Category Archives: Poetry

One white crow – an interview with Nick Hudson

Nick Hudson interviewed by Caroline Simpson

Nick Hudson is a singular talent. Based in Brighton, Hudson, a musician, has a prodigious output, having produced four albums (My Antique Son, 2010, Territories of Dissent, 2010, A Day without Comfort, 2012 and Letters to the Dead 2012) over the past three years, which not only does he write, perform, play most of the instruments – he also records and produces himself.

Praised by outsider luminaries such as  David Tibet, Jeremy Reed and Julian Cope, Hudson’s music is spectral, creepy and menacing. Every song is a dark jewel, like ancient amber with an insect entombed inside. He is Pinky’s long lost brother; a wraith in Brighton’s labyrinthine back streets, whose stately and melancholy music is not only beautiful and strange, it is also disturbing, hinting at a world that is there, but is elusive – just out of reach.

Unrestrainedly and unabashedly ambitious, Hudson has now ventured into multimedia presentation having directed a film last summer to accompany, or augment, his latest recording Letters to the Dead.

As he sings on My Antique Son, “creeping, morbid, hopeful chant, And nervous, merry dance”.

Below is a conversation I had with Hudson, last autumn, in London.

When did you start making music?
I started playing violin at five, but never pursued it, because the teacher seemed like an alien, used to make us walk around the school with our violin on our shoulder. I then took up piano, essentially because of my Auntie Penny, who died in 1989, and was in a band called Room 101, who were at one point much loved by John Peel and Billy Bragg. She gave me a keyboard a few years before she died of cancer, and she gave me a keyboard and I started working stuff out on it, and my parents recognised that I had seemingly some affinity with it, so they bought me a piano and got me lessons.

I realised fairly quickly that I wouldn’t be concert pianist material – my sight-reading always suffered compared to my capacity to improvise. I think I was always inclined more towards a creative route than an interpretive one. Then I started playing guitar when I was ten, I’m totally self-taught. My technique’s not remarkable, it’s singular in that it’s me – replete with all the flaws that brings. And I got my first singing lesson when I was 23. I never really intended to sing.

I was living back at home where I started writing songs, saved up enough my money buy myself a laptop and a really crap mic. I downloaded some software. There was obviously some latent discharge waiting to happen ‘cause as soon as I had the capacity to record, I just went apeshit and started hemorrhaging songs. Then it was by default, “Ooh, I have to sing these, because there’s nobody else around – it’s Lincolnshire!”. I’m self-taught as a producer, and my ear for that and knowledge of the software is just through trial and error – plenty of the latter – but they’re starting to sound pretty decent I think.

 Nick Hudson with Yves Klein backdrop/ Photo by Joe Nockles

Nick Hudson with Yves Klein backdrop. Photo by Joe Nockles

And how did you get from Lincolnshire to Brighton?
I moved back after university, and it was something of an awful decision – I just think you get thrown into the same old behavioural archetypes that you had before you left. I became a teenager again, my dad became an oppressive monster again, which of course he isn’t, and I got generally very depressed and kinda decided that I could either stop there or write my way out of it.

How did that come about?
The writing gave me a lot more confidence and I’d also started corresponding with an author called Dennis Cooper.

I’ve never heard of him!
I know you haven’t!

Was that through the blog?
No, it was way before the blog. I emailed him personally. I’d just starting writing songs and I think it was reading his novels that gave me the confidence to write about the things I was addressing in my lyrics.

So this was about seven years ago?
And, the early lyrics were all quite stark, naked, confessional and, um, deeply unpleasant. (Laughter). I wrote to him, as a kind of nervous, delayed, adolescent. And he emailed me back. I sent him some music, and he replied saying, “Oh my god, this is really fucking beautiful, who are you? What’s your background?” And we became friends. This gave me a great deal of confidence to continue to write and explore these things in more detail and develop as a writer and an artist.

Prose and poetry were happening simultaneously with music anyway, and it was only when I was about 23 that I started twinning the writing and the music together. I think the confidence writing gave me, led me to looking to ways to move on from Lincolnshire. After this I ended up living in Crawley for a year or two.

Was this by yourself?
No, I was a lodger at some absolute nutjob’s terraced house.

How did you find that?
Family friend. And, y’know, we had fun. He was a challenging man in every sense, often in good ways, but … I wasn’t employed very much at the time so I was able to hone my craft, and write constantly. I mean, I think I did something like seven albums within three years or something stupid like that. And then minutes within arriving at Crawley, I got on the train to Brighton. I stepped off the train there and immediately thought, “Oh, I want to live here”. And within two years I was.

Apart from Dennis Cooper, what are your influences, music or otherwise?
They are as wide and varied as you would hope … Mmmm. I guess the real stayers, the enduring ones, are the absolute singular mavericks like Bjork … and Scott Walker, who I adore – every single stage of his career I adore, and a lot of the Eastern European contemporary classical composers like Penderecki and Gorecki and other names with the suffix “-esci”. His Symphony of Sorrowful Songs I listened to when I was 16 and it’s still one of the most strikingly beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Yeah, just something about the pace, orchestral texture and harmonic voicings really kicks my arse.

And although I don’t make dense modern classical music myself, it’s there, partly because of my training, partly because of my listening, there’s an influence, even if it’s understated. Who else?  Lots of film-makers actually. People like David Lynch, Terrence

Malick and Tarkovsky, who most recently has been utterly caning me.

Letters to the Dead – cover image

Letters to the Dead – cover image

And writers?
Burroughs, predominantly.

Why?
I think … I regard him foremost as a social philosopher in some sense, and as part of a potent lineage with Crowley, Genesis P-Orridge, Coil, and quite aggressive countercultural stuff.  And the cut-up work he did with Brion Gysin has been hugely influential on my approach to editing in whatever medium I’m working in.  Extreme juxtapositions within one piece I guess.

Why do you like that?
I guess I’ve always responded to collage, intuitively or whatever. It’s exciting to me to have lots of data densely crammed into one little announcement or something. I don’t know. It works for me.  And also, I guess like the modernists. They’re attempting to present an idea of consciousness with a greater accuracy than 19th-century novelistic fiction had ever done, and I find that really compelling.  And also, Burroughs’  life is fascinating too.  He’s kind of everything that society currently detests and deplores – he was a wife-murdering, misogynistic junkie. So, y’know …

What’s not to love?
Exactly, role models.

So you were in Brighton, you’d made lots of material.
Yep, too much some might say.

And you started to release these?
I always used to record as I’d write and I still do to a degree. It’s a slower process now as I’m better at recording, so it takes longer. The early stuff was very lo-fi and quickly produced. I’d barely edit. I was pretty much haemorrhaging songs as I’ve said. I’d always write and record pretty quickly. I did a seven-album cycle called The Phoenix Diaries which was me trying to write my way out of behavioural idiosyncracies that I found objectionable in myself … slightly fucked-up sexual stuff and …

The sea sprites in Letters to the Dead. Brighton, July 2012

The sea sprites in Letters to the Dead. Brighton, July 2012

Can you possibly elaborate?
You want me to elaborate? My mum might read this! Without labouring it, because it’s by no means an abuse tale on the level of intensity often reported, and rightly so – but there were incidents. Every adolescence is thorny, of course, and there were small, violent components to my forming. Little episodes with an older kid in my village. He was a speed freak. It’s all in the lyrics. And that kind of confused my approach to enjoying a healthy sexual dynamic for a while. That’s what most of the early cycle is – me trying to write my way out of that malingering bollocks. And then I started sending The Phoenix Diaries to various people.

