Wednesday, September 09, 2020

New album

My latest album Plundered Lumber, has just been released. It is available via Bandcamp in digital form and in a very limited physical edition of 25 only with unique on-body artwork.








Tuesday, September 08, 2020

The Elephant Man (1980)





I never fail to be very moved by this wonderful film - the casting, performances, production design and cinematography are pitch-perfect. Everyone feels exactly right for their roles.
It was Lynch's first proper mainstream film with someone else's script, and his first after Eraserhead. Lynch speaks glowingly of Mel Brooks' support for the film and relates an incident where his heart sunk when he realised Brooks had gone to a private screening of Eraserhead. He thought he was finished, no hope of landing the job. However, when Brooks emerged from the screening, he hugged Lynch and said how daft he was and he was perfect for The Elephant Man (or words to that effect). 





Much of the Victorian England scenery has pre-echoes of late 20th century industrial decline that Eraserhead is infused with, with belching chimneys and clanking clocktowers. Lynch was very lucky to have filmed this in 1979, when much of the older building stock was undemolished in London. The Long Good Friday was filmed the same year. Both these films feature a very young Dexter Fletcher (around 13, looking about 9), in the latter film merely a blink-and-you'd-miss-it appearance. As well as the strong male leads, there's great female characters, played by Hannah Gordon, Anne Bancroft and Wendy Hiller, who plays the ward sister to such great effect. A woman who seems a bit brusque and dismissive at first in that classically Victorian manner, but is essentially very compassionate.






I had forgotten Freddie Jones, who plays Bytes, Merrick's cruel master, was in it. I had recently watched his son Toby Jones play the poet John Clare in Andrew Kötting's By Our Selves (where Jones snr makes a short appearance). And, speaking of appearances, it's well known that Bowie played Merrick in an off-Broadway production in 1980, and I couldn't help noticing that a scene early in the film, where the young nurse, played by Leslie Dunlop, drops Merrick's breakfast when she gasps at her first glimpse of him, made me think of Candy Clark's screaming fit in The Man Who Fell To Earth, when she sees Newton's true appearance.





I was always confused by his apparent suicide at the end, where he wants 'to sleep like normal people' - why would he do that when he was so happy (having returned from the standing ovation for him at the theatre). However, it seems, where the facts were concerned, he was discovered in his clothes on top of the bed, not in it, and at a diagonal across the bed, as though stalled in an attempt to raise himself, whereupon he died of asphyxia at just 28.





John Hurt relates a story about memorabilia he kept from the film, which included the cast of Merrick's cranium. It was left on top of a wardrobe in a small flat he had in Hampstead. During this time he'd bought a house elsewhere, and someone told him there had been a break-in at the flat, but nothing was taken. What became obvious was that as soon as the wardrobe was opened, the cranium (with hair attached) must've fallen out (possibly in the dark) and given the intruder a hell of a fright, whereupon he took flight. The back door was broken down.





Monday, September 07, 2020

I could have been Raskolnikov but mother nature ripped me off


A trio of post punk pearls are turning 40 this year, and each is connected in unexpected ways.

Joy Division's Closer was recorded between 18 – 30 March 1980. Was it 'closer' to something, or was it a closer ? Hooky on the recording process: “It was a good laugh most of the time.. the only sad thing about it was Ian's illness – but he hid that so well.” Their story's conclusion is well known, and Howard Devoto makes reference to Ian Curtis, as well as Kurt Cobain and Elvis Presley in the song, Hello Mr. Curtis (with apologies) from Magazine's 2011 album No Thyself. In a moment of disarming honesty to AU magazine in 2011 he states:

“The idea of suicide has always been important to me. I once had an unfortunate love affair which went wrong and I was in a bad way. I had a moment of revelation where I realised 'Hey ! I could top myself' and then I felt better. But, ever since then, suicide has always been an important idea for me.' I've only ever once in my life made plans and steps to bring about that end. I never got as far as swallowing anything or bringing a blade close to myself but I was starting to make plans in a very serious way. I even owned a gun at one point. And the main reason I had a gun is I might need it for myself at some unspecified point in the future”

The closing track on Talking Heads' Remain In Light, The Overload was their attempt to emulate the sound of Joy Division. The song was made despite no band member having heard the music of Joy Division; rather, it was based on an idea of what that band might sound like based on descriptions in the music press.




Grumman Avengers, used by the US Navy, in which Tina Weymouth's father had served, inspired the initial cover art for Talking Heads' 1980 LP 'Remain In Light' (working title 'Melody Attack'), later used on the back of the LP sleeve after the album name change.




The Appiani family tomb, as seen in the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, Italy. Sculpted by Demetrio Paernio in 1910. photo: Bernard Pierre Wolff.




