Webzine Edition Issue 2

New Poetry: Chair, Lupercalia, California by Abi Curtis

Chair

Not the couch: that animal slumber
disguised beneath tapestries
Not that but the seat he tucked under
an expanse of desk
with its four, elegant insect-legs,
shaped as a man with a blank
totem’s head, arms curved out
to receive.

Dark, cracked leather the colour
of book-binding, or last days of a rose,
the cut nub of a cigar, its ember
catching in the rug, the inside
of my cheek where I chew,
or his. The flavour of Thursday,
a stained wooden spoon, bad luck.
Good luck. A blend of pleasure
and regret. That.
It smells of an Autumn stopped
from turning and swivels
only with effort

preferring to face a crowd
of statuettes: Greek, Roman, Chinese.
Tiny, petrified gods.
Captive audience.
Sit in his place and touch their heads.
Notice the Baboon of Thoth has a skull
smooth as soapstone, as skin. He looks
unlikely but his charge is writing.
Don’t worship; sit with him
and let them watch.
Sink back into the indentation,
ghost of a spine.
Let the arms enclose you,
take this paper,
start again.

©Abi Curtis 2009

Lupercalia

This is a night to go out
Dare the wolves to circle.
Beyond the fire their eyes
uncountable
Beyond those, breathing rolls back
to a forest of firs
shaped as the flights of arrows.

This is a night to go out
Put on layers and layers
Keep your own warmth close
Don’t envy fire in any window
Swivel your ears
to the noises you love
Keep low
Take your leave.

This is the night to go out
Your shoulders roll towards
the Prussian blue of later
the soft-spots of an old dusk
the tender fury of clouds
Follow this logic and

hours from now, you’ll witness
a marriage in the alley-way
six eyes telling you
Keep our secret, we have our reasons
You circle them
Lope to where there’s room
to view approving looks
from the moon.

This is the night you’ll end up
calling through the o-shaped valve
of the throat, long and loud
until everything’s connected
The night you won’t remember how
you made it home
or got like this:
smoky and besotted.

©Abi Curtis 2007

(Originally published in Humbug, Tall-Lighthouse 2007)
California

We dug our heels into the sand at Santa Barbara
and from the shore we witnessed pelicans drilling
down the air through a solidity of water,
breaking the blue skin of the world.

We couldn’t take our eyes from the diving bird:
a beak somewhere between a spoon and a saw,
wise-eyed and plump he targeted lunch,
floating back up with a catch swinging,
packed in the loose suitcase of his mouth.

The pier stretched on with our line of sight
into the haze.

©Abi Curtis 2009

abi-curtis

Abi Curtis recently won the Crawshaw Prize for Poetry and her collection Unexpected Weather is forthcoming from Salt. She won an Eric Gregory award in 2004 and published a pamphlet, Humbug, with Tall-Lighthouse in 2007. She lives in Brighton and lectures at Sussex University.

New Short Fiction: Do You Remember the First Time by Cathi Unsworth

“Would you like to do something special for a lot of money?”

It was nothing Sue hadn’t heard before. The man who was asking was dressed in a grey chauffeur’s livery, his cap in his hands along with a pair of black leather gloves. He had parked his Rolls Royce along the pavement by Embankment Gardens some minutes previously and made his way straight over to the bench where she was sitting. He obviously knew the score.

By the side of Charing Cross Station, on the banks of the Thames that glittered dark and dangerous in the sodium glow of the streetlights, was where you came when you had an itch you couldn’t scratch. Or, if you were like Sue, when you had nowhere else to go. She had first found herself here only hours after she’d arrived in London, the colonel’s £20 tight in her fist. Her introduction to the Smoke not perhaps the most auspicious; a pick-up on King’s Cross station, a man with military bearing who had spoken in a voice of decorum and privilege, offering her employment as his live-in maid.

One short trip to Bloomsbury later and that decorum had dissolved before her eyes. The colonel wanted to take parade. He’d had her strip naked and stand with legs and arms outstretched while he, wearing only riding boots, a Sam Browne belt and his officer’s cap, screamed “Fire!” and threw a handful of strawberry jam right between her legs. The direct hit splattered, the colonel’s eyes bulged and he spasmed like he was having a heart attack. That was Sue’s cue to make a run for it, snatching the money he’d laid out on the table as she fled, strawberries and cream forever struck off her personal menu.

Some deep-rooted instinct must have led her here, down towards the river where the trade was done, just as it was in her native Newcastle. The rest of the city’s flotsam and jetsam had washed up here too; she was only latest in a long line of lost souls who hung around the Silver Lady mobile canteen, dipping furtively in and out of the public toilets by the side of the train station, men and women with eyes that stared but saw nothing, mouths that never asked questions.

Those that came down here among them to do the asking, they always had the same clipped, refined tones as the colonel. The more respectable the veneer, the deeper the depravity beneath. Sue’s eyes lingered over those leather drivers’ gloves. She wondered just how ‘special’ this was going to be.

“It’s a birthday surprise for my master’s son,” he said, “who comes of age today.”
There was a trace of humour in the chauffeur’s eyes, but he wasn’t so coarse as to wink. “He’s a very shy boy, young Harry,” he went on, “and my master is anxious that he learns the ways of the flesh from a woman such as yourself, one who is both clean and yet well versed in these matters. He must learn from an expert, don’t you think?”

Sue did like to be asked her opinion, it didn’t happen often. She liked it even more to be considered skilled, which actually she was, in the ways of deflowering young men. This was an easier proposition than she had anticipated and it was about to get even better.

“Of course, my master is willing to pay handsomely for your time, to ensure that the experience is one young Harry is not likely to forget. Shall we say £25? Of course,” he rushed to finish the sentence before she could answer him, “if you feel your services are worth more then you only have to say, we don’t want any arguments.”

Sue had already got to her feet. “Canny,” she said. “I mean, 25 is champion, pet.”
“Well then,” the chauffeur took her by the elbow and guided her towards the waiting limousine, “we shall go directly to the house.”

The back seat of the Roller was all pale leather, more expansive and comfortable than any bed Sue had recently known and she breathed in the smell of it with pleasure. The chauffeur slid back the glass petition behind his seat and started the motor, heading down the Embankment towards Belgravia.

As the sleek machine glided silently down the moonlit river, Sue popped a handful of purple pills and prepared herself with a fantasy, one that she often came back to. Appropriately for the occasion, it was in memory of the boy who’d taken her own virginity, a black-haired, blue-eyed North country boy. His looks and prowess were embellished each time she recalled him so that now he resembled more closely Robert Mitchum than the apprentice shipbuilder who’d taken her down an alley, hot breath in her ear, hot kisses up and down her neck, pressing his stiff crotch against her as he pinioned her to the wall. She could still hear the strange, bird-like cry he made as he pulled down the straps of her rigid, black underwired bra, his hand coming up her legs as her own unfastened the buttons on his fly, knowing what it was to want a man inside her, wanting him right now, hard against the wall…

“Here we are, madam,” the chauffeur opened the door and Sue stepped out of her reverie and into Eaton Square. Whether Young Harry, with his pampered Southern ways, would be up to Bob’s muscular mastery was now largely irrelevant. However clumsy and artless his first lesson in love was to be, she at least was now ready for him in body and mind.

They walked up the steps of an imposing white mansion, between two tall pillars to the front door, where the chauffeur rang the bell and delivered Sue into the care of a butler. Not a word passed between the servants of the house, just a nod; this scene was well rehearsed and everybody knew their duties. The chauffeur faded back into the night and the butler led the way down the corridor, to the most luxurious room Sue had ever laid eyes on.

It was arranged almost like a Bedouin’s tent, with ceiling-to-floor drapes and what looked like a parachute silk dipping from the ceiling, diffusing the light from above it into a soft glow that fell across the four-poster bed, bedecked in similar white silks and huge French pillows. The walls were oak-panelled and had a number of doors set into them, the wall-to-wall carpet was thick beneath her stilettoed feet. Everything seemed to have been arranged for a sumptuous ritual deflowerment.

“Now,” the butler spoke in the same measured tones as the chauffeur. He handed her five crisp £5 notes. “If you’ll get ready, take off your clothes and wait for him, he’ll be along presently. Because he’s so shy, you won’t mind if the lights are out? You’ll be able to teach him in the dark, won’t you?”

The butler withdrew and Sue just had time to shove the beehives into her handbag and stash that under the bed before the lights went out. Hurriedly, she undressed in the dark. It didn’t take long; her profession eschewed rigid corsetry in favour of easy access bras and knickers. Memories of Bob raced through her veins along with the rush of sulphate as she laid back on the cool sheets in readiness for the young master.

