Monday, 27 June 2016

Under Exmouth Skies (Part 35)


"Mixing prejudice with fear in your ignorance you search for a scapegoat. For all those years it was hidden inside, not dead just forgotten but now it's coming alive. Since World War Two it was hidden from view and now you cheer on the street in an evil release."

"Jackboot parade! New Europe! Hooray! In defiance I refuse to be silenced."

Friday, 24 June 2016

Wandering - Hermann Hesse


Hermann Hesse gets all mystical on your ass as he sets off on a trip through a pass in the Alps on the way to Montagnola on the Swiss/Italian border, recording along the way his thoughts and observations in prose, poetry and sketches.
I must confess, I'm no connoisseur of poetry. I like Rimbaud and Baudelaire and William Blake - and I like Patti Smith - but when it comes to poems by, for example, Hermann Hesse, I'm just not very interested. His book, Wandering, contains poetry and they don't really float my boat - Philistine that I am. I much more prefer his prose and his novels of which, in fact, I'm a bit of an admirer and it's in the prose pieces in Wandering that I think the most interesting ideas are to be found.

In these pieces Hesse wrestles with the same themes that inform a lot of his books as in the dichotomy between living life out in the physical world or retreating to the cloistered world of contemplation. Which of the two might be the most valid is a question he returns to again and again as he bids vainly to combine the two.
His recurring question over how to live a life is dealt with very succinctly in the piece, Red House, where he admits 'There is no center in my life; my life hovers between many poles and counterpoles. A longing for home here, a longing for wandering there. A longing for loneliness and cloister here, and an urge for love and community there. I have collected books and paintings and given them away. I have cultivated voluptuousness and vice, and renounced them for asceticism and penance. I have faithfully revered life as substance, and then realised that I could recognise and love life only as a function.'
Let's just stop and think about that for a moment, shall we?

Right. Wandering was written in 1920 but there's a piece in there that sadly - and very interestingly - is rather pertinent to Europe and Great Britain in 2016. The piece is called Farmhouse and in it Hesse writes: 'If there were many other people who loathed the borders between countries as I do, then there would be no more wars and blockades. Nothing on earth is more disgusting, more contemptible than borders. They're like cannons, like generals: as long as peace, loving kindness and peace go on, nobody pays any attention to them - but as soon as war and insanity appear, they become urgent and sacred. While the war went on, how they were pain and prison to us wanderers. Devil take them!'
It's the line 'As soon as war and insanity appear, they become urgent and sacred' that leaps out because is not the subject of 'borders between countries' profoundly topical these days? If so, does this mean that war and insanity is today's currency?

Hermann Hesse came into fashion in the Sixties and early Seventies but I fear he's rather fallen from the spotlight of late which is a shame because he's still got an awful lot to offer the modern day reader. The question he mulls over as in should one throw oneself out into the world or retreat to a cloister can these days be translated into the question of should we get out onto the streets or stay in our rooms on the Internet? Can the two be successfully combined? Where does real life lay? Should we make our friends on Facebook or down the pub? Viewing the world today (or Britain, at least) it would seem most people are choosing the Internet option but - call me old fashioned - I tend to agree with what Henry Miller once said: 'What is not in the open street is false derived, that is to say, literature.'
Yes indeed, the works of Hermann Hesse are still very relevant. 
John Serpico

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Under Exmouth Skies (Part 34)


"I know a place to go, a secret that you should know. You're never gonna find me. You're never gonna fucking find me."

"I know a place you don't. Get lost! Go find your own! Below, behind me. You're never gonna fucking find me..."

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Drowning On Dry Land - Ray Roughler-Jones


In an ideal world everyone would buy a copy of this book and make the author a very rich man. The only question being what would he do with the money?
The subtitle of Drowning On Dry Land is Plumbing The Depths In Ladbroke Grove, Swansea And San Francisco but as an alternative it could so easily have been 'Memoirs Of A Ne’er-do-well' because Ray Roughler-Jones is nothing but. Or, rather than being used as chapter heading it could even have been called 'Taffy Was A Welshman, Taffy Was A Thief' because the author is that as well. He's also a scoundrel, a waster, a walking talking exasperation, a cad, a chancer, a revolutionary romancer, a hustler, a gambler, a midnight rambler - and a living legend. He's the kind of person who one day might have a blue plaque put up outside the house where he was born.