Odilon Redon: A Mask Sounds The Funeral Knell (1882) Image used on the late 70s edition of Dostoyevsky's Notes From Underground, an inspiration for A Song From Under The Floorboards, from Magazine's 1980 LP The Correct Use Of Soap

The walls close in and I need some noise

 



French poster for The Idiot, released 18th March 1977.



“Poor Jim, in a way, became a guinea pig for what I wanted to do with sound. I didn't have the material at the time, and I didn't feel like writing at all. I felt much more like laying back and getting behind someone else's work, so that album was opportune, creatively.” - David Bowie

A lot of Stooges fans hated Iggy’s first solo album. I guess it wasn’t rock ’n’ roll enough for them. Far too dark and introspective - which is exactly what I like about it, and why it prefigured post punk so presciently, and became a template for Ian Curtis. It’s well documented as the last record that he listened to before he died.

It really is a Bowie album in all but name as, though he is credited as producer, he wrote most of the music and Iggy wrote the lyrics. It was made before Low, though released after it. It is a fascinating bridge between Station To Station and Low. Engineer and Magma bass player Laurent Thibault said that "David didn't want people to think he'd been inspired by Iggy's album, when in fact it was all the same thing." 

What In The World (working title Isolation) from Low was originally intended for The Idiot - Iggy’s backing vocals can be heard on it. “You’re just a little girl with grey eyes” is consistent with themes in China Girl, Tiny Girls and Baby. Sister Midnight was written by Bowie, Iggy and Carlos Alomar, and performed live on the Station to Station tour in early 1976.

The overall tone of the album is so lugubrious and sepulchral, vampiric and menacing, it feels like it could only have been made at night (which it was), by a zombie crew cattle-prodded into life. I’m reminded of Colin McCabe’s reaction to Derek Jarman’s 1987 film The Last Of England, where “.. he found it extraordinary how a vision so bleak was at the same time so exhilarating”

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Non-Stop Inertia - The Doctrine Of Unoriginal Sin

Karl Burke & I recently created an EP, The Doctrine Of Unoriginal Sin, under the name Non-Stop Inertia, which is available from Bandcamp on Karl's new digital label Corner Detail.




Monday, June 15, 2020

Let me collect dust


After doing tributes to Bruce Gilbert, Paul Burwell, Wire and Joy Division, the first thing that occurred to me after Bowie died is that I should do a tribute to him, but felt utterly daunted by the prospect, as there was so much material to examine, and shelved the idea for a long time. Not sure what convinced me to take it on in the end, but sometime in February I decided and about mid-month I began my research.

I re-read Paul Trynka's excellent Starman biography. I also read Glen Hendler's analysis of Diamond Dogs and Hugo Wilken's take on Low, both for the 33 1/3 imprint - valuable volumes each. Online, the most invaluable resource was Chris O'Leary's brilliant Pushing Ahead Of The Dame blog, which examines each song in great detail, and is added to significantly with some very interesting and further enlightening readers comments. O'Leary is scrupulous in his research, going in deep as befits the material, and writing in a way that really engages and inspires.

Like previous tributes, I had no real plan about how to build the piece or how long it should be. It involved an enormous amount of editing of source material before I began composing, wading through hours of YouTube interview and related music footage, and editing various moments from all the music from Aladdin Sane to “Heroes” - almost 800 edits in all. When composing, I tend to favour shorter durations, but generally the tributes organically develop to occupy the necessary space. In Bowie's case, because of the volume and variety of material, it was naturally going to tend towards a longer running time. The loose idea, after a quietly building pre-amble, was to work my way through the albums, a few minutes at a time, and their associated references chronologically, and create some sort of exit/epilogue – a proper beginning, middle and end. References from outside of the main time frame of 1973 – 77 were going to come in too, but that was a necessary part of the legacy and richness of the work.




The sources are drawn together in ways that require close attention, as it's a dense weave where some of the material might initially be missed or simply not recognised. That's OK though, I wanted that sense of depth and breadth, a cinematic trawl through the music and its influences. So I thought it might be interesting/useful to forensically comb the piece and itemise everything, pausing occasionally to expand on some points.

The piece begins with Bowie's infamous appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, which aired on the 5th December 1974. It's abundantly clear he is well out of it on cocaine (you can hear the trademark 'coke sniffles' before he answers Cavett's first question. Being on his show was a big deal. For some this might be car crash TV, but for Bowie it worked to his advantage, rendering him otherworldly and fascinating. Despite his ropey state, he is still fairly quick-witted and articulate. When Cavett asks him what he is drawing with his cane on the studio floor, quick as a flash he says, 'your attention'.

