Friday 22 June 2018


‘When you know the script you enjoy the show’. The following is the script of a record recital given by MIKE BUTLER at Manchester Jazz Society on Thursday, 21 June, 2018, with the response of MJS members. Oddfellows potman Henry Moss joined the MJS and was made welcome. 

Whither jazz and folk? Henry, Mike and Don Lee in discussion

The title is a reference to something Louis Armstrong said when asked about the relationship between folk and jazz. He said, “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.” This is very astute and so true that nothing more really needs to be said on the subject.

[Prolonged pause. A nervous laugh. This ploy to break the ice doesn’t go down as well as Mike hoped, and so he pushes on…]

My field of specialisation when I was an over-employed music writer was jazz, but since becoming an under-employed music writer I’ve been working on a book about folk. So I tend to sit up and take notice when the genres collide or overlap, and even if they’re separated by a wide gulf, the difference can be revealing. 

Going back to the swing years, the jazz singer who did most to promote British folk music was undoubtably Maxine Sullivan. And she really got around, covering England with ‘Barbara Allen’, Ireland with ‘Molly Malone’ and Scotland with ‘Loch Lomond’, and all without moving from 52nd Street, the famous ‘Swing Street’, in Manhattan. At one point she and the John Kirby group moved from the Onyx to The Famous Door, which was next door, and reputedly the smallest and smokiest dive on 52nd Street. The group, a sextet, almost crowded the place out by themselves. A reporter from The New Yorker visited The Famous Door, and observed “it’s practically impossible to be a devotee of hot music and fresh air at the same time”. The conditions make Maxine and the Kirby band’s achievement all the more extraordinary. Never was jazz more plaintive, gentle and enchanting: –

MAXINE SULLIVAN, ‘Just as the Tide Was A’ Flowing’

Note the swinging Sailor’s Hornpipe; the musicians quote the Wedding March to signify a happy union, a trick they repeat in ‘Barbara Allen’ in blithe disregard of the fact that ‘Barbara Allen’ is a tragic ballad which ends in the death of the separated lovers. So the musicians rapidly change tack and tag on the chords of Chopin’s Funeral March. It’s wonderful!    

My book – the working title is Found Out Musical Tunes – touches on folk music, social history, recording technology and record collecting, and the point of focus is the prolific folk producer and engineer Bill Leader. My next selection, which might count as ‘horse music’, was recorded by Bill in a pub, The Nag’s Head, in Southery in the Fens, on August 6th 1962, a Bank Holiday Monday. It’s a paean to a magnificent team of horses, who are mentioned by name as Captain, Short, Boxer and Ball. Not much happens – the horses are watered and put to bed – but I find the performance exhilarating. It somehow convinces that all is for the best in the world and virtue is its own reward. The pay-off line, ‘straight way is the best’, fills the heart with an inexplicable joy. The hero of the song, the waggoner, is a good bloke, and clearly the singer is too, with his rousing voice. This is ‘Four Horses’ by Hockey Feltwell.    


Hockey came in late because he’d been out driving a lorry all day. Hockey Feltwell’s dad was the waggoner, and it was his dad who taught him the song. Hockey himself got his start on tractors and graduated to heavy vehicles rather than heavy horses. In its own way, ‘Four Horses’ is as Arcadian as ‘Just as the Tide Was A’ Flowing’. It summons a time when there was a direct connection between people and the land, and when the world was based on horses. Has such a time existed? Was folk song in its classical form ever the popular music of the industrial proletariat? These are hard and searching questions. One of my interviewees, Reg Hall, an authority on Irish and English folk and a great jazz enthusiast, put it to me like this: “We’ve got all sorts of prejudiced views that everybody was singing ‘A Sailor Cut Down in His Prime’… but, you know, were they?” For that matter, did mill-workers in Wigan cavort to an early form of jug band music? Here is the evidence that they did… 

OLDHAM TINKERS, ‘John Willie’s Ragtime Band’

