Sunday, 27 July 2014

Street Art Exmouth Style (Part 5)


More art on display in Exmouth and this time it's the pub sign up on the facade of The Clipper, down at the far end of The Strand.
The building that's now one of Exmouth's better known pubs used to be a tea warehouse during the eighteenth Century owned by the East India Company. In recognition of this, the painting is of a type of sailing ship called a Tea Clipper, used to transport tea from China alongside large amounts of opium from India. The opium would be grown in India then transported to China in exchange for the tea which would then be brought to England. The tea would be unloaded at Exmouth then transported by coach and horses to London where it was much sought after. This was the trade which launched what is known as the Opium Wars between Britain and China.

There's no record of it but surely if you've been ferrying opium across the oceans to trade for some tea from China, wouldn't you be inclined to bring a few sacks of opium back to England with you as well as the tea? It's a given. There wouldn't have been any need to have even smuggled it as opium was perfectly legal then. So what was happening to that opium once it was unloaded at Exmouth dock of old? Where was it going? Who was having it? London would be an obvious destination but wouldn't a quantity also have remained within the local town? Which, of course, presents us with a scenario:

Jethro, the local docker, gets his hands on a sack of pure opium and takes it down to his mates at the local tavern. "Yer!" he says "Put down thy zider and 'ave a blast o' this. S'better than any snuff, I can tell 'ee. Mix it with thy baccy, it's gurt lush.
It doesn't take very long before they're all regular users. "Prapper job," they all agree "An' no mistake."

So was opium usage rife in Exmouth at one point? And if so, for the years in which the locals were all smoking opium before the East India Company ceased trading in it, did any work get done? Did it add to the general ingrained and natural mellowness of the locals? "Field needs ploughing, cowz need milkin'. Bugger it, do it 'morrow."
What dreams did unfold during that period? What visions were grasped?

So you see, the casual observer might at first glance think the pub sign outside The Clipper is just of some old boat but it is in fact a clue, a nod and a wink to Exmouth's very secret history.

And another thing:
Almost all the bands that play in Exmouth and the surrounding area are what might be called 'pub bands', as in bands that play the local pub circuit covering songs by other more famous bands. It's surprising then, that none have had the idea to call themselves 'The Beer Garden', or simply 'Beer Garden'. The free advertising on offer to a band of that name is staggering. At The Clipper for example, emblazoned on the pub sign: 'Beer Garden At Rear'.
So, is 'Beer Garden' not the perfect name for a pub band? And just to confuse things, might it be an idea if another pub band called themselves simply 'At Rear', and they played joint gigs with Beer Garden?

Prapper job, an' no mistake
John Serpico

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Man Enough To Be A Woman - Jayne County


Jayne County was at the height of her fame during the Punk years of 1976/77/78 though arguably this wasn't when she was at the height of her powers. In fact, it could be argued that she's been at the height of her powers throughout her whole life. She's a bona fide living legend and always has been.
Man Enough To Be A Woman is the story of Jayne's life up until 1994 when this book was first published. Happily and perhaps even miraculously, Jayne is still with us to this day and still kicking up a fuss, raging of late against Political Correctness and the desire of self-appointed spokespersons to ban certain names used to describe gender types. Jayne is a lesson in being true to yourself, and an inspiration on a par with such individualist icons as Quentin Crisp. Jayne County is not just a star but a superstar. An Underground superstar but a superstar nonetheless.

Born into barefoot poverty in Dallas, Georgia, even as a young child Jayne was known as a 'sissy boy'. This was 1950s America when the supposed greatest nation on earth was still a backwards one where the races were segregated, religious fundamentalism held sway and homosexuality was impossible to comprehend. After a childhood of dressing up as Cleopatra and listening to the Beatles, Jayne left highschool and took a job in Atlanta where after a day's work she would walk the streets searching for something which even Jayne herself could not articulate. 
Her quest came to an end when one evening she spied sashaying toward her what was the equivalent of a big neon sign pointing to what was to be her future: Men wearing make-up and sprayed hair, screaming and attracting as much attention to themselves as possible. They were what was known as Screaming Queens, transvestites who enjoyed nothing more than freaking people out through outrageous behaviour and appearance. This was Jayne's first encounter with the city's gay subculture and she was only too willing to dive head-first (no pun intended) into it.

