@ 28/04/2013 – 18:59:19
@ 18/04/2013 – 16:12:59
The Genius loci was a Roman concept. It was the idea that a place was protected or overlooked by a guardian spirit. In modern times it has become watered down into a vague notion of the characteristic sensation of a particular area, building or location.
The Plantings at Staincross in Barnsley is a remarkable survival when every inch of spare ground is prime for more ugly housing. It’s a narrowish strip of undeveloped land sandwiched between Staincross Common (the Moorland Crescent estate developed in the 1960s was stopped by the land fault and thirty foot drop of the old quarry) and New Road, then Greenside and Sackup Lane on the other ends. It was my playground as a boy, and has been a place to walk generations of my Boxer dogs for the last thirty odd years.
One end of the Plantings (towards Greenside) is the already mentioned disused 19th Century (?) quarry, the other is the wooded area that gives the Plantings its name. Obviously as a young lad the most attractive end for me was the quarry. The rocks are spilt into two main faces, one with the ‘Penny Slot’, a thin corridor climbing through the rock, and then the seventy or so feet drop of the ‘Bulls Eye’. They are covered in graffiti. Which I don’t think detracts from their beauty. It is a cultural record of a time that is slowly coming to an end.
Graffiti has a long history, way before the highly collectable stencils of Banksy. Satirical portraits of long dead politicians have been found in the ruins of Pompeii and names of soldiers from Napoleon’s Grand Armée are to be found scratched into the Giza pyramids, alongside those of British Tommies from the First World War.
Most of the paintwork on the Plantings dates from the 1970s onwards. The birth of anti-social, rebellious behaviour is something that I associate with the 70s; and this before the slightly politicized, heavily marketed, and superbly hyped rebellion of Punk in the wake of the slightly politicized, heavily marketed, and superbly hyped Sex Pistols (though I recall a beautiful spray painted Pistols ‘tag’ on the back steps to the New Road Working Men’s Club in bright red aerosol). In those speciously innocent days such behaviour was more in the spirit of good natured irreverence – before the cheery, cheeky 1970s scamps had children who turned into the vicious, feral menace of today’s nuisance youth.
The earliest identifiable cultural reference on the rocks is a cream block capitals ‘Bay City Rollers’ (the ‘Penny Slot’ end) which gives the graffito a roundabout date of c. 1974-1977, with the colour being matched to a Dulux chart from 1975 as ‘Harvest Gold’, indicating in all probability the name was painted when Les, Woody and the wee lads were at the height of their popularity in 1975 and the classic line up was in place, before the various members had their troubles with drugs, lost finances and child pornography. This is one of my favourite pieces of graffiti. It evokes a time that I can only half remember (making it apt that the lettering is now partially covered with some later graffito) but when I do remember it I do so fondly, softly burned like an Instagram photo. And the Plantings define that yellow-tinted time, holding a lot of memories for me. Whether it’s sending my polystyrene Supermarine Spitfire over the chasm of the ‘Bulls Eye’ in pursuit of a German Messerschmitt Bf 109, and my Action Man parachutist bailing out after the dog fight, plummeting to the bottom when his parachute failed to open, or racing my Ammaco Silver Star BMX over the paths worn by dog walkers and jumping the homemade ramps (setting fire to some brush wood and having a burning Christmas tree stuck to the front of my bike stick in my mind), or the walks with my Grandma and Granddad, collecting acorns. The Plantings always connect me with my childhood in the same way that hearing the opening chimes of Bagpuss does or the E-Number rush from a mouthful of Space Dust. It’s Pooh’s A Hundred Acre Wood with broken glass and graffiti. I can even look back fondly now to the time I fell off one of the rocks while climbing – a drop of fifteen feet backwards, landing on the only bit of grass nestled between broken rocks.
