Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hastings to Rye

A seven hour coastal walk. Starting in the old harbour in Hastings you climb East Hill from which you have a stunning view over Hasting's quirky old town. The Hastings Country Park starts right here and offers a protected, mostly woody coastline, past the famous nudist beach at Fairlight, which isn't really safe to access at the moment, all the way to Fire Hills where you exit the country park and come through a vaguely suburban sprawl along the coast before reaching Pett Level where you leave the sea along a canal towards Winchelsea, once a busy port but now left stranded inland as the sea has receded. It's weird walking underneath the old cliffs and coming through the old town gate now standing right in the middle of the fields. Hard to imagine it was once one of Englands most important ports. Then through the flatlands where we came across a herd of swans hanging out, Camber Castle in the distance, to Rye which you can see for miles looming on its hill, and finally Mermaid Street.


these are from around Derek Jarmans house and garden, near the old Dungeness lighthouse and nuclear powerstation. In his last years Jarman famously created a garden around his house with sculptures made from debris he found on the beach. The space around it and the beach nearby are so eerie and so beautiful at the same time. Especially in spring when the few plants and flowers shooting out of the stones seem even more alive. There is a Shakespearean sonnet(?) engraved in one wall of the house. Old boats are moored, little huts stand around randomly. Debris. Rotten old chains. Someone fishing in the distance. A walk down to the sea...a little train going from the lighthouse all the way to Hythe. A nature reserve. The quality of the <<<>> between...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Madcap's Last Laugh: the DEFINITE Syd Barrett Tribute concert

Last year the Mystery Jets staged a Syd Barrett tribute concert at the Union Chapel (read about it here)
and even though it verged on the chaotic I was struck how powerful it was to hear Mr Barretts songs live done by people who love and grew up with the songs. These tributes seem to have sprung up all over the world in the last year. But the Barbican staged the definite one this week:

Put together by Joe Boyd who worked with Pink Floyd in the early days, it started with a recording of an old country singer and a page projected onto the screen mentioning two country singers whose first names were "Pink" and "Floyd", the inspiration for Syd to call the band Pink Floyd. Then a choir performed "Bike", after which the house band came on and Captain Sensible of The Damned did an absolutely beautiful "Flaming" and the original swirling psychedelic light projections from the UFO club started to be projected into most parts of the room. I was sitting right at the back of the balcony and the wave of musical nostalgia invading the room was so spellbinding, it actually made me cry, it was such a powerful moment. And so it went on, old footage and weird little films involving the early Floyd hanging out by village ponds, footage of people dancing and freaking out at the happenings, TV appearances etc interspersed by beautiful renditions of Syd songs by a long list of performers: Kevin Ayers of The Soft Machine, The Bees, Vashti Bunyan (never heard her before, she's got the most amazing high pitched voice), etc. The idea was to bring the songs alive and look beyond all the sad stories around Syds later life. Just to celebrate what is still there in people's heads. And it succeeded beautifully, it was a really big, well put together and thoughtful production.

And there were a couple of genuine surprises. Just before the interval the name "Roger Waters" appeared on the screen. I just couldn't believe it. He came on to huge cheers, asked to sit down on a chair, and said a few words: that doing a small show like this was harder for him to do as you couldn't hide behind the whole production, that he felt nervous, and that Syd before his illness had this fearlessness, never felt nervous like this, and that he owed him a debt (the word debt spoken with real gravity) and that he didn't know what he would have become if he hadn't met him. He didn't play a Syd song (and not Wish You Were Here here) but a long, winding, fragile, low key song of his own called "Flickering Flame", then thanked everybody saying that we had been very kind and left.

After the interval, Damon Albarn first managed to persuade Syds nephew to come on stage to say a few words (which was unplanned!), who just thanked people for coming, but seemed quite moved and a bit puzzled by it all. Mr Albarn performed a song from "Opel" which just featured a long list of random words, and managed to almost turn it into a Blur song, it just invoked a certain Englishness, suburbia, boredom, etc. There was this affinity to what Blur were doing. It was really cool to see him on a stage again actually, haven't seen him or Blur play live for years so it all came back to me what a genuinely spontanous and creative person he can be even though he has this unique ability to rub people up the wrong way to, haha. Well it really worked for me.

Captain Sensible did Astronomy Domine, again, wow. Him and Robyn Hitchcock later seemed to be positively posessed by Syd to a much greater degree than, say, Chrissie Hynde, who did a really good job making some songs from "The Madcap Laughs" her own but still had to read the lyrics from a sheet. Nothing wrong with that, but Robyn Hitchcock just seemed to live and breathe the two songs he did, it was genuinely moving. A highlight for me.

Ok, then Joe Boyd came out and talked about how difficult it was to put together the project, unanswered emails, etc. until Chrissie Hynde came on and really kickstarted it apparently. Then he said they were wondering how to end the evening, what would a fitting finale be... and then: "so it gives me enormous pleasure to welcome David, Rick and Nick to play "Arnold Layne" for us" Well, everyone was on their feet. In the context of the evening it was just such an amazing finale...

after which everyone came on stage, including the choir but not including Roger Waters, to do "Bike" again. Long applause (and some people genuinely believing the whole Floyd would appear again), and a short sequence of Syds figure walking away on the screen.

