Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Turning The Place Over

In Liverpool a couple of weeks ago a friend took me to see this amazing thing:

This is Turning The Place Over by Richard Wilson, and it's fantastic. What makes it even better is that it genuinely is made from an abandoned Yates' Wine Lodge down a backstreet, and it just sits there churning away, ignored by most of the city.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Godless Brighton: The Verdict

Evangelical Christians are descending on Brighton. But have they got their work cut out? From the Brighton Argus website:

Good luck with that, Reverend Archie Coates!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Matt Rees Interview

Just a quick post to point out an interview I did with Matt Rees, about writing and publishing and the like.

You'll find it here.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Robert Anton Wilson auction

Just a quick post for any admirers of Robert Anton Wilson who may have wandered over following the Maybe Day article on the Guardian website (and just how punchable do I look in that photograph?)

Firstly, hello! And second, did you know that RAWs daughter is currently putting lots of his posessions on eBay? Some very interesting stuff has been and gone already. His official Discordian Pope card and Thoth deck of tarot cards both went for several hundred dollars. Who knows what else will be auctioned next? Go and look.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Happy 40th Birthday, Neil and Buzz's Lunar Footprints.

It was forty years ago today. It was the greatest thing that as ever happened. It was - symbolically - mankinds' finest hour.

Here it is with the correct level of swearing.

(via NASA, The Onion and David Quantick)

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Top 5 Cover Versions of Black's 'Wonderful Life' By European Metal Bands.

Ah, Wonderful Life by Black - now there's a song, as bittersweet as they come and as depressing as it is uplifting.

It captures that strange liminal state after something has died, but before its replacement becomes visible. Many a song details the loneliness or the grief of such a period, when a relationship or stage of life has ended, but I know of no other song that also captures the dizzying, magical and almost intoxicating sense of potential and wonder of such times.

No doubt you have heard that song and wondered, what are the top five cover versions by European metal bands?

Well I'll tell you.

At Number 5 we have Hyperchild, who I suspect may be from Germany, and who clearly have a bit of record company money behind them judging by this video. And look - a metal vocalist who wears red! Is that allowed? Part if me is deeply offended by this, although I have difficulty explaining why.


This is Liquid Sun, who may be from Spain. Or possibly Portugal. Somewhere nice, anyway. Frankly, both myself and wikipedia are pretty clueless about Liquid Sun.


Here we have Carrion, from Poland. There's quite a few live versions of them performing this on YouTube, from half-empty shit clubs to this large, cold, festival performance in front of some impressive building or other. No-one should ever dispute Carrion's work ethic or their commitment to this song.


Here we have Portugese Goths Secrecy. Marvellously, someone has put their cover over the original video, so that Colin appears to be singing in a half-dead, Euro-accented Andrew Eldritch voice. Only the distinctly non-goth tinkly keyboard at the start prevents this marvel from taking the number one spot.


Now this is more like it: proper Doom Metal vocals, from Hungary's Nevergreen. Euro Metallers - hear this and understand, this is definitive version. There is no need to cover it anymore. You have nothing more to add. The song is done. Begone!

Away from the European Metal darklands, the song has been subjected to all sorts of unforgiveable techno versions, mawkish ballardering and, er, Italian Ska. Fortunately we have Colin Vearncombe, aka Black, who is still going strong and showing how the song should be treated (and also giving away his latest album for free, incidentally). Let us end with a recent live version, and use it to clean our musical palettes after the spice above:

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Blog Intermission

Time for an intermission. Due to dramatic upheavals in my work/writing/fucking about ratio, I'm going to be putting this blog on ice for around 3 months.

Have a marvelous Spring, and see you in the Summer!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Easter Everywhere

Happy Easter y'all. I have been listening to church leader on the radio discussing the real meaning of Easter, and how this is definitely a Christian holiday and in no way a pagan one. Had a good chuckle at that one.

Anyway, to celebrate this lovely day, a track from the 13th Floor Elevator's 'Easter Everywhere' CD - their cover of (It's All Over Now) Baby Blue.

Bob Dylan's favourite of all the covers of his songs, apparently.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

If You Are Me

If you are me, then you simply must rush out and buy Flying Saucer Rock n' Roll by Richard Blandford.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote that only the person who writes about himself and his time writes about all people and all times. Well, Richard Blandford presumably had no interest in writing about his life and times, because he has written about me and mine instead.

How has he done this? Has he been spying on me? Is he trying to freak me out? I do not know the man, and if it wasn't such a good book I fear I would find the whole thing a bit creepy. As it is, though, I am delighted by the whole thing.

The book tells the story of teenagers in a nowhere town from the mid 80s to the early 90s, listening to heavy metal and thinking about forming bands. Richard Blandford has changed the plot a little from my life - presumably to avoid being sued (but fear not Mr Blandford, I am not litigious). But Hell's Teeth, he sure hasn't changed the details.