Like who?
Franko B, Dennis Cooper, Alex Rose (he blogs with Dennis) who is an amazing artist based in Ireland. He is pretty reclusive. He has been a very fervent supporter of my early work who gave me a load of confidence, and opportunities. He is a really lovely human being. As I went on, I’ve just always entered into correspondence with people whose art I like, insofar as I can obtain their contact details, haha!

Go on?
Meredith Monk, briefly, which was lovely – when I got an email from her saying kind things about my music, I was kind of bowled over, y’know? And, Jeremy Reed and David Tibet, who wrote the foreword for My Antique Son – a record of mine that came out two years ago. Also, some photographers – Anthony Goicolea – he’s a Cuban-American photographer, his stuff’s really wonderful. His early stuff seemed to resonate with my early stuff – certain images he would use would appear in other forms in my own lyrics.

What’s Hexenverfolgung (this is a musical project of Nick’s)?
It’s German for witch persecution.

And who’s Kiddiepunk?
He’s Michael Salerno, a really good friend and another early supporter of my work who lives in Paris.  I played at his wedding in Italy last year – a really amazing week. He started a label which started out as a cottage industry zine. Then he started a label and put out The Elegy, which was a fairly wintry folk record that I made about five years ago.

For ToD, I got loads of orchestral players in to help me out, and I was still recording on a shitty SM58, standard dynamic microphone, usually for live work, but it’s all I could afford. I was recording acoustic instruments on that and through trial and error mixing them so they might sound ok and not lose all of the breadth of texture that string and wind instruments have – that was a challenge.

We self-released that, and that’s the first time we rented St Mary’s Church in Brighton – this huge, cavernous church with mind-blowing acoustics – a three-second sustain. We performed the entire record in sequence with a  ten-piece chamber orchestra. All through rehearsals, I was recovering from swine flu so I had a five-note range and was really cautious of infecting all of these wind musicians. But it went away just in time for the performance, and it went really well. Julian Cope reviewed the record – a profane and brash and crazy and lovely review.

Filming Letters To The Dead, Summer 2012. Photo by Lyndsey Muller

Filming Letters To The Dead, Summer 2012. Photo by Lyndsey Muller

And then My Antique Son happened. I got given a really brilliant microphone by a friend – a Neumann u89 – a £2,000 condenser mic, so a significant step-up from the SM58, which enabled me to everything with way more clarity, and to record sound sources that emit a lower signal. It’s really good for recording voices with. I went kind of nuts on My Antique Son. There’re loads of layered choral parts. I recorded throat singing and the organ and in the church, there are loads of doom metal influences on this one. It’s really progressive and psychedelic with a huge narrative. There’s a track – Hierocles – dedicated to Jeremy Reed on there, based on his book,  Boy Caesar.

And that’s the first one where I’d say the production is something I’m pleased with.  It took a good two years to make. It’s intensely sculpted, and feels more like theatre I would say.  It traces a lineage of my own connecting between what I call my pantheon of gnostic saints – from Heliogabalus, via William Blake, Aleister Crowley, Johnn Balance of Coil, Rimbaud and so on …

After My Antique Son, which was a really collaborative record without about 15 people on it, I wanted to hole up and make something entirely solo. A Day Without Comfort still sounds like a band record in places, even if it is only me. It’s way more intimate and personal than My Antique Son. The coalition, of course, has kicked my writing into more political realms – it’s quite a ranty, sore, acrimonious record. It also addresses certain episodes in the life story of a really dear friend, called John Bacchus. He has a really fascinating life story, and so the lyrics are his life so far condensed into a single day. It’s a more ballad-infused affair.

This brings us to Letters To The Dead. What were you trying to achieve with it?
I guess I tend to be quite reactionary. Every record seems to rebel against the processes, motives and shape of the previous one. I’d made this solo record, A Day Without Comfort, that set out to be very pop, insofar as I can conceivably go towards pop, which I’ve discovered is not very far.  In its production style, I was consciously aping Stephen Street’s work with The Smiths, and also certain Martin Hannett qualities – so an eighties agit-pop record essentially.  Letters To The Dead is utterly different. I was bored of compression and waveforms that look like a brick.

The Letters To The Dead, film ensemble. Photo by Lyndsey Muller

The Letters To The Dead, film ensemble. Photo by Lyndsey Muller

I knew I was going to make a record with very little compression. I’ve used lots of programming, and synths, post-production in the past. With the new one I wanted to record with very little post-production and use mainly acoustic instruments – that became the sonic blueprint. I also wanted to make a straight-up narrative record.  The narrative was written way before I actually began conceiving of it as a record. It’s an opera of sorts. Although that term intimidates me somewhat, so it’s essentially a narrative record.  I wrote the narrative, then started writing the lyrics which would convey the narrative, without being flatly expository, and then I started composing around them.

By this point I’d developed friendships with various members of really brilliant modern-compositional cult bands from NYC and Seattle, who’d all come from either the John Zorn milieu or from a Sunn O)))/Earth doom-y background.  I developed a friendship with Stuart Dahlquist who operates a band called Asva. Stuart was the original bassist in Sunn O))) and was in Burning Witch. And his band Asva are incredible. And every album they make, the further away from traditional doom they get.

The new one has shades of Arvo Part, and features Toby Driver from Kayo Dot on vocals.  I’d just gotten into Kayo Dot, and it was a total headfuck epiphany of a band to discover – totally kicked my arse when I heard them – it’s through-composed, but uses – especially in the early stuff, it’s gone even farther out now – rock instrumentation.

And we put them on in Brighton when they played their last UK tour, and hung out, and stayed in touch and developed a lovely online friendship, and now many of them appear on Letters. Toby, and various members of Kayo Dot, and satellite bands all contribute amazing parts. It has led to the record taking ages to make. Obviously if you’re collaborating with loads of people you have to wait for their schedules to allow for them to develop their contributions.  I also recorded a ten-piece choir of amazing Brighton singers in St Mary’s Church where we premiered the show.

The record’s now done. It’s being released on Antithetic Records which is run by just one guy, called Shawn. It’s an amazing DIY label, limited edition, in beautiful sleeves. Shawn really liked My Antique Son and we discussed doing something together. That turned out to be Letters To The Dead.  But also, I never conceived of it as just a record – it’s a performance as well, a film and a libretto booklet. It was more a case of isolating a narrative, refracting it through various media and seeing how they interact in the public forum.  The libretto booklet will feature all of the lyrics, scanned working notes, visual art, etc.