Soft footfalls came across the deep carpet. She felt the weight of a man getting onto the other side of the bed. Sue tried to keep the image of Bob going as she softly encouraged her timid charge: “Over here, pet, don’t be shy.”
Her hand reached out in the darkness and touched… the strangest thing. Where she was expecting the hard flesh of a skinny young man, she felt only softness. A softness that enveloped her naked body, a softness that felt like… fur.

Fur running over her skin. For a second her body responded before her bewildered brain could kick in. It always had been that element of danger that had got her going; that had led her from that Tyneside alleyway to here in the first place. She squirmed under the downy touch and instinctively reached up to where the head and shoulders would be on a man. But her fingers raked only more fur; she could make out no recognisable features.

Her mind did a somersault and she tried to reason what it could be. A fur coat, maybe. It could be part of the kink, the strange form Young Harry’s shyness took. She didn’t want to think that this could be something worse than that, that she was perhaps not in bed with a man at all…
Well whatever it was had big strong arms because a second later she felt her ankles gripped firmly and her legs hoisted up into the air, then the unmistakeable hardness sank into her. Sue gasped. This was no demure virgin who held her legs open and pumped away with the strength of a sheet-metal welder, pinning her to the bed with effortless ease.

It was in this moment of shock that the lights came on and the air was suddenly full of the sounds of whooping. Sue looked up to see the parachute had been whipped away, revealing a minstrel’s gallery that was full of people, men and women, dressed up to the nines in evening gowns and black tuxedoes. One second seemed to stretch into infinity as Sue’s horrified gaze took in their faces, flushed with excitement, the jarring sounds of their laughter and cat-calls as they craned over the rail, punching the air with their fists, and the lights of the chandelier above glittered off their Champagne glasses and their jewellery.

Then, even more slowly and unwillingly, she turned her eyes down to whatever it was that was providing the other half of their entertainment and a silent scream caught in her throat.

It was a man, but it wasn’t a man. Covered in black fur he was, from head to foot, with a black mask across his face, a low, bulging forehead and thick nose, white teeth set into a rigid, fearful grimace and only slits for eyes behind which seemed to be nothing more than blackness.

In a house in Eton Square, for the delectation of the upper echelons of society one evening in the Autumn of 1960, Susannah Houghton was being fucked by a man in a gorilla suit.

Now that really was a first.

© Cathi Unsworth 2009

Author’s note: I stumbled across this story as part of the research for my forthcoming novel, Bad Penny Blues. It was a tale told by one of the unfortunate working girls who became the third victim of the so-called Jack The Stripper in February 1964. Like many of the other murdered women in this case, she had been part of an illicit scene involving kinky sex with the upper classes, in the same era and milieu as the Profumo Affair. In many of the true crime accounts of the Stripper story, her claims about the man in the gorilla suit are taken with a pinch of salt and indeed they do have the familiar ring of an urban myth in the making. However, if you take a stroll around Eaton Square today, you will find a blue plaque beside the door of No 1, the former abode of Lord Robert John Graham Boothby, friend of Winston Churchill and Ronald Kray, whose name will always be indelibly linked to the dark currents of the Sixties and the places where power and perversion met.

cathi-unsworth-c2009-allison-mcgourty

Cathi Unsworth is a writer, editor and journalist who lives and works in London. Cathi began her writing career on Sounds at the age of 19 and has written and edited at many music, film and alternative arts publications since. She is the author of the noir novels The Not Knowing and The Singer, and edited the award-winning book of short stories London Noir (all Serpent’s Tail). Her new novel Bad Penny Blues will be published by Serpent’s Tail in August.

Links

www.cathiunsworth.co.uk

www.serpentstail.com

Author Interview: Amanda Petrusich

petrusich-amanda-c-bret-stetka

by Guy Sangster Adams

“It just felt that the best way to tell the story of American music was to hit the road,” says Amanda Petrusich, whose debut full length book, It Still Moves: Lost Highways & The Search for the Next American Music, was published in Britain the week of Barack Obama’s inauguration and chimes with the current resurgence of interest in Americana music underscored by the success and Brit Awards nominations of Fleet Foxes and Seasick Steve and the BBC Four series Folk America and the accompanying Barbican concerts.

It Still Moves works on a number of levels mixing the highly personal account of Petrusich’s journey across key points on America’s musical map including New York, Memphis, the Mississippi Delta, Nashville, and Appalachia, with a sturdy history of the musical genres that have infused Americana music¾country, blues, folk, jazz, gospel, and bluegrass¾and the artists most redolent of those styles including The Carter Family, Elvis Presley, Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan. The duality aids the readability and accessibility of the book and was an intentional stylistic device as Petrusich explains, “some of my favourite authors have always done that really well, like Joan Didion or Truman Capote; it feels personal, it feels very authentic to the writer, but at the same time you’re learning a lot along the way and there’s a lot of factual information that’s being permeated through these personal narratives. That’s what I love to read and it ended up being what I love to write as well.”

It is absolutely her use of the personal that provides the reader an highly entertaining engagement with both the tactility of, and her passionate and thorough understanding of the history of Americana music; be it her description of leaving Brooklyn at the start of her journey with “my trunk heaving with plastic bags fill of clothes, two crates of mix tapes, three pairs of sneakers, and four family-size tubs of Animal Crackers”, her visit to Graceland where for “the first time Elvis has felt comprehensible to me; he liked monkeys and watching television in the kitchen”, her endearingly eccentric trait of taking elaborate and expensive CD (hand-crafted wooden) box sets back to their musical origins, such as The Carter Family: In the Shadow of Clinch Mountain to A.P. Carter’s grave in the Appalachian mountains, or her eroticisation of the open road and particularly Interstate 64, “giddy and anxious the entire time, blind to landmarks and history my whole body is craving the highway […] practically panting with anticipation, I evacuate downtown Charlottesville and nose toward the interstate”.

But Petrusich’s primary musical focus is not retrograde, as the book also offers her analysis of, and interviews with, the musicians who have re-imagined and reworked Americana into new forms through the 1990s and into the 2000s, such as Wilco, Freakwater, and Iron & Wine, under genres labels such as alt-country and its sub genres with, as Petrusich writes, “ridiculous names¾see twang-core, country -punk, insurgent country, lo-fi, roots, rock, desert rock, gothic country, and, a personal favourite, y’allternative”, and indie folk, free folk, freak folk encapsulated by David Keenan in 2003 The Wire Magazine cover story New Weird America.

Whilst with an understanding that American music reflects the landscape from which it springs, one of the key quests of her journey was to discover “how Americana music is transforming to accommodate the massive cultural and geographical shifts in the American landscape.” In that, two twenty-first century dates loom large over Petrusich’s theme: the attacks on the World Trade Center on 11th September 2001 and Barak Obama’s victory in the presidential elections on 4th November 2008, and the route that Bush administration took the USA on in the intervening years. As Petrusich writes, “in retrospect it seems almost inevitable that a film soundtrack [O Brother Where Art Thou?] packed tight with ancient American folk songs would soar to the top of the pop charts in a year when nearly everything ‘American’ was being challenged, threatened, and rearranged.”

Petrusich’s decision to undertake her journey came not only during a key time of national soul searching but also at a key time of her life. She turned 26 whilst she was on the road, and has just celebrated her 29th birthday; I suggest to her that the period between those two ages is often as much a transitional stage as between the ages 16 and 19. “I do think that’s a complicated period for human beings,” Petrusich concurs, “that stretch at the end of your 20s, and I think the book in many ways is a coming of age story and also a search for identity, identity as it relates to one’s country; what is this place I live, it’s shaped everything about me, what does it mean? I think also politically at that particular time living in America there was a lot of disillusionment, especially amongst people of my age group, thinking that we were being carried along by an administration that we all felt powerless to stop and at the same time felt very strongly was not making the right choices for this country, not making the right choices for the world, and I think it was a time when the words ‘patriotism’ and ‘patriotic’ were getting imbued with all kinds of meaning that I wasn’t comfortable with, and so it was nice to hit the road and really fall head over heels back in love with America at a time when I was otherwise feeling a little, you know, maybe I should move to Europe.”

