Tuesday, 25 April 2017


Earlier this month we managed to visit Piltdown, a quiet place.  Down a lane you can find the entrance gates to Markham Manor (my photos above).  To quote from the book reviewed below (p.267):  'There is no regular tourist access to the manor today, but behind the gates, a series of coppiced trees can be seen flanking the long approach to the house, just as they did in the photographs in 1912 and 1913.  Somewhere in the middle distance lies the backfilled gravel pit, once the centre of attention for the world's press.  Next to it a single sandstone monolith stands, forgotten and somewhat forlorn, within the modern hedgerow.  Despite the covering of lichen it is still just possible to read the inscription carved into the face of the stone:

Here in the old river gravel Mr Charles Dawson FSA,
found the fossil skull of Piltdown Man 1912-1913.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Piltdown Man, Charles Dawson and Harry Price

Miles Russell Piltdown Man: The Secret Life of Charles Dawson & the World’s Greatest Arcaheological Hoax (2003)

An absorbing study that concentrates on Charles Dawson, the man who found the so-called Piltdown Man ‘missing link’ in a gravel pit near the hamlet of Piltdown in West Sussex.  Having read this book most readers will have little doubt that Dawson was solely responsible for the Piltdown Man hoax, despite the fact that many others have been accused over the years, most ridiculously Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (although according to this book his novel The Lost World, published in 1912, may have played a part in inspiring the deception).  Russell lays out his case carefully and methodically, cannily preparing the ground with a lengthy and detailed examination of Dawson’s ‘antiquarian’ collections, parts of which he exhibited in the years before Piltdown.  Almost every piece examined is found to be a fake, of dubious provenance, or a (deliberate?) misinterpretation – tellingly some of these pieces were claimed by Dawson to provide a ‘missing link’ between species or advances in technology.

There are many connections with Hastings (about thirty miles from Piltdown) - Dawson lived in St Leonards as a boy and many of his remarkable ‘finds’ were supposedly dug up in the surrounding area.  He wrote a detailed history of Hastings Castle and worked on a dig that cleared and mapped the ‘secret’ tunnels under the castle.  Yet again, all was not what it seemed: Dawson claimed that as an eight-year-old boy he had seen strange shadowy marks on the walls of one of these tunnels when he had been shown round by the proprietor.  

Much later in life he recalled that the marks strongly resembled the shapes of two men standing against the tunnel walls in close proximity to metal staples to which they could have been manacled (he made a drawing), thus his conclusion was that these tunnels had to be ‘dungeons’, a name which has stuck to this day (rather than the cellars and storage areas which they most likely were).   Dawson was fond of dungeons and had one constructed at his Lewes house, Castle Lodge, which he acquired in 1904 from the Sussex Archaeological Society (he was a member) in highly dubious circumstances, resulting in his being virtually ostracised (remarkably, the massively publicised Piltdown discoveries were not mentioned in the society’s journal). 

It does seem surprising these days how readily Piltdown Man was accepted by the scientific community – there were some naysayers at the time, but they received little support.  Russell explains how Dawson had motive and means – one witness claims to have discovered him one day in his solicitor’s office experimenting with discolouring bones (!).  Palaeontologist Arthur Smith Woodward would appear to have been a ‘useful idiot’ (rather than part of the hoax) for Dawson in the authentication of the remains.  There is also the hoaxer’s standard modus operandi: he conveniently produced what the scientists of that time were eagerly hoping to find.  Nationalism also entered into events, as previous finds of early man had been on the continent.  Finally England could claim its own spectacular discovery – it’s significant that Woodward’s book was called The Earliest Englishman (not published until 1948 – the hoax was only uncovered in 1953).