As this plays out, Danny Kaye's Inchworm can be heard in the background. This was amongst the songs Bowie played on a BBC radio special he did in 1979. He was intrigued, as someone fascinated by numerology, with the idea of numbers as part of the lyrics. I find it a very haunting tune; very wistful and melancholic. We then hear an older Bowie, as heard on The Man Who Fell To Earth DVD interviews with Nic Roeg, reflecting on his misgivings about biographical detail about an artist's life being a key to understanding their work.




My take on this is that whilst it doesn't necessarily 'explain' an artist's work, it certainly can enrich our understanding of it, and does inevitably cast some interesting light on the work. I feel Bowie is somewhat defensively attempting to suggest you should steer clear of investigating the artist's life, as he's not entirely comfortable with the idea of his background being looked into. But being the kind of artist he was, it is inevitable people will be curious, and his family background provides some key raw material to haunt him for many years. This comes through the work in some clear-cut cases, more submerged in others.

Then comes a slice of a 1939 song, The Little Man Who Wasn't There, written by Harold Adamson and Bernard Hanighen, with vocal by Tex Beneke, backed by Glenn Miller's Orchestra. This was based on the poem Antigonish by American educator and poet William Hughes Mearns. Inspired by reports of a ghost of a man roaming the stairs of a haunted house, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, the poem was originally part of a play called The Psyco-ed, which Mearns had written for an English class at Harvard University, circa 1899. In 1910, Mearns staged the play with the Plays and Players, an amateur theatrical group, and on March 27, 1922, newspaper columnist FPA printed the poem in "The Conning Tower"*, his column in the New York World. Mearns subsequently wrote many parodies of this poem, giving them the general title of Later Antigonishes.

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there!
He wasn't there again today,
Oh how I wish he'd go away!

When I came home last night at three,
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn't see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don't you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don't slam the door...


*an interesting pre-fade echo of the inspiration for the Lust For Life guitar riff, which was based on the beeping sounds from the Armed Forces Network TV conning tower image that appeared before broadcasts as Bowie & Iggy sat down to watch Starsky & Hutch in Berlin every Thursday night.

A brief snatch from The Man Who Sold The World - although I wasn't there – can be heard, linking the poem to the lyric in ways that are hard to dismiss considering Bowie's interests, and the fact that many versions of the former song were recorded, it is very likely Bowie would've heard at least one of them. As far as the title was concerned, Bowie was considerably influenced by sci-fi, both in writing and film, and Robert Heinlein's 1950 collection of short stories, The Man Who Sold The Moon, would very likely have been on Bowie's radar.




There is then a two note sliver of piano from Beauty And The Beast, which segues to some piano from Aladdin Sane, as an extract from The Man Who Fell To Earth plays, where Rip Torn's character is confused by the appearance of Bowie's character. We then hear Bowie in interview talking about 'only using rock and roll as a medium' whilst we hear an ad for Quatermass And The Pit (1957). “Mankind will tremble... !”  This film had a huge impact of Bowie. A commentator (name escapes me) remarks on the Ziggy phenomenon as 'the province of Hollywood', and we hear a few moments from Over The Rainbow from The Wizard Of Oz, a song whose melody was used for Bowie's song Starman. Teasing out the Hollywood angle a bit more, Mae West can be heard saying, “when I'm good I'm very good. When I'm bad, I'm better”, which for me, finds an echo in the lyric from Bowie's Sweet Thing/Candidate, “when it's good it's really good, when it's bad I go to pieces”. Also, Bowie suggested to Iggy Pop, when recording The Idiot, that he sing like Mae West.

Jonathan Harris can be heard talking about the idea of 'self actualisation.. which not many people achieve, but he did'. We're then back in the Cavett show as Bowie is asked if he's nervous to sit without his band and just chat, which, considering the length of pause and type of reply, clearly he is. Adding to the tension at that moment during the pause is Bowie's laboured breathing, as heard on a pause in the song Time, as Katchachurian's Gayane ballet suite (used in 2001) appears, to further colour the mood.

Bowie's Please Mr. Gravedigger can then be heard low in the mix. Woody Woodmansey talks about Bowie 'eating breakfast as a superstar' while we hear 'tell them about the honey mummy' from the 1970s Sugar Puffs commercial. The edit of Mr Gravedigger ends on '..and someone dropped a bomb on the lot', which roots Bowie in the blasted remains of post-war Britain that he witnessed as a child. Taking my cue from the line from Life On Mars ?, 'from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads', some field recordings from the Norfolk Broads can be heard; wind, creaking trees, birdsong.




We then hear Nic Roeg talking about Bowie being different and always changing, as Dick Cavett says, 'it's difficult to say what he is because he changes, like a chameleon'. George Formby can be heard singing My Grandad's Flanelette Nightshirt, with the lines,

It's my Grandad's Flannelette nightshirt,
In it I was christened one day,
Down at the church, they were in a whirl,
No one seemed to know if I were boy or girl.