Apparently kazoo bands flourished in Lancashire in the early years of the twentieth century, peaking in the 1930s, which happened to coincide with the Depression. Kazoos were the poor man’s musical instrument, and they came out in force every year at Oldham’s annual carnival. The song, John Willie’s Ragtime Band’, was recorded in 1916 by George Formby Snr. It’s unlikely the Lancashire musicians were aware of Cannon’s Jug Stompers or the Memphis Jug Band, but clearly ‘John Willie’s Ragtime Band’ is an answer to ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’, Irving Berlin’s great hit from 1911. The Oldham Tinkers version was recorded in 1974. The singer, John Howarth, is always at The Oddfellows in Middleton on Monday nights. Is John Howarth still at The Oddfellows on Mondays, Henry? [Mike has to wake Henry up and repeats the question. Henry breaks into an encomium about the Oldham Tinkers and enjoins the members of MJS to visit Oddfellows. Peter Caswell says he knew John Willie’s Ragtime Band’ in infancy because his mother used to sing it, testifying to its pre-war popularity in Lancashire.]

The Lancashire jug bands went unrecorded, as far as I’m aware, but we have examples of jug bands from the States, because the recording industry was so much more advanced over there. Did Oldham kazoos sound anything like Memphis kazoos, I wonder? 


That’s Cannon’s Jug Stompers, with Gus Cannon on vocal, banjo and jug, recorded in Memphis, in 1929. Does anyone remember the teatime music programme hosted by Wally Whyton which had ‘Walk Right In’ as its theme? [No-one remembers but Don informs that ‘Walk Right In’ was a hit for The Rooftop Singers in the sixties.] Oh well perhaps I dreamt it. 

I’ll let the next tracks run together. The link is fairly obvious, but I’ll say that the artists are Maxine Sullivan, Fletcher Henderson and John MacDonald.  


FLETCHER HENDERSON, ‘What Do You Hear From the Mob in Scotland?’ 

JOHN MacDONALD, ‘The Ball O’ Kerriemeer’ 

Right. After Maxine’s ‘Loch Lomond’, backed by John Kirby and His Orchestra, we had Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra jumping onto the Highland bandwagon to ask ‘What Do You Hear From the Mob in Scotland?’ (Henderson operated out of Chicago rather than New York.) 

John MacDonald, recorded in 1974 in his caravan home in Morayshire, answers Fletcher's question. The mob are having a high old time.

Novelty, you say? Maxine Sullivan transcends the novelty tag in a way that Fletcher Henderson doesn’t attempt. Maxine is among the most enchanting women of jazz, and is in many ways the antithesis of Billie Holiday. It depends on whether you want your singers fragrant or ravaged, or go for songs of innocence or songs of experience. [Peter Caswell reminds that Mazxine Sullivan was the guest of honour when Oldham hosted the International Duke Ellington Conference in 1978, and praises her undimmed graciousness and beauty.] But there’s little doubt that Scotland, England and Ireland are sites of fantasy to Maxine, whereas jazz artists from Django Reinhardt on created a distinct identity by recasting their own native traditions in the jazz idiom. This could be the subject of a talk in itself, but here is pianist Tete Montoliu with two Catalonian folk songs, ‘El Testament d’Amelia’ and ‘Cançó de Lladre’, playing from the depths of his Catalonian soul: – 

TETE MONTOLIU, ‘El Testament d’Amelia/‘Cançó de Lladre’

[The piece earns a spontaneous round of applause. Lorraine comments, That's beautiful.

I played Tete Montoliu, but I could have played Kudsi Erguner from Turkey or Reem Kelani from Palestine or Jan Garbarek from Norway or Monty Alexander from Jamaica or Ivo Papasov from Bulgaria or Gilad Atzmon from Israel. It seems that every patch of earth has its own distinctive flavour, made be manifest in jazz or single malt whisky. In that way, jazz music is folk music too. 

Here is Bob Davenport, from a private recording made at Walthamstow Folk Club in 2005, singing straight from the depths of his Geordie soul. It's the most stentorian version of 'Lover Man' ever. 

BOB DAVENPORT, ‘Lover Woman’ 

Bob follows the song with this explanation: The reason I sang that last song was I had all the 78s of Billie Holiday and she sang at the Albert Hall in 1954, and I went along to hear her sing. That was quite a thing. In fact I nearly got up to sing with her. She said, will anybody from the audience come down and join me and... Id organised them to come and hear this unique occasion, Billie Holiday, and so they were all there. ‘You know this song, go on Bob.’ But I was at the back and you had to climb over this... [indistinct]. And I wouldn't sing in public. Anyway, another guy came up and took my place.    

