Slave to her Rhythm

It is a simple equation, sass plus attitude = SASSITUDE. There has been a roll call of ladies with an attitude through the years who have inspired and impressed – Mae West, Bette Davis, Anna Magnani, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn, Ute Lempur, Marlene Dietrich, Isabella Rossellini, Kate Bush, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Frida Kahlo, P.J Harvey, Alison Goldfrapp, Annie Clark and of course Madonna – to name a select few.

But this week I would like to salute the disco ball that hovers around the Cosmos of the one and only, Ms. Grace Jones. In an era when people are all the more obsessed with age, I love the fact that Madame J just keeps on dancing. Ignoring the usual sneers, ‘she’s too old to wear that, to dance that way’ etc. As if suddenly you hit an age and you lose who you are. Dis-Grace keeps performing in underground night clubs, mixing music with Tricky and Eno, even hula-hooping for Her Majesty’s pleasure. I wonder if Ms. Jones has a portrait in the attic of Studio 54, as she looks no different to her Seventies’ self.

Grace Studio 54Apparently her svelte, curved figure is crafted by cycling across the British countryside. She also has an alleged penchant for red wine, prompting her mates to nickname her ‘Grapes’.

I remember having a re-occurring nightmare about Grace when I was a kid. At the time she was in a car advert, where an automobile bolted out of her mouth. I also recall she was a more fearsome James Bond villain than Jaws, Oddjob or any of the other cast of crooks, playing Mayday. Even making Roger Moore’s eyebrow rise higher than usual! A feat in its own right.

grace-jones mayday

I fulfilled one of my life ambitions by seeing her in concert a few years ago in Manchester. She was promoting the mesmerizingly mega music scape that was ‘Hurricane’. The album came complete with photography and art work composed by Banksy. A surge of surreal images of Grace working at a chocolate factory on the production line, the chanteuse sculpting an image of herself to be consumed commercially. Something I regretted did not make the shelves of Thornton’s or any other confectioners.

The performance that night in Manchester was wonderfully electric. With the diva arriving on stage on a cherry-picker, wearing just a black corset and a melee of Philip Treacy hats and fascinators. A unique style being modelled for each song. Pure, unadulterated Cabaret!

I’ve also seen other self-titled divas perform, who rely too, too heavily on theatrics and special effects to woo and wow their audiences. To distract from not really having too much talent, all concert entertainment by numbers, with audio and visuals modified for the DVD release. So ladies and gentleman, Ms. Grace Jones, long may she reign. This year on her birthday, May 19th, I raised a glass in honour of Amazing Grace.

grace

I will always be a slave to her rhythm. Now get me to a discothèque.

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House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

I always find reading horror on a sun-soaked beach throws the average tourist. The reality is that I find it is the safest place to indulge in scare tales, as the night terrors can play havoc with my mind. In the small hours a Moroccan lampshade can turn into a dark, cloaked figure ready to drag me off into hell. But at least, I think, I’ve got a lot of friends there.

If looking for a touch of horror on your travels this summer, I would suggest packing a copy of an Adam Nevill or downloading one onto your technological reading device of choice.

House of Small Shadows

Being branded by a credible UK newspaper (that is definitely not The S*n or The Daily Bigotry Mail) as the British Stephen King could intimidate or worry some writers.  Yet Adam Nevill continues to illustrate his literary craftsmanship, particularly with his horror offering. Nevill’s work has everything that makes a story of the supernatural: a dilapidated Victorian house, eccentric inhabitants, noises in the night, a psychologically vulnerable mixed-up protagonist. The Wicker Man meets The League of Gentleman.

Narrator Catherine has left her corporate job in a popular television production company. High-profile bullying saw her fired and forced to leave London to start a new career in a new town. Landing an assignment with huge potential, she is tasked to catalogue the late M H Mason’s eccentric collection of antique dolls and puppets. Mason’s elderly niece invites her to stay at the Red House – both workshop and home of the dead man. It is here that Catherine sees for herself the darkness behind Mason’s unique ‘Art’.

