Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
I've been reading about the High Llamas. Words on their website said pretty much that they don't expect to make a living from their albums, which have become a sort of occasional project. In one form or another I have pretty much everything that the Llamas have ever done. It's such utterly listenable music -- to my ears, anyway -- that I don't understand why they're not used by more film-makers, advertisers... or supermarkets for that matter. Of course, I understand really. Going by my old maxim that "Being brilliant is simply not enough" I have to take into consideration that Sean O'Hagan may simply want to get on with what he's doing un-encumbered by record company edicts or touring schedules. Good luck to the bloke, whatever he's doing. High Llamas music is one of the few musics that I can have running on the speakers, while I'm writing.
I feel in good company with the Llamas. I get the impression that their music is done simply because they want to do it. No-one's thinking."I hear a single."
I'm beginning to think that the only truly revolutionary gesture left to artists, musicians and writers now that the big companies have such a huge say in what gets heard, read or looked at is to deliberately to stay local and small.
Not to say. "We're not selling out." in a loud voice so much as to simply not bring yourself to the attention of such people in the first place. This attitude was the spirit in which the Cleaners from Venus began in 1980. I've come full circle and then some.
What we found in the old days was that the kind of people who agreed with what we were doing usually managed to find us with not too much trouble. Staying at home was the new going out even then. Being small was the new global for Lol Elliott and me. I sometimes don't believe what I'm seeing, reading and hearing when I happen upon what the famous are doing. It's like a pantomime. A cavalcade of the empty, the untalented, the bewildered and the burned out being wheeled on and off for the cameras and microphones of the machine. A promo blitz usually runs for about two weeks. You do the mags, the TV, the radio, the podcast and a couple of showcases. Then you go off to another country and do the same thing there, while they wheel someone else in.
Meanwhile, some boy or girl genius is playing in a local pub or club somewhere being completely ignored. Not that I see any injustice in this, I just think:"Why not just support your local artists in the first place?" Similarly, when recording or filming you should make things slightly-imperfectly and very cheaply and quickly. This helps to put a bunch of producers, image-makers , media-fluffers and other parasites out of a job and hopefully back in the boardroom or car-salesroom where they should have been in the first place. You can't buy the imperfect, like you can't buy poverty. You can't manufacture imperfection. You genuinely have to be flawed--to never have let anyone smooth out all the creases in the first place.
I have to laugh when I see the talent shows on TV...which I rarely do. Here is a multi-million pound industry dedicated to the mundane, the mediocre and the unadventurous. Perversely it has a perfection of its own. A cartel of business people have actually created something which takes ordinary people and makes them sound....ordinary. Loads of other ordinary people applaud it. It even spawns its own soap opera for the media. No artists were hurt in the making of this programme. The more I think about it, the more healthy I think it is...for creative people that is. It means they can all get on with what they were doing. There used to be a show called Opportunity Knocks, run by a notoriously right-wing old Canadian guy called Hughie Green. But it wasn't perfect because it occasionally un-earthed genuine talent, like Les Dawson and Pam Ayres. Its modern equivalents have managed to excise all that.
Can you imagine what would happen if the High Lllamas turned up for an audition on Britain or America's Got Talent and played say, Winter's Day from Can Cladders? Simon Cowell would buzz them off in the first 10 seconds. Things are exactly as they should be. They've not been as bright as this since the mid 1960s. The machine is finally ignoring all art completely. We should all be celebrating.
The Great Les Dawson : "Eee.. It were that cold, flashers were jumping out of the bushes and describing themselves."
Plans are afoot to give St Botolph's Priory a bit of a spruce-up. It's long overdue of course.In heritage-industry terms, St Botolphs, in all its shattered grandeur, is Colchester's most neglected old lady. Founded circa 1103, only decades after the Norman Conquest, it was England's first Augustinian priory and in 1116 was recognised as such by Pope Pascal II. The problem was that it had no major 'sponsor' – no aristocrat or royal was bankrolling it. Despite its nominal seniority, therefore, compared to later but wealthier priories, St Botolphs was not particularly well-heeled. This, as northerners used to say, was a fur-coat-and-no-knickers situation, similar in fact, to the one in which the monument finds itself now.
St Botolphs, like so many religious houses, fell into decline after Henry the Eighth's row with the Church of Rome in 1536. In the mid-seventeenth century it sustained severe damage during the Siege of Colchester. Over the ensuing centuries, rather like our regional rail network, the place changed owners several times again, though, seemingly without the re-branding, the paint jobs or the regular weekend improvements.
As a result, St Botolph's Priory is a ruin, a beautiful ruin. Its entrance is tucked discreetly away in Priory Street, though, one of the best views of it may be obtained from the platform at Colchester Town rail station. From there, peering over the red-brick wall you may get some idea of its proportions – not just what remains of it now but what had once existed. It's attractively set too, with trees overlooking its northern flank and its floors long-reverted to a rich swathe of uneven greensward.