For me, an intriguing aspect of the story is Dawson’s possible links with Harry Price (see previous posts), who began his quest for recognition and publicity through a series of apparently important archaeological finds within a short distance of his house in Pulborough.  According to Richard Morris in Harry Price The Psychic Detective (2006):

‘It is absolutely conceivable that Dawson and Price worked together.  They had plenty of opportunities to meet each other, as both were active in the Sussex Archaeological Society and were members of the Royal Societies Club, that most prestigious social club of scientists and industrialists.  Furthermore Price and Dawson would have shared patrons and supporters. (p.32)

Unfortunately, Morris does not produce any evidence, such as correspondence, for their friendship or cooperation.

Dawson and Price both craved academic credibility: Dawson was the more impressive in that, despite having never attended university and holding down a job as a solicitor in Uckfield (the firm is still there), he possessed a lively and inquiring mind and could lecture on a wide variety of subjects well beyond archaeology; he was a member of the Society of Antiquaries.  Much of Price’s knowledge of archaeology was bluff or plagiarised.  Price enjoyed incredibly good fortune with his archaeological discoveries, many of which were found on the surface, so he didn’t even have to get his hands dirty.  An unusually well-preserved Roman statuette of Hercules was pulled out of the river bank at the end of his garden.  He was eventually caught out after a Roman silver ingot, ‘which I picked up in 1909 on the surface of a ploughed field on top of park Mount, Pulborough’ was proved to be a fake.   It bore a mark which indicated that it may well have dated from the period of Honorius at the very end of Roman occupation, making it even more significant.  Coincidentally, Roman bricks found by Dawson at Pevensey Castle and exhibited in 1907 also bore a mark of Honorius – they too were later proved to be fakes.

If anyone reading this is aware of closer links between Price and Dawson I would be interested to know.

The Visitors' Book

Jon Lys Turner The Visitors’ Book, In Francis Bacon’s Shadow: The Lives of Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller (2016).  After a shaky start the book gains momentum and I found it very interesting, but then I would, as it features the usual  Soho and Fitzrovia suspects - many mentioned in these posts - such as John Minton,  Nina Hamnett (a good friend of Wirth-Miller) and the Two Roberts, who  frequently stayed with them.  Jankel Adler’s name keeps cropping up in many of the biographies I’ve read recently – he seems to have been influential on many of the London artists of this period and his reputation may be in need of resuscitation.   His influence on the Two Roberts, for example, is clear.  See here and here.

Wirth-Miller was from a very humble background and suffered in early life for his German ancestry – the book hints that his artistic influence on Francis Bacon may have been greater than previously recognised, the two certainly worked together in the Wivenhoe studio.  Lucian Freud hated him (he referred to him as ‘Worth Nothing’) see here.  Nevertheless, Wirth-Miller and Chopping mixed in highly privileged circles and had influential friends and acquaintances (not least Ian Fleming in Chopping’s case), one of whom was avid social climber and interior designer David Hicks, who included Wirth-Miller’s art in his designs - financially useful, but this made him perilously tied to fashion, that inevitably changed.

There is an entertaining account of Hicks’ wedding to Lord Mountbatten’s daughter Pamela:  the weather was freezing blizzards – fortunately for the many guests, they had the use of a private Pullman train back to London.  Chopping narrowly saved one of the guests from being run over by a skidding bus – it turned out to be Noel Coward, who became a friend.  Hicks and his wife had a honeymoon cruise on the QE2, the only passengers apparently, which seems incredible.  Winston Churchill’s son Randolph comes across as a truly horrible individual and as with many wealthy people expected the artists to produce work for him for nothing.