The Plantings graffiti that I like the most are those that – like the Bay City Rollers daub – are those that I can date. Even if it’s just a nickname of say Flang 93 or Taf 96. I like to know when something was created. If I know when it comes from it allows me to have a moment of time travel. A micro-second when I can reach back and be there. And it’s for this reason that I would rather see a wobbly painted ‘Oasis’ or ‘The Smiths’ or even ‘Bucks Fizz’ or ‘Take That’, where I can have an educated idea as to when it went up, than an un-dateable cock and balls, an un-ascribable ‘tag’ or a nickname whose chronology is lost. Who and when was Browny *3? (It dates from before 2003, before you say anything, and has been there since the mid-1990s at least). And ‘Widdy’? And the highly formal ‘J. Bottomley’? Do they ever revisit the place? Are they still alive? And what of ‘Sooty’ (who a clue in the matching paint would suggest was a Leeds United fan back in the Glory Days of Revie, Clark and Bremner)? Did ‘Lynn + Mick’ marry, or did she spit up to lead something of a slacker life with ‘Haigy’, whose logo would suggest a penchant for marijuana? One man who unfortunately isn’t alive is Bon Scott. ‘Bon R.I.P.’, paionted onto the rocks in faded purple paint, which I can evidence has having been in place since at least 1980, is cultural gold and would make a brilliant photograph in any reissue of AC/DC’s Back in Black to show the impact the singer’s death had on his fans. And there is humour, such as the Anti-McLaren slogan of ‘Punk is Spunk’. Though the slightly larger than life-sized depiction of one man sodomizing another – painted in a two dimensional manner reminiscent of the Pharoah’s tombs in the Egypt’s the Valley of the Kings – with the legend, ‘Walla in action’ has almost disappeared through the effects of acid rain erosion. And amongst the thoughtless, occasional Swastika, there are some examples where a bit of skill and a modicum of planning has gone into some of the work (there would be nothing worse than being mid-way through ‘Showaddywaddy’ to find out that you’d run out of cliff face. The massive ‘Bucky’ and ‘Drydy’ in ten foot high letters with some nice 3D shading opposite the ‘Bulls Eye’ always catches my eye, and ‘Mog’ (these days hidden behind some Broom) is well thought out in its execution and use of serif touches.
My own name painted near to the shallow cave on the ‘Penny Slot’ end – in a dull brown/orange, the only gloss paint I could lay my hands on and which had been used to cover the barge boards of my mother’s house – has been lost under later work and the soft stone rubbing away. Which, along with the distance of time since the Rollers last worried the charts, Bon Scott’s passing, and the melting away of Flang 93 and Browny *3 and the rest, leads me to think that being a Genius loci must be a melancholy job. And, in these rapacious times, worrying. Pausing to take in the view of the power stations out towards Ferrybridge, then George Orwell’s despised Barnsley Town Hall three and a half miles away, before heading back home and contemplating the huge windmills up in the rural heights beyond Millhouse Green, that when back lit by the sunset on a winters day look like Calvary (an image I’m sure I’ve used before but has struck me with sufficient force over the years to use again), I walk with my two dogs and the Genius loci as he wanders the Plantings, a tartan scarf tied to his wrist, listening to the Highway to Hell album on a Sony Walkman, while time slips away and the future, like those feral nuisance youths, ceases to care.
New Road, Staincross, Thursday 18th April 2013
@ 29/03/2013 – 01:10:26
@ 27/03/2013 – 18:56:54
Spouts. I fucking hate them. They are shit. Absolutely fucking useless. I have never used one without getting whatever I was pouring everywhere. And kettle spouts are particularly wank – why does the water explode off the spout when you try to pour it carefully? I’ve hated them for as long as I can remember. No matter how slowly I tilt the pot, angle the Pyrex measuring jug, the can of 5W30 synthetic lubricant or tip the kettle – the liquid, whether it be milk, water, engine oil, or edible chocolate body paint, clings to the utensil and runs straight down in the opposite direction to where I want it to go.
What are contemporary designers and engineers doing about it? Fuck all, it seems. Joseph Conrad keeps redesigning the chair without any real noticeable difference in comfort or practicality and James Dyson doesn’t know when a job is done and won’t stop tinkering with bloody vacuum cleaners (let it lie, James). And as far as I’m aware Sir Norman Foster has done bugger all about the problem. Somebody somewhere needs to have a word with the Society of Engineers and get them to pull their fingers out. They’re letting us all down. To quote Edward VIII, ‘something must be done.’
@ 28/02/2013 – 19:07:00
A dark, cold night in February, driving along the road that inspired Chris Rea. The A666 heading to Blackburn, Lancashire and its four thousand rather small holes. Or rather to Darwen Library, a grand civic building opened by Andrew Carnegie in 1908, to see Guy Masterson's one man performance of George Orwell's Animal Farm.
Inside the hall a group of about a hundred shuffled into their seats, beverages in hand. The pint of Fallon's Dark Prince slides down as I get comfortable. The adaptation was premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1995. Masterson has been performing the one man show ever since. I had been uncertain what to expect. In my darker, more cynical moments, as we wound our way through the Pendle hills, I recalled the one-man dance recital by Dude Lebowski's landlord. One way or another it was going to be interesting.