Come 1967, Jayne set off for New York City with the intention of travelling on from there to San Francisco to wear some flowers in her hair but after losing her luggage along the way she ended up in New York with no money and only the clothes she stood up in. The only place she knew of in the city was a gay bar called the Stonewall in Greenwich Village so rather than Haight-Ashbury, this was where she spent her Summer of Love.
The Stonewall was the most famous gay bar in America and in the summer of '69 it was raided by the police, an incident that ignited three days of rioting that became known as the Stonewall Riots, to this day widely regarded as being the birth of Pride and gay liberation. Jayne was there for all three days and nights, scrapping it out with the police and joining the chants of 'Gay power! Gay power!'.

Two months after the riots, Jayne set off for Woodstock where she spent the whole for her not very enjoyable three days sitting in mud and tripping on acid. The Stonewall had by this time been shut down so on returning to New York she started frequenting Max's Kansas City, the club headquarters of practically everyone involved in the New York City Underground. Andy Warhol, Jim Morrison, Lou Reed, Sylvia Miles, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick - all were regulars alongside many of the city's local freaks and hustlers.

She became acquainted with an aspiring photographer called Leee Childers who invited Jayne to room with him at his flat in the East Village. Through Leee, Jayne then met Andy Warhol's Drag Queen Superstars Jackie Curtis, Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn, as featured and immortalised of course in Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side. For a period - if it's possible to imagine? - all five of them lived together in Leee's tiny flat.
Through her friendship with Jackie Curtis, Jayne was offered a part in a stage play called Femme Fatale - named after the Velvet Underground's song, of course - that was the catalyst for her short career in theatre but which led to contact with Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, Cherry Vanilla and David Bowie. It wasn't too long before Jayne thought she might also try her hand at being a rock star.
This was just at the start of the newly emerging 'glam punk' scene in New York when Max's Kansas City and CBGBs became the launch pad for the Ramones, the New York Dolls, Television, Talking Heads, Patti Smith et al. By the end of 1976, Leee Childers was managing Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers who had gone over to England to support the Sex Pistols on their ill-fated Anarchy tour. Leee immediately called Jayne and told her to get over to England as well because something hugely significant was occurring. It was 1977 and Punk Rock was in full, florid bloom.

The Roxy, Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Nancy Spungen, the Adverts, Julie Burchill, The Clash, Jordan, Derek Jarman's The Tempest, Adam And The Ants, Siouxsie And The Banshees, the Slits, etc, etc, etc. The British Punk Rock scene of 1977 was the perfect environment for Jayne and her band The Electric Chairs to perform before a receptive audience. A series of classic records followed, the biggest seller of them all being the 7" release Eddie And Sheena.
Interviewed and reviewed regularly in the music press, Jayne and her Electric Chairs became a staple of British Punk and a major influence upon such people as Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive and Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Fame and glory as we all know, however, is a fickle thing that can be owned one moment but be gone the next and after too many tours, too many drugs and too many boyfriend problems, the Electric Chairs broke up and Jayne slipped away to Berlin to submerge with the burgeoning German transvestite Underground culture there.

