Saturday, 28 November 2009

And while we're in Texas...

I'd heard of this compilation way back when but it was a bit of a cult item, either unavailable or too expensive if you ever did see a copy. Prompted by a comment left on an earlier post I decided it was time to investigate. As is the way these days this once near mythical item became mine in a matter of clicks. Sad in a way. Anyway, it arrived today and I'm still getting into it but so far the Red Krayola versions are the most interesting things on it.

The impact of some of the best songs ("You're Gonna Miss Me" by the Spades and the demo version of "Transparent Radiation") has been lessened slightly due to previous exposure on other compilations but the album's worth it just for those two tracks alone. I think the sleeve artwork's brilliant and on its reverse there's a transcript of an interview of Lelan Rogers by Jon Savage. Fairly standard stuff about how the Establishment was so down on them and how out of it the 13th Floor Elevators all were and how few records they sold.

One bit that caught my eye though was a comment from Lelan, saying that working with them was a real education as to the attitudes of young people, " the time there was a saying around the country that anyone over 30 should be put in prison. They all belonged to the under-30s. I understand it's now down to the under-20s" . You can see in that comment the jump off point for the main plot device in "Logan's Run". I always found the idea that the vast majority of people would passively submit themselves for death at the age of 21 the least credible part of the book. But it was interesting to have such a vivid flash of where the authors were coming from and that, given such hostility to the older generation, it perhaps wasn't such an outrageous backdrop.

Chapparalls: I Tried So Hard

The Red Krayola: Hurricane Fighter Plane

Monday, 23 November 2009

Keep off the grass

Last night, oblivious to the anniversary, I found myself watching a documentary about the assassination of JFK. My first thoughts were along the lines of what can possibly be gained from any further ghoulish speculation. But, drawn by the topic’s perennial fascination and my usual Sunday night reluctance to go to bed, I continued to watch.

I like a good conspiracy theory and JFK is one of the best and, in comparison with Roswell, the Moon landings, and the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, relatively credible. But, having read (in that book by David Aaronovitch I think) that Lee Harvey Oswald had probably tried to shoot an army general a few weeks prior to JFK, I was firmly in the lone gunman camp. And for me the matter was well and truly settled by an exercise that I had initially thought pointless. The programme makers wheeled around Dealey Plaza a very sophisticated type of dummy as used by arms manufacturers to test their anti-personnel weapons. From each of the supposed vantage points a marksman weighed up the shot and dismissed all of them until he came to the notorious grassy knoll. Here the shot was good, so he took aim and fired. They were quite meticulous about getting the conditions right, they even had a wind machine blowing to replicate the crosswind that day. Anyway, the shot from the grassy knoll blew the dummy’s head to absolute smithereens. I’m confident that Kennedy’s head would have performed identically.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The doctor is in

Maybe I've led a sheltered life but I don't think I've ever heard an electric piano badly used. It's a supremely chilled out sound. Today got off to a slightly dodgy start but by midday I'd been for a swim, the sun had come out, and the electricity was back on. So I played these tunes.

Vince Guaraldi: Joe Cool

Vince Guaraldi: Peppermint Patty

Reminds me a bit of Eels (as in the American band). I think I could probably listen to a 30 minute version of this.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Reject sleep! Run!

Like most people I like the film Logan's Run. I loved the tv series as well when I was a kid, though I can't remember any of the details now. Better than the film or the series though is the novel. I hadn't realised it was based on a book until I found it in a secondhand bookshop when I was on holiday years ago.

It's only 144 pages long and I think I read it in a day (holidays with my parents were like that). What surprised me at the time was how different it was from the film. For such a short book the authors have deftly sketched one of the most convincing nightmare future worlds I've ever read. The backdrop of a revolution by the young and their society's highly permissive attitude to sex and drugs no doubt stem directly from the book having been written (or at least published) in 1967. Not surprisingly the film makers chose to concentrate more on the cinematic potential of the free lovin' rather than the hallucimills and the Little War. One of the most quietly impressive things about the story is the language or slang used by the characters. Whilst none of the words have exactly come into use they don't seem clunkingly ridiculous - often the fate of sci fi neologisms.