Wirth-Miller was probably Bacon’s best and most loyal friend.  There is a terrible episode where WM has an exhibition in a local gallery - Bacon arrives drunk and proceeds to go round savagely criticising every picture.  This had such an effect on WM that he gave up painting from that point.  The book says that this traumatic incident didn’t affect their friendship, which again is hard to believe.  In later life WM seems to have been a drunken monster and the kind of foul-mouthed outspoken boor you would avoid sitting close to in a restaurant or pub.   His artistic reputation is not high these days.  Looking at the auction prices for his paintings, they are not valuable and are almost in my price bracket.  Despite some strange neologisms (infirmed?) and misspellings (tenor Peter Piers?) the writing carries you along and I enjoyed reading it.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Mummified Cats

While reading Jon Lys Turner’s The Visitors’ Book (London: Constable, 2016), a biography of the artists Richard Chopping (designer of the striking early trompe l’oeil covers of Ian Fleming’s James Bond thrillers) and Denis Wirth-Miller, I came across a ‘mummified cat’ tale.  The artists lived as a gay couple for sixty years in an attractive eighteenth-century wooden building known as the Storehouse (formerly a public house and later a sail store) next to the river Colne in Wivenhoe, Essex.

At some point in the early 1960s: ‘When a group of builders dismantled part of the roof of the Storehouse in order to convert an attic space into a new bedroom, they discovered the body of a blackened but otherwise preserved cat.  One of the contractors recalled a story his grandfather had told him: when buildings were topped out in eighteenth-century Wivenhoe, a live cat would be released into the roof before it was sealed – it was believed that the trapped animal’s spirit would ward off fire.

Wirth-Miller examined the mummified cat and said, “It’s rather beautiful – like a feline Modigliani.”  Chopping reported that he was warier of its supposed supernatural powers.’ (The Visitors’ Book p.260)

Wirth-Miller and Chopping were good friends with fellow artist Francis Bacon and in November 1963, after an afternoon’s heavy drinking, at the famous Colony Room in Dean Street, Wirth-Miller, Bacon and his then boyfriend George Dyer, decided to take a taxi back to Wivenhoe to continue the party.  Following a late night dinner they returned to the Storehouse very drunk.  A while later Bacon came back from the toilet saying that the house was on fire.  The storeroom at the rear of the house used to store ‘canvases, paperwork, old books and junk’ was ablaze.  The fire engines that were summoned used water from the river to dowse the flames, but the storeroom and kitchen had been badly damaged. 

The cause of the fire was never determined, although it was suspected that George Dyer had drunkenly flicked a cigarette butt out of the toilet window situated above the storeroom. 

Of course, the way in which the narrative unfolds implies that the earlier disturbance of the desiccated feline may have been in some way responsible for the blaze.

While some valuable works of art were lost in the fire, the artists were fortunate in securing the services of a young and then-unknown Terence Conran (he taught at the Royal College of Art, with Chopping) who agreed to design a chic new kitchen in exchange for a Wirth-Miller landscape. 

‘One object that did survive was the mummified cat, which would end up in a drawer in a guest bedroom.  Wirth-Miller, who was fond of a practical joke, was amused by the idea of visitors discovering the artefact as they unpacked.’ (p.263)

Mummified cats are also the subject of a chapter in my book The Folklore of London.  See here and here.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Is She a Lady?

Nina Hamnett wrote a second volume of autobiography Is She a Lady?  (1955) which picks up her story from 1926 when she returned from France to Fitzrovia.  Compiled might be a better word, as the book is really just a string of anecdotes, many rather inconsequential, probably of the kind with which she would regale a visitor to the Fitzroy or Wheatsheaf after asking them to 'Buy me a drink deah'.  It does, however, cover the period when I believe my drawing was made and the book sheds more light on her interest in boxing – another way of socializing and meeting young men and staving off the boredom of Sundays.

On Premierland, a boxing venue in East London (see here) ‘by far the most amusing and entertaining show in London.  The hall held about two thousand people and a battle nearly always raged near the ringside.  The audience never ceases to scream out insults and vulgar jokes at the unfortunate boxers who are unpopular from opening to closing time.  The payment is terrible.  There is any amount of talent to be discovered, but, as they all have to work, they never have sufficient time to train unless, by some extraordinary stroke of luck, someone pays for their training.’(p.51)  She mentions making drawings on many occasions.