A disturbed imaginative investigation that taps into the innate human fear of puppets. If anyone can say that they can look Mr. Punch up close in the eye and not be freaked out, they are either a liar or a little missing of a few strings themselves.

Mr-Punch

The Red House, like that other infamous horror house Amityville, features as a prominent character in the story. The first description hints at the atmosphere that is flowing through its foundations:

All of the lines of the building pointed to the heavens. Two steep gables and the arch of every window beseeched the sky, as though the great house was a small cathedral indignant at its exile in rural Herefordshire. And despite over a century of rustication among uncultivated fields, the colour of its Accrington brick remained an angry red.

With this tale Neville gives the reader small tasters of the narrative. At the beginning of the book each chapter is miniscule. As the tale unfolds, the chapters become bigger, bursting with syntax and disturbing imagery that totally immerses the reader into the horror on the page.

I suggest reading a tale from this bastion of dark fantasy this summer. Besides you may not be the only person by the pool reading dark materials, I did notice someone dabbling in the Satanic pages of a Katie Price biography and that does indeed fill me with terror, by day or by night.

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Shakeshaft

City living has its risks, seven seagulls fly by pooping on my suits in the last year. Concrete paving slabs splashing up rainwater underneath.

shakeshaft_nun_prison

But one of the advantages has to be the cast of characters you can encounter simply walking down the streets. Who needs to pay for a TV licence? Real life is far more entertaining. This ensemble of characters is captured in the work of Liverpool photographer, Stephen Shakeshaft.

Wash house. Photo by Stephen Shakeshaft. First use DP w/c 14/9/09

The photography of Shakeshaft first flashed onto my retinas in Liverpool’s now closed National Conservation Centre. I used to visit this exhibition space and sit with a double espresso underneath the Eros statue in the café. I was stunned by the image-maker’s work and have been a fervent admirer of his art since. He does something which I think is unique in his compositions. Anyone can simply take a picture, point and click and now with the invasion of apps, airbrush, tint to vintage, fade away and radiate.

children_sweep_shakeshaft

This artist captures the resilience of Liverpudlians. The Scouse stoic sense of surety, with a cut to the bone sarcastic humour.

MARGI CLARKE PREPARING TO GO ON STAGE IN PANTO

MARGI CLARKE PREPARING TO GO ON STAGE IN PANTO

With just one look of the eye, his sitters tell their story. Take Lizzie, for example, selling fruit from her market stall, whatever the weather. She glares at the camera with a hard affection and knowingness.

lizzie

It was a treat for the eye to view his collection of images of the Liverpudlian icon Ken Dodd recently at the Liverpool Life Museum.

ken dodd

I absolutely love Ken Dodd, I find he is like a Scouse Surrealist, a genius of madcap humour. Try and explain the Diddy men to anyone, bizarre with a capital B,

Did someone spike that man’s tea?

And what about his tickling stick? Like Magritte’s pipe, it has become a signature. As the joker Dodd puts it,

A lot of people say it’s a sex symbol, but I think that’s a fallacy.

The candid snaps displayed the man on stage and backstage drinking a pint, a cup of tea, lounging on a couch. With close-up images to reveal the attention to detail that is applied to his act. For example, a worn battered make-up kit and arsenal of tricks, to help him on his missive to give the world, ‘a little drop of tickle tonic’.

If Ken Dodd was around in William Shakespeare’s day, he would have been a fool in one of his plays, all, ‘Nuncle’ and mirth-laced, with a subtle dosage of truth. Kenneth Branagh recognised this quality and cast him in his screen version of HAMLET. This celebration of the official lunatic from Knotty Ash, Mr. Ken Dodd, did leave me feeling

full of plumtiousness and gratitude.

 

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A reading chair

If I was a king, I would have a chair purposefully crafted out of volumes of books. Books that I have read through the years. Books that now I find are inside of me.

