Friday, 30 June 2017

Poem: 'The Truth About How Gravity Really Works'

(or ‘does it feel good 
when I do this to you…?’) 
 …with acknowledgement to ‘Touch’ 

so we sit here, watching incense smoke-rings, 
hearing dark insects scratch behind the walls, 
& as you think, a drift of truth seeps in 
something that seems to feed you 

‘there is no gravity, worlds inhale, 
that’s all they do...’ 
‘so what happens when they exhale…?’ 

we begin trading lines, 
gravity is the geometry of ghosts, 
the moon and the dogs, the hills 
and the last train for home, 
gravity is days of dissolution 
in the black mind of the sun, 
gravity is sparks of being 
only borrowed, that keep on betraying, 
a blind vulture sinking its head 
into the stinking guts of light, 
air-raid sirens and a male-voice choir 
of 1,000 soldiers and a woman bawling 
through an electronic loudhailer, it is 
raw wounds, bouquets of teeth, &
people who dematerialise as night falls… 

so you wander off to the bathroom 
while I wonder where exactly you’ve been, 
soon you’re insisting ‘no, you’re wrong, 
gravity is what inhales me to you, 
while you only exhale…’ 

when you fix into my eyes 
I see futures, moss growing from my arms, 
my legs as witch-hazels rooting me underground 
my blood has become razors, the woman I love 
is fast asleep in our bed, all four of us must have died, 
now you’re saying I must stay, but I think no, 
it’s time I better… goooooo… 

Published in:
‘KRAX no.45’ (UK – November 2008)

And in my book
‘The Poet’s Deliberation On The State Of The Nation’ 
(Penniless Press)…

Thursday, 29 June 2017



‘The Twilight Man’ (Compact SF, 1966) started out as a 
two-part serial in ‘New Worlds’ as “The Shores Of Death”. 
Then it became Michael Moorcock’s third novel – under 
his own name. And the literary cross-overs are revealing… 

There’s no such thing as a ‘regular’ Michael Moorcock novel. Even so, ‘The Twilight Man’ is untypical of what we think of as a Michael Moorcock novel. There are spaceships, strange alien species, and the Bleak Worlds of space.

At the age of just twenty-six he famously became editor of ‘New Worlds’, despite other more obvious and predictable potential replacements for John Carnell’s chair, reliable and safe pairs of hands such as EC ‘Ted’ Tubb who had piloted ‘Authentic SF’ magazine, or Kenneth Bulmer who would assume Carnell’s mantle at ‘New Writings In SF’. So why was it Moorcock? He was a wild card, known largely for a series of cult tales in ‘Science Fantasy’, and as the teenage protégée who’d edited the juvenile ‘Tarzan Adventures’ comic. Under its new Roberts & Vinter publishing imprint the first ‘New Worlds’ issue to carry his editorial by-line was no.142 (May-June 1964), declaring itself ‘A New Literature For The Space Age’, with a JG Ballard essay proclaiming William S Burroughs as ‘Myth-Maker Of The Twentieth Century’, acting as a manifesto for the rebel regime.

 Michael Moorcock’s unique qualification was this new slant on the genre, he was an editor around whom a satellite constellation of young writers orbit, impatient with old conventions and hungry for innovations in style and subject-matter. This insurrection itself has subsequently been unreasonably exaggerated. Check out the contents pages, to find that New Wavers such as Barrington J Bayley had already been championed by Carnell, while there’s a reassuring continuity of established favourites in Sydney J Bounds and EC Tubb himself. In a letter to the magazine, ‘New Worlds’ regular Arthur Sellings concedes that ‘you’re certainly putting out a literate magazine. You’ll have the old hacks like me scratching their heads and wondering if they can make the grade.’

But first, as Moorcock explains, ‘I had just started editing the magazine and long material was hard to come by,’ so he concocts a ‘romantic, extravagant piece of work’ called “The Shores Of Death” as a two-part serial with the desolate red-orange landscape of Jakubowicz’s cover-art for no.144 (September-October) and Robert Tilley’s stylised spaceship art for no.145 (November-December 1964). The ornate interior art by James Cawthorn, perfectly captures the fin de siècle decadence of the text, while constituting a collaborative link that goes all the way back to their work together in ‘Tarzan Adventures’. To place the issues within time-context, the period starts off with the Kinks first hit “You Really Got Me” at no.1, and ends with the Beatles “I Feel Fine” topping the ‘New Musical Express’ chart. Harpo Marx died, Nikita Krushchev was ousted in a Kremlin coup, and Harold Wilson became Labour Prime Minister ‘after thirteen years of Tory rule…’

It was a time of change and uncertainty. And in ‘New Worlds’, once the story had been serialised, Moorcock explains that ‘many readers asked ‘where’s the last instalment?’ Because the downbeat ending hadn’t made the clear point it was meant to make.’ Soon after, Robert and Vinter decide to maximise its genre investment with the ‘Compact’ series of spin-off novels. As well as the Moorcock-edited ‘The Best Of New Worlds’ collection – including the aforementioned self-proclaimed ‘old hack’ Arthur Sellings, they published Moorcock’s Martian Trilogy under his ‘Edward P Bradbury’ alias, as well as ‘The Fireclown’ (aka ‘The Winds Of Limbo’) and ‘The Sundered Worlds’ (fixed-up from ‘Science Fiction Adventures’). So it became a natural vehicle for the expanded “The Shores Of Death” rewrite, resolving the reader’s previously-unanswered expectations, and in doing so, forming Moorcock’s third own-name novel, re-titled ‘The Twilight Man’.

It’s an interesting exercise to compare and contrast the development of the story’s two earlier incarnations. According to Moorcock’s ‘Introduction’ (dated April 1966) ‘I have rewritten the novel entirely, with only a fraction of the original plot and material.’ Yet some sequences are virtually lifted intact – such as the lavish ‘Earth Wake’ which opens the first part of the serial and then follows the novel’s tacked-on ‘Prologue’, a party of masks, costumes, levitating gravstraps and air-carriages – ‘its golden body had been moulded to the shape of a fantastic bird with spreading wings’, controlled by sonar-key (or ultrasonics in the novel). Yet there are also the most fundamental plot-shifts, even reformulating the nature of catastrophe facing the doomed planet.

The ‘Story so far’ update for new readers in no.145 neatly condenses the imminent threat down to ‘our galaxy is about to be destroyed. Another galaxy is colliding with ours and is approaching the speed of light. When the speed of light is exceeded, it will convert to energy and we shall be engulfed by the same process. The human race prepares for death.’ Despite the cover strap-line boast announcing ‘Intelligent SF For To-Day’s Reader’ this galaxy-smashing inferno is almost an EE ‘Doc’ Smith scenario.