Bob and Billie. Now that would be interesting. It shouldn’t surprise that Bob Davenport loves Billie Holiday, or that Norma Waterson is devoted to Ella Fitzgerald. It would be daft and presumptuous to think that folk and jazz musicians live in a hermetically sealed world of folk and jazz. There’s no law to prevent jazz singer Ottilee Patterson making an album of Irish songs (Ottilie’s Irish Night) and folk singer June Tabor making an album of jazz standards (Some Other Time). There might, however, be explanations why both are such stinkers. Perhaps we can hazard some general principles:
  1. Style defines category not repertoire. This is why Peter Pears can sing ‘The Foggy, Foggy Dew’ till his face is blue but he’ll never be a folk singer. And… 
  2. Every form of music has a regulation voice. This applies as much to your favourite music, be it jazz or folk or blues, as it does to your least favourite music, be it hip-hop, death metal or grime (I don’t know what grime is either). I suppose this leads towards the psychology of subjective taste, which might be an interesting area of study. Anyway it explains one’s instinctive reaction to horrible music in public spaces, and most music in public spaces is horrible, as I don’t need to tell you. 

Before we turn to pieces that transcend the labels, it might be worthwhile to consider the different uses and methods of jazz and folk. Jazz is continually exploring new directions. Jazz musicians spin variation after variation on simple themes. Could you call on John Coltrane? Or they might pare a melody to its essence, like Miles Davis. Here is ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ by Miles Davis and John Coltrane, recorded at the Newport Festival on July 4, 1958, with Miles, Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. Note the contrast between Miles’ spareness and Coltrane’s effusiveness. This is a striking example of what jazz does best.  

MILES DAVIS, ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’

‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ belong to the world’s joint stock of great songs. In other words, it’s a standard, and anyone can have a go. ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, or ‘Bye Bye Skipper’, as sung by Mike Waterson, demonstrates what folk can do best, which is about bridging generations and reshaping an old song with such integrity that it becomes your own… Actually that applies to jazz as much as folk, but you couldnt mistake Mike Waterson for Miles Davis, even in the dark.

MIKE WATERSON, ‘Bye Bye Skipper’ 

There was a moment when jazz, rock n’ roll and folk were united, before things diversified and got segregated. Skiffle was that moment, and it contained both jazz and folk, and, in embryo, rock. The Beatles started as a skiffle group. It sprang entire from the trad jazz scene, and ‘Rock Island Line’, the song which kicked the whole thing off, languished for a year on a Chris Barber 10” LP ((New Orleans Joys), before some bright spark at Decca backed it with its skiffling companion, ‘John Henry’, and released it as a single in 1955.  

Here is some prime skiffle from 1956. It’s an old union song, actually a parody of a hymn – ‘Round and Round the Picket Line’ by Hylda Sims and the City Ramblers. When it’s done I’ll tell you two or three interesting things about Hylda Sims. 

HYLDA SIMS & THE CITY RAMBLERS, ‘Round and Round the Picket Line’

Right. Did you know that Hylda’s dad, Tom Sims, sold herbal remedies in Petticoat Lane market and co-founded the Communist Party of Great Britain? He seems to have been written out of history (at least he doesn’t have an entry on Or that Hylda and the City Ramblers starred in a 1958 Russian film in Magicolor, the Soviet version of Technicolor, with a title that translates as A Girl With Guitar? Or that Hylda is a published poet and novelist and still performs? Hylda is a marvellous woman. 

So to close the first set, from the skiffle era, I’d like to offer an example of perfectly integrated folk and jazz, or so it seems to me. It comes from one of the Radio Ballads, a unique hybrid in itself, created by Ewan MacColl and Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger, being a mixture of recorded interview and original song with a documentary purpose. This comes from the second Radio Ballad, Song of a Road, broadcast by the BBC Home Service on November 5th, 1959, about the road building programme that was visibly changing the nation. The piece is identified by the first words spoken, ‘We Are the Consulting Engineers’, and the first singer is Jimmy MacGregor, followed by Ewan MacColl, who carries the rest of the piece. The clarinetist is Bruce Turner and the trombonist is Bobby Mickleburgh. 