The iconic Iron Throne in the infamous television drama, Game of Thrones (adapted from the novels by George R. R. Martin), is allegedly forged from 1,000 swords. I guess this is the source that inspired me. But alas, I am not a king at this particular moment in time, so I have settled for a leather black studded Art Deco-style chair. The type of seat that will improve with age, the more battered and worn it looks.

The Reading Chair 2

I was inspired to purchase a designated seat to just read in after enjoying horror master Stephen King’s book simply titled, ‘On Writing’.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things: read a lot and write a lot.

So read I where I can, but I have a favourite place: the blue chair in my study. So far in 2014, I have read the graphic horrors penned in GRIMMS FAIRY TALES, been to prison and stolen books in 1930’s Paris with JEAN GENET, danced the Charleston at THE GREAT ‘Jay’ GATSBY’s and warded off stray donkeys from Betsey Trotwood’s lawn in DAVID COPPERFIELD. Who knows what adventures await me next?

The Reading Chair

Quentin Crisp said cinema is The Forgetting Chamber, where you forget all your daily troubles and dissolve into the cinema screen. To have my very own chair to escape into the world of literature is essential for sanity, health and well-being. In fact, I think Schopenhauer said it best:

I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage.

I don’t know where this overgrown bush of books has come from; I cannot resist picking up the odd title as I go. I am sure there are worst habits to have.

The Book Bush

Thankfully, Stephen King agrees with my reading addiction:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

desk

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Fortunate discoveries in Paris

If Paris were a female she would be a natural beauty with Debbie Harry’s chiselled cheekbones, natural bone structure, a facial composition of bliss and elegance.

debbie-harry-annie-leibovitz-vanity-fair

The kind of girl who looks amazing even with just a simple outfit on, hair scraped back and early morning breath. Artistry is in the very DNA of the City of Light. I love to amble around watching the day turn into night and witness the compositions I’ve seen in Brassai’s photography come alive.

brassai

Sunday morning, sharp cold air stabs like a thousand miniscule icicles. Time to fuel up on bread and jam with proper coffee taken in a French café, where they had run out of croissants. I meander towards the Eiffel Tower from Montparnasse, through the cemetery.

Montparnasse-cemetery

Here the dead live in close proximity with the living in high-rise apartments, but as my old Nanny Carrie used to say:

It’s not the dead you should be afraid of, lad, it’s the living.

I should be on the right path, yet to be honest, je suis perdu. I stumble upon the La Pagode cinema on the Rue de Babylon and eventually hit the Seine.

seine

Bang a right and allow myself to flow along the river. Like a piece of flotsam I drift, starting my exploration through the myriad of booksellers.

Peter Ackroyd personifies London, in his biography of the smoke, as a living entity. The tube, river and roadways acting as arteries pumping the life blood into the epicentre. Keeping it alive. The river is potentially the oldest part, the life line of the city. It is true of Paris also.

Along the Seine there are around 200 independent book sellers outdoors. 300,000, collectible, new and used books and magazines under open skies. The banks are littered with iconic green metal boxes, depicted in numerous famous landscapes – notably from the Impressionist period.

bouquinistes 2

There is an urban myth about the origins of this bohemian trade. A ship transporting volumes of books capsized near Notre Dame. Sailors rapidly swam ashore taking with them as many books as they could and sold them to the passers-by to substitute the wages they had lost. This quick sell proved to be a lucrative venture.

The Bouquinistes sold old, bashed volumes and highbrow society would not buy these vulgar types of books. In 1450 with the invention of the printing press, there was an increase in the sale of pamphlets targeting the government and the church. The vagabond traders had no fixed selling point meaning if necessary they could make their escape from the law. The area along the river became a rallying place for citizens and students to vent their spleen.

The literary business really took off following the Revolution; houses of the bourgeoisie were demolished, emptied and affluent book shelves were sold through the bouquinistes.  Jean Genet, the infamous writer, made stealing books and selling them on to the bouquinistes practically an art form and his signature trademark.

