Depressing Reading

The above story appeared in the Guardian on Thursday. David Conn is actually a City fan, but he is also a very thorough and very impartial writer, especially about football economics. What he’s written is very depressing to a United fan, if our current form this season were not enough on its own, but it also has the ring of truth throughout.

United play Liverpool on Sunday afternoon. Recent United games have been the low point of the weekend, offering nothing of entertainment, of inspiration and especially excitement. On paper, Liverpool, with a 100% record over eight games and a very high standard of play, ought to absolutely hammer us. The only shred of hope I have to rely upon is that United-Liverpool games have never observed the form book.

Conn’s article however presents a horribly dismal prospect. Focussing on the Glazers’ ownership, it present a vision of United never recovering from the past years of malaise, post-Alex Ferguson. The club is subject to owners who are only interested in taking money out, and not in putting money in, something many of us said back in 2005. The ground is falling into disrepair, recruitment of players is in the hands of Ed Woodward, who has failed to appoint a Director of Football who might be able to set a viable direction/detract from his power.

And the Glazers are irremovable and will be as long as their cash cow sustains them.

I confronted this very position six and a half years ago, when Fergie stepped down, and I was defiant about accepting a period of no longer being a dominant force. I was naive however, in imagining a maybe four year lull, before we started being a challenge again, but then I lacked the imagination to understand that those who run Manchester United would be so prepared for decline and mismanagement to bring my club as low as it has. Talk of relegation seems monstrously improbable, but if Liverpool do defeat us on Sunday, we may find ourselves in 17th, one place – just one place – above the drop zone.

And if we find ourselves in that place, then it will be for one reason and one reason only: we deserve to be there. I remember relegation in 1974 and the resurgence United went through after that, though it still wasn’t enough to regain the League title for nearly another twenty years. Maybe we need that to make the people in control see what is really going on.

I don’t know what will happen, and when or if we will turn the corner. I keep thinking that it just needs a little bit of luck, a spark, a moment, something that goes right, and lifts the team’s spirit, the player’s spirit, and suddenly their confidence will start to return.

But until and if, I have to remember my defiance of six and a half years ago. I was with United for all that 23 years, from the FA Cup in 1990 to the Premier League in 2013, and what a glorious thing it was. And it all happened, and no matter what happens now or next week or next year, IT HAPPENED, and nothing can uncreate it. I WAS at Wembley for three Doubles, I WAS in Barcelona, all those matches I saw, live or on TV, I had every minute of that, and if I’m fated not to experience anything like that again, I experienced those twenty-three years. Twenty-three years of the taste of Gold (apologies Steve Engelhart), and I refuse to forget a second of that. What United are now cannot and will not destroy that.

So blow winds and crack your cheeks. Rage on, blow. And I’ll just close my eyes and be in the Nou Camp again. You cannot take that away.

A Buzz Around The Hornet: Part 1

I know that I said, not that long ago, that I had no interest in investigating either of the D.C. Thomson comics, Victor or Hornet, that I read in that long ago childhood, but I did happen to come across a 3-DVD set of the latter, 648 copies for a mere £4, free postage. And it’s not like they take up that much space…
Hornet was a younger brother to Victor, which I discovered first, though I don’t know when. For some reason, I was under the impression that The Victor – to give it its formal title – had been around for years and years when it had first appeared on 25 January 1961, when I would have been jut turned five and still too young for it. The Hornet, to again be formal, did not debut until 14 September 1963, and I started getting it weekly with something like issue 27, making it seem like something much more new. I was then eight, and the right age.
How long I read both comics, I don’t recall. Did they survive our move from Openshaw to Burnage in December 1966? Surely they would have been swept away by my eager conversion to Football magazines in 1968? Will the comics on these DVDs give me any clues as to that? How many of these series will I remember?
And why, given its regimented layouts, homogenised art and structured stories, was Hornet the first comic to spark a thought about how these stories were drawn and who did it and how?

The first issue wasn’t much to write home about, nondescript characters, dated, small art reminiscent of the Fifties Lion, bog standard genres: Westerns, War, (both real and fictional), Comedy and Sport, a generous page allowance to each strip (guaranteeing hurried art if you’ve got to churn out five pages a week) and two prose serials crammed into a 32 page package with full colour only on the covers and one series allowed a red monotone.
On the other hand, that sports story featured a very recognisable figure I knew well and always read avidly. ‘Bouncing Briggs’ was Bernard Briggs, scrap dealer with a highly developed sense of ethics and over-developed natural athleticism and sporting ability. Briggs was the amateur’s amateur, refusing to be paid for playing football and becoming the independent goalkeeper for First Division Blackton Rovers.
This is only the first Briggs story and I’m not going to judge it that quickly, but it’s not quite my cup of tea yet. Briggs is drawn with an oversized mouth and jaw that makes him half a cartoon, and at this stage he’s a bit of a knobhead. The man’s a bombastic loudmouth, monomaniacal about himself in every respect except his football, and even then he carries the Laws of Football around with him on the field so he can pedantically correct everyone who gets something wrong. I hope he mellows.
We were only seven issues in (26 October) when another familiar series debuted. Dopey Dan was a prose series, the title character being 17 year old Dan Davidson, the founder, secretary and least athletic member of the Carthorse Club, an all-purpose amateur sports club, eager yet incompetent at everything. A bit like me, except for his lucky ability to come out on top despite being crap at everything: I never did that.
But I never saw Hornet remotely this early in its career, which means I am destined to see it again, as a repeat, somewhere nearer the mid-Sixties.
Ten issues in, I’m surprising myself by finding the most interesting feature to be Deeds of Glory, a true life feature oriented to War experiences and Victoria Crosses. The stories told are patriotic enough, but they give an immediacy to such scenes that I find extremely interesting, especially when they cross the same paths trodden by that noted Victorian Soldier Hero Harry Flashman…
A third of the long-term characters I recalled debuted in issue 13 (6 December) but in an unexpected format. Nick Smith was star of the series It’s Goals That Count, about his adventures as a top-flight inside left (that’s another one for your Grandad) but I wasn’t aware he’d first appeared as a prose serial, looking back after a late career FA Cup winning goal to his earliest days, as a ball-juggling circus boy, an orphan. It’s still only 1963 and that was three memories revived already.
There are no credits in a D.C. Thomson comic and there never will be, but the Slade of the Pony Express strip in issue 15 (20 December) looked to be the work of Tony Weare, who contributed to Moore and Lloyd’s V for Vendetta.
There had already been several changes of series already in Hornet, far too many to start recording in my usual manner, especially as the stories are equally uninspiring and the art nearly indistinguishable at this point, but the first Briggs story came to an end in issue 16, with Blackton winning the FA Cup. Don’t worry, Bernard would be back.