The props are kept to a minimal. A square box (Masterson online instructions offer an alternative as a bail of hay), lighting and a series of barnyard sound effects. Without any build up, other than a cacophony of farm yard sounds, Masterson takes the stage. His performance was superb. It could easily get confusing about which animal is taking centre stage. But Masterson's ability to personify the characters was bbbb by simple gestures, a definable facial expression and regional accent keeps the narrative flowing smoothly and coherently. Switching to his conversation role as the narrator, engaging with the audience and chucking in a few topical references to David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
Because Orwell reduced his ideas to the simple interactions of animals on a farm – something that time will alter very little – the allegory works just as well now as it did in 1945. There is nothing anachronistic about Animal Farm. The principles behind the narrative arc lend themselves to any political doctrine. The bogeyman of Snowball, justifying excess and limitations on freedom, was perhaps never more pertinent – what with the War on Terror and all that. But it has always been a book that leaves me depressed. But depressed in a good way, if that's possible. My thoughts prompted by the simmering anger behind the parable. I remember when I first read the novel years ago, throwing my copy across the room when Boxer was retired to the slaughter house. Masterson's performance re-enforced that anger. I'm not sure if the animals have something to do with that. It's as if we get a heightened sense of emotion due to the anthropomorphic sentiments that the book prompts. It's like crying when Bambi's mother got shot by that thick twat of a hunter. We look on the microcosm of the animals' world with partisanship in a way we seem unable or unaware to look at our own world.
Satirical humour is a difficult line to walk. The balloon should be pricked, not have a smiley face marked on it. British satire – unlike its European counterpart with its ability to humiliate its victims or the malicious partisanship of the Americans – is relatively cosy. It serves to deflect our own anger as opposed to bring down governments or fuel resentment. We turn what should be the objects of scorn into figures of fun. Look at Boris Johnson, for pity's sake. The popular attitude is one of patronizing indulgence (more fool us). Shaking our heads at his bumbling crassness and mis-timed comments. He's harmless is Boris. A sort of more politically correct Duke of Edinburgh. Think about it, how many other politicians do we call by their first name? Credit it where it's due, the wool has well and truly been pulled and that has to be one of the best Public Relations successes of recent times. A sort Eddie ‘The Eagle' Edwards of British Politics with the mute sexual charm of Martin Clunes. Didn't you just love him in Doc Martin? Easily dismissing as unimportant his privileged upbringing and the boorish arrogance of his Bullingdon Club days. People don't understand any more now than they did in 1945. Animal Farm is not simple entertainment. We are the porkers, the sheep, Boxer, Snowball and even Napoleon. But we sit back content to be the audience. To allow the Napoleons, the Borises, the Camerons and the Cleggs to manipulate our lives for their own ends. Because political systems are an irrelevance, they are the mechanism by which one man can inflict his own will on a group of other people; lending government a moral compunction that it doesn't really feel. It all boils down to ego and vested interests. There are lots of backs to scratch. Lots of arses to cover. This is the age of the professional politician. When current failings will be forever blamed on past mistakes, until Gordon Brown occupies a role once reserved for Richard III. Politicians are like the celibate priests lecturing on marriage. What does Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, George Osbourne or Uncle Dave understand about struggling to put fuel in a car or pay a heating bill? I would suggest very little. Probably a lot less than a Catholic Priest knows about sex. A damn sight less.
As I stepped thoughtfully into the night I thought about the country that we live in and the people that govern us. Some rules make sense, such as driving on a regulated side of the road. Other less so. And some only make sense to the people who implement them. For instance we now have, for the first time in our history, a politicized police force. At a time of shivering unemployment politics is apparently bucking the trend and creating new positions for itself. This bossing folks about seems to be a growth industry. Napoleon would approve.
@ 30/01/2013 – 21:58:40
After the first silence the small man said to the other: 'Where does a wise man hide a pebble?' And the tall man answered in a low voice: 'On the beach.' The small man nodded, and after a short silence said: 'Where does a wise man hide a leaf?' And the other answered: 'In the forest.'
Sometimes greatness is hidden in clear sight.
Between 1974 and 1980 grease paint masked American hard rockers Kiss released twelve studio albums (including four solo albums) and two live double albums (the first one, Alive! (1975), is best), with twenty-odd million records sold. Between late 75 and the simultaneous release of the four solo albums in 78 they were the biggest band in the world. And then in 1981 they released the album The Music from the Elder.