As Moorcock concedes, some readers ‘hinted – or stated bluntly, that the science wasn’t all it could be… they were right. I wasn’t convinced by the science either.’ So, instead of a rogue galaxy, for the novelisation there’s a race of space-dwelling creatures ‘seeking the edge of the universe’, who had ‘paused with casual ease to stop the world spinning’, a mischievous prank that creates a climatically divided Earth. Stilled on its axis, one hemisphere eternally facing the sun in everlasting day, leaving the other side facing away from the sun, perpetually frozen and inhospitable. Probably this science is equally unconvincing. However, although a degree of longevity is common – with life-spans extended up to three centuries, the race has also become barren, perhaps due to an overdose of omega radiation, and so will soon become extinct. A choice of catastrophe, in which this is again the world’s final generation, with the human race again preparing for death with costumed parties prescient of the ‘Dancers At The End Of Time’ stories to come.

The other central concept is the psychological impossibility of humans to travel in space, due to the nausea of the ‘Space Ache’. Drugs and extreme conditioning allow limited trips, and people born beyond Earth have a greater resistance, but there’s an effective passage in the first magazine episode where the last of the attempts to achieve intergalactic travel returns with the crew dead in various hideous ways from desperate violent madness brought on by the existential terrors caused by separation from the Mother world. Despite this there are tenacious colonies on Mars and Ganymede, with persistent tales of survivors of an expedition to Titan.

‘Yesterday’s conventions have no place in today’s magazine’ Moorcock editorialises, yet this idea itself has precedents. There’s a gently poetic short fiction in ‘The British Science Fiction Magazine (Vargo Statten)’ (January 1955) – the only documented work by Paul T Evers, in which expeditions to other solar system worlds are doomed to failure by the mind-scrambling “Music Of The Spheres”. But more particularly by Cordwainer Smith’s short story “Scanners Live In Vain” (‘Fantasy Book’ no.6, January 1950) where space travel is constrained by the ‘First Effect’. Here, the ‘Great Pain of Space’ induces a death-wish in all but the surgically-altered Scanners, ‘the enduring agony of space… the pain of space beating against every part of my body.’ When asked directly Moorcock admits that ‘Smith could have influenced me’.

Clovis Marca, the protagonist, is more of a regular Moorcock trope, in that he’s a charismatic loner, driven by an initially unspecified obsession. He’s pursued by lover Fastina Cahmin – at twenty-eight, the youngest person on Earth, and by a mysterious entity-in-black known as Mr Take, with a ‘rudimentary and primordial soul’. ‘Marca was the golden man’ who had abdicated his elected First Citizen council leadership when he deemed the very concept of government itself obsolete in this civilised saintly world, where debate is conducted in the Great Glade of the Flower Forest. The prologue added to the novel fills in detail, about how he’d been born from an incestuous union in a baroque ‘grotesque tower in the twilight region’ between hemispheres.

Narvo Velusi schemes a giant transmitter broadcasting ‘WE ARE HERE’ through the immensity of time and space as a final memorial to humankind, while an alien Shreelian ship from the extinction galaxy arrives, offering salvation by converting the energies of Pluto and Mercury into a preserving force-field. All of which provides little more than an irritating distraction for Clovis, who’s more intent on defying the Space-Ache by travelling to Klobax, a planet of the Antares Dark Worlds, to seek lost scientist Olono Sharvis, in a quest to achieve immortality. Klobax is a world of lurid colours, peopled only by ‘the unbalanced and the misfits’.

If the Dark Worlds are a metaphor, they become even more so in the form of the novel’s dark hemisphere of the world. It is the submerged parts of the mind where the fatalistic Jungian Thanatos instinct lurks, the morbid death-wish to the soft nullity of extinction. ‘The darkness mirrors the darkness in their minds’ as Clovis Marca observes. There are no Dark Worlds in the novel, and no Shreelians, unless they are transfigured into the ‘birdlike mammalian bipeds’ who had stilled the world. But Brand Calax is murdered when his Titan expedition is sabotaged on take-off. Narvo Velusi’s transmitter is destroyed. Clovis and Fastina attempt to distance themselves from the growing crisis when the nihilist Brotherhood of Guilt cult is opposed by Andros Almer’s equally fanatical vigilantes, who stage a virtual totalitarian coup. With Mr Take, Clovis and Fastina retreat to his isolated tower in the twilight realm – with a touch of humour, they are pursued by ‘Security Scout 008’! From this stronghold Clovis tracks Take deep into the desolation of the Earth’s night region. The Dark Side Of The Earth. To where a cavern within the fallen moon is refuge for Olono Sharvis’s continuing research.

Here, the narrative strands again come together, in extravagantly strange adventure. Retorsh is an artist of death who spends his time ‘working out the funniest ways of killing myself’. He’s committed suicide three times, only to be revived. Sharvis himself is a concoction of Mad Scientist… and Josef Mengele, the Angel Of Death familiar to anyone growing up in the immediate post-war years as responsible for Auschwitz experiments on human subjects. Sharvis had done – under the Krau-Sect regime, what Mengele had done for Nazism. The artist Alodios is gifted immortality by Sharvis, but in a cruel jest, he’s robbed of intelligence to rationalise it. In a consciously Faustian transaction Sharvis inflicts a similar immortality on Clovis (fusing him with Take’s body), ‘passionless, yet remembering passion, corrupt, yet with a memory of innocence’. In the ‘New Worlds’ serial, with Earth collapsing into feuding factions that frustrates even Shreelian generosity, Clovis is no longer capable of resolving the racial impasse. When readers asked ‘where’s the last instalment?’, there is no resolution, other than extinction.

And the downbeat ending elaborated into the novel now makes clear the point it was meant to make. It’s to do with the irrational, the urge to chaos, even where there seems to be reason. But what is the rational reaction to death, to personal – never mind racial extinction? Can there even be a reasoned response? If that makes it a darkly morbid adolescent fantasy, if that makes it a ‘romantic, extravagant piece of work’, then it fully qualifies for the term. Distanced in time, this is still a powerful work of weird fiction, fully deserving cult status in its own right. If there’s no such thing as a ‘regular’ Michael Moorcock novel, this doomed destiny at least makes it contiguous with the fall of Melniboné, or the spread of the evil empire of Granbretanne. At Sharvis’s intervention, the world spins – once, reversing the hemispheres. Fastina and Clovis have children, although he is bleakly emotionally dead. ‘He wanted nothing, regretted nothing, feared nothing.’

Future editions revert to ‘The Shores Of Death’ title for a 1970 Sphere edition, and again in 1974 through Mayflower. And it stands as a unique part of Moorcock’s stylistic evolution into one of the most distinctive writers of his generation, on the way to defining his own genre. The texts were further revised for inclusion in the 2014 ‘Moorcock’s Multiverse’ anthology in the Gollancz ‘Michael Moorcock Collection’ omnibus series – alongside his two debut novels ‘The Sundered Worlds’ and ‘The Winds Of Limbo’ (aka ‘The Fireclown’). But these early editions remain, not only highly collectable, but highly readable.

