Monday, 27 August 2012

I wish it could be 1965 again....

          Or '66, or '59. or '48 or anytime other than now, although perhaps that's the fag end of a dank wet August Bank Holiday Monday speaking.... I'm probably way behind the times and you almost certainly all got there a long while ago, but one small thing I stumbled over on this gloomy non-starter of a day has renewed my faith in the internet for keeping me amused with frivolities andf trifles and general time wasters. If I lose my job tomorrow I'm going to have to own up and blame it on this - Retronaut is such a huge and inspired archive of pictures scans and films that it should by all rights be compulsory cultural studies for anyone growing up today - go visit and your spare time may never be spare again.

          Of course that only applies if you like, for example, Nico and Andy dressed as Batman and Robin (and note who gets to be the Boy Wonder) -

          Or Katherine Hepburn skateboarding....

          David Bowie as The Sphinx....

          Appallingly sexist ads (I do like the enlightened view that 'most husbands' have stopped beating their wives...)

          And of course a crucified Raquel Welch

And who isn't entranced by 'rubbish superpowers' ?

          And there's wonderful old film clips that of course you can find elsewhere but this handily brings them right together and surprises you with some things of rare beauty too - THIS isn't one of those films, but startling nevertheless - I should have had that job....

         Lazy post I know, but it does give me the excuse to post some Barracuda's - so much more than a novelty band but this doesn't help convince I guess !

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Friday, 24 August 2012

Thank you for the daze


 Last weekend I took off to the Beautiful Days festival with the eldest Tin. I’m not a natural festival person despite my love of tents, mud and music but we had a fantastic time. The music was good, the atmosphere was great and even the weather was mostly fine. Perhaps the difference this time around was being able to enjoy a festival as an adult (as opposed to as a parent) for the first time in living memory – the freedom to think ‘I fancy a pizza and a Jack Daniels’ at 1am and to be able to just wander over and get one without having to justify it or attend to the needs of three other Tins who want food from stalls at diametrically opposed ends of the site.

          Maybe it was that – but I think it had more to do with the fact that I was working there. Yes, you heard me right – I liked it because I was working there !

          Both eldest Tin and her boyfriend had worked the bars there the year before and they got me the same gig this year. I was apprehensive. I’m too old for that surely ? What if I miss my favourite bands ? What if it’s a real grind ? What if I don’t know what I’m doing ? What if people don’t like me ? Aaaaargh !

          But it was truly wonderful, not least because of the enlightened and rather unusual approach taken by the brewery we worked for. First off it meant free tickets, which I always enjoy. Secondly the style they adopted was one of the most enlightened that I can remember having worked under – basically they came at it from the angle that we were all there to have fun and they trusted us ! Yep, trust. You turned up for your shift, got stuck in and took a break when you needed one, at the end of your shift you said goodbye and wandered back out to do whatever you needed to do. No-one that I saw took the piss – it’s a lesson that so many employers (including my current ‘real’ one) could learn from. No-one slacked and we worked hard through three five-hour shifts.

          It made the festival seem like something we’d earned and as a result it heightened the whole experience. Someone clever seemed to have weighed things in the balance and found that fifteen hours work equaled a fair effort for free tickets. I couldn’t disagree.

          OK, so I missed Toots and the Maytals, but since I was by the main stage anyway I could hear and dance along to them, plus when a pump ran dry I got to use the line ‘sorry, it seems like there’s a pressure drop….’.

          As a bonus we got a very nice t-shirt that everyone tried to buy off us, met some wildly interesting people who bought us drinks, mixed with a random assortment of other bar staff who I’d never have met otherwise, had our own ‘private’ toilet (which as any festival goer knows is like your own VIP lounge) and finally did I mention the free drinks ? Lots of free drinks, a staff bar with lots of free drinks….lots and lots of free drinks.

          So thanks eldest Tin – thanks for the best weekend in a very long while. I’ll be back again next year. See you all there ?

This lot were excellent – enjoy !

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A different kind of tension

          OK, enough of the heavy stuff for a moment. I’m back at work (again) after a fairly uneven summer which, nonetheless, seemed to have an air of change and replenishment tucked somewhere inside it. Work on the other hand still seems so…well, pointless. However, it pays the bills and that’s something to be said for it.

