Friday, 30 October 2015

How I Battled Taylor Swift (And Won?)

I believe there are two types of fiction. That which provides the reader with an escape from their daily world. And that which seeks to actively engage with the world in order to try and probe and maybe provisionally provide some answers about it. Now hold that thought…

Last night I had the privilege of reading at Scriggler Live. I had two stories and as is habitual, i rehearse them hard in the run-up to the gig and that includes hand gestures as I try and enact them to some extent. Unlike a slam poet I don’t have the words committed to memory, but I am very familiar with them and know the precise timing of a gesture or when to look at the audience and the like. 

During the first of my two stories, there was some sort of minor commotion behind me on stage though there was nobody there. I carried on delivering my piece, but my brain was simultaneously working away furiously trying to figure out what was going on. Gradually I realised it was a ringtone. I later found out it was a Taylor Swift song. I wouldn’t recognise a Taylor swift ditty if my favourite football team ran out on to the pitch to its accompaniment. 

Now we’ve all seen footage of actors  on stage stopping the play to berate some hapless soul in the audience who forgot to turn off their phone and it goes off in the middle of their soliloquy. But I’m not really bothered by such things when I’m reading. Many venues are in the basements of drinking establishments, so you get used to background din. Had I have known it was a pop diva warbling away behind me, I might have objected to that, but there again me trying to battle against a rousing Public Enemy rap or some industrial art noise might have posed more of an issue (you’ll note the band logo of industrial noise band Einsturzende Neubauten on my chosen hoody for the performance).

It was only after the show that I started reflecting on how my brain had performed. For I still carried on my performance (whether it had been affected in any way you’d have to ask the audience). Yet it was also processing the unexpected sensory input of noise and trying to compute its exact nature. It passed through initial confusion into full processing mode until it solved the conundrum. The brain does not settle for working in a linear fashion. It can hold several different thoughts and emotions at the same time, let alone do various tasks and functions simultaneously.

So how does that relate to my opening statements? The fiction that proclaims to try and interrogate our world is largely hidebound. It employs language, linear  subject noun followed by verb followed by object… And stories, even ones that employ flashbacks and memories, are also in the main linear. Characters follow a developmental arc, that is they start at point A and by the story’s end reach point Z which may be redemptive or at least they have gained insight. But life itself is not linear and the human brain is certainly not linear. So how can fiction that largely follows linear structures and certainly employs linear language, hope to approximate the complexities of our contemporary world? So bizarrely, the Taylor Swift incident only served to reaffirm my faith in non-linear forms of fiction writing. Taylor I salute you, though is till won’t be listening to any of your music any time soon.


 Einsturzende Neubauten                                                 Taylor Swift

45 Flash fiction tales, many non-linear, available in print and ebook from Amazon & I-Tunes

(as is Taylor Swift & Einsutrzende Neubauten)

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Sometimes It Just Has To Be Spelled Out - Friday Flash

Mike she said
Do you know about Quebecois women?
We are not like your buttoned up Yankee girls
Or your Indian women high up there on the Sierras
Bravo ma cherie
For I am an Alpha male, just feel my deltoids
Alpha? Deltoids? Delta and Delta more like
Is there an Echo in here?
Bravo mon cheri, you deserve an Oscar
For you merely have the body of someone who plays a lot of Golf
Rather than a Romeo in the bed
I like you Juliet, same as I like my Whiskey, straight-up, bit of sour
Really? I like my men in Uniforms usually
Hey it takes two to Tango. Where’s your costume then?
If you had X-Ray vision you’d see what I was wearing under my coat
Anyway, I’m more of a Foxtrot girl than a Tango woman really
But I’ve booked the Hotel room
And I’ve also got a half a Kilo of Charlie
Half a key? That wouldn’t get us to November
Besides, I’m more about liver, Lima beans and a nice chianti
Ha Zulus!
Cos I think you’ll find it was fava beans, so to the Victor the spoils!
Now come to Papa!
Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo off!

for when there can be no reason for miscommunication... 


Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Cobra Res

I have a story in the new Cobra Res book out 29/10/15.

Cobra Res is an exciting and diverse project linked around the UK government's Cobra committee convened in times of crisis or danger. For this call the theme was the Cobra meeting convened about migration from North Africa and Syria and was for flash fiction (in the past it's been photos or artworks or poems).

I'm delighted that I've a story included in this collection.

The launch is pretty neat too. A walking "migration and politics" tour around East London with a guide talking about the history of the area re migration and the politics ensuing.

If you fancy that, places are limited but here's the link to book a spot on the tour

All proceeds from the book go to CalAid

Monday, 12 October 2015

My Top 15 Reggae Chart

In my teens I listened to a lot of music genres (though the word hadn't been coined then, even though music audiences were quite tribal). And one that was very influential was reggae. I'm not sure how I came by it, although I lived in London where it was very prevalent, also I was into punk and New Wave which were both acknowledging their affinity for reggae. John Peel almost certainly had something to do with my love for it, as he promoted reggae artists on his show along with all the other music he introduced the likes of me to.

