The Infinite Jukebox: Amaral’s ‘Te Necessito’

Once upon a time…
The first year we holidayed on Mallorca, my wife did all the driving. She was familiar with left-hand drive cars and I had never driven on the right hand side of the road. We had a great holiday.
There was no reason to expect anything different the following year, but when we touched down at Palma airport, she was very headachey and not in a fit state to drive. With her mother and stepfather keeping comfortably ahead to guide me all the way from Palma to Llucmajor, I found myself behind the wheel. The next morning, she was better, but I got given the key for the journey on to Cala Llombards, and the rest of our holidays over there.
The other big difference was that, after a safe daylight journey, I was confident enough with driving to have the radio on. The local station blasted out a nearly fifty/fifty mix of English and Spanish pop, with, despite their heavy presence in certain areas, no German pop (is there any such thing?). The English music was familiar, the Spanish merged into Latin rhythms and horns and incomprehensible lyrics. Some songs, for no discernible reason, were on heavy rotation, The Eagles’ “One of these Nights” (1975), Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” (1973) were on every day, and I can’t now divorce America’s dry, dusty winter 1971 hit “A Horse with No Name” from hearing whilst whilst driving into Palma, the sparkling blue of the Med and the white sails to our left, the sun-soaked hotels to our right.
Not all the Spanish songs were indistinguishable. One began with clear, bell-like guitar, picking out a slow, yearning phrase, with a female voice singing “oh, oh-oh, oh,” and words in Spanish that rode lightly over the guitar in a long intro that suddenly hit a beat, as bass, drums and organ came in and the song went for it. No horns, nothing latin but the words, a piece of pure pop-rock and a hook that tugged instantly at the soul. It was absolutely brilliant, and it was on as much rotation as Chicago or the Eagles, and every time it hit the air, I was listening intently.
What the hell was it? My wife understood Spanish, but she could never hear an announcement of title or act. We listened for what repeated in the chorus, came up with the guess that it was called “Beneficito”. Once home, she looked up the radio station on line, e-mailed them – in Spanish – with a request for information, but we never got a reply.
Leap forward a couple of years, maybe three. I hadn’t forgotten my song. I’d searched YouTube for “Beneficito” but nothing came up. We’d not been back to Mallorca the last couple of years. I was off work for a fortnight with stress, in the midst of a bout of deep, slumping depression. Whilst she was out at university, I was alone at home, spending hours in front of the computer. Remembering “Beneficito”, I tried to track it down again. Maybe we’d misheard it, and my wife had wracked her brains over possible alternate Spanish titles. One of these was “Te Necessito” (I Need You). There were “Te Necessito”s on YouTube, and one of them might have been what I was looking for. I’d not heard the song in over two years, and only a handful of times then.
There were other songs I tried. Female singer, female Spanish singers. A couple of tracks that, unusually, I liked listening to.
And then I saw “Te Necessito” by Amaral. It was an actual video, just like we had in Angle pop (fancy that!) I’d like to say that something clicked, that I went for the track with a heightened sense of anticipation, and maybe I did, or maybe that’s just after-the-fact romanticising, but the first note, the first second cut through all my mental fog and I knew in an instant that I’d got it. This was the “Te Necessito” of that Mallorcan summer, all clear, bell-like notes, that crisp, neat beat, that achingly gorgeous chorus, and the Spanish lady singing it wasn’t bad either.#
The video alternated between Eva Amaral, she of the vocals, wandering a mysterious Spanish hillside, turning her back on a mysterious stranger, Juan Aguirre, he of the ringing guitar and woolly hats as a string quartet with strange eyeless white masks augment the rhythm, and a five piece band in an all-white indoor environment cracking out the song. All as incomprehensible as any video gets, especially for a love song (I have run the lyrics through and that’s what it is, as the plain English title indicates.
The studio part of the video is misleading, as Amaral is only Eva (who doubles on percussion) and Juan, and for the last two decades they’ve been one of Spain’s biggest acts, with “Te Necessito” having been the second in a run of ten consecutive singles of which NINE went to number 1.
It did nothing to shift my gloom at the time, but since then, I’ve gone on to collect their complete run of albums, including special editions in the two most recent cases. Between them, and Shakira, and someone else who I shall be writing about shortly, The Infinite Jukebox now has a Spanish section, and I have a self-burned DVD collecting all the videos associated with that run of hit singles. That I really ought to play more often than I do.
And if my wife hadn’t developed that headache flying, and she’d have been doing the driving, odds are we’d never have had the radio on that week. Funny, isn’t it?


Film 2018: Moulin Rouge!

I’ll be honest about it straight away: I think Nicole Kidman is absolutely gorgeous and in Moulin Rouge! she is stunningly gorgeous. I used to have a stock phrase about someone being a combination of ‘Michelle Pfeiffer, Isabelle Huppert and the redhead from behind the Deli counter in Sainsburys’ (you should have seen her!) but after seeing Moulin Rouge! I reluctantly relegated Ms Pfeiffer in favour of Ms Kidman (although the phrase never scanned quite right after that, even though it syllabic metre didn’t change).

So you know where I’m coming from when I start to talk about Baz Luhrman’s 2002 spectacular, the only musical in my DVD collection, though it’s hard to think of this as a musical, even though there’s practically more singing than there is speaking. Made at the beginning of one century, it’s set at the end of the century-before-last, Paris, 1899, the Bohemian quarter of Montmartre, the infamous French cabaret theatre of the Moulin Rouge (the Red Windmill), birthplace of the Can-Can.