Thanks to John Howard, Rhys Hughes and
‘Jeremiah Cornelius’ in researching this feature

Tuesday, 27 June 2017



Album Review of: 
‘KITES’ by 
 (See For Miles SEE CD 368)

There was a Spencer Davis in the Spencer Davis Group, a Manfred Mann in Manfred Mann, and even a Dave Dee in Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. But the first thing to realise about Simon Dupree & the Big Sound is that there was no Simon Dupree. The second is that the Big Sound were never even particularly Big. In fact – like the Bee Gees, they were essentially three brothers, Derek, Phil and Ray Shulman. Which is a lot of brothers, but not as many brothers as there were in the Jackson Five or the Osmonds, so that’s not exactly one for the Guiness Book of Records either. And worse, over the precipice of the Sixties into the ‘Progressive Seventies’ the Big Sound de-evolved into the unforgivably self-indulgent ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ stalwarts Gentle Giant. So why the hell should this shiny new CD package be worth your carefully hoarded pennies?

Well – there’s few art pretentions here. This is essentially the Big Sound’s one and only album ‘Without Reservations’ (August 1967) inflated from its original twelve tracks to twenty by the addition of their one-and-a-half chart singles – “Kites” (no.9 in November 1967) and “For Whom The Bell Tolls” (no.43 the following April), plus ‘B’-sides and early Blue-Eyed Scooter-Soul singles like their non-hit “I See The Light”. It’s all here. The complete blueprint Pop career from the Mod R&B covers – Homer Banks’ “Sixty Minutes Of Your Love” and Ben E King’s “What Is Soul” done like a Zoot Money or a Chris Farlowe might have done them, the perfect sweaty Club jive for every self-appointed In-Crowd at every mid-sixties Art School Dance, changing style and wardrobe into the mild psychedelia that then gave them their brief burst of ‘Top Of The Pops’ success.

And “Kites” is quite gently magnificent. Written by Lee Pockriss and Hal Hackady – the team responsible for Teen-trash like “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” and Bobby Vee’s “Rubber Ball”, it’s a track that floats a charming calligraphy of images on spiralling thermals of Chinese breeze – ‘I will float a silken silver moon near your window, /…I will scatter rice-paper stars in your heaven, / …all of these and seven wonders more will I fly, / when the wind is high’. With bit-part actress Jacqui Chan (she can be glimpsed in ‘Krakatoa: East Of Java’ in 1969, plus episodes of ‘Dixon Of Dock Green’ and ‘The Saint’) breathing oriental eroticism all over the instrumental break in a poetic Chinese voice-over that still packs more sensual charm than Sharon Stone’s entire movie-ography. “For Whom The Bell Tolls” follows (lifting its title from the John Donne poem “Meditations XVI”), drifting in on sound-bites of twittering birds and doomy Church-bells, before fandangoing into a perfect Pop of acoustic flamenco bursts and trumpet fanfares. Trivia buffs know already that beyond the confines of this album the group also recorded the highly collectible “We Are The Moles” (1968) under the Beatleseque guise of the Moles, and that after the demise of Gentle Giant Derek Shulman became the US-based A&R executive who first signed Bon Jovi, while Ray Shulman went on to do production knob-twiddling for the likes of Sugarcubes and A.R. Kane. But in their time Simon Dupree could occasionally be a class act, and the Big Sound – just once or twice, were able to live up to the boastful promise of their name.


WITHOUT RESERVATIONS (Parlophone PMC 7029) with ‘A Lot Of Love’, ‘What Is Soul’, ‘I See The Light’, ‘Sixty Minutes Of Your Love’, ‘Love’, ‘Get Off My Bach’, ‘There’s A Little Picture House’, ‘Day Time, Night Time’, ‘Teacher Teacher’, ‘Amen’, ‘Who Cares’, ‘Reservations’. ‘New Musical Express’ review says ‘here’s a group with a restless, driving instrumental sound, the lead singer shouting and bawling his songs over in great R-and-B style’

KITES(See For Miles CM109 - 1986, then See For Miles SEE CD368 - 1993) with ‘Amen’ (Sam Cooke song), ‘Who Cares’ (group composition), ‘Get Off My Bach’ (group composition), ‘Sixty Minutes Of Your Love/A Lot Of Love’ (Homer Banks medley), ‘Love’, ‘There’s A Little Picture Playhouse’, ‘What Is Soul’ + *singles. ‘Vox’ says ‘more than you ever needed to know about Portsmouth’s most famous group is contained within this twenty-track collection’

PART OF MY PAST(2CD expanded set 55-tracks, 2004)


December 1966 – ‘I See The Light’* c/w ‘It Is Finished’* (Parlophone R5542), group managed by John King, through Arthur Howes Agency 29-31 Regent Street, London SW1

February 1967 – ‘Reservations’* c/w ‘You Need A Man’* (Parlophone R5574)

May 1967 – ‘Day Time, Night Time’* c/w ‘I’ve Seen It All Before’* (Parlophone R5594), ‘A’-side written by Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg

October 1967 – ‘Kites’* c/w ‘Like The Sun, Like The Fire’* (Parlophone R5646), ‘Q’ recalls ‘the first to feature a mellotron, left at Abbey Road by the Beatles when they’d finished Sgt Pepper’

March 1968 – ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’* c/w ‘Sleep’* (Parlophone R5670), ‘NME’ says ‘starts off with birds twittering and bells tolling like ‘In A Monastery Garden’, then breaks into mid-tempo. The melody is constructed in descant, rather like a peal of bells’

May 1968 – ‘Part Of My Past’ c/w ‘This Story Never Ends’ (Parlophone R5697), follows their 5-28 April tour with Gene Pitney, Paul Jones and Don Partridge

September 1968 – ‘Thinking About My Life’* c/w ‘Velvet And Lace’ (Parlophone R5727)

February 1969 – ‘Broken Hearted Pirates’* c/w ‘She Gave Me The Sun’* (Parlophone R5757), ‘A’-side by Michael ‘Miki’ Anthony, ‘B’-side by Schulman brothers

November 1969 – ‘The Eagle Flies Tonight’ c/w ‘Give It All Back’ (Parlophone R5816), ‘A’-side written by Tony Hazzard