St Botolph's chief problem as a heritage site and tourist attraction seems to be that it remains a favourite hang-out of stunt-drinkers, drug addicts and sundry other no-goodniks. The poor, as the clergy are fond of saying, are always with us. Every town has them. Their faces, unshaven and unloved, have the complexion of weathered cider apples. Their eyes glint watchfully at strangers as they loll around mumbling and laughing gap-toothed among themselves. Periodically, one might get up and stagger over to another for a furtive exchange of goods or a slug on a bottle. Naturally, many members of the public find them intimidating. The authorities have recently recognised this fact and now acknowledge that the ruins of St Botolph's deserve better They want to make the place more attractive, perhaps even to stage open-air theatre productions there and to clear out the mendicants, the boozers and the druggies.
I find it interesting though, that the perceived swarf of society should congregate in such a place. If you examine the psycho-geography of the matter, St Botolph's is an ancient holy site, close to a railway station, a bus station and a gothic Victorian church – all of them in their own ways places of transit. At night the area comes alive with fast food eateries, night clubs and taxis. Only a kebab's throw away from here, the young revellers arrive at weekends to kick the working week in the head and sometimes, each other. In mediaeval times, just outside the old town walls, this is where you'd find the poor, the bear-baiters and the brothels. It's a classic location – the lonely and the lost have always drifted here. You'll meet them lurching baseball-capped and grubby, dragging their squat dogs past Colchester Town station where the police will occasionally stop and search them.
But who are they and where did they come from? How, in our still-wealthy modern society do they slip through the net, invisible and uncared-for? A significant proportion of homeless men, if you should ever stop to speak to them, are former soldiers. Talk to one before he's shotgunned his second tin of super-lager and you may find that he was once in Kosovo or Iraq. He's the modern counterpart of the maimed, half-blind soldiers from Wellington's army who, upon return from Flanders or Spain cluttered England's squares and church steps in the years after Waterloo. He's seen the world. He didn't like it much. He didn't talk about it because no-one who hadn't been there, could possibly understand what it had been like. And gradually, as he tumbled darkly through the tunnel, arguing on the way with all the people who might have helped him, he got lost. Finally, he found the company of all the others who stagger from booze-shop to bench and back again. Move him on and like pushing down a bubble in bit of wallpaper, he'll pop up somewhere else. Perhaps it'll be the St Mary's churchyard or somewhere near Colchester Castle. But it will nearly always be somewhere ancient, the type of place, which for centuries people in straits have been inexplicably drawn to. No-one ever chooses such a lifestyle as a career move. They just fall by gradual stages into ruin – much like St Botolph's has done.
St Botolphs, though, deserves and must get its thirsted-for makeover. Maybe a theatre company could take charge of it? Perhaps they could stage Beckett's perennially-popular Waiting For Godot – a play about two tramps waiting for somebody, or something that never turns up? That would be suitably ironic wouldn't it? Actors in the role of tramps to replace the real ones. Look, I don't write the news. I only read it.
St Botolphs -- minus gentlemen of
In scenes pretty much redolent of Gary the Elephant's breakdown, a few years ago on these pages, the near-winner of Britain's Got Talons finally flipped. I never watched any of the series this time, though I occasionally passed television sets which were playing it.
It's a Roman circus of a thing really and the people who line up for the general cruelty are all volunteers, so it's hard to feel pity for them. Where I welcome such a show is in the fact that it's for civilians, not professionals. If that sounds dismissive or elitist, it's only because I can't find a more succinct way of describing it.
Talent, is not just the ability to sing, dance or perform. It's the ability to do so in all sorts of unfavourable circumstances, no matter what mood you're in, no matter how much hostility or (more commonly) indifference you're confronted with or whatever the unsuitability of the venue in which you find yourself. You have to armour yourself with quite a lot of nightmares and boredom before you can start 'living the dream'. Even then, having achieved the dream, you very often need to take regular excursions back to the reality which you left behind, in order to retain some sort of perspective. Many of the most famous people, those who aren't barking mad, seem to have mastered the art of doing this.
What Britain's Got Talons has done, which is a little immoral, is to culture the inate arrogance of people who've watched too much television themselves and now believe that not only can they do the thing better themselves, but that they are actually entitled to a large helping of immortality Fame and celebrity are the blue twin peaks which look great from a distance. Once you get up on those peaks, like most mountains, they can be bleak, perilous, cold and of course, you don't even want to think about the drop back down.
The thing about the real talent---the people, who went up the slow way, in gradual stages,and with numerous slips and falls are already partly inured to the intoxication which results from suddenly being deprived of the oxygen of reality. Susan Boyle, recent near-winner of the show seems to have had a really ghastly experience. Already the media watchdogs and agony aunts are asking questions about the morality and responsibilities of a show. But what do they expect? Would you trust Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan and the British press with your fragile mental health? Because I certainly wouldn't.