Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Catweazle - The Future Holds The Most Terrible Adventure of All

Catweazle, Geoffrey Bayldon, Childrens Television, Seventies Television, British Television

Pax Sax Sarax...

When growing up in Seventies Belfast some of the children's comics I remember reading regularly down at my grannys on Saturday included The Beano, Knockout, Krazy and Whizzer and Chips. In one of these there used to be a strip called Toad-in-the-Hole. It was basically about an English village that time forgot. So your average chirpy whistling milkman venturing into it - circa 1975 and looking for bored housewives out of the corner of his roving eye - would be faced with loads of people in English Civil War-period garb and idiots dressed like Captain Hook or Matthew Hopkins the Witchfinder General spouting Olde English riddles. In hindsight the idea was probably lifted totally from Catweazle. The name in turn being a cheeky wordplay on Cotswolds villages such as Stow-on-the-Wold or Moreton-in-Marsh.

I was watching some retro British television over the past few weeks and LWT's Catweazle starring Geoffrey Bayldon has certainly stood the test of time with a vengeance - let alone in comparison to some particularly leaden and lazy ITC Entertainment content I ploughed through. Richard Carpenter's story is basically about an English wizard who escapes marauding Norman soldiers by time-travelling through to modern Britain with his toad familiar Touchstone and where - in the course of his crazy adventures - he finds the technology around him to be clear manifestations of paranormal hokuspokus subterfuge afoot.

There were two 13-part series made and broadcast in 1970 and 1971  - these were filmed in Surrey and Hertfordshire respectively and had separate storylines. The first series was set at Hexwood Farm and the second at Lord and Lady Collingford's country mansion King's Farthing - a provisional third series would have returned to the first location. There is a fair amount of commentary on the series available including two wonderful overviews Under the Wizard's Spell and A Magical Spell in the Countryside by Alan Hayes and Paul Pert.

In certain respects the figure of Catweazle shirking in terror from "electrickery" is a bit of a precursor to the modern Everyman - banjaxed and bewildered by both the scale and speed of technological change and the clear fact that every socio-economic dynamic in our maxed-out society is irrevocably geared towards rank bedlam in the very near future. Like for so many of us as well, the melancholy subtext to the programme is that the Anglo-Saxon Catweazle - minding his own business with mediaeval chemistry in his wee man-cave before becoming accidentally sucked into a cosmic vortex - feels he belongs nowhere and just wants to go home. Both storylines end on bittersweet dramatic notes.

Personally I see the show as the clear British qualitative equivalent to The Banana Splits and HR Pufnstuf as utterly perfect children's television. There is wonderful casting - Jon Pertwee turned down the lead role just as Bayldon passed over the part of the first Doctor Who - and the script is tight, pacy and genuinely funny. The animated credits and theme tune remain literally bewitching to this day and every single publicity still I have ever seen of the Catweazle character himself is pure iconographic perfection.

I am not sure if there were any toy or game merchandise produced beyond what appears to be a hand-held finger-manipulated "bendy doll" Catweazle head but Puffin Books published novels by Richard Carpenter for both series - an eponymous title and Catweazle and the Magic Zodiac - and there were three Christmas annuals released by World Distributors Limited. There was also a black and white strip based on the show in both the Look-In and TV Comic magazines of the period. I have seen images on the internet of some long-playing German vinyl records with Bayldon on the cover which I suspect may be a reading of the novels with musical accompaniment. A set of Catweazle magic cards providing trick instructions was also given away with one breakfast cereal in the UK.

The late British professional wrestler Gary Cooper from Hexthorpe near Doncaster based his entire comedic fighting persona on the Catweazle character following ribald crowd catcalls to that end. He replicated the fictional character down to unkempt facial hair styling and entering the ring in a brown sackcloth with a plastic frog.  Luke Haines of The Auteurs included a song about him I Am Catweazle on his 2011 concept album 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and early 80s.

In very old British vernacular "Catweazle" would be used to reflect upon a lack of male sartorial elegance blended with generic or even slightly malign oddness. In fact in some respects there is a definite folk horror tinge to the series alike quite a few children's programmes of that strangest of decades such as Lizzy Dripping, Worzel Gummidge and even Ken Dodd's sinister-looking Diddymen (whose Knotty Ash gang incorporated an aggressive Irish member Mick the Marmalizer alongside his English better Nigel Ponsonby-Smallpiece).

The programme retains a very healthy public cult appeal to this day though on a sadder note in respect of the first series all four of the main male actors have now passed away - the crazy wizard and his boy protector alongside the father and the farmhand. However no finer compliment can be passed on Catweazle than that it remains a lovely warm dimension of time and place to even briefly revisit  - both in itself as a creative narrative and as a memory of simpler  and more contented days in Britain.

The first episode - The Sun in a Bottle - transmitted on the ITV network at 5.30pm on Sunday 15th February 1970. I was just over four years old then and Northern Ireland would have recently entered a year of complex political flux where - devolving to the world of real history - the outplay of rolling hatred and horror lieing ahead were not as yet foregone. Three nights after the first transmission a loyalist bomb destroyed a 240-foot high radio mast across the Irish border at Mongary Hill, Raphoe, County Donegal which had increased the reach of RTE television coverage into Northern Ireland.