But as I grew older, reggae fell away from my music loves and was replaced by US rap and hip-hop. However now in my early 50s I find that I am returning to reggae with a renewed enthusiasm to expand my old musical favourites in the genre and explore further. I still love rap and hip-hop, but I am delighted that I've rehabilitated myself to embrace reggae as well. There is plenty of crossover between reggae and rap or reggae and dubstep, while industrial funk 80s band 23 Skidoo even did a straightish reggae song in amongst all their musical experimentation.

Anyway, for what it's worth, here are my fifteen favourite reggae songs. Normally when I do one of my music charts I'm a bit snarky about the bands or the video. but in this case it is straight up veneration.

1) Ras Michael And The Sons Of Negus - "None Ah Jah Jah's Children No Cry"
First and foremost reggae is a spiritual music. And in Ras Michael's words and phrasing you really get a sense of that as he sings of a world to come free of pain and misery. The drum beat also has direct links back to a style of traditional African drumming though this style of reggae made it its own.

2) Misty In Roots - "How Long Jah?"
A British Roots Reggae band from West London who were very active in the Rock Against Racism movement playing gigs on the same stage as The Clash, Specials and The Ruts. Roots Reggae connects the spiritual messages of Rastafari directly with the lives of its followers usually in city ghettos, linking the two within the lyrics.

3) Scotty - "Clean Race"
This song is more demonstrative of the playful side of reggae as deejay Scotty morphs in and out of singing and 'toasting'. Many early reggae singles had an instrumental version of the song serve for the B-Side and certain artists 'borrowed' these tracks and did their own vocals over them. Toasting is improvising or chatting over the beat as Scotty does to wonderful effect here asserting his prominence in the hierarchy over both record producer and the public who buy his music. And yet the song is utterly catchy. In reggae, deejays are not those who produce the beat and spin the records as in hip-hop, they are called 'Selectors' in reggae. A deejay in reggae is the singer over the beat.

4) Dillinger - "Cocaine"
Reggae became big in the UK and other European countries because of the emigrant Caribbean populations living here. But on the back of Bob Marley it made some inroads into the US and here Dillinger wonderfully observes US culture through the eye of a near neighbour. Many reggae artists took their names from US gangsters (Dillinger, Capone) or cowboys (Clint Eastwood & General Saint).

5) Wailing Souls - "Kingdom Rise, Kingdom Fall"
A band with more line up and band name changes than most who have been around since the 1960s, again here the vocals remind the listener of the devotional spiritual nature of the music.

6) Barrington Levy - "Murderer"
One of the most prolific reggae recording artists, he started singing at age 14. He has also crossed over working with artists such as Snoop Dogg. The 7" single has always been important in reggae, at times more important than albums, but Levy has always committed to albums as much as singles.

7) Soul Vendors - "Swing Easy"
Trojan, Studio One & Coxsone records were perhaps the most significant record label in the 1960s and early 70s, releasing 7" single gem after gem by a multitude of artists. This was one of them by a group I can tell you nothing about. But the song itself sounds so mournful and plaintive, despite it's upbeat title. A song packed with emotion despite its lack of lyrics.

8) Althea & Donna ' "Uptown Top Ranking"
This was a hit when I was growing up and I hated it because I hated pop music (still do). But when I rediscovered it a few years ago, I fell in love with it because it is both poppy and yet completely from outside the pop realm with its uncompromising patois delivery. Teenagers when they recorded this, sadly one of them died very young from cancer.

9) John Holt - "Police And Helicopter"
A singer associated with a sweet voice and songs of love often backed with strings, here issues a defiant and wrathful political song to his government.

10 Steel Pulse - "Handsworth Revolution"
Another British band who were brilliant on stage, this 1978 song forecast the riots of the 1980s, particularly the one in their home borough of Handsworth in Birmingham. Even though it is somewhat of a call to arms, it still drips with a sense of spirituality, hinting at a different kind of calling.

11) Burning Spear - "Marcus Garvey"
Oh what a voice!

12) Sylford Walker - "Chant Down Babylon"
A song I only recently discovered once I had come back to reggae, through the happenstance that it was on the same YouTube page when I was searching for Scotty. Again I know nothing of him. But put it this way, it's the first song on my reggae playlist.

13) The Congos - "Fishermen"
One of the qualities of reggae (and particularly of dub) is a certain liquid or watery sound as befits a music made mainly within a group of islands. Ostensibly this song appears to be about the noble profession of fishing, but actually it's a paean to ensuring the smugglers successfully bring in the collieweed, or marijuana.