He has captured everything. The brief time when a trip to Our Price (Our Price!) was a wonder, followed by the world-changing discovery of the cooler independent record shops. The way some friends lived in houses that smelt funny. The unspoken class system where kids whose parents could afford an Commodore 64 where understood to be class above the rest of us (even before they upgraded to Amigas). The importance of the price/strength ratio in underage drinking. And bonfires! None of this 'firework display' rubbish, we had proper bonfires back then, huge infernos of doom that cooked hedgehogs by the dozen.

And of course, THAT moment, time when metallers heard Smells Like Teen Spirit and thought, 'you know, that's not bad' - and how with that thought nothing was ever the same again.

I could go on, but you get the drift. There is even a Rubik's Snake on the cover.

Now, the artistic community at large rarely make art about my late teenage years, on the understanding that they were not that interesting. Indeed, should I talk at length about those years to my better half - a woman who has elected to spend her life with me, and so I can only assume must find me fascinating - I fear it does not take long before her eyes glaze over. Richard Blandford, however, has somehow taken this unpromising material and written a book so good that even people who are not me would love it. His skill at sketching the relationships between these teenagers is such that people such as Scott Pack are also praising it. This is clearly overkill on his part, but you have to respect him for it.

Other writers whom I would be delighted if they decided to write about me, should they be reading, include Douglas Coupland, Sebastian Beaumont and David Mitchell.

Richard Blandford, meanwhile, blogs here and is a very funny twitterer.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Teenagers versus The World

Due to a Top Secret Work Project That Cannot Be Discussed Publicly, I recently spent some time with some teenagers. It has been a long time since I have talked to teenagers, and was surprised by how open and smart they were. Sweet, even. According to the media, all teenagers are unthinkably terrible. It turns out that this is not true.

It is not just me that has made this discovery. In his recent BAFTA talk about childrens' TV (streamable here), Russell T. Davies talked about how making Doctor Who had opened his eyes to how demonised children are in our culture, and how surprised he was to discover how impressive they are if you spend any time with them. And he is dead right.

That said, the reason we were with these teenagers is because we were attempting to understand what they want to watch. Many TV people are deeply worried by teenagers' lack of interest in TV. It turns out that what they like to watch is this:

Lovely and smart they may be, but they are still teenagers.

But before you tut, ask yourself this: Were you any different when you was a teenager? I didn't have YouTube, but I loved the Young Ones, which had a tone not dissimilar to the clip above. And we turned out okay, didn't we? More or less?

I was reminded of this when I went to the G20 protest rally at the Bank of England on April 1st. Here we all are, happily exercising our legal right to protest:

This was early on, and very merry and good humoured it was too.

Ah, but what of the Bad Element that the police and press had warned us of? The dreaded Anarchists, black-hooded and with masked faces, intent on bloody violence. Some of these Enemies of Society had even come from Europe, fretted the Daily Mail. Of course the majority of protesters would be legal and peaceful, everyone accepted this. But the very existence of these anarchists was used to justify the £7million pound, 5000-strong police operation - the biggest British policing operation ever.

Look at these devils! Running down British streets!

However, it is not until you find yourself next to these swine that you notice something.

They are children. Teenagers.

Not all, certainly, but the vast majority. They are kids.

I'll admit, this surprised me. The impression that I had from the media was that they were older, hardcore grizzled protesters. Being masked, it is hard to tell their age of course, but when you see them in the flesh you see their body language, their size, and their eyes. And with a shock you realise how young they are. It isn't surprising that the first to be charged with trashing the RBS is a 17 year old girl - a large percentage of them are 17 year old girls.

This photo, I think, comes closest to showing them as they appear when you find yourself in a crowd with them:

True, they were there with the intention of kicking off and probably smashing some windows. When I was there, though, they couldn't. It was a carnival atmosphere. The sun was shining, dub reggae was playing, a hippy lady was handing out paper hearts to everybody. The anarchists I saw were just standing around sheepishly. You can't kick off when there is nothing to kick against.

This was before the police advanced, of course, and started 'kettling' people into containment pens, holding them for hours. Things changed then. Things changed very quickly. Much has been written about the events that followed. I do not intend to add to this here, except to just remind people of the report on the Kingsnorth policing (this video on BoingBoing is a good overview), and how this was not an isolated incident.

But back to the teenagers, intent on smashing things. This is another example of how modern teenagers are still behaving - well, like teenagers. In Brighton, where I live now, the classic example is the fights between Mods and Rockers in the 1960s.

These are events that have heavily romanticised over the years, to the extent that folk in Brighton are weirdly fond of them.

I grew up away from the goodness of Brighton, in North Wales. There were no mass gang fights there, so in order to express the teenage urge to Smash Stuff, we used to go down disused brick works and clay pits. The hope was that you would find a window to smash but you never did, as all the windows had long been smashed by other kids years ago. Instead you had to make do with setting fire to dry gorse bushes. They don't half go up quick, do dry gorse bushes. Like I said, we didn't have YouTube back then.

