Huis Clos: 17 July 2017

My first night in London after the conference I went to a much anticipated show where I finally got to meet Richard Sanderson of Linear Obsessional Recordings and hear him play. It was great! We had fun chatting before and after the performance (Mr B’s ears must have been ringing¬†burning ūüėČ heh). The performance was utterly absorbing and the space, Iklectik, was really terrific and completely unexpected–goats in central London! Also, there were unexpected Blake mosaics. I was chatting with a friend of Richard’s after and it struck me why I find this kind of music so appealing at present: it requires all your attention without words. Anything that quiets my overbusy brain is good. More pix on FB of course.

Huis Clos: an evening exploring the subtleties of larger group improvisation (first as a whole, then as two ensembles)

Ed Lucas: trombone
Antonio Acunzo: piano
Joe Wright: saxophone
Jordan Muscatello: double bass
Richard Sanderson: Melodeon
Dan Powell: electronics
James O’Sullivan: electric guitar
Chris Prosser: violin



Downtown Boys, Dangbats and More

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The weekend was a little too Edna, but I had a grand time running off to Connecticut to see the Fabulous QoE (and chill at the Jezebel Lounge), Marko (and distract him during his radio show), fellow SpeakEasy dame Lys Guillorn as half of the Dangbats and the amazing Downtown Boys. See some awesome photos from this amazing show by Roxanne Pandolfi. History, babies — you gotta be part of it.

Scottish Night at Albany Symphony

Colin Currie, David Allen Miller & Julia Wolfe

Colin Currie, David Alan Miller & Julia Wolfe

As I idle along in my way, seemingly random and directionless at times, I nonetheless manage to be in the right place at the right time more often than one might reasonably expect. Friday night that was true, as I went with the delightful Mary Browne to see the ‘Scottish Night” with the Albany Symphony at the Palace Theatre, thanks to the kindness of Ruthy Baines, a woman of indefatigable spirit. 2015-01-17 18.23.50The evening started with an artist talk with percussionist Colin Currie and composer Julia Wolfe, led with great energy by music director Miller. I joked with Mary later that I imagined him springing out of bed each morning, shouting “Oh boy, a new day!” You know how I love percussion, so it was great to hear how Wolfe (whom I knew from Bang on a Can) came to write this piece for Currie which combines her love of history with her knowledge of folk and urban music within a classical setting. Not since Evelyn Glennie (what is it with Scots and percussion, eh?) have I seen a percussionist with such bravura. They collaborated closely on riSE and fLY, a body concerto, because so much of it is played on Colin’s body. The concert began with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies‘ evocation of a wedding taking place in his chosen home, Orkney. ‘An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise’ was simply mesmerising and captured the narrative beautifully, from the opening bad weather, the gathering of the guests, the band tuning up, playing while the night got wilder and the guests and band drunker — then everybody making their way home in the wee hours and finally, sunrise. It was just magic. Not as austere as you might think of Davies in general; the final touch of the lone piper, David Weeda, really capped off the performance perfectly. I was so excited about the Wolfe piece and it was just as thrilling as expected. If you’re addicted the musicality of sound it’s always wonderful to hear unusual aural collisions.¬†Julia Wolfe has created a piece that sounds like a walk through New York City on a warm day with the theme of body percussion. Colin Currie was rubbing his hands together, slapping his chest and arms, snapping his fingers, clapping his hands, sometimes augmented by the orchestra, sometimes not. There’s a huge solo at the end of the first part that’s just him. There was a moment in the solo that was meant to be a space of silence and outside the theatre a siren wailed in the distance — it was perfect! The second half Currie moved to a drum set made of buckets and trash cans. They had joked about it at the pre-concert talk, talking about how guest musicians demanded specific instruments and Currie had not been happy with the bass ‘drum’ and ended up replacing it with one of the Palace’s own bins. Like all the drummers down in the subway with their bucket assortments, it had that familiar sound, raw against the sweep of the orchestra who had to practice stomping along with the percussionist. It was simply exhilarating. I loved it. So is it any wonder that poor Mendelssohn felt a little shopworn at the end? I’m sure there were some symphony fans who didn’t like the newer pieces as much as this old favourite and to be sure, the orchestra played it with as much energy and delight as could be. This ensemble has a brightness in its style that shines through. But the Davies piece was so evocative and the Wolfe one just so exciting, it wasn’t possible to compete. We left on a high that the icy blast of the arctic wind outside could not dispel. I’ve neglected the Albany Symphony to my dismay. I will have to amend that, especially if they include such dynamic programming. And it’s always a delight to immerse yourself in the Baroque splendors of the Palace. 2015-01-17 19.12.36

Kinski Butterfly

Richard Sanderson is doing another one of his free-for-all projects Two Minutes Left¬†over at Linear Obsessional Recordings (Submissions open until December 15th). I took part in last year’s Button Box with a spoken word piece from my story “Carlos” that appears in the second Fox Pockets anthology, Shapeshifters. That recording is free to download:

So I thought I’d do another piece, which came about in the usual sort of odd way. There was visiting the Kinski Bar, which I loved so very much and which still fills my head. There’s Fitzcarraldo and its mirror Burden of Dreams, or what you might call the magic and how mad the magic making is. And there was this video of Kinski with a butterfly, which comes from Mein Liebster Feind, Werner Herzog’s singular tribute to his frequent collaborator. Then I found that the German for ‘butterfly’ (der Schemetterling) according to the Wicktionary (well…) comes “from Schmetten (‘cream’) due to old belief that witches transformed themselves into butterflies to steal cream and other milk products.”

