Monday, 23 November 2015

Psychedelic Pop: LEMON PIPERS remembered


The most difficult trick of all to pull off is to have a big Pop hit, but also retain your hip credibility. Falling to one side or the other has crippled too many bands to list. Arguably, for a while, Lemon Pipers pulled it off. “Green Tambourine” was about as big as a chart hit could get. Gold disc, radio play, TV profile, cross-Atlantic sales. Yet there was no-one, either hip or straight, who’d bad-mouth it. It had that irresistible quality about it that was impossible to dislike. Teenyboppers could toe-tap to the bubblegum catchy chorus and harmonies. For the hipster, even if ‘tambourine’ was something of a cool shorthand link into Dylan and the Byrds, the touselled minstrelsy of the down-at-heel street-corner busker came rifted with all the counterculture romance you could possibly inhale.

But for the Buddah label’s first no.1, there was also a major shot of corporate contrivance at work. Money also fed their music machine. The song was written, not by the group, but by in-house producer Paul Leka, with Brill Building co-writer Shelley Pinz. So, not quite ‘reflections of the music that is mine,’ as a reflection of the music that is theirs! Yet unlike – say, the Monkees, the Lemon Pipers – although initially unconvinced by the song, did play the session. While it was Leka’s initiative to score soaring strings into the mix, and add the studio-effects that boost its psychedelic charms, the electric sitar, the receding tape echo on the word ‘play play play’ and the distinctive vibraslap drum figure which extends indefinitely into the fade. As with the hidden final ‘Sgt Pepper’ effect it almost – but not quite, constitutes a locked groove that goes on into infinity.

And pause for a moment – yes, we’ve seen Gene Clark thumping the tambourine on the Byrds TV-clips as McGuinn’s Rickenbacker jingle-jangle chimes around him, but would a busker actually fare well using that as his primary instrument. ‘Any song you want I’ll gladly play’… on a tambourine…? Well, maybe he’s just using his tambourine as a collecting tray, on behalf of the group, in which case I’d gladly toss my dimes their way. Or perchance I’m being overcritical. Heard on the radio 3 February 1968, as it knocks John Fred & His Playboy Band off the ‘Billboard’ top-slot, it was so of-the-moment it was at least an hour ahead of its time.

It might have fared less well when issued in the UK on the Pye International label (as 7N 25444) – it only reaches no.9 on the ‘New Musical Express’ chart (8 March 1968), and no.7 on the ‘Record Mirror’ listing, albeit beneath Donovan’s “Jennifer Juniper” and Status Quo’s “Pictures Of Matchstick Men”, but the Pipers were simultaneously fighting airplay opposition from an opportunistic Xerox-cover by a group called Sun Dragon (on MGM 1380). And Status Quo actually cover the song on their debut album too. Yet this ‘poor man’s dream’ sure sounds super-fine on the pulse of newly-launched Radio One. The Lemon Piper’s “Green Tambourine” is one of those time-fix records that instantly slams you back to the sunshine burst of hippiedom, even if you were never there, even if you were living in drizzling Hull, or even if you weren’t born yet, the mythopoetics are so strong it’s imprinted in the DNA.

First photo I ever saw of the Lemon Pipers is a beguiling halftone in ‘New Musical Express’ – heading a ‘New To The Charts’ feature, moodily posed – like Love, with a crumbling masonry backdrop, long-hair, tinted shades, weird coolie-style hat, eccentric in a cool-groove kind of way. Never saw them live. Never even got to see them on TV back then. Now they’re there on YouTube, a clip from the ‘Mike Douglas’ show overlaid with pixel-effects, singing live over pre-recorded backing tape. Live because Ivan’s vocals go off-key. These Pipers, at the gates of dawn, were British-born Bill Bartlett from Harrow in Middlesex in green round-eye shades, beads and electric sitar (lead guitar, born 1946), chunky long-hair Dale ‘Ivan’ Browne in striped flares (vocals, green tambourine and rhythm guitar, 1947), William E ‘Bill’ Albough in cowboy hat (drums, born in 1948), beatnik-bearded Robert ‘Reg’ G Nave (keyboards, 1945), and Steve Walmsley (bass, 1949).

Formed while still college-kids on March 14, Wednesday night – according to Ivan, there’d been an earlier Buddah single, a Bartlett composition called “Turn Around And Take A Look” in September 1967. Opening with an ‘oops’ false intro, it’s carried on a ‘Mellow Yellow’ cymbal-splash backbeat broken by keyboard cascade, shimmering guitar-break, hi-hat and falsetto vocal interjections. But when “Green Tambourine” hit they’d timed the moment perfectly with a bright listenable single that was also accessible to those confused by feedback, lysergic hi-jinks and forty-two levels of lyrical-significance. The hit’s ‘B’-side “No Help From Me”, was another group-composition, a deeper more soulful piece with burbling organ and quivering guitar.

Subsequent releases would be less well-received. They’d scored big, but not big in the – say, Jefferson Airplane way. Not big enough to stand up against venal label manipulation. Instead, like – say, Electric Prunes – archly compromised by producer David Hassinger, they were a group with potential that was to be largely-unrealised, victim of corporate politics. The label suits insist that the breakthrough hit must be replicated with another Leka-Pinz composition. And “Rice Is Nice” is sweetly melodic in a throw-away Lovin’ Spoonful kind of way – ‘twice as nice when violins play’, but the free-love times were surely not sympathetic to 1950s suburban dreams of white weddings? It scores no higher than a US no.42 (on ‘Cashbox’).

Then came the album tagged for the hit single – ‘Green Tambourine’ (Buddah BDM-1009, February 1968). Despite its trippy false-colour sleeve-art, it’s messily torn down the centre by conflicting ambitions. It brags no less than six slickly commercial pleasantly harmonic songs from the Leka-Pinz duo – including the sophisticated tight Pop of “Blueberry Blue” with its harp ripples and string-quartet break. They sing of lovers who share a world of ‘peppermint leaves on lollipop trees’ and ride on blue butterflies. While Dylan, or John Lennon’s ‘semolina pilchards crawling up the Eifel Tower’ were innovatory and revolutionary, Hendrix’s ‘footprints dressed in red’ and Procol Harum ‘spinning the light fandango’ were imagist poetry, by the time it comes to “Blueberry Blue” the technique has been reduced down to cutesy formula, kindergarten nonsense-rhymes. It’s as contagious as Chlamydia – although with less enduring consequences. But then again, the STD’s cleared up nicely. And Lemon Pipers are here again over fifty years later in shiny digitalised-CD editions for new ears not even born back then. So perhaps I’m wrong?

There’s the plaintive “Shoeshine Boy”, sprinkled with the sitar and string-echoes of the hit. Then “Shoemaker Of Leatherware Square” – lifted as a single in its own right in Australia. This picture-book fairytale is not without a certain kitsch allure that retains affection among some freakbeat aesthetes. And the taut catchy “Rainbow Tree” philosophising that ‘time and place is only something your mind creates, only boundaries your mind makes’, laced with harpsichord. This song came via another Buddah-staffer, Kenny Laguna who would soon carve out space with the Kasenetz-Katz ‘Singing Orchestral Circus’ bubblegum empire (the song was also spun off as an instrumental single, flipped with “Green Tambourine”, by The Beautiful People on Roulette R-7001). There’s also country-inflected “Ask Me If I Care” with double-speed McGuinn guitar, from the pen of eventual ‘Rolling Stone’ journalist Eric Ehrmann. He also wrote “Ordinary Point Of View”, another demo-track cut with Bartlett’s country-roots solo, which Buddah reject.

All this is offset by a scattering of group originals. Recorded and mixed in the group’s native Ohio Cleveland Studios and in New York, the funk-supple anti-war jam “Fifty Years Void” with its heavy-riff stinging guitar, extends to 5:47-minutes. A gruff-voiced harmonica-led work-out with riffing organ, it carries all five Piper’s names in the credits, while the most ambitious track – “Through With You” bears just Bartlett’s. But what a track! Running to 9:09-minutes this provides some indication of where the group were really headed in their own minds, and hints at some of those frittered what-might-have-beens. A fast compulsive play-in, high-flying Byrds harmonies, with urban-sharp lyrics detailing taillights moving down the street, the sidewalk hard under my feet, breaking into tempo-change ‘Eight Miles High’ raga-guitar phasing up and down the mix, bent and distorted through spacey electronic ripples in a trancelike lysergic fuzz.

If you download just one Lemon Pipers track other than “Green Tambourine”, it has to be this one. Because they never got better. It could be argued that the Pop hits gave the group a visibility they wouldn’t otherwise have enjoyed, while the original compositions give them a counterbalancing depth to validate it. The Lemon Pipers had started out playing Hard Blues and Folk-Rock in Cincinnati and Oxford bars, graduating to larger venues – including the ‘Fillmore West’, alongside Moby Grape and Spirit. If only there’d been more like “Through With You”, and less candy-coated Leka-Pinz honeyed bonbons, things might have worked out different. But of course, they didn’t…

The next single was make-or-break crucial. And despite Leka-Pinz throwing everything they had into constructing the ‘sunshine-buzz’ of “Jelly Jungle (Of Orange Marmalade)”, it stalls just one position outside the fifty – at no.51. It uses the contentious ‘trip’-word, although it’s difficult to see how even the most rabid anti-drugs campaigner could draw LSD-inferences from ‘take a trip on my Pogo-stick, bounce up and down, do a trick,’ unless there’s a phallic innuendo at work here instead? While we can but conjecture whether serious art-rocker Edgar Froese tapped a stylish Germanic boot-heel to the ‘tangerine dream’ line. As the title threatens, the lyric takes the entire soft-surrealism of ‘plasticine porters with looking-glass ties’ to its most infantile devolution, climbing rainbow rainbow ladders to the sky, while determinedly retaining the hallmark cascading strings, sitar and receding vocal-echo from “Green Tambourine”. Not exactly unattractive in itself, but a cruel and predictable come-down from yesterday’s highs. On the TV-clip it seems by his fey send-up hand-gestures that Ivan is embarrassed by what’s been foisted on him, feigning playing an imaginary violin as the strings surge. And when even such a cynical level of calculation fails, all is surely lost? But no, not quite.