EWAN MACCOLL, ‘We Are the Consulting Engineers’ 

The jazz in ‘We Are the Consulting Engineers’ is of the sprightly trad variety. Further transformations took place when modern jazz gained a foothold in the folk community, as we shall see in the second half. 


When I tell you that Miles recorded ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ in 1958 and Ewan MacColl recorded ‘We Are the Consulting Engineers’ in 1959, you can see how far Britain lagged behind the U.S.A. in jazz tastes. Davey Graham did more than most to bring the folk division up to speed in terms of the advances in jazz. Graham revolutionised guitar playing in the UK. Up to this point the British guitarist had been a simple strumming skiffler (I’m simplifying somewhat but let it pass). Davey Graham had Thelonious Monk tunes in his repertoire. He travelled around Europe and Africa and brought back exotic tunings. DADGAD is his discovery. He was wont to sprinkle traditional Irish songs with raga-like passages. There are pages and pages of web content devoted to his influence on Jimmy Page, most of which isn’t worth reading. Davey Graham went farther out than anybody, musically, geographically and, sadly, chemically. At Alexis Korner’s instigation, Bill recorded the guitarist one day in 1960. The setting was domestic. In fact it was in his mum’s kitchen. At the time Mrs Leader lived below her son in a garden flat at North Villas, Camden Town. This is the tune Bill recorded...


‘Anji’, a simple enough tune, spread like wildfire. It was on every guitarist’s fingertips. Bill talks of going to Glasgow to record an anti-Polaris demonstration. Lots of young people had foregathered in a Glasgow square, waiting for the demo to begin, and there were many dozens or perhaps a hundred young men with guitars. Bill says, “as you walked around the square, you would float into one person’s interpretation of ‘Anji’, and as you walked past you would move into another one.” It was like something by John Cage, Bill says. Everybody played ‘Anji’. Never mind ‘Blowing in the Wind’ or ‘The H-Bomb’s Thunder’ – ‘Anji’, a guitar instrumental, was the true sound of protest in the early sixties.

So, to honour the ubiquity of ‘Anji’, even if the spelling is variable (sometimes it’s A.N.J.I. and sometimes A.N.G.I.E.), here’s a second ‘Anji’. This comes from Bert Jansch’s debut album in 1965 and Bill recorded it in his bedroom at North Villas. So two floors apart from Davey Graham. “He was quite keen to do it,” Bill remembers. “He’d just put his foot through his own guitar so he had to borrow one, and had to be careful he didn’t put his foot through that. He sat on the bed, and I stuck up the one and only mike that I had and plugged it into the one and only tape machine that I had… and he just sang.” Or played.


Notice the terrible sound quality. 

The technical term is dropout and it happens when the tape moves away from the head causing a momentary wobble in the audio. “It’s my worst recording,” says Bill, “and it’s probably been more played than any other.” Poor quality tape is responsible, but it was all Bill could get hold of. The recording was made on spec, and Bill eventually sold it to Transatlantic for £100. Bill kept thirty and gave Bert seventy. The record has never been out of print since 1965, and the 50th anniversary of its release in 2015 was marked by a super deluxe edition, which must have been a challenge to the sound engineering department. t

Did anyone recognise the quote? [Bob, Frank, Eddie and everybody else did: shouts of ‘Work Song’ and ‘Nat Adderley’.] From quotes like this, the choice of repertoire and various references on Pentangle and related LPs by Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, you can build up a picture of their listening habits at the time: English traditional singers, the Staple Singers, Charles Mingus – lots of Charles Mingus – Coltrane, Booker T and the M.G.s, Elizabethan madrigals, Moondog, the blind New York street performer, and this, which Jansch quotes on the instrumental ‘Smokey River’, also from his debut album. Shout when you recognise it. 