          So I’m feeling ambivalent about life at the moment and one thing that symbolically represents that ambivalence quite nicely is – caravans. You see, where I live caravan owners are (quite rightly) viewed with some distrust, some annoyance and sometimes even downright hatred. They clog up the narrow roads, they block views by parking in the nicest of places and then staying there for days, sometimes weeks, they often seem to have forgotten how to drive after a year of having the ‘van in their gardens waiting for that moment to descend en masse, they go to the most wonderful of places and then sit inside watching satellite tv…. Well, the list goes on. Simply put, caravans are second homes that reappear every summer, like a travelling Brigadoon without the decency to disappear after just a day.They can be a right pain.
          That said I should make a confession. Yes, my name is Bel Mondo and I used to own a caravan. There, said it. To be fair it cost £40 and was never on the road, simply parked in a field and used for the small Tins when they got tired of camping. I think I slept in it once. It lasted us two years and then we gave it away. Strangely, in between us giving it away for nothing and the new owners coming to collect it someone stole it…..I have no idea why since there were many better caravans (in fact every other ‘van there) to nick. But no, they took our crap one. Never saw it again. Although I was in London later that same year and down in Blackfriars’ tube station there was an art ‘installation’ on the unused platform which featured a caravan of the same make and vintage as ours….it even had the same curtains. I don’t know if it was ours, but if it was then I’m glad that’s where it ended up. Somehow having a caravan in the depths below London seemed quite a nice twist.

          And this is where the ambivalence comes in – I understand the need for that freedom, the ability to just drive off with all your stuff packed safely into the little mobile living space. To hit the road Jack and at least imagine that you’re never coming back no more. To take off and explore, to wander, to roam. What I hate is the way that they get bigger and bigger and give their owners the excuse never to leave them. After all what’s the point of going someplace if you retreat inside to watch Eastenders and cook pizzas in your four ringed halogen oven at the slightest hint of a cloudy sky ? Just stay at home yeah ?

          However there are always some exceptions and these sometimes turn up on ‘The Field’. Here are two of them, the first small chic and almost too perfectly beautiful – it was I thought the ideal ‘van to pull behind a late sixties sports car, maybe an MG Midget or an Alfa Spyder. This one had come over all the way from Germany (to digress, it’s very odd that so many Germans pitch up down in Cornwall – I’m told it has something to do with the popularity of Rosamunde Pilcher novels over there).

          The second is just a hippy dippy throwback which at least has the sense of scale and wears its sensibilities on its shell. I couldn’t object to this really since it looks like the sort of thing Dylan from the Magic Roundabout would retire to after a day of sitting in a field doing nothing much at all. I do like the fact that they seemed to have had fun painting the wheels green but kind of gave up on the flowers quite early on leaving it looking like the drop-out English cousin of the sharp continental above.

          But as for the big mutha’s – well, I feel a strange desire to follow them back home, put up a tent, light a campfire and play bongo’s all night in their garden…

          I never realised (due to a lack of interest I guess) that Canterbury proggers Caravan and Soft Machine both grew out of The Wilde Flowers – kind of sums it up really, never liked Caravan but Soft Machine are OK, and what is a tent but a soft machine…?

None of that noodling here though 

And boy do those dancers look like they got dressed for caravanning...

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

It says here


           There’s an article in the Guardian today where Simon Jenkins lays into people for supporting Pussy Riot when they wouldn’t support the same thing in their own country. Well, that’s the gist of it and he’s right when it comes to the UK, US and other governments – but he’s so damn wrong when it comes to individuals. One sentence saysto treat the Pussy Riot gesture as a glorious stand for artistic liberty is like praising Johnny Rotten, who did similar things, as the Voltaire of our day.” I couldn’t let that one pass.

          Well I’m pretty sure that Simon Jenkins is better educated than me – after all he went to the independent Mill Hill school (incidentally founded in the location where it remains ‘because of "dangers both physical and moral, awaiting youth while passing through the streets of a large, crowded and corrupt city") and then on to Oxford, later to edit the Times amongst others and latterly knighted. He likes churches too; perhaps it’s the cathedral gig that particularly upset him? It’s therefore understandable and rather sad that this establishment product doesn’t get what is happening to Pussy Riot and what happened to some extent to Lydon. However I would expect him to know his Voltaire better.