Prof Newton’s Academy of Boxing 241 Marylebone Road: 'I went down one Sunday to see the boys training and to meet the great Professor.  Sunday morning is the best time, as most of them have to work during the week, many as navvies.  Nipper Pat Daly was then in his prime.  He was a funny little boy of fifteen and a half, and a very fine boxer.  If ever there should have been a champion it ought to have been Nipper.’ (p.49)  One of the book’s illustrations is a signed photo of Daly, who was a bit of a local celebrity at the time, a photo of Daly with the Professor and more information here.

She also mentions staying at the Hotel l'Etoile: (p.12) ‘I invited people to lunch and dine with me at my hotel, not worrying much about the future, as I had been paid for the drawings in Seymour’s book   [Seymour Leslie The Silent Amen (Jonathan Cape 1927]. '  Perhaps the list of names on the back of the drawing are those she entertained there.  She also illustrated The People's Album of London Statues - with droll commentary from Osbert Sitwell, it is the source, as I discovered, of his description of William Huskisson's statue in Pimlico as 'boredom rising from the bath'.  Illustrations of both books above.

Many characters acquainted with Aleister Crowley pop up in the book including Nancy Cunard, Lord Tredegar and that strange individual William Seabrook.  She produced a portrait of the speedboat racer 'Joe' Carstairs , who I'd never heard of before, but seems interesting (can't trace the picture).

In conclusion on Hamnett I should also direct those interested to the always excellent Strange Flowers resource.  A film was made about her starring Siobhan Fahey out of Bananarama.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

February Reading

David Hepworth 1971 Never a Dull Moment (2016)  By Mark Ellen's partner-in-crime in the magazine world and co-presenter of Whistle Test.  An enthusiastic month-by-month account of the musicians, the music industry and most importantly, the long players put out during one year that Hepworth wants to claim as the most significant in the history of rock and roll.  He's probably right when you look at some of the exhibits he puts forward: There's A Riot Going On, Tapestry, Led Zeppelin IV, Tago Mago, Loaded, Sticky Fingers, Aqualung, What's Going On, Electric Warrior (first lp I bought), Master of Reality, Fog on the Tyne, Fragile, Inner Mounting Flame, Meddle, American Pie etc.  I get the impression that Who's Next and Hunky Dory are probably his favourites, but he makes good cases for many more.  He's not a fan of progressive rock, but that year saw the appearance of such genre classics as Tarkus, Pictures at an Exhibition, The Yes Album, Fragile and Nursery Cryme.

It's interesting to be reminded of prices and the way of life at a time when I was alive: eg. pint of bitter 15p, house in North London £20,000, very little obesity.  He has some insightful observations, most notably about the beginnings of 'heritage rock' and its absorption into show business even at that point, although he does describe the unpleasant condition at the majority of music festivals and it's easy to forget that until relatively recently some rock concerts could be pretty violent and dangerous.

Edward Lucie-Smith Symbolist Art (1972)

Paul Strathern The Knowledge: The Periodic Table (2015) Another bargain from The Works.

Michael Oliver Benjamin Britten (1996)  Thought I should vary my diet of music biographies.

H G Wells The Time Machine (first published 1895)  Always worth rereading, now and again.

Denise Hooker Nina Hamnett, Queen of Bohemia (1986)  See posts below.

Nina's Friends

It turns out that the drawing mentioned in the post below was made on the reverse side of notepaper from the Hotel et Restaurant de l'Etoile where Nina was staying.  On the side with the hotel's address she has written a list of notable literary and artistic figures of the time - with the intention of inviting them to a dinner or party?  Possibly - if this event ever took place, one would certainly have met an interesting group of people.  The list is below.  I've inserted the full names that I assume are intended, going by friends and acquaintances mentioned in her biography and in Laughing Torso; I'm pretty confident that most of them are correct.  ODNB indicated that they appear in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

'Davies'   W H Davies (1871-1940), poet and writer, ODNB; NH painted his portrait.

'Strachey'  (Giles) Lytton Strachey (1880-1932), biographer and literary reviewer, ODNB, NH drawing of him c1917.