The road trip has become an essential and mythical ingredient of Americana, from Robert Johnson, to Woody Guthrie’s road trip in a 1953 Model A Ford, from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, to Bob Dylan, to Tom Wolfe’s account of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, via Easy Rider, to Larry McMurty’s Roads published in 2000. A long tradition that has hitherto been the preserve of a male narrator, as Petrusich writes, “the man on the road is the stuff of American legend, the woman on the road is the stuff of teenage fantasy,” expanding upon this in our interview she says, “the iconography of terrible 80s metal band videos; women wearing short jean shorts and a halter top being stranded on the side of the road and the man swooping in to save her.” Although a desire to right the gender balance had not initially occurred to her, as she explains, “I hadn’t really realised how entrenched that idea of the man as the driver is, it’s the default mode in many Western cultures, you see a couple get into a car and the man’s always driving, and I never really gave it much thought until I started working on this and I thought there’s not a ton of road stories that are written by women; you know it strikes me as odd because I know all these women who love to drive and to hit the road but it hasn’t been expressed in the same way, at least in literature.”

Petrusich’s quest and title were inspired by the lines from Donovan Hohn’s A Romance of Rust, “Where lies the boundary between meaning and sentiment? […] Between memory and nostalgia? America and Americana? What is and what was? Does it move?” Her response and conclusion is that It Still Moves, to which one might now add an Obama-esque exhortation of ‘Yes it does!’

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It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, & The Search for the Next American Music (Faber & Faber) £14.99

Links

www.amandapetrusich.com

www.faber.co.uk

The Wolfmen: Marco Pirroni & Chris Constantinou

wolfmen-marco-chris-sixties-chair1

by Guy Sangster Adams

To put an exact start point on The Wolfmen, whose new AA-side single Cecilie and Wak This Bass has just been released, is slightly to miss the point of why and how they came together. But I only realise this having suggested 2004, to which vocalist and bass player Chris Constantinou, replies questioningly “I think it was 2006, wasn’t it?” and guitarist Marco Pirroni says with a smile, “I can’t remember, I mean I don’t know where I was last week, it was all very organic as they say, it just sort of happened with no real plans to do anything you know.”

From the outset, which for the non-organically minded the press release splits the difference with 2005, it was very important to Pirroni and Constantinou that The Wolfmen would be an umbrella name for their work on a wide range of projects over and above the traditional concept of a band. A range that, as Pirroni says, “makes it interesting, I mean I’ve spent my entire life in bands; in the twilight of my years going back into a band… I never really wanted The Wolfmen to be a band with drums and amps and vans and flight cases and things like that” though he then adds “but this is what we are turning into.” To which Constantinou reposts “Well we’ve turned into it, but we’ve missed the van, we haven’t done the van!” and Pirroni retorts, “Hopefully we’ll go straight to bus! I don’t really want to do the van!” An exchange which leaves them both laughing.

The laughter is symptomatic not only of the great iconoclastic rapport between the two men but also of the wonderful atmosphere that pervades the South London studio in which The Wolfmen have taken up residence to not only record the follow up to last year’s debut album, Modernity Killed Every Night, but also produce new albums by Sinead O’Connor (Pirroni has worked with O’Connor on her four previous albums) and Daler Mehndi [?], and where I go to meet them. Pirroni and Constantinou are clearly thoroughly enjoying the present, which although informed by their pasts they are clearly not shackled by them, the ‘then’ is viewed with as much enjoyment as the ‘now’, which consequently denudes The Wolfmen of retrogression and makes the project the latest step in an exiting journey.

For Pirroni this began at the age of 17 when he played guitar in the impromptu and infamous first incarnation of Siouxsie & the Banshees, which also included Sid Vicious on drums, for their 20 minute set improvised around The Lord’s Prayer at the 100 Club Punk Festival in London on 20th September 1976. He went on to play with The Models, Rema Rema, and Cowboys International before in 1980 he joined Adam Ant in the new line up of Adam and the Ants and began a phenomenally successful and highly influential song writing partnership, with the albums Kings of the Wild Frontier and Prince Charming reaching number one and two respectively and a string of Top Ten singles including Ant Music, Dog Eat Dog, Prince Charming, and Stand and Deliver which won Ivor Novello awards for Pirroni and Ant. When the Ants disbanded in 1982 Constantinou, who had worked closely with Diz Watson and been in the band Drill, joined as the bass player in a new line up with Pirroni and Ant performing under the name Adam Ant. The albums Friend or Foe, Strip, and Vive Le Rock followed along with another nine Top 20 singles, including the number one Goody Two Shoes.

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“It feels very normal,” Pirroni replies to my question as to how it feels when one’s in the midst of such success, “because it’s all very gradual, it’s not like one day you’re in a club and the next day you’re playing huge venues; the venues start getting bigger, then there’s more people in your crew, you find yourself in business class, then you find yourself in first class, it’s almost like you don’t notice it. It only struck me once in Japan, I was in a hotel room looking out of the window at the Tokyo skyline and I thought how did I get here?! Eighteen months ago I was sitting at home with an acoustic guitar and now I’m here. There are moments when you think is this really happening or am I just imagining this, is this a sort of daydream I’m having.”

That it is now approaching three decades since Pirroni first teamed up with Ant also disconcerts him, “I can’t grasp that concept of 30 years,” he says, “it seems like, I know it’s a long time, but it seems like 8 years ago, but as we get older, I keep thinking, God, I’m going to be dead in another 30 years.” To which Constantinou chips in, “You might be dead before that!” and to Pirroni’s response of “Thanks that’s really cheered me up!” laughingly ripostes “30 years, that’s a bit ambitious! You’re a rock star you’re supposed to be dead!”

With the passing of time the influence of the Adam Ant/Adam & The Ants back catalogue is increasing rather than diminishing with Carl Barât and Tim Burgess covering Antmusic for C4’s Transmission last year, and Stand & Deliver featuring on the soundtrack of the current series of Gossip Girl, the list of acts taking inspiration also includes Suede, Elastica, Nine Inch Nails, Robbie Williams, Sugar Ray. “You listen to a lot of young bands, 18 to 20 years olds, now you can hear the influences,” says Constantinou, “they’ve probably taken it from the generation after us; it’s great.” Pirroni concurs saying “I am such a product of my influences, in my mind everything is shoehorned in like a great big jigsaw puzzle, to be someone else’s influence is really nice; I always wanted to be someone’s influence.”

The influenced also become collaborators, as Constantinou explains, “we met up with Courtney Taylor-Taylor from the Dandy Warhols recently, and he’s going to be mixing some tracks on this album, and he was saying Marco was his guitar hero.” Indeed, it was Pirroni’s idiosyncratic guitar sound that triggered the reunion between Pirroni and Constantinou, their paths having diverged in the mid-90s, and the formation of The Wolfmen. “We weren’t in touch for a while,” explains Constantinou, “and then I was with Jackie Onassid and trying to get the guitar sound that Marco does, and I ended up trying to do it myself very badly, and then I thought in the end I’d just phone him” which as Pirroni explains is “the strange thing that happens to me, a lot of people phone up and say do you know anyone that plays like you; for some reason they’re too shy to say do you want to do it, and so I end up saying, what about him, he could do me!”

The Wolfmen’s first projects were all soundtracks. They created the music for the series I Predict A Riot, presented by Loaded founder James Brown and screened by Bravo in January 2006, and in May 2006 their soundtracks accompanied two films in the inaugural Fashion in Film Festival (FFF). As Pirroni explains, “Marketa [Uhlirova the director of FFF] phoned us up and said do you want to do some music for a silent film; so we did a kind of rock soundtrack to two films.” Screened as part of the Shoes, Eroticism, and Fetish programme of the festival the films were The Gay Shoe Clerk (Edwin S. Porter, 1903) and Amor Pedestre (Love on Foot, Marcel Fabre 1914). Both very much enjoyed the process, Constantinou describes the films as “amazing” and says “that it would be good to get that [the soundtracks] out at some point” and Pirroni says, “We wanted to do more but they haven’t asked us!” I suggest that waiting to be asked is slightly daft as he is now on the board of FFF, but he demurs with a smile “I think it would be a bit embarrassing to be there at these board meetings with all these academics and go to them, oh we’ll do that, and we’ll do that as well!”

In many ways Pirroni presaged his involvement in FFF with the sequence of CDS he released in 2003 and 2004 on his Only Lovers Left Alive label which explored both his own influences and fashion’s relationship to rock. The three albums Sex: Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die, Granny Takes A Trip: Conversation’s Dead Man (compiled by Nigel and Louis Waymouth) and Biba: Champagne and Novacaine featured the music played in each shop.

The links to fashion have continued with The Wolfmen’s 2007 collaboration with Primal Scream on a cover version of Screaming Jay Hawkins being used for an Alexander McQueen catwalk show, and the shoot for the video for the new single Cecilie playing an infamous part in the last series of Living TV’s Britain’s Next Top Model, when tantrums and stand-offs ensued as not all the proto-models relished director Paul Hills’ rock bordello concept; the footage of which is all now on You Tube!