It's a fact of life, basically, that some teenagers go through a period when they want to Smash Stuff, and that some of them act on it. Large parts of Hollywood and the video games industry are a reaction to this. You could even argue that that this is how we learn about consequences, and why smashing stuff isn't good. It is certainly something that they grow out of. I personally go through my life not smashing anything, and I would bet that you don't either.

Now, there are two differences between the teenager's of yore, and those in black hoodies at the Bank of England. The first is that these modern teenagers have focused their aggression on a genuine target. People often dismiss these protesters on the ground that they 'don't know what they are protesting about', or that they are not protesting against anything specific enough. I disagree, I think it is very simple and very clear. The political and financial systems refuse to accept that there are any limits to growth, while the scientific and ecological institutions argue very persuasively that not only are there limits to growth, but that the consequences of overshooting them will be unimaginably terrible. This issue is often expressed in many different ways, for it has far-reaching implications, but ultimately that is what it boils down to.

These teenagers know that it is they who will have to face this future. Their anger is focused on the political and financial institutions that refuse to acknowledge the future consequences of their actions. I can't help but think that this is more admirable than taking it out on mods or gorse bushes.

The second difference is that their anger is under the spotlight of the media. Just look at the amount of media surrounding the guy who instigated the trashing of the RBS.

With images like that, press and politicians have their excuse. 'Violent extremists' (or, as we now know, teenagers) have to be stopped, even at the cost of removing civil liberties and curtailing the right to peaceful political protest. Perhaps newspaper columnists need reminding that our society survived the Mods and Rockers.

After the police actions of April 1st, it is now wildly understood that if you wish to protest, it is likely that you will be detained indefinitely, arrested if you do not give your name and address, photographed, and quite possibly beaten. JFK has been quoted a lot in the last few days - 'Those who make peaceful protest impossible make violent protest inevitable'. Bad things are ahead.

Why does this matter? Well, there is a long history of protest, riots and civil disobedience in this country, and by studying it with hindsight we can see some recurring themes.

Firstly, they act as a pressure valve that releases anger and prevents society from exploding - note that full scale revolutions of history are largely in countries that don't have this release valve.

Secondly, rioters do not have the answers to solve the problem. Poll tax rioters did not have carefully costed Community Charge blueprints in their back pockets. They are a reaction to the problem, not the solution.

And thirdly, and most importantly: Although it is rarely acknowledged at the time, history shows that mass civil disobedience - from the Suffragettes to the road protestors of the 90s or the million-strong anti-war march before the invasion of Iraq - are almost always right. Not in the protesters' understanding of what needed to be done, perhaps, but in their analysis of what the problem is. That much anger does not build up among deluded people, only in those who can see the problem clearly and can also see that the problem is being ignored. Even given the horrors of the Reign of Terror, to use the most extreme example, you would be hard pushed now to find a Frenchman who does not think that the French Revolution was justified and the right thing to do.

April 1st reminded me of the previous anti-capitalist riots in the city, on May Day in 2001. Once again the complaint is the same as it is now - that the financial system is unsustainable and unjust, and that persuing short-term growth with no regard for the consequences was going to end very badly. Famously, bankers looked down at the protesters from their offices and waved fifty pound notes and champagne bottles at them. They didn't consider that the protesters complaints were in any way valid, and they certainly didn't consider regulation or reforms based on the opinions of the mob in the street. This year, the didn't wave £100 notes at the protesters, as they would have expected. They waved tenners. And they still tell each other that nobody could have predicted what was going to happen.

If the media's love of demonising teenagers costs the British people their right to protest, we will have lost a very valuable thing. And the teenagers - well, they'll still be teenagers. Even if they are right.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Tea Towels

I still love going to gigs, but being of advanced years I can no longer get away with buying band T-shirts. However, I am not so old that I am incapable of doing the dishes. Therefore, I require tea-towels. Could bands not produce tea-towel merchandise for the likes of me?

But there is a problem. Tea-towels are mundane and domestic. Few bands are confident enough in their mystique to risk associating with them. Could there be anything naffer, for example, than a Coldplay tea towel? Even Kiss would draw the line at an officially sanctioned tea-towel. What artist is so cool that they can produce their own tea towel, and not only still be cool, but somehow be even cooler?

There is only one – just one. And that is Nick Cave.

Friends, the day has come where I share with you my collection of Nick Cave tea-towels. You may be wondering how large my collection is. I can tell you that it stands at two. Two is a good size for a collection of Nick Cave tea-towels, I think. Any more and it would start to get weird.

This is my first, which I bought at a pre-tour warm up gig on Hastings Pier. This tea towel shows the lyrics to The Lyre Of Orpheus. I'm afraid that over the years it has become somewhat grotty. Click to embiggen.