The story is simple. Penniless writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) comes to Montmartre to join the Bohemians and to write. He is absorbed into writing a revue titled ‘Spectacular Spectacular’, to be sold to Harold Zigler (Jim Broadbent), manager of the theatre, which will star his leading performer, the courtesan, Satine (Kidman). By error, Christian gets a private aftershow meeting with Satine, who believes his to be the Duke (Richard Roxburgh) whom she has to seduce into financing the proposed show. The pair promptly fall in love.

To escape the Duke’s suspicions, Christian hastily outlines a spectacular musical set in India where a courtesan promised to a rich but evil Maharajah falls in love with a penniless sitar player (so not at all analogous then) and, in accordance with the dictates of romance, refuses the Maharajah for him. That is, until the jealous Nini drops a poison word in the Duke’s ear, after which he insists on the show ending in a more logical and realistic manner, i.e., she marries the rich guy who can provide her with lifelong luxury, comfort and wealth.

Since the Duke holds the deeds to the Moulin Rouge and can shut the theatre down in a flash, the satanic yet paternal Zigler persuades Satine to go to the Duke. For Christian’s protection, since the Duke will have him killed should she see the writer again, she convinces her love that she never cared for him, that she is, was and only ever will be the courtesan, interested only in the highest bidder.

A despairing Christian breaks into the theatre and disrupts the performance. He coldly castigates Satine on stage as a whore, flings money at her, to ‘pay’ for their time together and is about to leave when she starts singing their ‘secret’ song, a promise to one another of eternal love, which brings him back.

But the joy is momentary. Satine has tuberculosis and expires on stage in Christian’s arms. A year later, the despairing Christian writes the story, which is the framework for the film. The end.

If you were to ask me to come up with one word to succinctly describe Moulin Rouge! it would be overblown. If you were to allow me two, then I would say that it is gloriously overblown, deliberately, determinedly and uproariously so. The basic idea behind the film was to attempt to translate a Bollywood spectacular into Western terms and whilst I’m not familiar with Bollywood films myself (except in as they are the basis for Clive James’ excellent novel, The Silver Castle), Luhrman has made a bloody good job of it.

Everything is done to excess, a great, overtly and overly theatrical excess. There isn’t a moment of naturalism in the film’s near-two hours length and the staging, especially of fin-de-siecle Paris, shows no allegiance to physical reality, especially in its CGI depictions of the city ranging in a single swoop from the (newly-constructed) Eiffel Tower to the hill of Montmartre.

The performances are equally absurd, and all the more effective (as it always is) for the utterly straight manner in which the cast play their roles. There is not the least wink to the audience to say that, yes, we know this is a load of OTT guff, which would spoil things in an instant. This unreal world of fantastically heightened emotions is completely real to the people in it and they inhabit their parts perfectly.

Of course, the true act of genius behind the film is not just the ease and naturalness with which everybody breaks into song without the least warning, continually, continuously and over and over, which is just an exaggeration on the standard Hollywood musical trope, but the selection of the songs themselves. In order to make Christian look as if he was genuinely ahead of his time, all the songs are genuinely anachronistic, coming from the mid to late Twentieth century.

Indeed, apart from the silk stocking and lingerie-clad Kidman herself, that was what first attracted me to the film. We were on honeymoon on Madeira and I was randomly checking out TV channels when I found an extended scene being played in English. It was Christian and Satine’s first meeting, and it was highly-stylised and oddly attractive already even before I burst out laughing as Christian, in a tone of voice that suggested he was making up the words as he was going only, started quoting Elton John’s ‘Your Song’!

The anachronism was hilarious, but that just scratches the surface of Moulin Rouge! It’s stuffed full of things like that and some of the selections are gloriously off the wall. Some are used in big set-pieces, such as the one early on when the theatre opens, and a crowd of choreographed men in tuxedos and top hats advance on a host of the ‘dancers’, in frills, corsets and garters, the men singing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (here we are now, entertain us…) and the women ‘Lady Marmalade’ (voulez-vous couchez avec moi, ce soir?).

‘Like a Virgin’ also gets an absurd run-out, complete with dancing waiters, sung improbably by Jim Broadbent, who is awfully good in everything he’s asked to do. And there is an astonishing tango sequence, late in the film, that takes as its cue the Police’s ‘Roxanne’. But most of the others appear in snippets, often hurled around and mixed, fragments that are both decoration and architecture in the film’s pursuit of its ultimately tragic conclusion. And not just sung: the screenplay gleefully chucks in countless song-titles with Love in their title, as ordinary conversation.

The effect is hilarious, as songs that are well-known in one context or style come hurtling at you in a completely different context and an arrangement that rips up the original. And the effect is all the more prominent for having the actors conspicuously do their own singing. Kidman’s the only one with a halfway decent chance of holding her own in a ‘real’ musical, with a sweet, note-carrying voice that is nevertheless too thin, and McGregor’s good enough not to send you screaming out into the night if he ever did karaoke at your local pub, whilst Broadbent never hits bad notes, but these are not professional singers, and it is all part of the film’s atmosphere to allow the songs to be given this slightly raw performance, the only natural element in the entire film.

I love Moulin Rouge! for all these things I’ve said, but I would still hold it in high regard if it were instead a piece of crap that starred Nicole Kidman at this time and in those costumes. The film unashamedly exploits her beauty, with the added bonus of the fact that she really is a damned good actress, and knows exactly how far to go in sending up herself and everything she is doing. You may disagree with me as to how she looks, and I’m not saying that I have to mop up pools of drool after each watching, but I could sit and stare for a long time without noticing there’s a film going on around the lady if that film were rubbish.