The second album – ‘Jungle Marmalade’ (Buddah BDM-1016, 1968) tells pretty-much the same story. The sleeve-design, dressed up as a marmalade jar with the five Pipers set among flowers inset as the oval label, is less than promising. There are four more tracks from the Leka-Pinz tunespinners, the maudlin “Lonely Atmosphere” with harpsichord-effect, “I Need Someone (The Painter)”, and “Everything Is You” which resembles a Plastic Penny husky love-ballad, soothingly riding on a snaky-smooth organ-figure into radio-friendly blandness. Then “I Was Not Born To Follow” from Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Take her mega-selling ‘Tapestry’ (1971) out of the equation and the duo were the Lennon-McCartney of American teen-Pop, effortlessly stick-shifting up-gear from “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” into the ‘legendary fountain’ and ‘clear and jewelled water’ of hippie-shtick. Of course, when you see the Byrds do the song on the ‘Easy Rider’ (1969) soundtrack, breaking into reverberating phased-guitar at the ‘where the trees have leaves of prisms and break the light in colours that no-one knows the names of’, no other version could possibly compete. The Lemon Pipers is acceptably strong, but just a little superfluous.

The very title “Love Beads And Meditation” inspires dread expectations of kitsch trend-overkill, although when you listen, it’s nowhere near as bad as your worst fears, and hadn’t the Beach Boys done “Transcendental Meditation” on their ‘Friends’ (June 1968) album? Sure, they had. In the song Ivan claims he’s ‘just one more flowerchild’ with clean horns and ‘love and peace my inspiration’, but there’s a harder edge to ‘leaving purple nightmares and shadows behind.’ When he sings about heading east to find reincarnation he’s not talking about the East Coast of the USA. And there’s a manic line about moving away from ‘the jagged edge of insecurity, the tangled mass of membrane that used to be me.’ Like he’s seeking a kind of spiritual rehab after bouts of nervy excess.

And there’s a higher equation of group originals. With “Hard Core”, then “Catch Me Falling” which is deceptively country-sweet, upset by off-centre instrumental breaks, which are bluesy with faster-slower pacings. “Wine And Violet”, is set to waltz-time bleep-effects, firefly spinning, and Spanish guitar tuned ‘closer to insane.’ And then there’s the full 11:43-minute closing segue “Dead End Street/ Half Light” – no connection to the Kinks hit. In a last shot for credibility there’s hard Blues-Rock passages with cutting organ and guitar stabs, fades and builds, involved tempo-changes and glimpses of Vanilla Fudge or Spencer Davis Group as he walks ‘down a dead-end street without the sense to turn around.’ It bridges into “Half Light” as a more reflective classical gas interlude, light-years from the Pop hits. ‘I don’t know how I found my way here, I only know I want to stay here’ dissolving into a freaky electro-fade with a false-ending slight-return back to the beginning again.

Yet the moment had passed. Sales were disappointing. Despondent, the Pipers quit Buddah in 1969, and subsequently split to go their separate ways. The story was over. Except, of course, it wasn’t. Steve, Bob and Bill reform as Starstruck who adapt Lead Belly’s slight “Black Betty” into hard speed-Rock. By the time the track was picked up and issued by Epic as by Ram Jam, only Bill Bartlett remained in the line-up as the single hit US ‘Billboard’ no.18 (23 July 1977), and went even higher in the ‘New Musical Express’ – peaking at no.9 (22 October 1977). There was a Ram Jam album with four of Bartlett’s songs, and although there were no more hits, its temporary success must have made for sweet revenge. A remix actually returns to the UK charts in February 1990, when it reached a very respectable no.13.

While Lemon Piper tracks were being compiled onto Greatest Hits collections, Golden Hits, and Best Of’s in various reconfigurations. “Green Tambourine” appeared on the 1970 ‘Buddah In Mind’ (UK, 2349-008) label-sampler alongside Lovin’ Spoonful, Captain Beefheart and Melanie, then the ‘Golden Hour Of Simon Says’ (1977, GH862) where it was joined by “Jelly Jungle” and “Rice Is Nice”. Later, tied into their increasing retro-collectability, CDs with various shufflings of tracks began appearing. ‘Record Hunter’ magazine commends ‘Lemon Pipers’ (1990, Sequel NEXCD 131), sniping that ‘if they were still around today, the (Lemon Pipers) could probably give whelps like Flowered Up and Inspiral Carpets a run for their love beads.’ Through to the latest CD reissue of ‘Jungle Marmalade’ (Aurora, June 2015). If the most difficult trick of all is to have a big Pop hit, but also retain your hip credibility, it seems Lemon Pipers have finally pulled it off.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Classic Science Fiction: CHARLES ERIC MAINE


‘Escape… From A Contaminated World Of The Future Into 
Unimagined HORROR’ – the novel ‘Calculated Risk’ by 
Charles Eric Maine was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 
1960, and it’s still makes for a powerful read! 

5 April 1961. 

When Charles Eric Maine wrote ‘Calculated Risk’ (1960) it was still a date in future-time. When the character pretending to be Nicholas Brent picks up the ‘Daily Courier’ and reads of ‘Rockets poised behind Iron Curtain, ready to strike within two minutes’, and ‘US Rocket Orbits Moon, ready to make a landing by radio control’ Maine was speculating about what was to come. Now, with hindsight, we know that during that exact week Elvis Presley would be no.1 in the chart with “Wooden Heart”, thirty-one anti-nuke protesters were arrested outside the London US Embassy, and on the twelfth of that month the Soviet Union launched Yuri Gagarin into orbit as the first human in space. For Maine, those events were still unknowably beyond tomorrow.

But it was precisely that date in 1961 that Maine’s two time-travellers hurtle backwards through four-hundred years from their devastated radioactive hell, to arrive in London. The plot twist is that Philip Calland – with partner Kay, escape the future-horrors not physically, but through downloading themselves into the unsuspecting bodies of two victims, by secretly using a development of the Loetze theorum. Once in London, and deposited within the body of assistant advertisment manager Nicholas Brent, Calland must make sense of the antiquated society he finds himself cast into. Looking back on the novel now we share his disorientating sense of strangeness. This is no longer an England we recognize, an uptight morally-repressed grey world without mobiles or internet. The novel itself forms a kind of time capsule adrift in that lost past.

‘Calculated Risk’ is also a compelling narrative that holds the reader transfixed as it accelerates through moral ambiguities, narrowing inexorably towards a dread black climax. The cover of the Corgi paperback edition shows a slash-frame of haunted eyes, above the explicit torso of a naked woman, the two elements interconnected by a grid of white lines mapped by node-points. A luring attention-grabbing image suggesting a certain raciness, a fast-paced adult thriller, but also an accurate portrayal of the plot. Because the central weirdness, the SF time-travel gimmick is almost overshadowed by the tortured dilemmas faced by Maine’s protagonists as they wrestle through the escalating horrors of their predicaments. It’s what Leslie Flood astutely calls ‘heavily disguised science fiction for popular consumption… with an indefinable attraction that holds the reader to find out how it ends – something like experimenting with hashish’ (reviewing ‘Escapement’ in ‘New Worlds’ no.52).

‘Charles Eric Maine’ was one of the pseudonyms used by David McIlwain. For his non-SF work he assumed the guise of ‘Robert Wade’, or elsewhere ‘Richard Rayner’ for mysteries. Born in Liverpool in 1921, he was already known within SF-fandom through three issues of the fanzine ‘The Satellite’ which he produced with fellow writer Jonathan F Burke, followed by another called ‘Gargoyle’ (1940-1941) which he did himself. As his ‘New Worlds’ profile in no.81 (March 1959), points out, ‘he formed a firm and lasting friendship with John Christopher and John Burke, both of whom subsequently became professional science fiction writers.’

After service in the RAF during WWII as a signals officer, and ‘seeing action’ in North Africa, he took up TV engineering and began writing journalism about TV and radio. His debut novel – ‘Spaceways’ (1953), was adapted from his own radio play, and later became a successful film. It led to a complex but fruitful interaction of mediums with subsequent film ‘Timeslip’ novelized into ‘The Isotope Man’ (1957), while novel ‘The Mind Of Mr Soames(1961) was filmed with Nigel Davenport, Terence Stamp and Robert Vaughn in prominent roles. Yet to Leslie Flood his ‘talents in this field bear the hallmark of perseverance and hard work rather than natural brilliance,’ an assessment borne out by John Clute, to whom Maine was ‘an author of routine middle-of-the road genre SF, and as such has been successful.’ ‘Most of his SF shares a leaning towards thriller-like plots, and a disinclination to argue its often shaky scientific pinnings very closely, the latter tendency particularly visible in stories featuring hard SF themes such as space travel, as in ‘High Vacuum’ (1956)’ (in ‘The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’ edited by Peter Nicholls). With knowing self-awareness, the 37-year-old writer himself concurs, as John Carnell reports ‘long an advocate of the suspense-type of novel, Maine does not profess to write ‘pure’ science fiction, but rather the ‘scientific thriller’, of which his latest novel is a typical example’ (‘Count-Down’, 1959).

Maine’s earlier novel ‘Timeliner’ (1958) anticipates the plight of Philip Calland in ‘Calculated Risk’ when the cuckolded Hugh Macklin is bounced about in time as his experiment with ‘dimensional quadrature’ is used by unfaithful wife Lydia and her lover Paul to get rid of him. There’s a similar shock-complexity of plot too. After a series adventures cast into future-bodies he returns to his own time, only to discover that he’s now occupying Lydia’s body!

Meanwhile, Philip Calland swiftly realizes his good fortune in finding himself in the body of Nicholas Brent. He fakes a fall-injury to explain amnesia and his erratic behavior as he adjusts to his new life and identity. His new incarnation lives behind the chintz curtains of 6 Beynon Gardens (perhaps a sly reference to John Wyndham?) with his aunt, who he initially assumes to be his mother. He’s also engaged to be married to Sheila within a fortnight, which is inconvenient timing, but she belongs to a wealthy and well-connected family, a fact he’s able to exploit to his advantage.

The blurb on the paperback explains that, for the time-travelling duo, ‘the risk was undeniable, but the calculations were precise. Nothing had been overlooked – except the one point of detail that was to lead inevitably to the greatest horror of all…’ Calland had prearranged to rendezvous with Kay beneath the Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus, only to discover that she had been less fortunate. She now inhabits the aged crone body of Mary Marney who lives with her even older sister in an impoverished Bethnal Green terraced house. He’s repelled by her appearance, and by her attempts at affection, but honours his obligation to her, and determines to rectify the situation.

There’s a time-travel conundrum about a modern person becoming lost in the Neolithic. None of the sophistication and wisdoms of today are remotely applicable to the hunter-gatherer community, even lighting a fire is impossible without matches or a lighter. For Calland, the predicament is not as extreme. In Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 movie ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, the alien Thomas Jerome Newton (played by David Bowie) adapts what he considers Earth’s low-tech industrial base to serve the advanced science of his own planet. In much the same way Calland announces to a startled Sheila that he intends to quit his advertising job, and specialize in biophysics. Conveniently, her father happens to be an associate of Sir Andrew Crossley, who happens to be chairman of the Biochemix company. An interview is swiftly arranged, and he’s promptly recruited as research assistant. From there he sets about replicating the Loetze equipment, which he had originally devised in a bunker in radioactive future-London. 