So all the instruments.
Yeah, I used some really beautiful pianos on Letters … for the lingering sonorities that my stage piano unfortunately can’t simulate. And Letters … is quite a sparse album so to have those hanging, sustained tones was important.  I had to blag my way into studios for free, or save up and rent rooms with pianos and good mics. Tim Byrnes is an amazing trumpet/flugel-horn player from New York who plays with Kayo Dot and his own outfit Hazel-Rah – provided a five-part brass arrangement of the opening track Bad Atoms – his contribution made for a really striking overture.

There’s a séance sequence in the narrative, and for that I wanted to exploit the human voice in unusual ways. I explained to the choir that I wanted them to respond to the vertical axis of my hands. When I’d raise my hand, they’d raise the pitch. They were doing long sustained notes and I was conducting them a bit like a theremin.

Can you tell us about the narrative?
It started pretty free-associative. Then I stripped it down into a more straightforward narrative. Basically, it tells the story of a woman who in the prologue abandons her child through bearing a complete lack of maternal compassion for it. Then it cuts to news footage of this being reported, and of the mother disappearing after the abandonment, and how the child hasn’t been found and how only the father remains. The father’s long-estranged from the family – barely even met the child.  Then it relates to a tale from the 1970s – a cult of fathers who were obsessed with battling over-population and would ritualistically abandon their first-borns into the ocean.

Is this true?
No. Haha. And then in the background you can see footage of three fathers abandoning three children into the ocean, and they sail off.  And then the piece really opens – the estranged father is a writer, he has his writing desk moored on the rockpools right at the fringe of the ocean. And he’s witnessed writing three open letters to his estranged child – each letter is a song. Every time he finishes writing a letter, he folds it into an origami sampan and sails it off into the ocean, like a message in a bottle.

Then we wind back about a hundred years – there’s a Victorian spirit medium called Leonora Piper, who was “tried” by William James – Henry James’ younger brother, and a psychologist – and him being a man of reason and empiricism. He was obviously sceptical, and yet he deemed this particular spirit medium’s psychical capacities so convincing that he became besotted with her. There’s a quote from him – “in order to disprove notion that all crows are black, you must but produce one white crow” – which I thought was pretty poetic. That’s why there are white crows dotted about the scenography and the film that’s attached to this project too.

Then we cut to a séance, and the mother from the prologue, is played by the same person who plays Leonora Piper, to imply a connection in the sense that they’re outlaws from what society would rather they be, so a séance happens, and she invokes three sprites from the ocean – undead, ocean-dwelling, half-naked, seaweed-draped sprites – and these are the kids that we saw being abandoned in the newsreel footage, and so there’s obviously some abandonment issues.

We then cut back to present day and the séance turns into a trial – as I figure they’re structurally quite similar – someone’s being tested, generally by sceptics. The mother is then put on trial by the trio of undead, ocean-dwelling sprites, and is banished into the ocean.  At which point, the child from the prologue sings a reprise of the overture addressed to his mother.

What do you hope to do with it?
We premiered it on November 5 at St Mary’s Church in Brighton – with giant origami sampans (boats) constructed from the letters, strobes, televisions emitting static, crows dotted about the space, and a causeway of candlelight.  We’ve also made a film to compliment it – kind of a cinematic album – a short feature – we had this screened at the Duke of York’s in Brighton in October.  A lot of the performers who appear on the record also appear in the film. The album’s coming out on vinyl, CD and DVD and as a libretto booklet. We screened the film as we performed it too.  I made the film with my collaborator Chris Purdie, who’s a really brilliant director who’s done stuff for Asva. We had a big shoot in Brighton which involved me taking the desk from my room about two miles up the road to the rock pools beyond Brighton Marina. My friend Gary Goodman, a poet, played the father. I sat him at the desk, writing the letters, gazing wistfully out to see and folding them into the sampans.  I felt a bit like a poor man’s Herzog carting the desk up there.

And we got some really beautiful shots – timed it so we’d have peak low tide and sunset. It was about the first good weather we had all year. I got footage of the sprites coming out of the ocean.  The cast are all really good friends and did an amazing job – covered in slimy kelp and writhing about in the sea.

NIck Hudson performs Letters to the Dead at its première in Brighton, 2012

NIck Hudson performs Letters to the Dead at its première in Brighton, 2012

So just a general question – what drives you creatively?
Erm. I’m probably quite naturally quite depressive and so in order to stave off the black dog, I keep myself really busy. Obviously I get huge intellectual and emotional satisfaction from working on it, and of course, it derives from some emotional core that it’s a little bit skewed in me. I think most writers maybe do it because they have an inability to express stuff in a more direct way. I’ve always liked telling stories  –manipulating words, sentences and music.

 The Letters To The Dead premiere, November 5, 2012. Photo by Chris Purdie

The Letters To The Dead premiere, November 5, 2012. Photo by Chris Purdie

Let’s not forget it’s fun.  The fact that I can do most of it from home is enormously liberating, as much as the democratisation of music that home recording allows – that can also produce a lot of shit. I think on the whole it’s an excellent thing. It’s occurring in most cases despite the industry.

And we’re essentially totally independent. There’s no big labels courting or moulding us. All the labels that we work with are often one person in the room who has an equally zealous thirst to do this kind of stuff.  Not that I would mind of course if some demented Russian oligarch decided to bequeath four billion pounds upon our creative acts, but in the meantime I’m happy to pursue bigger and more ambitious projects on whatever terms we can summon.

One last thing.  What’s the best thing that’s happened to you creatively?
I’m going to have to think carefully about this.  Ok. It’s all pretty exciting. It’s all challenging.  But, hmmm. I’ll list a few highlights.  One of them – playing in the cellar of a medieval castle in Italy last year – that was incredible. And the acoustic – I don’t really like PA systems – I prefer naturally amplified sound, so that was an incredible setting and a beautiful circumstance in which to perform.

Putting on Kayo Dot was pretty brilliant, and then developing friendships with them, and that leading to New York connections and the sense of this international community of mutually supportive artists coming together.  And the first ever concert we did in St Mary’s Church three years ago, where we did a unamplified, candlelit performance with a ten-piece chamber orchestra.  That was pretty special. This gave me more confidence to think – “ok, I can push this – we can be ambitious”.  And, I’m really proud of My Antique Son, I think it’s a really strange record that can proudly sit in the corner doing what it does.  And, it IS really odd.

And low points?
Usually the low point in the making of a record is when the hard-drive crashes and I lose half the album. It’s not happened so much of late because I’ve become a raving paranoiac about backing up, but there’s a whole other version of My Antique Son somewhere out there in the infinite multiverse that’s completely different to the one that got released.  Otherwise, I don’t really dwell. I try and keep myself busy. It’s very easy to get swallowed up into some kind of hole.

 http://nickhudsonindustries.bandcamp.com/music

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Filed under 20th century writers, Brighton, Brighton, Dennis Cooper, Dennis Cooper, FIlm, Gary Goodman, Gig, Gorecki, Jeremy Reed, Kayo Dot, Music, Nick Hudson, Penderecki, Poetry, Sunn O))), UK, UK writers, US writing, William Burroughs

Shearsman Books poetry reading tonight

I realise it’s short notice, but tonight (Wednesday November 14)  there is a reading by some poets on the Shearsman imprint: Andrew Jordan, John Welch and Michael Zand which should be really worthwhile attending.