Each and every one of the situations in the film is dealt with with more subtly and/or detail in the book. But that's just films and books for you I suppose. Some of the changes were probably dictated by budget, the robot sculptor Box for instance. In the film he has all the lethal grace of a tin plate wheelie bin, while in the book he's a very plausibly psychopathic cyborg. Other changes though are less forgivable. Francis, Logan's fellow Sandman: his death in the film is easily the most egregious example of how crude the film is in comparison to the book.

One last point - the guns that Logan and all the other Sandmen use in the book are old fashioned pearl handled revolvers rather than the (admittedly very cool) blasters wielded in the film. An interesting twist to the revolvers though was that each of their six chambers is filled with a different type of bullet: Nitro is a high explosive, Homer is a heat seeker, etc. Oh, and the handles are programmed to recognise their user's palm print and to explode if handled by anyone else. All very familiar to readers of Judge Dredd but never in all my years of reading 2000AD did I ever hear an acknowledgement.

A remake is meant to be on the cards - if they want it to stand apart from its predecessor they could always go a bit mad and follow the novel more closely.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Accentuate the positive

I decided to look into Stereo Total when I discovered that they were behind a couple of tunes that I really liked that were being used for adverts. I ended up buying a compilation called "Total Pop" which culled tracks from four of their albums (put together by Momus, of all people). Not surprisingly it's a real mixture of styles, songs and cover versions. The choice of album was a no brainer as it had both the tracks I wanted on it. "I Love You, Ono" and "Moi Je Joue". I only found out on playing it that I'd been misinformed about the second track. The version I loved was actually by Brigitte Bardot.

Until quite recently I'd never taken the time to really get to know it and so it keeps surprising me. It was only when I played the very distinctive "Crazy Horse" for more than just the intro that I realised I'd actually seen them support the Strokes a few years ago. I thought the support band might have been the Moldy Peaches at the time, not sure why - possibly because they were happening then and were an off beat male female duo.

At the moment I can't get enough of their cover of "Get Down Tonight". I like the original and obviously heard it years before this - so it's an unusual upset to my preferring-whichever-version-I-hear-first rule. Anyway, this is just so loose, it sounds as though the song's collapsing the whole time.

Stereo Total: Get Down Tonight

Brigitte Bardot: Moi Je Joue

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Holy mountain magic men

I'm going off MOJO magazine a bit but I still think the cover cds they do are good and they’ve put me onto a few great bands. Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators for one. And the Wooden Shjips for another. They featured on a cd entitled, rather tenuously, “In Search of Syd”. Their track was “SOL 07 Pt 1” and I liked this so much that I listened to it (alternated with one of the other tracks) all the way through a 220 mile car journey (rough calculation: about 13 times). I followed this up by buying their album which I don’t think has a name but which starts with “We Ask You To Ride”. It’s very good but not quite as frazzled as “SOL 07”. When I was buying it I thought I’d check out what else their label (Holy Mountain) churned out and this is where I found Daniel Higgs.

Like his label mates Higgs is a hairy fellow. I would say he’s moved quite a bit further out from psych rock though, his album “Magic Alphabet” is just him playing a jew’s harp – I’ve only listened to samples of it and I’m not sure I’ll buy it but I love the fact that he’s done it. I doubt he gives toss but I think it's a shame that his psychedelic banjo music is unlikely to ever trouble the charts or radio stations, despite being hypnotically catchy. The only downside: I find his vocal style a bit…Old Testament? Which is something I’m rarely in the mood for and so my favourites are instrumentals. Like this:

Daniel Higgs: Leontocephaline Rhapsody

Leontocephaline, I would imagine, means something like lion-headed. And I will use this most slender of prompts to relate what is probably my proudest crosswording moment, when I (correctly) got the word dolichocephalic in the Times crossword. I have absolutely no idea how I knew this word.