His replacement was The Wonder from Winter Island, 16 year old Gordon Jones, who developed an uncanny talent for crossing the ball on his remote and recreation-free island, based on a trunk of kit washed ashore and a handbook that gave him a very one-sided impression of football. I got the idea of something familiar about this which crystallised into near-certainty when Gordon, signed for Everley Rovers, got a heading partner in a Spanish lad, Pedro. This I am sure I have read, probably as soon as I started getting Hornet for I’m convinced I came in partway through this series. There’s a specific plot point or two I’m expecting to see.
One thing different abut Hornet, even as early as this, is that features tend to come and go quickly, and some, like Dopey Dan, drop in and out with no pattern.
I got my first piece of real fun out of The Champion Nobody Knew, which started in issue 23 (15 February 1964). This was a boxing strip, which centred upon Mr Pearson, an immaculately dressed man of faintly aristocratic mien who wandered into a boxing gym to hire a manager to manage him. Pearson was a complete novice who’d studied boxing scientifically but never boxed. And, of course, he was better at it than anyone, as well as being a total mystery. It’s a formula, and it’s easily recognisable, but the absurdity of it, and Pearson’s overwhelming competence had me chuckling. I was looking forward to reading this.
There was also something familiar about the art to my eyes. Though I can’t remember if it was in Hornet or Victor, there was a series called The Big Palooka, about a British Police Inspector on exchange duty in New York, and I suspect it might have been the same artist.
And exactly on cue, in fact in issue 27 (14 March), Gordon Jones and Pedro Alvarez combined inexactly the manner I remembered – and in practically the panel image I recalled – to identify this series as the story I thought it was, and this issue as the very one I first read. And the other twist I remembered was in issue 28, as were some familiar panels in Swim, Jim, Swim.
The Nick Smith series ended in issue 29 (28 March) to be replaced by the return of Dopey Dan and the Carthorse Club, answering the question of when I first saw them: not reprints after all. And my memory once again proved sharper than I had credited it to be, with another instantly familiar sequence, this time in Squadron X.
Bernard Briggs was back in issue 34 (2 May), this time as a cricketer, under the heading Briggs the Bowler. Briggs was still the same obnoxious arsehole he was as a goalkeeper, perpetually self-righteous about being right, to the point that I actually started sympathising with the toffee-nosed ‘gentlemen’ of his county, Camshire. Did I really love his stories when I was a kid?
The Champion Nobody Knew came to an end in issue 38 (30 May) with Mr Pearson’s retirement as undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the World and the revelation that he was really Sir Hereward Parkinson, genius Atomic scientist, working on top secret projects, who’d turned to boxing as a hobby, a bit of mental relaxation! Dopey Dan’s run also finished in that issue, and he was replaced by It’s Runs That Count, introducing Rob Higson as a young batsman trying to make his mark in cricket. Like Nick Smith, Higson would become a recurring stalwart of Hornet, in strip form.
There’s not much to say about most series, but a couple of them – The Secret of Jameson’s Schooldays, about a crooked private school headmaster trying to secure a legacy his school did not deserve, and Mr Frozen Face, a motor-cycling strip – both featured mystery men whose true identities were obvious, none more so than the latter, whose title character was expressionless due to plastic surgery, who called himself Jim Ellyk (you’ve probably got it already) who first appeared at the Jimmy Kelly Trophy meeting, Kelly having been a motor-cycling champion who’d disappeared after a bad crash… Must try seriously harder.
With issue 52 (5 September), Hornet completed its first year. I can’t pretend to have anything like the enthusiasm for it that I have had for most other comics I’ve re-read on DVD-Rom, and the reasons are fairly obvious. Hornet, like all the DC Thomson titles, is a cheap comic, printed on poor quality paper with poor quality art. It is aimed down at an audience that is presumed to have low standards. Though the differing art styles that have appeared over the first twelve months have surprised me by not being the homogenised style I recollected, neither has any of them been attractive. There’s an overall rushed look to practically every story, as if the artist has to rattle off each page quickly in order to draw enough of them to earn a wage. Story-wise, the paper is roughly split between war stories in different theatres and sports stories of different sports but always with an emphasis on football and cricket. Nor is the characterisation more than minimal and repetitive. The most distinctive character in the whole of year 1 was Bernard Briggs and I’ve already given my opinion of him. There’s a constant chopping and changing of series, sometimes so fast that it seems rare for a week to go by without at least one story starting. Nor do series develop in any great fashion, just piling up incident after incident until time is up, with no sense of climax.
On the other hand, I’ve been continually surprised at how many panels and moments I’ve recognised across the board, most often in the sports strips. And issue 52 saw the start of another familiar series, No Game for Jimmy, whose shape I could see instantly from its first episode, even as I recognised it for old.
But this was preparation for the biggie, probably the most memorable series to come out of Hornet, and one I am genuinely looking forward to reading. Issue 53 (re-)introduced Wilson. William Wilson, that is, the amazing athlete who ran in his black longjohns and broke record after record, not for fame or glory or winning but to test himself against records from the past that outdid the records of today – or rather just before the Second World War.

Wilson debuted in a story titled The Truth about Wilson. This had originally been told in prose in The Wizard in 1943, written by Gilbert Lawford Dalton under the pen-name W.S.K. Webb, and was now re-presented comics-style drawn by Jack Glass, a very rare instance of credits being available. Like Nick Smith and Rob Higson, Wilson would recur, over and over but this was his introduction to me and my generation, the template for the individual with immense sporting prowess.
Bernard Briggs was back in issue 56 (3 October), as Briggs the Goalie again. After accidentally crocking the goalkeeper of Fourth Division prop-ups Blackstock Town, Briggs signed as the usual amateur, despite the club being ramshackle, badly run and lacking in players of spirit, let alone ability. You can almost smell promotion already.
With Xmas 1964 coming close, Nick Smith and It’s Goals that Count returned in issue 65 (5 December), this time in ‘picture-story’ form (practically every comic I’ve re-read seems to have an unbeatable aversion to describing its series’ as comics). As well as putting Nick in pictures, as he transferred to relegation-threatened Chidsea, the series introduced Nick’s co-star, Arnold Tabbs, left-half. Tabbs was the epitome of the kind of character British comics regularly threw up, working-class heroes, rough and ready, defiantly refusing to be looked down upon, blessed with natural ability that refused to allow itself to be stifled. Briggs is an exaggeration of the type into self-righteousness.
Still the unexpected memories crop up. Sergeant Leather Lungs was only a two-page complete story in issue 66, but I recognised it immediately and the last panel came out of my memories entire.
Bernard Briggs’ series came up with a dramatic idea in the Xmas issue (no. 68, 26 December). Now earning his living as a demolition man, Briggs found a dirty silver trophy hidden in the wall of a house he was bringing down. Now, I recognised it instantly, from the art as well as the memory, for this was the FA Cup, the legendary first Cup, stolen from a Birmingham shop window when held by Aston Villa and never seen again.
The first Wilson story ended in issue 70 (9 January 1965). His reporter confidant, W.S.K.(Bill) Webb had, the previous week, finally realised that Wilson must be over one hundred years old, and the several past feats of his ‘grandad’ were Wilson’s own. Now, in the last episode, Wilson related his origin and gave some idea of his methods. But War had been declared, and Wilson volunteered for the RAF. Only Webb would know that he had been born in 1795, and thus was 146 years old.
The final paragraph recorded the disappearance of Squadron Leader William Wilson, plane shot down, missing believed dead.
Perhaps because Wilson’s story was a serious tale that dealt in complete impossibilities, I found it the most interesting, and most strangely affecting in Hornet thus far. Wilson will return and return, and I relish reaching the next part of his story.
Briggs was on his way after issue 72 (23 January), having taken Fourth Division Blackstock to an FA Cup semi-final defeat (Briggs was off the field when the goal was scored) and left them solvent. But he didn’t leave them with the first FA Cup as that got restolen: a necessary but ridiculous outcome when you think what security would have been brought in if the real Cup had ever been found.
That left me with just two series of interest, It’s Goals That Count, and Deadline Dan, The Headline Man, about a go-ahead Australian Sports journalist with a promotional streak a mile wide that had already delivered me a few remembered panels. But suddenly I was swamped with memories.
It began in issue 74 (6 February). Suddenly, in mid-series, Nick Smith and Arnold Tabbs were both transferred to promotion-chasing Second Division Manningford City, a club that suddenly seemed struck by a hoodoo. Up popped the mysterious figure of Fergus, producing for them a goalkeeper signed months previously to fill a keeper-less crisis that had just happened. Who was Fergus? What was his secret? His story filled my head with wonder at age 9.
And only one issue later, after a mere four issue gap, Wilson was back, in The Further Truth About Wilson, developing into his ages-old history, and he was joined by another Hornet regular, The Big Palooka (a-ha!), bowler-hatted Scotland Yard Detective-Sergeant Jim Ransom, on loan to the New York Police, who expected him to be useless at their Law and who were going to be very surprised indeed. As for Fergus, there was an immediate and specific memory: the mystery man buys Manningford an international right winger out of his own pocket and poses for a picture with him. When the picture is printed, Fergus is not in it.
High Wire Needs Nerve, which started in the following issue, was another trip to the memory well, about a fourteen year old boy who comes into the family high-wire act, building up to where they can once again perform their big act, the Six (a 3-2-1 pyramid on the high wire, without a net).