An elegant erudition imbues the new single as a whole, as Pirroni and Constantinou, with infinite panache and a broad lupine smile that equally attests they have lost none of their bite, play fast and loose with all they have accrued in the past 30 plus years, cutting a glitter dusted swath across the tracks and their track record, like the tail of a comet across a perfect midnight blue sky. Cecilie broods like a femme fatale in killer heels caught in a tornado guitar spiral, Wak this Bass is a feedback triggered Jack in the Box grabber of glamour punk. Be seduced; lycanthropy is nothing to be scared of!

wolfmen-band-shot

Links:




Plectrum – The Cultural Pick

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Watch a filmed interview with Marco Pirroni and Chris Constantinou and the video for Cecilie on the P-TCP Broadcast Player

The Wolfmen

www.thewolfmen.net

www.myspace.com/thewolfmen

Fashion in Film Festival

www.fashioninfilm.com

The Irrepressibles

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by Guy Sangster Adams

With music that enwraps, enraptures, and enobles, a stunning visuality in performance that combines elaborate, fantastical costume and make-up, balletic motif, and fabulous spectacle, such as the island stage, gondola, and white butterflies of last summer’s Latitude appearance, the first time, and indeed every time, one sees The Irrepressibles is a magical experience.

My first time was within the entirely appropriate dramatic majesty of the British Museum’s Great Court last November. Where, as part of the Statuephilia exhibition, The Irrepressibles, in tight fitting stone coloured garments and fabric swathes, and barefeet – statues come to life – performed on an impromptu stage in front of the Reading Room to a wonderfully eclectic audience of those that knew and those that were passing by. Everyone, be they friends, fans, PR company invitees, museum staff and visitors from near and far, were taken on a such a transcendent journey which swooped and swirled around the curves and porticos of the entire two acre space and uplifted to the undulating diamonds of Norman Foster’s glass roof, which had it not been there I would have floated off to the stars quite happily!

“Where it began,” explains singer songwriter Jamie McDermott, whose brainchild The Irrepressibles are, “was that I was writing songs with acoustic guitar and performing incredibly cathartic and explorative of the voice song based work that was becoming so intense that it needed something to surround it, and it was either go more to my roots, because I come from more of a rock background, or surround it with classical instrumentation.”

The resultant phantasmagorical orchestrated glamour pop played on guitar, violin, viola, cello, double bass, piano, flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, saxophone, and percussion by this elegant 10 piece, is baroque mixed with a flicker book of rock n roll finest stances, via Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio and Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine, akin to discovering Jean Genie being played on 17th century instruments in platform boots, tutus and ruffs, in a private audience with Pope Pius X in an ice cream parlour.

McDermott brought the first incarnation of The Irrepressibles together in 2002, which was a smaller group consisting of cello, violin, piano, bass, and McDermott playing guitar, whilst he was studying for a degree in Commercial Music at University of Westminster. The course, which was the first in the country to offer a mixed syllabus of music production and the study of music as culture, had a profound effect on the creation of The Irrepressibles. “It was entering this world of looking at music and also looking at what it can do sociologically, in terms of subcultures and things like that, which really began to fascinate me,” says McDermott, “and I started to read and understand and look at how I could create a project that might be more art based and I got very interested in the KLF, Bill Drummond, and Malcolm McLaren.” With McDermott’s studies coinciding with the relentless rise of the new generation of music talent shows, beginning with Pop Idol, Popstars, and Fame Academy, he realised that his new project also needed to take note of that, as he explains, “I wanted to create something that could take it on from a business level, that could take it on from a PR level.”

Further to that, McDermott says, “For me The Irrepressibles is about two things and one is that really honest catharsis and letting that through, I wanted to try to express something about being gay and about being in love as a gay man in a way that people would understand even if they were straight, or that people would just appreciate, rather than it being sensational or it being a certain sort of style of music, and the other thing is about play, we’re playing and we’re performing, but it’s like children playing and performing, it can’t go to that level where it’s very serious, I’m not really interested in that; I wanted to create something that a child can appreciate, but also something that someone who’s really into music can appreciate, then also someone from the council estate where I’m from can get.”

McDermott grew up in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, where he began piano lessons at 11 paid for by his paper round and quickly began to write his own songs and compose music, as he says, “I’d stand on the beach at Scarborough, or on top of the cliff by the castle, looking out at the sea, and just start to compose in my head.” He expands on this by saying, “my brain tends to work in harmony and the parts are quite polyphonic” which informs the idiosyncratic sound of The Irrepressibles because, as McDermott says, “with a rock band you’ve got a drummer that backs it, and with classical music you’ve got a conductor who leads it, but in The Irrepressibles there’s neither drums nor a conductor, so it’s kind of polyphonic parts that are all feeding into one rhythmical underpinning and often that’s from the guitar.”

After “flunking school”, McDermott went to sixth form college in Scarborough to study art, music, and drama, and in Sadie Parker, his A level drama teacher, met “one of the most important figures” in his life, who introduced him to a wealth of eclectic music and performance inspirations including the Carmina Burana, Bladerunner, Joan Littlewood, Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham all of which have influenced the multi-disciplinary style of The Irrepressibles. Unsurprisingly David Bowie is a big influence, but equally many of the singers that particularly inspire him are female, Laurie Anderson, PJ Harvey, Yma Summic, Kate Bush, and the composer and performer Meredith Monk who describes her approach as working “between the cracks, where the voice starts dancing, where the body starts singing, where theater becomes cinema.”

Adding to the idiosyncratic roots of The Irrepressibles, following his A levels McDermott took a detour into “flamboyant cock rock”, having been awarded a scholarship to study rock singing in Guildford, the camp Spinal Tap humour of which is not lost on him as he explains that the course also involved being leather clad, taught to star jump and sing The Final Countdown! But, his singing teacher on the course unlocked the extraordinary breadth of his vocal range which is particularly evident in The Irrepressibles’ live performances when he will swoop through singing styles, up and down the vocal register, sometimes within one song, fusing operatic, choral, crooner, and Elvis Presley-esque.

By the close of his rock school course, McDermott had broken away from the genre and had begun to write the acoustic songs that would form the basis of his two solo albums Newclear Skies and Nude. Both of which received critical plaudits and comparisons to Jeff Buckley. Though the more prevalent Buckley reference that strikes one when listening to The Irrepressibles is Tim Buckley and in particular Song to the Siren which McDermott concurs is a big influence.

McDermott is currently putting the finishing touches to The Irrepressibles debut album, meantime they have been confirmed in the line up for this July’s Latitude, a festival they have very much made their own and are certain to once again take by storm with McDermott’s most elaborate and fantastic creation for the band to date, The Human Music Box. Which will be premiered on 19th June as part of the V&A’s Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificience, an exhibition for which The Irrepressibles are tailor made as they have resolutely brought magnifience back into style.

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Unsigned Focus: Kate Daisy Grant

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by Guy Sangster  Adams

Though she wrote some of the songs as long as seven years ago, the impetus for unsigned singer songwriter Kate Daisy Grant to record her debut album, One Thing You Should Know About Me, came last year through a serendipitous meeting at Maison Bertaux with the songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Ken Rose. Grant was playing the battered, out of tune, upright piano in the tea-shop, which has been a beacon of fabulous cakes and intellectualism in London’s Soho since 1871, whilst Rose, a member of Marianne Faithfull’s band, had just finished playing guitar on Faithfull’s ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’ tour. Discovering that they shared far more than floral names, the meeting generated a symbiosis through, as Grant says, “their perfectly matched mismatchedness”—she describes Rose as an “arch dude of LA horizontal ‘tude” and herself as a “spider-lashed Victorian marionette with slight Tourette’s”—and they decided to make a record.

The resultant album features an highly eclectic array of instruments, both acutely traditional and cutely non-traditional, as piano and autoharp are melded with the contents of a cavernous rainy day play box, containing a scarlet toy piano, toy bells, a bright yellow teapot, drums full of pennies, a double bass playing robot, and a string quartet is set against an orchestra of “cobbled together objects.” Given such a list it is not surprising that Grant says, “when we were recording I’ve never laughed so much, and when we play live and Ken’s playing glockenspiels and dustbin lids, if I catch a glimpse of that I piss myself!”

The presence of glockenspiels on a 2000’s pop album is as refreshingly kooky as the complete absence of glottal stops; in fact Grant’s singing voice is very hard to categorise or to place geographically. Born to a parental mix of Scottish-Dutch-French-English, her speaking voice transfuses Home Counties through West London, but in song, she has a completely seductive perfect counterpoise between breathy fragility and lip biting ardency, vulnerability and supremacy. In her lighter shades she might be Nordic or French with echoes of Ida Marie or Julie Delpy (particularly in the waltz title track, which brings to mind Delpy’s A Waltz for a Night from the soundtrack of Before Sunset), whilst her smokier, darker tones on the tracks Peaches or Truth evoke PJ Harvey or Siouxsie Sioux.

