Sunday, 19 April 2015

Gavin Bryars - Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet

I have a real love for the work of the composer Gavin Bryars and there are at least two of his compositions that I would consider to be essential to any self respecting record collection.  I'll share the second with you another time but first we should have a look (and listen) to this singularly beautiful, bewitching and harrowing piece of music.

'Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet' is the title of a number of pieces of music based around a 13 bar loop of a recording of a homeless man in London singing the song of the same name.

Jesus' blood never failed me yet
Never failed me yet
Jesus' blood never failed me yet
There's one thing I know
For he loves me so

I'll let Bryars explain the origin of the recording in this extract from his website...

'In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song - sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads - and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet". This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.

When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song - 13 bars in length - formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.

I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp's nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism.'

The eventual release of the recording featured several different versions of the song of differing lengths and featuring different accompanying instruments including two versions which feature additional vocals from Tom Waits.

The version I've included here is the longest and, for me, the most gut wrenchingly poignant of them all.

At 26 minutes in length and featuring a vocal line of the same 13 bars repeated over and over again I'm aware that this isn't going to be to everyones taste but for me it's simply beautiful.

Find a quiet place, relax and enjoy.


Friday, 17 April 2015

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
Knockabout

A round up of the three 'Century' books that took the League through the 20th Century and into the 21st.
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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910

The new volume detailing the exploits of Miss Wilhelmina Murray and her extraordinary colleagues, Century is a 240-page epic spanning almost a hundred years. Divided into three 80-page chapters - each a self-contained narrative to avoid frustrating cliff-hanger delays between episodes - this monumental tale takes place in three distinct eras, building to an apocalyptic conclusion occurring in our own, current, twenty-first century. 
Chapter one is set against the backdrop of London, 1910, twelve years after the failed Martian invasion and nine years since England put a man upon the moon. In the bowels of the British Museum, Carnacki the ghost-finder is plagued by visions of a shadowy occult order who are attempting to create something called a Moonchild, while on London's dockside the most notorious serial murderer of the previous century has returned to carry on his grisly trade. Working for Mycroft Holmes' British Intelligence alongside a rejuvenated Allan Quartermain, the reformed thief Anthony Raffles and the eternal warrior Orlando, Miss Murray is drawn into a brutal opera acted out upon the waterfront by players that include the furiously angry Pirate Jenny and the charismatic butcher known as Mac the Knife

In this first book of the new LOEG series we return to the League some years after the adventures of the first two series but some time before the adventures of the Black Dossier with the League still working for the British Government.  

The team now consisting of the youthful and now immortal Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain along with Orlando, ghost hunter Thomas Carnacki and, gentleman thief, Raffles are drawn into investigating the occult underworld they suspect of trying to bring forth the Moonchild (whatever that is).

Nemo’s daughter Janni meanwhile has run away to London where the patrons of the depraved little dive that she finds work at eventually attack her in the most vile manner leading her to summon the Nautilus, of which she is now the captain, and exact her revenge.

I like this book a lot. It’s blatantly only a third of a story and I much prefer to read my books fully formed so this was slightly frustrating. The next volume is going to be the same but hey ho, some LOEG is better than no LOEG.

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1969
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1969 Volume III, Number 2 Chapter two takes place in the psychedelic daze of swinging London during 1969, a place where Tadukic Acid Diethylamide 26 is the drug of choice, and where different underworlds are starting to overlap dangerously. The vicious gangster bosses of London's East End find themselves brought into contact with a counter-culture underground of mystical and medicated flower-children, or amoral pop-stars.

This was excellent. It’s been a long time coming but well worth the wait.

Our three heroes wash up on the coast of England courtesy of a much older and mellower Janni and the Nautilus. Making their way to London they begin once more to investigate Oliver Hado and his Moonchild.

Swinging London was always going to fire up Mr. Moore and what we get is a massive mash-up of the era with Haddo jumping from body to body and trying to find his way into the lead singer of the Stones analogue, The Purple Orchestra.

The three mains are looser and more in touch with each other but Mina is struggling to incorporate herself and as such has leaped into the requisite personality with almost unseemly alacrity.