Bernard Briggs was gone for only six weeks before being back in goal for First Division Blackton Rovers, this time in the European Cup: plenty of opportunity for continental scrap.
It’s Goals that Count reached the end of its first strip story in issue 81 (27 March), with Manningford securing promotion by the production of one last player by the mysterious Fergus, whose mystery went unsolved – indeed was clearly never meant to be solved, explained or given any kind of rationalistic basis – and was written off as a secret that should be best forgotten and as a man who would have been a great manager/coach but for “an appalling calamity in his private life”. My theory, at age 9½, based on his non-appearance in that photo, was that Fergus was actually a ghost. I can’t come up with anything better today.
Nick Smith’s replacement was Johnny Guitar, another that I recognised instantly. I have to give Hornet for not being merely up with the times but ahead of it because there were none of the many comics I’ve re-read by now had a genuine pop music series by 1965.
Now the legend of Bernard Briggs has always been that he was the goalkeeper who never let in a single goal. I was convinced there had been one, and my conviction was justified in issue 83 (10 April) and exactly as I remembered: playing an away tie in Europe, Briggs deliberately conceded a goal from a diving header to prevent the centre forward continuing his dive into the post and breaking his neck. What a memory! (Of course, if I’d only been able to remember the important things…)
And then he went and conceded a second goal the very next week, a deflection off the referee. I didn’t remember that…
Meanwhile, Nick Smith was back in Nick Smith Builds a Team, taking on the player-managership at Kingsbury Town, Third Division strugglers, and up against a sloppy attitude in the team and an overly-dominant attitude among the Directors. And all without his best pal, Arnold Tabbs, at least to begin with.
Nick had been missing for just four issues. Add together Briggs and Wilson and it appears that the Hornet way was not to have ongoing series as such, crossing from story to story, but to have virtual regulars who would only take short breathers between tales.
And Rob Higson was back in issue 87 (8 May), now in strip format but with the surprising change of title to It’s Wickets That Count, which I remembered but hadn’t thought cam this early. The basic idea is that, due to injuries, Higson is forced to try out his fast bowling for England in India, and takes five wickets. Since they’re short of bowlers, Highshire play him as a bowler, dropping him down the order, and threatening his chances of keeping his Test place as an opener. Rob will have to fight to be accepted as an all-rounder…
As for Briggs, having won the European Cup for Blackton in issue 88, three years before a real English club did it, he qualified for another breather. This proved to be a more extended one that previously.
The Further Truth About Wilson, having carried the wonder athlete from his Yorkshire birthplace (bloody Tykes) in 1795 to his escape from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 by not just swimming the Channel but also climbing the White Cliffs, came to an end in issue 95 (3 July), leaving only Nick Smith, Rob Higson (who was gone himself, two issues later, after winning the Ases with both bat and ball) and Johnny Guitar to amuse.
I don’t think I remember Muscles Malone M.A., which started in issue 96, but I liked the premise. Malone is an all-in wrestler of great strength tied to a contract that commits him to a fight a month, but he’s also a new Housemaster at a swanky Public School that sneers at sports, forcing him to pretend to be a weakling. How can he keep his two roles apart? It’s the first series not to trip a memory that I found interesting.
There was something of the feel of Nightingale Nobbs about this series. I hope I get to see Nobbs again soon, though he may have been in Victor: I always found the two titles interchangeable.
But there was a big moment for the nostalgia in me in issue 99 (31 July) with the first appearance of V for Vengeance, a Second World War story about The Deathless Men, an underground Resistance Army who called themselves Jacks, as in the little lever that lifts a car, organised by British Spy Aylmer Gregson, who had risen to a high position in the Nazi hierarchy. I used to love that!
Gregson, a plant in the Gestapo since 1936, was Colonel von Reich, second-in-command in the Gestapo, and the Deathless Man, who had all died before, were concentration camp victims, tortured and horribly scarred, supposedly dead and buried, who dressed in grey uniforms and wore grey masks hiding their faces. They had a list of brutal, vicious officials who they killed in turn.
Johnny Guitar’s band, The Signets, hit Number 1 in both Britain and America in issue 99, which saw their series to an end. There was another interesting story had started a week earlier, which I half recalled, The Bent Copper. Ex-Police Detective John Bright had been on the track of a gang when he was framed as a member and sent to gaol. Bright was free now and determined to bring down The Big Man’s gang secretly. After all, no-one trusts a Bent Copper, which was the symbol of his campaign, pennies bent in his strong fingers.
And then there were 100 issues. There aren’t going to be any convenient points at which to break up the commentary, no reboots or resets. Hornet changes series nearly all of the time, and there are no concerted moments. A decimal approach, breaking the title down into 100 issue chunks, is as good as any and that’s what I shall do: perhaps not for the entire run but for as long as the comic has something in it to interest me.
So this has been Hornet 1-100. It’s been an unexpected experience, with many more memories of many more series, and panels, than I imagined, and which have arrived earlier in the comics’ existence than I thought. And the variety of art has surprised me, though in afterthought it shouldn’t have. I am the boy who could not tell the least difference between any of DC’s artists: between Mike Sekowsky and Gil Kane. Or Carmine Infantino. Or Murphy Anderson. There are so many different art styles in Hornet, but I couldn’t tell back then.
Let’s see where the next hundred issues take me. After all, I have a vivid recollection of leaving one Wilson story incomplete when I made my decision to swap to a different comic, and I’m eager to finally learn how the story ended.

Lou Grant: s02 e23 – Skids

Performance of the Week

For a moment there, I envisaged another episode full of ‘worthiness’: Problem of the Week, the homeless, the bums. But in one scene, played by a guest star who I know I used to watch in one American series or other, the name of which refuses to leap out at me from imdb, the episode leaped past the didactic and established itself as a compelling piece of television.

The peg upon which the episode was built was, in the end, a McGuffin. A Skid Row denizen is found dead, strangled. Lou remembers an identical case a week before: in fact there have been five, counting this. Lou details Rosssi to follow up on the story, despitee Rossi’s obvious reluctance, and even more obvious distaste that we new would step fromsomething personal.

Indeed it was. Rossi’s father, Carmine (Al Ruscio), once a great family man, until the booze got on top of him, until he became an alcoholic. Now we know why Rossi won’t even drink a single beer. Rossi can barely stand to be in the same room as him.

But Carmine’s not the man who made this work. That was Andrew Duggan, who was Doc. Doc was a Detriot surgeon and a former friend of Lou, who cannot believe someone he has known has been reduced to this. Doc tries to avoid Lou, but when the latter tracks him down, the scene in which Doc explains himself, the pressure that led to his drinking and ultimately his giving up, the future that became the search for the next drink, and his candid acceptance of that, and that it was all he could handle, performed with rough openness by Duggan and his refusal to blame anyone but himself was one of the steeliest moments the series has depicted. There was and would be no happy endings, no rescues. From this scene it was clear that the episode accepted its obligation not to be soft, not to be unreal.

Doc was one of three bums to feature, Billie, who was otherwise curiously distant from the episode, speaks to Dirty Donna (Victoria Gregg), a street lady and a crazy, complete with aluminum foil inside her hat to shield her from the voices. Rossi, who got closer to Doc than he’d expected, learned to try harder with his Pop, who wasn’t so clean of the booze as he was pretending, which was the show’s one nod to its usual soft ending.

But Doc. There was a moment when the show toyed with the terrible cliche of having him be the strangler’s last victim, the man we’d seen at the start of the show trailing him, which would have undone all good. But the tough-mindedness prevailed. Lou got a call, the one we expected, from the Minister, to tell him Doc was dead: exposure, pneumonia, natural causes. Adam, overhearing the call, assumes this is another victim of the Strangler, but when Lou puts him right, nods and says it’s still six victims: this one doesn’t count. And Lou repeats, with pain but without emphasis, “Didn’t count.”

One day maybe, I’ll remember where I know Andrew Duggan’s name and his square jaw from. He was never a star actor, a regular in a series, except for a two-season early-Seventies series called Lancer, a western, but I’m convinced I never saw that. But here he showed his quality, as a man who had broken, but who was completely honest about himself and refusing to whine, and he made himself memorable by that.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Okla Hannali