+ 1968 – ‘We Are The Moles Part 1 & Part 2’ (Parlophone R5743) as The Moles

Monday, 26 June 2017

Classic Albums: BRIDGET ST JOHN


The conundrum involved with getting signed to John Peel’s own label was that – due to the BBC’s conflict of interest policy, Peel couldn’t actually play the records on-air on his show. So Bridget gigged on his road shows, and did a live 1969 ‘Top Gear’ session, its four tracks preserved on CD4 of this valuable box-set. Bridget resembles Françoise Hardy by way of Donovan, Nico via Nick Drake, a softly-bruised simplicity that trips barefoot on hot pavements, tastes buttercup sandwiches and hitchhikes with a boy with lizard-long tongue. All set with notes of crystal purity in a spangled bohemia where the alchemy of curlews, mistle-thrush and church-chimes ornate the melancholy 7:49-minute title song of ‘Ask Me No Questions’ (1969), underscored by John Martyn’s guitar and Dominic’s pitter-patter bongos. Then ‘Songs For The Gentle Man’ (1971) produced by Ron Geesin, is breathy pastoral chamber baroque-Folk with airy woodwind and Donovan’s exquisite “Pebble And The Man”. And ‘Thank You For…’ (1972) produced by Peel, choosing highlights is hard, but “Lazarus” is one. Three studio albums that pretty-much contain this vital phase of her career, bulked out with bonus live material and previously unreleased tracks, predominantly her own songs with a few Cohen, Dylan, Joni and Kevin Ayers thrown in. There were subsequent albums, a Greenwich Village sojourn and contributions to Mike Oldfield’s ‘Ommadawn’ epic, but everything you really need to know about Bridget St John is here, in this beautiful box.

Published in:
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.52’ 
 (UK – July/August 2015)

Thursday, 25 May 2017



                              glistening chameleons asquat on
                              rooftops of eternal cityscapes
                              watch masked people barter for tears
                              on unnamed street corners,
                              and somewhere
                              the chant of high mass ceases…

                               liquid eyes echo defeat as troubadours
                               shift in enchanted directions, playing
                               with the sand of naked boredom where
                               ochre-tinged alleys meet in dumb crucifix
                               beneath the beating of metallic wings,
                               and somewhere, people stop singing…

                                dawn erupts over a horizon of monoliths
                                bleeding into the waters where gurus sit
                                beside the lake, watching it mirror
                                crimson towers dissolving into yesterday’s
                                forgotten ambitions, and somewhere
                                the music stops playing…

                                 poets detonate concept-bombs along cerebral
                                 molecular chains, as insects of decay
                                 skitter along the wide minaret stairs
                                 to where midnight’s fire-dancers
                                 swallow each others fingers in discordant glee,
                                 and somewhere, silence grows to fill the universe…

Published in:
‘SNIFFIN’ FLOWERS no.1’ (UK – September 1977)
‘BIZARRE ANGEL no.2’ (UK – May 1980)
also in:
‘DEAF EYES’ collection
(Fiasco Publications – UK, April 1973)

Genesis P Orridge: From COUM To Throbbing Gristle & Beyond


 I first met Genesis P Orridge circa 1971 in Hull, well before the ICA 
‘Prostitution’ exhibition first impinged his name on national consciousness. 
That was before Throbbing Gristle, and before Psychic TV, when he was 
part of the ‘COUM’ group. Predictably my article which resulted got 
butchered down to some seven paragraphs by a vindictive sub-editor… and 
I’ve been subsequently re-writing it at intervals ever since in attempts to get it right. Until a retrospective as part of the 2017 ‘Hull: City Of Culture’ 
offers the perfect opportunity... 


So it all COUMs down to this.

Everything here is true. Everything here is lies.

A retrospective respectfully preserved in rows in neat numbered glass-topped exhibits. All that extremism, shock, outrage, confrontation, all catalogued and contextualised. Was it really meant to be this way? Was it? The ‘Humber Street Gallery’ PR leaflet does all that arty gobbledygook about ‘on each occasion COUM’s auditory and kinetic actions constituted spontaneous responses to collective and individual experience. Simulation and artifice combined with actual and real, confounded familiar systems, methods and institution, re-activating the spaces of the street, lecture theatre or art gallery.’ Which is pretty-much what COUM was actively against. Because it was absurdist fun too, subversively silly, mad shenanigans, deliberately provocative in taunting and inflammable ways. Pretention was no real part of it. Take my word for it – no, don’t.

Now is a very safe controlled risk-free time, where art exists by not offending codes or consciences. These cobbled streets off the marina are fringed with trendy Bistros, coffee houses and chic galleries. Back then, this Old Town skirting the working docks and waterfront, held the edge of violence. See the signs? Back then, ‘Dagger Lane’ lived up to its reputation. Docker’s pubs and Biker bars. Drunks and lushes. The night air braced with the thrill of danger as well as the low lowing of trawlers out on the estuary. The front-space of the Humber Gallery is a chic café. Hull Pie is on the chalkboard. Was there ever Hull Pie? Or has this delicacy been concocted to meet the expectations of ‘2017: Hull, City Of Culture’? When in Hull, you must eat Hull Pie. It’s part of the consumer experience.

On the ground floor there are Sarah Lucas cast-plaster body-parts with cheekily inserted cigarettes – part of her ‘I Scream Daddio’ commission. But she seems so very dull and unexciting by comparison. The COUM exhib is more vital than all that slick cleanly-targeted cash-centric Brit-Art stuff. That’s unfair. In general, I like Sarah Lucas. It’s only when seen in this juxtaposition that she appears so coolly cerebral. COUM are never that. COUM use their bodies as weapons of the art-war. There’s no neutral space. So safety margin. No distancing. It’s every queasy squidgy internal organ, crinkly body hair and pulsing orifice.

In the first gallery there’s a flicker-experience of Dissident Watchers. Seven video-interviews with original COUM activists. Conceived by Cosey Fanni Tutti, whose voice retains her easy natural regional intonations, as though she’s selling you a bacon-bap in Greggs, not dealing gender-confrontational sexual-politics. Shot and edited by Gavin Toomey, there’s Spydee, Foxtrot Echo, the Very Rev LE Cheesewire Maull and ‘technical director’ John Lacey.

And notorious avant-garde provocational artist Genesis P Orridge, ‘The Keeper Of The Story’. Perpetrator of the 1976 ICA ‘Prostitution Show’, an exhibition of bodily emissions (ear-wax and beyond), which featured strippers and used-tampons. Called ‘wreckers of civilisation’ by Nicholas Fairbairn MP. Job done. Genesis P Orridge goes on as Industrial-conceptualist of Throbbing Gristle. Then the Psychic TV collective. To transcend sexual identity itself, into third gender. There’s an Apple-records pre-photoshop graphic sequence of John & Yoko’s faces gradually morphing into each other. In the same way, Genesis melds through body modification with Lady Jaye Breyer to become a pandrogyne s/he entity.

I’m thinking of Manchester. The ‘Hacienda Club’ in October 1982. A night of sartorial jacking off. An audience topography of primping self-esteem, friends selected as visual accessories, being seen and becoming SCENE. A squeaky-clean Faberge cabaret with eye-shadow setting eyes in deep wells, erogenous zones worn on the sleeve, lights and quirky visuals washing over an audience as flimsy and disposable as Kleenex. Above them two huge video screens are programming the night’s alternative entertainment, even though people-watching and bitch-banter wins hands-down.

