British Library: Punk + Bard

My last full day in London I headed over to the British Library to catch the Punk exhibit. On the way, I nodded to Saint Jerome‘s holy place:

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It was quite gratifying to see PUNK emblazoned across that bastion of quiet intellectual historicism, though it reminded me of the line from that much-treasured film which I think was called What is Creativity? that we saw in 6th and 7th grade and then I have not been able to locate even though it has John Astin in it.

In the sequence that shows the history of art, there’s an exchange between two snakes (or maybe worms?) that goes something like:

Snake 1: Do you realise that radical ideas that threaten institutions eventually become institutionalised and in turn reject radical ideas?

Snake 2: No.

Snake 1: Oh, for a minute there,  I thought I had something.

This film has stuck with me. That idea, too, has stuck with me.

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It was kind of glorious to see this in the lobby gallery of the venerable British Library. On the other hand, there was nothing much interesting that you hadn’t seen a millions times (well, I hadn’t anyway) and yes, the overarching impression was that punk was white and male. Here’s the ‘chicks’ corner:

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I want to see that documentary on the women in punk. The snippets were tantalising. But the rest, meh. The shop — well, there was nothing there you’d want to buy. It was kind of embarrassing really. I was so glad to hear that Viv Albertine took it upon herself to make some corrections. Rahr!

So feeling dispirited — even the Beowulf manuscript was not on display! — and it being too early to head to my next destination, I decided to go to the ‘Shakespeare in Ten Acts’ exhibit in the main gallery. And I’m SO very glad I did — how energising!

This display focused on the performance history of Shakespeare’s works. Coming from the lit side of things, there is so much I don’t know about the practicalities of performance. I remain grateful for sitting in on the course at the Globe back in ’99 because I learned so much (besides, the Globe remains the only theatre where I have trod the boards). It starts with the Globe and Greene’s famous sneer, then moves to Blackfriars. I am sooo longing to see a show at the restored indoor theatre. And it was a real epiphany to realise that The Tempest was at Blackfriars, not The Globe as I’d always pictured it, which in many ways makes it more amazing.

Even more now, I wish I could be there for one night (in case the Doctor reads this).

It’s exciting to see how the plays rippled out across the world: Hamlet on an East India Company ship anchored off the coast of Sierra Leone in 1607, in India, in Russia. The first woman to play a woman’s role (Desdemona in Othello) in 1660 broke one barrier: the first black actor, Ira Aldridge, played Romeo briefly in NY in 1822, then sailed to London in 1825 to debut as Othello. He was just 17.

The exhibit details the bard’s censors, forgers, actors and visionaries, including a room that recreates in small part Sally Jacob’s astonishing design for Peter Brook’s 1970 intoxicating incarnation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It really is inspiring.

Go if you can: it runs through September. You can get yourself an Elizabethan ruff necklace.

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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.

More Music Not to Miss

What am I listening to today? Here’s a couple of things. I’ve known Alan Savage for a while — probably a friend of Mr B‘s. He has a new collection out that captures the feel of summers gone by and even has some William Blake. It’s got me almost believing in the sun again:

I know I learned about Lys Guillorn from Julie Beman, who’s a fine musician in her own right. We’re going to hear Lys play this weekend at a Connecticut Swan Day event. How to describe this album? Lazy days, sort of country, werewolves, ghosts and vampires show up, mellow — and more summery, too. Maybe it will get warm again.

Oh, and must not forget: Downtown Boys! Stephanie and Marko have seen them play at Willimantic Records. Check out their 7″ and new single Monstro. Kick ass punk music!

Review: Furia by The Fates

Buy from Finders Keepers Records

FURIA

The Fates

Blurb:

Originally scheduled for release on Halloween 1985 this privately pressed all female post-punk/broken-folk collective concept LP was resurrected from the ashes of the original line-up of The Fall and Velvet Underground singer Nico’s Blue Orchids backing band at the command of pioneering Manchester female punk icon Una Baines before disappearing into the annals of UK punk purgatory.

Comprising all the DIY traits and snarling attitudes of Manchester’s smartarsed punk retaliation, with haunting mechanical folk, pastoral drones and a back story that unites sleeve artist Linder Sterling (Ludus), Spider King, Martin Hannett, Tony Baines, Martin Bramah and John Cooper Clarke with the 16th Century Pendle Witches, this virtually unknown LP is a vital missing piece in Manchester’s self-help anti-pop industry.  Lost in the ether, lauded by collectors and likened by Mark E. Smith to the Third Ear Band this unclassifiable arty-fact renders tags like Pagan punk utterly redundant.

Review:

I had heard of this LP but until I discovered Baines online I didn’t know it was getting a new release. What a pleasure! As the Quietus covers in their far-ranging review-cum-history, the death of Baines’ mother had a huge impact on the recording, including the song ‘Brigit of Ireland’ which cements the link to the mythic that runs throughout the album. The Fates manage to draw on the two major figures from the past — both Mark E. Smith and Nico cast heavy shadows — without ever feeling derivative. You can hear echoes of the Velvets in ‘Ceaseless Efforts’ and elements of the Fall’s earlu Casio-fueled repetitions in many of the tracks, but the voice of the new band, while at times tentative, is strikingly definitive. Like the invocation of a ritual, Furia develops organically from pop to more outré experimentalism. The influence of Graves’ White Goddess is strong in the musical evocation of a lost pagan past (liner notes of the original LP apparently also made more of a link to the Pendle Witches). The track actually called ‘Ritual’ receives its power from “our will so strong it shapes the nature of things” and the persistence of this ‘lost’ recording suggests that power itself.