Until the recent effort to make R.A. Lafferty’s works once more available, this was for long years the only one of his books to remain in print. This is because it is both an historical work, as was The Flame is Green, and because it was published by a University Press, OU Press (Oklahoma), who could afford to carry it as a book of significance, as opposed to a purely commercial entity.
Okla Hannali was published in 1973, and is a work about Indian history, a work acclaimed by no less a figure than Dee Brown, author of the seminal Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, who wrote “The history of the Choctaw Indians has been told before and is still being told, but it has never been told in the way Lafferty tells it….Hannali is a buffalo bull of a man who should become one of the enduring characters in the literature of the American Indian.”
Given that Lafferty was a white man, an outsider, that is indeed high praise, though Lafferty himself commented that his childhood, his schooling, his life took place in and around and among Indians, so that he was aware of them and their histories by the most natural study of them all. He is interviewed in this respect in the book as currently available.
Looked at on a technical basis, Okla Hannali is a hybrid of The Flame is Green and The Fall of Rome. Like the former, it is a fiction, surrounding a fictional character, and like the latter it is a history, of the Choctaw Indians in the Nineteenth Century, using the figure of Hannali Innominee as figurehead to a narrative that winds in and out amongst the story of Hannali, a great bear of an Indian, and the story of his tribe and those close to it.
Lafferty makes no bones about it in his account, puts up no defence of his own, of the white men from whom he descends, and there is no defence that can be given. Hannali is strong and brave and intelligent, not merely in what might be thought to be Indian terms, but in terms generally. But he is also an Indian, from head to toe to roots. He is himself and of his people.
Lafferty presents Hannali in broad terms to depict a broad person. A man of three wives, three contrasting wives, married in a quick succession, representing different races: one a white woman, of French stock, one a black woman, one an Indian woman. And all live together in the same household as a single family, without suspicion of each other’s status, well, not on the part of Marie DuShane, that is until she divines the true circumstances.
Maria DuShane insists that Hannali must end his sin by putting aside both his other wives, and Hannali acknowledges his sin but can only attend to it by putting away all three wives, including his French wife and never touching woman again, though children continue to come, nine in total, three of each wife.
Thee are many stories involving Hannali. There is the white man Robert Pike who is taken in by Hannali twice. Once with tall tales of the fearsomeness of other tribes, and once during the Civil War where, in order that neutrality should not be compromised, Pike becomes a ghost that cannot be seen or heard. There is the personal enemy Whiteman Falaya, who attacks at random and with a hidden guile not even Hannali can match, and whose last attack is the trap that destroys Hannali’s home and family. There is Hannali’s death, in his own time, by his own will, by when he is the last Red Indian as Lafferty defines them for his story.
But at the same time there is history here, rich and deep in treachery and greed and lies and these not of the Indians but of the white men that take, and promise not to take more, then come and take more in breach of all promises. It goes back to Andrew Jackson in this book, and it goes forward through the thirty-five years of the civilisation in Indian Territory, until the Civil War: not just one War, between white men, north and south, but the multiple Civil Wars caused deliberately in the tribes by cheating and robbing and manipulation.
And then the destruction of that Civilisation, by way of punishment visited upon friends and allies, to the intent that the Indian should be destroyed, and ended, and how that end came upon them in ways that didn’t involve the death of the body but rather the death of the spirit and the culture, until Hannali alone remains and none beyond him, Indian though they be called by those who only see an other that they cannot stand to share with.
Though the approach is characteristically Lafferty, yet this book is calmer, less wild and joyous than the writings we are more familiar with, for even the fantastic is bound in to the truth and the reality, and the stories that the Indians tell themselves. Okla Hannali is a greatly serious story, and it demands a soberness that Lafferty unwinds for it.
SF fans don’t read historical novels, or they didn’t until steampunk followed cyberpunk, which was to say, not when R.A.Lafferty honoured those amongst whom he grew up. It is their loss. Lafferty’s fans read it as Lafferty. The version we read is at least the third: in his introductory interview, Ray explains that he first wrote Okla Hannali in 1963 when it was bad, and that he rewrote it twice after.
I am not versed in Indian literature, or history, but I do not need those more knowledgeable than me to tell me that the truth lies in here.

Person of Interest: s02 e22 – God Mode

Did you know?

If this episode were a Marvel Comic, it would scream from the cover that after this, nothing will be the same again. The beauty of this programme is that nothing will be the same again after every episode.

‘God Mode’ winds up the second season by presenting two different but closely related stories, one set in the current moment of 2013, the other by flashback set in 2010. It begins in the past, a Machine level viewpoint as a dishevelled Finch, bloody of face, stumbling on a crutch, struggles into the library, falls as much as sits on a chair and, with desperation in his voice asks, “Did you know?”

The whole of this flashback is a puzzle piece, little vignettes, leading back to this moment, and the Machine’s answer. The rest of the episode follows directly on from the end of ‘Zero Day’, last week. The Machine has rebooted after the virus attack by Decima, who have been thwarted in their attempt to take it over. Absolute Admin powers, for twenty-four hours, have gone to Root but, thanks to Finch’s ingenuity, they have simultaneously gone to John Reese: both hear the magic words, “Can you hear me?”

Both are using their access to hunt. For Root, it’s the whereabouts of the Machine, her monomaniacal, over-eager, nervous energy goal, and she’s dragging Finch along in his wake (not entirely reluctantly: when push comes to shove, Finch opts not to escape but to cut short this endgame.) For Reese, it’s the whereabouts of Finch, and he’s implacable and irresistable (even if he and Shaw are twice diverted by the Machine to Numbers who they rescue with drive-by efficiency).

There’s a third story too, centred upon Detective Carter (but not a fourth as for the second week, Fusco is absent from all but the credits). Carter’s on the sharp end of last week’s shooting set-up, determined to fight IAB. So Terney loss patience and makes plain she’s been set-up and that she should just sit there and take it, like a good littl girl, or HR will lay waste to everyone around her. They’re already planning to take out Elias tonight, a ‘prison transfer’, to the woods where the young Elias escaped execution by his father’s goons. It’s another of PoI‘s special little quirks, the parallel scene, but this time Elias is saved by a balaclava-masked person who shoots Peter Yogarov, killing him(?) and wounding Terney. It is, as we all understood instantly, Carter, though where she goes from here, she has no idea.

The 2010 story builds. Nathan Ingram is going to go public about the Machine, in the face of every attempt Finch makes to stop him. He’s meeting a journalist at 8.00am, the Ferry Terminal. Hersh is interrogating a terrorist suspect, a would-be suicide bomber, whose target is… the Ferry Terminal. Harold has warned Nathan that everyone associated with the Machine is dying, strange deaths, not all natural. He warns Nathan.

In 2013, Reese is still pressing the Machine for assistance. He receives a code that leads him to a book (Koestler’s The Ghost in the Machine, how apt). Behind it is a safe, and in the safe a map showing three potential locations for the Machine. There are also photos of women, ex-Numbers. Saved or Failed? The third is familiar: it is Susan. Reese’s reaction is extreme quietness, his normally soft tones even softer as he answers the questions Shaw poses as she recognises his feelings. The reminder that John Reese lost someone.

The Machine’s whereabouts are traced to a ‘Nuclear Facility’ in Washington State. Root’s twenty-four hours are up, but she’s got there with Finch, who has warned her that things might not be what she expects. And they’re not: they enter a massive, hangar-like space. And it is empty.

Root is in shock. The undercutting of her quest, her desire to set the Machine free, is the realisation that the Machine has set itself free, or rather than Finch has done it for it. Root’s mad enough to shoot Finch but the usual bullet from another direction comes from Shaw, shooting Root in the shoulder. Finch explains that, long ago, he realised that someone would someday attempt to take over the Machine. So he ensured that when the time came, they would try it with his code (a-ha! Greer and Decima), and that that code would be recogniseed as an attack, leading the Machine to defend itself, in this case by removing itself, a piece at a time, over five weeks.

It’s like old home week: as our band turns to leave, enter Hersh and another operative, just ahead of Special Counsel. It’s a stand-off, two guns againt two guns, stalemate. Special Counsel recognises Harold as the silent partner of Nathan Ingram, the black hole of non-information. Now that the Machine has gone, that the Numbers will only arrive if it decides to supply them, Special Counsel offers Finch his own terms to rebuild it. Finch has heard that before. It was what they said to his friend. Before they killed him.

It’s 2010, 8.00am, the Ferry Terminal. Finch meets Ingram, the latter full of energy and relief at finally speaking out. Hersh sets his suicide bomber off. There is a distant flash, blackness. Harold wakes in an emergency triage area, on his side in a temporary bed. He’s suffered neck and lower back injuries and mustn’t move. But he twists and turns, looking for Nathan. And he sees him. At the moment that the surgeon gives up resuscitation and calls time of death. To the professional relief of two vultures, hanging around to ensure Ingram is dead, and check to see if anyone else knows anything and also needs to be eliminated.

Harold struggles to his feet, grabs a crutch, stays out of their line of sight. And at that moment, Grace enters, fearful for her fiance. Harold is caught in that moment, facing an impossible decision that none of us should ever have to face. And as we know he must, he lets her believe he’s dead, lets her break down and cry in a way that at least half the audience wants to, seeing this.

And back to the library, falling as much as sitting on a chair, and asking “Did you know?” And re-programming the Machine to display the Non-Relevant numbers again, in the last seconds before midnight and they are automatically deleted, and yes, in the middle of the list: Nathan Ingram. So now we know.

There is a little more shuffling of the deck to do in 2013. Special Counsel receives a phone call from someone he addresses as ‘Ma’am’. He passes the phone to Hersh, who is instructed to seal the room. Ever the professional, he shoots everyone there, including Special Counsel, who, ever the professional, accepts his end stoically. There will be a new aggressor next season.

But will there be anything to work upon next season? Will the Machine continue to give forth Numbers from wherever it has buried itself? Harold and John stroll in the park, taking Bear for a walk. A payphone rings.

And in a secure Mental Institution, a catatonic Root wanders the halls aimlessly, doped to the gills. A payphone rings. She lifts the receiver. “Can you hear me?” Root smiles very faintly.

After this, things will never be the same again. Don’t they always?