Bouquinistes

During World War Two, the Resistance transmitted code messages in the pages of the books. It was a hard task for the Nazis to find the messages hidden.

I decide to take a trip along the river by boat. Sadly, as I take in the sheer beauty of Paris, at least 3/4s of the people on board chose to experience Paris by water, not through their own eyes but through the perspective of the “I” phone.

I remember a time when I could go to a gig, dance like a loon and throw myself around. Now in recent gigs I’ve been to, I have seen people recording the event, filming the whole spectacular. Recording life, instead of living life, has become the new hashtag experience! Eyes are the window of the soul, but does anyone have a spare charger?

I finish my journey at The Shakespeare and Co Bookstore, a favourite haunt of mine and decide to purchase THE LITTLE PRINCE, one of those many titles I have not quite got around to yet.

the little prince

A perfect way to lose oneself on a Sunday morning in March.

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All The Year Round

I have begun my latest reading project: to swim my way through the oceans of literature that Mr. Charles Dickens created during his lifetime.

charlie dickens in his syudyI purchased 13 Volumes from Kernaghan Books in Liverpool. I must confess, I started The Pickwick Papers a few weeks ago but struggled a little so decided to try David Copperfield. Instantaneously, the episodic nature had me hooked. I wanted to see how a reader of the day would experience Dickens’ work. So I visited the Liverpool John Moores Special Collections and Archive to take a peep at one of their latest acquisitions, a collection of All The Year Round. (A weekly journal conducted by Charles Dickens, with which is incorporated Household Words. Price 2D)

All the year roundBoldly emblazoned on the cover is a quote from William Shakespeare:

The story of our lives from year to year.

Shakespeare

The periodical has all types of feature for the reader of the day from marital advice:

The earth is full of couples who are made for each other, not only of couples whose destiny it is to love but of those whose destiny it is to hate. For every spider there is created a fly, for every cat a mouse, for every bird a worm, for every innocent bill holder a really innocent bill acceptor and for every picture dealer a picture buyer.

to advertisements for Dickens’ infamous reading performances.

Christmas Carol and Mrs Camp
MR CHARLES DICKENS READINGS
April 18th (1861)
Little Dombey and The Trial from Pickwick
at St. James Hall, Piccadilly

There is a great exposition of social issues of the day:

…sense of the joy and purity of life comes from the children as they dance and sing in the midst of the toiling crowd. But let the millions who toil in England pass before us in one great procession, and we shall find sad companies of eager, undergrown, unwholesome men walking with none but pale, none but pale and weak eyed women and with none but bruised and weary little children, stunted of growth, some even wearing spectacles, all silent as the grave.

CHILDREN OF WORK June 8th 1861.

The celebrated writer’s fiction proved to be an education tool too, a way of informing and instructing the masses. I particularly like the way we can see the development of what are now understood to be classics in the canon of literature:

In No 84 of ATYR to be published on December 1st will be commenced, GREAT EXPECTATIONS A new serial story, to be continued from week to week until completed in about eight months.

In a world where we have access to instantaneous information at our finger tips, it is hard to imagine waiting weekly for the next part of a story in print. The Dickensian reader would not read the tales in one sitting, they evolved over time and were delivered as episodes weekly. To think about in a modern context, take your favourite t.v. programme series, say BREAKING BAD, SHERLOCK (please add appropriate title), now put all of the scripts into one place. That is a hell of a lot of words, copious pages of syntax. The way I am attacking the reading of Charles D is not really how it was intended to be read.

The archive space here in Liverpool is really something special. A place to handle the creative past, to instantaneously transport back to previous literary and cultural times.

LJMU archive is accessible to the general public by appointment 10-4 Monday to Friday. It houses a host of intriguing collections:

  • THE SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL
  • JOHN MCCREADY ARCHIVE
  • THE ARTHUR DOOLEY ARCHIVE

arthur dooley

  • THE LIDDELL HART COLLECTION OF COSTUME
  • INTERNATIONAL TIMES
  • THE BARRY MILES ARCHIVE
  • ENGLAND’S DREAMING: THE JON SAVAGE ARCHIVE

punk

  • CYBERNETICS, PUNK, FASHION, COUNTERCULTURE, THEATRE, ART, HISTORY.

