Monday, 22 December 2008

Sheep Music: Border crossings circa 1978.

Seen near here - mad cyclists, woolly creatures, ramblers and certifiable families out for a drive in the country.

'Happy when it rains', or equally as groovy, 'Nine million rainy days'! Any other suggestions for the perfect sheep music playlist?

Beyond Kielder Forest, where the nitro-arable greens slide up the hunched muscle of the borderlands, where the buzzards circle over cloud shadows, the motorway gives way to 'A' road and everything gets a little 'outback'. A feeling of disquiet creeps up on driver and passengers alike. If you you break down here? Oh my! A bronte nightmare of menacing fat bellied clouds, curtains of rain, nagging winds, evil goats with twisted horns, bruised heathers, dry stone walls and hundreds of sheep, peopling the landscape. It's actually quite beautiful. The border between England and Scotland is marked by a simple slab of stone on the side of the road, which apparently still reminds travelers in several different languages that in England we drive on the left. A Scots hawking spit away is a village that goes by the name of 'Deadwater', famous for being the birthplace of the river Tyne, ie it's a wee bit squelchy underfoot, as it is anywhere around here within say 200 miles!
It's also an amusing place name which conjours up dust devils swirling in the heat, outlaws, bounty hunters, gunslingers and plinky plonky pianos in wild west saloons. A far cry from this grey and woolly borderland. I remember going on car journeys with my parents from Newcastle to Edinburgh, cocooned in the back seat with a window out onto this dramatic landscape. My dad would have his classical music on, I'm not one for classical, but somehow it was the perfect soundtrack as I looked out upon the vacant faces of the craggy bottomed sheep, chewing, chewing! I followed the pit of my stomach that lurched from throat to pelvis on the rolling big dippers, the broken white lines on the road would suddenly disappear in the rise and fall or round snaking hairpin bends. Watching sheep, listening to symphonies, smelling leather upholstery, exhaust fumes and feeling car sick. Always feeling car sick! And then it rains, it always rained! If sheep listened to music what would they choose? I think it might just be The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

A wheelbarrow full of words.

Nude magazine, issue no.14

The cold spade is hanging in the dark shed, dried earth clinging to a new blade. The wheat is growing in the quiet turning of hours, short days spreading out to new beginnings, a new year. The gardener is away washing the seeds and soil from his tired hands, wrapping up the frayed laces and tucking them down inside his boots, toes pointed together they sit in a dark corner by the door. Waiting for January's Aconites, Wintersweet perfumes, bright Snowdrops on dark February days and the early Helebore's hanging beauty. So, Christmas is upon us, the house has been brushed through, the tree is leaning in the garden waiting to be dressed and between bouts of preparation I find time to skim through the bookshelf pulling at books, magazines and comics that I want to return to, or wish to catch up with. Here are a few of them.

Comic- Pull Shapes, issue no.1
Gardens Illustrated Magazine, August 2008.
Fruits, The excellent book about wacky Japanese street fashion.
Comic, I kill Giants, issue no. 6(of 7)
To See Every Bird On Earth by Dan Koeppel

Friday, 19 December 2008

Meadow dreaming.

A blaze of winter sun slants under a curl iron clouds and highlights a bent frame stooped over a taught line on the ground. I am working my way slowly backwards, scoring regimented drills in the soil a trowels width apart. A Green Woodpecker jerks back my wandering thoughts, an explosive call repeating across a calm sky, moments later two Waxwings fly over, their shrill calls are unmistakable. Unfortunately they don't stop, and I watch their small silhouettes disappear over the far buildings and under my breath I quietly urge them to return. These striking birds from Scandinavia drift south in hard winters seeking out berry crops. Despite the fact that that it is December, and for me at least, the last working day of the year, we are sowing a wildflower summer meadow,which was a huge success last year. In fact it won us a very smart Tivoli radio when our letter was published in Gardens Illustrated. Standing here on this table top of soil in winter, the warmth of the summer sun beating down on the back of my neck seems like a lifetime ago, a field of bright lozenger poppies sighing in the heat, a drone of busy insects over a haze of ripening seed heads. For two days a volunteer(Jessie), and myself hand picked all the dried seed heads, a back breaking task but so worth it.