'Sickert'    Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), painter, ODNB, painted NH and her husband Roald Kristian in 1915-16 (now in the Tate, see here and above).

'Edith S'   Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell (1887-1964), poet and biographer, ODNB; sat for NH on at least three occasions.

'Osbert S'   Sir (Francis) Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell, fifth baronet (1892-1969), writer, ODNB, portrait by NH c.1918 above.

'Leonard Merrick'   (1864-1939), novelist, almost forgotten today, ODNB

'Frank Harris' (crossed out)   James Thomas [Frank] Harris (1856?-1931), journalist and rogue, ODNB - see my Decadent London book.

'Clive Bell'   (Arthur) Clive Heward Bell (1881-1964). art critic and writer, ODNB

'Goossens'   Sir Eugene Aynsley Goossens [?] (1893-1962), composer and conductor, ODNB, and see here.  Although mostly based in the USA in the late 1920s, he regularly returned to London for conducting engagements.

'Nancy'   Nancy Cunard [?]  (1896-1965), poet and political activist, ODNB

'Iris'   Iris Tree [?] real name Iris Winifred Reine Daphne Beerbohm-Tree, married name Moffat, Ledebur (1897-1968), poet and actress, ODNB, lived for a time in Fitzroy Square.

'Dorothy' nee Millar, wife of Sir Eugene Goossens, divorced in 1928, friend of NH

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Nina Hamnett and Boxing

Just before Christmas I bought another addition to the Art Collection, a drawing of a boxing match by Nina Hamnett, a Bohemian artist, born in Wales, who thrived in the Twenties and went into a slow alcoholic decline from the Thirties onward, culminating in a nasty death in 1956 - probably suicide, although not proven.  I've been reading my copy of Denise Hooker's Nina Hamnett Queen of Bohemia (which I've only just noticed has been inscribed by the author).  It's well written and illustrated and tells you all you need to know.  Portrait by Roger Fry (one of her many lovers) above.

Hamnett wrote two volumes of autobiography, the most celebrated of which is Laughing Torso (Constable, 1932), which became the subject of a widely publicised libel case courtesy of our old friend Aleister Crowley, who hoped to make some money out of it.  Hamnett had included a section on the Abbey of Thelema at Cefalu in Sicily (I took some exterior photos there a few years ago, see earlier post) where she says, 'He was supposed to practice Black Magic there, and one day a baby was  said to have disappeared mysteriously.  There was also a goat there.'  Crowley claimed that he only performed White Magic.  During the course of the trial Crowley used a suitable analogy, in terms of this post, when describing different forms of magic: 'In boxing you can fight according to Queensberry rules or you can do the other thing.'  'Does that mean', counsel for Constable interposed, 'that his definition of Black Magic is the same as all-in wrestling?'  The judge eventually delivered a damning verdict on the Great Beast: 'I have never heard such dreadful and horrible, blasphemous and abominable stuff as that which has been produced by a man who describes himself as the greatest living poet.'  Crowley lost.

Learning that a friend had arranged  an exhibition at the Claridge Gallery in Brook Street, opening on 13 April 1926, Hamnett returned from an extended period in Paris to live in the very heart of Fitzrovia.  'Nina stayed in the cheap and friendly Hotel de l’Etoile in [30] Charlotte Street, where there were three or four bedrooms above the restaurant, and the French atmosphere and petit dejeuner softened the blow of returning to England.’ (Hooker p.173).  The restaurant remains a renowned dining destination.

Hamnett became interested in boxing in the second half of the Twenties, which makes me think that this drawing dates from the period 1926-30.  Her entrance to this new world was gained after meeting a young boxer called Vernon Campbell at the Fitzroy Tavern.  He took her to a bout at the Comrade's Hall in Camden Town where she was delighted by the 'atmosphere of crude good humour and bawdy repartee'.