Once more the story leaves us hanging. This time on a monstrous cliffhanger and it’ll probably be several years before the final part. I can hardly wait.

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009
In Chapter Three, the narrative draws to its cataclysmic close in London 2008. The magical child whose ominous coming has been foretold for the past hundred years has now been born and has grown up to claim his dreadful heritage. His promised aeon of unending terror can commence, the world can now be ended starting with North London, and there is no League, extraordinary or otherwise, that now stands in his way. The bitter, intractable war of attrition in Q'umar crawls bloodily to its fifth year, away in Kashmir a Sikh terrorist with a now-nuclear-armed submarine wages a holy war against Islam that might push the whole world into atomic holocaust, and in a London mental institution there's a patient who insists that she has all the answers.

And so the League's century comes to an end. And what an end it is. 

This final volume picks up 30 years on from the previous. Alan is a homeless addict, Mina is hospitalised and heavily sedated and Orlando is back from fighting a war overseas to find the UK a dystopian mess and himself once more swapping gender.

Upon arrival at the the Leagues old haunt Orlando is contacted by Prospero and tasked with dealing with the now imminent arrival of the Antichrist.  In her attempts to locate her fellow League members she is forced to travel to various locations familiar to lovers of teenage wizardry in order to locate the Moonchild / Antichrist before the final battle wherein one beloved character is destroyed and nanny punishes a very naughty boy.


It's a glorious and melancholy end to a key chapter in this fabulous series.  With each issue of the League they release Moore and O'Neill drag me further and further into a world that I don't want to see end.  Luckily it seems they don't either and the books keep coming.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Nemo

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill - Nemo: Heart of Ice

In the grim cold of February surfaces a thrilling new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book - Nemo: Heart of Ice, a full-color 48-page adventure in the classic pulp tradition by the inestimable Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. It's 1925, fifteen long years since Janni Dakkar first tried to escape the legacy of her dying science-pirate father, only to accept her destiny as the new Nemo, captain of the legendary Nautilus. Now, tired of her unending spree of plunder and destruction, Janni launches a grand expedition to surpass her father's greatest failure: the exploration of Antarctica. Hot on her frozen trail are a trio of genius inventors, hired by the megalomaniacal Charles Foster Kane to retrieve the plundered valuables of an African queen. It's a deadly race to the bottom of the world - an uncharted land of wonder and horror where time is broken and the mountains bring madness.

A very unexpected surprise when this appeared.  I'd heard that they were going to do these spin-offs but I wasn't expecting one to turn up this soon.

What we have is a missing tale of the second Captain Nemo and her attempt to traverse Antarctica in the footsteps of her father.  In pursuit of her and her crew is a trio of American adventurers in the employ of Charles Foster Kane and Ayesha (the Queen from 'She').  On their disastrous journey they discover various Lovecraftian locations and creatures.

It's a fairly slight (by Moore's terms) little romp but one that adds layers to the character of Janni (Nemo) and very nicely bridges the gap between the vengeful Janni of the first volume of 'Century' and the mellower mature one that turned up later.

I've loved all the League stories and this one was no exception.

(Jess Nevins' annotations to this volume can be found here)

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Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill - Nemo: The Roses of Berlin

Sixteen years ago, notorious science-brigand Janni Nemo journeyed into the frozen reaches of Antarctica to resolve her father's weighty legacy in a storm of madness and loss, barely escaping with her Nautilus and her life.
Now it is 1941, and with her daughter strategically married into the family of aerial warlord Jean Robur, Janni's raiders have only limited contact with the military might of the clownish German-Tomanian dictator Adenoid Hynkel. But when the pirate queen learns that her loved ones are held hostage in the nightmarish Berlin, she has no choice save to intervene directly, travelling with her ageing lover Broad Arrow Jack into the belly of the beastly metropolis. Within that alienated city await monsters, criminals and legends, including the remaining vestiges of Germany’s notorious ‘Twilight Heroes’, a dark Teutonic counterpart to Mina Murray’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And waiting at the far end of this gauntlet of alarming adversaries there is something much, much worse.
Continuing in the thrilling tradition of Heart of Ice, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill rampage through twentieth-century culture in a blazing new adventure, set in a city of totalitarian shadows and mechanical nightmares. Cultures clash and lives are lost in the explosive collision of four unforgettable women, lost in the black and bloody alleyways where thrive THE ROSES OF BERLIN.
 