The perfect solution they envisage is to switch Kay into Sheila’s body, so they can then logically share the benefits of the luxury Knightsbridge apartment gifted to them by Sheila’s father, as man and wife. That this perfect plan will involve wiping Sheila’s consciousness out of existence, despite his growing affection for her, is an unfortunate side-effect. The novel’s opening chapter shows Calland in the future wasteland brutally killing a man named Meillor, who had raped Kay, ‘sawing at the severed flesh’ with a dagger-like stone. So his degree of clinically determined unscrupulousness is already established, and haven’t they already obliterated the original Nicholas Brent and Mary Marney by invading their bodies? ‘The morality of the situation was hardly worth considering’ he argues, ‘there was a plan and there was a purpose, conceived in an alien age, and this strange world of the here and now was a kind of plastic medium to be moulded and shaped, dispassionately, in the discharge, as it were, of some higher destiny.’

The prose pours with seductive ease. Time passes, and the moral equations complexify. Each hastily-contrived solution only leads to further entanglements. He must go through with the marriage plans, soothing Kay’s pained misgivings. And a three-week Barcelona honeymoon takes him away from the lengthy research programme necessary for the completion of his plan. Kay becomes ill and is hospitalized. He muses dispassionately that, had she died, the situation would have resolved itself. But she does not die, and his visits to her draw suspicion. Richard Wetherby Grant, Sheila’s father, hires a private detective to track his movements. Calland thinks on his feet, but his detailed lies and cover-stories only lead to a mounting confusion of further complications.

Seduced by the comforts and luxury of his privileged life as Sheila’s husband, and increasingly content with his new wife, he resents his duty to rescue Kay from her horribly withered nightmare-body. But cleaves to his obligation to her. ‘Kay and I are refugees from the evil of inbred science, of technology channelled and perverted by security, and manoeuvred by politicians. We were more fortunate than the rest – we knew how to escape from a creeping radioactive death. And here we are, opportunists, preying on the innocents of an age that died long before we were born. We have to be ruthless, and I particularly have to be ruthless, even with Kay, if this scheme is to succeed.’

But how can it succeed? How can there be a satisfactory outcome? How can Charles Eric Maine’s plotting skills possibly resolve this most impossible of all eternal triangles? And ultimately, there is never going to be a happy ending. In a genuinely tense shock-climax, pursued by the vengeful authorities, with Kay and a drugged Sheila wired into his untested equipment, Calland is forced to unwisely accelerate the procedure. Even as the police break into the laboratory, he throws the final switch, not realizing that his terminals are reversed. With catastrophic results. Then Sheila’s body is dead. And Sheila wakes into Kay’s decrepit aged body. And a dejected Calland is led away to the waiting police car, charged with murder.

In the future his Loetze equipment is destroyed so there can be no further temporal interference.

(21 January 1921 – 30 November 1981) 


1953 – ‘Spaceways’ aka ‘Spaceways Satellite’ (Hodder & Stoughton, 10/6d, Pan paperback, 1954) ‘SR One’ – Satellite Rocket no.1, falls short of achieving its target 22,000-mile high orbit. Why? scientist George Hills is accused of murdering his wife, Marion and her lover Colby, and disposing of their bodies in the ship, altering its mass. Hills volunteers to man ‘SR Two’ to prove his innocence. Maine explains in ‘Authentic SF no.41’ how ‘if an author happens to hit on the right story line, he can exploit all three dimensions of entertainment’ – book, radio and film, ‘Spaceways’ is a case in point’

1955 – ‘Crisis 2000’ (Hodder & Stoughton, 10/6d, Corgi paperback, 1958), when Senator Drazin extends an invitation to any ‘living creatures anywhere else in this universe of ours’ to visit the 2000AD Festival of Earth, alien Dupes – who all assume Drazin’s appearance, take up his offer and erect an impassable energy dome that even nukes can’t penetrate. There’s love-interest with FBI Jon ‘Dex’ Dexter and lady scientist Dr Farrow inside the fire-wall, but ‘Nebula’ critic Kenneth F Slater advises ‘those who like Galactic epics to leave it alone’ (no.16, March 1956), while ‘Authentic SF’ no.65, January 1956 finds fault with Maine’s inclusion of ‘Saturnians’

1955 – ‘Timeliner’ (Hodder & Stoughton, Corgi, 1958, USA Bantam), developed from ‘The Einstein Highway’ BBC Light Programme radio play (broadcast 21 February 1954) Illicit lovers Paul and Lydia get rid of her husband, Hugh, by using his experiment in ‘dimensional quadrature’ to cast him adrift in time, first into the body of an early Lunar pioneer, then a man on Venus, and a terrific leap into the far future, only for him to return to his own time – into Lydia’s body! ‘Timeliner is fully as good as ‘Spaceways’ and is one of the few really credible time travel stories. It is mature, exciting, thoughtful and polemic’ (‘Authentic SF’ no.56, April 1955) 

1956 – ‘Escapement’ aka ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep’ (Hodder & Stoughton, 12/6d) ‘a scientific thriller set a few years in the future’ which was subsequently filmed as ‘The Electronic Monster’. John Maxwell invents a brain-impulse recorder which allows any listener to enter the thoughts of the subject, his motives being the laudable one of wishing to further the treatment of the mentally unstable. However, the villain, Paul Zakon, sees in the discovery a new means of entertainment and there is much skull-duggery as his thugs, girl friends and others gain control of the discovery from the inventor. John, who suffers from a peculiar disability in that he cannot enjoy normal sleep, finally revolts, cuts loose with a gun, falls from a window and receives a head injury which coupled with his previous disability, puts him to sleep for nine years. He wakes to find that Zakon has installed Dream Palaces everywhere, and that the cult of ‘Unlife’, dreaming while enjoying mental recordings, has apparently come to stay’ (‘Authentic SF’ no.74 November 1956). ‘Edgar Wallace with a flavour of science fiction’ says Leslie Flood (‘New Worlds’ no.52, October 1956)

1956 – ‘High Vacuum’ (Hodder & Stoughton, 12/6d, 192pp, Corgi, 1959, USA Ballantine), the ‘Operational Programme’ of the ‘Ministry of Astronautics’ undertakes the first lunar landing in Moonship Alpha. Three of the four crewmen survive the initial wreck, plus the female stowaway, the second, Russian ship is sabotaged, Kenneth F Slater says ‘although there is a survivor, there is not a ‘happy ending’ to the story. It is all the more realistic for that’ (‘Nebula’ no.25, October 1957). Leslie Flood adds ‘the story collapses into formula melodrama’ until ‘a dream glimpse into the future of the moon-base involving the stowaway’s spaceman son – immediately belied by the child being stillborn’ (‘New Worlds’ no.66, December 1957)

1957 – ‘The Isotope Man’ (Hodder & Stoughton, 11/6d, 189pp, Corgi, 1959), ‘A Novel Of The Atomic Age’, and first in the ‘Mike Delaney & Jill Friday’ series, adapted from his BBC TV play and the subsequent film ‘Timeslip’. Reporter Mike of ‘View’ magazine investigates atomic scientist Stephen Rayner’s hush-hush hospital stay. ‘A fast, well-written story… an ingenious tale of a man who should have been dead but wasn’t, and who suffered from a seven-and-a-half-second slip in time. Add to this sabotage, a spy hunt, a too-inquisitive reporter and plenty of action and you have something worth reading’ (‘Authentic’ no.81, June 1957). ‘Not represented as strictly science-fiction, as it has crossed further over the borderline into the scientific-thriller class… owing not a little to the influence of Peter Cheyney’ (Leslie Flood in ‘New Worlds’ no.57, March 1957)

1958 – ‘World Without Men’ (Digit, 1963), ‘the world of five-thousand years from now was a world of only one sex’ says the blurb on the Ace Books edition. ‘After the introduction of a new contraceptive drug (sterilin) the ratio of male to female births falls steadily until it reaches zero – no male children are born,’ discussed by Kingsley Amis in ‘New Maps Of Hell’ with ‘one of the girl scientists facing the life of a fugitive in order to protect the experimentally produced male baby which the security council wants destroyed.’ Revised in 1972 as ‘Alph’ (Ballantine), M John Harrison tears it to shreds by applying academic-Lit critiques, ‘it rests on an absolutely absurd personification of nature; on what one can only interpret as a profound misunderstanding of how the sex of the child is determined’ (in ‘New Worlds Quarterly 6’)

1958 – ‘The Tide Went Out’ (Hodder & Stoughton, 12/6d, 190pp, USA Ballantine), seas drain away through earth-fractures as a result of atomic testing, ‘a quintessentially British disaster novel of the stiff-upper-lip school’ according to ‘The Ultimate Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’ edited by David Pringle (1997). Marital problems complicate Philip Wade – editor of ‘Outlook’, as his report is censored and he’s recruited to the Information Bureau, as his wife and son are evacuated to the Arctic camp. Issued by ‘SFBC September 1959’ as ‘A novel for adult minds only by one of our best SF writers.’ Revised in 1977 as ‘Thirst’ (Charter)

1959 – ‘Count-Down’ aka ‘Fire Past The Present’ (Hodder & Stoughton, Corgi 2/6d, 1961, USA Ballantine) ‘There are just seven of them, five men and two women, on the lonely Pacific Island (Kaluiki, where ‘AGNES’, a new type of anti-gravity interplanetary spaceship is being readied for its first flight), quite cut off for the long days of the count-down, while the reactors are building up the power. Security demands that they preserve complete radio silence. Then murder strikes, three times…’ Also a 3-part ‘New Worlds’ serial from no.81 (March 1959) illustrated by Brian Lewis cover-art, ‘The most powerful story since CM Kornbluth’s ‘Takeoff’’ and ‘another fast-paced thriller in the mood of Eric Frank Russell’s ‘Wasp’. In no.84 reader RJ Anderson of Hayes, Middx comments on the ‘appreciable tendency of late for some science fiction authors to include a rather pronounced love aspect in their stories, your latest serial ‘Count-Down’ by Charles Eric Main being a good example’

1960 – ‘Calculated Risk’ (Hodder & Stoughton, then Corgi paperback 1962)

1960 – ‘Subterfuge’, second novel of the ‘Mike Delaney’ series

1960 – ‘He Owned The World’ aka ‘The Man Who Owned The World’ (Panther, 1963, USA Avon), Martian efforts to take over Earth