The un-winnowed seed has been stored in the four corners of the Bothy. Books, charger leads, secateurs, gloves, random socks and other assorted objects of daily life have spent some time lying submerged in buckets of dusty seed, until today. Once winnowed, the fine volcanic black poppy seed feels icy cool when a hand is pushed into them, and falls away from the fingers like loose silk when removed. After sowing comes the waiting and the hoping, that and a combination of luck and decent growing conditions will help bring a flood of meadow flowers to life.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Capes, masks and tights.

My brain has been wiped, deleted, reformatted and is now permanently hooked up to an ever expanding world of fancy dress Superheroes, Elseworlds, cartoon characters and Aliens aplenty. Every one of my days is seen through super saturated gossamer, every conversation I have is drawn into smooth balloons of perfect letter forms. I plug myself in to hours of podcasts devoted to these 'other' worlds, I read other peoples rants, ravings and reviews in blogland, I check solicitations, keep tabs on upcoming releases and gladly open up my wallet when they are. In short, I read and collect comics. I doesn't seem to matter that I don't understand half of what is going on, in the Superhero Universe it does help if you've been reading for a couple of decades or more. For a newcomer there really is only one option when faced with shelf upon shelf of titles, and that is to dive straight in. All these characters caught up in cosmic battles, good vs evil, have been fighting personal ones as well as they struggle to understand themselves and their place in the Universe, as we struggle to understand and follow a multitude of weaving threads that tie together a bristling ball of story lines, pieced together by many artists and writers over decades into the vast intricate jigsaw known as 'continuity'.

Even long time readers need to read and re-read to understand half what is going on. Comic fan favourite writer, Grant Morrison, is known for his non linear story lines and immense knowledge of the medium, and for the newcomer his pen can scare you away, making you feel utterly confused. Other hurdles that need to be overcome are the overblown events that stretch out over an entire year in weekly issues, the use of pointless dialog where quite often none is needed, sometimes the artwork in the panels can be over busy when depicting action sequences when a simpler more sparing use of space would do. And lastly, if like me you are pushing the post forty year envelope, entering into a shop full of toys, cards and comics can feel a bit daunting. One day some pre-pubescent punk kid at the comic store is going to ask me if I want him to put my purchases into a brown paper bag. "There you go Sir, no one need ever know".

Moan, moan, moan. You would think that I didn't like comics, but like an Apple Mac obsessive that bitches on and on about the mother company, so it is for me with comics. I seem to be buying more and more every week! I mean where else would you find men in spandex and silly masks empathizing with each other in hero worthy heart to hearts. Where else would you find a Superhero dog with it's own cape, ready to serve and protect the citizens of Earth when his master is in need. Where else would you find a Silver Surfer of the spaceways, a tormented lonely figure soaring through the galaxies on an endless quest to save his home planet from Galactus, the destroyer of worlds. If you're more interested in small press comics and zines and Superheroes aren't your cup of tea, then the good news is that demand for underground comics is growing and so is the scene. In London there is an underground comic stall at Camden Market, a fair that can be found at Hand Made and Bound, and also coming out of London is the UK's only weekly radio show about comics, Strip!, which is on Resonance FM. There's no denying it, once you've got the bug the biggest problem that you will have to face is storage!

Monday, 15 December 2008

Music in the landscape...

The Grove.

But first a little history lesson, so if you are sitting comfortably I shall begin by correcting a mistake that I made in my last post. The house with the black bell that is a mere stones throw from our greenhouse, and is situated within the grounds of the neighbouring college, is called The Grove, and was the former home of Emma Darwin, the wife and cousin to Charles Darwin. Following the death of Charles she bought the house and moved in with her daughter during the autumn of 1883. Around the same time, the sons Horace and Frank built and moved into houses with land on either side of The Grove, forming a Darwin enclave

Sigur Ros-on stage in the landscape.