This is the second League of Extraordinary Gentleman spinoff books to feature the exploits of everyone's favourite sub aquatic pirate goes off to Germany to rescue her daughter and her son in law, the air pirate Robur.

The book mixes in The Great Dictator, Metropolis, Cabinet of Doctor Cagliari, She and more to great effect. I've got to say though that if it wasn't for the majesty of Jess Nevins and his explanatory website - http://jessnevins.com/annotations/rosesofberlin.html - much of it would have been incomprehensible to me as it was written in German and I don't currently have a friendly German to hand..

It's a quest book (of sorts) and as such is a little thin on plot but what there is is typical Moore and there is plenty of distraction in the always beautiful art from O'Neill who as ever brings the most absurd worlds to life in stunning, awe inspiring and eye popping glory.
Not the best of them but still wonderful.

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Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill - Nemo: River of Ghosts
(Knockabout / Top Shelf)

In a world where all the fictions ever written coalesce into a rich mosaic, it’s 1975. Janni Dakkar, pirate queen of Lincoln Island and head of the fabled Nemo family, is eighty years old and beginning to display a tenuous grasp on reality. Pursuing shadows from her past — or her imagination — she embarks on what may be a final voyage down the vastness of the Amazon, a last attempt to put to rest the blood-drenched spectres of old. With allies and adversaries old and new, we accompany an aging predator on her obsessive trek into the cultural landscape of a strange new continent, from the ruined city of Yu-Atlanchi to the fabulous plateau of Maple White Land. As the dark threads in her narrative are drawn into an inescapable web, Captain Nemo leads her hearse-black Nautilus in a desperate raid on horrors believed dead for decades. Through the exotic spectacle of an imagined South America, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill steer their fifty-year-long Nemo trilogy to its remarkable conclusion, borne upon a River of Ghosts. 

And with this volume - the third - the story of Janni Nemo comes to a close and the next inheritor of the mantle takes their place.

This time out  it's a much more straight forward read - particularly in comparison to it's immediate predecessor for which you needed a handy German to translate large swathes of the dialogue.  Here, the aged and dying Nemo sets out on one last adventure to investigate the apparent reappearance of Ayesha despite having killed her in the previous volume's Germany of Adenoid Hynkel.

As ever the references abound and as ever I'm missing loads of them but a few of the more obvious ones include The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Stepford Wives, Desperate Dan and The Lost World.

This isn't Moore at his most engrossing it's simply Moore cutting loose and letting the grand lady have the blood and fire send off and decisive conclusion she deserves (and desires).  O'Neill is, as ever, flawless.

An explosive final chapter to an excellent series.  Hopefully not the last we'll see of the League though as it's easily one of my favourite things.

(Jess Nevins' annotations to this volume can be found here)

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Brenda and Effie Forever (The Adventures of Brenda and Effie: Book 6)

Paul Magrs
Snowbooks

'Brenda and Effie Forever!’ is an outrageous Gothic adventure involving ancient vampires, miniature mermaids, the Phantom of the Opera and his hunchbacked boyfriend, a fiendish ghost who drives a limousine, Mr and Mrs Claus and all three Bronte sisters discovered alive and well in a secret base under the parsonage at Haworth with a sentient, stuffed Art Critic called Panda.
Brenda and Effie are living it up on the continent. Holidaying in Paris, they are menaced by a mysterious Peeping Tom with a limp and a hump, who warns them that they must never return home to Whitby again. Untold disaster will take over the world if they go anywhere near the North Yorkshire coast…
But Brenda and Effie know that they simply have to return to Whitby, even if it means the end of everything they hold dear.
Brenda owns a Guest House by the sea and her best friend Effie runs the junk shop next door. But together they have another role as the guardians of Whitby against the vampires, daemons and creatures of the night that continually plague the quaint but terrifying town. Together Brenda and Effie must face the most startling dangers ever as they are engulfed by hideous secrets from their long-hidden pasts.
Can our heroines survive all these fiendish shenanigans and live to fight the powers of darkness another day?