          So a few (admittedly selective) quotations from Voltaire

It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers

Think for yourself and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too

And that famous chestnut :

I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it

          And I think that these put Voltaire and Lydon firmly in the same camp, Pussy Riot too.

          Sometimes I read the newspapers just to realise that I live in a very different world….and I’m grateful for that at least.

It says here…

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Rise !

John Lydon, lead signer of The Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd performing on stage

          There are times when you know that many of the things you believed about yourself are quite honestly wrong, it can be quite a shock or it can be a brilliant revelation. I had this latter experience on Saturday night.

           Prior to that I’d have said I was indifferent to Public Image Limited in general and John Lydon in particular. I thought that the days when he mattered had been swept away with him selling real estate in the US, doing lightweight reality TV, flogging Country Life and all the other distractions from what had once been a powerful presence. Age doesn’t just wither people it makes you, and sometimes them, forget what they were here for in the first place. Yes, prior to Saturday I was definitely at that point with Lydon.

          And as for PiL – well, I hadn’t bought a track by them since the first single, Public Image, in its wraparound newspaper sleeve, back when I so wrongly  thought they might be a continuation of the Pistols. Then they fell into that category of bands that I was glad existed but who weren’t going to figure in my personal listening. The sort that you’re glad to know still keep playing and who you’ll tune into when you hear them at random, on the radio or ‘round a friends, a bit like The Fall or  Test Department (granted you won’t hear them on the radio often….). I had trouble describing PiL to those who knew I was going to see them and I think that they were quite bewildered as to why I was even bothering.


           Well, from the moment they walked on stage, no pomp, no ceremony, a bunch of people out there to do a serious job of work, and that familiar hectoring sneer of a voice announced “We’re Public Image Limited, my name is John, but you can call me whatever you like” they had me. They ground into This Is Not a Love Song with a force and a commitment that defied you to be distracted from the first dark beat. I won’t review every song, it seems a bit pointless, but what amazed and rather thrilled me was that there wasn’t a single one I didn’t know…its not like they did a greatest hits set (that in itself would be fairly hard to pull off anyway) but that I knew and yes, loved, their songs almost by osmosis – over the years they must have crept in the cracks and fractures of my mind and embedded themselves there without me even knowing it. Plus I’d just forgotten how fucking danceable they are – possibly the best dance music I’ve heard in years.

           Lydon didn’t do charismatic front man so much as resemble some kind of benevolent (possibly…) dictator – haranguing the crowd not from a desire to wind them up but from a genuine need to get a reaction to what he was doing. Resplendent in black and still with the trademark hair he was electrifying. He was in control and he knew it. Later I was talking about the power this man could have if he’d ever gone into politics – but that the power he has comes from everyone knowing that he never would – not in any conventional sense anyway. Sometimes you have to hand it to Malcolm McLaren for spotting him – although John was never going to be anyone else’s puppet. There is indeed something special about him.

          And lest you think that all of this is fuelled by nostalgia and other less powerful intoxicants then I can only say that this was absolutely no trip back in time. It was completely and definitely a ‘now’ moment. The eldest Tin, now 20, completely got the music and, in that warped way that you get your anchorage in shifting musical waters, said to me afterwards “oh yeah, I knew This is Not A Love Song – Nouvelle Vague did it after all…..”. She also knew the closing track – a bit of a surprise for me since I didn’t expect PiL to do it. Open Up, originally the collaboration between Lydon and Leftfield, suited the mood perfectly and I went away with “You Lied, You Cheated !” ringing round my head – four words that Lydon will not let the rest of the world forget whilst he still draws breath,

           Its not like Lydon never made a wrong move or lied and cheated himself – but you do get the feeling that this is a man who is completely confident in what he says and does at any given time. He might contradict himself but that has never mattered. When he says something you know that at that exact point in time he means it. Maan.