The event starts at 7.30 pm at Swedenborg Hall, Swedenborg House, 20/21 Bloomsbury Way London WC1A 2TH and is free

 

Shearsman reading at Swedenborg Hall, Bloomsbury, London.

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Filed under Andrew Jordan, John Welch, Literature, London, Michael Zand, Performance, Poetry, Publishers, Reading, Shearsman

Complete control/Working for the clampdown

I went to an event hosted by the redoubtable community organisation Open Dalston at Cafe Oto in Dalston, way back in May. I feel bad that it has taken me so long to report it but I do have some excuses, whether anyone will think they are valid, I have no idea. The main one was the app I used on my phone to record it, AudioMemos was so damn fiddly, awkward and almost impossible to use, really, really hampered transcription, never my favourite (is it anyone’s?) part of journalism. Bent over my iPhone, trying to gently coax the scroll bar along to where I had last left the recording, I felt like I was Gene Hackman in Francis Ford Coppola’s  The Conversation. It has taken much too long to get this post ready. And for this I apologise.

But lame excuses apart, Open Dalston is a wonderful community organisation, which “campaigns for excellence in the quality of the built environment and public realm, the provision of transportation and amenities, and to ensure that changes to these have proper regard to the needs of local residents and businesses and the maintenance of a sustainable residential and business community”. I have attended a couple of their meetings at Cafe Oto which always feature immense talent –  the Laureate of Albion Road, the writer Iain Sinclair  being an honourable regular contributor.

This evening at Cafe Oto featured various fascinating speakers and presentations: an evocative film composed of footage taken of Dalston in the ’70s and ’80s by the photographer and filmmaker Alan Denney to a dub soundtrack, a reading by Iain Sinclair from his latest book on the 2012 Olympics, Ghost Milk, followed by a discussion lead by the founder of Open Dalston and local solicitor, Bill Parry-Jones, on the implications for east London of the Olympics, which, among many things, touched on the historic toxicity of the Olympic Park site, the nomenclature of clouds and what is casually dismissed as an east London “wasteland” (ie the Olympic site) was nothing but. The evening was concluded by an extract of short film  Imagine That which is in the process of being made by Sasha Andrews  about the Save Leyton Marsh campaign and protestors, some of whom were present to discuss their campaign.

However, the main focus of the night of was the book and research of ex-FT journalist turned writer, Anna Minton whose book Ground Control, which concerns the stealthy privatisation of our streets and public places and its new chapter on the legacy of the Olympics which Anna added post the book’s first publication. And as the Olympics are commencing this week, whatever one’s opinion on this spectacle, I thought its relevance was somewhat appropriate and timely.

Again maximum apologies for the delay in posting.

Anna began by explaining why she wrote Ground Control, which was  “because I am a frustrated journalist.  I also decided to write a new chapter about the Olympics. As a journalist, I constantly felt I wasn’t able to get the stories I wanted to into the newspapers. I was very frustrated by the time pressure of the job. I wasn’t really doing anything. So I left journalism and began writing longer pieces. I stumbled onto this theme  when I started looking at ghettos and gated communities in the US and began questioning whether or not there were coming over here. Then I started writing about another trend that I noticed, which was the growing privatisation of streets and public places.

Writer Anna Minton at Cafe Oto.

“While I was doing this research, I was still trying to get these stories in the paper and I had a lot of difficulty getting them published and I had this body of work which I thought could be the basis for a book. I was lucky enough to get  a book deal with Penguin and I wrote the book. Suddenly all these editors who hadn’t been interested in my work were suddenly really, really interested in this theme. (Anna goes on to talk about the constraints of the mainstream media and the difficulty in trying to get a lot of stories published which is also a difficulty that a lot of campaigners working with issues around the Olympics face on a daily basis.)

“The book essentially is about the growing segregation, polarisation and privatisation of our city and environment. I am going to concentrate on the privatisation of public spaces. This was a trend that really began in the 1980s (1985, ’86) with the emergence of these very large out-of-town shopping centres like Bluewater Metro centre and Westfield Merry Hill in Dudley, all over the country. Apart from this, we had the Big Bang in 1986 which deregulated finance and created this need for enormous banks with very large floorspace to accommodate their enormous trading floors and that wasn’t suited to the city of London – with its nooks and crannies of mediaeval streets.

“So a new space was needed for London’s burgeoning finance industry. This was the seed of the Broadgate Centre and Canary Wharf to create premises to meet the needs of these emerging financial industries. When Canary Wharf and Broadgate were built in the mid- to late-’80s, they were controversial places. They were very unusual places. They were the first large-scale, entirely privately owned, privately controlled parts of the city. People were very concerned about this. There was huge opposition in Docklands, lots of concern that this was going to segregate the environment. That this was going to create high security, gated communities, that it was going to do nothing for local communities. Even that it was going to create this divided environment. This is rather prophetic as we now know as this is exactly what happened.

Anna Minton: "This is more like a gig."

Anna Minton: “This is more like a gig.”

“But the point I’m trying to make is that all this high security, highly protected architecture, were side by side with areas that were completely untouched by the citadels of wealth. The whole justification of this approach is ‘trickle down’. The idea being that wealth will trickle down from these places down to the poorest parts of the community which need it the most. Of course, we know how manifestly that has failed. Not only in Docklands, but all around the country. The point is that these were exceptional places – they were finance centres. They were built to specifically meet the needs of business. They were created in the image of business. Now the big change started to come about over the next 10-15 years (actually this model pioneered in Docklands became the template for all new development all around the country).

“The template for all the regeneration sites across the country – large and small – now all of them rolled out on this privately controlled model. Seeing that streets which had been in public hands ie local authority democratically controlled hands for the last 150 years. (By the way, a democratic achievement which came about from local protest against the aristocratic gated landlords of the 18th century and early 19th century.)

“Now we started seeing this democratic achievement going to reverse and this has become the template for all our city centres such as Liverpool 1, Bristol and High Cross in  Leicester. I used to talk to people and ask if they knew of a single scheme that didn’t follow this template, please, tell me. I wanted to point out some of these trends and the consequences of those as it is central to the  arguments I make in the book that this high security environment is in fact is creating a far more fearful and paranoid society. And in fact this is one of the reasons we have these soaring fears of crime – though crime itself actually continues to fall. When I first started the book it looked as if this was an inexorable trend and really all I could hope to do was point it out which I think, in and of itself is an important thing to do.

However, while I was in the process of writing the book, it all started to come apart and actually the first line of the book (before I wrote the new chapter) was this book was conceived in a boom and written in a bust. So actually by the time I’d finished it and the time it came out the economic rationale for this privatised model of development had entirely collapsed, fallen apart because of course what underpins these places is very, very large  amounts of debt – borrowing –property companies have to borrow huge amounts of money,  raise the finance on the market. I like to simply use the word ‘borrow’ of course with the financial crisis they were completely unable to do that.

