Monthly Archives: May 2019

Hugh MacDiarmid

MacDiarmid’s The Company I’ve Kept reviewed in Labour Monthly, Volume 48, Number 12, December, 1966.

The Company I’ve Kept
Hugh MacDiarmid
Hutchinson, 288., 35s

Hugh MacDiarmid makes it clear at once that his latest work in prose is a record oof other people not a revelation of personal intimacies. The ‘confessions’ of Hugh MacDiarmid might be as interesting as those of Rousseau but nobody can understand better than myself his choice in the way of autobiography. ‘Here I am concerned with a host of other people, and only with myself in so far as my personality – or rather my significance as a poet and politician – is reflected in my relations with them.’
Inevitably in reading The Company I’ve Kept I have been comparing all the time his impressions of the various people of whom he writes with my own. I was glad to read his admirable evocation of that remarkable Parsee composer Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, bringing back as it does for me memories of the early days of my review The Gramophone. I was even more glad to read his tribute to Francis George Scott whose integrity I admired equally as a man and as a composer. I was glad to meet again Major Douglas of Social Credit whom I met first through Hugh MacDiarmid. naturally I disagreed with MacDiarmid’s praise of some of the company he has kept. I thought Ezra Pound a charlatan and have never been able to forgive him for the wrong he did to Propertius, my favourite Roman poet. I could argue with MacDiarmid about his failure to grasp what Christian faith has meant to humanity, and often his apparent ignorance of its history. I could rap his knuckles for calling Sir William MacTaggart a ‘social climber’ and thus displaying an almost alarming ignorance. On the other hand, I much envied his condemnation of all novelists except Lewis Crassic Gibbon because it reminded me of the carnivorous habits of the Georgian poets when they used to devour novelists almost every month in the London Mercury, in the days of Sir John Squire and the Squirarchy.
However, whatever differences of opinion about other people Hugh MacDiarmid and I may have, I can look back to reading A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle forty years ago and recognising a born poet whose friendship has been a privilege and whose career has been a marvel.

Sir Compton Mackenzie

Rat Up A Drainpipe

An early live review for The Members, NME, 12 August, 1978.

Sore Throat/
The Members

West Hampstead,

Whack – whack-whackiness is the name of the game with both these combos. Both have now been crawling London pub dives such as the Moonlight – formerly Klook’s Kleek, a well known blues haunt – for a good few months. And both seem to thrive on a perculiary English offbeat eccentricity.
First up, The Members are a very young amalgam. They already have one single on Stiff, the West London home of all balls odd, and judging from the frequent zany cries for a “Rat Up A Drainpipe” (the flipside of the 45), they attracted a larger proportion of the audience than did the headliners.
They play mildly interesting R&B punk with shades of attempted live rock dub a la Costello/Yachts, lacing the proceedings with the odd Tamla classic – sorry, but I’ve forgotten the name of the song, pub rock drives me to drink!
Sore Throat, who have been slogging around the pub circuit even longer, are tighter, with a small horn section – a saxophone. They fuse R&B, jazz and swing, look incrongruous in Number One crops and silly white jackets, and are boring as hell.

Adrian Thrills

Dominique Dunne with a later NME with The Members on the cover.

The Red Feast

This poem is from the 1922 collection Bars and Shadows – the Prison Poems of Ralph Chaplin. He was a a member of the IWW and wrote most of the poems in the book whilst in prison.

The Red Feast

Go fight, you fools! Tear up the earth with strife
And spill each others guts upon the field;
Serve unto death the men you served in life
So that their wide dominions may not yield.

Stand by the flag–the lie that still allures;
Lay down your lives for land you do not own,
And give unto a war that is not yours
Your gory tithe of mangled flesh and bone.

But whether it be yours to fall or kill
You must not pause to question why nor where.
You see the tiny crosses on that hill?
It took all those to make one millionaire.

It was for him the seas of blood were shed,
That fields were razed and cities lit the sky;
And now he comes to chortle o’er the dead–
The condor Thing for whom the millions die!

The bugle screams, the cannons cease to roar.
“Enough! enough! God give us peace again.”
The rats, the maggots and the Lords of War
Are fat to bursting from their meal of men.

So stagger back, you stupid dupes who’ve “won,”
Back to your stricken towns to toil anew,
For there your dismal tasks are still undone
And grim Starvation gropes again for you.

What matters now your flag, your race, the skill
Of scattered legions–what has been the gain?
Once more beneath the lash you must distil
Your lives to glut a glory wrought of pain.

In peace they starve you to your loathsome toil,
In war they drive you to the teeth of Death;
And when your life-blood soaks into their soil
They give you lies to choke your dying breath.