Here is the second of the two, from a more recent tour. This one features the hand-written lyrics to the Mercy Seat. Note that Nick has skimped on the two-colour printing for this tea-towel, but was still charging the same price. Not your finest move, Nick.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

It's Written in the Bible, Herod had the Right Idea...

Following on from recent posts about Pen Monkeys, I suppose I should mention that it spawned a sequel of sorts. This was in the final days of 4Later, Channel 4's weird and experimental late night slot. It was closed down shortly afterwards and the days when a broadcaster would allow you to "make a half-hour animated comedy show for the price of a Ford Mondeo", to quote Peter Scott, were no more.

The bods at Channel 4 knew that the department was closing and that they would be moving on, so they figured "what they hell, lets name this programme Live Sex". That will be funny, they thought, to see in the listings. We were a bit taken back by this. We argued that viewers might be a little disappointed to tune into Live Sex and find a ropey cartoon about Posh & Becks. Hence the poor show got stuck with the compromise title of Sex Bar. To be honest though, the whole programme was a bit compromised and unloved. It had the single ugliest visual style of any programme that we have ever done, and sadly neither myself or anyone else thought to say, 'hang on, this looks terrible, lets do it differently.'

Still, we did one good thing in the show, which was to ask the v. lovely comedian Jackie Clunes to write and record a spoof charity single, on the subject of giant mutant celebrity babies going on the rampage. Of course, Jackie Clunes has since gone on to have an exceptional amount of children, written the book Extreme Motherhood: The Triplet Diaries, and become an inspiration to mothers everywhere. These events were perhaps not that evident in the song she came up with back in 2001, though. This is Kill Your Children:

Believe it or not a clip of that was on our company showreel for a while. The company has done much better since we took it off.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Book Dedications

Where did the trend for dedicating books to people come from, I wonder? Other pieces of work do not do this. Architects don't put a plaque on their new Tesco Metro that reads, 'To Mum & Dad'. If you look underneath Hirst's pickled shark it does not say 'To Anita'. In film and TV, a dedication is only acceptable if someone has died recently. But a book seems unfinished without a dedication. I do not know why this is.

As for the dedications themselves, about 90% are to whoever the author is sleeping with. This is probably understandable, as writers mostly have no money and spend years locked away in a little room by themselves. They therefore need some carrot to persuade their partners not to run away, and the promise of being immortalised once the book is finished is a tempting carrot.

As for the other dedications, they are usually to parents, children or colleagues. Occasionally however there are dedications that are interesting - being either mysterious, funny, or just plain arsey. Here are my top five:

5. Flying Saucer Rock 'n' Roll by Richard Blandford:

"To the Skyman"

4. Post Office by Charles Bukowski:

"This book is presented as a work of fiction and dedicated to no-one"

3. The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson:

"To Richard Milhouse Nixon, who never let me down."

2. Principia Discordia by Malaclypse the Younger:

"To the prettiest one. All Hail Eris! All Hail Discordia!"

1. Better Than Sex by Hunter S. Thompson:

"To Nicole, my vampire in the Garden of Agony"

Monday, 23 March 2009

One More From BB

Here we go - the third of out three readings from Brian Barritt's Unpublishable Stories.

This is a tale of Vampires, junkies, sex and the Soho art scene, hence the title: Pricks.

Friday, 20 March 2009

I have no idea what these are.

Sadly, I do not know who did these. I think I must have seen them on b3ta once, and liked them so much that I saved them locally. Then I forgot about them until I found them again yesterday.

I don't know why, I just think they are brilliant:

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Time I Shot Margaret Thatcher Through the Head With a Crossbow

In a previous post I talked about finding an old VHS of Pen Monkeys, a late-night animated comedy show we made for C4 back in 2001 (if you're wondering why what follows looks so rough, then nip back and read that first).

The one sketch from that show that I remembered most clearly was this one:

Now, it appears there are two types of people in this world - those who enjoy seeing Margaret Thatcher shot through the head with a crossbow, and those who don't. I spent the eighties and early nineties in North Wales and Liverpool, so I had no idea that the later category existed. But, apparently they do.

Even when I wrote that, I knew it was not ideal. Our brief was to make a topical satire and in 2001 there was nothing topical about Thatcher. Or Davros, come to that. Also, it wasn't actually satire. Heck, it's not even a sketch, for there's no real joke there. I just assumed that people would want to see Thatcher shot through the head with a crossbow. I have always had a fondness for clunking ham-fisted directness, having spent my teens listening to The The and Iron Maiden. But such blunt delicacies are an acquired taste, and most people require some form of sophistication or subtlety. Fortunately the folk at Channel 4 are not those people, and it stayed in the script despite strong arguments that it should go and be replaced with some jokes.

After Pen Monkeys was broadcast, all agreed that it was funny, but patchy. Unfortunately nobody could agree on what the funny bits were. The killing of Thatcher was a classic example. Some people - me, basically - claimed it was very funny. Others - pretty much everyone else - disagreed. Crazy! But there you go.