“All these schemes, all around the country, earmarked for development, such as the centre of Bradford. Westfield were planning a 23-acre private open-air shopping mall in the centre of Bradford and now that’s just a hole in the ground. It’s not just Bradford. It’s also Edinburgh, Preston, Leeds. All of this has just come to an abrupt halt.

“So that brings me onto my next point. So why do I want to write the new chapter of the book? Well, of course it’s all come to an abrupt halt bar one development  that some of you might be aware of – the Olympics.

“The development associated with the Olympics and Westfield Stratford City, the Olympic Park, of course, this, like the banks was considered too big to fail. And in 2008 at around the time we were bailing out the Royal Bank of Scotland to the tune of £76 billion, we also had to bail out the Olympic project. So at exactly around that time the taxpayer also funneled £6 billion, almost, into making sure that the Olympic development would go ahead. And actually, according to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, the private sector which is the rationale for this way of doing things, they are supposed to raise the money, the private sector has in fact contributed 2 per cent to the entire Olympic budget, which is now £10 billion and increasing.

So that really was the spur for wanting to write about this. This economic case that has completely and utterly fallen apart, and yet, we still have got this mind-set where we can’t do things in any different way at all and our flagship developments to the world,  our mirror, our reflections globally for 2012 is this.

“So I felt was the high point, the pinnacle of all the themes I was writing about. And of course it’s the high point in terms of the trends that I was discussing as well. So in terms of privately owned, privately controlled places, that’s exactly what we have here with Westfield Stratford City which is an open-air private estate. But the Olympic Park, the first public park in Britain, the first Royal Park since Victorian times for 150 years we were promised. And it’s called the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. But in spite of a campaign, a very vociferous local campaign, which was even supported by the Mayor of Newham, that the Olympic Park should have royal park status, that is not the case. The Olympic Park will not be a Royal Park.

The convenor of the night’s event and the founder of Open Dalston, Bill Parry-Jones.

“Incidentally I should point out the royal parks are in fact public parks and only owing to a quirk in 1850, or thereabouts the Crown Land act actually gave all the Royal Parks over into public hands. This was part of the trend I briefly alluded to earlier, where private gated estates were in fact when fact opened up at around the same time as this, this period of sort of growing democracy and the great civic achievements of the Victorians, which are so often referenced by our politicians, Royal Parks became public parks. So there was a campaign that the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park should be like the parks we used to and we have long enjoyed.

“But it’s not. It’s a privately owned,  privately controlled estate. It will be in the ultimate hands of this new mayoral development and corporation, which, if it resembles anything it’s very  similar to the London Docklands Development Corporation of the 1980s and 90s. The developments within the park, those which are completed I might add in this economic climate I think the aspirations of what they hope to see there very unlikely to happen. But we already have the Olympic village with 3,000 extra homes – that’s actually quite a lot of housing – that is already passed over into private ownership. That is, that was bought up by the Qatari royal family in a consortium with a property company called Delancey. This would be an entirely privately owned, privately controlled space. And every development in the  Park will follow that model.

“At least that is the plan. But we have all seen the debacle that followed over the stadium, as very often these things very rarely work out because we can’t agree who to sell something to. There is no overall control, no overall vision for the area. The Olympics is also the highpoint of another of the trends that is central to everything I write about, which is this growing security of the urban environment and the consequences of that and I don’t think any audience could be more alive to those issues, having heard of local missiles appearing on local roofs. I’m not going to talk about security that much as I know Iain is going to address that issue. He lives here and has actually seen the missiles. I’ve not yet seen them. Yes, you can take it as read that this is an incredibly high security environment getting into the Olympic Park during the Games is going to take you hours, in an airport search type process.

“The question is what will remain after that, that is also always the question after the Olympics. I think the best is going to be a sort of Dockland Excel Centre type of environment. I also was keen to highlight another couple of aspects that came to my attention – the Ethical Olympic Pledge, if any of you have come across that, which was signed before the Olympics, local support for the Olympics is always vital, and in order to get local support Lord Coe, then head of  the bidding committee, signed an agreement with London Citizens then known as Panco – the East London  organisation and they promised various promises on local jobs, housing, affordable housing, construction of an academy in Leyton worth £2 million, various pretty good things which actually got community groups which were very wary of the Olympics behind the project.

“And when Sebastian Coe signed the agreement he told the Evening Standard as a result the games were ’eminently more winnable’. So this pledge was signed, and then, of course, when we won the bid the pledge was very swiftly reneged. And why was that? Although Seb Coe signed it, Ken Livingstone signed it the London Development Agency signed it – it was a binding agreement – the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA)  came into existence – the quango responsible for delivering the Games – they said, well, because they hadn’t been in existence when that agreement was signed, they didn’t have to honour it. So that’s what happened to that.

The author Iain SInclair reads from his book, Ghost Milk, and went on to discuss the Olympics

“And the other things I really wanted to talk about in my chapter, and I went into this in a lot of detail was housing. Because housing was at the centre of the promises about the Olympics. You must have heard about all these promises about what was going to happen to the four Olympic boroughs. All these convergences and promises about how standards of living were going to magically rise and converge with Kensington and Chelsea over the next 25 years.

“This is the whole sort of trickle-down idea. And housing is right at the centre of this, so what I wanted to do here was to spend some time and actually look at housing. I was lucky enough to meet someone who worked in housing, at one of the local authorities, who basically gave me his side of the story. He told me on a typical day’s work, he would going to a house sort of normal looking house in an average terraced street. And he will find between 30 to 40 men sleeping there in a two-bedroom house ten to room. Illegal sheds in back gardens.  I was told by someone who works for Shelter, he even had a client who was sleeping in a commercial fridge and paying rent for it.

“This is the reality, actually of the third world housing conditions in Newham, in this part of London, which is just sort of a world away from the promises which are being made about the level of affordable housing being provided. So let’s look at that affordable housing.  About half of the Olympic village is apparently going to be affordable housing. And that’s 3,000 homes. They might be in a private estate, but it’s still 3,000 new homes coming onto the market, that’s the relevant phrase, available, allegedly, for local, affordable housing.

“But you know that’s the thing. What does ‘affordable housing’ actually mean? This very slippery definition which has been impossible to pin down since we effectively got rid of council housing as a policy. Affordable housing now means according to the Coalition, in parallel with the changes in housing policy and the cuts  to housing benefits which are being introduced this year, affordable housing now means up to 80 per cent of market rents. Well, you know up to 80 per cent of market rents around here is not going to be affordable to the vast majority of local people.

“So really that puts those  promises in context. When I spoke to Shelter they just said to me when the Olympic executives talk about affordable housing, they are just living in a different world. They are  on a different planet. And actually that’s the point. Because these developments which are going up just around the corner from here, they are in a different world, on a different planet from the lives of local communities here. And that’s the theme that we first saw begin in Docklands. These entirely separate lives being led in the segregated parts of the city. And it’s reached its high point with the Olympic development. Yet at a time when there is no economic case for it at all.