1961 – ‘Counter-Psych’, third novel of the ‘Mike Delaney’ series

1961 – ‘The Mind Of Mr Soames’ (Panther, 1969, USA Pyramid) ‘a man who wakes from a coma, a tabula rasa at the age of thirty.’ Issued as ‘NEL SF Master Series’ with Introduction by Harry Harrison (1977)

1962 – ‘The Darkest Of Nights’ aka ‘Survival Margin’ (Fawcett, 1968, USA Gold Medal), the breakdown of society in the wake of a lethal epidemic, in three sections, Diagnosis, Prognosis, Necrosis. Revised as ‘The Big Death’ (Sphere, 1978)

1964 – ‘Never Let Up’, fourth novel of the ‘Mike Delaney’ series

1966 – ‘B.E.A.S.T’ (Hodder, Ballantine 1967), the dangerous effects of attempting to simulate animal evolution by Biological Evolutionary Animal Simulation Test

1971 – ‘The Random Factor’ (Hodder & Stoughton, 187pp)


1938 – “The Mirror” self-published debut in his fanzine ‘The Satellite’ (vol.1 no.1) ‘Official Organ Of The Liverpool SFA’ produced by David McIlwain (CE Maine) with John F Burke from October 1938, in vol.2 no.1 (January 1939) is ‘Citadel Of Dreams (1 of 4)’ as by David McIlwain. From vol.2 no.2 (February 1939) editor is Burke alone, although McIlwain is in vol.2 no.7 (July 1939) with short story ‘A Mechelist On Mars’, and in vol.3 no.5 (August 1940) with spoof ‘Memoirs Of A Psychic Researcher’

1953 – “Repulsion Factor” (‘Authentic SF’ no.37, September 1953), art by Davis, Doc Macklin’s experiments in teletransition at K-Block of ‘Telesonics Inc’ anticipate the 1958 movie ‘The Fly’. ‘Macklin was satisfied that nothing could go wrong’ but naturally, it does. Soon, there are two duplicate Macklins intent on killing each other, absurdities complexify and comic murders follow

1953 – “Highway i” (‘Authentic SF’ no.39, November 1953), art by Gerald, editor HJ Campbell writes ‘an unusually intriguing story with an unusual title, Charles Eric Maine explores the dimensions in a startling but light-hearted way. We were not surprised to hear that an American magazine bought this story a few weeks after we did’, it was retitled ‘Highway J’ for ‘Planet Stories’ (USA, November 1953) Brian Aldiss praises ‘the idea of a man riding into the future on an ordinary push-bike’, as ‘both charming and memorable. But then – it was skilfully written.’

1953 – “Spaceways To Venus” (‘Spaceway no.1’, USA December 1953), editor William L Crawford cover-blurbs it ‘a novelette by the author of the movie ‘Spaceways’’, art by Mel Hunter

1954 – “The Boogie Matrix” (‘Authentic SF’ no.41, January 1954), art by Muller, ‘music can also be the food of hate. But hate and love are sisters under the skin…’, issue also includes his “STF Plotting In 3-D” essay

 1954 – “Troubleshooter” (‘Nebula’ no.7, February 1954) art by Bill Price, ‘Captain of a danger-ridden spacecraft, his life was threatened by the mutinous crew, but somehow, things didn’t quite add up’ 

1954 – “The Festival Of Earth” (‘Spaceway Vol.2 no.2’, December 1954) novelette art by Paul Blaisdell

1954 – “The Yupe” (‘Nebula’ no.11, December 1954), art by Martin Frew, ‘It was the weird artifact of another world, its purpose was unknown – as yet’

 1955 – “The Trouble With Mars” (‘Authentic SF no.59, July 1955), ‘When a radio message got a bit scrambled it showed what was…’ a dubious plot device, a Morse-telegraphy message from the Mars colony requesting ‘iron mules’ (‘Fe’-Mules) is mistranslated so that two-hundred ‘females’ arrive – to initial disapproval (‘this is a man’s world’ said Caird scathingly, ‘we don’t need you and your kind’!). The women gain eventual grudging respect. But in Maines’ favour, his Mars is accurately arid and hostile, with its colonisation as much imperilled by prescient treasury restrictions as the real-life NASA programme would be 

1955 – “Mission From Space” (‘Fantastic Universe Vol.4 no.2’, USA September 1955) edited by Leo Margulies

1957 – “Reverse Procedure” (‘Space Science Fiction Magazine’ no.1, USA Spring/March 1957) illustrated by Bruce Minney

1958 – “The Big Count-Down” (‘Amazing SF vol.32 no.12’ USA December 1958) cover-billed novella, inner art by Novick

1961 – “L’introverti” (‘Satellite’ no.35-36, France July 1961)

1966 – “Short Circuit” (‘Tales Of Unease’ anthology edited by John Burke, Pan Books)

1974 – “Scholarly Correspondence” (‘Analog Science Fiction Science Fact Vol.VCIII no.2’, USA April 1974) edited by Ben Bova

1976 – “Jow Three Eyes” (‘New Tales Of Unease’ anthology edited by John Burke, Pan Books)


1953 – ‘Spaceways’ initially a 1952 BBC Radio Play, filmed by Hammer (black and white, 76-minutes) produced by Michael Carreras, directed by Terence Fisher, with Eva Bartok, Howard Duff, Andrew Osborn and Alan Wheatley. Screenplay by Paul Tabori and Richard Landau, ‘the first thing the movie people did when they got hold of the script of the radio play was to change the names of all the characters’ explains Maine in ‘Authentic SF no.41’, oddly the location was changed too, from Nevada to the UK. ‘Space Is A Cold Place To Die’ says the movie-poster, as a scientist is suspected of murdering his wife and placing her body in an experimental British satellite. ‘Vargo Statten Science Magazine’ (Vol.1 no.2, February 1954) says ‘this is a strong plot, worthy of better production than it gets in the film. Once again the effects of a small budget show too clearly, and the whole picture is made as if the cast are expecting THE END to flash into their faces at any moment’

1956 – ‘Timeslip’, initially a 30-minute BBC-TV play produced by Andrew Osborn, with Jack Rodney, Harold Jamieson and Robert Ayres (broadcast 25 November 1953) the basis for the later novel ‘The Isotope Man’. Filmed by Allied Artists (78-minutes, retitled ‘The Atomic Man’ in the USA) produced by Alec Snowden, directed by Ken Hughes, with Peter Arne, Faith Domergue, Gene Nelson and Joseph Tomelty. ‘This was the deadliest secret of all… the man with the Radio-Active Brain!’ an atomic scientist is found floating in a river with a bullet in his back and a radioactive halo around his body. Radioactivity has shifted him seven-and-a-half second ahead of us in time…

1957 – ‘The Electronic Monster’ (Anglo-American, 72-minutes), produced by Alec Snowden, directed by Montgomery Tully, adapted from the novel ‘Escapement’, with Rod Cameron, Meredith Edwards, Peter Illing and Mary Murphy. An insurance investigator finds there’s more to electronic dream therapy than meets the eye

1970 – ‘The Mind Of Mr Soames’ (Columbia Pictures, 95-minutes) produced by Milton Subotsky & Max J Rosenberg, directed by Alan Cooke, with Nigel Davenport (as Dr Maitland) and Christian Roberts (as Thomas Fleming). ‘Can This Baby Kill?’ John Soames (Terence Stamp) is a patient at the Midlands Neurological Hospital who has been in a coma for thirty years. Dr Bergen (Robert Vaughn), a recently arrived American neurosurgeon, revives him from his slumber during a lengthy televised operation

Saturday, 31 October 2015



we meet between
the Time Towers
on nodes of the
worm cycle

speak erotic blasphemy while
terrorists and lovers
speak only confusion

to you, I’m
Danny Darkness,
to me, your
raster eyes

we trip a storm
of crimson wings
noisy with birdsong
to a vaporising city
where altitude beams
pulse in resonating

then dematerialize
through places that shine
until we grow weightless
to observe sunspots
and solar flares

lights drift like
tethered nebulae here
and mournful hyenas
eat the faces from
sleeping men

I ride the time worm cycle
from enrichment to nullity,
as this Danny Darkness hunts
the riddles of your face

I’m woken by air-attack banshees,
by the ripple of pterodactyls,
by a male voice choir, and
sometimes by the homely
assonance of steam train
whistles that drift up
from Cairo’s main
rail terminal

we met between
the Time Towers
across nodes of
the worm cycle when
worlds drifted through
spatial zones of temporal
non-causality, energising
bounces across ages from
Earth’s slow end lit by
red uncertain sunlight

then back here, to
Cretaceous beaches

and us
time-crossed lovers
raving at strange

Published in:
‘STOP GAP!’ edit Pete Presford (Spring/Jan 1997 – UK)
‘HANDSHAKE/ Dunnock Press no.25’ (July 1997 – UK)
‘FOCUS no.32 (Nov/Dec)’ (February 1998 – UK)
and in the collection:
‘EUROSHIMA MON AMOUR’ Hilltop Press (UK-Oct 2000)

Tuesday, 27 October 2015



 Andrew Darlington takes a strange trip through the 
late-1960’s English ‘Underground’ Scene,  via the band 
that was ‘almost like its news-sheet’ 
 – The Edgar Broughton Band – 

“nineteen-hundred and sixty-eight 
the year that you gave us a break…” 
      (“Double Agent” on ‘In Side Out’) 

Think about this. What bullets are to war, ideas are to revolution. In the battlefield of insurrection opposing factions compete to control concepts that are the keys to support. And in revolutionary situations they are everywhere. In slogans chanted by street-mobs. In agitational rhetoric from would-be leaders. In manifestos and posters, banners, and graffiti sprayed on walls. They are also encrypted into the secret codes of songs... but of course, the late 1960’s counter-culture battles are seldom fought near the barricades. They happen in the area of what William Burroughs calls ‘the Grey Room’ – the mind, where the propaganda value of ideas is even more important.

And the ‘Underground’ makes it up as it develops. Extemporises it. It is happening for the first time. There have been Anarchists and Romantic Poet Revolutionaries, Jazz Be-Boppers and Beat Generation Bohemians, but nothing on this scale. Nothing quite like this – ever, before. What comes next? Nuclear Armageddon? World revolution? The Dawning Of The Age Of Aquarius? No-one knows. Everything changes. And everything stays the same.