Songs of Innocence and Experience, the title that Faithfull borrowed from poet and painter William Blake’s two contrasting collections of poetry, might also be partly applied as a description of Grant’s album. Blakes’ works juxtapose an exploration of how the naivety of childhood hopes and fears are corrupted and repressed by the harsh realities of adult life. But in the songs on One Thing You Should Know About Me the knowing and the ingénue co-exist in the same moment; the losses of innocence, love, people do not bide their time for adulthood, and becoming an adult does not halt their tide. Grant describes the songs as coming “from the junk shop of my heart” though they are also infused with a magical toyshop as she is also very influenced by the work of the writer, animator and puppeteer Oliver Postgate, who created the children’s television programmes Bagpuss and The Clangers, and Victorian fairy tales like the Brothers Grimm and Henrich Hoffman’s Struwwelpeter. As Grant explains, “It’s me cherry picking things that were comforting to me when I was growing up—they were my favourite bits of childhood—and the Victorian era, that’s when fairy tales became popular; just to expose your children to the perils of strangers and the dangers of even loving something. That’s what struck me about Bagpuss, you really care about the characters, even if you are being told an incidental story about a little haggis creature or whatever, it’s all to do with them leaving. The Victoriana and the melchancholia spoke to me as a child; I liked sadnesses.”

Grant read a lot of World War I poetry whilst recording the album and this informs the theme of loss, as well as being a specific reference on two tracks. Truth is inspired both by the Wilfrid Owen poem Strange Meeting, “about meeting your doppelganger who you’ve just killed; could be part of yourself you’ve just killed” and Under Storm’s Wing the autobiography of Helen Thomas, wife of the poet Philip Edward Thomas who was killed in action in the Battle of Arras in 1917. Thomas had only turned to writing poetry under the stress of whether or not to enlist – as a married man in his late thirties at the outbreak of the war, he was not required to do so. Grant says, “It was one of the most upsetting books I’ve ever read, Helen Thomas said that the last time he left she knew for a fact that she was never going to see him again and he walked so slowly away from her, and it was snowing, and he just walked into the darkness, and they kept calling out, hello, hello, hello… until they couldn’t hear each other anymore.”

Harmsway, which is also inspired by WWI is a far more upbeat track, “at that point I was reading about the hopefulness of everyone setting off,” says Grant, “and it’s as if it’s their last stop in a town before they hit the battlefield – that one joyful, abandoned moment, where one is still clinging to the innocence of love songs and the innocent sentiments of what you think life means before you’re chucked in the deep end.” The opening bars of Harmsway have an echo of Tom Waits’ Innocent When You Dream, but although Grant cites Tom Waits as a specific inspiration she says that she has never heard the track, which adds an intriguing layer of referential chance.

Grant describes the WWI poetry as “the extremity of experience of facing your worst and then producing the best and most beautiful” which would make an equally apt epigraph for One Thing You Should Know About Me. “It is a cathartic album,” she says, “but it’s cathartic enough that I wouldn’t have to write an album like that again. Definitely the songs that I’m writing now are much lighter.”

One Thing You Should Know About Me seizes the listener from the seemingly carefree waltz of the title track, which is actually a decadent dance along the precipice, on an extraordinarily tempestuous voyage, through extreme pitches and rolls of emotions, and the spectre of an ominous wave that threatens to engulf everything, but leaves one ‘with the wild waves whisht’ in the last track, The Language of Science, which dazzles like the molten gold of low sunlight on wavelets, atremble with the thrills of after-shock, and imbued with the insight and wisdom of a survivor and the strength of resolve and beauty of hope that only the journey of experience can bestow on one.

Watch a filmed interview with Kate Daisy Grant and a performance of her song The Language of  Science on the Plectrum Broadcast Player.

Kate Daisy Grant has self-released One Thing You Should Know About Me and it is available as a download from iTunes, Napster, eMusic et al, or on CD at her gigs. She is playing live dates in London throughout April and May, for details click on the link below.

Links
www.myspace.com/katedaisygrantmusic

Carla Borel’s StillSoho by Barry Miles

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Carla Borel lives and works in the West End. Her pictures are of Soho people but are not necessarily taken in Soho. She usually has a camera with her, waiting for that happy juxtaposition of light and shadow, shapes and gestures that distinguish a fine photograph from an ordinary snap, when everyday life arranges itself into a composition.

She works in an honourable tradition, beginning with Kurt Hutton’s famous photo essay on the French House in 1941, through John Deakin’s revealing portraiture of Francis Bacon and his circle, Charles ‘Slim’ Hewitt’s fifties Soho clubs and Ida Kar’s London painter series.

On her shelves are much consulted volumes of Lisette Model, Brassai and David Bailey’s sixties photographs – all masters of the monochrome. Like Bailey, she uses unfocused backgrounds to form abstract organic shapes and her pictures owe a lot to the photographers of that decade.

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Sometimes the images fall into place easily: In ‘Even a Stopped Clock Tells the Right Time Twice a Day’, Simon Crabb on the bed, preparing to light one cigarette from another, just needed the raised arm, the angle of the fresh cigarette to make the composition.

At other times it is the recognition of patterns and textures: ‘Bourchier Street’ sees French House manager, Hilary Penn walking down ‘Piss Alley’, her polka dot dress echoed by the tie worn by Paul Lawford from the Rubbish Men and contrasting with the security grilles and blank concrete wall.

Paul Lawford appears again, caught in characteristic pose, his dark hair, beard and hat perfect for framing his eyes. In another picture, artist Stephen Fowler poses nervously in Beak Street with his bicycle, nicely chopping the window into the golden section.

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My favourite is of Michael Smith, author of The Giro Playboy, and Mandana Ruane, manager of the Academy Club, sprawling on the pavement outside the club on Lexington Street at 2am on a hot summer night. It is a classic Soho image, combining misbehaviour and the familiar Soho setting of the faded grandeur of Georgian townhouses and recycling bins. This was a carefully composed shot, Borel had to wait until a passing car illuminated the couple with its headlights in order to shoot the scene. It’s like a movie still, it suggests a story, a series of images continuing before and after this moment in time.

Borel sometimes explores photographic clichés and makes them new: here the shot of lovers in the mirror becomes a tangle of curves and shapes, and the lovers outside the Soho House must have been just irresistible.

©Barry Miles 2009

About the author:

In 1966 Barry Miles co-founded Indica Books and Gallery, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono first met, and the Internaional Times (IT), Europe’s first underground newspaper, as a fund raiser for which hee co-organised the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream in 1967. A prolific author, his books include biographies of Paul McCartney, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Frank Zappa, Charles Bukowski, and The Beat Hotel, In the Sixties,  Hippie, and Peace: 50 Years of Protest, 1958-2008.

StillSoho Photographs by Carla Borel runs until 31st May 2009 at The French House, 49 Dean Street, Soho, London W1

Links
Carla Borel: www.myspace/carlaborel

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Kinoteka – The 7th Polish Film Festival

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by Guy Sangster Adams

Kinoteka is the annual flagship event of the Polish Cultural Institute, a non-profit organisation, linked to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dedicated to promoting Polish culture in Britain. Marlena Lukasiac has been the artistic director of Kinoteka for the last four years, in which time she has overseen its development from a one day event at London’s Riverside Studios showcasing contemporary Polish films to this year’s 7th annual Polish Film Festival which not only features its widest ranging programme to date, presenting New Polish Cinema, a celebration of the 20th anniversary of Krzystof Kieslowski’s Dekalog, and a retrospective of Polish New Wave, but also its widest reaching programme whereby in addition to its London programme, which continues until 8 April, in March Kinoteka began began a nationwide tour which has already visited Belfast, Cardiff, Swansea, Aberystwyth, Mold, and Hereford, and from 20 April – 4 May will form part of Canterbury’s Sounds New Festival, before continuing to Bristol, Warwick, and Wolverhampton.

Lukasiac brought the retrospective element to the festival because, as she says, “I think it’s nice to show the films which are now recognised as masterpieces, and make people think why they are masterpieces, what makes a film survive, and in Polish cinema there are so many wonderful masterpieces that can be fully appreciated by a foreign audience.”