Well, that was irresistible.

So I came up with a submission–and in German! “Kinski Butterfly” is more of a poem than a song, I fear. It stole a bit from thinking about opera because of Fitzcarraldo, and from Marlene and Weill — trying to do something in that sort of vein with my, erm, very limited abilities. But that’s how my brain works (if it does). Once I see a thing in my head, I want to make it real. Every random thing that’s caught my attention might show up. It’s all part of the process. Everything, however seemingly random or insignificant (or immense and significant), that goes in my head becomes part of the creative process. And I end up doing rather frightening things that I never thought I’d try — I know it’s not exactly leaping from a tall building, but sometimes the little braveries have a big impact on one’s own life.

We’ll see how it turns out once Richard releases the collection on Xmas Eve.

Music for Writers

Fall Fans

Wild claims from MES

Do you write with music?

Frank Duffy asked me to be a part of a project over at the Horrifically Horrifying Horror blog looking at how (or if) writers use music for writing. I get to appear with a bunch of heavy hitters including Lisa Tuttle, Dennis Etchison, Christopher Fowler, Steve Rasnic Tem, Howard Linskey and the lovely Mr B.

Yes, you will not be surprised to hear I write about The Fall — but about a lot more, too!

There’s a wide variety of responses. Ian Ayris talks about needing complete silence — until he was stuck on a final, pivotal scene for his novel and then music helped him over the sudden block. Tim Grimwood recalls how his dark imagination was unlocked by a modern interpretation of Macbeth that included Black Sabbath as a soundtrack. It seems Stephen Bacon shares my love of story songs.

A lot of folks speak of their love for soundtracks: they are good stuff. Often it’s easier to write to something without lyrics. The music buoys you over the words in your head, while singing might actually distract you from them.

Do you use music while you write? Why not drop by and add your voice to the conversation:

Music of the Night: Writers on Writing to Music, collected by Frank Duffy

Good-bye, Kevin Ayers

(via Getty Images)

(via Getty Images)

I was distressed to hear on Twitter yesterday that Kevin Ayers had died. Marc Riley broke the news on Radio 6. As with any ‘celebrity’ death, it was interesting (in that detached way writers have) to see how and where the news spread across social media. When news of Richard Briers‘ death came, it was wonderful to see how nigh on universally he was loved. Ayers didn’t have the same level of fame, but it’s been gratifying to see how many friends thought fondly of him.

He was a unique performer with a laid back style who seemed to have little interest in the professional side of the music industry and as soon as he could manage it, went off to live in France where he could live as he pleased without attention. As the MOJO remembrance puts it:

Kevin Ayers possessed a voice like no other, intrinsically British and full of whimsy and mischief. This latter quality animated much of his life as well as his music.

But it’s the music that matters most. And we still have that, to inspire and to enjoy. Here are some of my faves:






Henry Rollins at the Egg

At 51, Henry Rollins remains awe inspiring. It’s not just the tautly muscled physique or the fearless spirit of adventure. It’s the hard-nosed insistence on a no-holds-barred optimism. Yeah, the angry voice of punk — decades on — speaks just as loudly, passionately and uncompromisingly as ever.

He just does it to a bunch of old geezers in a nice auditorium that would never have let Black Flag set foot inside it: the Kitty Carlisle Hart Theatre at the Egg. Savour for a moment that image: Kitty Carlisle Hart, the epitome of genteel and Henry Rollins meeting.

The thing is, it would have been fantastic. Rollins can have a conversation with anyone, anywhere in the world and Carlisle Hart always had such grace, she could probably do the same. And how they would talk!

Despite the theme of his tour, Rollins eschewed direct political discussion (‘I’m not going to stand up here and tell you how to vote’) but having been immersed in reading about Abraham Lincoln lately, it coloured much of what he had to say (and became a clear rebuke of what the Grand Old Party has devolved into) and that he always referred to Obama as ‘my president’ left no doubt as to his allegiances. He saw Lincoln as someone with an eye on the long tail; unlike the current Republicans who seem to favour a scorched earth policy (literally, alas), to get in, rip out all your can, frack it if you can’t and then leave to enjoy your offshore accounts, Rollins himself offered a model of close-to-the-bone existence. His tour group is small; his merchandise is reasonably priced; he requires few frills.

He spoke of the disorientation of returning to his ‘mancave’ in Los Angeles, but can’t seem to remain stationary for long, because he has to be out on the road, meeting new people. And that’s where the optimism shines. Rollins decided to make a tour to all the places Dubya said ‘hated our freedom’ (and wow, he does a disturbingly good impression of Dubya) on his own, just to see for himself if they did. His icebreaker, when people looked at him suspiciously and asked, ‘Why are you here?’: ‘Hi, I’m Henry and I’m here just to meet YOU!’ It never failed to get a smile. His honesty and directness works with the countless fans he meets too, and he told sometimes heartbreaking stories of how they’ve touched him.

Keep up the good work, old man.


I am kind of flabbergasted by the kind words from Graham Joyce about our conversation at Alt.Fiction on the Extremely Dangerous Fairy Folk andfor¬† putting me in such fine company as Claire Massey and my lovely friend, Maura McHugh. I shouldn’t be surprised by random kindness; maybe it’s the effect of being back in the States, where hatred seems to have been made a virtue, proof of a kind of ‘manliness’ (appropriated by women, too) that pooh-poohs rape and that defines leadership as heedlessly crushing the most vulnerable and rattling sabres they (and their strapping young offspring) will never have to wield.