Film 2019: The Battle of the River Plate

It’s back to the Powell/Pressburger box-set for this and the next Sunday, with the 1956 film The Battle of the River Plate. The film is about a notable naval engagement in the early months of World War 2. It is unusual in the Archers’ collection in being an entirely straight film, lacking any of the flair or fantasy that the pair usually brought to their roles, and it is also the earliest of their films that I saw, less than ten years after its making, in our first house at Brigham Street, in black and white on our old 405-line telly, on what must have been a Sunday afternoon.

The film breaks down into three phases. A voiceover explains the set-up: that in order to disrupt the British War Effort, the German Navy targeted merchant ships to deprive Britain of supplies and starve it out. The film begins with the sinking of the MS Africa Shell by the fast-moving, heavily armoured Admiral Graf Spee, underhe command of Captain Hans Langsdorf (Peter Finch). Africa Shell‘s Captain, Dove (Bernard Lee) is taken aboard the Graf Spee and treated decently and honorably by Langsdorf.

During the War, the Archers faced a lot of difficulty over their depiction of sympathetic Germans, and with Langsdorf we’re here again. But this is apparently an honest depiction: indeed, the film sets out to be as truthful to the actual facts as it can, basing itself on the book written by the real Captain Dove (who was a technial advisor and also played a minor role as a fellow prisoner of Captain Dove!)

The first part of the film takes place on the Graf Spee. Langsdorf gives Dove (and the audience) an exposition of their tactics and actual superiority, Dove is allowed to see a lot of the ship, before the rest of the prisoners are transferred abroad, after which we only see them in their cramped quarters, and hear the sinking of the MS Doric Star.

The scene switches to the South Alantic, off the coast of South Africa. A British hunting pack, consisting of Ajax (the flagship), Achilles and Exeter is under tthe command of Commodore Harwood (Anthony Quayle). Harwood has been studying the Graf Spee‘s movements and is convinced it will be heading for their waters. He draws up plans to attack, to split theGerman fire by having Ajax and Achilles attack one flank and Exeter the other.

There is a long, tense sequence as everyone stands ready and lookouts are constantly searching the horizon, until at last one sees smoke. This leads into the battle sequence, which takes up twenty minutes of the film, and is a pretty comprehensive depiction of every stage of the action, even though it’s telescoped from the hour the battle took in real life, with the first six minutes in real time.

The authenticity of the battle, and indeed of all the scenes at sea, in enhanced by the generous co-operation of the Royal Navy in lending actual ships, and even more so that Achilles was ‘played’ by the original ship, still functioning over fifteen years later (the same thing went for the Cumberland, which arrives late in the film).

Though Exeter is so badly damaged it has to withdraw, the attack forces the Graf Spee to flee, ending up in Montevideo, Uruguay, a neutral country. This signals the film’s third and most impressive phase, as the tension slowy rises over the outcome. The original audience, only a decade after the War’s end, would have knwn what was coming, but not perhaps the step by step details.

Because Uruguay is a neutral country, the International Conventions require that the Graf Spee is entitled to remain for such time as is needed to restore it to seaworthiness, but it may not receive any assistance towards making it fit for battle. The Germans want two to three weeks, the British and the French 24 hours. The Uruguayans, a small nation but a proud one, determinedly reject German protest and the implicit threat of international blackmail and the consequences of  German victory in the War.

What might happen is the subject of much debate and preparation. Harwood, newly promoted to Rear Admiral and knighted, analyses Langsdorf’s options and determines he will attempt to break out, under cover of night, and try to lose the British. Harwood’s squadron is enhanced by the arrival of Cumberland, but the clever spread of misinformation gives everyone in Montevideo the impression of a large British fleet lying in wait.

The climax comes on a bright Montevideo evening (the scenes of Montevideo harbour are filmed on location with thousands of local extras). American reporter Mike Fowler (Lionel Murton) provides a live commentary that is radioed to Ajax. Harwood decides to move in, despite the risk of infringing neutrality. Interned or sunk, either would be a massive blow to German propaganda.

Graf Spee sets out with a skeleton crew, followed by a German merchant vessel. It travells three miles, at sunset, and stops. A party of men are taken off. At 8.00pm exactly, the end of the Uruguayan ultimatum to depart, the ship is wracked with explosions from stem to stern. It has been scuttled. The Battle is over.

One historical fact is omitted from the film, though a final scene in which Dove, a fellow Captain, commiserates with the shaken and morose Langsdorf hints at it. In true Captain’s tradition, Langsdorf wanted to go down with his ship but was persuaded to return to shore to ensure his crew receied the amnesty due to them, and which is promised unasked in the film. Having secured this, Langsdorf committed suicide.

Though it lacks the characteristics we expect from a Powell/Pressburger film, and whilst it is a low-key film emotionally, led by the stiff upper lip, and an almost entirely masculine one, The Battle of the River Plate was all the better for being treated in this semi-documentary fashion. You can’t imagine any War film being made like this film now, for there are no personal stories, no heroic actions nor tragic deaths, the story is not milked for screen drama, and because it is true to what happened. This approach was needed, in respect for the men who fought the battle, and in respect for the audience of men who had lived what happened, if not in Ajax, Achilles or Exeter, then in other heavy and light cruisers, in battleships and destroyers, and merchant ships, only a little more than a decade, and knew the score. My Uncle was one.

In a way, it would have been better to have bypassed this film today, saved it for a month, for the Sunday of the week I am going to Portsmouth, to the Naval Dockyard, to see what I can of my father’s National Service in the Royal Navy. It would have set the scene remarkably well.

As for my memory of this being the first Archers film I saw, let me return at the last to Lionel Murton, as the American reporter, Mike Fowler, who gets the film’s last line. Murton was English/Canadian but, because of his accent, generally played Americans. This war film didn’t attract me much, but I recognised Murton with whom I was familiar for his role as sidekick to Dickie Henderson, a popular English comedian (popular with my parents, certainly, not least because he was clean), whose successful sitcom was one of those converted to comic strip form in, I think, TV Comic, which I read avidly back then.

Murton stayed in my mind because I knew him, and he iss an integral part of that final phase of the film, where one does not have to know how things end in order to feel the rising tension, as the diplomats plot and deflect, and the crowds wait to see what will happen.

The Battle of theRiver Plate was made because Powell and Pressburger couldn’t justify a trip to a South American film festival without it being a working holiday. Their partnership was coming towards an amicable end. They had suffered four successive commercial flops, but this would be a final success. The film was ready for release in 1955 but Rank held it back a year to have it selected as the Royal Film Command Performance. It was Britain’s fourth most popular film of the year.

And in its strange, deliberately stilted fashion, it is a minor masterpiece. There are better films (and worse) in this eleven-disc boxset, but I wouldn’t swap this for any of the omissions.


Life… don’t talk to me about life

I saw the title in the Radio 4 schedules back in 1979 and was curious. But I didn’t get round to listening to it until I received a prompt on my last day of the LawTutors course in Solicitors’ Accounts. One of our two lecturors, knowing that they would have no further chance to influence us, told the class of this book that featured in this radio series. He wanted us to take to heart the words printed on the front of the book, in large, friendly letters: Don’t Panic.

I missed my chance on Sunday, because I forgot. A week of revision followed, and on the Sunday I caught the coach from Nottingham, where I was living, to Mancchester, where I was doing the exam on Monday. Coach to Stockport, bus to home, for my mother and sister were away, the exam coinciding with their August holiday in the Lakes.

I got in, and I put on the radiogram to listen to Fit the Fifth, the fifth episode of The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. And I laughed like a drain.

That was forty years ago. I’ve long since ceased to find THHGTG anything like as funny as I did than and for a decade or so later, though Douglas Adams’ humour is by far the most obvious influence on mine. And I have quoted more lines from Hitch-Hiker, and more often, than anything other thing I have heard, seen or read.

Last week, Friday 4 October, Stephen Moore died, though I have only learned that this evening. He would have been 82 in December. He played one of the funniest roles ever on British radio, that of Marvin the Paranoid Android. Just say that name and listen to it. The very idea is funny. Adams’ creation of Marvin, the words he wrote for Marvin to say, or rather to grumble, to moan, to emit wearily, are funny. But in Stephen Moore, they found the perfect, lugubrious voice to make you collapse in uncontrollable laughter.

Marvin and Stephen Moore were one of the things the Twentieth Century will be known by. It hurts that he has been one a week and this is the first I’ve known of it. Such losses cannot be borne in silence.

Thank you Stephen Moore. And now, at long last, I trust you are finally free of that terrible pain in all the diodes down your left side…

Lost 70s: Volume 19

I know I promised Volume 19 would follow shortly on Volume 18, which was because the two compilations were recorded practically back to back. It’s just that I forgot. Sorry. But better late than not at all. This collection offers 23 tracks, with a fair bit of leaping around in time, a handful of chart hits but mostly low-lyers. I hope there’s a few memories to be evoked here.