A Psychic TV film, prefaced by Derek Jarman, is recreating an Aleister Crowley sex-magick ritual, shot in garish flesh-tone orange-lighting with jerky hand-held cameras deliberately out-focussing. A naked man is affixed to the wall of a sleazy-dank cell tormented by his captors. A knife zigzags blood-crimson slash-patterns across his chest, targeting his nipple, an acolyte erects the penis by sucking it juicily-deep into his throat, then they neatly sever the stiff cock in stomach-canting close-up while below they’re eating vegeburgers and slurping Pina Coladas, attention scarcely skittering to the castration on-screen…

That’s how I remember it. Remember it this way…


Hold On, It’s COUMing…

I first meet him circa 1971 in Hull before the ICA Arts Centre exhibition that first impinges his name on national consciousness. He’s then part of the ‘COUM’ group. I was leaving Hull, just as it was kicking in. But I’d seen him around town. We both use the Mod ‘Gondola’ café. There was the ‘Brick House’, on Baker Street which was a hippie corn-exchange, a kind of flea-mart for alternative paraphernalia and mimeo magazines. I was browsing there when I come aware there’s a debacle. Genesis is there dressed in head-to-toe knitted dayglo, he’s negotiating to come in and distribute subversive promotional leaflets about COUM. There seems to be a problem. The dialogue in itself mutates into a form of absurdist theatre. And some of those leaflets are here at the ‘Humber Gallery’. The original ‘1001 WAYS TO COUM’ copyrighted 1971 in orange mimeo. The ‘Book Of The End 1969/72’ a Gift To Cosey made up of drawings and writings. The ‘Trigger Happy Ballet’, 1972.

Then I’m answering an item for the underground newspaper ‘Styng’, searching up an obscenity bust provoked by COUM. Their logo is an ejaculating penis. A logo printed on their promotional leaflets, advertising posters, and – if memory-search serves aright, it’s also painted on the side of the group van. Inevitably, as they fully anticipate, prosecution under the obscenity laws follow – earning them a limited notoriety via the underground press, for whom I write-up the legend. COUM are then housed in a derelict warehouse off the decaying red-light dockside area of Hull’s much-bulldozered much-gentrified old town. ‘Freaks in a Fruit Warehouse’, twelve rooms. A hole in the wall from which it’s possible to watch the ships on the winter Humber. ‘Cosmosi’s Warehouse’, backing onto 17 Wellington Street, ‘knock and yell for entry’. A building transfigured into a fetishistic fun palace of carefully draped black PVC sheeting patrolled by nude showroom dummies with added pubic hair and rouged nipples. The focal point is the toilet, swathed in black and raised like a throne or dais to become the building’s conceptual set-piece. The ‘Ho-Ho Funhouse no.1.’

We talk some – me practicing an interviewer-role to which I’m as-yet unused, them rehearsing an interviewee-routine to which they are equally unfamiliar. Them trying out their ‘Melody Maker’ interview-technique on me, me attempting spontaneous bop-prosidy on them. When Gen says COUM he pronounces it ‘cum’. But he’s softly-spoken, articulate, intelligent. When they tease me about my Mod-length not Freak-length hair he chides them to desist. Maybe it’s simply that he wants the press on his side? He bothers to do the interviews when they can’t be arsed. Or maybe, as I’m inclined to believe, it’s natural courtesy.

Why mention this very slight detail? Because it’s an indicator, that’s why. Across the years and decades of his career since, he’s been vilified and monstered in the shock-horror gutterpress. ‘This vile man corrupts kids. Demi-god feeds Pop Kids on sex, sadism and Devil Rites’ howls ‘The People’. Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Squad seize ‘an entire lorry-load’ of books, videos of ‘ritual satanic abuse’ and correspondence from his Brighton home following a Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ so-called expose (reported in ‘The Observer’ 23 February 1992). Although, significantly, no charges follow – beyond a fine for the lesser offence of sending explicit ‘mail art’ through the post, it effectively ends the rise of the Psychic TV project, with Gen forced to relocate to San Francisco with wife Paula and two daughters. Yet even ‘Melody Maker’ brands him as ‘terminally sinister’ and an ‘arthouse gorehound’. Psychic TV ‘Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth (TOPY)’ had certain cult attributes, a fondness for nudity and piercing – long before body-ornamentation became high street chic, and Gen imbues it with a Charles Manson charisma. He’s photographed wearing a Manson T-shirt, which is damning evidence. And ‘The Wickedest Man In The World’? – ‘that’s why I like Aleister Crowley’ he adds, ‘he lived his entire life around his idea or philosophy. And that’s what I decided I should do, too…’ But at the core of his extreme projects, is the art-pulse.

I lacked the vocabulary of cultural interconnections. Did he? How aware was he…? Or was COUM more intuitive than informed? Punk, New Wave, Industrial would be a hard-core retaliation to hippie, the steel-capped boot of reality to its escapist dreams. Yet COUM was counterculture. The only analogies I can suggest back then are the Mothers Of Invention or Fugs. Which he doesn’t deny. That it’s also part of the Happening, Kinetic auto-destruct, Street Theatre, Absurdist Ritual, Experimental Event, Exorcising the Pentagon, Extreme Random-Noise, agitational propaganda, is all true. And all lies. Gen was there with the Exploding Galaxy in London crash-pads.

He reads about Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests in ‘Oz’ magazine, and replicates them here in Hull. Different, through necessity and invention. Taking it from the galleries and into the street, not even the Mall – there were no malls back then. Pushing a decorated gypsy pram down Whitefriargate like a beatnik down-at-heel Arthur Haynes. He credits Brion Gysin and William Burroughs cut-ups before Bowie’s ‘Cracked Actor’ (January 1975) makes it chic. And check the credit on ‘This Piece Extends The Ambiguity Of Marcel Duchamp’. There was another event in Belgium – ‘Marcel Duchamp’s Next Work’, made up of twelve differently-coloured bicycle wheels placed in a clock-like circle, COUM-members and audience pluck the spokes prompted by which colour is being flashed. Yes, he was art-smart back then.

At the ‘Humber Gallery’ there’s the Deed Poll registering the moment – in 17 January 1972, that Neil Andrew Megson (born in a state of ‘instant circumcision’, 22 February 1950) legally became Genesis P Orridge. In the vid-installation s/he talks of a revelatory moment during a 1969 family car journey through Wales. ‘The feeling of gravity shifting.’ The visionary insight that nothing is solid, everything is porous. An awareness of what s/he terms the Dissident Watchers, invisible entities in other dimensions and time zones, who tell him ‘COUM’.