A happy, funny, lovingly-created experience. My Sunday morning has been duly enhanced. So will yours be, if you watch this.

A Duddon Fell

A Duddon Fell

I have always loved the Duddon Valley, ever since first discovering it as a ‘secret’ valley, when I was still a child.
As I’ve mentioned before, for years we used to stay at Low Bleansley farm, on the west flank of the overlooked Lickle Valley. Low Bleansley was at the end of a narrow road from the hamlet of Broughton Mills, connecting all the farms on that side of the valley. The tarmac road ended there, but a cart-track continuation continued, through a gate and into woods, leading up the hillside. One night, after our evening meal, Dad and I went for a walk along this track. It lead us up to the top of the low fell, and down again into another valley, one I hadn’t suspected existed. It was heavily forested and we followed the track down far enough to see the road below.
Back at the farm, Dad traced the map and identified our newly-discovered valley as the Duddon, and it wasn’t too much longer before we explored it for the first time. I don’t know if this was our first visit, but I vividly remember my Uncle driving us along the valley to Seathwaite (6 miles) and a bit beyond, as far as a forked junction, but refusing to go further since the valley road, at that point, became extremely narrow, with no possibility of two cars passing each other. We explored a short distance on foot, but all this was late afternoon: perhaps a side-visit when returning from Ravenglass.
We did go further, into the surprisingly wide openness of the upper valley, though this came after Dad died, in the early Seventies. There were two such trips for I remember two walks from Cockley Bridge, at the foot of Hard Knott and Wrynose: up Hard Knott on foot on the tarmac, and then the short walk to Hard Knott fell, and, at my suggestion, into Mosedale, almost to the valley head, where it would have been possible in theory to look down on Lingcove Beck, but this petered out, like the path, on increasingly wet ground, causing an abandonment.
These excursions aside, since the Duddon was not a convenient base for walks my family preferred, more often we would see only the lower valley, the pastoral, forested three miles from Duddon Bridge to Ulpha, where my Uncle would increasingly often risk his engine on the steep, zigzagging road behind the Traveller’s Rest to cross the expanse of Birker Moor and take a wide corner off the drive to Eskdale.
Sometimes, he’d compromise, by going over Corney Fell, from which, in ascent, there was a superb view over the Duddon Valley.
When I started going on holiday alone, free of the need to compromise to my family’s physical limits, and able to choose my own walks, I covered most of the Coniston Range in my first full year. I did Wetherlam – Swirl How – Great Carrs in the spring, and Dow Crag – the Old Man – Brim Fell in the early autumn. Later, as described here . I would do the whole Round in a single walk, but before that, I needed Grey Friars to complete the Range. And, so as not to cover ground already trodden, and because I’d never done a serious walk out of the Duddon, I made a point of a climb from this direction.
The obvious approach from the Duddon Valley was by the south-west ridge, which gave me a choice of starting points. The longer route was to base myself at Seathwaite, take the right hand fork from that long ago narrow junction and make a gradual ascent to Seathwaite Tarn, or to choose a base further north, near Troutal, and ascend across the base of the ridge to gain the valley of the Tarn on a more direct route. This latter enabled me to use the extensive car park at Birks Bridge, a short stroll along the road.

Seathwaite Tarn

This was a bitty, twisty ascent to begin with, under the lee of the ridge with no view of the way ahead until I was descending to the Tarn’s outflow. The ridge itself was pathless in those years, as Wainwright originally indicated, and it was a question of correctly identifying the grassy ride he recommended for access to the ridge. In the end, it was not difficult to spot, and I started to gain height steadily, in the centre of a wide channel.
Wainwright described the ridge as ‘a bewildering succession of abrupt craggy heights and knotty outcrops’, though there now appears to be a continuous path to the summit, but even then I found no great difficulties: just keep moving upwards, and eventually the summit crown comes into sight and it’s an easy ascent onto the round top and to the cairn. The highlight of the view is the Scafell range, seen in a great ring from Slight Side round to Esk Pike, but this was a greyish day, with the cloudline cutting across the range, so that was somewhat disappointing.
You should know by now that I find ascending and descending by the same route an anathema. There’s not much geographical alternative, so I decided to vary my route of descent by crossing the top and dropping down to Fairfield, the wide open plateau between Grey Friars and the wall of Swirl How. There wasn’t a path but by angling round to the right, it was easy to find the head of Seathwaite Tarn’s valley and turn down that.