As we finally leave the deadness of winter and head towards Beltane and the greening of our island home be sure to revisit the world of Catweazle and those fleeting days he walked amongst us - ritual, magick, spells, merriment and wonder - as soon as you possibly can.

...Salmay Dalmay Adonay

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) - Davy Jones' Car

Davy Jones, David Bowie, The Monkees, Lisburn, Northern Ireland

The social and cultural disconnect that many British people in their forties and fifties now feel when looking back at the past - and even the recent past at that up to the late Eighties and early Nineties  - is grounded on a confluence of factors. These incorporate at the very least headspinning technological surges, grotesque geopolitical tensions, the brutal deconstruction of vintage pathways to social mobility, firestorm Ponzi economics,  the unrelenting psychotic force-feeding of on-message political dogma and the transformation of employment into a low-paid and fundamentally insecure world of fawning lickspittles and jargon-spouting bullshitters.

The consequences of this inflammable combination now gather pace by the very day it seems as so many emotional cornerstones gain spatial distance within our memories - lost people, places and  communities where respect and dignity mattered. Yet in the middle of such melancholy reflection this week - here in a Europe laid so sullen and dull by the heavy snows of winter - I felt some fleeting residual warmth and hope afoot from reading the story of Davy Jones.

Not Ena Sharples' grandson down on Coronation Street who later sung The Monkees' classics Daydream Believer, Dream World, Look Out, Daddy's Song and A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You in his wonderfully unaffected Mancunian accent mind. Nor the Brixton South London artiste who prior to his 1967 debut album of music hall whimsy changed his surname to that of the Scots-Irish Kentuckian hero Jim Bowie who died at The Alamo. No, my spirits this week have been uplifted by reading for the first time ever about Davy Jones the 24-inch high resident of Lisburn in Northern Ireland who in the Sixties drove around the town in cars specially modified to his size limitations. This despite heavy vehicular traffic around him on the public roads like lorries and buses that must constitute to this day an unprecedented urban health and safety nightmare of nightmares.

Jones, who displayed at fairgrounds in both Britain and America and took on acting roles as officially one of the world's shortest living men, would also sit on the bars of local Lisburn pubs such as The Smithfield House and The Corner House atop a pint glass. Archive film footage from 1960 and 1965 of him driving his cars can be found at Northern Ireland Screen's Digital Film Archive.

The car in the mid-Sixties footage resembled an E-type Jaguar and was made by Watsonian of Birmingham who were sidecar manufacturers. This fibreglass vehicle had a maximum speed of 14 mph from its 75cc four stroke engine. Jones died in March 1970 and is buried in the town - his wee sports car was (and possibly still is) on display at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra, County Down.

Now it is quite clear from reading through various internet postings on this particularly unforgettable local celebrity that Mr Jones was a character in all vernacular respects  - jolly japes like running through squaddies' legs to win bets that he could do something that they couldn't do through to memories of his particularly rich lexicon of curse words. Nevertheless when seeing the footage yesterday I was reminded of the sheer eccentricity of much of our native folk history - planted so deep in beds of both rich humour and total unpretentiousness.

In turn the Sixties clips of the red car encapsulated the decade itself in many ways when even the harshest deal of life's cards could be transformed into something better off the back of the spatial room for manoeuvre that briefly opened up for the working people of Britain. Back to the days when acts like The Who, Sonny and Cher and The Bee Gees appeared at Lisburn's Top Room ballroom and years before the city was known throughout the world as being the main headquarters base of the British Army in Troubles-era Ulster. That particular venue was blown up in a terrorist bomb attack in June 1972.

Even in these desperate  times as so many nation-destroying issues grimly coalesce  in unforeseen fashion -  with the true dynamics driving the Brexit vote already fudged entirely out of the political equation and one constituent player in the Irish culture wars having now perverted the most sensitive of legacy debates with demented revisionism - it is important to remember what a totally unique country Britain once was. Maybe that as epitomised none moreso than with that tiny yet energising symbol of Sixties spark, cheek, nerve and gall that ended up as a museum piece just eight train stops from the centre of a British city that survived everything that bad history could throw at it.

From this week onwards Davy Jones' car is already fused deep into my own sense of being alongside Elvis's iconic mustard-coloured buggy roaring through the Californian surf at the start of 1968's Live a Little Love a Little towards beautiful Michele Carey's groovy Malibu beach house - when tomorrow still meant something beyond the next bloody rubbish haul after today.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Stairway to the Stars - Amazing Tales of Glam Rock

Slade, Glam Rock History, Simon Reynolds

Second post of 2018 and another belated book recommendation - this being Simon Reynolds' Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and it's Legacy from last year. This is an excellent narrative companion to Dave Thompson's Children of the Revolution which was a month-by-month breakdown of all relevant record releases of the period - still essential and retrospectively throwaway alike.