JIMMY GIUFFRE, ‘Train and the River’

[Mike the treasurer, instantly, “‘Train and the River’!”] The second selection of the night from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, ‘The Train and the River’ is characterised by its graceful weave of jazz, blues and folk. It demonstrates how the most creative players in the U.S. were on the same route as advanced English folkies, albeit travelling from the opposite direction. Great musicians have never scrupled to borrow tunes. Ian Dury was nervous upon meeting Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman’s bassist. He apologised for lifting the riff of ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock ’n’ Roll’ from a phrase in Haden’s solo on ‘Ramblin’’ from the Coleman album, Change of the Century. Charlie told Ian not to worry: he’d nicked it himself from ‘Old Joe Clark’, an old-time hillbilly tune. 

There are lots of Mingus tropes on our next selection. You can tick them off as they come up. ‘Waltz’ is from the first, eponymous Pentangle LP, from 1966. Pentangle were Jacqui McShee on vocals (not heard here), Bert Jansch and John Renbourn on guitars, and, crucially, the experienced jazz rhythm team of Danny Thompson on bass and Terry Cox on drums, who were in the house band at Ronnie Scott's for a spell. You might describe this as warmed over Mingus, but, as we know, if you change the context, you also change the meaning, and in the context of British folk this was electrifying (if ‘electrifying’ is the right word)... 

  PENTANGLE, ‘Waltz’ 

If I may inject a personal note I first noticed Tony Coe, Henry Lowther, Lol Coxhill, Chris MacGregor and Dudu Pukwana as names on folk, or folk-rock records? I knew ‘The Theme from The Pink Panther’, of course, but I didn’t know it was Tony Coe until much later, whereas he gets a credit for his tenor sax obligato on ‘Solid Air’, which is so crucial to the atmosphere of the song. Folk-rock and, let’s not forget prog-rock, which also had a subterranean jazz element, primed me for the real thing. I’m glad though that I came across Danny Richmond in the conventional way, as the drummer with Charles Mingus, rather than a sideman on Bert Jansch’s Moonshine, an album from 1972. I recommend the version of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ from Moonshine, which boasts the unexpected conjunction of Danny Richmond and Mary Hopkin. And so it was that on the day I got three O levels at school I celebrated by joining Middlesbrough Central Libraryrecord library and the first record I took out was Tijuana Moods by Charles Mingus. It was a revelation. And what is Tijuana Moods but a grand synthesis of blues, bop and swing with something else: something we can only call folk music, albeit of the Mexican variety.

[For a change nobody asked, but the line-up is Charles Mingus, bass; Jimmy Knepper, trombone; Curtis Porter (Shafi Hadi), alto saxophone; Clarence Shaw, trumpet; Bill Triglia, piano; Danny Richmond, drums; Frankie Dunlop, percussion; also Isabel Morel, castinets and voice.] 

CHARLES MINGUS, ‘Los Mariachos’

Sometimes there are extra-musical reasons for jazz and folk crossover. (I can’t bring myself to say the horrible ‘f’ word; crossover is bad enough.) What, for example, if you’re the best Irish traditional singer in the world and the best jazz guitarist in the world happens to move in four doors down from your house in Rossendale? Naturally you get along famously. Making music together is the obvious next move. Such was the case with Donal Maguire, the great Irish traditional singer in question, and Mike Walker, a jazz guitarist of local and international renown. Donal Maguire’s album, Gilded Chains and Sordid Affluence, from 2001, resulted from the collaboration. ‘Little Bridget Flynn’ is the lead track. The saxophonist here is Iain Dixon.

DONAL MAGUIRE, ‘Little Bridget Flynn’ 

And what happened when Stuart McCallum, the cool, calm, urbane guitarist, a mainstay of Mancunian jazz, met Rioghnach Connolly, a lass from Armagh in Northern Ireland, steeped in traditional Irish song, who has made Manchester her base? Answer: they formed a group called The Breath and signed to Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. The second album is imminent. I was given the task of writing the press release, so I’m well placed to give you the story behind our next song, ‘Let It Calm You Down’… 