In this year’s festival, the juxtaposition of the retrospective and the contemporary also illustrates and contextualises the seismic changes and extraordinary cultural journey that Poland has undergone over the last 70 years. The key featured directors fall neatly into two generations. Jerzy Skolimowski, Andrzej Zulawski, and Kieslowski, born in 1938, 1940, and 1941 respectively, were born into a terrible stage of Polish history as 6 million Poles lost their lives in World War II—the highest percentage of a population of any of the countries involved in the war—and Warsaw was nigh on completely reduced to rubble, followed by the USSR’s post-war absorption of Poland into the Eastern Bloc stymieing many freedoms of creative and cultural expression. Whilst Malgoska Szumowska and Kaisa Adamik were both born in the early 1970s and came of age with the reduction to rubble of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the fall of communism and Poland’s subsequent rebirth as the democratic Republic of Poland, and the country’s entry into the European Union in 2004.

The censorship of the Communist era acutely affected the careers of Skolimowski, Zulawski, and Kieslowski, leading them, at different points in their careers to both make films in co-production with other European countries and to live outside Poland. Skolimowski is based in Los Angeles and in recent years has been far more visible as an actor, appearing most recently in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. But, after a 17 year directorial hiatus, his new film 4 Nights with Anna, a black comedy about obsessive love and voyeurism, received its British premiere as part of the Kinoteka’s London programme. Zulawski moved to France in 1972, where he still lives, to escape the type of censorship that was meted out on his cult mid-1970s sci-fi epic On the Silver Globe which was suppressed and almost destroyed by the Polish authorities, a newly-mastered version of which he introduced to open the Polish New Wave season.

For Kieslowski it was, as Lukasiac says, “problems in a different kind of censorship because when he made Dekalog he was heavily criticised in Poland” that lead him to make what would be his last films The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colours Trilogy predominantly outside Poland as French and Swiss co-productions. The success of these films directly lead to the posthumous international release of Dekalog which has become the most critically acclaimed film cycle of all time.

Parallels are often drawn between Malgoska Szumowska, and Kieslowski, in response to which she told online magazine Aviva-Berlin, “it seems it’s hard not to compare me to him, not because of the style of the films but because of the fact that I start to make films internationally.” Szumowska’s 33 Scenes From Life, which explores how a woman in her early thirties copes with losing both her parents in quick succession, is a German/Polish co-production, and her next film is being shot in France. “I think that is what’s happening in Polish cinema,” explains Lukasiac, “we have many co-productions with France, Germany, Britain, that’s what the Polish Film Institute is interested in, which I think is just a natural thing in Europe now, you have to mingle, you have to exchange.”

This internationalism also links Szumowska to Kaisa Adamik, though they also have in common the fact that they are both the children of filmmakers—Szumowska’s father was the late Maciej Szumowski, and Adamik’s parents are Agnieszka Holland, director of the Golden Globe winning Europa Europa, and Laco Adamik—and that they are part of a new generation of female directors overturning the previously heavily male dominated Polish cinema. Adamik was brought up in Paris, and has already had an extensive career in Hollywood as a storyboard artist. Her first feature film, ark, was an English language US production, whilst her second feature, The Offsiders, a comedy drama about a football team made up of homeless people, is both her first film to be both in Polish and a Polish production, and is included in this year’s Kinoteka.

One name that at first glance is perhaps surprising to find in the programme of a Polish Film is Michael Nyman. But Lukasiac explains that when she met Nyman at a film festival in Poland, he told her his grandparents on both sides were Polish, “their families moved to England at the beginning of the twentieth century, and his parents, who were both from Polish Jewish families, met here in England.” Michael Nyman joins forces with Motion Trio, an innovative and experimental Polish accordion trio, for the Kinoteka London Closing Night Gala Concert at the Barbican, in which they will not only reinterpret a selection of Nyman’s film scores, but also present the World premiere of Nyman’s celebration of Polish cinema that will be performed alongside a montage from the films that have inspired him, including the work of Andrzej Wadja, Zulawski, and Kieslowski.

With such a list of names, who have inspired so many audiences and filmmakers alike, it is clear that Poland’s, as Lukasiac says, “struggle to establish ourselves, to establish a spirit of Polish cinema” particularly over the last two decades since the fall of Communism is very much coming to fruition. “There’s a huge improvement in quality and a recognition,” says Lukasiac, in which both her passion and determination and the work of the PCI as a whole has played a key role in what has been a steep climb as she explains, “some countries have been promoting their culture for so many years and they have had the tools and means to do so, whereas we are like small toddlers who are trying to shout, yeah we are here! Please look at us!” Even the most cursory glance at the Kinoteka programme should convince one to heed Lukasiac’s exhortation and take a far closer look at the films, exhibitions, and events that make up the festival.

Links

www.kinoteka.org.uk

www.polishculture.org.uk

Book Reiview: Liberation – The Bitter Road to Freedom, Europe 1944-1945 – William I. Hitchcock

(Faber & Faber) £25.00
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

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Liberation is an hugely emotive word and one that for British or American readers when attached to the D-Day landings, the subsequent release from occupation of the western European countries, and the defeat of Nazi Germany, is generally imbued with an overarching sense of triumph and patriotic pride. Whilst William I. Hitchcock, Professor of History at Temple University, USA, does not seek to denigrate the allied military achievement, he does seek to illustrate the often “grim realities”, by drawing on the voices and experiences of both the liberators and the liberated to, as he writes, “show that for every triumph at arms, for every act of heroism on the battlefield, there was also a home set alight, a child without food, a woman cowering in an unheated barn amid filth and squalor.”

In restoring an humanitarianism to the history with all it hardships, ambiguities and contradictory emotions, Hitchcock explores the collective act of ‘memory loss’ that America and Europe have undertaken in promotion of the blanket image of liberation as the joyous crowds thronging the streets of Paris and Brussels, which although very much part of the story are perpetuated at the cost of forgetting, just by a way of small example, that the liberation of Normandy involved the nigh on complete destruction of city of Caen, many smaller towns and villages, and the death of 20,000 French civilians, whilst the Allies’ decision not to attempt to liberate most of Holland in favour of pushing forward to Berlin, left the occupying German force and their deliberate starvation policy in situ until April 1945, by which stage hundreds of thousands of people were suffering starvation related illnesses, having been left with nothing to eat but tulip bulbs, and 16,000 people had died.

In addition, Hitchcock presents many cases in which British, American, and Russian soldiers abused their power through profligacy, theft, looting, sexual assault and murder, leading the liberated to often fear their liberators, borne out by the plea from a Belgian town liberated by the US Army, “Deliver us from our liberators”. Whilst the act of being liberated also released a complex personal emotional response in the liberated, as the writings of Primo Levi, the Italian Jewish Auschwitz survivor, which Hitchcock draws upon, encapsulate, “liberty […] filled our souls with joy and yet with a painful sense of pudency, so that we should have liked to wash our consciences and our memories clean […] face to face with liberty, we felt ourselves lost, emptied, atrophied, unfit for our part.”

Liberation is an important, elegantly written and exhaustively researched book, that makes one question everything one has known, or thought one knew, about the liberation of Europe, and in so doing fills one with a growing sense of alarm that no matter how independently minded or inquisitive one feels oneself to be, it is all too easy to accept constructs of history, and also with sadness that in so doing one may well have failed to consider the plight of millions of ordinary people, civilians and soldiers alike. In readdressing suppressed memories, Liberation, uncovers the essential core to modern European relations, whilst also presenting important historical parallels to contemporary events such as Iraq.

Above all, Liberation should also be celebrated for its humanitarian aims, in which, as Hitchcock writes “there’s surely room enough in our histories of WWII for introspection, for humility, and for an abiding awareness of the ugliness of war.”

Links:
Faber & Faber: www.faber.co.uk

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Book Review: Lowside of the Road – A Life of Tom Waits – Barney Hoskyns

(Faber & Faber) £12.99
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

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Pausing at a crossroads, Tom Waits casts a glance of displeasure, or so it appears, over his right shoulder in Jill Furmanovsky’s great photograph on the cover of Lowside of the Road. Though perhaps the look is one of challenge, catch me if you can, as there is a distinct element of Holly Martins’ pursuit of his old friend Harry Lime in The Third Man, in the subplot of this absorbing and affectionate unauthorised biography. Hoskyns, who was turned on to Waits whilst spending a Waitsian sounding “long wet summer with Nick Cave, who often played Small Change, Foreign Affairs, and Blue Valentine, in the druggy crashpad we shared in Paddington”, has interviewed the man himself twice in person, in 1985 and 1999, and a number of times on the phone. The first time they met, in speaking of how he is perceived, Waits quoted his huge inspiration, collaborator, and one of a line of surrogate father figures that Hoskyns identifies (including Francis Ford Coppola and William Burroughs), the writer Charles Bukowski, ‘People think I’m down on Fifth and Main at the Blarney Stone, throwing back shooters and smoking a cigar, but really I’m on the top floor of the health club with a towel in my lap, watching Johnny Carson.’

