Friday, 16 September 2016

The Hero's Journey

The Hero’s Journey
Exclusive Interview with Paula Yates.

Ray sips his non-alcoholic Bovril and leans forward intensely, with those gorgeous brooding eyes of his and I ask him: surely a low point of your career? He laughs bitterly.

“Oh for sure! ‘Preservation’ had received hateful reviews; misanthropic musos wielding their hacksaw pens. I was estranged from Dave by now. The sleeve of my latest opera about schoolboys was slated for its too realistic depiction of corporal punishment. Dark days. Lowest point of my life.

My agent had assured me that appearing on ‘The Generation Game’ would be just the boost my career needed. BBC family audience. Saturday night. They were doing Romans that week.

At least it wasn’t bloody ‘Crackerjack’.

To be frank, though, I wasn’t too certain; my life in a ‘fragile’ state – if you get my meaning?

Course I was having a hair of the dog in the ‘Hounds’, bloody late as usual. I grabbed my Fender Acoustic off Jimmy and hared up Wood Lane in this toga and laurels I’d borrowed from Richie Blackmore. An hour before recording; jumped in the lift and thrust my guitar into the hands of the other occupant. We were fellow travellers, after all.

I remember thinking he was well dressed; I thought I knew him from somewhere. He looked at me with either disapproval or disbelief, sucked his cheeks in and pouted.

Then – the lift just cut out. Kaput. Between floors. We were stranded. Funny really.

His only solution to the situation was to mince to and fro in the lift and issue a string of double entendres in an affected high pitched voice. He was a walking catchphrase, that one. ‘Shut that door’, ‘You are awful’, ’Top it Up Ted’ and all the time manicuring his fingers with an invisible file. We were certainly doomed.

But, and don’t laugh, this was a turning point. I had to act. I could see a hatch above my head, dangerous, I know, but possible. All I had to do was to open it, go through and signal.

Now, what to use? Frightened though I was, I looked through his shopping. A stiff breadstick and huge banana presented…possibilities. Tie these together and use my knowledge of semaphore and we might be free. I may perhaps have used my guitar strings to secure them together but didn’t want to disappoint an expectant England, you know? As a Kink, I could never countenance a cancellation due to broken strings.

No. It had to be the eyeglass chain around my companion’s neck.

He flinched. "Oh, dearie me, no. What a big one, as I remarked to Top Shelf Tess, just the other day.” I knew he didn't want me to risk it, as though he was begging me not to go. I ignored him and jumped.

Voiding into the darkness above, clenching the banana’d baguette fiercely, like some medieval lance, I ascended towards light. With a vigorous flourish of bread and banana, I attracted the bell boy and, mission successful, vaulted back below in triumph. My tittering companion stared open mouthed as the lift restarted its rattling ascent towards freedom.

As I played ‘Lola’ that night, witnessed by millions of Generation Game - Heads, it was like my resurrection. But that was only half of it. Imagine my surprise when I found out…my companion was none other than the host himself!’

Ray sits back and looks at me with elegant wry amusement and chuckles. So, conspiratorially I feel it’s time to ask him about his new LP ‘Give the People What They Want’

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Woking up the World.

Woking up the World.
The Jam.
Genesis of a Monster.

Ever wondered how world famous super group The Jam began?
Wonder no more. Here is the story, warts and all.

From Woking to…The World.

Basingstoke. Cold, forbidding; post war grey concrete roads intersect without meaning on bleak corners like some black and white M.C. Esher print. Torn poster corners flap forlornly in the icy winds. It is 1976 and Basingstoke is not a place to visit without a very good reason.

Which is why we find ourselves, instead, at Woking.

Woking had recently won ‘Nicest Town at Tea Time' award in the May monthly 'Nice Town' awards.

Residents of Woking would often whistle happy tunes to each other whilst tossing daisies, dandelions and snap dragons and greeting with a 'How-Di-Do' every day. 

All this was to change, however - terribly and suddenly.

