar Brain is extremely good and there are some lovely witty moments; SS-GB, a counterfactual history similar to Robert Harris' Fatherland and Philip K Dick's Man in the High Castle (both of which I've read) wasn't wholly convincing I thought, but was certainly a page-turner. Now I read that it's to be a BBC series shortly starring Sam (Ian Curtis) Riley.
Harold Pinter The Birthday Party, The Room, The Caretaker
Tom Stoppard After Magritte, The Real Inspector Hound, Dirty Linen/New-Found-Land
Alan Ayckbourn The Crafty Art of Playmaking
In my early twenties I fancied myself as a playwright and never wrote a word. This month I've just embarked upon writing one. A fun exercise, even if it never sees the light of day. As I rarely get the chance to go to the theatre I'm doing some homework. I did, however, get to see The Truth at Wyndham's Theatre in London recently and really enjoyed it. Written by fashionable French wunderkind Florian Zeller, it was in the tradition of French farce but beautifully acted and all over in an hour and a half without an interval. One of the very few occasions when I wished a play was longer.
After years of planning to go, got a chance to visit Knowlton on our way to holiday in Devon this month. A ruined Norman church sits in the centre of a Neolithic henge monument. Very few visitors when we were there
(maybe owing to a lack of roadsigns) and extremely atmospheric. I also stumbled upon a shrine in the nearby trees with scores of offerings and ex votos.
I finally got to visit the Clapham South Deep-Level Air-Raid Shelter last Thursday as part of London Transport Museum's Hidden London. Some photos by me above. For more information see my Subterranean City or here. It was very well organised - quite a lot of walking is involved as it's vast.
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