“So I’m just going to stop there!”

Anna went on to read an extract of her book Ground Control. Her reading ended with her making points about social silence, the process of privatisation with its multiplicity of competing companies and quangos ensures that what happens is too complicated for most people to challenge.

“This is fun. I feel like I’m doing a gig. I’m going to put my pint down. It’s not normally like this for me,” she comments as she rests her foot on a monitor on the stage.

Anna reads from the new chapter of her book which is called “the Olympics and the Public Good” which develops  most eloquently and passionately the themes she discussed early at Cafe Oto and have been outlined above. She concludes:

“What is marked about the Olympic regeneration, that despite the financial crisis, there has been no pause for thought in the changed economic climate and the debt-fuelled approach to property finance, which privatised the public realm in its wake, and which is at the heart of the Olympic project. Despite the series of crises which have defined the last few years, there has not been a corresponding shift in the way that the political and media elite operate. Instead there is a strong sense that it is business as usual.

“And that we are just waiting for a return to normal. When it comes to Olympics, that raises serious questions. Not just about the economic rationale for the project, but about  democratic accountability. The significance of London 2012 is not just about, or even mainly about sport – it is all about the legacy. It is what this legacy will that be and what, perhaps it could have been. This is the focus of this chapter.”

She stops that this point and opens the floor to questions.

Questioner 1: I am interested in the use of the word “park” as we understand it.

AM: I think that parts of it are more park-like than others, but when I say it’s going to be run by a development corporation, which is going to be a facsimile of the London Docklands Corporation. The park is not going to resemble the Canary Wharf estate, a large part of the park is going to be an expensively landscaped green space within it. My point is that it is all going to be under this privately controlled regime that I think creates a very different culture, a very different atmosphere, a different sort of environment. But there will be substantial areas of parkland in it.

Questioner 2: What is the likelihood of there being a public outcry this summer?

AM: We had our riots last summer. I am very interested to see this new film by Plan B, Ill Manors, apparently it makes a direct link between last summer’s riots and the Olympic developments. I think there are direct links. It comes down to the city environment I was trying to describe which is so totally separated and segregated. Two separate worlds and obviously this breeds huge discontent, fertile ground for social unrest. In terms of having riots this summer, I think the huge clampdown on people who took part in the riots and the enormous sentences that got handed down that’s obviously part of the thinking behind all that, to prevent anything like that happening. I’d be interested to see if anything like that does happen in terms of the activist groups that are planning actions. I couldn’t predict it.

Questioner 3: Someone tells me who works for the Olympics indirectly, that to enter the Park, you have to go through Westfields shopping centre to get in.

AM: That’s right. That’s our gateway to our Games.

Questioner 4: I just want to do a plug and ask a few questions. I am involved with the Counter Olympics Network. We had a conference in January, that you attended, that was able how not to get arrested while doing civil action. We have been doing leafleting, legal picketing. Hopefully, there won’t be rioting this summer, but we will be defending our right to legal protest which is incredibly important.

AM: What I talked about in January, and I do generally like to end my talks on an uplifting note, but didn’t tonight as  it came to natural negative end. My uplifting note, and this is a really important point, maybe because I really didn’t want to praise Boris Johnson it to this audience. I always feel uncomfortable at this point as it comes to say something good about Boris, and am really pretty upset that he was re-elected.

But Boris has done one amazing thing which, of course, he didn’t do himself, his advisers did it. But still, in 2009, Boris published the Mayor’s Manifesto for Public Space in which he states he wants in London all new developments to ensure that all the city’s streets and public places remain under local authority control. He wants an end to the privatisation of streets and public places. This has the status of legislation and this is a really, really important point. Because development in London and everywhere at all but ceased – bar the Olympics development and King’s Cross, all of which got planning permission before his 2009 manifesto.

It is very difficult to know if this had had any impact at all. But for people who are interested in the issues around the privatisation of streets and public places, that manifesto should really start to get known and talked about and referred to, because people still don’t know about it. But it is there. It is something actually really, really positive. That’s the positive campaigning point I usually end my talks on.

Questioner 5:  This whole thing is a massive wealth transfer. What is your comment on that idea that public money is eventually going to end up in the hands of private pockets of corporations. Secondly I keep getting media requests for voices of opposition. But I’m not getting any response from anyone. Where is the voice of opposition? Where is the organised response?

AM: First point of course you are absolutely right and Lend Lease oversaw the massive transfer from the public to private sector. This was exactly what we were doing with the bailout of the banks. Lend Lease was the property company responsible for developing the Olympic village and was supposed to be raising, borrowing, the money to build the Olympic village. And obviously they were unable to do that following the crash. The government bailed them out they were and employed Lend Lease to manage the project. So Lend Lease have done absolutely fine out of that. The whole project is a transfer of public money to the private sector. Your point about protest – you are getting media requests to be the voice of opposition  but … you …

Questioner 5: Yes, we are being asked to put them in contact with people who are protesting, but we are not really getting the response.

AM: I find this one of the frustrating things at the moment is that there are all sorts of  people doing really interesting things but they are not all connected up. We are  talking specifically here about the Olympics but I do stuff on regeneration. I was interested in what Occupy, what Heygate was doing. And that all these groups are not connected up and this is a big, big frustration. And what I am feeling at the moment is that there isn’t any central focus for dissent and protests and that’s really big problem. I don’t know what to be done about it apart from discussing it in forums such as these. There isn’t the central focus.

Questioner 6: How will you be protesting during the Olympics?

AM: I said I don’t think I’m going to be doing anything much different to what I’m doing now, unless someone suggests something to me that I’m particularly attracted to. I’m not planning to launch any major protests myself – that’s not the sort of thing I do really. I’m very supportive of Occupy and other protest movements so if  something comes up that is in tune with what I do, then I hope I’ll help out.

Photographer and filmmaker Alan Denney introducing his film of 1970s and ’80s Dalston

Questioner 4: Because the state is all over us and repression has been so intense and people are receiving anti-Olympic ASBOs  for nothing, we are feeling quite circumspect. I’d be really happy to just leaflet with counter-Olympic flyers in Stratford for the next few months –  just getting out there and talking to people. I just want to get the message across. I’m not going to riot, but leafleting would be quite good.

Questioner 7:  Do you think outside of the private areas, there will be regeneration in the local communities which will extend beyond the Olympics? Or do you think outside of the private realm, it won’t extend and people will be worse off or all in the same place they already are?

AM: My view is that this is the role model and we shouldn’t be pursuing it. This model doesn’t work. We have seen  it doesn’t work all around the country. We now have a more segregated and unequal society than we have ever had before. Social mobility is at an all-time low, the lowest in Europe – nudging America’s levels. Our young people are amongst the unhappiest in the world. That is the direct result of this sort of approach which I think is completely wrong.