Then a week or so later I met up with an old friend, and discovered that he had watched the show go out, unaware of my involvement. He got very animated when he heard that we had done it, and immediately started talking about the killing Thatcher bit. It had made him laugh so hard, he explained - and he was completely serious about this - he had laughed so hard that he nearly died. That was how he described it.

Now, I have made a lot of media over the years - TV, radio, a book, articles, games - and some of that has been ropey and some of that has been almost competent. Very little has caused people to nearly die, to the best of my knowledge. That one reaction to this still fills me with a merry pride, long after I've forgotten most of the stuff we did back then. The issue here is that almost all media is judged via a headcount of its audience, rather than the strength of their reaction. But does making ten people mildly entertained in the short term count for more than making one person love something which they remember for years? How many content viewers does it take to equal the reaction on one poor sod who nearly died, in a good way?

Sadly there are no accountants fit for the job of reckoning these things, so the audience size is all that we fret about. But if you ever get the chance to slip in a little bloody-minded wrongheadedness, then I say go for it. These are the things, I think, that make it worthwhile in the long run.

More Moore

As I mentioned previously, I am loving this brief period where Alan Moore is in the mainstream spotlight, whether he wants to be or not.

The most surreal and unlikely events are occurring. Perhaps the weirdest has to be Moore and Melinda Gebbie being papped by the Daily Mail while nipping out to the shops:

Then there are all the spoofs appearing online, from the Saturday Morning Watchmen to Mad's Botchmen:

Best of all though, is that my better half has started to read Watchmen, rather than go and see the film. You can always rely on Joanne to find a new angle on things. Here is her first report:

"I'm liking it. The blue man is my favourite. He's just gone to Mars on a strop. He's a bit dim. You know how he can be any size that he likes? Well, he never gets it right, does he? He is always just a bit too big. It's like he has to be the tallest guy in the room."

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Pen Monkeys

Back in early 2001, a week or so after George W Bush became president, we made a dirt-cheap animated sketch show for Channel 4. It was called Pen Monkeys, and it set in motion the TV law that any comedy show with the word 'monkeys' in the title would be a bit ropey and not last long (cf Monkey Trousers, Monkey Dust etc.)

I've just found an old VHS tape with it on, and seeing it again after the Bush years makes it seem weirdly prophetic. I seem to remember that I wrote the bits about Bush before he was sworn in, so there wasn't a great deal to go on as to what he would be like as a President. Yet we have him starting wars on a whim, wanting to blow up Iraq, falling asleep instead of thinking about the deficit - to say nothing of the tall buildings exploding all over the place. It was, with hindsight, pretty obvious what was coming. That said, our take on the British reaction to Bush couldn't have been more wrong.

Have a look - it's taped off air with bad reception and lots of ghosting, so excuse the quality. As for other reasons why it looks so bad, well I'll get to that in a second.

At the time, we took great pride in how unprofessional the whole thing looked. It is hard now to imagine how Punk that looked back then, five years before YouTube launched and the we all became accustomed to cheap and cheerful animation with too much swearing. Animation on TV had always been crafted and lovingly sweated over. We were having none of that. Our beloved MD Peter Scott went as far as to use the following as our official company slogan: 'Television that Spoils it for Everyone Else'. Which summed up our attitude nicely, and made a bit more sense than our previous slogan, 'Tomorrow's Television Tomorrow.'

As a result, we made the cheapest animation in the land. Later that year ITV launched 2DTV, which was also a half-hour, topical animated sketch show, albeit one shown when people were still awake. I seem to recall that our budget was one thirtieth of theirs, but pleasingly their show also looked rubbish and wasn't very funny, so perhaps we were an influence.

Sadly the march of time has not been kind to Pen Monkeys - we are used to seeing stuff that looks like that now, and that look has become perfectly acceptable. Ah well.

At least we did the thing where - actually I'll save that for next time!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Brian Barritt reads his Unpublishable Stories.

As promised, I can now present two recordings of Brian Barritt reading his Unpublishable Stories. Please make yourself a cup of tea, grab a biscuit, and settle down in comfort.

First up is The Island, one of Brian's more autobiographical stories.

Next we have a bawdy little yarn called Lady God: An Olde English Folk Tale.

I hope they made you squeak with pleasure. Perhaps one day Radio 4 will be like this.

A third story is coming very soon.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

A Guide to Becoming Mad Enough to Enjoy Alan Moore

With all the hoo-ha and fanfare surrounding the Watchmen movie it is hard to open a newspaper, eavesdrop on the Tube or glance at Twitter without hearing Alan Moore being discussed by otherwise sane and respectable souls. I love it, this brief and surreal world, and am making the most of it while it lasts.

In fact I have been asked by two - count them, two - different people if they should risk reading any of his non-Watchmen stuff. This fear on their part comes about because everybody knows the following three things about Moore:

1) He is a genius. I would certainly not argue with this. Indeed, I would go further and claim that future generations will consider Alan Moore and Shigeru Miyamoto to be the most important artists of our times - both in terms of how ground-breaking their work was in their chosen fields, and how prolific, consistant and inspired they remain - but generally I don't say this out loud, for fear of upsetting the muppets who spent £111 million on Damian Hirsts.