And now for some music. The other thing that I failed to mention was that our little musical get together was in part a homage to the Icelandic band Sigur Ros, whose film Heima documented an unannounced tour of their homeland in 2006. Taking in a variety of unusual venues, most of which were outside within the landscape. The result was a truely moving film that connected the band to its roots, the people of Iceland and its stunning scenery. Words like 'life changing' and 'mesmerizing' have been banded about since the release of Heima in 2007, and in my personal opinion that pretty much sums it up. Some of you may not warm to the music of Sigur Ros, which at times can feel cold and melancholic and will also unleash a clamour of fuzz and noise, bombarding the brain and leaving you blown away. To dive in and expose yourself to the rich visual and musical palette of Heima really is the only way to find out.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

A pulpsfromthebothy production presents...

Sharp faces pushed forward into the icy streets on the morning of the 12th. Treaded peddles slowly turned, creeping car tyres eased gingerly along sparkling ribbons of tarmac. The pavements were sugared with frost and a constant procession of commuters focused on getting to where they were going, clouds of watercoloured orange draining down against the clock. With an after work music session to look forward to we spent the day de-icing the paths and cleaning out the greenhouse. Sleeping giants were gently nudged from their quiet hibernations, the heavy tubs of cropped Bananas and Daturas pushed aside and the drying tubers of Dahlias were packed together under the bench.

The beautiful perforated tiles that run down the middle of the greenhouse got swept and scraped of enough loose compost to fill a large wheelbarrow, revealing their intricate forgotten patent designs. As the mid section was cleared to provide a seating area for the musicians, clouds rolled over the glass roof, I hung my coat on a long piece of wire hanging from a roof truss by the door and it spun there slowly. The spooky winter moods of the Irish song smith, Fionn Regan, egged the spirits on as his brilliant album 'The End of History' played in my ears. Picking up my broom and bending forward I rubbed a clear line to the door at the far end. Pausing momentarily I looked through the glass towards a grand building of Cambridge whites, where a small black bell is recessed, a favourite view of the former home of the late Nora Barlow, the granddaughter of Charles Darwin.

Dark shapes of rose thorns crowned the gloom as the day folded in on the reflections of fairy lights that bounced back from this brittle shell. A trio of musicians emerged from without, tentatively moving around in the candlelight. Under their bowed wings magic instruments were tucked away inside soft bags of cloth, holding the treasures of aural traditions stretching back. As the camera rolled and a microphone recorded the greenhouse session for our film, 'Garden Stories', warm tunes wove together, making magic, casting spells, summoning the ghosts of horses that once stabled here. The area adjoining the greenhouse was once used for this purpose, but now holds two huge compost heaps in the open air. The rusted iron baskets that the horses would have fed from a hundred or so years ago lie at the foot of a wall of crumbling bricks, all that remains of that bygone era. With empty stomachs fueled on sticky slices of cake and fizzy wine, the festivities go on. Night birds with bows and a penny whistle shake Disney dust down on the little lights of bikes that quickly disappear, unaware of this music and the web of planets, slumbering on a bed of cloud above their heads. Music opens the door, and reluctantly I slip away...

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Thursday, 11 December 2008

On the dial

Cold and flu symptoms have blotted out the past few days, so I apologize for a lack of updates. I've been heaving myself from sofa to bath, struggling up and down the stairs and generally slipping in and out of consciousness between listening to and watching podcasts on my i pod. And one that I keep coming back to is 'The Rest of Everest'. Its a lengthy 'nuts bolts n' all' documentary following an American expedition to Everest in 2003, coming in at 110 roughly half hour episodes, it feels like you really know these guys by the time they've lead you with their cameras to Base camp and beyond. In fact it became a joke at work that whenever my colleagues asked where the climbers had got to, the answer came back that they were nearly always at Base camp. I have been following this film for a year or so and I am now currently flagged out, tent pitched and hunkering down with a rare and tasty plate of vacuum packed chicken at, you've guessed it, Basecamp! Episode 39 to be exact. The reason its taken me this long to get to this point in the film is that I go through phases with these things, and with 'The Rest of Everest' the onset of cold weather, icy conditions, big furry hats, scarves, plumes of breath meeting the chill morning air and balls of misletoe hanging in the crouched apple boughs, well it kind of goes with the territory don't you think? The highlights for me on these podcasts are the mealtimes(there's always something cooking), the Sherpas, who are always happy and busy, yabbering away in Nepalese, and of course the scenery, which is stunning and never fails to brighten up the little window on my i pod. So, if you're interested in being a fly on the inside lining of a large dome tent, watching a bunch of hairy unwashed mountain climbers sit around all day at Base camp, eating and scratching and waiting endlessly for the weather to improve, then look no further. Oh, and they do climb eventually!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Alliums from outer space!