I think these tributes should happen every year or so. It was a wonderful evening, I'm sure for the performers too. I haven't been into this stuff for so long so maybe it is fresher in my head, but I seem to be getting more and more into it. I love the childlike sense of wonder that Syds songs can transport you to, the weird, sometimes bucolic, sometimes sinister energy in the songs. I hear the English countryside in them, the slightly eccentric vibe overhanging old villages and woods, all the stuff I love when i go walking. And, again, it is amazing to hear them played live...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

And the winner is...: Fassbinder's "Querelle"

Some images from "Querelle", the last ever Fassbinder film based on the Genet novel. Brad Davies is the thoughful, cunning and beautiful sailor thrown into the dubious and highly artificial world of the mythical harbour of Brest, complete with phallic sea towers, claustrophobic back allies and a louche brothel where his brother resides and the fab, though slightly tragic madame Jeanne Moreau overlooks the scene. Franco Nero is his superior on ship and secretly in love with him. I could go on. I've seen this film at least 30 times. It's exerted such a strong and curious fascination over me in my younger years I simply had to see it everytime it was shown in a cinema. Fassbinder himself stated that it was made purely for the cinema where the beautiful, almost psychedelic orange and blue lighting, the heavy camp music and the overwhelmimg stench of sexuality overhanging every scene becomes much more powerful. When I lived in Berlin in the mid 80s "Querelle" was one of those films that kept sticking around, and was always shown from time to time in the run down art cinemas around there. I saw it in Paris once. I own it on DVD now and I still watch it from time to time. I know it by heart. Though I still don't really "understand" it. It's one of those things that could not work and maybe doesn't work for everyone anyway but the combination of Fassbinders special tone, the beautiful claustrophobia of the studio transformed into a highly stylised harbour, and Genets mythical tale involving two doomed brothers is such a heady mix I fall for it everytime. It is such a beautiful ...accident. The late Andy Warhol visited the set and apparently said he felt hot for the whole day afterwards and Fassbinder wanted that quote printed on adverts for the film.

My old mate Simon has tagged me to list my favourite ten movies so here they are:

1 "Querelle" Fassbinder: see above

2 "The Big Lebowski" Cohen Brothers: What a weird plot, and what a dubious list of characters. Yet everytime we watch it we notice something different. Absolutely wonderful writing, so funny and so philosophical at the same time. No wonder there is a whole festival devoted to the film now. Fxxx it, let's go bowling. Well, the dude has become somewhat of a role model to me, despite all the good warnings written into the plot, haha...

3 "Blow Up" Antonioni: I saw this film countless times on German TV when I grew up and from an early age, i.e. when i couldn't possibly have understood everything. There's something in the half light of that park that becomes the murder scene that's become a blueprint for trying to see more in any given situation, a special quality of light that makes you suspect there's more... out there. All the swinging London stuff is so cool too. Sometimes when I walk through London I can still feel a bit of that lingering around, and the film helped made it visible and meorable.

4 "Rosemary's Baby" Polanski. Same as "Blow Up", a staple on German TV when I grew up. I love Polanski, see also "The Tenant", "Fearless Vampire Killers", "Frantic", "Bitter Moon", love them all. One thing I found out after repeated viewing is, uh, I was born on the very same day that the baby is due in the film. Now that is purely a coincidence, ok? but it's true...

5 "Polyester" John Waters: That's my favourite Waters movie, the perfect balance between his more shocking in yer face grossout earlier movies and his slightly more streamlined later black comedies. It's just very powerful and explosive and funny throughout. I remember seeing it with the infamous scratch cards at a Waters movie night in a cinema in Berlin in the early 80s. Then we got it in the sales on VHS about ten years ago and it quickly became one of my favourite videos. Love it!

6 "Spirited Away" Miyazaki: This started my occasional interest in Japanese animation though I haven't seen anything yet that comes quite close to it. Well, ok, maybe "Grave of the Fireflies". The whole look of the film, the story, the atmosphere of it was such an eye opener when i first saw it. Just goes to show what you can still do with animation.

7 "Lost Highway" David Lynch: I can see what people criticize about films like these. To me it was never that unclear. Or indulgent. It's elegant, stylish, hypnotic and utterly entrancing stuff, down to the more-goth-than-usual soundtrack. I used to watch it all the time. It never gets boring somehow. I think Lynch made a statement with this film though they are all statements on each other, constantly refer to each other. Of his post Twin Peaks film I really liked "Inland Empire", and "Mulholland Drive" too of course, but LH has a special appeal to me.

8 "The Garden" Derek Jarman: We were in Derek Jarmans garden on the shingle beach in barren, eerie and fascinating Dungeness for the second time recently, I think I'm going to post some photos soon. This film is an ode to it, among other things, it's abstract and pretty apocalyptic, if not chaotic, but to me there is hope and an aura of light too. Just like the place. I need to see it again actually.

9 "Prosperos Books" Peter Greenaway: To my mind the most extreme and absorbing of all Greenaways films, at least visually. Weird how noone talks about him anymore, for a while in the 80s he really ruled.

10 "Hustler White" Bruce LaBruce: What a trip! Bruce goes to LA to check out the hustler scene and eventually falls for a pretty hustler himself. Ironic, shocking, and swinging from one sexually adventurous scene to another, it's a heady ride...

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Breeders - "Shocker in Gloomtown" video

this is soooo sweet (and vaguely related to my post below about Jim Greers book). The Breeders play GBVs "Shocker in Gloomtwon" while Bob & co peek in through the window. This is from the time when they would still all hang out together in Dayton, I think. Last year I saw the Breeders play a tremendous retrospective set as part of 4ADs 25th birthday celebrations in the lovely Blackheath Halls and they finally played this song (which previously was a staple of their live set) again. A minute and a half long and most of the audience didn't know it, I guess, and it was over before you say "what?" as Kim Deal sings it a bit faster as well, but i thought it was the sweetest thing... 90s nostalgia!