William Blake had visions of ‘a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough with stars.’ Allen Ginsberg had visions of Blake that prove pivotal to his poetics. Were they real auditory and visual experiences or just intensified hallucinatory glimpses? What Colin Wilson calls ‘peak experiences’. Moments of heightened perception do occur. Sometimes for no obvious reason. Sometimes provoked by Rimbaud’s ‘systematic derangement of the senses’ via chemicals, or the Reichian orgasm releasing the repressive social inhibitions suppressing the libido. It’s all meat. Break on through to the other side. Opening the doors to perception. It’s part of the visionary alchemaic quest to understand what the hell’s going on.

A tale told, twice-told, and multiply-retold, ornamented and embellished by reiteration and the accretion of nuance, the oral history of Homer, the mythic origins of Camelot or Sherwood. The permeability of reality. A truth familiar through subatomic physics. We are 60% water. We are also space, with the nucleus, the quark, the strangeness of it all, the charm is that of matter and nothingness, an interaction of space and energy. This is basic Stephen Hawking. Life, the universe and everything. Forty-Two. This is also the vision that switches Neil Megson into Genesis P Orridge.

COUM were never entirely a musical entity, although it assumes elements of the guise. There was John Shapiro, listed as ‘violin’. Soon there was Christine Carol Newby – a Hull ‘townie’ but also the perfect flower-child vision. On their first encounter the psychic energies are so intense that her knicker-elastic snaps. She becomes Cosmosis, then Cosey Fanni Tutti. And Haydn Robb who plays bass guitar, but first writes ‘God Sucks Mary’s Hairy Nipple’ for the Hull University magazine ‘Torch’. Then Tim Poston, the group’s ongoing Scientific Adviser and Catastrophe Theorist. Gen was fully aware of John Cage. Cornelius Cardew was already working in avant garde composition with his experimental Scratch Orchestra, operating around ideas of untutored anti-musicians in limitless random improvisation. While the free jazz Spontaneous Music Ensemble, with John Stevens and Trevor Watts, was also playing within zones of loose formlessness. They were classical and trained musicians, utilising elements of chance. Yet none of them were quite like COUM.

Genesis had form. Later, with Psychic TV he’d tell the hyperdelicised ‘very special story’ of “Godstar” Brian Jones. He’d choose Nirvana’s “Rainbow Chaser” – ‘it was totally psychedelic – everything on it is phased backwards and forwards all the way though. It’s totally ludicrous’ for a ‘Melody Maker’ ‘Vinyl Solution’ playlist (28 February 1987). He also chooses two Velvet Underground tracks. Daughter Caresse P Orridge would narrate a tripped-out “Are You Experienced” with Sickmob (“RU Xperienced” Temple Records, August 1989). As well as a full acid-techno re-take on Brian Wilson’s “Good Vibrations”. COUM was never directly political either, beyond Yippie or Situationist stunts. Except in the counter-culture sense of small autonomous units against totalitarianism and capitalism. That all of us – humane, are cells of the same organism.

Afterwards, we adjourn through the narrowing streets of the ‘Land of Green Ginger’ to no.3 Magistrates Court to witness the hearing of a friend caught up on narcotics charges. Gen explains that it’s policy not to initiate criminal proceedings, but to ship them out to De La Pole hospital for psychiatric treatment. It proves to be the first, and possibly the most bizarre interview I’ve conducted. Predictably the article that results gets butchered down to some seven paragraphs by a vindictive sub-editor… and I’m subsequently re-writing it at intervals ever since in attempts to get it right. Until now.

As Gen phrases it, ‘better to figure it out now than never.’


Everything you read here is absolutely true. Everything you read here is nothing but a tissue lies. Take my word for it – no, don’t.

COUMing Of Age.

In the ‘Humber Street Gallery’ exhibition there’s a poster for the ‘Bust Benefit Concert: To Aid Busted People’. According to Gen ‘a commune of freaks in Hebden Bridge had been busted and the concert was to raise funds for their legal costs.’ It was held at Bradford’s St George’s Hall, a dignified venue that hosts subscription classical concerts and ballets, as well as comedians and cheesy-Pop singers. Then – 22 October 1971, Hawkwind top the bill, with poet-activist Jeff Nuttall listed below.

Gen admits ‘sadly I cannot recall how the hell we managed to con our way to supporting Hawkwind…’ There was a craze among bands of that era to have massive drum kits, so the first part of COUM’s provocative circus consists of bringing on all the drums from three full kits and laying them out, compiling one impossibly huge and unplayable set. Tony Menzies (aka ‘Babbling Brook’) plays guitar for the first time in his life. Cosmosis is dressed as a classic English schoolgirl and walks around the stage firing a starting pistol. John Smith, from Bridlington comes dressed as a surfer and ‘sings’ standing on a surfboard on a bucket of water. And it all ends with the group throwing sackfuls of polystyrene ‘Polysnow’ granules everywhere. ‘Hawkwind were actually quite amused and very courteous to us, even when they had to clean granules out of effects pedals that were jammed up.’ It was perhaps COUM’s peak moment.

But it’s the Institute Of Contemporary Arts ‘Prostitution Show’ (19-26 October 1976) that mutates COUM into Throbbing Gristle, the ‘industrial-noise’ group named after a phrase in a pornographic novel. ‘In one of the cases is a syringe with a bloodied bandage by its side, a jar of Vaseline, a used Tampax, a rusted knife, some wire, a bottle of blood, some chains and a large black wig. The knife and wire I use to garrot myself – almost but not quite, in my performances’ he explains helpfully, ‘the wig is just to wipe up the blood.’ There’s satire and parody, obviously. ‘To offer reflections on the way TV programmes and the other media work… A lot of conceptualists and prestige galleries debase themselves with presentations that have little else but presentation. Our exhibition is about presentation itself, so banal information objects are presented beautifully, and the object looks as if it’s important when it’s not.’

In a 1971 meeting, William S Burroughs had advised Gen to ‘short-circuit control’. Burroughs uses addiction as a metaphor for power and cellular control, subliminal conspiracy theories and subversion. The ‘Prostitution’ exhibition takes and uses the gender transaction in the same way. Humans reproduce sexually. Male-female is the first vital binary duality we encounter. A biological thing, but enforced by social conditioning into the most basic human trade-off, interface and interaction. And also a metaphor for the market forces of capitalism and slavery, the link between abuse and exploitation, marriage, and objectification. The frisson between Art and pornography. ‘To live is to either exist, or to struggle against imposed controls and fight for an individual destiny, vision and expression’ Genesis wrote (sleeve-notes to Clock DVA’s ‘Thirst’).