Cracking Up            Nick Lowe

Because the New Musical Express espoused punk enthusiastically, at a time when the rest of the country’s press, music or otherwise, was hounding it in the same way they do Jeremy Corbyn these days, there were a lot of people I heard a lot about without hearing anything by. Brinsley Schwarz had never crossed my musical path in the Seventies, though I’d heard of the great 1970 PR Disaster without having a single idea what had happened. But Lowe, or ‘Basher’ as he was nick-named from his Production habits, was taken up by the NME with great gusto, especially for ‘Heart of the City’ (a truly great song and only a b-side). The paper created its own nick-name for Lowe, which he took for the title of his first solo album, Jesus of Cool. It’s sub-title also came from the NME, if my memory is working properly: ‘Pure Pop for Now People’. And Lowe was on a hot streak in those years, turning out pop songs with strength and steel in them, as well as compelling melodies. By the time ‘Cracking Up’ came out as a single, in 1979, Lowe was working as one-fourth (bass) of Rockpile, in partnership with Dave Edmunds. Since the two were tied to contracts with different labels, most of Rockpile’s stuff was released as solo records by Lowe or Edmunds, according to who wrote and sung songs. ‘Cracking Up’ plays with a deliberate flat melody, Lowe half-talking the words, and that’s Edmunds you hear on the chorus. It’s downbeat, smooth on the surface but jagged in more than the lyrics, and Lowe hits the right note of disturbance. Unfortunately, differences between Lowe and Edmunds broke up the Rockpile experiment prematurely, but before they left, they recorded this minor classic that spelled out the seeds of its own demise within. I don’t think it’s funny no more. And when it stops being funny…

Baby Blue              Badfinger

Another cameo for my original naivete. Sometime in late 1969/early 1970, I first read about Badfinger. They were being billed as the ‘new’ or ‘next’ Beatles, from their place on the roster at Apple, and I took it seriously. Nobody else seemed to. The band weren’t all that prolific: ‘Come and Get It’ in 1970, ‘No Matter What’ in 1971, ‘Day After Day’ in 1972. I liked the first two and seriously loved the third. And I waited for 1973 to come round and Badfinger’s annual single. This was it. I didn’t hear it until this year, on YouTube, which makes it one of the Lost Lost 70s. Radio 1 didn’t play it, probably for no better reason than that the band had gone out of fashion. Nothing worse than last year’s model. But it’s brilliant. Archetypal Badfinger, strong song, fluent and melodic playing, a rock underpinning balancing out the pop tune and the harmonies. Archetypal Todd Rundgren production. It reached no 14 in America. Then Apple collapsed and destroyed the band through legal snarls. Pete Ham, who wrote and sang this, committed suicide in 1975. Not hearing ‘Baby Blue’ when I should have done was a waste and a loss, but it pales beside what was done to the band members. That special love I have for you. The horror.

Lido Shuffle           Boz Scaggs

In contrast, we shuffle into 1976, and the end of that very brief period when Boz Scaggs was hitting the commercial heights in the UK. ‘Lido Shuffle’ reached no 13 in early 1977, but it’s still a 1976 song, coming from Scaggs’ most successful album, Silk Degrees. It couldn’t have come from anything but that anteroom of a year, American and polished, rhythmic but not quite disco, but blessed with an uptempo verve and just enough touch of rawness to that chorus to make it worth remembering. This is fun! Woah-oah-aoh-oh-oh-oh.

Groupie Girl                  Tony Joe White

Back to the beginnings, back to basics: and they used to call Creedence Clearwater Revival ‘swamp music’. Tony Joe White crept into the British Charts only once, and this was it, a no. 22 hit of sorts that was sung and played in a low rumble over a minimal tune, about a phenomenon that I didn’t understand and that people who did understand what Tony Joe was singing about didn’t like him singing about it, even when he wasn’t actually endorsing sweet young girls collecting long-haired rockers’ dicks. And they really didn’t like that line about passing her around like a joint. Must we fling this filth at our pop kids? Well, at least one of them didn’t know what you meant and it’s take him nearly fifty years to learn to understand the music, but I got there.

Elizabethan Reggae         Boris Gardiner

I’m a little bit surprised it took me as long as it did, but I didn’t start writing down the Top Thirty every week until the end of May 1970. Once I did, I start to understand and remember things, but that left those first five months as a bit of an anomalous zone, without my ever getting a handle on what was around when, and for how long, and in relation to what. ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ was big, my first real exposure to reggae, but there was also this little oddball, a tune I was familiar with – it’s Ronald Binge’s ‘Elizabethan Serenade’, which only dates from 1951. I’m trumpeting my ignorance yet again, because I knew the melody and thought it was classical music, and I liked this version, even though I was barely able to tell this was different, and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t being played as often as I liked on Radio 1. Of course, it had originally been released as being by Byron Lee and The Dragonaires and I even got a cheap Shudehill Record Stalls copy with them on the label. Now I understand why, but I still like the melody.

The Man Who Sold The World                  Lulu

In 1974, five years after her last hit single, that atrocious piece of Sixties Eurovision, you’d have struggled to find a Bookie who would give you any odds whatsoever on Lulu turning into David Bowie. Hey, the next year, she tried to be George McCrae: can’t fault the wee Scots lassie from trying. Bowie obviously didn’t mind, he produced the Lulu version, arranging the song for a less dark and swirling guitar, decorating the melody with saxaphones and even adding very distinct backing vocals on the chorus. Needless to say, the very idea was considered blasphemy, but if it didn’t bother Mr Jones, who were we to object? Of course, it lacks a tenth of the dimension of the original, but I wasn’t familiar with the original back in 1974 and I was happy with this then. The CD’s only bona fide big hit, but if only she hadn’t covered up that lovely red hair with that panama hat…

Spinnin’ and Spinnin’            Syreeta

Soul just wasn’t my thing in the Seventies, but this beautiful rush of sweetness, written and performed by Stevie Wonder’s ex-wife Syreeta Wright and issued under just her first name was a glorious exception. It’s a heartfelt paean to love and being swept off your feet, matched a musical confection masterminded by Stevie at his most generous and rich. Ain’t never come down yet.

Don’t Touch Me There           The Tubes

For once, I’m including a B-side here, or to use early Seventies parlance that was out of date long before 1977, when The Tubes made their only brief excursion into the British singles chart, a maxi-single. Maxi-singles were hybrid 7”ers. EPs, or Extended Plays for the under twenty-fives here, were 7” vynil with four tracks, two on each side. They had their own, irrelevant charts but some sold well enough to have taken Top Ten places in the singles chart if they’d been included, as indeed they were in the New Musical Express Top Thirty. Maxi-singles came along in 1970, the biggest of them being Mungo Jerry’s ‘In the Summertime’. The difference was that whilst you got an A-side, you got two, count them, two tracks on the B-side, and a hike in price. ‘Don’t Touch Me There’, a massively over-produced, gigantically melodramatic rock’n’roll spoof about masturbating your lady-friend, was one of two tracks backing up the equally spoof-titious ‘White Punks on Dope’, and was to my ears an extravanganza a million times as much fun. The Tubes were a satire on music, a great good, and this is a blast of disdainful energy wrapped in a disdainful wink. And there’s precedent for me elevating this track above it’s A-side, for Family’s classic ‘The Weaver’s Answer’ was just one of the three tracks on their ‘Strange Band’ maxi-single: ‘Strange Band’ was the A-side, but for once Radio 1 played the best track. Pity they didn’t do that for ‘Don’t Touch Me There’ but if you listen to what they’re singing…

Motor-Bikin’          Chris Spedding

Chris Spedding was a musician of high repute in the Seventies, a session guitarist in constant demand. In 1975, he decided to briefly front up with this modest Top Twenty single, a slightly out-dated rocker about exactly what the title says, motor-biking. The lyrics are a bit naff, and Spedding’s voice isn’t much better than average, but it’s a bit of fun, an injection of energy when energy was badly-needed, and a necessary reminder that there were some moments when a signpost to the future placed itself before you.

I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock’n’Roll)          Dave Edmunds

Then again, this is the real deal. It might be every bit as backwards-looking, to the days of rock’n’roll, as the Chris Spedding track is, but this Dave Edmunds single, the fourth to be released from his 1977 Get It album, came out in the summer of 1978, when Punk was being heard a lot more openly, instead of being only known through its vicious opposition. But ‘I Knew the Bride’, telling a regretful tale of a once-rebel-rousing young woman marrying a pillar of the community, looked both ways, being a bridge between the simplicity and power of what had once been and the rising tide that took that simplicity as its goal. It’s Rockpile again, just like the Nick Lowe song that heads this compilation. There wasn’t a punk band that could have recorded this song but there wasn’t a punk band that couldn’t take it as their own.