Hooker p.190: 'The promoter Johnny Hughes, an ex-flyweight champion, gave Nina a free pass and she took to going to Camden Town every week to draw, relieved to have found a way of killing the boredom of dreary Sunday afternoons, which always held a special horror for her.  Nina quickly got to know the other regulars and when Campbell boxed she joined in the crowd of supporters cheering and shouting "Come on Vernon!"  Sometimes Nina and Campbell went to the big fights at Premierland Olympia and the Albert Hall.  He also took her to Professor Newton's famous Academy of Boxing, off the Edgware Road, where she met the young boxers and drew them while they trained.  The professor took a great liking to Nina and obligingly demonstrated the complexities of right hooks and upper cuts along with the rest of the boxing repertoire so that she became something of an expert on the finer points of the sport.  Nina liked to air her knowledge to her friends and took large parties of up to fifteen people, which often included the poet Roy Campbell, to the Comrade's Hall, "basking in their clamour as if she were the entrepreneur of the event".  After the matches at Camden Town - and later at the Charlton [sic] Ring, Euston - Nina and her friends would bring the heroes of the afternoon back to her room, where they drank tea and beer until the pubs opened.  Nina did many drawings at the matches, some of which were included in the deluxe edition of Laughing Torso [I'll have to track this down] and she also persuaded some of the boxers to pose for her at home.'

My drawing must have been done at one of these bouts.  As it was the major London boxing venue, there's a good deal of information about The Ring in Blackfriars Road (over the Thames in Southwark, bombed in the Blitz, commemorated by a pub today).  Hamnett produced a number of works depicting fights there including The Ring at Blackfriars (watercolour) - sold by Sotheby's in 2002 see here (reproduced above).  There's very little information online about the the Comrade's Hall and the Drill Hall in Camden Town and Chalton Ring (the correct spelling) in Somers Town.  Chalton Street is a long road that runs pretty much the central length of Somers Town, at that time it was a predominantly working class district - suffering extensive damage in World War Two thanks to the three major main line stations close by - and was massively rebuilt in the 1960s and 1970s, mostly with council flats.

The reverse of the work is also of interest and the next post will be about that.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Decadent London

Yesterday I came across an excellent review from late last year of my apparently 'fabulous' book Decadent London.  It can be found here. More importantly, the reviewer, a regular visitor to our shores named Saxon Henry, used it as a guidebook for visiting sites associated with the artists and writers described therein.  I have done occasional Decadent London walks, but it's great to see the book being used in this way (a very limited early edition contained a route for such a walk along with some other home-produced ephemera).  An old review from the Independent on Sunday can still be found here and another online one here (yes, 'it's title and dust jacket' - depicting Alan Odle - see earlier post here) does 'set out to attract ignorant but respectable [?] readers who would like a vicarious thrill from reading about the antics of the more daring and talented folks in London a century ago.'  An interesting reference from Sotheby's here.

It would appear that it just about remains in print and can be bought on Amazon and can probably still be found in some real-world bookshops.  Maybe I should revise it and republish it myself at some point.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

January Reading

Mark Ellen Rock Stars Stole My Life (2014)
A very funny account of Ellen's life as a music journalist, music magazine initiator and presenter of The Old Grey Whistle Test.   I defy any pop or rock music fan to read it all the way through without laughing out loud at least once.  For example a description of NME journalist Nick Kent from Ellen's stint on the paper during its peak years:

'... the magnificent Nick Kent, whose arrival was preceded by great waves of expectation, especially among the girls.  Would he be wearing his ripped leather trousers, and, if so, any pants beneath them?  He'd finally levered himself off heroin but was so enfeebled by his methadone habit that the fine details of his physical appearance weren't a high priority.  His legendary lack of undergarments wasn't a fashion statement: he'd either forgotten to attach any or didn't own a pair in the first place.  Kent would wobble through reception in a stained hat, an off-white scarf that could have done with a wash, a Johnny Thunders T-shirt, jangling biker boots and severely torn trousers, a brace of swinging testicles visible from round the back.  He had the crepuscular pallor of a nine-pint blood donor and legs like a wading bird's, so stick-thin and rickety you thought his knees might bend the wrong way.  One hand brandished a glowing butt, the other several sheets of cardboard from cereal packets with  his latest meisterwerk on them in spidery scrawl.  His overstretched pockets carried two tins of cling peaches, the only solids apart from cornflakes the drug-addicted scribe could stomach.' [pp87-88]