Pagans will definitely enjoy the album, but it works as chill music too, sort of experimental folk. What’s truly amazing is how contemporary it sounds. Yet also ripe for some interesting remixes, too — I can almost hear them in my head already. Incredible grace and power here. Check it out. Click the image below to listen/buy:

 

Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys by Viv Albertine

Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys
Viv Albertine

Blurb:

Viv Albertine is a pioneer. As lead guitarist and songwriter for the seminal band The Slits, she influenced a future generation of artists including Kurt Cobain and Carrie Brownstein. She formed a band with Sid Vicious and was there the night he met Nancy Spungeon. She tempted Johnny Thunders…toured America with the Clash…dated Mick Jones…and inspired the classic Clash anthem “Train in Vain.” But Albertine was no mere muse. In Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys., Albertine delivers a unique and unfiltered look at a traditionally male-dominated scene.

Her story is so much more than a music memoir. Albertine’s narrative is nothing less than a fierce correspondence from a life on the fringes of culture. The author recalls rebelling from conformity and patriarchal society ever since her days as an adolescent girl in the same London suburb of Muswell Hill where the Kinks formed. With brash honesty—and an unforgiving memory—Albertine writes of immersing herself into punk culture among the likes of the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks. Of her devastation when the Slits broke up and her reinvention as a director and screenwriter. Or abortion, marriage, motherhood, and surviving cancer. Navigating infidelity and negotiating divorce. And launching her recent comeback as a solo artist with her debut album, The Vermilion Border.

Review:

I kept thinking I’d already written this review because the book has so completely seeped into my consciousness. This is a warts and all memoir that tests you at the start to see if you’re strong enough to make the journey, throwing the messy chaos of her early life at the reader with both hands. I doubt the teen Albertine and I would ever have bonded as friends — she’s just too much of a girly girl for me, I never dealt well with the ‘boy crazy’ types — but I so admire this woman, I cannot tell you how much. She had a lot more chutzpah pursuing the things I only dreamed of like swanning her way into the music scene and picking up a guitar and keeping at it. Her life is tough from the get go but she persists through it all. She was there at so many of the pivotal moments in punk and beyond. Our culture does not idolize women except for beauty (which she has plenty of but never mind) or she would be mentioned in the same breath as Mick and Joe and Johnny and Sid, but they Slits don’t even get more than a grudging mention as one of the ‘girl bands’ of the era. The obsessiveness any art requires (the title comes from her mother’s lament about the young Viv’s preoccupations) is scorned in women as ‘narcissistic’ which seems to be what all women who create are disparaged as being. How dare they spend time on themselves?!

Like the Raincoats the Slits stretched so far beyond the simple punk chords so fast that in part their identity didn’t really sit with that particular genre. An amazing bunch from the singular Ari Up and fabulous Palmolive on drums with a vengeance. They moved onto more experimental stuff, changed, changed innovated added the amazing Neneh Cherry for a time and like most bands, broke up, moved on and found new things. Albertine pursues everything with the same zeal, throwing herself headlong into filmmaking, pottery, marriage, and a desperate fight to give birth, which is almost immediately followed by an agonizing battle against cancer.

And one day she wakes up to find herself a ghost of what she was, living in the country, which had once been an escape and had become an exile. And she resurrects her love of music and starts to battle back to it one pub gig at a time. She’s still a work in progress (thankfully!) at times frustratingly abject (there were times I just shouted at her through the pages, “What are you thinking, woman?!”), at times so amazingly strong that you have to cheer. It’s a remarkable journey that will leave you feeling exhausted but thrilled, just like a great gig.

I don’t know if this qualifies as a FFB as it’s not been released in the US I guess (?), but you can check out other overlooked treasures at Patti’s blog. Click the picture above to buy the book.

The Slits

Albertine live at Rough Trade

Review: Fashion Beast

Drop over to A Knife & A Quill to read my review of the Malcolm McLaren/Alan Moore film-that-never-was, now a graphic novel, Fashion Beast.

fashionbeast

Fashion Beast

Writers: Alan Moore, Malcolm McLaren, Antony Johnston
Cover & Artist: Facundo Percio
MR, Color, 256 pages
ISBN 9781592912117

Blurb:

ALAN MOORE has redefined the graphic novel with his seminal works — Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, and Neonomicon are essential to any readers discovering the comic book medium. At long last, Moore’s time lost masterpiece is presented in deluxe trade paperback and hardcover collections of the complete ten issue Fashion Beast series. Doll was unfulfilled in her life as a coat checker of a trendy club. But when she is fired from the job and auditions to become a ‘mannequin’ for a reclusive designer, the life of glamour she always imagined is opened before her. She soon discovers that the house of Celestine is as dysfunctional as the clothing that define the classes of this dystopian world. This unique reimagining of Beauty and the Beast was written in 1985 alongside Alan Moore’s comics masterpiece Watchmen. Beautifully illustrated by Facundo Percio (Anna Mercury) and meticulously adapted by Antony Johnston (Yuggoth Cultures), this is another must have entry in the graphic novel masterworks library by Alan Moore…

[read the review here]

This may or may not count in Todd’s round up of Overlooked A/V, so drop by and check out the other recommendations.