So will they smite your blind eyes till you see,
And lash your naked backs until you know
That wasted blood can never set you free
From fettered thraldom to the Common Foe.

Then you will find that “nation” is a name
And boundaries are things that don’t exist;
That Labor’s bondage, worldwide, is the same,
And ONE the enemy it must resist.

Ralph Chaplin
Montreal, 1914.

Quadrophenia Is Rotten

Johnny Rotten and Jimmy Pursey considered for lead roles in Quadrophenia, from the NME, 12 August, 1978.

Pursey, Rotten In Line For Who Film Role

Johnny Rotten and Sham 69’s Jimmy Pursey are being considered for the leading role in the movie Quadrophenia.
Based on The Who’s album and using Pete Townshend’s original music, production starts next month. Both vocalists are candidates to play the central character, Jimmy.
It’s a dramtic role and a script has just been written by Dave Humphries.
Rotten is reportedly dubious about appearing in the movie, but on Thursday discussed the project with Townshend.
“He asked to talk to me about it,” Townshend said before their meeting. “But I don’t see how it’ll change anything.
“I don’t think he’ll do it. In fact I’m 100 per cent certain he won’t.”
Pursey, whom Townshend saw on TV and thought looked right for Jimmy, is enthusiastic about the role. He says he has already met with the film’s production team.
“I think Quadrophenia would suit me,” said Pursey, “cos I know the album, and I can understand the kid involved. Having been through the same sort of set up I know I’d really get into it.
“But I’d be a bit wary of how they (the makers) saw it, ‘cos I don’t think I could handle something potty like the way Tommy went.”
Director Frank Rhoddam declined to confirm that Rotten and Pursey had been approached. he said it was a very complicated role and other people were also in line for the part.

Punk Women

A punk writes in Spare Rib, number 97, August, 1980.

Punk Women

Dear Spare Rib
I am deeply shocked by Vivien Pixner’s letter ‘Punks are Nasty (SR 96). I am a punk, 24, experience of life – married six years, two children, just taken A levels, heavy experience with my parents… I don’t know why I should have to prove my validity as a woman. I’m stopping.
My “way of dressing”, and painting my face and hair is a visual expression of my rejection of how society (male dominated) dictates how women should look. So I am a visual joke, shocking others sometimes, though not purposely wanting to offend.
Punk women have a lot in common with the women’s movement. We (though I can’t speak for all) refuse to support a society that oppresses women, and we wish to give back to the people, those “ordinary women, leading ordinary lives”, the chance to live their lives as they choose.
I feel so angry. I feel like gobbing and cursing, but I won’t offend Vivian’s delicate sensibilities by using “gratuitous bad language”. Don’t “ordinary women” swear? Besides who are all these women? It seems that Vivian’s ‘ordinary’ is interchangeable with ‘normal’. Who’s ordinary, who’s normal? I find her assumptions offensive. Am I the only one?
My own husband is loving, liberal, ‘lets’ me do what I want, but…can’t rid himself of feeling that my freedom is a concession from him. I love him dearly, but he is a part of the male world and its values.
I would hate to see Spare Rib concede to a viewpoint which in Vivian’s words would include more “common sense” just in order to get a wider readership. It is quality not quantity of readership that would count. I don’t want to see you conform.
In defiance and sisterhood,
Edgware, Middlesex.

British Surrealism

George Melly in anarchist quarterly The Raven, Vol 1 Number 3, November, 1987.

Gentlemen First

Much as it grieves me to agree with Franklin Rosemont (his book on Breton was a hideous piece of hagiography), I must admit there is a great deal of truth in what he says about British Surrealism.
It was ineffectual. It did not consist of an effective ‘movement’. Its adherents were thoroughly confused as to its meaning. It held people until they were offered something unacceptable to it (eg. Henry Moore’s ‘Madonna and Child’), whereupon they left it immediately. Not only Herbert Read but Roland Pensrose accepted knighthoods – in fairness, it is impossible to imagine Breton wearing the L├ęgion d’Honneur, etc., etc.
The question is: What stopped Surrealism from taking root in Britain?
Rosemont suggests individualism as the reason – the usual explanation. But he is rightly a ltiile tentative as to whether this alone is enough to explain its failure. I propose the following additional causes:

(A) English Protestantism

Surrealism nneded Catholicism to work effectively. That is why France was its true home and Spain its powerhouse. Its atheism was central to it. You can’t profane the Host without transubstantiation. No point in jumping on a piece of ordnary bread or pissing in admittedly inferior wine! It is interesting that David Gascoyne, this country’s most commited Surrealist, should have become religious. The rest remained gentlemanly freethinkers.