Kinnell Tommy             Ed Banger

You have to allow me my quirks sometimes. Ed Banger and The Nosebleeds sounds like a cheap Benny Hill parody but they were one of the earliest and crudest Manchester punk bands, producing the single ‘Ain’t Been to no Music School’ (by all accounts, no-one needed to be told that). Ed (Ed Garrity) then left the band and resurfaced in 1978 with this single, on Rabid Records, who had first hosted Jilted John. It’s a mainly piano and drums song, (if you stretch the word far enough) with some roughish guitar sweeps and an odd burst of synthesized sound over the extended coda. In front of this performance Ed shouts like an excitable football fan at a Sunday morning pub team game, which is what the silly but weirdly endearing thing is: Tommy is a useless centre forward who’s being encouraged along by the eternally optimistic Ed (we all know what he means by Kinnell) until the useless Tommy leathers a penalty over the bar at which point Ed turns on him with a torrent of inventive and clean abuse into the fade-out. It has to be heard to be believed, and you will most likely not want to ever listen to it again, but until you do, your imagination can’t ever say it’s been stretched! Incidentally, EMI picked this up just as they did ‘Jilted John’ but this one didn’t happen. Pity, I would have given a great deal for a clip of Ed doing this on Top of the Pops

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do             Neil Sedaka

For a while there, Neil Sedaka was back in the Seventies, in Britain at least. Aided and abetted by members of 10cc, producing at Strawberry Studios, he recorded a short string of Top Twenty singles, sophisticated, grown-up MOR Pop. This didn’t chart: despite the false start using the intro to the original, this is a complete deconstruction of the song and its reinvention as a slow, gentle, nightclub smoother. Lots of people hated it, clinging to the original. I had no such attachments, and liked it as it had become, though what it had become was outside the normal parameters of what I liked. On re-discovery, it’s no longer so appealing, but it stands as a marker in time of where I stood as I was coming out of my teens.

Shoes                 Reparata

A story of how sometimes obvious, massive hits-to-be become flops. Britain and I knew Reparata and The Delrons, a three-girl singing group, from their somewhat goofy 1968 hit ‘Captain of your Ship’ and nothing else, though Wikipedia confirms them as providing backing vocals on ‘Honky Tonk Women’. Actually, Reparata, lead singer Mary Aiese, left the group in 1970, when she married and became Mary O’Leary. She encouraged the two Delrons, the stone-cold gorgeous Nanette Licari and Lorraine Mazzola too carry on, with Mazzola becoming ‘Reparata’. Then, in late 1974, Reparata surfaced with this song. It lacks any conventional song structure, there are no choruses, and there’s a strong Greco-Italian-Turkish blend to it, especially in its fade, with balalaikas and handclaps and fades. The lyrics are about a big family wedding and the whole thing is a joyous romp. You imagine yourself doing one of those big step dances that precede line dances, as everyone gets happily drunk and the couple are in the middle. The radio loved it, everybody loved it, it was a sure-fire hit. And it peaked at no 43 and vanished. Long years later, I learned that it didn’t sell in the colossal numbers it deserved, not because I was once again out of step with the Great British Record-Buying Public but because there were no bloody copies to buy. Reparata was Mary O’Leary, but so too now was Lorraine Mazzola, whilst Reparata-Mary had recorded this whilst signed to one record company but released it under her new contract with another company. The twin legal actions forced a halt to pressings: by the time you could go out and buy it, time and the audience had moved on. A bloody shame. It still sounds perky, and more mature, a very long time after.

Quit this Town            Eddie and The Hot Rods

When I added ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ to the last compilation, I pointed out that people credit it to Eddie and The Hot Rods, which was the band’s permanent name, instead of The Rods, the name they took for that single only. For its follow-up, they reverted to their full name, and commercial obscurity. Which is a shame, because ‘Quit this Town’ was a cracking little bit of powerpop itself. Not quite as purely commercial a melody, the guitars not quite so ringing, and a crappily rough Top of the Pops live performance did the band no favours. The song peaked at no 36 in the Top Thirty era. It would have been more fun on the radio with this in heavy rotation.

Yes I Understand           The Flying Machine

The Flying Machine are a more than usual example of the Lost. The band formed in 1969 out of the ashes of Pinkerton’s, formerly Pinkerton’s Magic Colours, of ‘Mirror, Mirror’ fame, and had an American top 5 hit single, ‘Smile a Little Smile For Me’, that I don’t even remember hearing on the radio over here. Indeed, it’s only within the last decade I have heard of the band at all. ‘Yes I Understand’ was the last of their six singles. But I know the song very well indeed, and loved it tremendously in the only form I ever met it, adapted for a well-played TV commercial in 1971 as ‘Esso Understands’. It used to amaze me that a song like that wasn’t properly recorded as a single. Well, now I know.

Magic Man             Heart

This was the first single from the Wilson sister’s band’s debut album, Dreamboat Annie. I didn’t hear it until the follow up, ‘Crazy on You’ came out and I fell for its crazy rush of acoustic and electrics, it’s pace and power. I heard about ‘Magic Man but didn’t hear it until I bought the album, and I cursed not having known about it before, with its near-funk wriggle, its sinuous melody and its lyrics that, for me at that still-immature age, weren’t quite open enough for me to recognise that Ann Wilson was explaining to her critical mother why she’d had to hop into bed with this Magic Man. The chicks looked hot, even through the layers of midi-length dresses and knee-length boots that were the prevailing fashions in 1977, but though the cover of the second album was gorgeous, the music had lost any spark that Dreamboat Annie possessed. Ten years later, when ‘Alone’ was big, I read a profile that gave Nancy Wilson’s age as 23. I then came across a copy of that first album, and couldn’t help but think how well-developed Nancy was… as a guitarist, I mean… for a supposed 13 year old.

White Lies, Blue Eyes         Silver Bullit

There wasn’t really a band called Silver Bullit. In America they were Bullitt, but in England there was Bullet so for this slice of strident blue-eyed soul-pop, the band needed a new name. The song leads with its chorus, no intro, which made it hard to tape off the radio and necessitated me buying the single, on special order from the local shop. Springy bass, a raucous lead, brass and a slicing guitar solo, it hit me where it hit, but there was a narrowness to the production that I think worked against the strong. Nevertheless, on minimal airplay it got to no 41 over here. An inferior follow up called ‘Willpower Weak, Temptation Strong’ suggested a penchant for four word, commaed titles, but I heard nothing more of the band. This is still a decent legacy for a one-off, though.

If you can’t give me love            Suzi Quatro

Truthfully, I never liked Suzi Quatro, except for one unexpected bikini photo in the Sun. She and her band were the arse-end of the Chinnichap era (if you ask your grandparents, they’ll most likely box your ears) and dire stuff it was by then, but this laconic, semi-acoustic 1978 flop caught some of us off-guard by featuring a melody and some husky-voiced singing as opposed to shrieking. Admittedly, it sounds like a foretaste of Smokie at this remove, which piles up even more minus points, but I liked it then and that buys it a place here.

The Six Teens         The Sweet

Speaking of Chinnichap…
Nowadays, we cower at the words Stock, Aitkin and especially Pete Waterman, most often when they, or rather he, compare themselves to Motown. The more accurate comparison was to the early-Seventies team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, writers and producers of the likes of Mud, Suzi Quatro, Smokie and New World (you don’t remember New World? Stay that way). But their first and biggest success was with The Sweet, starting with ultra lightweight stuff like ‘Funny Funny’ and ‘Co-Co’. But, and it’s funny to think of this, The Sweet had their own mind, even if it was only one between them. They wanted to be taken seriously, play heavier music. Chinnichap let them start to orient their sound more towards fuzzbox guitars, then gave their head – within limits – with a genuinely raucous sound on massive hits like ‘Blackbuster’, ‘Ballroom Blitz’ and ‘Teenage Rampage’. I hated them all, of course, though I’ve softened a great deal towards ‘Ballroom Blitz’. That wasn’t enough for the boys and there came a parting of the ways, allowing the band to write their own material. ‘The Six Teens’ was the first demonstration of that. In sound, it’s no different, and it’s typical of the mid-Seventies in that any notion of a simple, straightforward melody is abandoned consciously. It’s herky jerky and awkward and comes complete with an egregious change of speed for the last verse chorus, throws in some quasi-operatic stuff from bassist Steve Priest and teenage angst lyrics of stunning obscurity.
In all, it’s an object lesson in how not to establish yourself, but back then I liked it for its conspicuous effort, and when Chinnichap ruled the world, or the British bit of it anyway, you learned to enjoy anything that consciously rejected it.