If you've got a few hours to spare then this is the story of his life yet at the same time it's more than that. It's a ripping yarn, it's a confession, an odyssey, a tale from the topographic ocean, a dance with the devil in the pale moonlight, a bodice-ripper, it's spiritual research, it's nights of love and days of laughter, it's a ball-buster - as opposed to a blockbuster.

It's the story of being born on a council estate in Swansea where career options were thieving, fiddling and low-end drug dealing with the prospect of imprisonment at the end of it. All very normal, you might say and you'd be right but whilst the apparent thing to do is to try and 'improve' yourself by moving up and away from working class roots into property ownership and middle class boredom, Ray instead moved sideways and then down.
After trying his hand at being a pop star with a band called Page 3 which led to them being taken to court by The Sun over use of the name, Ray headed off to London to live with his girlfriend whilst she studied at college there. They'd landed a flat in Ladbroke Grove and whilst his girlfriend studied, Ray got to know the area. Through getting a job at a betting shop (though not for long) on Portobello Road he started to frequent a nearby pub called the Warwick Castle and it's here that the story really begins.

This was a pub situated bang in the middle of Portobello Road and though it was just like any typical neighbourhood pub found anywhere in the country, it just so happened to be in one of the more famous landmarks in Britain. And whilst the locals were mainly interested in talking football, the price of beer and the racing results, it would also attract a more arty, bohemian type turning it into a bit of a cultural hotspot.
Ray goes into name-dropping overdrive, telling tales of encounters and adventures with the likes of Nina Hagen, Keith Allen, Shane McGowan, actress Anna Chancellor, Gareth Sager of Rip Rig And Panic, Wendy James of Transvision Vamp, Neneh Cherry, Nelly Hooper, Joe Strummer, Feargal Sharkey, John Lydon, Marianne Faithfull, even Bob Dylan and Paul Simon and many, many more. Lesser known but just as amusing are characters such as Johnny 600, Pete the Murderer, Dog Woman and the Singing Sikh. Interestingly, throughout all these tales Ray never once bigs himself up and in fact does the complete opposite, constantly putting himself down and describing himself as useless, talentless and hopeless. And there's also the little problem of his drinking and gambling addictions.

Ray is master of the faux pas and cites many an example. He's at an anarchist meeting in Swansea and some guy is talking about some misdemeanour or other that had been perpetrated by such and such somewhere so Ray says "Fuck this, let's get out there and cause some trouble". The person he's bored with is only John Barker of the Angry Brigade, responsible for among other things the bombing of the Post Office Tower and the Home Secretary's home.
Ray gets invited to Kevin Allen's (brother of Keith Allen) wedding in America and ends up telling the bride to shut up and fuck off. The icing on the cake being that Kevin Allen had paid for Ray's plane ticket to get there, meaning he'd paid for the privilege of having his wife insulted by a drunkard.
On another occasion Ray's backstage at an Oasis gig, this being when Liam is going out with Patsy Kensit. So Ray mentions to Patsy that (through drinking at the Warwick) he used to know her ex-boyfriend, Dan Donovan of Big Audio Dynamite - as if this is what she wants to hear about. Ray then tells Liam that he's only come along for the lig, causing Liam to turn on him, saying "Nobody ligs around here". Ray quickly makes himself scarce.