The ICA centre is on the Mall, down the road apiece from Buck House. The ‘Prostitution’ dialogue debunks the po-faced art establishment by focusing on how art, and particularly performance art, involves selling both self and work – which is why the group is selling the material they have used in earlier shows. ‘One is debasing oneself by selling.’ So why are they debasing themselves? ‘Because we want to, and we need the money. To sell yourself is somewhat debasing and everyone is selling something.’ Another section of the show extends exploitation-selling into photo-spreads of Cosey posing for soft-core Top-shelf magazines. ‘The photographers aren’t just creepy blokes doing it for kicks,’ she says, ‘but the main thing was that I was doing it for reasons they didn’t know about – for the exhibition.’ The sexual impulse, when bent out of shape, denied and suppressed, mutates into dangerous perversity. And that’s here too. Via atrocity, and child murderer Ian Brady. In a jittery morally repressed society gender issues ignite outraged reactions that worry away at the very core of what is considered decent and proper. For art and Lit, that’s an irresistible equation. ‘Violence’ runs the cover-line to JG Ballard’s ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’ ‘is the key’.

Nicholas Fairbairn opportunistically grabs press column inches by denouncing these ‘wreckers of civilisation’, although the Tory MP himself was later arrested for indecent exposure, and it’s surely a flimsy civilisation indeed if it’s wreckable by such teasing games. Predictably, the establishment disguises moral outrage by pointing at the price tag. COUM had been invited by the British Council to represent the UK at the Paris Biennale and the ‘British Film And Performance Art Festival’ in Milan, while the ICA is funded by an Arts Council grant to the tune of £90,000. Answering ‘anxieties’ about the ‘Prostitution Show’ the ICA director – Mr Ted Little, is summoned to the Council and interviewed. ‘They said our grant situation would be reviewed in the light of the show,’ he complained, ‘their attitude is totally unjustified – to talk of our grant being jeopardised because of eight days’ work. The ICA’s policy is to present new and innovative work by British artists. I never say what the quality is like. The public must pass comment’ (from ‘The Guardian’ 18 October 1976). Damien Hirst at the 2003 ‘Sensation’ exhibition is a storm in a paint-pot by comparison.

Predictably ‘Penthouse’ magazine is more supportive, ‘this sexhibition featured a selection of pornographic photographs of Cosey Fanni Tutti, P-Orridge’s girlfriend/ model and fellow artist, in various positions of sexual foreplay or sexy pose. There was also a series of small boxes of soiled tampaxes with amusing titles like ‘It’s The Time Of The Month’, ‘Tampax Romona’, ‘Living Womb’ and ‘Pupae’, which decorated one wall. An enigmatic construction of heavy chains positioned near the entrance of the gallery, like a shower of metal, evoked a feeling of cold violence and sensual delight’ (Vol.12 no.4, July 1977). Bizarrely vilified by both the ‘Daily Mirror’ and ‘Spare Rib’, the photos were nevertheless re-shown in the ‘Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art’. After all, Cosey is ‘a Hull girl with a healthy appetite for life and with unquenchable curiosity’ according to ‘Fiesta’ (Vol.10 no.7, 1976).

Yet the art remains. COUM is there in Paul Buck’s small-press ‘Curtains 14-17: Le Prochain Step’ magazine, and Scott Treleaven’s 2006 glossy artzine ‘The Salivation Army Black Book’. Gen participates in the week-long 2004 ‘Evolution’ film, video and performance art event in Leeds. Then ‘A-P-P-A-R-I-T-I-O-N’, takes its title from a Stéphane Mallarmé Symbolist poem for a collaborative Glasgow Tramway exhibition 29 September 2009, bringing image-and-text artist Cerith Wyn Evans into opposition with the Throbbing Gristle sound-sculptors, ‘an evocative bemusement of cross-associational mixed-and-multimedia, of images that metamorphose into sounds, of fragmented sentences, of sensory seduction and aesthetic disorientation, set to Evan’s chandeliers that pulsate with morse code.’

Retaining elements of COUM’s anti-art structure, Throbbing Gristle take it a step further. As ‘an egomaniac, a pervert, a porn queen and an introvert in a grey dufflecoat’ (‘Melody Maker’, 28 September 1985). There’s no drummer. Drums establish too strict a rhythmic structure. Instead, Gen is credited as bass. Cosey reluctantly plays a cut-down Woolworths guitar. But Leeds-born Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson contributes an experimental barrage of improvised triggered tape technology, and ‘the introvert’ Chris Carter devises or adapts electronics. Again, Kraftwerk had constructed their own electronic devices and beat-boxes. Can and radical atonal Amon Düül II operate in pure noise concepts. And anticipating Punk, there’s a gut-suspicion of virtuosity in favour of energy and invention. Yet again, TG is not quite like any on them. ‘Like Nietzsche’ as journalist Don Watson notes, Throbbing Gristle ‘advocate immersing oneself in the depths of forbidden thought, in the hope of emerging in the final daybreak with a deeper awareness and understanding’ (‘New Musical Express’ 17 December 1983).

Going to see Throbbing Gristle, if you have quirks, prepare to have them quirked. I’m here to see them with Clock DVA at the Leeds ‘F-Club’ (24 Feb). It’s a strange night. Genesis P Orridge, in military fatigues, supervises setting up Monte Cazazza’s equipment, synching the tapes, triggering soundcheck reverb careening over packed heads and poking holes in the smoke. Now, theirs is a two-piece fifteen-minutes of musique concrète white noise. Cosey sits in leather, engrossed in evoking discord from a guitar, there’s a shadowy guy with a synthesiser, and Gen howls incomprehensible “Sperm Song” lyrics through voice distortion, then another about child-strangler “Mary Bell”. It’s cut-ups of sound like Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen used to construct in Paris arts-labs in the late-fifties, the kind of thing usually aimed at elitist modern classical audiences and critically deconstructed in ultra-serious arts magazines. A little more aggressive now perhaps, but here in Leeds, kids are bouncing up and down like it’s Blondie or something. Spontaneous reactions striking intuitively deep at unprepared brain-centres.

‘I want discipline, I want discipline, I want discipline, I want discipline, I want discipline.’ Bob Cobbing sound-poetry with a machine backbeat. Genesis screwed down into a stage-crouch, shrieking, on the very brink of psychosis. Extreme Primal Taboo-Probing Art-Noise. A murky electronic disembowelling. In a YouTube performance clip Gen reaches out to tongue-kiss an ecstatic guy in the moshpit. This, at the height of the AIDS terror, when Alice Cooper was calling the sexual exchange of bodily fluids “Poison”… ‘Something came over me… was it white and sticky...? I don’t know what it was, but I rather like it, so I’m doing it again.’ Like a dubious repetition of a comic misrepresentation of ‘cum’, with vocals sampled and warped into constantly changing multiple channels.

Lights around the stage event horizon drill upwards. As it gets hotter and the air gets more congested the lights get buried beneath mounds of discarded leather jackets. Internal combustion results in columns of toxic smoke drifting hazily across the snaking wires and control boxes. People stand around, watching like it’s Special-FX, Queen’s Dry-Ice or something. I’m watching, lager in hand – but at fifty-pence a pint I’m not about to offer to extinguish the imminent conflagration. Sound grates on. From the back of the stage Genesis P watches plumes of smoke gather and dissolve, and starts gesticulating like a refugee from Martha Graham’s Modern Dance, until Roadies slam to the front hurtling smouldering leather jackets – with button-badges of Throbbing Gristle/ Police/ Toyah, at odd trajectories into the crowd.