Mrs Buckler’s house: Mrs Foxton and Mrs Buckler had worked terribly hard all day to produce a selection of home made fruit preserves and were sitting back, looking forward to the Woking Fruit Festival later that afternoon. As Maud Buckler lit her third Woodbine of the day and pushed the ashtray across to her close friend ‘Foxy’, she smiled happily as her son, Rick, pressed the kitchen door open, dressed in his school blazer and cap.

“Hi, Ricky, what are you up to today?” She enquired of her rosy cheeked boy.

“Oh, hi Mum, hi Mrs Foxton, gosh you look nice,” Blushed Rick, somewhat tongue tied, “Me and Bruce are off to Woolworths to meet David Watts. We’ve just been watching Top of the Pops with Ed Stewart. He’s so groovy! We’ve saved up enough pocket money to buy Paul Nicholas’ latest smash hit 45 ‘Dancing with the Captain’ and Bruce thinks he might have enough to get a Tina Charles’ poster, too!”

“Goodness, how lovely!” exclaimed Mrs Foxton, exhaling sensuously, “Well you two behave and don’t get into any trouble, will you?”

Like two guilty schoolboys, Rick and Bruce scurried off in the direction of town, avoiding tossed snap dragons and daisies with skill. As they approached the high street Woolworth’s, a frown crossed the face of Rick like a cloud across the sun on a summer’s day. He nudged Bruce sharply in the ribs. “Look, Bruce, it’s that Paul Weller.”

Bruce scowled. “Our mums have told us to have nothing to do with him,” he muttered, “And he’s right outside Woolworths.”

“Yes, he’s not even wearing his school blazer or cap,” added Rick, horrified, “He’s sporting a ‘Ruby Flipper Sucks’ badge, too!”

“Yes. But to be fair they do suck a bit. Legs and Co are a breath of fresh air after those recent anodyne displays of choreography, I must say,” answered Bruce, sagely.

“Must you?” asked Rick, irritated by his friend’s new found opinions and his surprisingly mature vocabulary. “Oh no. He’s coming over.”

With a sneer upon his sullen, surly face, Weller was indeed, ‘coming over’ and Rick caught himself shivering with fright as the bigger boy casually sauntered up and adopted a threatening stance.

He was eating chips from newspaper. Chips with curry sauce, spooning mouthwards with a wooden forked tongue implement.

Curry sauce? That was new. Dangerous, too. 

Rick had heard of curry sauce, bought over in the sixties by the Maharishi; beloved of those demi-devils The Beatles, and he also knew of and feared the hallucinations such foreign foodstuffs could bring.

“Want a chip?” sneered Weller, evilly.

“We don’t eat chips, Paul,” mumbled Bruce, shocked. “My mum calls them the spawn of the devil. And they’ve got polyunsaturated cholesterol, too.”

“Polybloodywhat? You fairies. Eat the chips!” leered Weller, stabbing Rick’s eye with a hot fried potato and adopting an uncouth cockney patois reminiscent of yet to be born hip-hop artist and guru to a generation, The Hip Hop Artist Named Reveal. “Cause if you don’t, I will do to you what I done unto David Watts.”

“What?” trembled Buckler, longing for the jammy aroma and warmth of his mother’s bosom.

“Nah, Watts!” screamed Weller, his mouth full of hot potato. He smelled horrible - exotic spices and lime pickles. “I done him up like a kipper, him with his untamed wit and his hairs on his chest.”

Foxton’s eyes widened in terror. “But he is the head boy of our school. He is so gay and fancy free. He took his exams and passed the lot!”

“I’m the Daddy now!” screamed Weller. “Eat the chips. Eat them! These taste of pubs and wormwood scrubs and too many right wing political meetings, these do.”

With hot tears running down their young cheeks, Bruce and Ricky partook of the curry sauce and chips.