On such a day…

I hadn’t seen anyone throughout the course of the walk which, even then, was how I liked it. The upper valley was lonely and empty, and the slope was easy and uncomplicated. I marched out steadily and confidently, and at a pretty fast rate. It curved to the right, and there was still no sight of Seathwaite Tarn, when I found my rapid course approaching a curious patch of light green standing out from the reedy grass around. It made me curious as to what it was, but my near headlong march took me to it, and upon it rapidly. Without thinking, I planted my right boot down on it. And kept going down.
My boot plunged through the nearly non-existent surface and kept going until I was in above my knee. And, between my insouciant momentum and the natural imbalance caused by having one leg shoot down about two and a half feet below where it should be, my left boot, like night following day, crashed down on the sickly-green patch and didn’t stop until it was almost at the knee.
There I was, in a bog, with no-one in sight and no-one remotely likely to come in sight in the foreseeable, up to an average of both knees in the muck and well and truly stuffed.
If you’ll permit me a brief digression: in those days I still owned a short satirical comic story by Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber, using his experience in writing for TV of having his scripts submitted to Standards & Practices, i.e., the censors. Systematically, they gut every point of tension, drama and natural human response to crisis from his scene. There is a glorious moment when they instruct, ‘instead of the pilot reacting to his spaceship going out of control by banging his fit on the dashboard and shouting, “dammit!”, have him demonstrate a positive coping reaction.’
Positive Coping Reaction! What a gem! You cannot make things like that up, only real life can produce something so astonishingly perfect.
So here I was, in my own little real-life crisis, my opportunity to demonstrate a Positive Coping Reaction. And how did I positively cope? I panicked and, by main, fear-fuelled strength, wrenched my right leg far enough out of the bog to get my knee onto the firm ground on the bank immediately before me, and use that as a lever to drag my left leg out after it.
Now, look here, kids. I know that the likes of Douglas Adams and actual responsible adults will advise you Don’t Panic, but trust me and be flexible. There are circumstances where panic is your friend and you should be prepared to embrace him fervently.
Nevertheless, though I was now safe, and determined to give all spots of bright green the legendary wide berth, I was pretty much sopping wet, and sedgey from the knees down to my socks and boots, which had thankfully emerged with me. Make sure you tie secure knots in those laces.
So I resumed my downhill progress in a somewhat more circumspect manner, eager to see the curve of the valley expose Seathwaite Tarn, though this was still some way below. Walking its shore was calming and gentle, but I had one further obstacle to pass as I neared the outflow and recognised the point where I had to regain the lower part of the ridge to drop down to Troutal.
To get there, I had to cross a wide expanse of wet and soft ground. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have given it too much thought, but I was still rattled by my sinking experience, and was wary of any treacherous repetition. There was no way round it, I had to cross it, but how should I do this? The answer was ridiculous, but unexpectedly practical: a Groucho Walk.
Yes, I do mean the bent-kneed, half-crouch of the late Julius ‘Groucho’ Marx, and no, I am not joking. If you examine the movement, it has clear advantages. For one, the bent-knee stride means more ground is being covered at each step, and consequently a more rapid movement across the ground, whilst by splaying the stride, the centre of gravity is supported by a wider area, and only passes directly over the boot for a split-second. Of course, I didn’t have one fist clenched in the small of my back, nor another wielding an imaginary cigar, but in every other respect I adopted the position and made a very rapid transition to drier and firmer ground.
I don’t know how the theory stands up aerodynamically, but if it was all a load of gubbins, it was nevertheless a very effective placebo. I heaved a sigh of relief, descended to Troutal, the road and the car, and yanked my soggy socks and boots off. I could do nothing about my tide-marked jeans until I was back in Ambleside, however, and that called for a shower too.

The beautiful Duddon Valley

Despite all this, I have never lost my love for the beautiful Duddon Valley, though the only other time I returned to Grey Friar, I stayed firmly out of that valley. No more bog-trotting for me.

Like a Hurricane

A Sixties Comic

In the beginning, there was a dreamlike quality to it.
Reading an Ursula le Guin essay, I had a lightning flash of memory: a comics version of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court in a boy’s weekly comic in the Sixties. I wrote about it the same day, bemoaning, mildly, that I’d never get to test my sudden and shining recollection.
The same day, I had a comment from David, who identified it for me: the comic was Hurricane, the strip was a reprint of an Italian series, written and drawn in the Fifties by Lino Landolfi, and there were DVDs of the whole run of Hurricane on eBay. I didn’t look immediately, but when I did, I found one immediately. Any doubts about buying it disappeared when I recognised Hugo Dinwiddie.
Within ten days of remembering it, I was reading ‘A Yankee at King Arthur’s Court’. And ‘Sword for Hire’, which was Dinwiddie’s series. And, bloody hell, ‘Skid Solo’ too! I was in my nostalgic element, and I was going to write about this. The enthusiasm, the liveliness, the real, surprising quality of some of these series, written and drawn at a time when my gold standard Eagle was getting more and more hit and miss. Why on earth had I forgotten ‘H.M.S. Outcast’? I was in delight.
But the story turned out to be far different. Hurricane only lasted 63 issues in total, 29th February 1964 to 8th May 1965, and that bright, bouncy, confident paper that hit the market lasted less that a third of that run. As early as issue 19 (4th July 1964: there were no issue numbers but I’ll use them for ease of reference), Hurricane underwent a massive revamp, with half its features cancelled, ‘Yankee’ among them. Two of the replacements either were, or appeared to be, reprints of old series owned by Fleetway.
And that was to be the story. Three times again during the remainder of its run, Hurricane tried to reinvent itself into something that would sell better. More and more of its series were an obvious attempt to cut costs with reprints. Less and less of the comic holds any appeal for the adult me, who read the original run, week after week, from being 8 to 9, who remembers almost nothing of Hurricane that I haven’t already mentioned here, although in that first eighteen week run I kept coming across panels from practically every series that aroused shouts of delighted recognition. Writing about Hurricane was not going to be the joyful explosion of enthusiasm I expected, except in the beginning.
(I should mention that, as David has also pointed out, I could put names to what I describe, and convert guesses into facts by buying Steve Holland’s book on Hurricane. Much as I’d love to, I have other commitments at present, so I’ll be going on perceptions, as I usually do! All mistakes are the product of ignorance and are apologised for in advance.)