Questioner 8: What you think of the Olympics as a marketing campaign to the corporate world and the whole world? The government is prepared to take private capital’s interest over the public. The government is demonstrating its willingness to crush public opposition in favour of corporate interests by saying this is great for the corporate world and it will also maintain our image in the world. Because we are so desperate to hang on to some kind of credibility and they are doing anything which is basically crushing the population.

AM: You are right without a doubt. This is a global PR opportunity. And I think the story of the London Marathon is a pretty good illustration of that. The marathon was supposed to run through east London and now has been rerouted to go past the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the Mall. Because that’s what the global networks are going to see – not parts of east London. Without a doubt you are right. Because that is basically is the Olympic Games.

Questioner 9: You said the model is clearly broken. Any trends to find alternatives to that.

AM: No not really. I wish there were movements to having some of these empty sites turned into urban parks and there’s some guerrilla gardening here and there. Some interesting things pop up. But I think the really big difficulty is that local authorities are the crucible for local democracy and all this activity should be coming from them.

But local authorities have been leading the way in trying to get these big private estates to go ahead in their towns and cities. I think local authorities are in a strait jacket. As I said in the book and it hasn’t really changed since then. It’s still let’s get back to business as usual. That’s the way our politicians are pursuing policy at the moment.  No, sadly, there aren’t any big moves to look for alternatives but I think they are going to have to come.

And I think London is in quite a different position from much of the country, where if you walk down a provincial high street, half the high street is shuttered up. You know there are places in real dire straits and they have to look for alternatives. So I think something is going to have to give. And there are the groups around the country which are looking at doing different things on these sites so I’m hopeful that something might start to happen.

Questioner 10:  I am one of those mainstream editors who does publish your work, over the years in the Guardian. You say the model is broken, but as long as we have got the Qatari Royal family buying up whole swathes of London. I  had no idea that Spitalfields was owned by them. A management company runs it for them. I was chatting to a guy from the management company recently and he said, yes look around and it’s all lovely cafes and shops but is just part of the Qatari royal family’s portfolio.

AM: I should say Alison you’ve always published my stuff. You are the honourable exception. Alison is the editor of Society  Guardian, a really great place to publish. Your point about the Qatari royal family is completely right. And of course, they are behind the Shard as well, another flagship development for 2012. There will be probably other money like that, pockets of it. Who knows? Maybe the Chinese are going to start buying up our city centres. But that is not a sufficient base for our economy. And I don’t think anyone could really build a big argument that it is. Those are the pockets of global capital which are still provoking these places.

Questioner 11: What about when we’re going to be charged for using public property that is built by us and paid by us?

AM: Logically that could be a development further down the road – toll roads are an example of that. I think there would be a huge, huge outcry if you started charging people for parks. But the use of parks for commercial purposes is arguably part of that trend to some extent. But is that is already happening.

Questioner 12: It’s not a total fait accompli as at the end of September, we will find out if the Lee Valley Park will be returned from being a temporary basketball courts for the Olympics back to common land. If not, that will be a major breach of promise. If people want to come down and make themselves heard, please do. It’s not a done thing yet.

AM: I think there are all sorts of things that can be done although I think the weight of the trends is going in this direction. I used to live in Brixton and there was this little development a new square was created and the whole community thought it was going to be a nightmare. A privatised disaster. And actually it’s not. I don’t talk about this in the presentation as is not a large open-air shopping estate. It is just a little square.

But there are  pockets of genuinely public space which are still being created and as I pointed to the Mayor’s Manifesto, that is a real boost for that sort of thing. And Exhibition Road, in South Kensington, is going ahead on the shared space model, which is actually the total opposite to the high security model we’ve been discussing.

So I think there is all sorts of hope for this not to be the trend. But it’s a debate/battle really.

Questioner 12: I’m part of the Save Leyton Marsh campaign and I think it’s about process . We’ve lost the first part of our battle with the temporary basketball court it’s been built on the common Lammas land. But for myself and local people and people from Occupy that are supporting us in the campaign. The process of the local campaign and local people working with the campaigners in Occupy, working with people who came along through, but might not identify with Occupy, in order to support us to protect our free space.  This has raised all of our consciousnesses and that of the neighbours too.

Some of the Save Leyton Marsh protestors.

AM: I think you’re absolutely right and you have raised a really important point. What really strikes me, though, is that people have to try so, so hard and what you are doing is taking up at least half of your life, if not your whole life.  For people who are really, really committed, you can do these things. But local democracy doesn’t work with you it doesn’t make it easy. You have to really dig and find and search and fight. And you won’t be told about meetings. You won’t be told about key dates in consultations.

But it actually can be done and people do it all the time. But you have to put so much time into it, which brings me back to my earlier point about there being all sorts of really, really great things going on all around the country. And yet it’s so diffuse and disparate and that’s my big frustration and probably a lot of other people’s as well. That somehow it needs some sort of focus. It needs some kind of pulling together. But the people need to be paid to do that and that’s always the difficulty.

Questioner 12: We’ve learnt from local councils, the ODA, the Lee Valley Park etc, the courts of justice are not going to be open to us and are not going to tell us about their meetings etc. But fighting for a very local issue that is important to lots of local people  – like kite flyers, dog walkers, environmentalists and locals who love green spaces etc – builds up a power that makes you want to fight on, and opens people’s eyes who weren’t very political at first. They see the forces of repression come up – how members have been beaten up, the ASBOs and so on. And it’s not stopping us. And hopefully lots of you will be around Leyton Marsh, around the date of October 15, when we hope we might be beginning to get our land back and if we’re not we want but is a very, very slow process not a quick government short-term targets.  And working with, for me the absolutely fantastic members of Occupy. It’s a very very powerful experience. It takes a long time you have to give up a lot of your life.

Anna:  That’s exactly right that’s really good to hear.

Another woman from Leyton Marsh group adds, “That’s ultimately how we win the Olympics struggle, and the struggle against capitalism the struggle against oppression.” This was the conclusion of a fascinating, informative, thought-provoking evening. If you have any interest in east London local politics or the environment or culture, or a general interest in these matters at all, I highly recommend that you can get along to an Open Dalston event.

Bill Parry-Jones thanks Anna for her contribution and reminds, or warns the crowd that the police are making pre-Olympic pre-emptive arrests and that the Police are constantly scanning social media for information about subversive activities and that it is highly likely that they are present in the audience tonight of  Cafe OTO.

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Filed under Alan Denney, Anna Minton, British writers, Broadgate Centre, Cafe Oto, Canary Wharf, Docklands, Environment, FIlm, Hackney Riots, Iain Sinclair, Life in London, Literature, London, London Citizens, Luke Howard clouds, Occupy London, Poetry, Politics, Sasha Andrews, Save Leyton Marsh, Science, The Mayor's Manifesto, UK Banking crisis, UK banking crisis, Writing about London

My interview with photo-artist Jamie Mcleod for Glass Magazine

Just a brief post. I interviewed the photo-artist Jamie Mcleod this month for the online edition of Glass Magazine. Here it is.  I’d be delighted to read any comments you have.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the very talented Mcleod has his private view for his show Ottoman Fight Club, which the interview focuses on, at Dalston Superstore tonight, January 12 starting at 7pm.