'There appeared to be two types of people in the world, those who liked Van Morrison and those who'd met him.' [p276]

'One of those old-school hippies who found clothes restricting, [Iggy Pop] had rampaged round the [Chrysalis] press office stark naked, startling the girls with the stupendous size of his manhood.  'It was like a penis,' one of them shivered, 'only bigger.' [pp145-6]

Ellen is pretty candid about the drug use of his interviewees - he stopped indulging after a bad experience with The Teardrop Explodes - especially in a very funny description of a debauched night in the company of Roy Harper and Jimmy Page in the backroom of a Lake District pub [chapter 22 - an anecdote which also appeared in Barney Hoskyns' Trampled Underfoot, see earlier post].   The interview for Whistle Test the next morning with the hungover pair can be found here.

Alan McGee Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running a Label (2013)
A (remaindered) birthday present.  Although billed as funny I found this much less entertaining than Ellen's autobiography, mainly because, understandably, it isn't nearly as well written.  It's of more personal interest, however, as I was a regular at the Living Room, McGee's club above the Roebuck on Tottenham Court Road and often met, through my friend, Creation characters like Joe Foster and Jeff Barrett who feature in the book.  One evening I bumped into all four Smiths watching a performance by James.  I remember standing on a table at the back to see the Jesus and Mary Chain's first London appearance at the club.  Like McGee I can recall the moment they walked in to the pub looking every inch the rock stars they were soon to become.  I was also a fan of many of his acts such as House of Love, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Ride, but I've never been keen on Primal Scream (McGee's favourites) who I've always thought are musically a bit of a joke with a singer who can't sing.  There are a few interesting anecdotes but heavy drug use has rendered some periods vague, worth dipping into though and brought back a lot of memories.

John Fordham The Knowledge: Jazz (2015)
Bought for a couple of quid at the local Works and probably destined for a charity shop, this is an adequate condensed history of jazz, frustratingly short on the areas I was interested in (60s and 70s), but made me listen to people like Charlie Christian who I'd never heard before.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Lord of Strange Deaths reviewed in the TLS

I was very pleased to find a review of Lord of Strange Deaths by Rosemary Herbert - 'King of Pulp Exotica' - in this week's Times Literary Supplement.  Maybe Secret Tunnels of England may also appear there one day.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Harry Price in Battersea

Yesterday, as I was in the vicinity, I managed to get to Eland Road in Battersea, south west London, to take a photograph of the house which in 1928 was home to the mysterious 'Battersea Poltergeist', which garnered considerable publicity at the time and drew large crowds to the street.  It was investigated by Harry Price and his account appears in his book Poltergeist Over England - it's available online here, so I don't have to go into further detail.  A photo of the house in 1928 and in 2005 can be found here.  Interesting that the poltergeist appeared keen on throwing soap, a feature of the Borley 'poltergeist' sixteen months later, in which Price also played a major role.

The remarkable activity that greeted the arrival of Price at an investigation is also commented on in an extract from SPR files about the Battersea case, written by Dr V J Woolley assisted by a  Mrs Brackenbury, reproduced in The Haunting of Borley Rectory (1956) pp.73-4:

'Mr Price accompanied by two reporters had paid them another visit ... Their story is that he and his friends were shown into the front sitting room to wait.  There was not much furniture in this room but on the mantel shelf there were two metal figures of children.  Mr Price and his friends were taken all over the house and finally into the kitchen.  The two reporters turned to leave, Mr Price was behind them with Lilla and Mrs Perkins standing near him, when suddenly something dropped to the floor, they say it fell with a heavy thud.  They all hunted but could find nothing until Mr Price picked up a shoe and found inside it one of the two little metal figures that had been in the front room on his arrival ... After he left they asked me if I thought he was a medium and attracted things to him.  I said it was not probable.  They complained things always seemed to happen when he was there.'