You’ve thought about that? Right – now forget it. Some had reservations about Robert Edgar Broughton from the start. To them the British underground – to which his band was ‘almost like a news-sheet’, is an odd, idiosyncratic hybrid. An anarchic and irreverent fraternity, looking to America for its models, channelled through hazy dope-clouds of ill-disguised and badly misunderstood New Left slogans looted from brief perusals of the ‘Fontana Modern Masters’. Most of it just so much Idiot Wind, raw material for the great vinyl auto-muncher of ephemeral mass consumption. America has the Vietnam Draft, the anti-Segregation struggles, Bob Dylan, Abbie Hoffman, Timothy Leary, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane. England has ‘It (International Times)’, The Pink Fairies, ‘OZ’, LSD, Richard Neville’s ‘Play-Power’... and the Edgar Broughton Band.

Step One: the ideal prerequisite for an ‘Underground band’ is obscurity, which – largely, the Broughton’s achieve. Mick Farren’s (Social) Deviants are more obscure, and hence – by definition, more valid. Lucifer, with its few dilettante-porn singles obtainable in plain brown wrapper through your mail-box succeed in remaining obscure to a degree beyond even their own wildest mouth-watering anticipations. But largely, around the turn of the decade – 1960’s into 1970’s, the Edgar Broughton Band get to become a serviceable street-corner pass-word with which to impress the standard dumb straights.

Of course, all this hard-won oblivion – even when supported by John Peel’s ‘Top Gear’ Radio One slot, could so easily have been destroyed by commercial success. But mercifully that never happens. Their first single doesn’t catch fire. So their integrity/ reputation remains intact. Both sides – “It’s Evil” c/w “Death Of An Electric Citizen” (Harvest HAR 5001) are later featured on a conveniently historic retrospective ‘A Bunch Of Forty-Fives’ (Harvest HAR 2001), charting the dubious progress of their most visible years. Even if – at the time of its original release the single, opening with peals of manic laughter, is reviewed as ‘an unbelievable cacophony of psychedelic noises, reverberating twangs and berserk vocals’ (by ‘NME’, who obviously don’t get it).

But the single does form a useful trailer for their first album – ‘Wasa Wasa’ (1969, Harvest SHVL757), an archetypal electric-Blues set featuring stand-outs “Crying” and the ‘transparently cynical’ “American Boy Soldier”. “Love In The Rain” uses lascivious Hendrix changes (‘…tell your Mother, I’m no fussy Lover...’) ‘YOU LIKE IT? SO DO I... I’M COMING, I’M COMING, I’M COMING – I’M NEARLY THERE.... THAT WAS SO GOOD…!!!!’ fading out in lustily post-orgasmic panting. And the heavy guitar figures of “Why Can’t Somebody Love Me”, plus both sides of the single – of which ‘Electric Citizen’ had begun as a track spontaneously recorded the year previous in just fifteen minutes at EMI’s No.2 studio. It is clearly a formative album utilising the classic Cream/ Hendrix bass-lead-drums power-trio line-up, with much of its potential yet to be realised. While the sleeve features the protagonists moodily clustered about a candle. Faces, suitably solemn, half-eclipsed by its light, emerging from its Twilight Zone…

At the time Edgar is busily engaged in telling ‘Zig-Zag’ magazine (itself a former fanzine, grown out of the ‘counter-culture’ community) that ‘we are the product of the people, a mirror of the people.’ Prophetically so. For this is the real – and only way, that all that potential will be achieved. They are a working band. Recently down from gentle historic Warwick where they were managed by the Broughton’s mother. Beginnings are easy. Encounters that unhinge separate lives into a shared ratio. Two brothers bedazzled by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates on ITV’s Saturday evening ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’. Watching Hank B. Marvin, the Stones and the two Kink brothers on ‘Top Of The Pops’. Impressionably idealistic, listening in awe to vinyl editions of Dylan’s incendiary political rage. We could do that. We could combine those elements, and change the world with a handful of riffs, and if we score some Hippiechick nubiles and some High Times along the way, so much the better! From there it’s deceptively easy, falling weightless into the heat of a social furnace that will buckle identities and fates into new shapes. Events in pinpricks on the time-map.

But by this time they’ve been taken up by Blackhill Enterprises, and they’re turning up at Festivals and Benefits playing in the rain off the back of pick-up trucks for free. On stage they are evolving Canned Heat’s “On The Road” riff, into “Greyday” – a song about a businessman who gets killed. But more importantly they’ve also begun doing “Out Demons Out”, the chant that will become not only the ‘A’-side of their second single (c/w “Freedom” Harvest HAR 5015, March 1970), but also the first of their only two bona fide chart records. The band’s anthem, and its occasional albatross.

Their exhaustive rendition of the repetitive chant incites a frenzy when they do it as part of their set at the high-profile Blind Faith Free Concert at Hyde Park. While the single – which hovers between 40 and 50 on the list (aspiring to a high of no.39 on 2nd May), had begun life as the ‘Exorcising The Evil Spirits From The Pentagon’ invocation recorded live-on-the-streets by the Fugs for their ‘Tenderness Junction’ album. Something possessed (pun!) Broughton to commit it to wax, replacing the Fugs’ documentary-authenticity with a Heavy Rock backbeat – a dubious trade-off, resulting in a chanta-longa-Broughton incarnation more ‘Dennis Wheatley Armies of Hammer Horror’ than the Fugs ‘Norman Mailer Armies Of The Night’ subversive act of insurrectionary Street Theatre. And – like that never-to-be-repeated epic of Woodstock, the ritual gets spontaneously reborn at a thousand subsequent gigs up and down Europe in all its chanted monotony and subject to the same laws of decreasing returns as said Festival.

But pause for a moment here. By 09:00 on the morning of Saturday 7th June 1969 there’s an estimated 7,000 psychedelic gypsies here in Hyde Park, clustered in and around a natural amphitheatre called the Cockpit. Many bedraggled freaks have already spent a long and uncomfortable night on this dew-chill grass. Then The Third Ear Band’s hypnotic mantra-drone eerily opens up events at around half-past-two. And by now they’re talking about something like 150,000-strong of us squatting in the dirt.

And the Broughton’s, doing a clutch of electronic howl-and-fart numbers, are stalking stage-boards aggressive and lethally raucous. This is a band consisting of Edgar (born 24 October 1947 in Warwick) on vicious mouth-noises and guitar, brother Steve (20 May 1950) on heavily mortgaged drum-kit, and Arthur ‘Art’ Grant (14 May 1950) pulsing search-and-destroy basslines. Edgar is always the visual art-object, his pseudo-romantic bohemian overkill charisma derived somewhere between committed Ian Anderson and media-radical Red Danny Cohn-Bendit. He looks good, down from the Midlands Working-Class Industrially silted wastes (only the A429 separates Warwick from Coventry). A visually right symbol. Audially, it’s not always quite so satisfying. But what the hell? Joints are ritually ignited. Street-sellers are bartering wonderfully Art Nouveau copies of printed ephemera, ‘UFO’ posters, ‘Frendz’, spirit-duplicated poems. A nude girl idiot-dances to Ritchie Havens. Donovan and Blind Faith (featuring both Stevie Winwood and Eric Clapton) follow as the sun filters down through the trees... it’s an event. A Renaissance Fair. A peak experience.

How to capitalise on that collective buzz? Well – why not subvert the antique hypocrisies of the 1970 General Election by issuing a cut dedicating its ‘we’re all dropping out’ raspberry to ‘all of you in Whitehall’? And the result is an act of Benny Hill politics. Naughty fun timed to tie in with – and as a comment on the tired facade of democracy, while also featuring the David Bedford Orchestra and Chorus. Listening to “Up Yours” (Harvest HAR 5021) now, it seems a vaguely amusing absurdist tribal sing-along – but then, of course, absurdism is a vital part of the Situationist Manifesto, and although its ‘mildly offensive’ content gets it banned from the BBC playlists it proves an appetising taster for their second twelve-incher ‘Sing Brothers Sing’ (SHVL 772) issued in June.

On the cover three kids (one black) are framed by a Gothic arch. Inside there are occasionally jazzy rhythms, and “The Psychopath”, a song about a child molester that features the ‘WEM Hand-Ful’ for sound distortion and effects. Other cuts include Tribal Crowd-Pleaser “Momma’s Reward (Keep Them Freak’s A-Rollin’)” and “Officer Dan”, plus “Old Gopher”, the peaceful “Aphrodite” and “Refugee” chanted over a stark percussive backdrop. Press-ads for the album read ‘we would like to thank the Policemen, the Councillors, NAB Officers, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Stoned-Out Freaks without whom this album would not have been possible – STAND PROUD!’ Completing the set is the epic “There’s No Vibrations, But Wait” with its distorted megaphone-voice rap-chanting poem-style, complete with bleeped-out obscenity and ‘negative negative’-repetitions which reduces ‘the cultured word-wizard’ to deliberate nonsense for ‘as long as the cigarette-smoke curls up and not down from the ash-tray.’ We – of course, can all decrypt that code. While there’s also “The Moth” (a three-part dialogue with a moth concerning ‘are you a boy or a girl’ Freak ridicule about what really constitutes maturity), “Grandma”, “Is For Butterflies” and “It’s Falling Away”….


But the best is yet to come – in the shape of “Apache Drop-Out” (Harvest 5032), a single from November 1970. In a classic juxtaposition exercise the Broughton’s loot Captain Beefheart’s ‘Safe As Milk’ album, replicating its “Drop-Out Boogie” with authentically acid-etched vocal – but substituting the keyboard minuet bits with regurgitated lines from the era-defining Shadows’ 1960 instrumental hit. Whether it’s Brion Gysin-inspired cut-up collage, or inspired anticipation of the as-yet uninvented mix ‘n’ match Hip-Hop sample-culture to come, the fusion – or collision between the two disparate elements works oddly on vinyl where, on paper, it shouldn’t work at all. Swelling into a monumental Jerry Lordan meets Don Van Vliet confrontation crammed into 45rpm with a hot-line, potentially – to both markets, but in actuality to neither.

As it simmers around the chart plimsoll line (reaching a high of no.33 on 27th March during an in-and-out four-week run) the band are preparing to play eleven German gigs in fourteen apocalyptical December days of riots and headlines. Broughton’s crowd-pleasing ‘Free Music’ notoriety precedes them across Europe, where the dichotomy between such protestations and the gate-money demanded by ‘Mama Promotions’ induces an outrage that the band are made aware of, and on which they capitalise. They declare free gigs, thus earning the animosity of Mama, a two-year ban by German promoters, and the nucleus of a large following across Europe and Scandinavia. Of course, music should be free. As in ‘free expression’. Or ‘Freedom Suite’. But that don’t necessarily legitimise the Yippies or the White Panther Party storming the perimeter barricades of the Isle Of Wight Festival demanding free access. It doesn’t mean that venues don’t have to be paid for. Or power bills honoured. But hey, it’s a great slogan.