For its first six weeks, Hurricane ran 32 pages per week, before settling into a 28 page length thereafter. Typhoon Tracey, who was as much the flagship character as Dan Dare was for Eagle, decorated the first cover, which featured a big red logo across a bright yellow strip, giving the comic a vibrant recognisability. Hurricane was also plugged as ‘a companion paper to Valiant throughout (though when it demised, that wasn’t with which it merged). From issue 6, it distinguished itself with a ‘panoramic’ cover, a single widescreen illustration stretching across front and back.
There was no colour inside, just eight black-and-white features, ranging from one to four pages each week. There were three serials, ‘Yankee’, ‘Two Fists Against the World’ and my favourite rediscovery, the wonderfully daft ‘HMS Outcast’. Everything else managed complete stories each week.

Let me list that debut line-up, in order of appearance. Upfront was ‘Typhoon Tracey’, very much in the Captain Hurricane mould, a big, blond, burly trouble-shooter who loved nothing more than a good punch-up. Tracey’s four pages were drawn in a quasi-realistic cartoon style ideally suited to the broad comedy and executed with great vigour. In contrast, ‘Skid Solo’ (3 pages), adopted a more detailed and realistic style that looked darker. Skid – which seems to have been his real name – was an aspiring racing driver living with his Aunt Mabel. Skid narrated his stories in a happy-go-lucky manner.
Next was the aforementioned ‘Two Fists’, a decent but unspectacular 2 page series with decent but unspectacular art. This starred Jim Trim, an aspiring bare-knuckle prizefighter in Regency Britain, and was told in a series of short phases, or what we now call ‘arcs’, overcoming various obstacles.
This was followed by ‘Yankee’. I was delighted to find that this was every bit as quirky, visually delightful and wonderful as by first recollections had told me. The art is a version of the ligne clair style, very clean and crisp in both its dimensions, and the adaptation is a very straight one from what I can recall of the original novel. It’s been brought up to date, in that Hank Morgan is very much a motor mechanic of our present day and not that of Twain, but there is very little writing down to the young audience it is produced for.
The openly cartoonish art has a completely different quality to the other strips, a clarity to the linework that I find very effective, and I also have to praise the quality of the reproduction on the DVD. Given the paper quality these were printed on, it’s nothing short of brilliant, with no bleed-through from the opposite page.
The same can be said for ‘Sword for Hire’ (4 pages), set in Roundhead London during the Commonwealth. Captain Hugo Dinwiddie was a Cavalier who, after King Charles was executed, took up residence at the Blue Boar Tavern where he offered the services of a swordsman who had never been defeated to help people in trouble. It’s the classic freelance troubleshooter set-up with its infinite flexibility, but with highly detailed and very realistic art, complex, vigorous and either well-researched or a superb bluff. And not just the art. Dinwiddie had the true Cavalier’s outlook on life and swordfighting, an enthusiasm and a joie de vivre that came through in spades. ‘Sword for Hire’ was something Eagle could not have done, not then, and probably not before, but its enormous buoyancy deserves to be far better known.
In contrast, ‘Rod the Odd Mod… and his old pal Percy Vere’ was a piece of crap, a repetitious and unfunny one page cartoon. Rod was no Mod, just this guy who, each week, bought some new, with-it or trendy thing or gadget, expecting to impress the girl next door with it. And each week, it would backfire in some slapstick way. Half the time, she’d end up going out with Percy, which was odd in that he was only about three feet tall. I hope the eight year old me didn’t find it funny.
Artistically, ‘The Worst Boy in School’ (2 pages), was a great let-down. This was about Duffy (no first name), who had been brought up in the circus and thus was high-spirited, unpredictable and undisciplined. However, in order to inherit the circus from his uncle, Duffy to undergo education at Camborne School. This was just a bog-standard chaos-causing schoolboy strip, lacking even the distinction of Billy Binns or Cornelius Dimworthy and cursed with some scruffy, scrappy art that tried to create a kind of impressionist realist view but just looked ugly and unfinished.
Apart from the odd panel here or there, I had no memories at all of ‘HMS Outcast’, which I could look at as if for the first time. I loved it. It was a gentle, comic gem. The series was set in 1942, and starred Lieutenant Wildbloode, an amiable, grinning, wide-jawed bloke with serious competence issues.
As punishment for being pretty useless, Wildbloode was given his own command, HMS Outcast, the oldest ship in the Navy. His orders, the true import of which were known only to his efficient second-in-command, Lieutenant Fitzjohn, were to take Outcast to the breaker’s yard. Instead, Outlook got lost en route, wound up in the middle of a German fleet and, by a mixture of Wildebloode’s innate sneakiness, opportunism, luck and the kind of inspired chaos the ship drags in its wake, captured them all. It was wildly improbable, yet fantastic, and the art, a delightfully sketchy realistic impression, was perfect for something so inspiredly silly.
Last of all, but not least, was ‘He Rides Alone’ (4 pages) a western strip. For its time, the series, starring the soft-spoken, immaculately dressed, short in stature but tall in the saddle Drago, was wonderfully sophisticated. Drago was a complete mystery, appearing out of nowhere whilst casting a long shadow before him, righting wrongs before riding away again, alone. There was a strong elegiac element to the narration, like a campfire telling of old stories of a man forgotten, save in these, and whilst the art was not especially distinguished in terms of linework, the artist was a genius at layout and atmosphere, in perfect harmony with the narration.
So there it was, Hurricane, a happy rediscovery, a comic for eight to ten year olds, with a wide variety of stories, well worth time time of an old nostalgiac who could enjoy this work in its own right.