After a time, Jayne returned to America and back to Atlanta to see and make peace with her parents who she hadn't seen for over 20 years. The reunion was a happy one and a fitting way to wind the book down on, though it ends properly with Jayne reminiscing over her past and contemplating her old her age:
'Being a trannie got me a lot of attention but it stopped me from really making it, from being recognised for what I had to say. I'd like to be given my due credit for my work. I'm not bragging but I was a pioneer in a certain way; what I and a few other people were doing had a big impact.
The punk time was special but people came up behind me and took my basic ideas, watered them down and made millions, while I have to go out on the game. Good for them; I couldn't play the music industry game, because what I was doing on stage and on records was just an extension of what was happening in my life. It was never a gimmick or a marketing device. I never thought about what was 'acceptable' because that wasn't the point; I was being myself, trying to tell the truth about the world I lived in.'

Man Enough To Be A Woman is written in a very straightforward way, simply describing her journey through her rather interesting life. There's no major philosophising going on but then we're talking Jayne County here, not the Dalai Lama. There is, however, a fair bit of bitching and a shed load of anecdotes. When describing Max's Kansas City, for example, Jayne tells us of a certain waitress there: 'A really trashy blonde with too much make-up and over-done hair. Always stoned and always dropping cheeseburgers in peoples laps. Her name was Debbie Harry.' There's also a fair few descriptions of 'liaisons' with such people as David Bowie, Rod Stewart, John Lennon, Dee Dee Ramone, Sting and an unnamed member of a very famous Scottish football team.

Jayne County deserves to be remembered and deserves in some way to be immortalised. In fact, the day that a statue in her honour is erected in Atlanta or New York (or perhaps even all forms of discrimination wiped from the face of the earth) would be the day she would know that her work is done. In the meantime as we hold our breath she can be found on Facebook still being fabulous.
John Serpico

Friday, 18 July 2014

Under Exmouth Skies (Part 4)


"Lights are blinding my eyes, people pushing by, then walking off into the night."
The Streets - Blinded By The Lights.

"Maybe I shouldn't have done the second one, I feel all fidgety and warm."
The Streets - Blinded By The Lights.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Guilty Pleasures (Part 3)


Hey! Look! Look! It's The Wurzels! Playing at the Exmouth Pavilion! Yes! Get down there everyone!

The original gangsters. Still keeping it real. Too hot to handle, too cold to hold. The hardest of the hardcore. Forever next level. Somerset posse in the house!

"Drink up thy zider, drink up thy zider for tonight we'll merry be - merry be! We'll knock the milk churns over and roll 'em in the clover. The corn's half cut and so be we!"

The Somerset Massif. Countryside dancers, revolution romancers. Keepers of the flame. Torch bearers for multi-generations. Keeping it gangster. Recognize! Booyakasha!

"When the moon shines on the cow shed and we're rolling in the hay, all the cows are up there grazin' and the milk is on its way. I am a zider drinker, I drinks it all of the day! I am a zider drinker, it soothes all me troubles away! Ooh aar ooh ay, ooh aar ooh aar!"

The group that left Motorhead at the starting blocks. The touchstone for every punk rock band in the West Country. A force of nature. Over-liberated, you might say. No sleep til Exmouth! Jumpmotherfuckersjumpmotherfuckersjumpmotherfuckersjumpmotherfuckers......

"Where be that blackbird to? I know where he be! He be up yon Wurzel tree and I be after he. Now I sees he and he sees I, buggered if I don't get 'en. With a gurt big stick I'll knock 'im down, blackbird I'll 'ave he. La la la la la, la la la la la la.  'Ow's 'e father? Alright!"

Monday, 14 July 2014

Bit Of A Blur - Alex James


Reading Bit Of A Blur by Alex James is like sitting down on a bench with a middle class Forrest Gump from Bournemouth and hearing his life story. He's led a charmed life has Alex, cutting a picaresque swathe through 1990s Brit Pop and all the extravagance that came to anyone enjoying mega-success during that period.
His is a tale that's been enjoyed by many a pop star on their journey toward fame and fortune over the last few decades except that Alex wanders through it all with a wide-eyed, innocent abroad charm that whilst at times is very annoying is also very amusing. Fortunate turns of events seemingly fall at his feet as does many a beautiful young lady.