Nevertheless, in the first month of the new year they add to the momentum by recruiting twenty-four year old Warwick guitarist Victor ‘Vic’ Unitt (5 July 1946) from the Pretty Things and cut “Hotel Room” c/w “Call Me Liar” (Harvest 5040) for June release. Broughton writes “Hotel Room” about the ‘injured parties in my bed’ in a Hamburg ‘Desolation Row’ Hotel off the Reeperbahn, and it’s a strong song, one of their strongest. Strummed guitar, with the smooth girlie voices of The Eruptions dubbed across both sides. Ragged romance. But no intrusive politics. And it makes the German top twenty.

As mid-summer arrives it seems to be the time the Broughtons might break on through elsewhere. They play a benefit for Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in Battersea Park Pavilion with other high-profile ‘Underground’ acts including Juicy Lucy and Assegai. Then, in furtherance of their ‘Peoples Band’ ideology they go on to do a string of free open-air concerts at seaside venues – running into trouble at Redcar and Blackpool where local Councils forbid same. But they play anyway. July 18th, at Redcar – they attempt to play from the back of a truck, but get moved on by Police after various hassles. Manager Peter Jenner (credited as co-producer with the Broughton’s on ‘Bunch Of Forty-Fives’), and a roadie are charged – but later acquitted of ‘obstructing Police and a Breach of the Peace’. In that same court, the same August – and later in Brighton, the band are prosecuted on obstruction charges, and also have £200-worth of gear, including a Fender and a Burns twelve-string lifted from their van! Property, after all, is theft.

This chaotic tour goes off against a soundtrack of ‘Edgar Broughton Band’ (1971, Harvest SHVL 791), their most convincing – if occasionally messy album, enveloped in a meat-market sleeve of carcasses hung in neat raw rows. Side one opens with “Evening Over The Rooftops” co-written by Unitt and Edgar. The song is accused of vibing Leonard Cohen’s bleakness (‘the smoke hung over the sky-line, the city fell in silence’) while around the Symbolist poetics of ‘the mating of the earth and air’ – cryptic with meaning, lurk girlie voices, shivering Palm Court Strings and a Salvation Army tambourine. Further along the vinyl is “The Birth”, a more orthodox heavy Broughton exercise lyriced ‘in the heat shaking her meat, pointing her tits up to heaven’.

Exhibiting more esoteric ‘back to the farm’ sentiments and Johnny Van Derek’s appropriately country violin comes “Piece Of My Own” – ‘all I want is a piece of my own, a lot of land, and some sticks to build a home.’ Next track is the novelty strum-along “Poppy”, a country-blues about pollution, with side-swipes at ‘plastic picnickers’ talking about the length of his hair while he’s there having deeply meaningful eco-friendly thoughts, although the title could equally be inferred to have an opium connection (‘I laid on a poppy, it laid on me’). It is followed by “Don’t Even Know What Day It Is” and “House Of Turnabout”. “Madhatter” seemed like a word-game send-up, while “Getting Hard” is painlessly vocal-less.

After this respite the track bleeds into the impassioned vocal laid across “What Is A Woman For?” recalling James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” in an odd way, its long instrumental fade eventually dissolving into “Thinking Of You” with its pleasant mandolin bits. The album – which allegedly takes a not-inconsiderable (then) £10,000 to record through the months of July ‘70 into February ‘71 closes with the violin-ridden ‘Albatross’-alike “For Doctor Spock Parts One And Two”, with the lyrics suitably dumbed-down infantile (no pun intended) – to ‘what if all the babies went on strike, for a better life to be born in.’ There’s some nice Hawaiian-style slide guitar on the cut though…


What bullets are to war, ideas are to revolution. And in interview the Broughton’s stance and protestations are never less than political. Asked by Pete Frame if working through capitalist giant EMI compromises their ideals Steve comments ‘if we sell as many records as they would like us to, and if we sell as many as we want to, eventually we are going to turn people onto burning EMI down’. Edgar – in the meantime, is telling ‘Melody Maker’ ‘of course I believe. I’ve got a social conscience.’ For this is an Underground Band. It plays to the Underground Press. Its audience think of themselves as concerned, as radical. Even Broughton’s company – including eventually the Music ‘Factory’ in Barnett – is called ‘Weemeenit’. When Edgar complains that ‘the planet’s in a bad way, oh yeah, and I’m sitting here counting the days’ (“Call Me A Liar”) his sentiments can be expected to get some kind of sympathetic feed-back from their floating turned-on community. Even though his affirmations on behalf of the student-shootings at Kent State – ‘she is my sister, he is my brother’ (“Freedom”) can so easily be seen as angst-by-proxy.

Sure, as political songs go, they lack the precision and focus of – say, Phil Ochs or even Billy Bragg. But that’s hardly the point. Innocence can be a wonderful asset. And their real politics are the blurry-edged fuzzy-logic generational dialectic. Free Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll can save the world. Terrorists are romantic idealistic figures, associated with liberation, not atrocity. Do the Broughton’s sincerely believe all this? I suspect that – on at least one level, and with some reservations, yes – they do. ‘Cos what can a poor boy do? ‘Cept play for a Rock ‘n’ Roll band? And on stage, Edgar is doing just that, up there playing phallic symbol games with a Fender Sunburn electric twelve-string, a Gibson Flying Arrow special and a Fender black Stratocaster. Steve does GBH to a Ludwig drumkit. Victor uses a Gibson Les Paul original bass, as does Grant. It’s loose, but getting tighter. A working band loud and hairily unsubtle on gigs, but encapsulating that particular brand of inspired spontaneity that can sometimes catch the true essence of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Through April of the following year they embark on yet another UK tour to launch the fourth album – ‘In Side Out’ (1972, Harvest SHTG 252). Recorded between 15 February and 9 March, in many ways it contains a more playfully mature approach to lyrics. Although “I Got Mad (Soledad)” comments with unconvincing rage on the black American prison riots, running ‘I got mad, really bad, have you heard about Soledad? ...if they take me, I’ll take ten for one’ – a manipulation of media-radical cliché slogans, issues and concepts, built around vintage riffs. ‘We said ‘no more war’... what’s there worth fighting for?’ There’s also a track to ‘my comrade’, jailed radical “Sister Angela” (Davis). In some ways it compares favourably with John Lennon’s similarly themed ‘Sometime In New York City’ agit-prop album.

The outer sleeve starkly reflecting the monochrome urban working-class stance of “Home Fit For Heroes” which runs a Dylan harmonica over more local issues – ‘up there in the dockyards, they’re fighting for their rights.’ The Broughton’s taking on the Lennon ‘Working Class Hero’ persona. But there’s also humour – ‘you ask me what I’m doing, I’m just picking my nose. My Lady’s in the kitchen and she ain’t wearing no clothes, I’m tired and crazy and I’ve just come off the road.’ The kind of shambling haphazard ‘Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’-type thing that Ian Hunter would later write so well.

Other tracks include “Chilly Morning Mama” – an uncomplicated Pop song, “Totin’ This Guitar” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll” (a slow cut, despite its title). But the stand-out, “It’s Not You”, is 11.06-minutes long and full of full-on Magic Band dislocated rhythms and Stones raunch (‘Jesus please be good to us, or we’ll all be on the News’), and “The Rake”, which – according to the lyric sheet, is a dirty song riddled with double entendres (‘I was looking through her dressing drawers to see what I could find, I found the Ten Commandments stamped on her backside’). ‘CAN YOU DIG IT – OUT HERE ON A LIMB?’ Sure, we can dig it. So dig this – ‘I love that little hole in the back of her head... I was looking down a needle, a needle full of red.’ “Gone Blue” is vaguely menacing, there are sounds of fighting – don’t know what it means, but it sounds nasty. Dreams have a dark side. Inside the gate-fold there are atmospheric black-and-white shots of the wind-blown band amid a symmetrical complex of concrete motorway, interposed by effective rural shots. For every country idyll, there’s a hard narcotic urban counterpart….


Knowing what we now know, it’s strange to evoke other lost possibilities. We obsessively re-examine time into comforting geometries and reassuring clarities until we think we know it. And surely momentum, and the force of that momentum, must have already been at work, defining all the subsequent pathways. But pause on this space of grace. Because back then it still seemed other outcomes were open. And although the revolution hits the dead-end of the 1970’s in a dark Thatcherite backlash of Right-Wing violence, its legacy defines us here and now. Gay Lib, Animal Rights, Black Liberation, Feminism, Eco-Awareness, anti-Globalisation protest, they all have their roots in the ‘Alternative Society’.

And the Broughtons are defined by their status as a counter-culture band. They can’t really be considered any other way. Mick Farren goes on to mainstream Music Journalism and SF novels. Bopping Elf Marc Bolan discovers electricity and becomes a tiny gilt-wrapped Teen Idol. But the Broughtons never achieve elevation beyond their ragged community. In the years to come ‘Underground’ bands will become more pointedly, more knowingly political – Crass, Poison Girls, and Chumbawamba. While for career outrageists like Limp Bizkit or Marilyn Manson the profile gets meticulously rehearsed and premeditated. Into the platinum albums. And the Greatest Hits DVD compilations.

And of course – for the likes of the Broughtons, the record companies really wanted marketable product all along. Like Family. Or Jethro Tull. And as a concession to such expectations, as the 1970’s gets into its stride, they do get dutifully more adept at parcelling and selling units of supposed insurrection. But while I guess the Broughtons weren’t exactly averse to the idea of a hit record, it was hardly their most urgent priority. It is open-ended. No-one really knows what comes next. It could go this way... or it could go that way... Nuclear Armageddon? World revolution? The Dawning Of The Age Of Aquarius? No-one knew for sure. Everything changes. And everything stays the same.

But while we wait, ‘A Bunch Of Forty-Fives’ arrives as a partial ‘the-story-so-far’ re-run of the Broughton’s contribution to the German ‘Masters Of Rock’ series – an album that inexplicably omits “Apache Drop-Out”. By contrast the British version is fleshed out by the 1972 single “Gone Blue” (HAR 5049), plus its B-sides “Mr Crosby” and the nice snarly intricate acoustic interplay of “Someone” (‘someone threw a bomb...’), all nicely repackaged by the Hipgnosis art-studio who turn the band’s faces green for the cover shot.