But that’s only the second part of the story. I have no idea what I thought then, but the announcement in issue 18 of so many new series all at once filled the adult me with misgivings. That kind of revamp spells only one thing: trouble. Circulation trouble. To need so radical a kick up the bum so soon was not good.
Gone were Rod the Odd Mod, who was no loss, and gone too was Jim Trim, but the two serious losses for me were Hank Morgan and Drago. Nothing that replaced these two could match up to them.

Even at the age of eight, I thought the ending of ‘Yankee’ to be oddly abrupt. The arc where Hank takes Arthur in cognito to see how his countrymen are treated ends with rescue in one panel, and the next says ‘The End’. It could easily be that the adaptation had ended, and certainly want remains of the novel could well have been deemed too much for its audience, but ‘Two Fists’s termination is equally swift: the current arc is resolved and suddenly, five lines are stuffed into the last panel to explain that five months later Jim Trim won the All-England title The End. Add to this that Rod the Odd Mod will come back much later and my conclusion is that this was all a bit of a rush job.
So what was Hurricane mark 2 like? Typhoon Tracey and Hugo Dinwiddie stayed where they were, Skid Solo moved back and HMS Outcast forward. What of the new features?
The first of these, literally, was ‘“Hurry” of the Hammers’, in full colour on the front and back covers. I’m grateful to David for spilling the beans that Hurry (which I not only remembered but associated with Hurricane all along) is really the early ‘Roy of the Rovers’ running as a disguised reprint. I loved it when I was eight, but then I never met a football series I didn’t like. At this distance, it’s more interesting for what it really was, and an interesting look at the early days of the world famous Roy Race: you’d have never have thought it would go on to be that big on this evidence.
On the other hand, ‘The Juggernaut from Planet Z’ (2 pages) was pure crap from start to finish. A giant, glowing sphere crash-lands in Britain, north of the Lake District and disgorges a fifty-foot tall cliché robot which immediately starts walking in a direct line towards London, heedless of what’s in its path, except when it heeds them. Two scientists assist the military in weeks upon weeks of trying to stop it in its tracks but every effort fails. Ultimately, it reaches Westminster, raises a ginormous fist and promptly explains it’s from Planet Z and is looking for help from Earth against a menace affecting the home planet, which is not only a complete let-down but begs the question that if Planet Z were clever enough to send a robot that could home in on London like that, why weren’t they clever enough to set it down in, say, Hertfordshire? It could have saved us nine weeks of rough-edged art for a start.
‘The Black Avenger’ (3 pages) was a like-for-like replacement for ‘He Rides Alone’, a lone-gunman Western long on cliché. Johnny Bishop grows up a top-notch gunhand but grows sick of having to be a gunfighter and settles down to ranch, gun-free, near the prairie town of Gunshot. But, once a week, bad guys come along so Johnny has to dress up as The Black Avenger and save the day. Judging by the small-panelled, square art, and in particular the appearance of the later supporting character, Miss Mary Dixon, my guess is that this is a Fifties reprint, probably from Lion. Either way, it lacks anything of Drago’s individuality, and is dull and repetitious.
Last, but not least, was ‘Paratrooper’ (4 pages), a success both artistically and popularly, lasting to the end of Hurricane and beyond, and another I remembered on sight. Each week, Sergeant Rock (no, not that one ) would relate a tale of a different Paratrooper during the Second World War and the actions in which he took place. The series was good and solid, with bold, realistic art, but its real strength was in the humanity of the stories. Each subject was a real person, complex, individual, facing one or other of the many aspects of War. Rock, a big, blonde-haired guy, was an able host, positive, serious and unstinting in his admiration for men who, in many different ways, proved themselves to be heroes.
So, one and a half hits out of four, and still a decent and settled line-up overall, even after ‘Sword for Hire’ lost a page to accommodate ‘Black Avenger’ going up to four. On a purely personal note, I was seriously disappointed by a Skid Solo story that depicted him as having some very seriously misogynistic attitudes, although to be fair, a few weeks later, he was complimentary about a female co-driver despite her being, well, a girl. Yes, I know, eight year old boys. That doesn’t change my distaste for it now.
This time, Mark 2 Hurricane only lasted twelve issues.

Second time around, the upheaval wasn’t so dramatic. Only two series ended, three if you count the renaming of Planet Z to ‘Peril on Planet Z’, a thankfully short sequel set on Planet Z itself and even worse than the original. But as the two series to be cancelled were ‘Sword for Hire’ and ‘HMS Outcast’, the effect was massive.
Four replacements arrived over the next four weeks, only one of which with any appeal. ‘When the Lights Went Out’ was a Fifties-style Disaster novel in comic book form: one day, all the electricity in the world just conks out, sending mankind back to a quasi-savage state. Philip Masterson, ex-Army Captain turned hermit after being cashiered over a superior’s mistake, undergoes many adventures before builds Britain back up again after many adventures and ultimately becomes crowned King Philip I of a United Europe. But there’s a heavily racist side to the story, with a Bandit Arab chief from a Saharan statelet sweeping all of Europe before him before being killed by Philip. Nasty stuff.