Wooden Shjips: SOL 07 Pt 1

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


Yesterday I went to see Spectrum play. It was all very spontaneous – I read about the gig in Metro on the train into work and then in a flurry of e-mails made the arrangements. The club was in Elephant and Castle (on Elephant Road itself) and we stopped off for a couple of beers at The Hole in the Wall, a pub I somehow omitted from my list of favourite London pubs a while back. If you’ve ever got half an hour to wait for a train at Waterloo I recommend that you pop in – the back room is great. It clearly hasn’t been decorated since about 1956 and it’s tucked under a railway arch so it rumbles every time a train goes over, which is quite often. I’ve never eaten there but the food smells good.

I’ve mentioned before how highly I rate Pete Kember, mainly on account of Spacemen 3 but also the first Spectrum album is an occasional favourite. I haven’t kept up with his output to be honest and most of what I have heard really is (far more so than “Metal Machine Music”) music for people who like to listen to their fridge turn on and off. I missed out on the chance to see Spacemen 3 play live back in the day and for some reason it’s Kember and his various bands that I regard as the torch bearer of that sound following the split. And while I like some of what he’s done with Spectrum the main draw for me was the chance to hear a live version of “Transparent Radiation” and maybe a few other Spacemen 3 tracks.

We got to the venue in good time but walked past it once: the Apollo Theater it was not. The warm up acts were not conventional bands but instead a trio and then an individual who performed some furious knob twiddling. Not really my bag but one of them was wearing a poncho – so top marks for that. The man himself strode on stage (very tall and thin and, like Jason Pierce, a testament to the age defying properties of heroin) and opened with a jagged instrumental that quickly set them apart from the support acts. “Transparent Radiation” was the second track up and, perhaps inevitably, I was disappointed. It seemed hurried and all the beauty of the studio version was bludgeoned to death under some very heavy handed guitar. Where were the cellos and violins? Or failing those it would have been more apt to play it on an acoustic guitar. Oh well. The only other classic was “Revolution” - a track made for listening to at close quarters played on guitars turned up to 11. But what little sharpness the song had was again lost to the club sound.

The venue was a bit of a toilet really but that’s the kind of place I like to see bands. Probably a maximum capacity of two or three hundred. I find it baffling that Pete Kember can only command such crowds while down the road Spiritualized have packed out the Royal Festival Hall. I’ve always found Spiritualized a bit dull but at least Jason Pierce has the sense and ambition to make use of strings and a horn section and he isn’t afraid to do quiet. That’s what was needed last night, the occasional respite from the pounding drums and raging feedback.

Friday, 6 November 2009


I love this time of year. The dark nights, Bonfire Night, the proximity of Christmas. It all serves to kindle within me an overwhelming sense of festivitas. It makes me want to go out and quaff mulled wine with friends while looking at cultural stuff. And so today I went to see the Maharaja exhibition at the V&A.

It was a bit like the Three Emperors exhibition at the Royal Academy a while back - centred on royal figures and displays that could be put into three categories: paintings, clothing and bejewelled artefacts. I think the advertising for this exhibition made a big deal out of the opulence of the items (it may even have used the word bling). But once you've seen one diamond encrusted scimitar you've seen them all really and the items didn't do anything for me - despite all the precious metals and stones they were strangely bland. I didn't care for the tone of the commentary either - these items were intended to boost the prestige of the maharajas apparently - who'd have thought eh? And the suggestion that British regalia was dull in comparison. I think that's a bit off considering we've got museums full of royal geegaws stretching back to Sutton Hoo.

So far so bad. I was much more intrigued by the some of the clothing that had been preserved. One robe in particular was very impressive, though mainly I think because you had to wonder at the prodigious size of the prince who had worn it. It reminded me of looking at one of Henry VIII's suits of armour at the Tower of London.

The best part of the show was the paintings. Most of them were along the lines of the picture at the top there - scenes of processions with lots of elephants. Wandering into one of the galleries I saw my friend peering intently at one of these crowd scenes, "Looking for Wally?" I quipped. "No, the Englishman" he earnestly replied (he has a heavy, academic interest in the period). We found the Englishman at the front of the procession, drawn twice as big as everyone else. I couldn't find any better pictures on the internet but I did like the one I've used - most of all the women on the roofs. You can't see with this resolution but the lines of the drawing are incredibly fine. Like I was saying last post - I like bright colourful pictures with lots of detail.