But beyond the period covered by this retrospective comes the Broughton’s final full-length play. The mid-’73 album ‘Oora’ (SHVL 810) which further develops their hallucinogenically humorous angle with that ‘long smoke in my hand’ and ‘green lights in your eyes’, set to a slow acoustic knock-knock-knocking on heaven’s door and ambient wind ‘I met her in the garden’ sounds. The album’s advertising graffiti is also effective, made up of pictures in cartoon-like sequence, a Spitfire, the Palestinian girl guerrilla Leila Khaled, etc. While the sleeve superimposes the band over a quasi-mystical mandala-symbol. But it is album of endings. It will be the last project on which Vic Unitt plays – before he splits, contributing nice mouth-harp to “Get Out Of Bed”. And while it remains probably the band’s best recorded album, it meets standard Broughton sales reaction.

The revolution that had never really happened is over, leaving the band stranded in a time-warp of hung-over images, legal complications and bad karma. Like a tired deja-vu flashback of earlier ‘straight-world’ complications a last-minute Council veto means that a free gig for the Broughtons – organised by Granada TV in Stoke, has to be hastily transferred to another location. While through October they return to the site of their earlier anarcho-forays in Germany for a fifteen date tour, their first since the lifting of the two year ban, during which the group van blows out and has to be abandoned in Frankfurt. Then 1974 sees a Roundhouse concert embellished by their concession to Alice Cooper-style visuals – stomping on flurries of cellophane butterflies! And this is the act they take with them on their first American tour.

But as they get back a series of management problems conspire to temporarily bring a halt to their recording and performing, and the first – inevitable, Broughton split is announced 19 November 1976. Finis. Yet a long and determined hang-over of projects and reformations continue, including their final big-label album – ‘Bandages’ (1975, NEMS NEL 6006), and the intriguing ‘Parlez Vous English’ (1979, reissued Eclectic Discs ECLCD1034) with its more complex history. Recording as ‘The Broughtons’ they temporarily resume in 1979 as a six-piece, the original trio expanded to include Pete Tolson – another one-time Pretty Thing, John Thomas, and Richard DeBaston. The resulting album achieves its initial release through the Swiss ‘Interhandel’ Indie to coincide with European live dates, although a single from the set – “All I Want To Be”, contrives a UK release through EMI in a picture sleeve artfully mocking the then-current Sex Pistols product. Who was it who’d originally declared an intention of ‘burning EMI down’ anyway?

Later there was a reversion to trio format for a further single – “Ancient Homeland”, from ‘Sheet’, a Songwriter’s Workshop label. And although the promotional artwork shows them shorn of their extravagant hair in a style more acceptable to the 1980’s, its ironic attack on patriotism indicates that – lyrically, they’ve lost none of their political bite. An album called ‘Superchild’ arrives in 1982 (there are probably others I’ve failed to track down, if so – why not let me know?), but by this time the CD re-issue program is about to go back to the murky beginnings of it all, and start resurrecting the battered Broughton legacy. Even though, to reviewer Monty Smith of ‘Q’ magazine, ‘the notion of the Broughtons on CD is kind of cute... their records were more likely to be played on Dansettes in squats than on stereos in suburbia. If at all.’ Yet – even into the early nineties there are tales circulating that Edgar can still be found performing part-time as a component of a late-sixties revival show, and on the London pub circuit.

The ‘Counter-Culture’ invented itself as it was happening. Extemporised it. Sure, there had been Anarchists and Romantic Poet Revolutionaries, Jazz Be-Boppers and Beat Generation Bohemians before it, but nothing on this scale. Nothing quite like this – ever. It was happening for the first time. And, like I said, the British ‘Underground’ – Incredible String Band, Pink Floyd, ‘Nasty Tales’, Hawkwind, ‘Frendz’, the Deviants – and the Broughton Band, might have started out as an often distorted ‘Through-The Looking-Glass Mirror-Image’ of what they imagined was happening in the San Francisco Haight-Ashbury area, or New York’s Greenwich Village, or MC5’s Detroit. Yet Hippies instantly became Global.

And it was this skewed misapprehension, this accidental Chinese-whispers altering of nuance and emphasis that gives each scene its uniqueness. And now, with Hippie Head-shop ephemera demanding collector’s prices – posters, magazines, and vinyl albums, those frequent reservations about the Edgar Broughton Band are frequently outweighed by affection, and in retrospect the whole thing even acquires its own internal, if shambling, consistency. One that was seldom apparent at the time. And strangely, I find myself enjoying those Urbane Guerrilla’s album in retrospect more now than I ever enjoyed their oddly assorted component cuts then.

Out, Demons, Out…



AS WAS’ (Dec 1988 - 90 min 20-track compilation, EMI Harvest GDP7 909632)


OUT DEMONS OUT: THE BEST OF THE EDGAR BROUGHTON BAND’ (EMI Harvest 7243-5-31067-2-0) 2001 CD compilation

SUPERCHIP… PLUS’ (1981 - SEECD 464) Concept album about the ‘silicon revolution’, with tracks ‘Metal Sunday’, ‘Superchip’, ‘Who Only Fade Away’, ‘Curtain Outrageous Behaviour’, ‘Not So Funny Farm’, ‘Night Hogs’, ‘Pratfall’, ‘Overdose’, ‘Do You Want To Be Immortal’, ‘Subway Information’, ‘Last Electioneer’, ‘Ancient Homeland’, ‘Innocent Bystanders’ and ‘Fourteen The Virus’

Published in:
A draft version of this feature originally appeared,
in a different form, in ‘LIQUORICE no.3’ (UK - October 1975)
Edit: Martin Jones’ (Headpress) (UK – June 2005)

Thursday, 22 October 2015

The Science Fiction Of JOHN LYMINGTON


John Richard Newton Chance, 
known to the Science Fiction world as 
 ‘John Lymington’ – 1911 to 1983 

As in all good soap operas, the action is firmly centred on the village pub – the ‘White Lion’, where the characters make their entrances and exits. ‘Nothing is based upon fact’ explains John Lymington helpfully, ‘except the name of the inn.’ Landlord Richard Callum is also a writer of James Bond-style secret-agent thrillers. How has he managed to write so many books? Perhaps autobiographically, he responds ‘I’m forty-four, which is no chick age’ and ‘I started very early.’ To stretch a point, if we are talking about his ‘Night Of The Big Heat’ here, that would mean he was writing it in 1955. For the novel was published, by Hodder & Stoughton, in 1959, then in Corgi paperback edition in 1961. But that’s speculation, for Lymington – born John Richard Newton Chance in 1911 in London’s Streatham Hill, was churning out a vast number of novels in a variety of popular genres, since at least 1935. According to his autobiography ‘Yellow Belly’ (Robert Hale, 1959), in 1944 he was invalided out of the RAF where he’d served as flying instructor, retaining his permanent Flight Lieutenant’s rank. This enabled him even greater writing time.

Meanwhile, Callum’s wife, Frankie has taken the car fourteen miles to Yarmouth, so their unidentified island must be the Isle of Wight, and the pub the one that Chance himself managed from 1956, with wife Shirley neè Savill and their three sons. While Patricia Wells is the flighty typist the agency has sent to help Callum’s stalled work on his latest novel. She appears to be modeled on, say, Audrey Hepburn, acute, lively intelligence, just a playful hint of ‘the tingle of sex’, which leads him to kiss her.

The various rural yokels at the bar complain of the ‘queer heat’. It’s the eighteenth of June and its unnatural intensity has been increasing for a week. This is a novel of its time. They blame sputniks and atomic testing for the abrupt climate-change, but although they hoe potatoes and speak in fractured dialect (uttering ‘it’s moi sheep. They all be dead’ in the film version), they’ve spent years stationed in the Burmese jungle, the Western Desert, Mandalay. They are the war generation.

There’s a token sinister stranger – Harsen, who books a room at the Inn, from which mysterious buzzing machine noises can be heard. And there’s a young Air Force lad from the radar station on ‘the Point’ who tells them about the strange blips their screens have been picking up. There’s also the vicar from the Saxon church, who would probably be played by a bumbling tipsy Derek Nimmo. And drunken Bob Franker who claims he saw a ‘flying saucer’ crewed by giant spiders in a ‘drunken dream’. There’s also Vernon Stone in his horn-rimmed spectacles, not so much a science writer, as an occasional contributor of science-based ‘space-stuff’ features to SF magazines – a kind of ‘Kenneth Johns’ of ‘New Worlds’. Although he’s writing ‘an article about the Martian canals’, it’s he who first suggests that the intolerable heat-levels are due to cosmic interference, and propounds some odd ideas about the interrelationship of all organic matter – ‘remember, a million years is but a night in the span of life on Earth.’ And ‘scientific research proceeds and often disproves some basis upon which the later finding was based.’ The kind of bland generalization that passes for profound in cheap fiction.

Then an ‘elongated blob’ lands in the field behind the church. There are scares and scratching noises in the dark. Harsen – still a little sinister, turns out to be a kind of UFO-ologist or conspiracy theorist who believes the heat is caused by creatures being transmitted down to the island by ‘materialising beam’, and ‘reassembled by very short radio waves.’ A kind of beam-me-down technology. Harsen investigates strange goings-on in the local chalk-pit, reporting his commentary back by radio in a sequence obviously designed to be adapted into a BBC Light Programme thriller. While, like all the best 1950s black-and-white horror movies, the monsters remain off-screen, a menacing presence, more terrible for being imagined. As though Lymington always had screenplay options in mind, offering low-budget, picturesque sets in a quaint village. Cheaper to produce than ‘Quatermass’!

If the book was purposely slanted towards the broadcast medium, it was a strategy that paid off. For ‘Night Of The Big Heat’ was filmed twice. The first, a 1960 ITV ‘Play Of The Week’ adaptation relocated the setting to a village on Salisbury Plain. Directed by Cyril Coke the screenplay was by Giles Cooper. The ‘Observer’ reviewer called it ‘a poor man’s ‘Quatermass’, more than a bit crude – yet remarkably good sport.’ The second, ‘Night Of The Big Heat’ (Planet Films, 1967) was a 94-minute UK feature film directed by Terence Fisher – retitled ‘Island Of The Burning Damned’ for US release. With the action this time switched to chill winter on the remote Scottish island of Farah, it features Patrick Allen (as ‘Jeff’ Callum) with his real-life wife Sarah Lawson (as wife Jackie), plus the impeccable duo of Christopher Lee (as Hanson/ Harsen) and Peter Cushing (as Vernon Stone).