From the start, after attaining dismal exam results Alex still manages to gain a place at Goldsmiths College and who should he spy unloading stuff from a car just as he's arriving with his parents at the halls of residence? Only a geeky looking kid in National Health specs by the name of Graham Coxon who will turn out to be one of the most gifted guitarists of his generation, up there with Terry Bickers of The House Of Love and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. And who should be a friend of Graham Coxon who just happens to have the keys to a recording studio? Only a certain cheeky chappy character by the name of Damon Albarn. And who else should be there at Goldsmiths at the same time as Alex and Damon? Only a slightly unhinged kid painting spots all over the place by the name of Damien Hirst who is destined to attain a degree of success in his own right and to cross paths with Alex in the future.

Inevitably Alex, Graham, Damon and a drummer called Dave form a band and after a few gigs are signed to the Food label, run by ex-Teardrop Explodes keyboard player David Balfe and his business partner Andy Ross who at the time have a number one single in America by a band on their label called Jesus Jones. Alex's band change their name from Seymour to Blur, they support The Cramps, release a record and due to Food having a distribution deal with them, attend EMI's annual sales conference. As Alex explains:
'I sat on a bed sharing a bottle of Scotch with a guy with a silvery beard who seemed quite interested in everything I had to say. We shot the breeze for ages. He knew all kinds of things. I liked that guy. We drank all the whisky. Eventually I said I'd better go and find Damon, who had last been spotted in a field trying to talk to some horses. Andy Ross said, 'What the hell were you talking to Andrew Prior about for an hour?' I said 'Who the hell is Andrew Prior? I've been drinking whisky with my mate over there!' He said 'That's Andrew Prior, you berk. He's the head of the label. I'm lucky if I get thirty seconds!'
After getting into a girly fight with Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden at the same conference, Alex shares a car back to London with Adam Ant who a few days later sends Alex a Small Faces album as a present.
'I suddenly had a feeling that I might be able to do all right in the music industry' he writes.

From an early age Alex always enjoyed dancing to music

It's from here that Alex's shagging career starts in earnest also, taking in the lead vocalist from the Darling Buds, a journalist from a music magazine who greets him by giving him a handjob; then ploughing through models, fans (of course), Courtney Love (of course) and so on.
'It wasn't like I pursued these women. It was suddenly as simple as not resisting' he pleads.
He even makes a pass at Marianne Faithfull though she has the wherewithal to rebuff his advances with a seen-it-all-before dismissive reply of 'You dog', therefore surviving Alex's book with her dignity intact. The same going for Faye Dunaway who simply tells Alex to 'Piss off'.

He's taken to the Groucho Club by Vic Reeves and Jonathan Ross and becomes a regular there with Damien Hirst and Keith Allen as his new drinking buddies. With his new friends he records a World Cup football song called Vindaloo under the moniker Fat Les that outsales anything Blur has done and then he's off on another social carousel, hanging out with Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Joe Strummer and even the legendary tattooed Beat love messiah Zodiac Mindwarp. Alcohol abuse becomes his forte and almost his raison d'etre as he acquires a particular penchant for absinthe.

He tours the world with Blur, makes television news headlines from a sales battle with Oasis, buys and learns to fly his own aeroplane to use instead of a car, parties at Cannes, flies to Provence, rides horses in Iceland, climbs pyramids in Mexico, visits Mick Jagger at his ch√Ęteau in the Loire, dines at the most expensive restaurants, drinks the best champagne, upsets Johnny Depp, has free designer label clothes and shoes showered upon him, has sixsomes in Rio, throws televisions out of windows, and even sets his sights on a manned mission to Mars. Life is just like a box of chocolates.

Run, Alex! Run!