2) He is grumpy. There does seem to be a strong case that the man is becoming increasingly curmudgeonly with age. But there's no reason why this should put you off his work. It's not like you have to live next door to the guy.

3) He is barking mad. He worships a Second Century Roman snake God called Glycon. I admit, that does look a little damning. This fact more than any other does tend to make potential readers back away slowly. It doesn't help matters that Glycon was apparently no more than a hand puppet, a hoax God created by the wonderfully-named Alexander the False Prophet. And then there's the matter of Alan Moore's openness about being a practising magician. And not in the Paul Daniels sense.

But hear me out.

Give him a chance.

Alan Moore's philosophy revolves around a core idea - that thoughts exist and have value, and by existing they should be considered as 'real' as material objects, albeit 'real' in a different way. As starting premises go, you must admit, it's not that bad. His talk of 'magic' describes the manipulation of ideas, and indeed his definition of magic comes close to how many people would define creativity. His insights into the ecology of thoughts and ideas - how they relate to each other and how our modern world is shaped by them - have implications for all of us, because we are all wrapped up in thoughts. It is his willingness to engage with such a slippery subject which keeps his work startling and it will, I think, be the reason that his work will be so highly regarded in the long term. Alan Moore's madness, then, is not as incomprehensible and off-putting as it might first appear, because you only need to use this one concept to unlock it all. It is just that, well, once you accept his central concept and start to consider the implications of it, then you have embarked on a slippery slope that can lead, in a consistent and logical manner, to the worship of Roman glove puppets.

So how should a Moore rookie approach his considerable non-Watchmen body of work? Well, I would suggest the following, a path into his books from the most accessible to the most magical, allowing the reader to fully enjoy all the delights along the way.

A safe place to start would be V for Vendetta, if just to relax your certainties a bit and leave you nice and loose for what is to come. It is from his mid '80s, 'pre-magic' period, so the extremes are political rather than metaphysical.

After that I would say cut to the quick and move on to From Hell, his take on the Jack the Ripper murders and the Victorian world. This is arguably the key text in Moore's body of work, and much of his philosophy was formed by the act of writing it.

Following From Hell you may find yourself reeling somewhat, and full of questions. This would be a good time to leave the work and go straight to the man himself for answers. In conversation Moore is extremely focused, with a habit of answering single questions in long, clear, multiple-paragraph answers. He is also very funny, which is always the sign of someone worth listening to. I would recommend tracking down A Disease of Language. This is a lovely thing, with two of his spoken word performance illustrated by From Hell artist Eddie Campbell. It also contains one of the best interviews with Moore that I've ever read. Failing that, head over to www.alanmooreinterview.co.uk - one of those unsung web sites that make the Internet what it is - and browse away to your hearts content.

Now, Moore transcends comics in the way that Bob Marley transcends Reggae, so it might be an idea to leave comics behind for a bit, so not to get too bogged down in the medium. Time to tackle his first novel, Voice of the Fire.

A number of people have been put off this book by the first chapter. This is written in the dialect of a child in 4000BC, with a tiny vocabulary, no pronouns, and no real understanding of the difference between waking and dreaming - a challenging opening which, in the author's words, should 'keep out the scum'. But that won't put you off, will it? Heaven's no! You're up for anything. In fact, you're gearing up for the big one. You're about to read Promethea.

All of it, mind - there's no point starting this one if you are not going to finish it, for the end is a very different place to the start. There are 32 issues, collected in 5 volumes, and they need reading because nothing will give you greater insight into Alan Moore's mind, and what makes him tick. True, the story soon gives way into an extended lecture about the Kabbalah and other arcane matters, but stick with it, for all Moore's recent work will open up for you afterwards, and the ending is just unforgettable.

When I refer to his recent work, of course, I really mean the later League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Forget the film and even the early volumes, this has evolved into a borderline-insane mission to weave the entire history of fiction into a single narrative. It has become so inventive, stylistically impressive and just so out there that it validates every strange and stubborn twist in Moore's career. It is also an ongoing project, with the first volume of Century nearly with us, all ready for you to jump aboard - no longer baffled by the madness of Alan Moore.

I tell you, writers who don't worship snake gods just won't seem enough after all that.

Metro is the New Frontiersman

I found this on the train to work - surely a contender for the most geekiest stunt used to promote the Watchmen movie. The front and back pages of the (London) Metro freesheet were replaced by pages from New Frontiersman:


Do you think when the advertising people suggested this to Metro, they explained that the New Frontiersman is the paranoid right-wing publication from the Watchmen universe, one beloved by conspiracy nuts and vigilante psychopaths?