And all the while, the heat just gets hotter. John Lymington had astutely hopped onto the SF scene in the wake of John Wyndham’s mainstream success with ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ (1951) and ‘The Kraken Wakes’ (1953). John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris had been contributing to the Pulp magazines under variant forms of his convoluted name since that same 1935 dateline. But his ‘cosy disaster’ novels were published under the respectable Penguin imprint, and achieved massive critical and commercial success. Writer Sam Youd was quick to take advantage of the window that Wyndham had opened up, and as ‘John Christopher’ found a ready market for his eco-disaster novels ‘The Death Of Grass’ (Michael Joseph, 1955) and ‘The World In Winter’ (1962). ‘Night Of The Big Heat’ was consciously jumping this trend, pitched at a less elevated level maybe, but within its frames of reference it worked spectacularly well. Brian Stableford suggests that even the name ‘Lymington’ was chosen ‘in a blatant attempt to cash in’ on Wyndham’s popularity’ (in his ‘Historical Dictionary Of Science Fiction Literature’). While to critic John Clute, Lymington didn’t work ‘at the imaginative level of his predecessors (and possible models) John Wyndham and John Christopher’, and on a downbeat note, that he ‘writes with some verve, but little style’ (in Peter Nicholls’ ‘The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’).

When both Harsen and Vernon Stone are killed off in what some would deem developments in a group-jeopardy plot, the rest of the team set off in an old Ford Roadster. They travel through a hot darkness filled with the hushing sounds of unseen alien movement. Yet all the themes come down to conjecture, as they start working on the idea that aliens are probing the area with beam-technology using experimental test-creatures in the way that early human space-shots used an unfortunate chimp or space-dog Laika. Surely this contradicts Bob Franker’s earlier flying saucer story? Either his sighting can be rationalized as a hysteria-induced hallucination… or a Lymington continuity-lapse?

Ultimately the heat generated by the radio waves causes its own destruction when fields and trees ignite in a wall of flame, causing the still-unseen monsters to pop ‘like lice on a fire.’ Evidently Lymington expects us to recognize what this sounds like. For the film version – requiring more visual action, the characters deliberately ignite bales of hay and use dynamite to achieve the same ends. Until the novel closes, as it began, in the ‘White Lion’, as a timely rain-deluge fortuitously extinguishes the blaze. For John Lymington, this novel was about as high-profile as it gets.

There were subsequent novels. The immediate follow-up, ‘The Giant Stumbles’ (1960), also centres on an isolated motley group faced by vast menace. There’s a chain-reaction series of unnatural highly-localised storms – ‘like a man breathing with no lungs.’ Nigel ‘Ni’ Orson Rhodes is a famous scientific writer with an idyllic marriage to ‘Hal’ Harriet, and three sons, teen love-interest Joe (18), Harry (10) and John (6). They live in a great semi-circular white bungalow where he works in a study nicknamed ‘The (Looney) Bin’ by skeptical local villagers.

Rhodes’ guests include Leila, European representative for US magazine ‘Wednesday’ who calls her contributing writers ‘children of volatility’, plus ruthlessly shrewd newspaper publisher Rex Hason, and creepy bespectacled mathematician Benstead of the Almos Radio Observatory (a conflation of Los Alamos?) who uses its ‘electronic computer’ to check out Rhodes figures concerning ‘the queer thing.’ This confirms that ‘the sum total of all nuclear fission has created a charge within the earth’s composition, in just the same way as electricity can be charged in a storage battery.’ This will cause a gravitational pause, ‘a stumble, as it were… a thing infinitesimally minute in the progress of this planet, yet to us a thing so gigantic we can only start to imagine it.’

During their Long Goodbye, facing the end of civilization as gravity momentarily blips out, they endlessly debate the wisdom of publishing a warning. Career-woman Leila flirts with Nigel, Benstead suicides, Leila connives with Rex who sets out to silence Nigel, and Nigel attempts to alert the Defense Minister. Eventually the nucleus around Rhodes’ family use his derided dream-project barge called ‘Elly’, or ‘Daddys White Elephant’ to ride out the apocalypse, also carrying Harry’s zoo of pets, Noah-style. It’s wiser to skip the quasi-biblical allusions. Roland Emmerich’s film ‘2012’ (2009) takes and massively CGI inflates a similar theme – provoked by neutrino-storms cataclysmic Earth crust displacement destroys civilization, as survivors escape in giant arks. Although there can be little more than the most tenuous analogy between the two works.

When he died in 1983 an obituary in Dave Langford’s ‘Ansible’ (No.38) credits John Richard Newton Chance with writing over 150 novels ‘including twenty+ SF potboilers’, adding that he ‘made a steady income by delivering thrillers to (publisher) Robert Hale at a chapter a week.’ So he was one of a generation of writers who made their fiction viable by prolific speed and volume, rather than by striving to conform to more literary critiques. His were the kind of books you stumble upon while browsing through the crammed shelves of musty secondhand bookshops. The kind you speed-read in an hour, then toss them aside with a grunt of satisfaction. But that’s no small achievement. That’s more than enough.

(1 January 1911- 3 August 1983): 


1960 – ‘THE GIANT STUMBLES’ (Hodder & Stoughton)

1960 – ‘THE GREY ONES’ To critic John Clute, ‘much of (Lymington’s) subsequent work has been a series of routine variations on the theme of alien or natural menace to Earth,’ his ‘use of genuine science is minimal and most of his books (many of which feature monsters) operate at the level of B-grade SF/Horror films, where menace strikes unexpectedly into a lazy, rural setting’ (in Peter Nicholls’ ‘The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’)

1961 – ‘THE COMING OF STRANGERS’, ‘A Rustling In The Night, And Then Death, Horrible And Sudden’, ghostly appearances, footprints in the sand, and furniture knocked over, herald the presence of an unseen invasion

1962 – ‘A SWORD ABOVE THE NIGHT’ (reissued by MacFadden-Bartell Books, 1971)

1963 – ‘THE SLEEP EATERS’ (Corgi, 3/6d), ‘James Colvin’ (Michael Moorcock) in ‘New Worlds no.147’ (February 1965) is not impressed, writing that it ‘is no better, no worse than his usual novels. I find him dull’

1963 – ‘THE SCREAMING FACE’ (Corgi, 3/6d) according to Hilary Bailey in ‘New Worlds no.153’ (August 1965) this is ‘an end of the world story in the form of a diary written for posterity by one of the men who knows the horrid secret. As the big saw comes nearer and nearer the writer becomes increasingly tormented by the question of whether he loves his wife or her sister and whom his wife loves. Only in the last thirty pages does the eternal quadrangle, played out in one of those detective-story English villages, give way to the author’s real plot – planetary revelations, skin-saving in high places and guys fighting to get into the spacecraft’

1964 – ‘FROOMB!’ (Hodder), a time-traveller sees his own future. When explorer John Brunt, a tough, womanising adventurer, agrees to make the last exploration left to man, he cannot calculate the spiritual and physical terrors that await him. This is a story of the Future and of Now. Brunt find there is no escape from either. He finds he cannot shake off the seeds of destruction he takes with him to the years beyond Now. But does destruction come? There must be escape somewhere, somehow. But where? How?

1964 – ‘THE NIGHT SPIDERS’ (Corgi) ‘Twenty-Eight Tales Of Terror From The Imaginative Mind Of John Lymington’ including “Battle Of Wills”, “Easy With Music”, “Moving House” and “Threepenny To Mars”. James Colvin (Michael Moorcock) in ‘New Worlds no.144’ (Sept-October 1964) writes ‘though these stories are in the Corgi SF series, virtually none are SF – they’re ghost stories and very, very bad ones’

1965 – ‘THE STAR WITCHES’ (Hodder) ‘From Another World… A World That Wanted To Possess, Destroy, a man has been experimenting to make contact with the outer world. One night he disappears – to become the master of the forces he has unleashed, or their first victim? ‘She put her hands over her ears and stared at the silent man on the camp-bed. They had not touched her. He was breathing, but very slowly, so slowly that they had not noticed it at first. There were wires attached to his head by a structure like earphones. They ran under the bed and disappeared into the darkness beneath’



1967 – ‘TEN MILLION YEARS TO FRIDAY’, the multiplication of the speed of light imposes a resurrection of the distant past upon the modern world

1968 – ‘THE LIGHT BENDERS’ written as by ‘Jonathan Chance’



1972 – ‘THE YEAR DOT’










THE NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT’ (ITV ‘Play Of The Week’ broadcast 14 June 1960), produced for the Associated-Rediffusion Network by Cyril Coke, ninety-minutes in black and white, with Lee Montague (as Richard), Melissa Stribling (as Patricia), Sally Bazely (as Frankie), Bernard Cribbins (as Cpl Pearce), plus Bernard Archard, Karel Stepanek, Patrick Holt and June Ellis. In a tack-on ending not in the novel, the cunning invaders next switch their target to the Sahara Desert. The ‘Daily Telegraph’ reviewer says ‘the warning that it was unsuitable for adults of a nervous disposition was highly necessary – I was positively limp at the end and so were the hard-working, sweat-soaked cast’

THE NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT’ aka ‘Island Of The Burning Damned’ (1967, Planet Films, DVD by Simply Media, 2004), directed by Terence Fisher, starring Peter Cushing, Sarah Lawson, and Kenneth Cope (as Tinker). Screenplay by Ronald Liles, with additional dialogue by Pip and Jane Baker. Music by Malcolm Lockyer. Christopher Lee (Hanson) collects specimens and photos of UFO landings from ‘where the cosmic gasses ferment,’ he listens to the BBC Home Service weather forecast, and predicts that Earth will soon become ‘another hot planet… like so many others in the constellation.’ The Patricia Wells character becomes Angela Roberts (played by Jane Merrow), former mistress of Callum (Patrick Allen) who accuses her ‘you were no untouched virgin before we met.’ The aliens, beamed down through radar scanners, ‘resemble giant luminous fried eggs’ and are destroyed – not by fire as in the book, but by ‘the Triffid effect’ of dissolving in the rain. Writers David Miller and Mark Gatiss say ‘you can’t apply the word ‘abysmal’ to many films in this book, but it’s the only word to describe ‘Night Of The Big Heat’’ (in ‘They Came From Outer Space’, 1996, Visual Imagination)

John Richard Newton Chance also wrote a vast number of crime thrillers as John Nelson Chance, from his debut novel ‘Wheels In The Forest’ (Gollancz, 1935) through to ‘A Tale Of Tangled Ladies’ (Hale, 1989). He also wrote six novels in the ‘Bunst’ series – children’s stories featuring eccentric inventor Audacious Cotterell and his youthful assistant Bunstuffer, including ‘The Black Ghost’ (1947) as David C Newton, and ‘Bunst And The Brown Voice’ (1950) as John Newton Chance. Writing as John Drummond he wrote a series of War titles for the Amalgamated Press ‘Thriller Library’, and Detective crime-fiction under the Desmond Reid house-name for the ‘Sexton Blake’ series (including ‘Anger At World’s End’)