           And by way of a strange tribute I’m not posting any PiL. You’ll know that the Friday before three members  of Pussy Riot were jailed in Moscow. Do whatever you can to object to this. If you want to see musical bravery then this is it. This is real punk and it scares the hell out of Putin and his crew in the church, which is why they should be supported. Without John it’s pretty inconceivable that Pussy Riot would have existed – and that their approach and their words so obviously bother the establishment is inspirational and surely what was intended back in the day – this is no jubilee cruise up the Thames, this is the real thing. I've read a lot of stuff over the last few days about how their approach is designed to get them publicity, that they are amateurish, childish and so on - but do you know what, fuck them ! I'd love to see these reactionary writers do something that they believed in strongly enough to risk a Russian prison for a few years. Grab a guitar and get down to the Russian Embassy, put on a pink balaclava and book a flight to St Petersburg, at very least make your voice heard on this one because Pussy Riot did. And you know, it’s not just about faraway Russia – it’s about all of us too.

then take your own stance !

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Swift !

          Swift – the very name is so smooth, so positive and so absolutely right for those darting swooping masters of the air. I won’t get all ornithological on you here since I’ll leave that to those who are better informed but one of the things that has stuck with me from the sojourn on ‘the field’ is the swifts. Birds, who I’m reliably informed are not that closely related to swallows at all but rather to the humming-bird ! Now how cool is that, to have a very close relative of one of the most exotic of species in a wet field in England ?

          Whilst much of the natural world seems to have taken a battering from this overly wet summer, there seemed to be few caterpillars, butterflies, bees and crickets about, the swifts were definitely taking to the skies with a wild abandon that was simply breathtaking. It was an absolute privilege to be amongst them, on what was presumably their home (or at least summer) turf. They flew relentlessly throughout the day and on into dusk, swooping and swerving, making dramatic last minute changes of direction that seemed to verge on impossibility and were totally unperturbed by human presence. If anything they seemed to treat our itinerant invasion as a chance to show off, to delight in their skills and to generally take the piss out of us lumbering, gravity constrained, clumsy and graceless beings. They spent a lot of time flying about six inches off the ground – no doubt a rich source of food – but they frequently flew within inches of our clumpy legs and on one occasion straight through mine, there can be no reason for them nutmegging me other than to just make a point – the point being that they just can.

          They also used the verdant high-hedged single-track lanes around the field as their own personal highways. Why they do this I don’t know but they did seem very fond of following man-made routeways, perhaps we attract insects, I don’t know. What I do know is that they would often approach the car at speed, from the opposite direction, aim their streamlined bodies at front grill level and leave it until the very last millisecond to swoop upwards leaving maybe an inch or so between themselves and the windscreen as they cleared the roof of the car.

          There’s something about their style that makes them appear like daytime bats, although sleeker, cooler and more self assured than bats who I always think of as rather lacking in confidence. Perhaps it’s because they remind me of the sort of Goth who hangs about on war memorial steps drinking cider. Swifts on the other hand are sharply dressed, confident, slightly edgy birds – if they were human (and forgive me for lapsing into anthropomorphism) then they would be well heeled hustlers, working hard at making the rest of us look like fools.

          Colin MacInnes knew this I’m sure – I don’t think for a second that in Absolute Beginners his naming the sharp cocky ‘modern jazz creation’ with a flair for duplicity and a sideline in ‘modelling’  Dean Swift, was just an homage to the writer of Gulliver’s Travels. At least, I still picture him as sleek as his feathered namesakes.
          Finally, perhaps you can help me out on this one, is this some new urban slang that I haven’t caught up on ? Earlier in the year I was in a supermarket late at night, one of those ‘metro’ type ones, on my way back from a work trip. I was wearing what I can only describe as my moddest of suits, pointed patents and a long pointed collar white shirt ensemble. Standing at the checkout these two girls who were maybe 25 years younger than me and who would have been out of my league even twenty-five years ago stopped, looked me up and down and just pronounced one word – yes, that one – ‘Swift’ said  one, in what certainly seemed to be a complimentary tone….  Ah, how to make me happy ! For one night I was an absolute beginner again and having spent my summer with the real things I’m even happier to have the association.