The intriguing couplet at the core of Lowside of the Road is Hoskyns’ quest to both locate the real Tom Waits behind the carefully constructed “Tom Waits” persona which the performer has presented to the world throughout his 40 year career, whilst also promulgating and in many ways seeking to perpetuate the enigma. Allied to another duality that plays out through the book, like a thriller, as a host of friends, collaborators, and acquaintances at first agree to Hoskyns’ interview requests and then rescind after Waits requests they do not co-operate, which leaves Hoskyns feeling both frustrated and offended whilst also entirely appreciative “that it must be a little like being stalked, or just being loved by someone you wish would go away.”

Wherein lies the nub, as Hoskyns is not engaged in a Wildean killing of the thing he loves, rather he has combined phenomenal research and highly erudite critique to create a fascinating exploration of every facet of Waits’ extraordinary career over the past four decades, which includes 20 studio albums, and as many acting roles in films from an evocative list of directors including Jim Jarmusch, Robert Altman, Tim Burton, and Terry Gilliam. Lowside of the Road is a celebration more than worthy of this soon to be sexagenarian.

Links:
Faber & Faber: www.faber.co.uk
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Book Review: Willie’s Chocolate Factory Cookbook – Willie Harcourt-Cooze

(Hodder & Stoughton) £20.00
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

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In so far as inspirations may be counted as vested interests, I ought to declare mine from the outset: the tale of Willie Harcourt-Cooze’s quest to produce his Venezuelan Black cacao from bean to bar, as it unfolded with all its highs and lows through the series Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory screened on C4 a year ago, was a key motivating influence in the development of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick. Retold in the first part of Willie’s Chocolate Factory Cookbook, with the addition of a contextualising back stories of Harcourt-Cooze’s equally extraordinary childhood and he and his wife Tania’s romantic courtship and wanderlust, in a mere 100 pages the tale which is already an heady mixture of Boys Own adventure story, love story, exhortative lesson in never foregoing one’s dreams, and instruction manual for starting a business, becomes even more compelling and potent in its fast-paced form; its primary ingredient is after all 100% cacao!

When Harcourt-Cooze was three years old his father, in pursuit of his own dream, bought Horse Island off the South West Coast with the intention “to create a self-sufficient idyll” for his family. “I spent most of my childhood in Ireland smoking fish, milling flour, making cheese and pickling fruit,” writes Harcourt-Cooze, “I was reeling in sea trout even before I had learned to ride my first bicycle.” Thus the seeds were sown, and skills learnt, at a very early age that would stand Harcourt-Cooze in very good stead when he and his wife put everything on the line in 1997 to buy and farm the Hacienda El Tesoro cacao plantation in the lea of Venezuela’s Cloud Mountains in pursuit of the dream to grow, and then import to Britain and produce their own chocolate, and in so doing be amongst the very few who have done so since the Cadbury family.

The second part of the book takes the ingredient and runs with it from breakfast to lunch to dinner using cacao in an eclectic mix of over 60 recipes including Huevos Rancheros, Bloody Mary, Sticky Chocolate Ribs, Porcini and Chocolate Risotto, and Cloud Forest Chocolate Cake. All of which reinforce Harcourt-Cooze’s campaign for cacao to become a widely used condiment “alongside the salt, pepper, chillies, and garlic that sit by the side of the oven.”

A hugely engaging and inspiring book with the added attraction that rarely has inspiration tasted this good!

Links
Willie Harcourt-Cooze – Willie’s Cacao: williescacao.com

Hodder & Stoughton: www.hodder.co.uk

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Single Review: Shine On – The Tunics

(Manta Ray Music)
On Release
By Guy Sangster Adams

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It is no surprise that this urgent surge to the stage slab of euphoric indie rock both hot wires The Tunics live sets and was a primary motivation to their signing by Manta Ray. The troubled urban poet Joe Costello of last single Cost of Living is cast aside in a welter of unreconstructed rock swagger and braggadocio as he declares himself both Messiah and freedom fighter, and with an uprush and magnetic pull Shine On declares the stage and the moment to belong well and truly to The Tunics.

Costello’s voice, lyricism, wit and fervour are increasingly reminiscent of Tim Wheeler and Feargal Sharkey, just as Shine On bears witness to Girl From Mars and Teenage Kicks – both equally killer live tracks – and The Tunics’ revitalisation of golden eras of heart filling, breath grabbing singles as they join a lineage of bands including Ash, The Undertones, and The Jam. Heed the call, rip out the seats, pull down the fences, but get yourself a slice of this band and give yourself up once more to the 3 minute dream that a song might change the world.

Links
The Tunics: www.myspace.com/thetunics

Manta Ray Music: www.mantaraymusic.co.uk

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Album Review: Everybody Loves A Scene – New Rhodes

(Salty Cat Records)
On Release
By Guy Sangster Adams

new-rhodes-everybody-loves-a-scene-album

Galloping rhythms riven with fast funk, melodic sunshine treble over guttural, self-confident 1977 riffs, tether slicing soaring vocals and ascendant backing vocal harmonies, contradict these narratives of lost love, unrequited lust, lonely disillusionment, and life wrecking decisions. This boys have feelings too introspection so upbeat one can dance all over it, evokes pre-Goth The Cure and in particular Boys Don’t Cry. Though the holistic post-Punk redolence of Everyone Loves a Scene is more akin to Postcard Records’ early eighties ‘Sound of Young Scotland’ bands, especially Orange Juice and Aztec Camera. Incongruously, New Rhodes are from Bristol by way of Hackney, East London… though to continue the projection of a Scottish theme, with echoes of the late, great Billy Mackensie, James Williams is possessed of a supremely powerful pop voice with a great range from punk choirboy, through rough edged rock, to Rat Pack swing, contemporarily analogous to Brandon Flowers. Indeed The Killers are one of the key acts that New Rhodes have supported since the release of their debut album Songs from the Lodge in 2006.

New Rhodes appear to be a band at a crossroads on Everyone Loves A Scene. The album, as is Williams’ intention divides into two sides, to this end it is also available on vinyl in a gatefold sleeve in a very limited edition of 500. Side one, save for the recent single The Joys of Finding & Losing That Girl which fuses a great mix of stripped back urban troubadour with an electric guitar and a pre-amp verses, with terrace rousing choruses, and the gloriously eccentric slow sea-shanty doo wop of The Bells of St John, sets a course bound for a potentially overblown power pop in which the manifold talents of New Rhodes are in danger of being lost in the multi-layered production mêléé. Whereas side 2 contains the wonderful sequence of four key tracks in which less is definitely more as the bands strengths and scope are given their freedom and the pursuit of experimentation and originality pays off: the relentlessly edgy and driven A&E—a rebuff of London’s aura of perpetual emotional detachment— and Is This The Life You Want, the fabulously bonkers torch song to a girl on the 254 (the London bus from Aldgate to Holloway’s Nag’s Head) , and the melodramatic finale and resplendent showcase for William’s voice, You Can Have it All. A title which, if these tracks signal the direction to come, predicts New Rhodes’ future.

Links
New Rhodes: www.newrhodes.com
Salty Cat Records: www.myspace.com/saltycatrecords

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Album Review: Alight of Night – Crystal Stilts

(Angular Recording Corporation)
On release
by Guy Sangster Adams

crystal-stitls

Like a girandole lighting a witching hour jaunt through a hall of mirrors, Alight of Night’s spinning cluster of fireworks illuminates, distorts, and delightfully re-imagines a host of influences on its journey.

Opening song The Dazzled instantly seduces as Andy Adler’s infectious bass, with equal shades of Steven Severin and Iggy Pop’s The Passenger, propels one into this eleven track tarantella. Through which Brad Hargett’s gloaming vocals lead one into the dark corners, whirling past reflections of Joy Division and Bauhaus, though any desire to stand in the shadows is perpetually pinball paddle-swiped back into an hybrid danceability mixing psychobilly wrecking crew and 1960s Mecca ballroom, as the shivery jangles and zingy treble of JB Townsend’s guitar counterpoint Frankie Rose’s portentous Shangri-Las drums. With tambourine shimmer and rasping harmonica also in the mix, the wall of sound interconnections are bonded by Kyle Forrester’s keyboards uprushing 60s surf and psychedelic pop via the Beach Boys and The Zombies.

The whole eclectic and contradictory mixture is most gloriously realised on Departure and Prismatic Room which formed the forerunning single released in early February, and the fusion of coruscating shards of sonic majesty that is Shattered Shine.