The lyric in Rebel Rebel bears more than an uncanny similarity – 'You've got your mother in a whirl, she's not sure if you're a boy or girl..' We then hear another song that Bowie played on his 1979 radio special: Little Richard's He's My Star. This performer was the first to really connect with Bowie, and it fairly electrified him. While this is playing we can hear the isolated bass and drum tracks from Space Oddity, which ends with a moment from Letter To Hermoine. Back on the Cavett show, we hear Bowie saying he 'glips' from one thing to another.. 'it's like flip, but it's the 70s version'. In the background we hear Rip Torn in The Man Who Fell To Earth saying 'Per adua ad astra – through difficulties to the stars' whilst simultaneously a snippet of dialogue between Dave and HAL in 2001 can be heard. As this is going on, Elvis enters, like a pre-fade echo of Bowie's final work, singing the gently funereal Blackstar (1960). Bowie was delighted he shared a birthday with him. An isolated vocal track from Bowie's Lazarus, 'look up here, I'm in heaven', comes in low in the mix, like a spectral presence. Almost imperceptibly low in the mix The Legendary Stardust Cowboy (Norman Carl Odam) can be heard singing, I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship. He was one source, along with Iggy Pop, for the name Ziggy Stardust.

We then hear Elgar's Nimrod, from his Enigma Variations, which Bowie played on his 1979 radio special, as he laughs about his general state starting filming with Roeg. As structural elements around this I've used very short edits from the guitar opening of Bowie's She Shook Me Cold, and the opening tape noise from Beauty And The Beast, connected by a tiny organ shimmer from I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship (which Bowie did a cover of in the 90s).




This segues to the piano from Lady Grinning Soul and a synth sound from Moss Garden, with the 'just visiting' quote from The Man Who Fell To Earth, which then moves to a drum fill from Candidate, a looped section of Aladdin Sane, and melodies from Neukoln and Sense Of Doubt, and Fripp's opening 'sky saw' guitar from Beauty And The Beast, while we hear the 'foreign body' quote from Alan Yentob's 1974 Cracked Actor documentary. We then hear the bubbling synth noise from the start of Bowie's cover of the Stones' Let's Spend The Night Together, as the opening drum fill from Young Americans bounces us into a looped section of The Secret Life Of Arabia. This plays against newsreel footage of early 70s oil crisis - '..now that the Arabs have turned off the tap', then we hear Michael Palin and the wonderful 'strange women lying in ponds' quote from Monty Python And The Holy Grail. It was quite by chance I chose Secret Life.. subsequently realising the conceptual link with the oil crisis.

Then we're back to early 70s newsreel, interviewing stressed commuters. Drive-In Saturday enters briefly, followed by Panic In Detroit, which segues into the Bo Diddley tune Panic In Detroit was based on. Woody Woodmansey refused to play the shuffle rhythm on this track, as he felt it was 'corny', so Bowie's old school pal Geoff MacCormack/Warren Peace played congas instead. The song was partly inspired by Iggy's account of the 1967 Detroit riots.

“There were snipers all over America, on tops of buildings,” he recalled in 1990. Not quite - Bowie was likely remembering Charles Whitman, who killed 14 people in 1966 during his sniper rampage from Austin’s University Tower. Newsreel footage of this incident can be heard, followed by reports of The Weathermen/Weather Underground radical left wing organisation who were plotting to bomb government buildings and banks in the early 70s. We hear Bowie talking in the back of a car in Yentob's documentary talking about 'an underlying unease here.. a superficial calmness they've developed (my emphasis) to underplay the fact that.. there's a lot of high pressure here..' His coke-addled, sleep deprived paranoia is off the scale. A loop from the Kojak TV show sig tune appears briefly, stage left then right.




We're still with a driving theme when we return briefly to the Cavett show and Bowie talks about driving (rather than walking) around New York. Cut to Sound And Vision drum loop, echoed piano from Lady Grinning Soul, choral sounds from Sons Of The Silent Age as social niceties are played out in Bowie's greeting to Russell Harty and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's Behind The Fridge sketch. 'I'm a fairly good social observer..' Bowie says as we hear synth sounds from Subterraneans (a back-masked sound which I've reversed to run forwards). '..the quintessence of that year'.. cue 1984 siren-like opening sounds repeated with percussive emphasis stereo left and right, with a piano-led loop from Beauty And The Beast, switching to fading George Benson playing On Broadway (which is quoted in Aladdin Sane). We then move into the quiet piano outro from Aladdin Sane, as we hear newsreel footage of Bowie's arrest for marijuana possession in Rochester, NY in 1976, sounding the quintessential old world genteel English type, whilst barely managing to keep a straight face.