Metro - the freesheet from Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail - is the New Frontiersman. It is too perfect. I am not one to give credit to the advertising industry but surely this has transcended advertising and is some form of art statement.

(click images for hi-res)

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Brian Barritt's Unpublishable Stories.

Brian Barritt - Krautrocker, Albionist, Cosmic Courier and Last of the Beatniks - has spent years scratching away at a series of lucidly crazy and pleasantly obscene short stories. Once finished, they will be collected together under the title of Unpublishable Stories, and the literary world will be a richer place.

What are they like, you ask? Ah, you will soon find out, for on Monday I recorded Brian reading three of the shorter tales. These will be posted up here over the coming days, and I very much hope that you enjoy them and are not too traumatised.

While you are waiting, here are a couple of photos of Brian. In keeping with the tradition of this blog, they are photos of Brian next to signs:

This was taken during a trip round Ireland in 2005, in which Brian was our navigator.

This following photo was taken at the celebrations for Albert Hofmann's 100th Birthday, at Berne in Switzerland:

Monday, 2 March 2009

Headfuck Diagrams from Respectable Science Books, Part 2.

Our previous example received some nice feedback, but it did not seem to wreck anyone's head sufficiently. Clearly I must up the ante:

This also comes from The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies (page 287).

This example is deserving of more intense study, so to fully appreciate just what a marvelously weird-ass concept it is illustrating. Yes, the existence of 'Communicators' is directly feeding back into the laws of physics.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Sir Fred

Like many of you, I have found a few moments in my busy schedule to deface pictures of Sir Fred Goodwin:

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

New Play by Philip de Gouveia

There's a new play by Philip de Gouveia starting today, at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington. Philip's previous play was the rather marvellous The Six Wives of Timothy Leary, so expectations are going to be high for this one.

Called Isfahan Calling, it's a story about British radio propaganda in Iran - more details can be found here.

Equally impressive is the fact that Philip has a surname which includes all five vowels.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Fighting a Chicken

I must confess I don't actually watch Family Guy, so I must thank Television Secrets for pointing me towards the brilliance of the man vs chicken fight sequences:

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Alan & Jayne's first dance at their wedding

Momentous stuff. More grooms should play their wives like a guitar, I think. Should I ever get round to getting married, then Joanne is in for a treat!


Monday, 16 February 2009

Pictures of Mike Standing by Signs.

I have spent a large chunk of my alloted years photographing people standing by signs. Quite why I do this, I do not know. It does not strike me as being a particularly useful way to occupy myself, but what do I know? I just feel that it is something that I should do.

You may have already noticed my photos of people standing in front of signs, such as this or this. However, what I like to do best is photograph Mike Seal standing in front of signs.

Here is Mike by a sign. This is not a photo that needs any further comment.

Here is Mike squatting proudly by the sign put up in his honour. I should probably explain that Mike was the individual who got the beating. He was not the one going around assaulting people. That would be quite wrong. If he does eventually attack somebody and the police put up a sign, I will photograph him next to it. But not grinning like that. Or sticking his thumbs up.

I'm unable to say exactly what sign Mike is with here, because he is standing in front of it. I recall we were in a graveyard on the Maltese Island of Gozo in the early hours of the morning, for some reason, and as you can probably tell by looking at him, he is in a bit of a state. This is because a lot of drinking had occured. Still, he is standing, so he cannot be that bad. Not like our Maltese friend, who freaked out and claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary, and been told the manner of his death. That was a very strange night, now I come to think about it.

There are other photos of that night, but I won't put them up as they don't feature people standing next to signs.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Exciting News for AlanFans

Exciting news - I have found the video footage from the wedding of the first dance by Mr & Mrs Alan Edwards. It is truly marvelous. Some people think that air-guitaring during your first married dance is not to be encouraged, but do not listen to those crazy fools.

The exciting news is that I will post up the video here very soon, for all those who missed it and all those who need to remember. Very soon. Like in the next week or so. Once I've bought a firewire cable, basically.

In the meantime, here is my favourite photo of Alan, towering over the Clwydian Range. Bonus points to anyone who - based on the clothes, badges and hair - can tell me what year this is:

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Brian Barritt, freshly hatched.

This is a rare photograph of Brian Barritt, shortly after he hatched.

It is not unusual for Barritts to be born holding a bottle of beer.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Impact of the Watchmen Smiley.

The Watchmen movie will soon be with us – and its blood-sprayed yellow smiley logo will be everywhere. It’s a deceptive little thing, that smiley. For such a simple looking thing, it has quite a story.

When I Have America Surrounded was released in the UK, there was a smiley badge on the cover. This surprised a few Americans, who didn’t feel that it was suitable. Then the US edition surfaced and I was asked by Brits why there was no smiley on the cover. It is a logo that has different connotations on either side of the Atlantic. Alan Moore and Watchmen have quite a lot to do with why this is.