Disco had wrong-footed Kiss. It has to be said that they always had one eye on revenue and the success of Saturday Night Fever, Donna Summer, Earth, Wind & Fire and the rest had taken the wind out of their sails (sic). Rather than pushing against the tide, they went with it and produced two softer albums Dynasty (1979) and Unmasked (1980). Unmasked had seen the departure of original drummer Peter Criss, not to mention several thousand members of the Kiss Army. The band were at a crossroads. Lead guitarist Ace Frehley wanted a back to basics rock album - an idea they would take up, minus Frehley, in the wake of The Elder's failure to sell and the continued desertions from the Kiss Army which had begun with Dynasty by releasing The Creatures of the Night in 1982 with perhaps the fattest drums ever recorded.
But before Creatures of the Night there was The Music from the Elder. Even the band have distanced themselves from the album. It wasn't toured and few of the songs have been revisited in their live set (‘A world without heroes’ made an appearance on their MTV Unplugged session back in the nineties). Lou Reed was grafted onto the project to give it gravitas that it never managed to achieve – an unsuccessful collaboration with hard rockers which has continued with his appalling effort with Metallica a few years ago.
The album as an experimental format reached its peak at some point in the 1970s. Like everything else – including the internet and hover boots – it's invention has been put down to The Beatles, even though the concept behind Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) had run out of steam by the second song. As far back as 1968 The Small Faces were already extracting the juice out of the idea with Ogden's Nut Gone Flake and its stoner's brain fart of a story line about the disappearing moon. Where at, man, he thoucus? The concept behind The Music from the Elder is no better. The story is tosh, obviously – some kid has been chosen by a group of super-brained Elders to go up against the force of evil. But wasn’t the story behind all concept albums spaff? SF Sorrow by The Pretty Things, makes no sense at all. And what the fuck is Tommy about? And things didn’t get any better after these ground-breaking efforts, reaching its muddy conclusion with some mid-seventies, pre-punk album by Yes dealing with the Dwarf Wars on the planet Tharg. Maybe during some multi-coloured mental blizzard cooked up by booze and LSD it perhaps all made perfect sense. Syd Barrett might have dug it.
Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies, Schools Out etc and Pink Floyd’s The Wall) who had helmed the knobs and dials on the band’s very successful 1976 Destroyer was drafted in for The Elder. The band recorded in secrecy with rumours that this would be the spiritual follow up to Destroyer. It wasn’t and the sessions seem claustrophobic and fractious. Ace Frehley was especially unhappy. For a start Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Ezrin were steering the album away from the hard rocker that had originally been touted into something more complex and fragile. Frehley's problems with Ezrin dated back to the Destroyer recording sessions of 1976, with the Space Ace too far in orbit to function and his solos being replaced like some Renaissance master peddling out his work to studio flunkeys. During The Elder recordings Ezrin would again cut out much of Frehley's guitar work. Delays in the release of the record were compounded by Bob Ezrin's cocaine intake which may have had a knock on effect the grandiose nature of what he eventually knocked out. And when it finally did ship to the shops, the fans were bemused. What the hell was this…?
The cover artwork is especially uninspiring (even with the debate as to whether the hand is that of lead singer Paul Stanley or Elizabeth Taylor). And any album that tries to carry a narrative means that a lot of the lyrics feel forced, which seems to undermine the songs. The Elder is no different. Expectations about narrative arc are low. However, it would be easy to dismiss the album out of hand. There are some good tunes and the quality of the sound is superb. Especially the multi-layered operatic sound of Paul Stanley's voice. The guitar work on the album is in sharp contrast to their previous work, even discounting the disco flavour of their two previous releases. There is a use of semi tones which would herald the introduction of true modern heavy metal - as opposed to the loud, distorted blues rock which they and other bands (Led Zeppelin, The Who, Humble Pie, Aerosmith etc) had reheated from half-forgotten blues records of the 1950s into stadium rumbling monsters.
‘Just a boy’, ‘Odyssey’ and ‘Only You’ are the stand out tracks. The Elder may not be my favourite Kiss album (Rock n’ Roll Over or Alive! perhaps gets that accolade), but it has an element of greatness about it that’s perhaps been nurtured by its lack of success and the way even the band themselves have dismissed it. Have a listen, take a journey, pledge the oath. Enjoy.