Buck Henry talking on The Man Who Fell To Earth DVD interviews about Bowie's character is used as a bridge into the next section, where he says, 'it's all about alienation, and Bowie is either a real alien, or one could make the case that he is just a genius in a complicated paranoid state'. This could equally apply to Bowie the rock star at this stage, such was the parlous state of his physical and mental health with his industrial strength consumption of cocaine and amphetamines, a starvation diet of milk and peppers and long periods of sleep deprivation. He was skeletally thin, weighing about 98lbs.

A loop from the opening of Drive-In Saturday comes in as Bowie talks about Aladdin Sane's character being schizophrenic 'as there was so many costume changes, as he had so many personalities'. This is a classic illustration of the poor understanding of what actually constituted schizophrenia at the time; the common misconception that it was split or multiple personalities, which is an entirely different disorder. Schizophrenia is concerned with a difficulty distinguishing between what is real and unreal. Delusional beliefs and different forms of paranoia are part of the condition, along with various hallucinations; most commonly auditory ones (voices).




Bowie's half brother Terry Burns (1937 - 1985) was a paranoid schizophrenic. He was shunned by Bowie's father, distanced by his mother and shunted between various family members, as well as staying with Bowie and Angie for a while at Haddon Hall in Beckenham in the early 70s. He was a voluntary patient at Cane Hill psychiatric institute in Croydon at this time, where he would remain for the rest of his life until his death by suicide in 1985. Bowie has said that Terry gave him 'the greatest education', introducing him to jazz musicians such as John Coltrane and Charles Mingus and Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac*, William Burroughs and Alan Ginsberg. He really looked up to him. But then there was the difficulty of how to manage a family member who is very ill, and the guilt associated with a feeling of perhaps not knowing how best to do this. A key part of this was the climate around mental health at the time, the general ignorance and limited understanding, and the treatments and their effects, which would have been laceratingly primitive by today's standards: lobotomy, EST, Librium, loss of libido.

*The title of Keruoac's 1958 novella The Subterraneans may have been an inspiration for the Subterraneans instrumental that finished out Low.

There's no doubt that Terry had a profound influence on Bowie, not just in terms of music and books, but as a figure that would haunt him, along with mental health issues that were present in their mother, Peggy's side of the family. Bowie sometimes remarked early on how he was 'afraid of going mad'. Yet his strenuous attempts to avoid this drove him to those very states that define schizophrenia, via drug induced psychosis with attendant delusional beliefs and rampant paranoia. At the same time Bowie's writing is haunted by death throughout his career. He was very lucky in that, rather than reducing him to a state of torpor and general lassitude, his drug intake seemed to amplify his creativity, which was firing on all cylinders in the 70s. Although he was perilously underweight, he must also have had a particularly resilient physical constitution, especially for someone so comparatively slight. In Bowie's 1979 radio special he still illustrates poor understanding of the condition when he introduces King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man, by saying, 'if you fancy yourself as a schizophrenic..'




In researching Terry's story I came across an audio piece on YouTube, Terry, A Dramatized Narrative by David Beales, who was a fellow patient at Cane Hill in the early 80s. This monotone monologue drily describes the grim nature of life on the ward and aspects of Terry's condition that create an interesting picture, and give some sense of the man beyond merely being 'David Bowie's brother'. It's a sad story of a very ill man. The contrast between the routine, institutionalised nature of his existence and the flamboyance of Bowie's lifestyle could not be greater. The very brief extract that I used, where Beales says, 'Terry's smile was sometimes a bit sheepish, his laughter a little guilty occasionally, and he did look used and cheated... he was a middle aged, melancholic, paranoid schizophrenic' also is an unvarnished real world description of an actual schizophrenic, as opposed to Bowie's misinformed notion of one. 

This single mention is sufficient to establish Terry's presence in the overall narrative arc, and is not something I wanted to dwell on. I also did not want to imply any value judgements on Bowie's handling of the situation, and his non-appearance at Terry's funeral (which one of his aunts was loudly critical of to the press, claiming 'he could have done more'), as I imagine the reality on the ground to be far more nuanced, as is usually the case in these difficult family situations.

The Drive-In Saturday loop cross-fades to an extract from John Moran's The Manson Family – An Opera (1992), with a melody on piano and violin that bears an uncanny similarity to the previous loop. This was an unintentional but happy accident, the type which occurs a number of times throughout the piece. In this opera Iggy Pop plays the part of The Prosecutor in the Manson case, and can be heard singing 'the past.. lasts' in his rich baritone. Iggy's appearance is like a spectral entrance ahead of his actual entrance in the Bowie story, a pre-haunting. The opera is used here as a reference to the idea of the souring of the American Dream that occurred after the Manson-directed killings, and also an echo of the increasingly rotten nature of LA at this time that Bowie grew to hate. As Geoff MacCormack says, 'LA.. was an alien society.. an unreal place with unreal people'.