The scene is Matt and Phred’s, a club, as all we know, noted for its noisy and inattentive audience. The long hours and tiny fees absolve performers of any obligation except to please themselves, which is the first rule of the artist anyway. And so Stuart and Rioghnach, together with John Ellis, Luke Flowers and Sam Vicary – collectively known The Breath – were taking the opportunity to try out new things. Rioghnach, alas, has been in a foul temper all night, and is slightly the worse for drink. Stuart starts to play something loosely based on a solo arrangement he once made of the standard ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’. The band follow. At this point Ellis Davies, Rioghnach’s boon companion from her bar-room band Honeyfeet, walks in, and settles at the back within Rioghnach’s direct line of vision. She discerns him through a red mist. The rest of the audience disappear and only Ellis remains. She sings directly to him; in Rioghnach’s words, Ellis is “my soul mate in the crowd, the only bastard that can calm me”. She plucks the words from the air, and this is what happens, quite spontaneously…

THE BREATH, ‘Let It Calm You Down’

If you remember, the last words of the film Chinatown are, ‘Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown’. Chinatown is not a place, but a condition of life where the individual is helpless in the face of all-encompassing evil. So even Rioghnach’s most gorgeous love song must have its little barbs.  

Next… Quite serendipitously, I found a jazz take on ‘Brigg Fair’ among my jazz CDs at home. It’s by the Avalon Trio, who are Pete Churchill on piano, Tony Woods on saxophone and Rob Millett on percussion. As the name suggests, they’re attempting to summon the old elegiac pastoral spirit of England…

AVALON TRIO, ‘Brigg Fair’ 

I’ll fade it there [after one and a half minutes], because it changes into something else, and there’s still a bit of ground to cover, and those tablas are really horrible. 

[Mike the treasurer testily says, “You chose it. Why put it on?] 

It leads to something I wanted to say about ‘Brigg Fair’, which was among the songs Joseph Taylor sang into Percy Grainger’s new-fangled phonograph machine in 1906 in Lincolnshire. In Brigg, actually. Grainger alerted his chum Frederic Delius who wrote it up as a full orchestral work. He called it ‘An English Rhapsody’. In 1908 Grainger invited Joseph Taylor to London to an early performance of ‘An English Rhapsody’. Sadly, the legend that the singer got to his feet and sang along to ‘his tune’ turns out not to be true. But Grainger took Taylor to the Gramophone Company, where he made some records which were released commercially on 78. He was marketed on the label as a ‘Genuine peasant folk-singer’. Someone (Lea Nicholson) once told me that this marked the beginning of the commodification of folk music. That’s a very hard line, in my opinion.

I haven’t got Joseph Taylor singing ‘Brigg Fair’, but here he is singing ‘Creeping Jane’, recorded by Percy Grainger on the same occasion in 1906. It hasn’t got anything to do with jazz but it is about a racehorse, so I can justify its inclusion by the horse theme. It’s also inherently interesting to listen to something so old.   

JOSEPH TAYLOR, ‘Creeping Jane’ 

To close, I’d like to finish where I began, in the company of Maxine Sullivan. ‘If I Had a Ribbon Bow’, one of the more unusual songs of 1940, caused an altercation between Eva and myself because we both want it played at our funerals. We’ll have to arrange to go together… [Eddie says “Dont push your luck.”] 

MAXINE SULLIVAN, ‘If I Had a Ribbon Bow’

I could mention that ‘If I Had a Ribbon Bow’ was the debut single by Fairport Convention, a band much influenced by West Coast psychedelic rock but clearly with wide-ranging tastes. They were shortly to invent folk rock with the album, Liege and Lief, but that’s another story. 

Thank you and goodnight.

Thursday 14 June 2018

Michael Hurley, Gullivers, Manchester, June 13, 2018

I've been neglecting Hurley as English traditional folk has begun to monopolise all, so it was a blast to crouch at the side of the stage of Gulliver’s within touching distance of the god-like genius. It was only an upstairs room in a pub but the crowd was gratifyingly full, and gratifyingly young too, and I’m sure they weren’t just there to support the support (as it were), Cult Party and Elle Mary, who were musically rudimentary and lyrically deep and, in my opinion, vastly compelling.  