There is, of course, a downside and that's in the shape of Alex's constantly betrayed, long-suffering, long-term girlfriend; as well as in the little fact of Alex gaining the world but losing his soul:
'I was a morally bankrupt, pissed fatso with a stupid grin and a girlfriend with a murdered heart' he admits.
And so he does a complete volte-face. Or rather, he abandons his hedonistic lifestyle and reverts back to his true self, that being - in the words of one of Alex's childhood friends - a grinning, middle class twat. He gets married, buys a farm in the Cotswolds, buys a couple of thousand sheep, goes back to eating meat after twenty years of vegetarianism, has children, starts making cheese and starts shooting rooks.

During the course of Bit Of A Blur, Alex comes out with a few things and it's unclear whether he's joking or not. For example, describing a visit to the House of Commons he writes 'It was good in there. It was reassuring that there were so many clever people doing their best, behaving responsibly and acting for the greater good.' Is he being wry? Is he being comically ironic?
Another time he writes of a visit to Buckingham Palace for a music industry reception: 'It's tiring being anti-royal. I've felt much better about everything since I had a chat with the boss. I think all rock stars start by wanting to destroy the world. Then their dreams come true and they end up trying to keep it like it was before they started.'
Come the end of his book it's sadly clear that Alex wasn't going for comic effect after all, that all along he was just an uber conservative in a successful pop band, underscored by his post-Blur career of becoming a columnist for The Sun, endorsing Macdonalds and KFC, and hobnobbing with the unholy trinity of Jeremy Clarkson, Rebecca Brooks, David Cameron and other modern-day horrors. Stupid is as stupid does.

For all that, Bit Of A Blur is still an enjoyable romp and Alex's openness and candour should be applauded, particularly as the people he writes about are all still alive and all still probably bearing the scars. And that's all I've got to say about that.

For Alex it was just another night out at the Groucho Club
John Serpico

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Blade Runners, Deer Hunters & Blowing The Bloody Doors Off - Michael Deeley


No, I'd never heard of Michael Deeley before either but should it bother us? Well, not really but I suspect it's something that bothers Michael Deeley because I think he'd like a bit of recognition. He'd like some respect, godammit! And so he should. He deserves it for just the simple matter of being the producer of some of the greatest and most interesting films in cinema history such as Blade Runner, Don't Look Now, The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Wicker Man, The Italian Job and The Deer Hunter.
Unfortunately for him, however, a large rump of the cinema-going public don't seem to take a lot of notice of the producer's name in the credits unless it's Walt Disney or Stephen Spielberg. If a film is both produced and directed by the same person then it's an entirely different story and their name becomes synonymous with the film but if they're only credited with producing then the reality is that most people don't know what a film producer even does. 
So what actually is their role? What exactly does a film producer do? According to Michael Deeley in his eye-catchingly entitled book Blade Runners, Deer Hunters & Blowing The Bloody Doors Off, a producer doesn't really make films but he causes them to be made.

Essentially, a film producer oversees a film from beginning to end. They choose the project, they raise the money, they hire the director, they oversee the casting, the soundtrack and the editing, they organise the shooting, and they manage the budget. And it's all a thankless profession because if the film is a success, the people who get all the acclaim are the actors and the director. So why do they do it? Well, obviously nowadays more than ever producers do it for the money because if a film is a success then a healthy profit can be turned. Some do it for the sheer love of movies - for the art; and whilst making a profit would be nice, it's not the prime motivating factor. Some do it for the glamour and the attraction of a potential Hollywood lifestyle. And some do it for all three of these reasons; Michael Deeley - at times - being one of them.

This then is the story of Michael Deeley's 'life in cult movies' which immediately raises another question: what exactly is a cult movie? Again, according to Deeley it's a movie that's been largely ignored by the general public yet defended vigorously by a few aficionados; gauged by the degree of devotion the movie inspires. Which means that the net could be cast wide enough, he suggests, so as to even include a film such as Star Wars. And that's true. But what this then tells us is that the term 'cult movie' is pretty meaningless and is now nothing much more than a marketing buzz word, and unfortunately this rather ties in with the underlying theme of his book.