Reynolds' work is an incredibly intelligent, witty and well-written deconstruction of the Glam phenomena as played out on both sides of the Atlantic - that comparatively brief half-decade-long crafting of pie-eyed lovestruck Fifties nostalgia onto hyper-commercial Seventies musical soundcraft. Intriguing to read how this transcendental marriage played out across the board and beyond the more obvious linkages to be heard on the records of Roy Wood's Wizzard, Mud or the poppier Rubettes for example. The author also traces the afterglow of Glam which of course can be found in the music and stylistics of Hanoi Rocks, Manic Street Preachers, The Darkness and many others.

I was way too young to have caught the Glam tide at its peak though am extremely proud to recall that the first record I ever bought back in an especially glitter-free downtown Seventies Belfast was the faux-Roxy of Sailor and their classy girl-magnetising Glass of Champagne single in 1976. Finally got to see David Bowie at Slane Castle in County Meath in 1987 and over the Eighties and Nineties in London I also caught the Hunter Ronson Band, Steve Harley and a certain gang show at the Hammersmith Palais. During my time in the capital I lived for a few years very near the site of Marc Bolan's fatal car accident on Queen's Ride in Barnes in South West London and for a longer period resided close to North London's Waterlow Park which was the subject of a well-regarded 1971 Mott the Hoople album track.

The take-off of Glam rock I assume can be fundamentally sourced to the T Rex singles Ride A White Swan and Hot Love in 1970 and 1971 though it's hard to pin down an end point beyond the obvious historical qualifications that David Bowie, Roxy Music and Sparks' careers cantered on way beyond the end of the decade. 1975 was clearly the year that the run of great Glam singles came to closure - these would include The Sweet's Fox on the Run, David Essex's Stardust,  T Rex's New York City, Cockney Rebel's Come Up and See Me and Sparks Something for the Girl With Everything. However even though I always have loved the former's gloriously macho bluster on Stairway to the Stars from 1977 - alongside Maid in Heaven by Be Bop Deluxe and late T Rex's Funky London Childhood - I personally like to ground the final hurrah of the genre within the revival of Slade's fortunes following upon their 1980 appearance at the Reading Festival.

The Black Country group were added to the bill at the last minute to replace Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard of Oz on the August 24th lineup. Guitarist Dave Hill was uncertain about reconvening the group for the concert in light of a radical decline in their commercial fortunes of late but was encouraged by manager Chas Chandler to see it as a significant public farewell for their career at the very least. The reaction from the 65,000 crowd to their 13-song set - as discussed in joyful detail on the Official Slade in England site - was unexpected and completely uproarious. Youtube commentary upon the event notes:

Probably the greatest and most underrated performance ever. 

I was there,everyone went mad,they worked hard got the crowd behind them and made up for all the dodgy stuff and showed what they could really do,crowd would not let them go,one of the most unexpected triumphs I have ever seen. 

I think they really shut everybody up by being so IN YOUR FACE that day. I had been a fan since puberty almost and feared for them when I heard the day before they had replaced OZZY of all people but they came on Nod just leering at the knockers who were throwing beer cans etc at the stage and they started rather weakly but song by song they grew in popularity and volume that by the time they left that stage even old whistle test whispering Bob was leaping around whooping. Slade were on fire!
I was there,bloody brilliant , as previously stated they took Reading by the balls and shook it . 

they were totally awesome at Reading.....remember Def Leppard came on after them and people were still shouting for Slade. 

I remember, I was there. 19 years old at the time and grew up with the band. One of the best and overwhelming sets of theirs I'd ever experienced. The atmosphere was indescribable.

so true, they blew everyone away, but that never surprised me,,,,it just reinforced my belief in the fact that slade were as good as any live rock band bar none,,even years after their explosive introduction to our youthfull ears,legends,

Slade's musical output continued on throughout the Eighties with significant success - My Oh My was a number 2 British hit in 1983 while the following year the Celtic-tinged Run Run Away would reach numbers 7 and 20 in the UK and American charts. Their last hit was the wonderful metal chant of  Radio Wall of Sound of 1991 which affectionately namechecked Bolan's Telegram Sam and reached number 21 in the United Kingdom.

Returning to Reading and there is one song I particularly adore from their legendary performance that day - in my personal opinion the last Glam classic of all. Alongside the run through of Seventies yobbo hits - Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Get Down and Get With It and Cum On Feel the Noize - sits the effortlessly magnificent When I'm Dancin' I Ain't Fightin'. Sunderland punk band The Wall brilliantly covered this in 1982. The Slade original would appear on a live EP culled from the Reading gig and also on the 1981 album We'll Bring the House Down alongside two lifted singles - Wheels Ain't Coming Down and the title track.

When I'm Dancin' I Ain't Fightin' by Noddy Holder and Jim Lea is a criminally overlooked yet truly classic slice of driving British hard rock. The title alone is reflective of how the dynamics and iconography of the gender-bending Glam wave diffused through to the more ultra recesses of youth culture in the scary uncontrollable Seventies - from English football hooligan hordes to Ulster's Tartan gangs.  The lyrics may not attune easily into the political sensitivity of the modern day but pay direct tribute nonetheless -  in the most proletarian hard man fashion imaginable - to live-and-let-live sexual inclusivity:

Let me tell you bout' the ins and outs of love
Let me tell you bout' a bit of push and shove
Let me tell you when the holy terror strikes

He's a ladykiller doin' what he likes
Doesn't matter if you're naturally one way
Doesn't matter if you're actually, well gay
There's nothing like it when sensations coincide

Hidden mysteries that lies can never hide

During the Seventies Slade had an extraordinary 17 consecutive Top Twenty singles in Britain including six Number Ones. By virtue of their singles sales alone they were probably the most successful British group of the decade. Their influence was recognised by many major artists across the world from The Ramones to The Sex Pistols to Kiss - at one point Holder was considered as Bon Scott's replacement in AC/DC. On a personal level my connectivity with the group goes way way back to 1973 and my sister's Arcade 20 Fantastic Hits by the Original Artists (As Advertised On TV) compilation which incorporated their first hit Cuz I Love You alongside Edison Lighthouse's Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes, The Piglet's Johhny Reggae, Melanie's Brand New Key et al.