But, they were actually pretty tasty and with relieved smiles the two boys were soon yumming them up. Bruce, remembering his newly found mature vocabulary was soon opining just so: “I say, Weller, old chap, these are pretty darn tasty. I never really liked that David Watts anyway, he was a bit effete for my taste. Can we be friends with you instead?”

“Yes, come back to ours, Paul, and meet our mums. They’ve made some lovely jam for us,” added Rick, sensing the end of the story approaching and possibly the punchline.

“OK lads,” laughed Weller, clapping them both on the shoulders, “The only thing is: I don’t like jam!”

Howling uncontrollably, like pub comedians recently in possession of some free new ‘be a pub comedian’ material, the three new amigos left Tina Charles behind, to be a footnote of history and sung their way towards a new future thus to the tune of Sloop John B:

“We fooking hate jam, we fooking hate jaa-aa-am, we are the Jam boys, we fooking hate jam.”

And that’s entertainment. As they say.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Leaving and Returning

Leaving and Returning

There was a rainbow in our sky
The day before I had to fly.

Arcing between this corner and the next,
It kissed the viaduct goodbye
then curved and rounded into the distance.
And we watched it fade, through the window.

I thought ahead to the journey,
but in truth it was mundane.
Flying fields and snatches of gossip
at each station on the train.
One puffed, from a guilty packet of fags,
on the concourse of terminal three.
Fish and chips at the last chance café.
Knotted nerves; retracted landing gear,
blank music, food, loss of fear.
Insomnia and the occasional tear.
Conveyors, escalators, loose change in Dubai,
until it was all behind; an arc in the sky.

Now you grin, laugh and say:
‘Will you send me a postcard, Grandad?
A picture of you and me, together,

on a roller coaster, forever.’

Friday, 9 September 2016

Call and Response

Call and Response

Of the evil and tyranny of bureaucracy
Yes, you, Santander, you bunch of fuckwits.

Please hold while we put you through to our team,
Oh…good morning, my account seems to be locked.

Calls are monitored by our control regime.
Buying a ticket; which came as a shock.

Security has reviewed online payments,
Travelling home for Christmas break.

Apologies for the inconvenience.
Well attempting to; got this flight to make.

All issues raised are quality assured,
Look. Got family waiting. At the other end.

I confirm your concerns are taken on board.
I need money now. Release the cash and send.

Send a high resolution image of your passport.
Then please call again. We’ll prepare your report.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Art for Fuchs Sake

Art for Fuchs Sake

Since Brexit, the trains have got worse and worse, haven’t they? They don’t run late anymore, they crawl. So it was without any sort of expectation of arriving on time that I boarded at Truro.

My seat reservation confidently spoke of a forward facing seat with a table; next to the window. In reality, it was, of course, a cramped affair with no leg room whatsoever and facing the rear.

You don’t waste any time, do you? I looked down the aisle, found an unreserved table seat and swapped the tickets, pleased to notice I’d have no company until Newton Abbot and that was hours away.

Watching the passing countryside meander and the towns dawdle, I reflected how fast and how quickly things had slipped since the vote. Conductors on zero hour contracts, train managers who didn’t anymore and rolling stock rusting itself into oblivion. No one bothered and those who once did had been repatriated years ago.

A journey to London might take eight hours or eight days. It was impossible to predict and depended on a brisk tail wind anyway. You put up with it.

As Newton Abbot approached, I wondered who might get on and keep me company all the way to Paddington. Nobody noisy, I hoped. Lots to think about and I’d booked the quiet carriage on purpose. I always book the quiet carriage.

When they boarded, you could tell straight away. They fussed all the way down the aisle with too much luggage, those mini suitcases on wheels with extendable handles bashing into exposed ankles ignoring the barks of pain and raised scowlbrows. Already making no friends, both were trifling around with cell phones as they sat down opposite me, placing hefty raffia bags on the small table.

All available space was lost.

“Well, you know, she set up her easel on the beach by Slapton sands…”

“Slapton? No!” The younger of the two snorted.