It may not have been the intention but the world that his book depicts is a quite horrible one of marketing, self publicity, egotism, and vanity. The biggest exponent of these traits being director Michael Cimino who right from the start is described as a liar for claiming to be the person responsible for the creation and success of The Deer Hunter, thus excluding the input of the producer. In any other business this might be taken as a mere clash of egos but in the world of movies it's a declaration of outright war.

One of Deeley's most satisfying moments he tells us is at the end of Blade Runner when the screen cuts to black and the first credit appears with the words 'A Michael Deeley/Ridley Scott Production'. Which says a lot. It's the recognition that counts. The name in lights. The massaging of the ego.
In the blurb on the book jacket there's a quote from Sir Michael Caine CBE who whilst describing Deeley's eclectic taste mentions The Italian Job and adds 'I was one of the stars of that film'. Really? Did Michael Caine really feel the need to let us know that? Did he think someone might not know? You see? Even in a blurb - put there to help sell someone else’s book - there is egotism and self publicity.

For a book featuring such classic movies as listed above, the whole thing doesn't make a particularly engaging read which is a little surprising because you'd expect it to be overloaded with all kinds of anecdotes and insights that only the producer of those movies might be privy to. That's not to say there are none there, it's just that they're very few and far between. Anyone with a passing interest in director Sam Peckinpah, for instance, would already know of his reputation for being difficult and of his predilection for drink and drugs. Anyone with even a passing interest in comedian Benny Hill who featured in The Italian Job would know that he was a bit of an enigma. The book fails to tell us anything more. At one point Deeley mentions how his 'old friend' James Coburn turned up on the set of Convoy to do a bit of second-unit directing and to get a bit of behind the camera experience. But that's it. There’s no explanation of how he and Coburn became 'old friends' and there are certainly no insights or little known facts proffered about him.

When fresh anecdotes are put forward, however, they're genuinely interesting. Prime Minister Harold Wilson, for example, was a good friend of Deeley and of British cinema, and considered the Rank Cinema chain as a national treasure. Thatcher, on the other hand, didn't give a damn about cinema and unlike a number of more forward thinking countries refused to provide tax breaks or grants for it.
Gregory Peck was a very early supporter of Blade Runner and felt the script's themes of moral crisis and urban pollution were vitally important, so did all he could to help get it made.
The name 'Blade Runner' came from a little-known paperback entitled Blade Runner: A Movie, written by one William Burroughs who for a modest sum of money sold the name to Michael Deeley. Why didn't I know that?
When Rutger Hauer first met Ridley Scott - having already been cast as the renegade replicant in Blade Runner - Rutger was wearing pink silk pants and a Kenzo sweater with a fox fur draped over his shoulder. His hair was bleached white and was wearing Elton John-style glasses. Apparently Ridley was convinced that a gay activist had been foisted upon him to play the aggressively masculine lead role, and was seriously upset.
This is the kind of stuff we want but in a book of almost 300 pages there's just not enough of it.

To Deeley's credit he does put forward the name of the person who is perhaps the unsung hero in the story of the creation of Blade Runner and that's Hampton Fancher, a comparatively unknown actor and stage director turned writer. Fancher was responsible for writing a screenplay based on Philip K Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep and according to Deeley it was the most interesting and original piece of writing he had ever seen. It was this screenplay that became the building block for Blade Runner. The same screenplay that Gregory Peck had read and was so enthused about. After months of intense pre-production work and only weeks away from the actual production of the film starting in earnest, however, Fancher was unceremoniously dumped by Deeley and Ridley Scott and was off the picture.

If anything, this particular episode shows how mercenary and how merciless film making can be and is probably the best insight not only into the character of Michael Deeley but also of the world he has spent his life traversing. A world of narcissism, fantasy, glamour and dreams. Of high art, back-stabbing, illusion and lies. Of Blade Runners, Deer Hunters... and blowing the bloody doors off.

John Serpico