As the Manson opera fades, three train images come in; we hear Candy Clark in The Man Who Fell To Earth dreamily saying 'it's a shame.. I used to like trains', the feedback intro to Station To Station is heard and Bowie's aghast response to the train-type space vehicle presented to him on the film set. It wasn't until after these edits had been put together that it struck me – Terry's suicide was from throwing himself under a train.. a bit like when Peter Saville suddenly realises after Ian Curtis' suicide, 'oh my god, we have tomb on the cover of Closer..' We then (again unintentionally, the story was following the albums) hear We Are The Dead enter as we hear two quotes from 1984, whilst weaving through is the synth intro to V2 Schneider, with its futuristic sound, as Richard Burton says, 'if you want a vision of the future..'.

A section of Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family plays as newsreel footage can be heard about economic hard times in Britain in the early 70s. Skeletal Family segues to an edit of Candidate/Sweet Thing. We then hear some moments from Clockwork Orange. This cuts to the guitar outro to Rock & Roll With Me, overlaid briefly, low in the mix, with the piano intro from Lean On Me by Bill Withers (the melody of the former being based on the latter). We also hear Bowie talk about cut-ups ('a very Western tarot' – mispronouncing the second t in tarot as a hard t.) in one channel and Burroughs talk about cut-ups ('Brian Gysin said writing is 50 years behind painting') in the other channel.

Malcolm McDowell is heard talking about those dreadful lid locks used to keep his eyes from blinking in Clockwork Orange. The earthy guitar intro to Cracked Actor appears as we hear Candy Clark's screaming fit on seeing Bowie's character's real eyes. Cut to 'get me to a doctor's' edit from Beauty And The Beast, ending on sudden Breaking Glass drum fill. Cut to Bowie's discomfort with the hard plastic contact lenses used on The Man Who Fell To Earth, as the choral music from the library scene in Wings Of Desire fades in.




The book theme continues with Bowie talking about his huge traveling library, and we then hear Cyril Cusack's character in Fahrenheit 451 talking about the books just discovered, which 'have nothing to say !' Cut to an edit of 'Nothing ! Nothing !' from Across The Universe, which skips through brief edits from Can You Hear Me and Win, as Geoff MacCormack talks about the motivations behind Young Americans. We then hear The Flares' Footstompin', as Carlos Alomar plays the riff from Fame. Then in one channel we hear documentary footage about the Bronx in the 70s being 'a war zone... like bombed-out Berlin' (a pre-fade echo of Bowie's future destination). In the other channel we hear an ad for Afro Sheen ('I want a super 'fro !'). The Stylistics' People Make The World Go Round begins, as Carlos Alomar talks hilariously about Bowie's alarming appearance when he first met him. Cut to Shame, Shame, Shame by Shirley & Co., as Ava Cherry talks about Bowie's approach to Young Americans. Cut to Jungle Walk by The Rascals. This section ends with the vocal outro from Right and the back-masked guitar sound from Fame.




This catapults us into the intro to Outside Woman Blues by Cream, which Golden Years is clearly indebted to. Earl Slick mentions the general climate of drug use, as Cream cuts to Funky Broadway by Wilson Pickett, another reference point for Golden Years. Geoff MacCormack talks about the spaced-out 70s. A few seconds of The Yardbirds' Good Morning Little Schoolgirl appears, a vocal riff used/altered in TVC15. Slicky refers to 'nasty shit, business-wise..', as Russell Harty is heard misnaming Golden Years as Golden Tears. This exchange between him and Bowie ends with Bowie introducing the song '..from his forthcoming album, Station To Station'. As this is running in one channel, Peter Sellers can be heard in the other channel in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, trying to get the operator to put him through to the president, on a 'station to station' call, which I've synched with Bowie saying the album title at the same time, a particularly satisfying moment.






We then hear Johnny Mathis' ethereal cover of Dimitri Tiomkin's' Wild Is The Wind, as Geoff MacCormack talks about LA as 'an alien society', and we hear the opening riff from Stay panned left and right, then disappear. Picking up the alien theme, intentionally and unintentionally, some of Mica Levi's score for Jonathan Glazer's film Under The Skin comes in superimposed on Mathis, and the eerily scraped violin sounds uncannily echo the melody of the strings in the former. This then segues to Iggy talking about being 'a street person' as the Levi score continues with the minimal zombie-like beat in one channel, as the equally zombie-like drum machine rhythm from Nightclubbing synchs with it in the other channel. I had to slow it down slightly to match Levi's pace. Iggy can then be heard talking about the origins of that song, as we hear a Hoagy Carmichael tune, Stardust play. Apparently Bowie was playing some Hoagy Carmichael on the piano as Iggy was inspired to 'knock up a lyric' for Nightclubbing.