To this day I sincerely hold that the 1972 clip of Slade peforming Take Me Back 'Ome with their female shadow dancers on London Weekend Television's 2Gs and the Pop People is one of the most joyous moments in television history - I always half expect to see Witchiepoo stomping in the background with Jack Wild. In turn, and although it received a mixed critical reaction at the time, Slade's 1975 venture into cinema Flame is very highly regarded today by serious film aficionados as a core slab of gritty British noir. Indeed the group continues to be frequently referenced within many popular British modern social histories of the Dominic Sandbrook/Alwyn Turner ilk. 

Slade's 1977 studio album Whatever Happened to Slade followed upon a career sojourn by the band in North America and was named after some London graffiti that had been spotted during this period. In similar fashion the Reynolds volume notes how Slade are in essence rarely talked about or recalled  much today compared to many of their peers - this beyond their obligatory inclusion in generic television documentaries of British pop history and despite the genuine authenticity of their hard rock profile as displayed on album track, b-side and compiled BBC studio sessions of 2009.  (Full previews of all fourteen Ambrose Slade/Slade albums by the way can be found on Ashley Smith's youtube video uploads).

Last week while perusing Spotify I noticed that barely a handful of Slade's songs were available for listening to and no albums whatsoever - this even compared to The Sweet or Mott and let alone the enormous Bowie and Bolan digital footprints. A melancholy reflection on the distance between the warm grounded memories of our shared folk past and the unanchored drift of the British now. Or to quote the world-weary, common sense and earthy wisdom of one magnificent Slade b-side no less - OK Yesterday Was Yesterday.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Ghosts Beside Our Starlit Thames - Ben Judah's This Is London

Ben Judah, London, This Is London

A post on this blog from as long as four years ago made reference to the need for due regard, diplomacy, respect, tact and dignity in the processing of murderous Troubles history within the legacy process in Northern Ireland. The political outplay this month regarding the fatuous antics of the recently resigned Westminster MP for West Tyrone need not be elaborated upon but surely this event must mark a final line in the sand regarding historical revisionism of the conflict in its most crass, throwaway and offensive manifestations.

Both sides of the Ulster political divide are guilty of such subterfuge and sleight of hand - and of course the rural republican horrors of Kingsmills were mirrored in urban Belfast's loyalist romper rooms - but the trivialising of a mass murder that had the chronological potential to throw the island of Ireland into civil war in early 1976 is truly beyond the pale as we approach the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The political and public response to the matter - including horrifying testimony from the solitary survivor Alan Black on RTE Radio - has been one of genuine mortification on both sides of the border. It clearly underscores an existent and very dangerous social fissure regarding the brutal dynamics of sectarian warfare, the victims it left behind and the psychological safe spaces occupied by the perpetrators that Irish civil society is expected to honour without question.
However mainstream media's own culpability for the longevity of certain political factions' selective amnesia cannot be underestimated. In turn the politician at the centre of the controversy has apologised fulsomely and it must be accepted within our residual Christian culture that that was a genuine display of chastened regret and we move on collectively.

Growing up in the complex battleground of Ulster in the Seventies and Eighties was perhaps the main ingredient underpinning my cognisance during my final years living in London that something of genuine historic import was happening to the metropolis as both the capital of Britain and one of the world's truly great cities. This despite similar lack of analysis from the mainstream media - about property mega-inflation and two-way demographic shifts in the case of London- that allowed gesture politics in Ulster to reach its recent farcical denouement across the Irish Sea.

My own busy and stressful life in London for some reason allowed a singular tract of Orwellian insight pass me by at the time - either that or the fact that the upbeat and hip millenial cover art throws up a somewhat misleading pointer to the gritty downmarket contents inside. Ben Judah's This Is London reportage is an extraordinary and acutely depressing insight into the social transformations since the turn of the century that has turned the city on its head in terms of lifestyles, atmosphere, infrastructure and sustainability. It reads like an even more dystopian, grotesque and hellish update of the writings of Geoffrey Fletcher that inspired Norman Cohen's 1967 documentary The London That Nobody Knows.

The author does not hide from the criminal underbelly of the city or the dynamics of black economies. Furthermore his reportage clearly corroborates the garnering awareness that hundreds of thousands of working people resident in London had sensed all along that tectonic shifts were afoot from one week to the next as we ourselves struggled to barely meet spiralling domestic outgoings on frozen salaries. This transmogrification across both physical streetscapes and within vintage frameworks of social mobility alike. The reality of what was changing in London as we lived and slept was of course much much more malign than even the most pessimistic soul could have foreseen - a truly unparallelled peacetime transformation of a European city that will surely take its own place in the more desperate readings of the continent's modern geopolitical history.