“I mean, I like her, but…”

“I know what you mean, she thinks she knows everything, she won’t be told.”

“Well, I can’t work with her. I don’t want to…”

“Yes, yes, she’s just impossible.”

“And we have to put up with her all weekend.”

“We’ll be polite, of course.”

“Well of course, but if she starts with her outdated opinions, well, I won’t be responsible, you know?”

The conversation paused. As I rested my elbow on the tiny ledge, palm pressed to my temple, they flicked through glossy art magazines. I didn’t catch the titles. Possibly ‘Vital Art’ or ‘Sake, Forsakes Art.’ Who knew? The way these two were flicking and sneering, they were either skilled speed readers or were using the pages as fans.

“What do you think?”

“Oh awful, ostentatious, no attempt at subtlety.”

The younger lady, possibly sixty years, looked sideways at her friend and pursed as if about to make some terrible confession. “You know it’s my first visit to ‘The National’?”

“Yes. Well there’s a first time for everything. I think you’ll love it. I have been many, many times and I’ve been blown away; quite entranced.”

“By what, particularly?”

“Oh, you know, the paintings. And the sculptures. Yes, the paintings, definitely. I love the paintings.”

“She wouldn’t appreciate it.”

“God no. I saw her take oil paint to Exmouth once. She set up on the beach and painted the sand. I didn’t want to say anything.”

“Did she?”

“Oh yes. All over the rocks and the weed, too.”

And with that, the two ladies set to; hissing, flicking and tapping cell phones. 

By now the train was slow approaching Taunton and the sun was high in the sky. I guess I’d been on for three or four hours since Truro.

I’d wandered up to the all British buffet and was unimpressed by slaps of dry fruitcake, bacon rolls and I had spotted the dick and run from custard. I’d wandered back. I’d wondered how much longer I’d be stuck listening to two artists.

I was shocked awake from my stoic sulk by a sudden commotion. A large, red faced and sweating man was barging his way down the aisle. In his left hand a paint brush, his right an easel and over his shoulder a large sack like back bulging with jagged objects. He was flailing about with a stick and wore darkest shades.

He was drawn to us as if by a a magnet, although, to be fair, most of the passengers had left the quiet carriage in search of silence. He plumped himself down opposite and offered a dripping, filthy hand, at the same time smearing his brow with a soiled cloth. He was generous with spittle as he shouted. “Fuchs! Emile Fuchs! Is my name. I am artist, yes!”

My two ladies had been staring in contempt at the entrance but now their expressions changed entirely and they leaned forward, braving the spray.

“I am blind, yes, blind. God has removed my vision entirely. But like your British bat, I don’t fly, I use my sonar, no?” He removed the hand then glared at me. “You. You must move, move away. It is these two artists I wish.”

I moved. But, you know, I was intrigued. So I made sure I could see what the Fuchs would happen.

So were my ladies. Magazines put to one side, they leaned towards the seat and frowned. “Who are you?”

Fuchs ignored the question because he was busy removing a variety of implements from the sacks he was carrying and pretty soon equipped for an assignment in art. “You are on way to National? You win British Rail star Brexit prize. I paint portrait, yes? Only thing – must be finished before Bristol Temple Meads. My ticket run out. Quiet please.”

He turned to me and raised his shades. “You!” he shouted, rudely. “Stupid fellow – how long is Bristol Temple Meads?” Then he turned back to my fellow passengers. “He will not know, he is not artist.”

“How should I know? A couple of hundred yards?” I snapped and pretended to read the paper.

“Fool!” he screamed. Then he eyed up the ladies once more, raising his thumb and brush. I’d seen artists do this before. I had no idea why. A bit like a mason’s handshake. Still, I did wonder how useful a blind painter might find it.

My two companions were flattered to find themselves the subject of attention, it had to be said. I could imagine them composing letters to the local galleries, universities and art journals. And their absent friend who painted the Slapton sands, the rocks and the weeds would be put in the picture and made aware of her stupidity in being absent, I felt sure.