The Carmichael tune aptly comes to a point in the lyric, '...but that was long ago..', as we cut to Iggy's Dum Dum Boys, and Bowie is talking about moving to Berlin. He and Candy Clark can be heard playing ping pong (bouncing left/right/left), as she says, 'You don't wanna go back..'. A split-second edit of Wire's Graham Lewis can be heard saying 'Germany..' from the Dome song, Say Again. The Sound And Vision drum fill, bounced speaker to speaker can be heard. Cut to the vocal moment 'aaah...' from Sound And Vision, underneath which is the guitar outro from Joy Division's Day Of The Lords. Dennis Davis talks about recording with Bowie in one channel, as he sings/mumbles Breaking Glass in the other. We hear the breaking glass sounds used on Joy Divsion's I Remember Nothing. Joy Division is used here a legacy reference, as Low and The Idiot were key reference points for Ian Curtis. He also used the name Warsaw for an early version of the band. Davis & Alomar both talk about their (not insurmountable) difficulties with Eno ('Brian.. this isn't working for me, man').




The outro from We Are The Dead hovers, as Candy Clark says, 'don't be embarrassed Tommy..', cut back, via Sound And Vision drum fill, to Breaking Glass and reference to 'something awful' on the carpet. Carlos Alomar talks about the 'angry..punky' sound on the song as we cut to Stanisław Hadyna’s Helokanie by folk and dance ensemble Śląsk. Bowie picked up an LP of theirs traveling through Warsaw, and this song became key reference point for the vocal on Warszawa. Charles Shaar Murray reads out his damning NME review of Low, and we hear some clock noises from The Man Who Fell To Earth. Eno then gives out about 'some critics..' as we hear Rip Torn at the end of The Man Who Fell To Earth talking about Newton's record, The Visitor, which, in an pre-echo of Murray's verdict, when asked if he liked it says, 'not much', which Newton defensively answers, 'well, I didn't make it for you anyway'. Edgar Froese's Epsylon In Malasian Pale can be heard, as this was one key reference point for the instrumental side of Low. Jonathan Harris talks about Bowie recuperating, as Kraftwerk's Geiger Counter comes in, with beeping noises that, in a health reference, could echo hospital monitoring equipment. Bowie is heard talking about his 'Berlin womb' as his interviewers mention him working with Iggy in Berlin. Cut to Kraftwerk's vocal tribute to the pair in Trans Europe Express.

A loop of Weeping Wall enters simultaneously with an extract from Steve Reich's 1981 piece Tehillim (Hebrew word for psalms), echoing Jewish cultural references, with Bowie's possible reference to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Weeping Wall could equally be a reference to the Berlin Wall. Two major walls appearing in the tribute. After Jonathan Harris is heard talking about a major star releasing a 'half instrumental record.. at the supposed peak of their career' we hear Tony Visconti talking about the Eventide Harmonizer in a phone call with Eno & Bowie, and its sci-fi potential to 'fuck with the fabric of time'. We hear La Dusseldorf's Silver Cloud, a reference point, in the fecund soil of new German music so important to Bowie at the time, for the song “Heroes”. This segues to the opening bars of A New Career In A New Town, which morphs (almost matching the beat) into the intro of Beauty And The Beast. Robert Fripp makes his earthy reference to that song, then we cut to Bowie haughtily 'answering' a ringing phone in an exchange with Alan Yentob, as we cut to Fripp's hilarious description of 'hairy rock & roll guitar' used on “Heroes”.






Bowie talking about 'continuing in the same place' with Eno, moving from Low to “Heroes”, links to the intro to Joe The Lion. Cut to extract for an ad for Chris Burden documentary, and reference to his Trans-fixed (1974) performance where he is nailed to a VW beetle, which Bowie used in the lyric, 'nail me to my car and I'll tell you who you are'. Some more exchanges between Bowie and Yentob are heard as we segue to V2 Schneider (the title a tribute to Kraftwerk's Florian Schneider), which then cuts to the outro of Sons Of The Silent Age, and we hear a brief snatch of Les Vieux by Jacques Brel, a reference point for that song, with its lyric, 'old people don't die, they just fall asleep too long'. Also heard is a Goon Show space-themed extract (again Peter Sellers, I think) about the Albert Memorial Rocket being located 'in Glasgow', which is where Under The Skin was filmed. Again, a serendipitous coincidence.