Hank Morgan – From a collection of the Italian original

At least ‘When the Lights Went Out’ was a new strip. ‘Rob O’the Wood’, supposedly Robin Hood’s son with all the same Merry Men around (hey, you do know Robin Hood’s out of copyright, don’t you?) was pretty dire Fifties reprint material, dull as ditchwater and looking archaic.
This pair appeared together in issue 31 (26th September 1964), in which there were other changes. Hurry Cane was moved into the centrespread and reduced to black and white, whilst Typhoon Tracey was pushed right back and cut to two pages: in addition, it was turned into a serial, and assigned a new artist, whose style angled more to the cartoon aspects of Tracey and his world. Sergeant Rock became the star of his own stories, which became a bit more formularised as a consequence.
The other two new strips were a study in contrasts. ‘The Phantom of Cursitor’s Marsh’ was an atmospheric serial set in Georgian times: the Phantom was a seemingly spooky character plaguing a corrupt and rotten Newgate Judge who was ultimately revealed to be working for both revenge and justice using the pre-discovery of electricity. Long on atmosphere with art tending towards the impressionistic, this was the one qualified success of Mark 3.
The last, debuting a week later, was the return of the one-page, one-gag cartoon strip, with the highly-stylised ‘Sir Hector the Spectre… and his chum Duke Dim’. This was actually worse than Rod the Odd Mod, with it’s cash-strapped Duke deciding to open his home to coach-parties arousing the opposition of one of his ghostly ancestors.

The Mark 3 Hurricane had the longest run, just about, totalling 19 issues, though ‘When the Lights Went Out’ fell two short of that, giving way to ‘Carlos of the Wild Horses’, set in 16th Century Mexico: the eponymous Carlos is the eight-year old son of the Spanish Governor whose mare runs off with him to join a band of wild horses. This featured some stark and complex detailed art though the story was completely dull.

Sword for Hire

Two weeks later, the Phantom revealed his identity and Sir Hector rattled his last chain. Oddly enough, I remembered both replacements where I’d had no recall for these two. Sir Hector gave way to ‘Birk’n’Ed, the Mersey Deadbeats’, a one page cartoon about a pair of scouse layabouts trying to find a job they can skive at: I’ll bet Hurricane sales just shot up on Merseyside. The Phantom was replaced by ‘The Shadow’ (again, not that one), same era, just updated to the Regency. Though it’s once again nothing more than a Scarlet Pimpernel knock-off – foppish fool Basil Blythe is secretly the Shadow, feared underground fighter for Justice – it’s vigorously atmospheric art made it a more enjoyable feature whilst never producing anything original.
But by now, Hurricane was firmly on the skids. There were more attempts to halt the slide. ‘Rob o’the Wood’ inflicted his last tedious story on us in issue 56, his four pages going equally to ‘Brett Marlowe, Detective’ and ‘Danger Island’, both reprints from Lion in 1952, the latter as ‘The Naval Castaways’. Two issues after that saw the arrival of ‘Danny Jones and his Time Clock’, which didn’t have time to impress either way, though I was intrigued by the two-part story set in the hidden city of Tanilorn (sic), ruled by Rackham, an archer: Michael Moorcock fans will recognise the similarities.
Incredibly, issue 62 saw Typhoon Tracey and Skid Solo get their original artists back, and Tracey revert to four page complete stories. Even Rod the Odd Mod popped up, unchanged from the mark 1 Hurricane, leading me to suspect that that first revamp was indeed a last minute decision, leaving a couple of unused pages now being brought out of the drawer.
But only for two weeks. Issue 63 led with the announcement of Hurricane‘s merger with Tiger. The combined paper would offer 40 pages for only 1d more. Typhoon Tracey and Skid Solo would go on, as would Sergeant Rock, although the final episode of ‘Paratrooper’ saw the good Sergeant being recruited for the ‘Special Air Service’, in which form the strip continued in its new home. There was no place for ‘Hurry of the Hammers’ and why should there be? He was only ever a disguised reprint of ‘Roy of the Rovers’ and given that the real thing was running in new adventures in Tiger, who needed him?
I remember reading Sergeant Rock as ‘Special Air Service’ for a good long time, so I assume I was allowed to transfer to Tiger and Hurricane, though I don’t remember ever reading ‘Roy of the Rovers’ on a weekly basis. But I must have.
There’s no question about it, Hurricane flopped. It lasted fifteen months and after that initial, strong line-up, with which it’s been a delight to reacquaint myself, each of the increasingly desperate reboots made the comic progressively worse, duller and cheaper, with its growing reliance on Fifties reprints to help it limp along.
But it’s been worth it to re-read ‘A Yankee at King Arthur’s Court’ again.

Treme: s02 e05 – Slip Away

A funeral

Sometimes, you’re watching the process of just being, people changing in their everyday ways, minute to minute, without aim or consciousness. Everybody this week ended in a different place from where they began, but for most people the difference could only be seen from certain angles.

Antonie’s band is going down well at LaDonna’s bar but she ain’t there to see it because she can’t handle the crowd, the pushing past men. Even Sonny’s playing well. Antoine’s getting a bit of a handle on the teaching assistant part, talking music.

Jeanette gets a new job in New York, with Chef Ripert at La Bernadin. She takes in Delmond’s gig at the Blue Note, dances when he breaks off his usual set to play Jellyroll Morton. She gets a case of drinks from Davis on his aunt’s credit card, to make Seserac (?!). Delmond gets a call from New Orleans, where Albert’s depression has worsened and he’s giving up and going back to Houston.