Hurley will occasionally drop in the odd cover – I liked Spade Cooley's 'Detour' best – but this only shows up how in advance his own songs are, melodically and lyrically, and how unconventional and how ‘outside’. You don't know what Hurley is going to say or do next, or where his stuttering guitar will lead. And the number of fantastic songs he so casually strews about! The whole world is contained in 'I Paint a Design'. He can be ethereal and eerie – usually signalled by a switch to fluting falsetto, which dips in volume from his normal range –  and then earthy and hilarious, all in the space of a song. As in 'Oh My Stars', a forlorn cosmic reverie with a digression about a spider climbing a wall. And what was that in 'Slurf Song', about eating oysters and getting their molecules to work for him? And how about summoning aboriginal spirits by the mundane act of phoning Oregon and discussing the weather (‘The Portland Water’)? The man is incapable of saying anything which isn't profound or funny, or both at once. He's a metaphysical Mark Twain really. 

The set was well paced but I realised that any other random selection of Hurley songs would contain an equal amount of my favourite songs in the world, including some I've never heard before. And when I say ‘well-paced’ I am perhaps underplaying his genius to slow the world down, and occupy each moment with rapt attention. His genius is to make you see the world as he sees it, with a vision that is surreal and touching and hilarious, and has the prime merit of being totally unique. You can't help but love him. And how gratifying that he remembers me as 'the journalist'. Not many do. 

Sunday 4 March 2018

Re. a return to childhood in dreams...

Is anyone out there interested in my dream diary? There was no interest in my thoughts about Mark E. Smith, my last blog, which plateaued at 9 views (at least one of them was me). So I can’t really hope that my dreams will fascinate the wide public. Nevertheless… 

I was naked and running pell-mell for home (this from a week or so ago). The people I passed were unconcerned. They were far too jaded to bother about a naked man. Nakedness is even at the boundaries of social acceptability in some circumstances. But in my dream I was self-conscious and uncomfortable. I happened to be passing very near my childhood home, so I thought, I’ll pop in and put some clothes on and everything will be alright. I raced down a back alley I recognised (gated in real life, but open in my dream, as in my childhood). I was very nearly there when a terrible thought struck me: “Where are my keys?”

I think everybody in the world must have had this dream or a variation of it. I lay awake and brooded on it awhile, and when I went back to sleep I had a dream which treated of the same themes, but was far too baroque and unreal to describe here.  

And then last night I dreamed I was back in primary school. Those of us who hadn’t yet eaten were told to put up our hands. (There was a crisis in the school canteen, presumably.) I raised my hand, not feeling particularly hungry or aggrieved, but privately hoping that we might be sent home. But then the parents of the children who had already eaten rounded on those of us who had gone without, and remonstrated with us as if was our fault, and the scene got very ugly indeed. It was a vivid dream, though I have no recollection of any such incident in life. The gap of about a minute between the teacher saying a thing and my comprehension was a very lifelike detail, and something I’d completely forgotten about.  

Sunday 28 January 2018

Mark E. Smith - Memorial and Memorabilia

For me, Mark E. Smith is a greater loss than David Bowie. Let’s just say his chief virtue was that he dealt with the concrete, things which were really there, as opposed to fantasticalities. The prime merit of his work was its truth. He was free from any affectation or pretentiousness. You could happily go for a drink with Mark E. Smith in a way you could never with Bowie. I never did, but I can imagine the sparkling table talk. What made him an entertaining social companion was the same thing that made him a lyricist of genius: you never knew what he was going to say next. 

Example (from one of two lyrics I have in front of me): 

I meet my old friends there/ They queue up for cash there 
They are part Irish / They have no conscience 
And they get threatened by the Cracker Factory 
2 steps back (Cracker Factory – A place where you get into the ‘working routine’ again. = Re-habs
                                             for no hopes = Pre-fabs for Jobless Dopes) 

2 steps back in. 

Mark E. Smith could never have the appeal of Bowie because fantasy is always more palatable to the masses than truth. But fantasy is a juvenile pastime, and the condition of present-day pop culture attests to the deleterious results of arrested development. Whereas too much reality leads to grumpiness. Mark E. Smith balanced grumpiness and playfulness brilliantly, until they become two sides of the same coin. Most of his lyrics are reportage (never straight reportage), but his powers of observation are acute, and given an edge by a unique sensibility, which is working-class, caustic, subversive and absurdist. The Fall's music is punk of uncompromising truculence, yet open to esoteric experiments and surprise undercurrents (he was a fan of Northern Soul and Roy Woods Wizzard). As rooted in the moment as a snapshot, the music actually sounds better from the perspective of mid-lifeas if the band’s listeners’ physical age caught up with the spiritual age of their hero. Smith's great achievement was to harness existential rancour to rock ’n’ roll, a juvenile art-form, with unlovely and paradoxically optimistic music.