@ 31/12/2012 – 17:20:52
Christmas shoppers. Or specifically panic buying, over-consuming Christmas shoppers. What is wrong with these people? Fair enough, you buy your presents and get some goodies in to devour while you watch Zulu and The Great Escape, crammed with sugar and the always delicious saturated fat and all that. But over the festive season do you know how many days the ASDA and Tesco and all the other big supermarkets were shut for? One day. ONE DAY. They closed the doors last thing on Christmas Eve and, shaking off their hangover, opened them again on Boxing Day. In that time did the millions of people who were shuffling around the aisles really think they were going to need their own body weight in chocolate oranges or enough Navy Rum to ration the entire Imperial Fleet. It’s fucking crazy. They’re fucking crazy. You see them sweeping hundreds of bags of crisps from the shelves and into their second full trolley. ‘Quick, Muriel, grab ten boxes of those After Eights! You never know!’ ‘Come on, Colin, we need another fifteen bottles of Crisp & Dry to see us through!’ Never ever EVER under estimate the bovine stupidity of the mob. Hoards of sheep following the latest shallow fad (e.g. The X-Factor, any annoying twat made famous by being featured in a reality TV programme, Kate/Pippa Middleton etc etc e-fucking-tc) and packs of wolves baying for blood at the newest mis-reported atrocity (take your pick). They’re all out there. And it doesn’t get any better when the shops FINALLY reopen. Because then there’s the bastard sales. I went to put some petrol in my car at the Stairfoot Tesco on the 27th December. I thought a meteor had come down and we were all heading for the Pennines to get out of the way of the Tsunami that was rolling in from the North Sea. That it was the day after tomorrow. It was bumper to bumper. It took twenty minutes to get through the queue – a distance of something like three hundred yards. All because chocolate Father Christmassssss were now three for two and someone’s told them that Tesco are about to run out of novelty Rudolf slippers. Because, obviously, the fuckers had run out of everything in the twenty-four fucking hours the supermarket had been closed. Is it a day out for them or something? Stuck in traffic for hours before jostling around the shops to buy crap that they don’t need because someone already felt obliged to buy them it for Christmas just because it’s cheaper than it was two days ago? What a set of thoughtless, dullard, wankers.
@ 29/11/2012 – 13:17:56
Wankers who populate online forums. These people really are twats. It doesn't matter what the subject of the forum is, they're out there – full weight bell ends. Whether it be Ford Anglia enthusiasts, Lancaster bomber restorers, photography know-it-alls or Bijon Frise inter-breeders, every forum is infested with supercilious, self-important knobs. These people aren't trolls, they're worse than that. At least a troll has the sense to know that they are a troll, these cock-knockers are oblivious to their own bell-ended-ness, too concerned to be rushing headlong with the burning need to grandstand their own supposed knowledge and erudition, like a man with imminent diarrhoea trying to find a shitter before his arse explodes like Krakatoa. Boom!
This exchange, from a Gibson guitars forum, is typical:
You then have to wade through at least three quarters of the first page of answers before you can expect a reasonable response to your query, that's if the subject hasn't been hi-jacked by the forum's obligatory fucking court jester by then, cracking absolutely hilarious in jokes about the 1963 camshaft that Hillman used on the fucking Imp or some continuity error in Darth Vader's light sabre during the Blue Ray version of The Empire Strikes Back. The subject page then deteriorates into a series of exchanges by online best pals orchestrated by Mr cunting Claypole that would make the Goons seem frigging hilarious by comparison. How much server space that could be storing online porn is wasted by these self-satisfied, anally retentive wankers? It grips my shit. Pricks.
@ 29/10/2012 – 14:42:25
With millions tuning in every Saturday night to watch what is basically pub karaoke with a few strobe lights chucked in, Chris Helme walked onto the small stage at The Duchess in York on the evening of Wednesday 17th October 2012 to about fifty people, bless him. It’s been something like eight years since I last saw Chris live, at Fibbers just around the corner, and he doesn't appear t have changed. His fringe still needs some scissors taking to it.
Pulling songs from his latest album The Rookery, he sang accompanied only with his acoustic guitar, and turned in a performance that shamed the wannabe celebrity wedding singers on The X Factor by its simple musicianship and unaffected rapport.
I bought a copy of the album after the show and had it signed by Chris. A number one or not, listening to the tracks (‘Pleased’ is a favourite already), The Rookery is an album that will be played by serious lovers of music long after Mr Cowell has retired to Bel Air and his acts have slipped into obscurity.
Music is dead. Long live music.