The formidable and fantastic Tiff McGinnis, aka Grande Dame, will be providing the sounds, the author Bertie Marshall will be reading and the Ginger Light, fronted by poet and writer Jeremy Reed will be performing.

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Filed under Art, Bertie Marshall, British writers, Caroline Simpson, Dalston Superstore, Glass magazine, Jamie Mcleod, Jeremy Reed, LGBT, Marc Almond, Ottoman Fight Club, Photography, Poetry, Private view, The Ginger Light, Tiff McGinnis, Turkish Wrestlers, UK fiction, Wrestling

Ottoman Fight Club – new show by photo-artist Jamie Mcleod

This Thursday a new show of work entitled Ottoman Fight Club by photo-artist Jamie Mcleod opens at Dalston Superstore, London. Mcleod is perhaps best known for his modern pop portraits, most famously with the torch singer Marc Almond, and his bold graphic work borrowing from his obsession with masks, faces, flesh, fonts,  lyrics and symbols which he composes to “create something borrowed, something stolen, something new and a lot that is blue”.

This new work, although eight years in the making as Mcleod immersed himself in the Turkish wrestlers’ culture, marks a departure and development in the London-based New Zealander Mcleod’s work which previously explores his fascination and  empathy with the outsiders, desperadoes, the forgotten and lost of the metropolis.

The images of Ottoman Fight Club were taken at the annual Kirkpinar tournament, held in Edirne, Turkey, which Mcleod visited over an eight-year period and where he established a friendship with the wrestlers. Shot in black and white, and screen-printed in a panoramic style, Mcleod examines the themes of male kinship and sexuality as expressed through the body.

The private view takes place at the Superstore tomorrow (Thursday January 12) at 7 pm and will be a very special event as the punk legend, author and mainstay of the Bromley Contingent, Bertie Marshall shall be reading and the Ginger Light, the musical collaboration of the poet and writer Jeremy Reed will perform a short set. And the magnificent Tiff McGinnis aka Grande Dame aka Crazy Girl will be spinning some maximum rock und roll.

Ottoman Fight Club

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Filed under Art, Art exhibition, Bertie Marshall, British writers, Dalston Superstore, FIlm, Jeremy Reed, LGBT, Literature, Marc Almond, Music, Ottoman Fight Club, Performance, Photography, Poetry, Private view, Short Story, The Ginger Light, Tiff McGinnis, Turkish Wrestlers, Wrestling

A black falling empty unfamous star: Jonesying – The End by Elizabeth Young

The late Elizabeth Young is one of my favourite writers and critics. Her journalism was published widely and her short stories have featured in various collections. This Christmas I thought I’d post a seasonal short story, an anti-Christmas story if you like, by her – Jonesying – The End, which includes,  some of my favourite lines ever:

“He turned up on Xmas Eve. I was feeling sorry for myself. I kept hearing that song on the radio, something like ‘So now it’s Xmas/And what have you done?’ (Fuck all.) It ends balefully – ‘the Xmas you get you deserve’ – so reassuring.”

And:

“How does that hymn go? ‘Change and decay in all around I see …’
Right. I should get that methadone and some extra sleepers and come off. I know I should.

I’ll start tomorrow.”

Young was one of the most gifted literary critics and writers to emerge from the UK over the last 30 years. Very, very sadly she died of Hepatitis C at the age of 51 in 2001. Combining an extraordinarily fierce intellect with a filigree sensitivity, natural unforced writing talent and enormous breadth of literary knowledge. An elegant writer and perhaps too talented for this world.

A collection writing of most of her writing (but not, unfortunately, containing any of her fiction), Pandora’s Handbag, was published by Serpent’s Tail, posthumously, and it is a book that I highly recommend. It is a work of unassuming genius.

Pandora's Handbag – Adventures in the Book World by Elizabeth Young

Anyway, here is a short story by her: Jonesying – the End, Young’s mordant riposte to the other eponymous Miss Jones,  which was published in the Time Out Book of London Short Stories Volume Two, edited by Nicholas Royle (2000).

Her good friend, the writer Stewart Home, who Young described in Pandora’s Handbag, as being a “conceptual artist, installationist, theorist, novelist and all-round cultural terrorist”, wrote a very moving tribute to Young.

I realise that these jpgs  are possibly not the best way to present scans online, so I apologise in advance for the legibility, or otherwise, of these scans. If anyone would like me to email them my pdfs of the pages, please contact me.

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Filed under 20th century writers, Art, Elizabeth Young, Literature, Poetry, Short stories, Short Story, UK fiction, UK short stories, Winter

Love in a Cold Climate – Happy Solstice, with a Snowflake from Heather Mae Jones

On these winter days, during Solstice – the dark tip into the end of the year, when the sun disappears and time slows down and closes in on itself, I often  listen to  Snowflake* by the singer and writer, Heather Mae Jones,  which reminds me very much of this season. A magisterial song,  full of deep meaning and resonance, layered with loss and longing, unrequited love, mourning and regret but qualified (redeemed?) by the fragility of hope – the echoes of which travel outwards and on and on.

From Snowflake:

“I could forgive you anything,

I’m not here to stand in your way,

I’m just struggling with the weather here and the short winter day.

What hell have I created here?

What was in this for me?

Suck it up baby,

well I know what your eyes are telling me.

When hope flies in on a plane from I don’t know where

She brings a snowflake and some sunshine and a feather for my hair.

I need a doctor and a politician to put a bandage on this incision.

Got to get over this need

Got to get over.”

As she says, suck it up baby. xxx

* The video shown on Heather’s myspace page is made by the brilliantly gifted film maker Dario Vigorito of 241-24-7

Heather Mae Jones aka H Jones x

Here is a small thing I wrote earlier this year about Heather (who I am lucky enough to count as a good friend, which I should declare now, I guess):

‘With her music having been variously described as possessing the lyrical sharpness of Patti Smith and of evoking Annie Oakley, Smith & Wesson, empty highways and empty beds, the Californian musician and songwriter, Heather Mae Jones has just released her first single, Midway City.

Originally from LA, and with impeccable rock n roll credentials, as a teenager Jones – then Heather Hiegel – was in the original line-up of Hole, before leaving to form The Hotshots with ex-Cramps bass player Candy Del Mar with Aaron Sperske of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti on drums. Jones has collaborated with with an range of LA musicians, including The Beachwood Sparks and Bobby Bones of Sky Parade and The Morlocks.

On her marriage to Jim Jones, she moved to London where she still resides with her son, Jude. Since her displacement here, and wishing to free herself from “the confines of a band situation”, she has been writing, performing and recording her solo material and has also learnt sound and music production.’

Follow Heather on Twitter at @Hjonesx

Insect Ball/Midway City cover image

Happy Holidays! Xxx

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Filed under Art, Dario Vigorito, FIlm, Heather Mae Jones, Literature, Music, Performance, Poetry, Winter