Monday, 16 January 2017

2017 Events

If I manage to keep my job I'm hoping to organise some talks and walks for the spring and summer.  More news will appear here.

Upcoming concerts:

Sunday 22 January   David Torn - Son of Goldfinger, with Tim Berne and Ches Smith.  Guitarist who's played with David Bowie, been meaning to check him out for years, but he doesn't play in this country very often.  At the Vortex.  I did manage to get there - online review here.

Friday 27  Jaga Jazzist  Roundhouse.  What We Must is a stupendous record and I saw them at the Astoria in London around that time - haven't really been keeping up, but the latest record sounds great.

Tuesday 28 February  Hastings Fat Tuesday.  I really enjoyed last year's bash when The Membranes were the main attraction, but there's plenty of opportunities to check out local talent (sets only last 20 minutes).   The refurbished Albion is one of the best venues.  Details here.

Tuesday 7 March  Oxley/Meier Guitar Duo  Jazz Hastings Club.  Nicholas Meier is in Jeff Beck's band.

This looks interesting.

I was shocked and upset to hear of the death of Mark Fisher last Friday - he had a lot of important things to say about the present human condition.  I met him on a couple of occasions and he was a lovely stimulatingly philosophical man.  There have been a number of pieces about him in the links column opposite in the last couple of days - for example here here and here.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

December Reading

Christopher de Hamel  Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts (2016)  A Christmas present.  Slowly making my way through - each chapter is devoted to a particular ancient manuscript and the library in which it is housed.  The author, Cambridge academic and librarian, is an expert in his subject and creates the impression that the reader is looking over his shoulder as he carefully turns the pages of these manuscript masterpieces and imparts his wisdom about the materials, history of the document and its possible producers and owners, and the iconography.  Lavishly illustrated, although maybe should have been a larger format.  Highly recommended.

Guy Halsall  Worlds of Arthur, Facts & Fictions of the Dark Ages (2013) Written by a professor of history at York University, the title is rather misleading as 'King Arthur' is relegated to a very minor role and pretty much dismissed as a historical figure and the author is more interested in putting forward theories about the 'Dark Ages' and Anglo Saxon invasions.   Also I was disappointed with his promised examination of the 'lunatic fringe' literature, which I feel is often worth examining for some of the insights into the authors' mentalities or the zeitgeist, despite their negligible worth as historical research.  Worth reading together with King Arthur Myth Making and History (2002) by N J Higham, another modern sceptical analysis of the Arthurian legend.

Paul Morley  Earthbound  (2013) One of a series of books commissioned by Penguin themed around the London Underground lines by a variety of authors (I wonder how much they got paid?), this one is ostensibly about the Northern line, but is of course mostly about Paul Morley.  His claim to be possibly the first person in London with a Sony Walkman should be treated with caution, I feel.  Quite entertaining none the less, and can be read in a single sitting.  Clever cover picture.

Leonard Cottrell  The Bull of Minos (1966)  Pan paperback hagiography of 'archaeologists' or maybe that should be 'diggers' Heinrich Schliemann and Arthur Evans, which I imagine has been thoroughly discredited by more recent research.  An easy and stimulating read however.

John Mortimer Rumple Forever   A compilation of stories of Rumple of the Bailey.  I never saw the television series with Leo McKern and have not previously read any Rumple stories, but I needed some relaxing bedtime reading.  Some of the humour is a bit strained, but pleasant enough reading.  At this rate, my middle-aged self may well finally get round - after years of resistance - to Jeeves and Wooster.  Rumpole's first television appearance in the hugely important Play for Today BBC series can be seen here.