As important of course as Judah's research is the sobering fact that it has been put into the public domain by a major publisher - Pan McMillan's Picador imprint. Released two years ago this month it remains - and most likely will remain - the last word on the capital and its brutal, irreversible and deeply strange transformation into a city that bears little resemblance to 20th Century London. Or indeed any major Western conurbation one would have ever heard of before outside the realms of fiction.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Saturday Buddha at Christmas - Christmas Island

Mario Lanza, Christmas

It is the medium of television by default that provides the most effective portal for the diffusion of so much cultural memory and recall today. This in diverse respects too such as the regular passing nowadays of celebrities from childhood times gone by like The Partridge Family's David Cassidy and The Likely Lads' Rodney Bewes of late. Likewise for reflections upon particular periods of life transition that spring forth automatically from hearing certain and often obscure theme tunes again - Man Alive, The Family,  World in Action, Take Another Look, The Waltons, Robin's Nest and Sorry for myself personally.

Even long lost regional television station iconography such as the classic Thames Television and LWT logos, the concurrent Knight statuette and Golden Hind on Anglia TV and Westward Television respectively or even UTV's mighty "Antrim Road" start-up transmission music can often overwhelm the senses.

Children's television from the Sixties and Seventies alone is another huge self-contained world of delights from Catweazle's capers down at Hexwood Farm to such timeless American imports as Scooby Doo Where Are You, The Banana Splits and HR Pufnstuf. And then of course for so many people in their forties, fifties and sixties today there are the misty recollections of Christmas television in Britain.

There is a wonderful and comprehensive 25-part overview of the Radio Times and TV Times editions from the Seventies and Eighties to be found over at the MAWH  blog that is guaranteed to bring back so many warm and fond memories of those days. All of them - even the overviews from the Eighties - seem so distant and from another world now. This alike when I look at black and white pictures of the thriving Belfast of the Fifties and early Sixties I never got to see and enjoy before it was pointlessly destroyed.

Britain in the Seventies of course had a rich multiplicity of complex political and economic problems afoot and indeed the decade was more than likely the pivotal era when our national decline ramped up several gears. However like many other people I look back to a childhood that entailed so much fun and laughter from so many quarters year on year - from the music, confectionery and cinema to the toys, comics and football. Most important of all our course were the people of those days  - so many of whom have left us.

Returning to television I have one strange memory long-lodged in my mind of Christmas programming. It was definitely the very late Seventies and I remember opening my Christmas presents one morning in my living room back in Belfast. I assume it was the ITV channel on the television in the background showing an animated version of the bible story. I recall at one point in the narrative John Henry Hopkins' We Three Kings of Orient Are was playing in concord to the visitation of the cartoon wise men. Just for a moment - and a moment I oddly enough can never quite forget - I felt that all was totally right with the world.

This particular hymn was included on the one collection of Christmas music I have been listening to every year since a child - Mario Lanza's Christmas Hymns and Carols. This 1969 compilation of festive songs on the RCA Camden label   - which includes wonderful versions of I Saw Three Ships, God Rest You Merry Gentlemen and The First Noel - is either a reissue of a 1951 original release of seasonal sacred music Lanza Sings Christmas Carols, the recompiling from 1956 with new versions of some songs added or the full 1959 re-recording. Incidentally another beautiful version of The First Noel was recorded by the great Mario Lanza fan Elvis Presley on his second Christmas album released in October of 1971 - this also contains one of the great lost Presley classics If I Get Home on Christmas Day.

The Philadelphia tenor and star of such movies as The Great Caruso and Serenade - who had his own life demons with alcoholism and overeating - died of a heart attack in 1959 at the age of only 38. During his 1958 European tour he performed at the King's Hall in South Belfast on March 29th and stayed in Royal Avenue's Grand Central Hotel. I could clearly see the King's Hall building across the city from the back bedroom window of my family home in North Belfast when I was growing up and it would be the music venue where I attended the best concert of my life in 1984 - the late great Stuart Adamson's Big Country on their Steeltown tour. The hotel in turn would become a base during the Ulster Troubles for the British army from 1972 onwards and was subsequently attacked over 150 times by terrorists. An interview with the late Belfast comedian Frank Carson on youtube includes his recollections of meeting Lanza during this visit.

Lanza's deliveries on the Christmas album are not just impeccable but literally awe-inspiring at times. The singer once said that "I sing each word as though it were my last on earth"  - here the power of the complex Christian message never sounded more crucial and genuinely humbling.  This year - with both Britain and Northern Ireland enveloped in a labyrinthine compound of irreversible political problems centred around Brexit and historical revisionism - I will be listening to it in another European country far away from Belfast and those Christmas Days of long ago.

In the meantime - and although looking back to our shared past brings more than its fair share of melancholy - at the same time we must remember that what backbone, character and decency still remains in our society was put there in the first place by the working people of our country alone. This remains the last and most immutable archetype we have left to fall back upon nowadays and cannot  ever be taken away by any degree of stealth from the falsest of friends around us.