“Please to remove blouses, Ladies.”

“What? We can’t do that!” The older one looked appalled at Fuchs’ suggestion and the younger blushed and looked coyly at her sandals.

“Yes, please to do so. This painting for British Rail, glamour, no? Beautiful titties. Poster on London Underground, next to MacDonald’s, splashed all over world.”


“Yes, we put you on the Big Mac boxes, plenty exposure. You famous.”

Fuchs had now mixed himself up a mess of oil paints and his brush was poised. The two ladies sat unmoved, still in their shirts. It looked as though they had no real desire to be immortalised, topless, on the used boxes of ‘Chicken Royales’ or ‘Big Tasties’. I wouldn’t have minded.  But he had no interest in me. “Don’t do it, Maureen,” I heard the older one whisper.

“You can paint us as we are, or not at all,” declared the other, firmly.

Fuchs shrugged. “OK, if what you want. Not sell so many, but if it what you want.”  And with that he raised his brush like a pistol.

The screaming was horrendous.

Sharapova and Azarenka combined could hardly have been louder. It bought my tinnitus right back on with a sharp slap, I’m telling you.

Fuchs had raised his brush and was flicking large gobbits of paint at the two ladies. They were being systematically sprayed in huge splots of colour, from their heads to feet. And not just them. Windows, seats, baggage racks were showered randomly and with vigor.

Escape was impossible. Every time one of the ladies attempted to bolt for the aisle, another missile would drive them back. They cowered in the corner, wailing until, finally, Fuchs finished.

My two artists were drenched. And the blouses had received the most attention. They looked like two giant Pollocks.

Fuchs flung his materials to one side with a satisfied smile and stretched his arms wide apart. “Beautiful, beautiful!” he exclaimed, beaming like a set of headlights. “Wonderful!”

The older lady spoke at last, crimson oils dribbling from her spectacles onto her lap. “What on earth are you doing?” she spluttered with admirable composure, I thought.

“I blind. I paint in braille, yes?”


“Yes, Braille for British Rail. Is gimmick. Sell many tickets for trains. MacDonalds, too.”

“You can’t paint in braille,” screamed the other, with less tolerance, I thought, drooling colour all over her magazine and cell phone.

Fuchs disagreed and reached forward, grasping the nearest ample chest with his sweaty clams. He moved his hands over the frontage, prodding with his fingers and twiidling with his thumbs. “Yes, braille, this say ‘nice titties’,” he replied, firmly.

“Get your hands off me, you filthy old pervert!” screamed the affronted painting, in fury.

But Fuchs grabbed and ripped. Off came the blouse which he held up to me in triumph. Another grab, tug and off came the second. “Masterpiece! Worth thousands. Which you buy?”

“I don’t want either of them.” I replied, shocked, as the two ladies covered themselves. “I’m reporting you.”

“Not good enough for you? Ah. You no like art. You not artist.” suggested Fuchs, disappointed. “OK, I sell British Rail.” Clutching the two blouses in his fist and seizing his materials, Fuchs disappeared up-train. I doubted he would get very far.

I would have pulled the emergency chain, but it probably wouldn’t work due to the cut backs and the train was ambling into Bristol Temple Meads anyway. I fully expected to see police lining the platform. The two ladies were texting on cell phones and it wasn’t hard to imagine the gist of it.

“Terrible. Humilation. Arrest,” I heard them, muttering and typing feverishly.

At Bristol the door of the quiet carriage was flung open. But no police. Instead, a third lady appeared. She too had magazines, cell phone, suitcase on wheels and copious baggage and she made her way determinedly towards the bespattered seats where my two companions sat. Ignoring the smeared paint, she sat down opposite in the seat I had previously occupied with a smile.

“Cynthia. Maureen. How nice to see you. And to see so much of you, too,” she smirked. “Now what an earth have you been up to, for Fuchs’ sake?