Afterwards I hand Gen a copy of my arts magazine which pirates some of his visuals from the COUM phase. He accepts it with a gracious comment about me holding onto it for a long time. Yes, I guess it may be a short time in years, but we’ve both come a long way. A strange night.

Throbbing Gristle purposefully exist beyond the margin, within their own created-continuum, in the aesthetic opposition of outsider alternative society tradition, operating and distributing their own Industrial Records in deliberate DIY rejection of major label control. The first release – ‘The Second Annual Report’ (IR0002, November 1977) includes both live and studio versions of “Slug Bait” and “Maggot Death”, referencing COUM Transmissions in the “After Cease To Exist” track which takes up the full 20:16-minute side two. Paul Morley says ‘this is a very harrowing record. Darkly subjective’ (‘NME’ 11 February 1978). The third album – ‘Twenty Jazz Funk Greats’ (IR0008, December 1979) which is usually acknowledged as the best representation of their work, features eleven tracks – none of which could remotely be described as Jazz or Funk! Yet the label also issues pioneering albums by other names operating in a vaguely similar zone, Clock DVA, Cabaret Voltaire, Surgical Penis Klinik, and William S Burroughs valuable ‘Nothing Here But The Recordings’ (IR0016).

While, through the conniving intervention of Stevo, the audio-visual Psychic TV sign with major label WEA/ Some Bizarre to release ‘Force The Hand Of Chance’ in late 1982. By now Chris and Cosey have split away to form their own techno-primitive duo, and using instruments of ‘ritual or psychic properties’, including human thighbones and bicycle wheels, around the basic nucleus of Genesis, Peter Christopherson and guitarist Alex Fergusson (ex-Alternative TV), there’s even a string-laden spin-off single “Just Drifting” with narrative break for Caresse – ‘if you sit with fear, a star too far, almost lost in this storm of life, a blazing ghost can become the host, and you breakthrough to the room of dreams’.

Then there’s a guesting Marc Almond – who’d taken elements of Throbbing Gristle to structure Soft Cell, and now adds vocals to “Guiltless” and “Stolen Kisses”. Although dark light years from anyone’s idea of commercial product, it – and sequel ‘Dreams Less Sweet’ (1983), constitute Gen’s most accessible shot at the mainstream. Until the “Godstar” (Temple TOPY009) single reaches no.67 (26 April 1986) and “Good Vibrations” c/w “Roman P” (Temple TOPY23, on 20 September 1986) goes two places better to to.65 on the chart, narrowly averting the terrifying prospect of Psychic TV appearing on ‘Top Of The Pops’, instead finding a natural home by moving into the Acid Techno Rave culture.

And it’s Psychic TV, whose video I’m watching here at the Hacienda Club… A skinhead has a wolf tattooed on his fore-arm. Later, in a bare concrete yard he gets his-self naked, pours petrol over himself, and ignites. As the corpse collapses and crisps in a heap of guttering embers, a wolf is seen escaping across the concrete…

Everything here is true. Everything here is lies.


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

My First Poetry Collection: 'DEAF EYES'


dawn cross-hatches sheets with cancer
you raise your antlered eyelids and
speak to me through bronze keyholes
as we empty our pockets in frozen ritual,
seventeen insects crawl within my stomach
seventy-four ashtrays scream in silent agony,
you raise your vacuum lips from the pubic fire
of my grateful thighs where you’ve spent the night
the world ceases to exist
beyond our field of perception,
you climb the austere liquid watches
somewhere beyond the monastic emptiness
of vision until canopus defies uranus
across a street clogged with
the silt of unattached retinas,
eventually, unseen conversation
extinguishes itself in
a spill of coins…


‘Deaf Eyes’ was my first collection. As someone else said, if I had to write my first collection again, this probably wouldn’t be it. George Cairncross, publisher of ‘Bogg’ invited me to contribute to his ‘Free For Postage’ booklet series issued through his Fiasco Press on spirit-duplicator technology. He’d already produced ‘Strange Tales For Strange Children’ by Lawrence Upton, ‘Poems To The Passing’ by Paul Berry, a collection of Joe Hirst’s cheekily entertaining ‘Graphics’, as well as a couple of his own irreverently anarchic writing – ‘The Nightcrawlers’ and ‘It Was Only The Other Day’.

It was April 1973. I drew together eighteen pieces, the earliest “Variations On An Enigma” had already appeared in a magazine called ‘Viewpoints’ and sets the tone in that it name-checks Max Ernst. Other poems reference Paul Éluard and Andre Breton. Maybe that’s pretentious, a defensive-compensatory striving to assert art-credentials over lived experience, but it’s also very much what I was preoccupied with. It was discovering Dada, through editions of ‘The Penrose Annual’ in the Hull College Of Technology library (now Humberside University) that destabilized my psyche like napalm, and gave me the tools of technique to aspire towards. The next “Night Of The Crystal Dream” was from a collection-series produced by the Peace Pledge Union, called ‘Outburst Of Pacifist Poems’. I was a fellow-traveler, and went along to their Hull meetings, talking revolution and Communism. Although the poem was written under the influence of watching Fellini’s movie version on Petronius’ ‘Satyricon’ that was circulating with a subversive frisson at the time.

I was balancing and grounding such input by reading and drawing images from pulp SF magazines and comics, and consciously using them in the cut-up way described by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. So that occasional typing errors – ‘twenty-first story breaths of the eternal ask/’, which sound good, stay in. The oblique ‘/’ indicates where the text-cut occurs. I can’t remember where I first read Burroughs, but I’d certainly gleaned ideas by reading about him in ‘It: International Times’ and ‘New Words’. The other nudge was Bob Dylan, where images such as ‘ancient empty streets too dead for dreaming’ not only use multi-adjectives, in an Allen Ginsberg way, but build a beautiful nonsense beyond strictly literal interpretation. ‘Deaf Eyes’ is a modest fumbling step that I use as a measure to indicate how much I’ve got more capable at shaping words since. As a debut, if I had to write it again, I probably wouldn’t. There’s a lot I no longer recognize about this very-intense screwed-up writer. Is it any good? Does it mean anything now? Some of it makes me wince. But this is it. And this is how it came about.


on the other side of the door
there’s the silver plain where
shaven-headed monks dance
their strange rituals
to fallen gods,
shuffling slow dust
with sandaled feet,
every once and then
the light fluctuates
throwing their shadows
into crosses of umbra
and penumbra impaled
across the sand…

while, in the mirror, the lovers
walk congealing streets beneath
the tortured city, to pledge,
with intricate precision,

their compromise…