Sincere best wishes to all readers and Twitter followers of Saturday Buddha for Christmas and 2018.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Time When Time Didn't Matter - Remembering The Likely Lads

The Likely Lads, Rodney Bewes, James Bolam, BBC Seventies Comedy

                                                       Oh what happened to you?
                                                       Whatever happened to me?
                                                       What became of the people we used to be?
                                                       Tomorrow's almost over - today went by so fast.
                                                       It's the only thing to look forward to - the past.
In these very trying times the attraction of literally disappearing into a retrospective
counter-millennial Sixties and Seventies Anglo-American socio-cultural safe space has such a fundamental and logical appeal. However a permanent return to the world of hard rock albums, Vesta prawn curry and and beef risotto, Sven Hassel and Ed McBain pulp, dimpled pint glasses, Hai Karate aftershave, Walls' Count Dracula ice lollies, Triumph Stags, Rancheros, Commando comics, Afghan Hounds and Fiesta Summer Specials may well be a celestial joy reserved for the other side of this life. Let's frigging hope and pray so.
An earlier blog has went into considerable detail about the utterly wonderful football culture of that period - days of real renegade talent where goalkeeper John Osborne of West Bromwich Albion was once pictured smoking a fag during a match itself while Georgie Best played one game intoxicated in Scotland.

Yet another blog post touched upon the female British  and Irish solo singers of the Sixties and Seventies and how well their material has dated. Actually to go completely off-message it is a moot point to say that some of our national artistes of that period were as beautiful and talented as any performing across the world at that point. I think off the top of my head here of Anita Harris, Linda Thorson, Suzy Kendall, Petula Clark, Caroline Munro, Susan George, Sandie Shaw and the Geeson sisters. Even in the world of situation comedy both Nerys Hughes and Paula Wilcox were stunningly attractive women.

This week has seen the passing of  two major stars from the Seventies in David Cassidy and Rodney Bewes. I know little of Cassidy's music though am aware of where he sat in the narrative of teen pop stardom and the world of  revolutionary Jackie magazine mass marketing. As for Bewes, I am too young to remember the Sixties BBC black and white episodes of The Likely Lads but of course clearly recall watching the colour Seventies sequel as a kid.

I was reminded too this week in the obituaries for Bewes that he was of course the first human assistant to Basil Brush who tweeted his own sad farewell to Mr Rodney this week. Once again I am not old enough to really place the two together as opposed to clearly remembering Derek Foulds and Roy North as the now 54-year old gentleman fox's fall guys. What I will never forget in turn however is Mr Roy's own ITV Granada pop programme in the late Seventies and its extraordinarily grating theme tune - Get It Together.

The two series of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads (1973-74) were set in North East England and guaged around the tensions between Terry Collier's instinctual working class drives and his friend Bob Ferris' middle class aspirations.  Since the time of the three original 1964-66 series Bob had moved into white collar office work while Terry was readjusting to life after Army service - in fact he may even have been one of the brave squaddies on the streets of the Belfast I grew up in. Both characters however relate to the social changes they see around them in a changing Britain and their own lost youth. A feature film was released in 1976.

The music that was played over the opening and end credits of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads seems to this day to still resonate hugely with thousands of people all over the country. The song was written by Mike Hugg of the Manfred Mann group and series writer Ian Le Frenais. Performed by Hugg's session band under the name Highly Likely - and sung by Tony Rivers - it reached number 35 on the British music charts in 1973 and spent a total of four weeks in the Top Fifty.

Even though the chorus of the track effectively underscores the sadness that any disconnectivity with the past brings it is interesting that both the verses too strike very similar chords. These of loss, longing and a surety that fundamental life security lies a long way from the present day's travails and rank awfulness:

                                There was a time when time didn't matter - only the time of day.
                                And living was living in hope which would never pass away.
                                Well it was a Monday morning when weekend was done -
                                fear was the fear of being what we had become.

                                You say I'm a fool in a fools paradise - let my life slip away.
                                Waiting with my head in the clouds - lookin for a sunny day.
                                Never go back you tell me - it's the worst thing you can do.
                                But I must go there till I find out where it is I'm going to.

A brief survey of public commentary left on Youtube uploads of the track from BBC Records (b-side God Bless Everyone by Hugg and Bewes) brings up the following incisive observations in turn:

"Most evocative tv theme of the seventies..."

"Always bittersweet as the opening titles are the Newcastle I remember aged about 9 or 10 when the old city was being cleared and all the soulless concrete going in. Plus look at all the fishing boats then! What a difference now."

"Beer, loneliness and drugs brought me here..."

"Now I'm a forty-something I've become "stuck in the mud" Terry not yet Victor Meldrew! I really quite disliked Terry's character because he was deliberately trying to hold Bob back. In my 20's & 30's I considered myself as "progressive" fellow but you hit an age then deep down the emotions kick-in & realise this old soul hankers for the old days. Perhaps cherishing the past is what maturity is about....& they say it is better to not look back, but I don't see an improvement with present."

"It's basically Let it Be, but it's brilliant...."