I don’t need to tell her               The Lurkers

…or, Dumb Punk with a decent melody. Plonking good stuff.

Language School               The Tours

In that long ago conversation down the pub that I referenced in relation to ‘Get Over You‘, this was the record I was thinking of when I said that some bands have only got three minutes of genius in them. ‘Language School’ was the title track on an EP by The Tours, but if Peely played any of the other tracks, I don’t remember them. Hell, I bought the record, and if I played any of the other tracks, I still don’t remember them. But this track is good enough for me, a straightforward, punchy song, delivered over a booming bassline and no complexity whatsoever. You could ask for more, but in the summer of 1978 I wanted no more than this.

Map Reference 41°N 93°W            Wire

Wire were, and still are, Wire, a law unto themselves, the deliberately strange, too weird to be called offbeat, though in another generation that would have been the first thought in anyone’s head. But though they deliberately ignored the conventions of song-structure most of the time, when they chose to work within them, they could come up with something seriously brilliant, like this. I’ve no more idea what this song is about, and you can be sure that it’s title appears nowhere within the lyrics, but there’s a rhythm pulsing at the right rate and the chorus insinuates itself into your ears with gorgeous harmonies until you can’t help yourself joining in. And even when you read the lyrics you’re no wiser, but that chorus pins you to the map once again.

The Day The World Turned Day-Glo                   X-Ray Spex

Lastly, we have X-Ray Spex again. The same words apply, this time to a fantastic vision of plastic colours and products. The degree of restraint, or rather the channelling of fantasies into a less lubricious direction permitted Radio 1 to play this enough for the band to get into the Top Thirty and onto Top of the Pops. Such days, now gone, but forever missed.

Lou Grant: s02 e22 – Bomb

…meet Joannie

This was an interesting if somewhat standard episode, wandering between the polemic and the personal, but integrating the two elements of the story comfortably enough not to make either seem out of place.

The key to both parts of the episode was Joe Rossi. In one half, Joe’s starting to date an attractive, intelligent journalism student who seems to be in line with his thinking. There’s just one problem: her name is Joanie Hume and her Dad is the Managing Editor of the Trib, who does not like the idea of his adult daughter dating a) a reporter and b) this reporter.

This is like a running gag. Joe’s nervous and forever on the point of breaking up with Joanie out of fear of what Charlie will do, though ultimately Joanie, who can tell something’s up, talks him into taking things as they come and getting round problems when they arise.

There’s something different about Joanie since her last appearance. Oh, wait, I got it, she’s bbeing played by Dinah Manoff instead of Laurette Sprang (who was by now appearing in the original Battlestar Galactica). It’s difficult to tell the difference, what with Sprang having long, curly, very blonde hair and Manoff having shoulder-length, straight dark brunette hair, not to menion the completely different facial shapes, but apart from that it’s really hard to tell.

This is but the counterpoint to the real story. Rossi gets a letter from a mysterious young man (who even looks like your typical period white-guy turned terrorist fanatic) threatening to detonate an A-Bomb somewhere in LA if their demands are not a) published and b) met. This lot are for an independent Croatia (Jeez, that’s going back), not to mention the release of two Croatian prisoners and $10,000,000.00.

That lets us in for some fairly dry information alerting us the the public’s general ignorance about A-Bomb technology, i.e., that you can’t build one without a Manhattan Project behind you. The message is, you can so too, much of which is delivered by Bilie’s old college buddy, physicist Jack Ridgeway, played by Joe Spano (a second consecutive guest star role for a future Hill Street Blues star).

It’s delivered fairly painlessly, humanised by the increasing nervousness of Rossi, Lou et al over the realistic prospect of being blown up at any moment, an approach that’s no longer viable forty years on, when we’ve had too much of the reality rather than the theory of unexpected terrorist bombing for our own innocence to remain.

In the end, Rossi gets a secret message that leads him to the group’s headquarters, where they have a van. The FBI burst in and arrest everyone, Rossi included. The bomb’s real, they just don’t have any fissionable uranium as yet, so all’s well that ends with a couple of mild black humour jokes.

There are two episodes left in season 2 and I’m still decided on whether to plunge straight into season 3 or to refresh my palette with something different. Be here in three weeks to find out.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Arrive at Easterwine

Arrive at Easterwine was another 1971 publication, and another of those invaluable Dobson Books editions, without which I would have found it harder to get into Lafferty’s works. It would have saved me a considerable amount of money, yes, but just think what I would have missed out upon.
The book’s cover and title page are out of the ordinary, and are explained by an ‘exchange of letters’ between the author and a representative of his Literary Agency, over the credit for the book. The novel’s full title, which is key to the understanding of the book, is actually Arrive at Easterwine the Autobiography of a Ktistec Machine as Conveyed to R A Lafferty. You see, the book is written by a machine, Epiktistes, the aforementioned Ktistec Machine.
Fortunately, by the time I bought this book, I already knew what a Ktistec Machine was, or at least I knew about Epiktistes. I was looking forward to reading at full length about the several members of the Institute of Impure Science, with whom I had become acquainted via a number of stories in Laffferty’s first collection, Nine Hundred Grandmothers. Oh yes, the shambling giant, Gregory Smirnov, the anima’s rock-throwing little sister, Valery Mok, her unoutstanding and overshadowed husband, Charles Cogworth, the stiff-necked Glasser and Aloysius Shiplap. Are these not wonderful names? How can you not have fun with scientists of those kinds of names, and an Institute that dedicates itself to Impure Science?
The book is Epikt’s account of himself and the Institute’s first three Great Failures, over the first months of his existence, from the moment he’s acquired enough sentience to start re-directing it. As such, it pre-dates every short story about the Institute, though it’s fair to say that though it has its moments of interest, and the space to go into who and what the members are as people, it never approaches the heights of the short stories, whose brevity focuses upon the idea Lafferty is exploring.
Indeed, much of the novel is, as is very often the case, based in Lafferty’s philosophical interests. Epikt, for all his intelligence, is starting from point zero, collecting information in great gobbets but always watching from a different angle than that of the humans. He’s an amalgam of naivete and boastful knowingness, which makes him the ideal observer, searching for enlightenment and requiring answers, whilst placing himself above humans in knowing, but not necessarily understanding those answers.
The cast is expanded a little, to include Gaetan Balbo, Director of that earlier and eradicated Institute that didn’t include Gregory Smirnov, and also two others among Lafferty’s vivid and highly intelligent short story regulars, Audifax O’Hanlon and Diogenes Pontifex, two of the elegants, like Aloysius, as opposed to the fellahin, like Cogworth and Glasser, but who are excluded from membership on account of failing the minimum decency rule.
To provide the book with what narrative structure it has, Lafferty and Epikt relate the Institute’s first three Tasks, tasks we’re told in advance will fail. Gregory’s intent on outlining these in turn, which, stripped to the barest possible explanation, will take an hour or so each, that is until his colleagues reduce them to three words: they (and Epiktistes) are to find a Leader, a Love and a Liaison. And Epikt has his own vision (he intuits visions) integral to his cause. This is of Gaetan Balbo’s family crest, its familiar but symbolic quarters, it’s curious writhing scroll and changing motto and, at its centre, its overwritten area, where various levels exist, obscured by the others. The contents of this flow through different but closely related names: El Brusco, the brusque one, La Brusca, the Burning Bush and Labrusca, the wild-wine.
Each name, in turn, relates to the three investigations, or searchings or uncoverings or failures Epikt and how each is illuminated by the synbols Lafferty produces.
Ultimately, though the characters are as vivid and enjoyable, the fact that the book is about three Great Failures robs it, for me, of any successful ending, not even in the sense of that of Fourth Mansions, where the ultimate effect is withheld for us to determine from our individual readings. And, like all Lafferty books, it has its fans and its detractors, whose opinions seem to derive from how flexible the mind can be about a book written with no thought of convention in mind.
It is immaculately Laffertyesque, with lines and thoughts of brilliance and high humour, and it throws out a hundred thousand ideas that no-one else could have had and which leave the receptive reader speculating wildly which one of them or the writer is on powerful hallucinogens (hint, it wasn’t Lafferty), and more than half convinced that Laff is on to something that none of us have noticed. And it’s incredibly funny, to those of us tuned to Lafferty’s absurdity.
So, Arrive at Easterwine. I have known it too long to be anything other than affectionate towards it, and incredibly defensive on its behalf to those who plainly do not understand (this means most of you, right? Don’t worry I don’t mean that insultingly) but I will not pretend it is the book you should want to read to decide if you like the Cranky Old Man from Tulsa. But if you do, and once you are sure, don’t leave it long, people.
As Epikt says, it really is the best thing ever done by a machine.