A snippet from the exhibition's pages on the V & A's website: महाराजा शब्द, वस्तुतः ‘’महान राजा’, शान-शौकत एवं वैभव की छवि पेश करता है पगड़ी पहने हुए एक रत्नजड़ित राजा की छवि जिसके पास पूर्ण प्राधिकार और अपरिमित दौलत है वह व्यापक और उद्बोधक है परंतु वह भारत के सांस्कृतिक एवं राजनीतिक इतिहास में अपनी भूमिका को सही तरह से निभाने में असफल रहा महाराजा: द स्प्लेनडर ऑफ इनडियाज रॉयल कोर्ट्स, महाराजाओं की दुनिया और उनके विशेष बहुमूल्य संस्कृति का पुनः परीक्षण करती है इस प्रदर्शनी में 18वीं सदी के आरंभ

I'm not sure what the script is but whenever I see things like it (Arabic for instance) I wonder how English (or Roman) script looks to people who don't understand it. Does it look incredibly straight and rigid? Like runes do to me?

A final note of praise: the orange and almond sponge cake I had in the cafe afterwards was possibly the moistest, tastiest cake I've ever eaten.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


Is Patrick Woodroffe still going? I found my old copy of Mythopoeikon the other month while helping my parents to de-clutter. It led to me looking him up on the internet. And in my search for an official website I discovered Monster Brains.

At the front of the book he’s shown decked out in a really very full on Paisley shirt and wearing one of those beards that people don’t seem capable of growing these days. And like in the picture above he’s clutching a pipe. Bar the odd lapse I don’t smoke anymore but I do covet a particular pipe I see in a shop window I walk past most days. I doubt I’d actually smoke through it. For a start I’m not sure I’d want to sully its beauty and secondly I’m don’t know whether I’m a pipe person.

I was once the owner of a much more functional pipe. Despite my groovy haircut and general bad attitude I’ve never had any trouble at customs. I did though nearly come a cropper on a trip to Dublin a few years back. I was breezing through the ferry terminal when an officer called me over to a little table and asked to look in my bag. I happily complied but about a second later remembered the very well used hash pipe I’d casually thrown in there. As luck would have it I’d also packed a Latin version of Juvenal’s Satires. When the old fellow saw this he gazed at the pages in mystified awe (much like myself it must be said) and in his eyes I was suddenly an upright and educated young man, maybe even destined for the priesthood. Certainly not somebody with anything nasty in their bag.

Anyway, Patrick Woodroffe. Why do I like his pictures? In part, possibly (probably), because it's all so massively Seventies and that is the decade I like to hunker down in when the modern world is getting too much. Something else I’ve noticed more recently is that I like images that are intricate and have lots going on in them (Nick Blinko, Henry Darger, Hieronymous Bosch, Utagawa Kuniyoshi). It’s true for the most part as well that I don’t particularly like paintings that seem almost blank, like Rothko. What does it all mean? Am I afraid of open expanses? Things that leave me alone with myself? Do I need to be distracted by bright colourful things?

He’s obviously a fantastically gifted painter but I don’t think he ever formally studied art (it says in the book he did modern languages) and this sometimes shows. Childhood is a period of interest to lots of artists and Woodroffe’s preoccupation with it is patent. So I don’t know if the sometimes naïve renderings are deliberate or just down to him not being able to draw certain things more realistically. He admits, for instance, that his spaceships look like Victorian toys but that that’s just how they come out.

Darker than the wonky spaceships though are his depictions of young girls. Some (most) of these pictures are jarring to modern sensibilities to put it mildly. A lot of his work was for science fiction/fantasy book covers in the Seventies – so it comes as no surprise to find the pages strewn with semi naked ladies. He’s done about 90 book covers but I’ve only seen the ones shown in the book and the odd one here and there in second hand bookshops. I think it does artists good to have to produce work in hothouse conditions (Lou Reed at Pickwick Records and Anthony Burgess when he thought he was dying for eg). Obviously, the more work you do the better you get but also deadlines help stamp out any preciousness.

And finally: Mythopoeikon - what a great word. It's made up I think and I'm all for made up words.