"... with a smidge of "Mighty Quinn" thron in for good measure."

"Guaranteed to make the hairs rise on the back of the neck for any Geordie over 50 - this was our time. Expats all over the world, look back with pride, but don't come back, you'll just trash your memories. There's no smoke any more over Geordieland, but there ain't no soul either."

" I didn't understand the series or the song's lyrics when I first saw it as a teenager in the 70's. Now I do. I know lots of Bobs, but I have to admit I am definitely Terry."

"I've always loved the intro and outro song of this series. The strings make the song sound so tragic. Like recalling a time in which one can never return. Longing to be back there but knowing you can never return. It makes your heart race but then tears it down...."

There is truly little more to elaborate upon here about what would appear in  hindsight to be a much more important piece of art than the creators could ever have imagined it to be at the time. This as tieing in 44 years later with what British people think today of the state of the nation, the reward for our labours, the sum of our lives' worth and the likelihood of a better tomorrow - both individually and collectively.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Brexit Britain - The Last Ghost Dance

 Brexit, Air Raid Warden

I read an interesting New York Times article by Steven Erlanger on the afterglow of the Brexit vote last weekend which seems to tie in with some earlier points I have made on this blog over the years regarding how the sub-national outplay of the dissolution of the United Kingdom - as first critically analysed in the mid-Seventies by the Marxist writer Tom Nairn - has thrown up as much if not more socio-cultural discord in the English heartland as within the Celtic littoral. That not withstanding the grotesque political paralysis in Ulster caused by one particular party or the qualifications facing Scotland in negotiating a genuine national independence within the constructs of a splintering European Union.

As another desperate year of stagnation in Europe moves to closure I am personally drawn in my mind to a new formulation of post-war British history wherein the gradual storm-like descent into fundamentally irreversible political conflict and communal disunity can be traced on both sides of the Irish Sea from the late Forties onwards. The strengths of the tidal surges and the violent impact of the breaking waves may have differed but the end result has proved remarkably similar by way of today's broad-based discontent, high personal angst, the unsustainability of such a civic imbalance and a garnering disconnectivity with our past.

In the case of Northern Ireland I feel that the withdrawal of the Irish Republic from the British Commonwealth in 1948 by the Fine Gael/Clann na Poblachta coalition - a party political move which had no major public dynamic underpinning its execution, originated in a diplomatic snub against Taoiseach John Costello in Canada by the Governor-General  and singlehandedly destroyed the relatively nonpartisan Labour movement in the North by default - was actually the first significant transitionary and indeed tectonic shift towards the years of bedlam which lay two decades ahead and now can be seen as an extremely fateful turning point. Mainland Britain's socio-political problems likewise lie deep in our modern history and had equally sobering consequences.

The mismanagement and subsequent fudging of the Brexit vote by the British political establishment in turn appears by the day now to represent the approach of something fundamentally terminal in our social history - particularly in regard to the failure of mainstream media to reflect the clear-as-daylight dynamics behind the populist surge.  The same British media of course that has been selectively dumb about the future shock foibles of the past decade regarding frozen private sector salaries and firestorm house prices affecting the vast majority of people with no secondary sources of income in reserve.

The immobile leaden atmosphere evident in the aftermath of the Brexit vote seems to underscore beyond qualification how our country clearly faces the future in a state of social, ethical and particularly industrial inversion to the better world we appeared to have entered in the early Fifties. All bridges now burned - all quick fixes now exhausted.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Midnight Summer Dream - Folk Horror and the Ancient Kindred

Folk Horror, Adam Scovell, Thomas Sherdian, The Druid Code

Last month I watched two fantastic pieces of vintage British television horror. Shalcken The Painter was the 1979 continuation of the festive A Ghost Story for Christmas slot on the BBC and whose plot revolved around an artist’s lost love and her terrible fate. The Beast was an episode of the West Country Tales series of the early Eighties involving a city dweller’s encounter with a ghastly aggressive entity in the Cornish woods - the creature being played by the familiar character actor and former wrestler Milton Reid who can be seen in three of Mary Millington’s features.

In light of the latter work I have recently finished Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange by Adam Scovell which was published some months ago. Forging beyond the main cinematic trilogy associated with this sub-genre - Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan’s Claw - and the short stories of MR James, the book incorporates analysis of a truly comprehensive scope of Sixties, Seventies and Eighties film and television material from the Play for Today features Robin Redbreast and Penda’s Fen to the Hammer horrors Plague of the Zombies and The Witches and the Dr Who Jon Pertwee serials The Sea Devils and The Daemons.

Beyond the obvious association of these works with the British landscape and countryside - and of course the occult - there is consideration of similarly eerie creative dynamics that were transfused into urban settings right through to Public Information Films for children in the Seventies. The writing is academic in part but it was still a fascinating read and comes highly recommended.

In a not dissimilar context some months ago I read Thomas Sheridan’s absolutely intriguing fourth book The Druid Code. I am huge fan of Sheridan’s work by way of his Velocity of Now broadcasts and the incredibly interesting discussion of politics and Forteana to be found on his youtube channel and website.