          Precious few songs about swifts out there so you'll have to make do with Richard Swift and Damien Jurado instead - Hello Sunshine is rather addictive after a while and could easily accompany you as you drift along in a summery haze watching the skies until dusk falls and the sun slips away.

          As an added bonus you can download the album  Other Peoples Songs volume one free by following the link.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Field Days

Warning - may or may not contain actual field

           It’s hard to explain to those who don’t ‘get it’ why choosing to live under canvas in a field for a few weeks in a country regaled for it’s unreliable weather could ever be considered a holiday…. The thing is that despite the frequent rainy days and nights, the potential for storms that will demolish the very shelters you’re sleeping in (and yes, that has happened before), the mud, the very limited showers / toilets (to the point that if they were more limited they would disappear like a Cheshire Cat, leaving just a grin to say ‘Well, you complained about me whilst I was here, what are you going to do if I’m gone…..?’).

          You see this particular field is pretty much that – a field. In fact it’s two big fields, both the size of several football pitches, camping only allowed around the edges, on a cliff, facing the North Atlantic. No glitz, no attempt at entering the twenty first century. We replace the cows that live there for a few weeks every year. And it’s heaven ! As a bonus there’s absolutely no mobile signal either. There’s a kind of allowable anarchy that runs the place and that’s why I go back. Imagine a festival with no music, no crowds, no entrance fee and you pretty much have it (sorry to go all hippy on you but don’t imagine something like modern Glastonbury or V, rather stroll back to early Stonehenge or maybe take a walk even further and picture a mediaeval encampment with wood fires and lute players strolling ‘round whilst wenches dispense rough wine from earthenware urns…..

          OK perhaps stick with the picture of a field with tents around the edge….. That said there were plenty of late night fires with guitars and much much rough wine, Joe Strummer would have been at home there. 

          In fact the only real complaint from the younger Tins was that someone was playing the bongos into the early hours and whoever it was had no rhythm… I had to admit that I thought it was a good idea at the time… until you’ve heard That’s Entertainment accompanied by bongo’s, well….  (and for accuracy I should point out it was a djemba I was torturing)

          It was / is a place where I can just forget the rest of the world. The kids know my ambition once there is to spend the whole time not leaving the field apart from walking the five minutes or so to one of the most perfect Famous Five type beaches I have ever seen. Uncrowded, surfable, rocky outcrops to climb and leap off, caves, blowholes, islands, poisonous fish  (Oh I didn’t mention the Weever fish did I?  This year being notable as for the first time in years I didn’t get stung by one of the evil sand lurking spiny devils and thus avoided everyone telling me they’d piss on my foot – It doesn’t work by the way, the water needs to be hotter !).

          Then there’s the other people. Hell can maybe be other people but there it just generally isn’t. That’s where the manageable anarchy comes in. There are no rules, but if anyone starts to make it hard for anyone else there then a few people will absolutely always step in.  Provided you don’t set fire to anyone’s tent then you can do what you like. Personally for me that involves shedding layers of clothes and wandering unselfconsciously about in a towel for most of the morning drinking an early glass of red wine like a primitive Noel Coward – so far no-one’s asked me to leave because of that…. Maybe next year ?

           It’s the physical space that my soul needs, that my head needs and that my life needs. I guess we all find the ones that suit us best. I’m by no means averse to cities, I love them, and I’d love to go off to a villa in Greece or a hotel in New York. But this place always does it for me. And as a measure of its charm the kids always, despite now being old enough to do their own thing, eagerly anticipate going there (and amazingly still seem to want to spend their time hanging out with me which is so not what I wanted to do with my parents at their age !) – the youngest spent some months in Australia and Bali earlier in the year and one of the first things he asked when he touched back down was ‘ When are we going to the field….?

          I could write reams just about being there but I don’t want this to turn into the blog equivalent of being invited over for a sherry and a light ale and a look at the neighbours’ holiday slides, so I’ll try to restrict myself over the next week or so. Although do expect some specifics to show up now and again.

           I’d invite you all there to join me, but like all the best locations it’s a secret spot...
 And yes it's obvious - but I love this version of the song....