Given their shared musical references, Crystal Stilts are most often paralleled to the Jesus & Mary Chain, a band they equally cite as a key inspiration, and in fact the song Crystal Stilts is in many ways an homage to Just Like Honey. Underlying both bands, of course, is The Velvet Underground, and Alight of Night’s last track The City in the Sea transports one with the spine tingling beauty of Sunday Morning.

But Crystal Stilts are no hand-me-down hobbledehoys, they twist and swirl with a lustre all of their own through this album of sparkling titles  to create a fabulous refulgent  fractal.

Links
Crystal Stilts: www.crystalstilts.com

Angular Recording Company: www.arc018.com

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Film Review: The Offsiders (Boisko Bezdomnych)

(Tor Film Studio)
Showing as part of Kinoteka 2009

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

offsiders

Battered, bruised, and wearing a Father Christmas hat, Jacek Mroz (Marcin Dorinciski) comes to in Warsaw Central Station. How he plummeted from being an hotly-tipped young footballer on the cusp of a glittering career down to Noclegownia Hades, the evocatively named subterranean hostel to which he is taken by a group of the station’s other rough sleepers, unfolds through the film in parallel to the story of the group’s precipitous climb to become the Polish team in the Homeless Football World Cup.

Just as in a match players are left offside as they become out of step with play, The Offsiders have, through accidents, addiction, mental illness, and trauma, been isolated by the play of life and become out of step with society, much to the confusion, hurt and frustration of their families; as the cliché goes the offside rule is notoriously hard to explain to non-footballers.

Kasia Adamik has delightfully subverted the genre of oddball teams coming together to pull off audacious goals, with its long Hollywood lineage through The Magnificent Seven to Oceans Eleven, and with her own measure of audacity in only her second feature and with a tiny budget has created a highly assured mix of poignant drama, wonderfully observed comedy, and sharp satire which sweeps one up with such cynicism demolition that one ends up unabashedly and wholeheartedly cheering on the ‘Homeless Eleven’ to triumph. Whilst within the ultimate feel-goodness of the film, Adamik has very successfully woven a thought provoking depiction of modern Poland, a country that for so long was left offside through war and politics, and the contradictions inherent in its journey to reclaim and promote an independent national identity.

Links
Kinoteka Film Festival: www.kinoteka.org.uk

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Film Review: Four Nights with Anna (Cztery Noce z Anna)

(Alfama Films/Skopia Films)
Showing as part of Kinoteka 2009

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

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In the deracinated environs of a Polish hospital, amidst rain, mud and shattered buildings, and the aura of the reduction to the Dark Ages aftermath of a war zone, love, life and moral boundaries appear to have been forsaken. From burning an amputated hand, to the bloated dead cow slowly floating downstream whilst he is fishing, to the rape of a nurse that he witnesses, memento mori and the brutalisation of society surround the predominantly mute hospital crematorium worker Leon (Artur Steranko). Middle-aged Leon is a disquieting mix of guileful and guileless, and following the death of his grandmother with whom he has been living and caring for, his voyeurism of his neighbour Anna (Kinga Preis) the rape victim, becomes an ever more obsessive infatuation.

Jerzy Skolimowski, in his first directorial role for 17 years, adeptly and unsettlingly, heightens the inherent voyeurism of the audience and makes one complicit in the minutiae of Leon’s machinations to both enter Anna’s bedroom and demonstrate his love whilst she is asleep, from mixing ground up sleeping tablets into her sugar, to cleaning her house after her birthday party which he has observed from afar, to painting her toe nails. Skolimowski has adroitly created a film that is both acutely disturbing and highly compelling, with surreal flourishes and moments of black comedy, for example when the head doctor (Skolimowski himself) questions Leon as to whether the amputated hand was still wearing a wedding ring. Through an innovative narrative thread that undermines one’s perception of the timescale of scenes, Four Nights with Anna forces one to question one’s responses to Leon, might one almost feel a poignancy for his unrequited loneliness or should one be steadfastly steeling oneself against the perceived violable conclusion of his desires; a tension that is artfully increased throughout the film and from which one is only released, for better or worse, in the closing scenes.

Links
Kinoteka Film Festival: www.kinoteka.org.uk

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Film Review: Traitor

(Momentum Pictures)
On release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

traitor

From a car bomb in Sudan, to a prison break in Yemen, from the bombing of the US consulate in Nice and a special forces raid in London, to the plot for suicide bombers to blow up 50 buses criss-crossing the USA during Thanksgiving, Traitor is an explosive, frenetically paced action thriller played out through 17 cities across three continents, as Guy Pearce’s character FBI Agent Clayton pursues Don Cheadle’s Samir Horn an ex-US Special Forces, Sudanese-American, devout Muslim, who is implicated as a member of the Islamic terrorist organisation behind the attacks.

The filming of Traitor was equally fast paced, extraordinarily only taking 48 days, although Traitor had been five years in development. Perhaps another surprise, given that he is best known in this country as a comic actor in films such as The Pink Panther, is that it was originally conceived by Steve Martin, who appointed Jeffrey Nachmanoff, previously best known for the screenplay of The Day Before Tomorrow, to write and direct the film.

Traitor is imbued with a grittiness reminiscent of 1970s thrillers like The French Connection, and the immediacy and speed of the filming and story is maintained by the vérité-style camerawork that shudders with each explosion, and the blizzard of short scenes that seemingly splinter any which way from every detonation, through multiple characters and locations. So relentlessly is one carried along, that one begins to wonder whether one will ever be able to compute who exactly is who and what exactly is going on. But just when one reaches crisis point, namely about an hour into the film, Traitor reaches its tilt point and the jagged fragments begin to make sense, although as the subheading on the poster declares: The Truth is Complicated, and Traitor is as much a Gordian Knot as the issues it reflects.

Traitor seeks to meld the dynamism of an action movie with a far more thought provoking cerebral thriller. In the staccato onslaught of scenes multiple points of view are presented on both sides, there is no safe ground of absolute right or wrong as shifting perspectives of treachery to one’s country, one’s beliefs, oneself are all presented, and philosophical epigrams are exchanged as rapidly as violence. In this the film has parallels to Proof of Life, just as Pearce’s performance has echoes of Russell’s Crowe’s, which sought to mix action with a more philosophical insight into kidnapping and the workings of guerrilla groups in Colombia. Proof of Life was written by Tony Gilroy, who also wrote the screenplays for the trilogy of Bourne films which are another clear influence.

Traitor is a brave attempt to create a heightened genre, which ultimately does not quite make its intended coup de grâce. Nachmanoff’s desire explore, to experiment, to present nuance and difference on all sides rather than just a blanket ‘other’ are all highly laudable, but in many ways the combination of styles does not quite work. The relentless pace which is thoroughly exciting, leaves no time to explore the multitude of thoughts and questions raised, and the intention that this should lead the viewer to engender discussion post film is rather let down by the lacklustre, and return to a more traditional Hollywood type closing scene, which leaves one, for all one’s breathlessness, unsated, and engenders more discussion about whether the film works technically than the issue it raises. That said, it is a very watchable film and Cheadle and Pearce are exemplary, ably demonstrating and compounding the superbly accomplished breadth of range of both actor, that has taken Cheadle from Oceans 11/12/13 to Hotel Rwanda, and Pearce from Priscilla Queen of the Desert to LA Confidential.

Links
Momentum Pictures: www.momentumpictures.co.uk

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The Iconic History of Lewis Leathers: From Winston Churchill to Kate Moss, British Motorcycle Police to Comme des Garcons, by way of Steve McQueen, John Lennon, The Clash, Carl Barât, Cate Blanchett…

by Guy Sangster Adamslewis-logo-bkwt-copy

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With the current fashion feature prevalence of leather biker jackets one brand continues to blow the others into the dust, Lewis Leathers. The October 2008 Vogue feature which presaged the current ubiquity, showed Kate Moss in two vintage, customised Lewis Leathers jackets, a Cyclone and a sleeveless 391 Lightning; she also owns a pair of Lewis Leathers 191 Motorway boots The buzz that these pictures generated is still being felt at the new Lewis Leathers showroom and archive in West London, where staff are still receiving enquiries from women and men alike as to whether these styles are still available; they are, for both sexes. Enquiries redoubled with the images of Cate Blanchett in the January 2009 issue of Interview wearing a mixture of vintage and new Lewis Leathers; a fringed 391 Lightning jacket, a pair of 935 leather jeans, and an early 90s Triumph tank logo belt from their collection of motorcycle ephemera.

THE FULL VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE IS AVAILABLE IN ISSUE 2 OF THE PRINT EDITION OF PLECTRUM-THE CULTURAL PICK
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For more details about how to buy a copy of P-TCP issue 2 click here





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