Archive for December, 2010

The Italian Job

December 31, 2010 3 comments

Modernism, mod, Michael Caine: a whole British cool of the 1960s bottled, its sophistication showed off. Even casual misogyny is cool here. 

Is there any architecture in this film apart from London Georgian, Turin Baroque, and late Modernism?

It’s a reminder of what the Barbican, the new hotels, the shopping centres, Coventry, Plymouth and arterial roads looked like to many at the time. The patina of our age has cast a dire eye over them, an eye so dire that it forgets that to many at the time could be sleek utopian dreams, and a rational reaction to a past discredited by its own blitzs, a future rescued by sleek technologies. Both are patinas: there is no guarantee that the future won’t love these modernisms as much as the present loves the other aspects of 60s culture. No wonder Michael Caine is a couinousser of Techno.


December 31, 2010 Leave a comment

Another test of my RSS link to Facebook!

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The British Reggae Revolution

December 29, 2010 4 comments

Stumbled on a wonderful programme today by Don Letts,, documenting the story of British reggae. Letts noted the enormous impact of British reggae on white British rock, and is not the first to point out that people like Madness, the Police and UB40 seemed mysteriously able to get sales and radio play in far higher numbers than their black bredren; nor of the important overlaps between punk and post-punk and British reggae.

His job, of course, was to record an important first-generation immigrant story rather than document its impact on ‘indigenous’ white culture. But one point wasn’t made about this that certainly echoes my own experience: ‘white’ British music in the late 1970s was many things – omniverous, experimental, angry/isolated, often as inspired as it was amateurish – but spirituality was not on its emotional radar. For many of us, this gap was filled by roots reggae, with its strong influence from Rastafarianism, and the discovery that there was a pop music that was also cross with the world, experimental and inspired — but which heartily embraced its own form of mysticism — was a very important one.

The ramifications of this are considerable: I wonder, for example, how many white Britons first discovered both the riches of the Old Testament and the significance of Black consciousness and Black history via the music of Misty in Roots, the Congos and Burning Spear. But among other things, I’d suggest the results were crucial in their turn to the coining of a British music of black origin which transmuted the emotional intensity of religious feeling into an equally deeply felt reaction to the realities of urban Britain.

To these ears, that transmutation can first be heard in the extraordinary final minutes of the Clash’s cover of Police and Thieves (CBS, 1977), where Joe Strummer scats about bombed tube stations as if he is witnessing the coming Armagideon Time (as well as serving time on the Clash’s own early three-chord anger-posed-thrash). And it reaches its apogee on their (White Man) in Hammersmith Palais (CBS, 1978), which takes the strangeness and uncanny depth of Lee Perry and recoins it for an age of uncertainty, a religion of faithlessness, the spirituality of lonely Saturday nights in W11. This is decades before people like Tricky and musics like Drum n’Bass and Dubstep made an entire genre out of the urban sublime, the violent concrete epiphany of the car park and the drum machine.

The great circuit

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

The chalk is split by our valley, and the great circuit takes me up both sides, wheels crunching the powdery snow as I climb. At Smeathe’s Ridge the sun comes out, giving a curve to the scarp, a curve softened by the hazy near-thaw light; and the bowl of land beyond is backlit. The ruts of the Old Coach Road are a skating rink, a suicide note to my wheels, the ground as hard as lead: through Four Mile Clump, and down past drifts bisected by four-wheel drives to the old barn, and then down again, across a field easier to traverse than any right of way, wheels sinking deep until they turn no more.

The church in the valley is open for a change. Hatchments, soft light, yellow stone, the great barrow in the churchyard.

Then up the other side, along thorny ways, shocking birds from their desperate feeding places, shadowed by a kestrel, alarmed by my breaching of his hunting ground. This side of the valley is different: wooded, not open; settled and timbered in a scattered way, a nest of forgotten footpaths and byways. Flints embedded in clay. Ice so deep in ruts the wheel skate over them; and I head for home, down the old Roman road, following the 6 inch trail of shattered ice revealing tarmac, balancing speed and control until I reach home in the valley bottom.

test again

December 24, 2010 1 comment

5am. baby in one arm. does this facebook feed work?

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Facebook link

December 24, 2010 4 comments

Just linked this blog to my Facebook page. Does it work? Test post.

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Smeathe’s Ridge

December 21, 2010 1 comment

I push hard and far over the Down, leaving behind the kids and their sledges. The chalk has grown white skin, as if the grass was shaved away; the ruts are filled and hard and the bike moves easily over them until drifts bog it down. Great lungfulls of freezing air and then the ridge: empty, endless, from here to Four Mile Clump a great frozen opening.

The glories of post-punk

December 16, 2010 1 comment

In 1978 there was nothing that seemed more immoral — apart from flared trousers — than liking music made as little as three or four years earlier. And at least that music was made with ambition and pretension, the kinds of things that one might have thought at least aimed to last. Yet here am I no less than thirty years later, and the three-minute anti-art throwaway glories of those years are as scintillating, sustaining and inspiring now as they were then. The Subway Sect’s Dontsplitit (Braik B-side, 1978) is Pollock plugged in, a workout in abstract expressionist noise-beauty. New Order’s Ceremony (Factory, 1980): I remember waiting for weeks to get my hands on the first post-Joy Division release; here it is now, with its curiously thrilling loping ringing bass, and quiet yearning about avenues all lined with trees. I’m so proud of those boys from Macc, who with little contact with the Academy found they could make beauty together. Wire, oh God, Wire… has anyone got closer to turning William Blake into a three minute pop song than Outdoor Miner (Harvest, 1978)?

I could go on for a long time. But perhaps two minutes 98 seconds is all one needs to say anything.

Xmas tree

December 11, 2010 Leave a comment

A live evergreen tree, hauled up the stairs and set up in the living room, smeared and daubed with baubles. Standing there, resinous with pine, an alive (just) presence in the room. Living with the thing daily, watching it shine at night. The fact that we, post-religious, blanded out, consumer-led, do this thing as if it were as natural and obvious as breathing.  Which it is, in a world where everything green has gone brown and hard, and the light shrinks away daily. Its tribal, anthropological, vital, an ordinary lifeline to what matters.

St Mary Redcliffe

December 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Proud, stately, yet lopsided athwart the crumbling Red Cliff itself, tunnelled-under, bypassed. In I go, the great vaulted cross bathed in light. Down into the strong room, a Victorian bowel sealed by a giant safe door; then up I go, circling the rising newel, then out and down, into the dark, dry, crouch-high roof space above the aisles, where secrets lie in wait: abandoned chunks of lost vaults, worked stones of preceding churches in the murk. And up again, until I float above Bristol, an epiphanous frost-heavy Gormenghast, walking among the pointed geometry of the pinnacles, high above the city, only the spire, high on entitlement, for company.