26 March 2012

The Devil gets all the best movies...

To celebrate the BFI release of Ken Russell’s film The Devils – which I’ve reviewed at length in the current edition of Uncut – I'm posting up some photos from the Daily Telegraph Magazine (issue 350, 9 July 1971), which featured an interview and on-location report by Lee Langley. Until this year I’d only seen the film once - in the early 90s, Channel 4, on a tiny portable black and white TV. Seeing it again in this beautifully restored version, Russell's colour scheme, and the richness of the whole conception, really shine out. And the BFI have excelled themselves with the extras disc, too – behind the scenes footage, film of Peter Maxwell Davies conducting his harrowing score, some rarely seen Ken shorts, etc etc. One of the must-have DVDs of 2012.

17 June 2011

A Walk to the Paradise Garden

My eight page feature on Roy Harper is the cover story on this month’s Wire magazine (issue 329, July 2011). The interview was conducted over a couple of days and Roy was kind enough to host it at his home in West Cork. Here is an exclusive virtual tour of the amazing landscape he has planted and built with his own hands in the grounds of his house. It is an idyllic creation, and makes a fascinating counterpoint to the more Edenic aspects of his music – you could almost see it as an organic song inscribed in the landscape...

“The Blackcap sings and the forest rings
The nettles tall around me...”

“With shafts of sun and moving things...”

“... And poems fast and slowly...”

“And fantasies of luscious thirst
For new lust and fresh waters to seek it...”

“Like diamonds set in realities...”

“Of skies drawn back in secret.”

Roy Harper, “Commune” (From Valentine, 1974)

1 June 2011

I’m hosting a panel around Simon Reynolds’s new book, Retromania: Pop Culture’s Obsession with Its Own Past, at London ICA this week. Also in the panel will be Cosey Fanny Tutti (Throbbing Gristle, Chris & Cosey), ‘reconstruction artists’ Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, and Caroline Evans, Professor of Fashion History at Central St Martin’s College of Art. We’ll be talking about the prevalence of ‘retro’ and nostalgia in the music, art and fashion in recent decades and pondering whether this has enhanced or diluted contemporary culture. Among other things.

Over And Over And Over And Over
London ICA, 2 June, 6:45pm, £12–£10

20 May 2011

The rollicking Revolt of the Apes site has just published an interview with me by Ryan Muldoon.

4 May 2011

Hello America

The US edition of Electric Eden is published on Tuesday 10 May (Faber via Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Revised, updated and corrected!

Just finished reading Fire And Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970, by David Browne (Da Capo). It’s a very detailed account of the interlinked fortunes of these artists and groups at a transitional point in rock history (see Jon Savage’s compilation of a few years back, Meridian 70), and the author has already tackled the twin biography of Tim and Jeff Buckley and the story of Sonic Youth. Although the Beatles breakup year feels very well chronicled elsewhere, it's an engaging read, particularly for the mass of material on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – I could have happily read a whole book on these volatile personalities who managed, for a brief interlude, to make some of the most gorgeous folk-rock on earth – and let’s not forget that a good deal of it was powerful reactions to horrific political events – “Ohio”, for instance, written spontaneously two weeks after the Kent State University shootings.

I’ve reviewed the book for the next issue of Word, but meanwhile I recommend steering your wooden ship back to solo albums like Crosby’s If Only I Could Remember My Name and Stills’s first solo LP. Those, at least, are my current soundtrack to these early summer breezes.

60 years ago, on 1 June 1951, the great folklorist A. L. Lloyd hosted Singing Englishmen, a celebration of British folk song. Part of the Festival of Britain, it was held at St Pancras Church near Kings Cross, and involved a programme of folk songs sung by the Workers' Music Association Choir, with arrangements by the composer Alan Bush. Both Bush and the WMA had strong connections to Topic Records, going back to the label's formation in 1939, and stem from an era before any of the major post-war folk revivals, as we know them, had actually taken place (Ewan MacColl and his gang didn't really get going until several years later).

60 years on, the Southbank Centre is hosting its own revival of the spirit of the Festival of Britain. Last Saturday I took my daughter up there and found the forecourt outside the Royal Festival Hall packed solid with people listening to Billy Bragg belting his song “A13 Trunk Road To The Sea” out towards the choppy Thames. (One to add to my short list, in Electric Eden, of that rare commodity, the British driving song.) In the RFH basement, tucked away so you could easily miss it, is an excellent exhibition of Festival of Britain memorabilia – posters, graphics & typefaces, film screenings, an amazing quilt made by local schoolchildren at the time depicting all aspects of British life, furniture, etc – in that unrepeatable 1950s fusion of folk craft and modernism. Well worth a visit.

And this Saturday, I’ll be compering the Festival Hall’s commemoration of Lloyd’s Singing Englishmen event. Entitled The Great Folk Jukebox, it’s been convened by members of Bellowhead, who’ll be acting as a ‘house band’ behind such singers as Marc Almond, Green Gartside, Lisa Knapp, June Tabor, Robyn Hitchcock, Bishi, Oysterband and more, doing their own renditions of British folk numbers. Far from the stark and no doubt rather wholemealy songbook of 1951, these will be versions that draw on the more recent arrangements of the folk-rock era, by the likes of Pentangle, Shirley Collins, etc – illustrating how far folk music in the British Isles has moved since the war. Should be an interesting one.

Royal Festival Hall, Saturday 7 May, 7:30pm

21 April 2011

Wise words from the departing...

Anyone in the Bristol area this weekend, I’m giving an introductory talk at Musick To Play In The Dark: A Wake for Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, a special event at the Cube Cinema. also appearing: The Man From Uranus, Bronnt Industries Kapital, films, body art, Dirty Talk Disco DJs and more.

4 April 2011

I’ve got a piece on English Music in this week’s New Statesman, which devotes a large section to the question of ‘Who Are the English?’ There’s also a great piece by Romantic Moderns author Alexandra Harris. The issue incidentally features a fantastic illustration of David Cameron as a Muslim imam on the cover.

28 March 2011

Sowing the seeds

In one of today’s first announcements from the Arts Council of England in their revised budgets in the wake of government cuts, a first round pass of £615,400 plus £30,000 development funding has been granted to the EFDSS, with a particular emphasis on digital preservation and access. Here’ s the text of the initial ACE press release:

The English Folk Dance and Song Society will work with five other nationally important English folk music and dance archive collections to tell the story of traditional, rural and working class culture in 20th-century England. The project will carry out essential conservation work, digitise the collections and join them through a single web portal, allowing online public access to the collections for the first time. An educational programme will be run in 21 different locations in England with volunteers given training so they can help care for the collection and support the accompanying activity programme.”