The logo itself was created in 1963 by Harvey Bell, a graphic designer in Massachusetts who produced the design for a life assurance company. He made no attempt to trademark it, and it fell into the public domain. In the early Seventies it started to appear on branded merchandise in America – mugs, T-shirts, lunch boxes and so on. The damn thing was everywhere.

It was not long before the image became naff. The smiley was increasingly seen as vapid, grinning and mindless, suitable only for children and the simple. As with all such fads, it soon faded.

The UK was spared most of this smiley merchandise, but it was dimly aware of the image thanks to its love of American TV.

Skip forward now to the mid 1980s, when Alan Moore was writing Watchmen. He decided that the smiley badge would be a perfect fit for the character of the Comedian, a brutal, cynical vigilante who ‘gets the joke’ in all its dark horror.

The story starts with his murder, and it is here that his badge gets covered in blood (the splash, incidentally, was intended to be reminiscent of the Doomsday Clock at a few minutes to midnight.)

This blood-stained smiley was a powerful image. The young counter-culture British audience who read Watchmen had only a vague knowledge of its association with 70s cheesiness. To them, it seemed damn cool. Certainly Bomb The Bass thought so: they borrowed the Watchmen Smiley for the cover of 1987s Beat Dis single.

Something about the image and Acid House music clicked. From that point on, the smiley in the UK became known as the ‘acid smiley’.

But lets back up a moment - why did that image become associated with that music? Is there anything more to it than it just a representation of the loved-up euphoria of the times? Like a lot of the history of Acid House - such as why the music is named after the wrong drug - the story gets a little vague around here.

There are many conflicting stories, but a common strand is the involvement of acid house pioneer Genesis P-Orridge and his band Psychic-TV. Genesis was a friend of Timothy Leary, and Leary’s influence is obvious on tracks such as Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out, which samples Tim, or the Tablet of Acid series of albums. D-Mob's We Call It Acieed, which pushed the music into the British mainstream when this video appeared on Top Of The Pops, also featured the lyrics ‘Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out’:

Large swathes of the UK were somewhat lost for words when that video popped up on the BBC, I seem to remember.

Now, the Leary/LSD link is interesting because in the mid-Sixties, following advice from Marshall McLuhan, Leary made the conscious decision to use his own smile - a classic shit-eating grin if ever there was one - as the marketing brand for LSD. From this point on he made a point of always smiling when cameras were around, and that smile, especially when seen against the dead faces of law enforcement officers taking him away in handcuffs, was a wickedly clever and successful method of promoting his beliefs and lifestyle.

So the birth of Acid House, and the music gaining that name, had roots in LSD culture. For many people in that culture Tim’s smile represented Acid, and the smiley became known as an ‘acid smiley’. Could then this badge be seen as a portrait of Tim Leary? It seems unlikely that this was a conscious realisation at the time, but rather that those threads came together in a happy synchronism. Those in the psychedelic culture generally take a fairly non-linear view of events, not being overly concerned with cause and effect, and it was in that spirit that the badge was used on the cover of my Leary biography.

Alan Moore can also be linked to these threads, as he was once an LSD dealer - one of the world’s most inept, as he describes it. Perhaps Pop Will Eat Itself were more accurate than they thought when they sang that ‘Alan Moore knows the score’? He was certainly playing with some potent symbolism.

But back to Rave. It had grown into the Last Great British Youth Movement. Tens of thousands of kids were gathering in fields and deserted warehouses across the country, taking E and dancing til dawn. The tabloids, of course, went into hysterics. Enter the government:

Fresh from destroying the miners, Margaret Thatcher decided that the counter culture was to be treated the same way. Police violence was part of the tactics used, most infamously at the Battle of the Beanfield:

This led, ultimately, to the the Criminal Justice Bill, which effectively outlawed free festivals. It also led to those in the travelling/festivals/rave scene become politically active. As a result, the acid smiley symbol became a symbol of defiance, an image of the unbroken spirit in the face of oppression from dark forces who no longer got the joke.

You can see this is in the work of an artist such as Banksy, such as:

But all this was a UK-only phenomena, and the smiley had none of these associations in the US. For this reason, when the US issued this stamp in the late 1990s, there were many in the UK who found it extremely funny.

Over in America the smiley had taken on almost opposite associations. It had become the face of corporate consumerism. Wal-Mart had adopted it as their logo.

In fact, in 2006 there was an attempt by Wal-Mart to copyright the image. It must take a certain shamelessness to try and seek legal ownership of what is, essentially, an archetypal image that all children draw at the age of 3 or 4. But you know what lawyers are like.

Wal-Mart lost the case, and have since stopped using the icon. The smiley face is now better known from Internet forums, where it has replaced the emoticon :-) in messages of good cheer around the globe.

But what next for this strange, blank-eyed, slightly sinister face of happiness? It is a symbol that has shown itself to be capable of taking on many different and contradictory associations. Perhaps, once the Watchmen movie has thrust it back into the mainstream, it will take on some new and even stranger meaning.