Bowie can the be heard in The Man Who Fell To Earth DVD interviews, talking about the 'frightening nature of technology', as a widescreen swish of harp can be heard from the film's soundtrack. Buck Henry's character can be heard saying, as classical music swells ominously, 'turn that down would you, Trevor ?' The we hear Rip Torn say, 'this is some kind of space vehicle, right ?' Cut to an extract from Cronenberg's 1983 film Videodrome, as a pummelling electronic sound is heard from Mica Levi's Under The Skin soundtrack. This edit ends with cello and plucked violin from Jurgen Kneiper's Wings Of Desire score. We hear Debbie Harry's character from Videodrome whisper 'please' in one speaker, followed by Bowie saying 'lovely little Debbie' in the other. This is another extract from his 1979 radio special. Bowie's Moss Garden hoves into view, as a loop from Where Are We Know ? synchs with it and Bowie says 'I'm not sure where to go now.. the East beckons me..'.




Candy Clark picks up the travel theme when she can be heard saying, 'they always seem to lead such interesting lives, people who travel'. A cello drone from the Under The Skin soundtrack mixes with some of The Man Who Fell To Earth score. We hear a brief vocal snatch from Johnny Ray's Street Of Memories, stereo left then right. Bowie talks to Roeg: 'the reality was on screen, the shadow was in real life'. We hear Candy Clark whispering 'you won't find anyone who'd do for you like I've done for you'.

Russell Harty appears bemoaning 'coming to the end of our all too brief conversation' in an apt way of beginning to wrap up the tribute, which continues with Bowie attempting to disentangle himself from his lapel mic in another interview. Elvis re-enters, in the slower end section of Blackstar as Bowie says, 'I'm going out to write my name on a wall now..' Another wall. Rutger Hauer can be heard low in the mix with his 'tears in the rain' speech from Bladerunner, a film Bowie loved, and paraphrased this speech in a dedication sent to Terry's funeral. Vangelis' very evocative minimal synth figure fades from Bladerunner as Elvis, fading out, sings, 'Give him time to make a few dreams come true... Blackstar...', bracketing and ending the tribute.










Saturday, April 25, 2020

Ever Circling (Bowie tribute)


I've just completed a David Bowie tribute, the most ambitious of my tributes to date. Full statement and piece can accessed here



Cast of characters (in order of appearance):

Dick Cavett
David Bowie
Rip Torn
Mae West
George Formby
John Harris
Norman Carl Odam
Nic Roeg
Woody Wooodmansey
Elvis Presley
Candy Clark
Michael Palin
Russell Harty
Dudley Moore
Peter Cook 
Buck Henry
David Beales
John Hurt
Richard Burton
Malcolm McDowell
William Burroughs
Cyril Cusack
Geoff McCormack
Carlos Alomar
Ava Cherry
Earl Slick
Peter Sellers
Johnny Mathis
Iggy Pop
Dennis Davis
Graham Lewis
Charles Shaar Murray
Brian Eno
Tony Visconti
Robert Fripp
Chris Burden
Jacques Brel
Debbie Harry
Rutger Hauer

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

A Salt-Set Seal (for Carole Chant)



I composed a new piece for Jon Abbey's AMPLIFY 2020 online festival, which I dedicated to my late friend Carole Chant (83), who died on the 20th of March from Covid-19 related pneumonia.

It can be streamed and freely downloaded from the AMPLIFY Bandcamp page.

This piece was composed with edits of improvisations with found metals which are combined with field recordings made in Iceland, where I first met Carole in 2013 on a field
recording trip with Chris Watson and Jez Riley French. 


These recordings were made in various spots around Snæfellsnes in North West Iceland. I've also used a recording of water underneath a jetty in the Antibes in 2015, as Carole used it in one of her Sounding Out radio shows for Resonance FM. The piece also uses recordings made from the back of Carole's house, where I stayed on recent London visits, as well as from around her neighborhood in Battersea.

I first met Carole in 2013 at a week-long field recording workshop in Iceland with Chris Watson and Jez Riley French
. I kept in touch in the following years and stayed at her lovely house in Battersea on a few occasions on recent London visits. 

She was a wonderful woman with an indomitable spirit, highly creative, fiercely independent, a lively
conversationalist, very funny, generous and thoughtful. I will miss her greatly, as will everyone whose lives she touched, of whom there are a great many.



"She was a member of the Scratch Orchestra; an artist; a much loved art teacher for 30 years; a very fine banjo player (although she hated to admit it) playing Bluegrass, English and Irish folk music, and lots of free improvised music; A radio presenter with a weekly programme on Resonance FM, where she entertained and was entertained by all her favourite people from the worlds of experimental, improvised and folk music, and where she played her field recordings of trips she took to India, Mexico and Egypt, armed with a zoom and all she'd learnt on various courses with Chris Watson"

Tom Chant, Carole's son.