In keeping with the technological times we live in, there are also a number of resources online. After all, If Charles Dickens were alive today he would be blogging, instructing people from his iPad, laptop or smartphone, for this is the way readership is now acquired. And imagine what Oscar Wilde could do with twitter!

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Digital Detox

Sunday morning and I am now 24 hours into my digital detox. No social media, no e-mail! I am not even allowed to turn on my iPad to type up my scraps of material from the week before.

I have a presentation to make in the University early next week. I know I need to sort the slides, visuals and notes. I aim to get through until Monday morning and map out my session on paper with sketches and rough drafts.

I did contemplate sticking a small microchip or a bar code to my arm, like a Nicorette patch, to help stave off my digital cravings.

digital detox

Stop the need to view a TED talk or play music through Spotify. I‘ve even got my old long player vinyl records, that I inherited from my parents, out of the loft. The scratching sounds of Marc Bolan’s Tyrannosaurus Rex, to help me with my electronic fast.

I had an action planned day, scheduled on Saturday with Sophie, my ten-year old niece. Drama class at eleven for her, giving me an hour to work on my new piece of writing PUPPET.

Lunch in Chinatown, followed by the new exhibition at The Bluecoat (ironically, focusing on how artists are questioning the impact of digital technology on humans), then to the Planetarium at the Museum for a show on the Winter Sky at night.

The works on display at The Bluecoat were extremely interesting.

The stand out piece for me had to be by Marilene Oliver. The artist has reconstructed her mother and father through stacked screen printed sections taken from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The sculpture is like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. It has a strange, other worldly presence that is captivating and also quite unnerving.

Marilene_Oliver__Family_Portrait__Self-Portrait___Sophie__2002__02

By chance, whilst at The Bluecoat, we stumbled upon an open day for the printing studio, The Juniper Press. A newly formed letter-press studio equipped with traditional type and presses for the use of artists and designers. The room was brimming full of people, with lively demonstrations taking place. The space smelt of raw oil based ink and crisp sharp printed pages, metal prints hot off the press – literally.

Juniper_Press_Stamps_THUMB

Letter-press printing has been in existence for over 500 years. There is currently a revival of this lost art taking place, perhaps people yearn for something more practical. The printmakers told me that there is a real resurgence of interest and use in contemporary art and design.

My niece had the opportunity to work a Victorian Anvil Press and see exactly how the letters were composed and physically pressed on to the paper. A process that requires complete accuracy and attention to detail. With no room for too much error, as paper, print and resources were costly.

Now in these more austere times, we can learn a lot from this way of working, for it’s so easy to just press the mouse and print off a document, typos and all. The art of taking time and care to compose the structure of a piece of writing is something that can often be omitted. It is so easy to rattle off an e-mail and put it out there without having the time to think. I am an advocate of the ‘think before you click’ philosophy.

So for half an hour in the studio I was transported away from this modern life. I lost myself in the pleasures of print making. It was fantastic for my niece to see the mechanics of the process and understand the origins of the word font.

I must confess I am now a converted lover of letter-press printing. Leaving the studio, I purchased a book mark with a quote emblazoned on it from Benjamin Franklin,

Give me twenty-six SOLDIERS OF LEAD and I will conquer the world.

In a week that has seen the loss of the admirable activist, Tony Benn, a man of true values, this did bring a smile to my face.

tony benn

Back to my writing studio and the digital detox.

That night, in keeping with the Victorian theme, I started my next reading project. To get through the entirety of Charles Dickens’ back catalogue. I’ve recently purchased a superb collection from Kernaghan Books. As you can see, this may take me some time.

Dickens books

I encourage a weekly daily digital detox, it’s cleared out the electronic clutter in my mind.

Now to my inbox.

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