And so we come to the last in the adventures of those most cantankerous and geriatric protectors of Whitby, Brenda the Bride of Frankenstein and her witchy neighbour Effie.

Making their way home from an enjoyable and relaxing European jaunt - well that last bit with the kidnapping and the vampires wasn't so enjoyable or relaxing but on the whole... - the pair find themselves warned off returning to Whitby so as to avert a prophesied calamity.  The vampires in particular seem most perturbed and insistent hence the rather rude kidnapping attempt.

Ignoring the warnings the pair make their way home and immediately find themselves embroiled in various palavers involving the grotesque Mrs Claus, miniature mermaids, the return of Mr. Danby and most crucial of all the Limbosine and it's regular abductions of Effie in order to stimulate some deeply buried memories.  As they return we find out Effie's past and Brenda's pre-ordained future.

As it's Paul Magrs you know it's going to be a fun and lightly written jaunt filled with mischievous appropriation and re-invention and this is indeed the case but aw a conclusion to the series it's just not up to snuff.  Too many threads are left hanging, characters behave in uncharacteristic ways that aren't addressed and the finale is both vague and rushed, not to mention deeply unsatisfying.  Truthfully it was almost on a par with '...and I woke up and it was all a dream.'

I have pretty much loved this series from a chance find of the first volume in a seaside charity shop and it's been a ride filled with fun and adventure that has touched on so many of my pulp, sci-fi, horror loves and woven them into Brenda's world.  The character's were a joy to spend time with and the warmth and (sometimes fractious) camaraderie was infectious fun.  As such I really hope this isn't truly the end as to leave it (and them) as he does would be a real shame.

A lovely series but an undeserving finale.


Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Quatermass Conclusion

In 1979 TV (in the guise of original Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert) finally got around to letting Nigel Kneale loose on another Quatermass TV series.

It's set many years on from the three classic serials / movies and finds a retired Quatermass (John Mills) forced to return from his solitude in Scotland to search for his missing granddaughter.  He finds himself in a Britain he no longer recognises. One of anarchy, mob rule, violence, poverty and devastation.  The elderly are forced to hide and fend for themselves, rival gangs wage war in the streets and groups of young people - Planet People (sort of violent, punky, hippies) - roam the countryside driven to search for the sacred sites that will allow them to be transported to a better life on another planet.

Quatermass is a witness to one of these 'transportations' and redoubles his efforts to find his granddaughter, helped by astronomer Joe Kapp (a pre-Manimal Simon MacCorkindale) who, along his family and colleagues, operate a radio telescope in the country.  From there he finds himself drawn further and further into the fantastic events that are impacting on, not just the UK but, the whole planet.

At it's release the series was generally regarded as a bit of a flop but for me it has always been a most glorious addition to the good Professor's life.  John Mills portrayal is perhaps lacking in the gruff, professorial gravitas of his predecessors but his Quatermass is a broken man forced to confront a world he has little interest in or knowledge of having finally turned his back on the trials and travails of his previous existence.  Over the course of the series we see him somewhat regain his previous stature and his place as the pre-eminent scientist of the age.

Kneale is at his most bitter here.  It is savage in it's portrayal of a society in terminal decline; written at a time of huge social upheaval and political unrest in the UK and screened mere months after the UK election victory of the extremely right wing Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher.  It is equally savage regarding the blind obedience of the Planet People to a violent and domineering leader, Kickalong (Ralph Arliss), and their willingness to march headlong and unheeding in his wake.  It is a lot more sympathetic to the plight of the older residents of this world whose 'Blitz Spirit' maintains them against the uncaring selfishness of the rest of society and eventually allows them to reclaim and redefine the world.