Alliums at the Bothy. From left, David, Jo, Phil and Peter.

Our boss Jo has been hard at work making the Alien dolls, each one representing a member of the gardening staff. A second prototype UFO is still waiting to leave the drawing board, flashing dog collar and metal dustbin lids are in the offing. With such fine work and dedication having gone into making these cheeky little Aliens, I felt that it was only right that they were given a little back story. So if you are sitting comfortably, I shall tell you all a little story about the four Alliums that live on the Planet 'Pati pan Squash' in the 'Aster Andenken an Alma Potschke' star system. Having been shunned by their fellow Alliums and sent away to an isolated corner of the planet, overlooking the 'Arando donax' nebula, they live out their days studying a cache of rare artifacts brought back from Planet Earth. The story goes that a group of teenage Alliums were accidentally sucked into a giant Wormhole in the space time continuum, whilst killing time chucking moon rocks at the 'Argoos' delivery ships. After recovering from a temporary spell of blindness, incurred after being exposed to an unknown light source within a large sunken roundabout at a place called Luton, they ventured further afield with the hope of finding out more about this strange grey and primitive land. What they found was a country in the grip of the late 1970s. John Travolta was wooing the too pure to be a 'Pink Lady', Olivia Newton John in the film 'Grease', which had the school kids queuing round the block for multiple viewings, and families crowded round the TV watching 'Butterflies', 'Some Mother's Do 'Ave Em', 'The Generation Game' and 'Wonder Woman'. Adapting to the primitive ways of these simple folks, they gorged themselves on Fish and Chips and flat beer before returning to Pati pan Squash. With much excitement they tried to share their tall tales and many souvenirs that they had brought back from Earth. Unfortunately for them it did not impress the evil Lord 'Vinca Major', who was both wary and frightened of the possible effects that these discoveries may have to life on Pati pan Squash, and so they were banished to an off planet lunatic asylum and never heard from again. Years later, alone in a spiritual quest for absolute knowledge of Earth in the 1970s, the four Alliums, Jo, David, Phil and Peter were happily absorbed in their daily prays to a mighty Deity, the gardener's gardener, Geoff Hamilton, listening to Boney M, playing Atari video games, reading comics, role playing as Council gardeners and watching hours and hours of television. Until one day, Phil, who had been blessed with extra olfactory perception, picked up on the smell of toast coming up through the Wormhole. Following Phil's keen nose, they boarded a spaceship made from the salvaged parts of Morris Minors, Minis and Bubble cars, the 'SS Begonia Non Stop!' and set off in hot pursuit of an Earthly breakfast. They were led directly to the door of the infamous 'Bothy'. The mischievous adventures of this little team of Alliums it would seem, has only just begun!

'Garden Stories' film update

Its taken a fair degree of patience(we have none), organization(ditto), and coordination to get to this stage of the film making-process. And it is by no means at an end! After completing a time line for 'Garden Stories', which involved Jo and our camera girl, volunteer gardener and all round unwavering staunch supporter, Claire, sitting through 25 hours of unedited footage and making detailed notes in a small windowless room with a psychotic television prone to psychedelic mood swings, this low low budget magic carpet ride is about to enter the editing suite.

However, we still need to film our Alien sequence, and hopefully a 'live' Guerrilla Gardeners music session in our grade 2 listed 120 year old red ceder greenhouse, slated for the 12th of December. I hope to bring you more about that later, but for now...

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Planting bulbs

Nodding Magpies chuckle at our cold expressions on this grey morning and a line of naked Lime trees wraps around us, giving little comfort. With sackfuls of Spring bulbs and a small quiver of spades loaded onto a wheelbarrow we head out into the gardens. In my experience it is always like this when we plant bulbs, short days pinned down under milky skies, a pause between flowers, dampness in the air and waiting for rain. This year we have 4500 bulbs to plant, and if we are lucky the weather conditions will remain stable until the task is complete, cold is one thing but wind chill equals pain. During the winter months we are wrapped up in every available item of clothing we can find, thermals, overalls, long sleeved t-shirts, jumpers, waterproofs, more jackets, fleeces, thermal liner gloves, several layers of socks, woolly hats etc.., anything that will stave off the cold! When it gets into your bones theres nothing that will shift it except a slow slide into a deep hot bath at the end of the day.