(B) The non-existence of cafes
Yhis may seem frivolous, but it is not. Pubs are hopeless settings for the exchange of ideas; restaurants too formal. The British Surrealists tried both and found them wanting. The cafe was surrealism’s natural theatre.

(C) Timing
The great ‘heroic’ years of Surrealism were from 1924 to 1930. The movement didn’t reach here ubtil 1936! This enabled highbrow critics to dub it ‘old hat’, for high society to patronise it as ‘amusing’. Even in France by this date there was much that was suspect – Minotaure had replaced La Revolution Surealiste etc., but here it started out as a sensation, a joke.

(D) No Breton
The paradox of the movement was that, devoted to total freedom, its long life can be put down to Breton’s imposition of his own view as to what Surrealism stood for at any given time. Aragon remarked slily that ‘Andre always gave the impression of being in a majority of one.’
Here in Britain the leader of the movement was my much loved, much missed friend, E. L. T. Mesens, a Belgian. Intelligent, an admirable poet and collagist, he just didn’t have the muscle to act as legislator. If he tried to institute a Surrealist commandment, those it would affect adversely just left. Jacques Brunius, a Frenchman of great charm, stood in, as it were, for breton’s Peret.
I attended many of the later meetings of the group. They were rowdy, good fun, even challenging, but they achieved nothing.

(E) Yes, Individualism
The British are bad at collective action. In some cases, it is just as well they are!
Edward Burra, for example, in my eyes the most genuine ‘Surreal’ painter we’ve had, left almost as soon as I’d joined. When I asked him why, he explained, ‘I didn’t like being told what to think, dearie!’

The war finished Surrealism in Britain. The nation turned in on itself; neo-romanticism became the measure of our insular preoccupations. You couldn’t give away Surrealist paintings until time tuned them into ‘investments’.
There was a revival of interest in the ‘mechanism’ of Surrealism in the 1960s, but none in its rigorous programme. A few people did try to keep it alive as a movement. In particular, grumpy but endearing John Lisle in Exeter achieved the authentic tone of breton in orchestrating quarrels and declaring excommunications. He was, however, as Mesens described him, ‘a general without an army’.
Mesens, by the way, had his own explanation of the movement’s failure in this country: ‘The English are always gentlemen first, Surrealists scond.’

George Melly

London Town

This poem was in Lansbury’s Labour Weekly, 3 July, 1926.

London Town

I left with joy the crowd, the heat,
The gay profusion of the street;
This way and that, and to and fro,
I saw the stream of pleasure flow,
Pomp, folly, idleness and sin
So smooth without, so sick within.

A corner turned, and what is there?
A sight to raise a cynic sneer,
A pinched and ragged multitude
That haggles for its sickening food,
Hardship and poverty and care
Stark desolation everywhere.

Yet not a stone’s throw lies between
Yon glittering and this loathsome scene;
Squalor and squandering side by side
Our too unhappy world divide:
‘Tis here the worker hides his head,
Who finds those drones their very bread.

Then can you wonder at a choice
That fain would lend these woes a voice,
Woes which, if passed in silence by,
The very stones must rise and cry?
Better with misery here to dwell
Than yonder in a gilded hell.

C. W. Beckett

Skinhead Wankers

An upset punk writes to the NME, 18 February, 1978. The letters page was edited by Les Miserables of the Snivelling Shits.

I’m just writing to say I think Skins are the biggest wankers out. On the 28th of Jan ’78 I went up to the LSE to see Sham 69. When I arrived at Holborn tube station The Skins were hassling all the ol’ ladies and unsuspecting beings into corners and ‘phone boxes.
When (evenyually) everyone got in, everyone was fairly well behaved. Then downstairs, about 400 people broke down the doors and came charging up the stairs throwing bottles and cutting into people’s flesh with kitchen knives etc. – so eventually I left (without seeing the band).
I’d just like to say I think it’s a shame ‘cos Sham are a good band but I won’t go to see them again ‘cos I refuse to go through another charade with the Skins. I also heard a bunch of Skins saying if any of the Clash came to see Sham they’d give ’em a rough time ‘cos they thought “The Clash should have supported Sham, not the other way round” quoted an extremely large looking Skin, playing with a knife carelessly near my jugular vein.
I know you won’t print this letter ‘cos you never print anyone’s letter unless they mention the boring, beautiful, blonde Debbie Harry at least twice, but it really pisses me off when you can’t see a band ‘cos you’re not a Punk/Skin/Ted/Rasta.
London N10

We had the same trouble when they wouldn’t let in a guy ‘cos he had on a Beatle jacket. The management didn’t know we’d given up punk. Dunno why Jimmy Sham puts up with them skins, they should stick to Skrewdriver. – Les