With it's melding of science fiction, folk horror and it's unerring belief in the power of science it touches on many familiar tropes of Kneale's work and is perhaps a little heavy handed in how it presents itself but for me it is the ending that the Quatermass story needed in order to bring his tale to a satisfying close and one I find myself returning to as often as I do any of the others.

So...

Huffity, puffity, Ringstone Round,
If you lose your hat it will never be found,
So pull your britches right up to your chin,
And fasten your cloak with a bright new pin,
And when you are ready, then we can begin,
Huffity, puffity, puff!



Buy it here - Quatermass [DVD] [1979]

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Wyrd Britain Mix 2

The second Wyrd Britain mix and one that launches us into a slightly more psychedelic and experimental direction than the first. 

hope you enjoy.

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band - You Done My Brain In - 00:00
Syd Barrett - Dark Globe - 01:39
John Cale - Thoughtless Kind - 03:36
Hawkwind - The Forge of Vulkan - 06:02
The British Space Group - The Last of Time - 08:52
Adrian Corker - Springtide V2 - 16:15
Kemper Norton - 821.914 - 18:54
Peter Christopherson - In My Head a Crystal Sphere of Heavy Fluid - 25:14
Fresh Maggots - Rosemary Hill - 30:50
Michael Cashmore - Snow No Longer - 34:21



Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Crow

Ted Hughes

Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow is a series of poems by Ted Hughes placing the titular animal at the centre of a series of poems that characterise the bird as a mythical, mischievous and totemic creature that resides at the heart of the world's creation.

I first read them whilst queueing for coffee in a cafe in Glastonbury and was so immediately taken by them I bought the book along with my drink.

They are a departure from Hughes' earlier work and offer a more fabled or mystical read that I find to be utterly absorbing and as such this is a book I come back to again and again.


Featured below are a couple of extracts from the series (starting with my favourite) and once you've read them I heartily recommend you read Professor Neil Robert's excellent article - Crow: From the Life and Songs of Crow - from the Ted Hughes Society Journal website.



A Childish Prank

Man’s and woman’s bodies lay without souls,
Dully gaping, foolishly staring, inert
On the flowers of Eden
God pondered.

The problem was so great, it dragged him asleep.

Crow laughed.
He bit the Worm, God’s only son,
Into two writhing halves.

He stuffed into man the tail half
With the wounded end hanging out.

He stuffed the head half headfirst into woman
And it crept in deeper and up
To peer out through her eyes
Calling its tail-half to join up quickly, quickly
Because O it was painful.

Man awoke being dragged across the grass.
Woman awoke to see him coming,
Neither knew what had happened.

God went on sleeping.

Crow went on laughing.

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Crow Goes Hunting

Crow
Decided to try words.

He imagined some words for the job, a lovely pack-
Clear-eyed, resounding, well-trained,
With strong teeth.
You could not find a better bred lot.

He pointed out the hare and away went the words
Resounding.
Crow was Crow without fail, but what is a hare?

It converted itself to a concrete bunker.
The words circled protesting, resounding.

Crow turned the words into bombs-they blasted the bunker.
The bits of bunker flew up-a flock of starlings.

Crow turned the words into shotguns, they shot down the starlings.
The falling starlings turned to a cloudburst.

Crow turned the words into a reservoir, collecting the water.
The water turned into an earthquake, swallowing the reservoir.

The earthquake turned into a hare and leaped for the hill
Having eaten Crow's words.

Crow gazed after the bounding hare
Speechless with admiration.

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Crow Blacker than ever 

When God, disgusted with man,
Turned towards heaven.
And man, disgusted with God,
Turned towards Eve,
Things looked like falling apart.

But Crow . . Crow
Crow nailed them together,
Nailing Heaven and earth together -

So man cried, but with God's voice.
And God bled, but with man's blood.

Then heaven and earth creaked at the joint
Which became gangrenous and stank -
A horror beyond redemption.

The agony did not diminish.

Man could not be man nor God God.

The agony

Grew.

Crow

Grinned

Crying: 'This is my Creation,'

Flying the black flag of himself.

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Buy it here - Crow