So we boldly go, brushing from our shoulders the moats of floating dust, and folding ourselves in half against the ground we push these small memories of flowers beneath a cold blanket of earth. Once in the ground we quickly forget where we have put them, God knows how the Jays and squirrels remember where they have buried their Winter stores! When a days worth of planting is done we scrape thick chocolate wedges of mud from our boots, balancing against spade handles, chatting and laughing in the gathering dusk and checking our watches against black ribbons of crows flying off to their beds. In the warmth of the bothy, cold hands cradle steaming mugs of tea, overalls get kicked under chairs, brief befuddled key moments come and go before we make our weary way out into a world of dark shapes and streaming tail lights.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Heavy Vinyl

Now thats what I call album art!

At the same time as the rise of the New Wave of Heavy Metal I was entering into the chemical imbalance of mid-teens hell, I was, you could say, ripe for the plucking. Even though many would disagree with my early musical leanings, or even pity me, I can safely say that it hasn't harmed me in any way. I now have a wide range of musical tastes and will just about listen to anything. However, round about 1982/83 I was tuning in every week to the Friday Night Rock Show on Radio 1, presided over by Tommy Vance, the flying 'V' of the airwaves.

There's something very wrong with this picture, Rush, circa 2112.

With my index finger poised over the record button on a briefcase sized ghetto blaster I would tape the shows, and when caught short without a piece of paper to hand I scribbled the names of bands down onto a dwindling stock of old beer mats. Uriah Heap, Nazareth, Saxon, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Scorpions, Motorhead, Iron Maiden and many other band names have all drifted down with me through the years. It was also around about this time that I got my first Hi-Fi, a record deck with two small chip board speakers and no amp. I couldn't have been more happy, that is until I got a replacement with a very good amp that I still use to this day. Up until about 1986 the cream on top of this tall beverage of Heavy Metal noise was occupied by just a handful of groups, AC/DC, Scorpions, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin and Rush were the ones that held my attentions, and Led Zeppelin and Rush sat at the top of this list.

The awesome 'Kashmir' from the monumental 'Physical Graffiti' probably launched a thousand trips to India and beyond.

My friend and I took to wearing denim jackets and tight jeans(ouch!), and sitting in my back yard in the summer months we would painstakingly embroider the names of our favourite bands onto the back of our jackets. How I wish I had that jacket now, lesson number one never get rid of anything that you will regret in hindsight. I can remember having perforated fingertips from pushing the needle through the tough denim fabric, my mum gave me a thimble, threads and plied us both with tea and cake, no doubt making appreciative noises over our handiwork. Fitted in around the edges of our masterpieces were an assortment of patches and pin badges which we bought from a cramped shop in the city, a dubious emporium of leather accoutrements, bullet belts, chains and t-shirts that gave off a keen fragrance of patuli oil and sweat.

Smashed guitars, dodgy set designs, blazing concert halls. Spinal Tap eat your heart out!

I also remember buying records from a shop called Callers Pegasus. This was either an early precursor to Tesco or it was deeply confused about its own identity, as starting on the ground floor you could book a holiday, on the first floor you could buy a sofa and a nice set of table and chairs before ending up on the second floor where a thin crowd of shoppers, mostly men, could be found flicking through racks of vinyl. Etched forever into my memory is the day I first laid eyes on the white outlines of the twentieth century man holding the Red Star of the Solar Federation at bay, a brilliant logo that for some reason was on the back cover of what is arguably the best Rush album, 2112. The lettering and album art was just as important at that time, and recreating those jagged Gothic letters or the swishy looping Whitesnake logo was quite a challenge to a young man when doodling on the inside of a school ring binder. The pimples, the greasy hair, listening to music and staring at record sleeves, in the words of AC/DC, 'Rock n' Roll Ain't Noise Pollution!'.

Lipstick and leather. Discovering new ways to play guitar and break an ankle at the same time.