At first I expected this book to have considerably less appeal to me than his previous book Walpurgis Night on the occult roots of Nazism but found it an extradordinary deconstruction of ancient British and Irish history as relating to the complexity of megalithic remains across the British Archipelago, Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.  It also traces the passage of magic theory from druidic sources into witchcraft and freemasonry. Years ago I got engaged to my partner at the Holestone in Doagh in County Down and in turn have visited many of the places that Sheridan talks about in Ireland and the English West Country. Sheridan is both an insightful mind and a genuinely good humorous soul - his recent documentary works on occult Dublin and the mythology of Germany’s Odenwald Forest have been exemplary.

Both of these books of course hold particular relevance at this time of acute political and cultural strain in Britain as harking back to the purest of connections with our folk past - yet untrammeled and unsullied in this world of avarice, directionlessness and idiocy.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tangled Webs - The British General Election 2017

Political Poster, British General Election 2017

This week has seen some extraordinary political developments across the British Isles - in Northern Ireland alone the shocking electoral outplay for Unionism equals the February 1974 victory of the United Ulster Unionist Council albeit this time within the remit of a sole political party who have become the Kingmakers of the next UK government.

The off-message nature of much Democratic Unionist Party discourse over the years should of course have seen the organisation wither on the metaphorical vine following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement - to the secular benefit of the Ulster Unionist Party, Alliance and even New Loyalism - but the outplay has proved radically different.

As this blog has noted on many occasions, the historical revisionism attached to much post-Troubles discourse from Irish Republican sources has proved both toxic and unrelenting. The price for the broad stroke rebranding of the takers of human life as folk heroes without equivocation has clearly now been paid in kind while mainstream British media stayed silent throughout.

The same selective dumbness from the major news outlets of course affected the sole fundamental demographic explanation for the Brexit vote. Or even the slight moral dichotomy of the leader of the British Party of Labour having historically expressed less than due regard for the wellbeing of thousands of working class English, Scottish and Welsh soldiers who staved off a civil war in Ulster that threatened my own street and doorstep.

British politics today appears mired within a confluence of deeply complex and contradictory economic, social and cultural dynamics. Any restorative move towards civic respect, structural stability and genuine progression will embark upon a long lonely journey across a desolate British landscape.

That vista in turn transfigured by a decade of fake media, the asset stripping of millions of Britons’ futures by employers and banks, the infrastructural devastation of our capital city,  gormless political imbecility of the general public, the immoral filth of the Ponzi property scam, unbridgeable class division and a national sub-psyche of profound disappointment in all that has came to pass on this bitter wind.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ancestral Voices, Bad Blood and Contested Shores in Ulster

Ulster Scots, Gaelic, Northern Ireland

Some considerably edgy kulturkampf over the civic funding of Gaelic in Northern Ireland of late - a fascinating subject in its own right with regard to the reach and endurance of the languages in modern Ireland and Scotland, where it sits linguistically alongside Welsh within the British Isles' Book of Invasions, the undeniably politicised dynamics of its usage in modern Ulster and the logic behind the current outreach to learners from the Protestant tradition in the North.

Yet there is still so little comprehensible clarification in the midst as to the actual linkage between Irish and Scottish Gaelic as it relates to the history of the Irish Gaels' footprint in Western Scotland, King James I's Protestant Plantation of Ireland or even the concept of a Pictish settlement in Ulster back in long ago and far away ancient times. A member of the public tried to comment intelligently and analytically on this last week on a BBC Radio Ulster phone-in I was listening to and obviously exhausted the presenter's 21st Century attention span very quickly.

Certainly whereas the promotion of Ulster Scots dialect since the Eighties may well have proved an essentially mischievous driver of cultural regeneration for northern Unionists  it is quite clear in the outplay of Brexit that the concomitant notion of a specific Ulster Scots identity was significant, timely, underplayed and alas unappreciated. This particularly with regard to the role of Ulstermen at war and in North American history or even the role of Francis Hutcheson in the Scottish Enlightenment (born in Saintfield in County Down in 1694). Indeed the rebranding of The Troubles as an intra-Celtic/Irish-Scottish conflict (in however qualified remit) could have fundamentally redefined the bitterness in time between two peoples who essentially rub along "okay" in the scale of things.

Interesting book I have just finished on Northern Ireland history by the way was Richard Bourke's 2012 Peace in Ireland: The War of Ideas - not an easy read but an incredibly important contribution to the political debate in his presentation of the Ulster Troubles as a consequence of competing yet essentially legitimate conceptions of democracy as opposed to more routine readings of ethnic and religious fractures.

Will definitely look forward to similar enlightenment in years ahead as to what the previous decade of my London life was all about - how exactly the biblical demographic shifts, the Ponzi property scamming, the infrastructural collapse, the lack of a serious party political choice in a fundamentally flawed electoral system, the garnering urban aggression, faking of news and the frozen salaries together somehow positively underpinned my financial well-being from my considerable labours, my core liberality and my big scary grown-up faith in a better (albeit medium term) future.

Either way I will be reading such analysis at that point from a different location  - the lack of both a vanguard and a rearguard in our national political culture (as referenced some posts ago) have succeeded to such an extent that my thirty year sojourn in London now comes to an end. Saturday Buddha will commence World Broadcasts again soon from another place and a better tomorrow.....