I have come not to bury Mark E. Smith but to praise him, or at least exhume some of his ephemeral scraps. I’ve made a modest collection of Mark E. Smith memorabilia over the years. It started with some papers I found secreted into my second-hand copy of The Peel Sessions (Strange Fruit, SFPS028, 1987). These included a cutting from NME, 14 Nov. 1987, with The Fall's UK Discography; a photocopy pic of Marc E. Smith next to a list of the line-up (Marc Riley era) in a handwritten scrawl (“yes 6 like dice”); a typed sheet of the words of ‘Two Steps Back’ and ‘Rebellious Jukebox’ (direct from the man, see below); a press release from 1978, which bears evidence of Mark E.’s unique prose style (“i.e. Who will crack first? Will it crack at all? Will you crack?”); and, as piece de resistance, a letter. It reads: 

[The Fall, Witch Trials typographic letterhead] 

May ‘79 

Dear Dave, 

Thanks for the present of your poetry & letter. The flow of your writing is Brill. All hail Joey. Stockport is a funny place, I’ve a lot of friends there. 

Hope contents suffice, would’ve been more but I’m a slow typer & no paper! Do you wear badges? 

Thanks for support & stimulation. 

Rays of affections 
R. Totale XVII Mark ESm. 
(2 people at once) 
for the fall.

P.S. keep going and we will too.

To these I’ve added extra items which came my way courtesy of Ra Page, City Life (Manchester What’s-On) colleague and erstwhile City Life editor. One is a two page prose work (Ra was always soliciting short stories and would sometimes publish them as City Life supplements) called No Place Like It. It ends: 

"It's crap out there isn't it" Says JOE 

"Damn right it is" 

"Let's form a Party" sez FRANK. 

There there is a page of handwritten answers to typed questions headed OUT TO LUNCH WITH... CITY LIFE QUESTIONNAIRE. As follows: 

Name? SMITH, M.E. 

How often do you go out drinking? (and where?) 

3-4 times a week if flushed, which is rarely. I drink Holt’s bitter, not because it’s cheap, but because it’s the best beer in the world, bar none. I know because I’ve drank all the world’s beers. In the past on long tours I used to suffer ‘Holt’s Withdrawal’. 

How often do you eat out? (and when?) 

All the time if I’m away but in M/CR not so much as I used to, it’s too suffocating and pretentious now. Julio’s Terazzia was the best until it [illegible] on Coronation St and like K2 [?] (Walpoles). he’s the best [illegible] ever. The Prachee [?] at Heaton Park is spot on, too. 

Worst experience? (where) 

Vomiting all over a local T.V. executive in a crowded exclusive M/CR restaurant about a year ago, about Noon – but I think that had as much to do with him as with the place. I can’t stand eating with music/media types, they talk rot and are always surprised I know more about food etc. than they do. 

Do you cook at home much? 

Yes, my roast beef sandwiches have made both grown intellectuals and hoodlums weep with pleasure. 

What would improve Manchester's food and drink scene? 

It’s ridiculously expensive for what it is compared to virtually anywhere else – be it Rossendale or America, but that’s maybe rent etc. Also, in M/CR no bars seem to have heard of a clean, cold glass – most places’d get trashed if they were in Glasgow or someplace. And I’d argue it’s even harder now to get a decent drink after 11p.m. than it was in the early 80’s. 

This is accompanied by a handwritten note written on tatty, lined paper, torn off when the message ends: 

From M.E. SMITH 
11 JUL. ‘99 


Dear Ra: 


The Nepalese is actually called KAILIL on George St. Also the New Emperor is v. good too. 

Also, got cheque for a £100.00 – is this correct? My phone’s bust, so write me. 

All the best...   

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