Years of alcohol abuse has withered Ray's memory, however, and in some of his anecdotes there are a few gaps and a lack of detail. He was compère, for example, on the Class War Rock Against The Rich Tour headlined by Joe Strummer and personally I would have liked a bit more on this. It's made up for by plenty of other stories though.
He's offered a small part in a Comic Strip film based on the miners strike of '84 and through his endeavours he ends up for a short time on the party circuit in London. At one such party all his friends from the Warwick want to attend also so when they arrive Ray tries to blag them all in. People had told him in the past of his resemblance to a certain Irish songster so he puts it to the test. "Oim Feargal Sharkey from the Undertones," he says "And these are my guests." It works.
Years later, Ray asks Peter Richardson, the producer of the film: "Am I the only person you know, who'd acted in an award-winning film, and never worked in the movies again?" To which Richardson replies: "That's the best way Ray, go out while you're at the top."
At another party he spots 'a short arsed geezer in the corner' and it's none other than 'multimillion record selling singer/songwriter' Paul Simon so Ray's friend, poet Jock Scott (who, of course, has never met Simon before in his life), strolls over and thrusting out his hand says "Hello darkness my old friend." Well, you would, wouldn't you?
Ray reminds us of Keith Allen's old pirate radio show featuring such characters as Sex Boots Dread, the gay Rastafarian ("Me black and me proud and me Rastafari - and me homosexual") and Gerry Arkwright, the northern industrial gay. For anyone interested, Ray (ever the blagger) still has copies of the extremely rare album featuring these acts which for twenty quid he's willing to make a copy of. He also mentions a story about Petula Clark and Sean Connery but for some reason fails to expound upon it. Oddly, it's a story I know: Sean Connery is asked one day by some wag, of all the women he's known, who has he had the best sex with? Connery considers it for a moment then says "Petula Clark. 1965. Up the arse." Can you imagine?

Ray Roughler-Jones is the perfect pub buddy, always up for a laugh and always ready to regale you with another tale. Unlike the stories you get from a lot of barflys, however, Ray's are all true. More's the pity in some instances. It comes as no surprise that he's recently been voted Ladbroke Grove's Personality Of The Year.
I wonder if he's ever considered running for London Lord Mayor?
John Serpico

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Guilty Pleasures (Part 11)


"The only performance that makes it - that really makes it, that makes it all the way - is the one that achieves madness. Right? Am I right? Are you with me?"
So says the character as played by Mick Jagger in Nic Roeg's Sixties mindbender of a film, Performance. It's a sentiment I've always tended to go along with but of course what is meant by 'making it' is open to interpretation. It can mean fame and fortune and all the trappings that can come with that: the mansions, the cocaine, the driving your television into the swimming pool and throwing your Rolls Royce out the hotel window. It can also mean artistic success as in realisation of artistic vision, art for art's sake, untainted vision, purity of intent and other such ideas from the William Blake school of thought.

I want my pop stars to be fat and bloated Elvis Presley style, shooting at the television with a golden pistol whilst overdosing on qualludes. I want them locked in permanent childhood Michael Jackson style, riding their own private rollercoaster at midnight and having sex with their pet monkey. I want them in full-blown fucked-up mode a la Sid Vicious; heroin tracks down their arms, on stage with a bloody nose and 'gimme-a-fix' carved into their chest.
I want my pop stars to be idealogical puritans, strict of vision like Crass. I want them ploughing their own path without concessions to commercialism like Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, or without a hint of even a nod to populist appeal like Laurie Anderson or Extreme Noise Terror of old.

I once saw a band of mental health patients playing a concert at a local community hall that could so easily have been a scene from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. They weren't exactly musically adept, in fact they couldn't play their electric guitars at all but it was brilliant. It was as though through their music and performance they were communing with God. That's how I like my bands.

"Some days I'd wake up and hear birds singing and I couldn't tell if they were outside my window or in my head."
So said Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys after a long period of blasting his mind to smithereens with drugs. If ever a band could be said to have acquainted themselves with madness then it would be The Beach Boys who at one point even managed to pull psycho warlord Charles Manson and his Family into their orbit. It's the stuff of legend and it's these things that come to mind when I think of The Beach Boys. Who truly understands madness, I wonder? Only the mad themselves, I'd wager.
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat "We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

Next month Beach Boys tribute band The Beach Boys Band are coming to Exmouth and what a load of old tosh you might say? Or you might say you only like The Beach Boys for their songs and their harmonies? And that's fair enough. But when I think of The Beach Boys I think Death Valley '69. Dune-buggy attacks. Smile. Cease To Exist. Teenage symphonies to God. Bleached white bones in California desert. Death pickings at Madison Square Gardens. Helter Skelter. Two Lane Blacktop. Good Vibrations. God Only Knows.

I think if we all take the right drugs it could be an interesting night.
See you all there, psychonauts.