Nelson Hidalgo’s got his deal cut for him and he’s starting to smell the money.

Davis’s record label sampler needs a big name track, and thanks to Aunt Mimi, he gets Mannie Fresh.

Annie talks to Harley about her experience with Shawn Colvin. He tells her she needs to start writing so she fights her way through writing a whole song. Davis and his mate keep mum but Harley congratulates her on writing a hit: Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice’.

Toni’s trying to concentrate on fee-paying work. Sofia’s still refusing to talk to her. After her teacher’s suicide, she stays out late after school, riding the riverboat where Crei committed suicide. When Councilman Thomas takes his intern to see her mother in Court ‘on the side of the angels’, Sofia won’t stay to watch.

Colson’s moving around at night, from murder to murder. He’s trying to get the Police to be better, to better serve the public. There’s a march coming up, a big, public march, demanding more be done to get crime under control. Marchers march with music, strand after strand, marching, merging, combining, growing. Colson watches on. Toni marches. New Orleans.

It’s movement, all of the time it’s movement. Sometimes, you have to look from another angle to see where you’ve gotten to.

Hurt and Anger

I’m hurt and I’m angry about England’s World Cup semi-final defeat to Croatia last night, and it’s colouring my feelings about everything today, and will likely do so for some time yet.

I know that I shouldn’t be. That reaching the semi-final was a triumph over expectation in itself. That this squad of contented players, bonded as a team, under a manager who has shown a high level of tactical awareness has gone further than any cold analysis of England’s chances beforehand would have suggested. Rah-rah England, it didn’t come home after all, but it had got as far as the runway.

But I’m one of that diminishing number who saw that one back in 1966, and despite my careful dispassion, my refusal to get excited or dream too highly, I’d started to think that I might get to see another. For the first time since, well, probably 1970, it felt like it could be on.

And I don’t do excitement much these days, because to get excited about something you’ve got to admit to yourself that it matters and that you have the emotional energy to care, and I don’t get edgy about things because that is that one line from John Cleese’s Clockwise that anyone ever remembers, which has been on my mind a lot lately: I don’t mind the despair, I can live with the despair, it’s the hope I can’t stand.

England scored early. The hope started. I began to think about where I would watch the Final, if we got there, because we were leading, we’d done the hard part, we’d gone ahead and if needed, all we had to do was not let them score. Then the second half began, and hope dissolved early, and I began to shrivel, and shout at the screen, and swear and moan.

Because I’ve seen it all before, so many times, with United, since Fergie stood down and especially since fucking Jose Dickhead Mourinho took over. It was there from the start of the second half. It wasn’t just Croatia getting their act together, it was England abdicating the very idea of scoring a second.

We just stopped trying to go forward seriously. It wasn’t that we weren’t able to, but that we didn’t want to. Attacks didn’t break down because of strong Croatian defending but because we didn’t want to try. Promising advanced positions kept turning into retreats into our own half. Don’t move forward, don’t keep the ball in the Croatian third, bring it back, back, back all the fucking time, into our own half, play it across our back line. Going forward wasn’t going forward. Play it to the wide man on the flank, who immediately passes it straight back. Pointless passing. Louis van Gaal’s United were particularly good at that. Don’t look for ways through. Was Harry bleeding Kane, Golden Boot candidate, even on the field that second half? He sure as shit wasn’t keen on getting near the penalty area.

I know it’s being professional, I know it’s being street-wise. Why take a risk by playing forward when you might lose the ball to the opposition? How much better is it though to play backwards and sideways and backwards again, then another sideways pass, and then lose the ball anyway? Yes, it uses up time, but it gives the opposition strength. They know you’re not going to come at them so they can come at you. Was Dele Ali playing at all?

So, having spent all this time pissing around on a lead that can be wiped out by just one goal, instead of merely being reduced if you’ve, bloody radical idea I know but some teams used to try it, gone and scored again, when that lead is wiped out, you’re fucked. You’ve conditioned yourselves into being crap, into being backwards and sideways and you’ve no fucking idea how to go forward, how to attack, how to get past a defence that suddenly is charged up, because they’re no longer losing, they’re no longer staring at a cliff-edge getting nearer at every second.

Why were we so stupid? Why are United so stupid, time and time and time and time and time again? United used to score last-minute equalisers, now they concede them with monotonous regularity, all because Dickhead doesn’t like us attacking after 75 minutes if we’re ahead. As for England, well, it’s not like the same thing happened only two bloody games earlier, is it?

That’s why I’m angry. That’s why I’m hurt. Maybe we were never good enough, maybe Croatia would always have beaten us. I wanted to face Russia for that very reason. But maybe, if we hadn’t been so fucking passive in that second half, and only tried to score when we had to, we might have been in the World Cup Final again. I might have had a second bite at the cherry. Who knows if we’ll ever come this close again in my lifetime?

And for many reasons and many years I haven’t had anything that makes me happy. Real, serious, unalloyed happiness. A World Cup Final. And against France when I feared Belgium more. Who knows? I wouldn’t have watched it alone. I’d have gone into bloody work on a day when I’m not working and watched it there, in the midst.

But we had to go and kick ourselves in our own heads out of sheer stupidity again, and I am so sick of seeing that, and I cannot celebrate what we have achieved, and I can’t be philosophical about it because I am angry and I am hurt, and because I forgot to despair. And despair is good, despair is comfortable, despair is your friend.

In blogs, nobody can hear you scream. Which is a good job for you lot at the moment because I’d blow your eardrums out.