14) Keith Rowe - "Groovy Situation"
Reggae also has a fine line in romance and songs to lovers. Gregory Isaacs, Denis Brown and John Holt to name but three. A genre called Lovers' Rock encapsulated this although it largely grew out of London initially rather than Jamaica. This Keith Rowe song predates Lovers' Rock but to me is the finest example of a reggae love song. It starts playful and giggly before his voice goes stratospheric as he proclaims his deep love. Wonderful stuff.

15) Augustus Pablo - "King Tubby Meets Rocker Uptown"
Perhaps the most significant legacy of reggae, one which has spread into many other sorts of music, is dub. Dub uses electronic effects to make the music more spacey with echo and reverb and focuses more centrally on the rhythms of the drum and the bass. More often that not it removes the vocals so that they are instrumentals. Augustus Pablo is one of the finest exponents of dub, but what makes his sound unique is the use of a melodica. Sublime stuff, you can just switch the lights off and bask in his albums for an evening in perfect bliss.

Friday, 9 October 2015

What have all these images in common? #3



They all appear in the flash fiction story "Drones" in my new collection "Extra-Curricular". Many nouns in the English language have different shades of meaning, but 'drone' is a word that in very recent parlance has been shorn of its other meanings. My story attempts to reassert them so that there isn't only just the one association with what is after all a very rich word.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

What have they got in common?

Apart from the geometry, what do these images all have in common?

They all feature in the flash fiction story "Overpass", one of the tales in the flash fiction collection "Extra-Curricular" out now in paperback and e-version.

The story progresses as these images, from the sedate to the sinister and the title "Overpass" is reversed by the tale's end to "Passover"


Available from Amazon and I-Tunes

Monday, 5 October 2015

What Have These Images All Got In Common?




They all involve the humble human wrist and they all appear in the flash fiction story "Wrist Assessment" in my new collection "Extra-Curricular".

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Men's Names Songs

There are so many songs penned to the muse or a lost lover as I covered in a previous music chart, but maybe not quite so many for men's names. Here's a chart to partially redress the balance. As you'll see, these are songs mainly by men and male bands, unlike the many paeans to women made by men.

1) Department S - "Is Vic There"?
A John Peel favourite and very hip post-punk band to like, although I can't actually remember any of their other songs.

2) Au Pairs - "Dear John"
The only females to appear in this whole chart. There are a few Country & Western female singers bemoaning their men by name, but I can't stand C&W so none of it gets in here I'm afraid. My blog, my rules!

3) Stiff Little Fingers - "Johnny Was"
Cover version of a Bob Marley song. I've never actually heard the original. Always a favourite at their live shows for me.

4) Undertones - "Jimmy Jimmy"
Classic pop-punk. They also had a song called "What's With Terry" and another called "There Goes Norman" and when you see singer Feargal Sharkey's coat you realise this was the original boy band singing about boys' problems, not what we mean when we utter the dread phrase Boy band these days.

5) Sham 69 ' "Hurry Up Harry"
Less classic yet strangely more successful pop-punk in terms of chart placing. Harry doesn't go down the pub these days, can't afford the prices. So in the video, you've got the guitarist wearing a Union Jack t-shirt, but the drummer sports a backward facing baseball cap, some identity confusion in evidence there.

6) XTC - "Making Plans For Nigel"
Another unexpected chart hit, but not really representative of a band who desperately tried to forge a British rock/pop sound that didn't really on the Blues influence on rock and roll.

7) Smiths - "William It Was Really Nothing"
As I don't like the Smiths, this is here grudgingly. My blog, my rules. Oh no wait... 

8) Jimi Hendrix - "Hey Joe"
Classic song about a man who feels his woman done him wrong.

9) T-Rex - "Telegram Sam"
Not quite "Ride A Swan", but one of the few acceptable glam artists before punk tried to sweep all that away.

10) Elvis Costello - "Oliver's Army"
Elvis Costello started out as a punk, but like so many eventually moved into where his true musical roots, somewhere between the balladeer and country and western. Punk rock gave a leg up to many artists who were dubbed punk but in retrospect never were really.

11) Tom Robinson Band - "Martin"
Aw, sweet sentiment, a criminal big brother who tries to do right by his baby brother.

12) Monochrome Set - "He's Frank"
This was an A-Side single that had the far superior "Alphaville" backing it. They were a band who when they played live stood stock still on stage while a screen had film projections of them moving. Odd.

13) Birthday Party - "Nick The Stripper"
I love the video for this, that lifting of the tent flap inviting you to come in to the strange carney world beyond. 

14) Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - "Box For Black Paul"
When Nick Cave left the Birthday Party for a solo career, this was one of the songs from his debut album. It evidenced his tendency for literary writing in his lyrics, or perhaps over-writing, but I do love this song.

15) Pink Floyd - "Careful With That Axe Eugene"
And did Eugene listen? Not to judge by the screams towards the end of the song.

16) Lemonheads - "It's A Shame About Ray"
Never was much of a Lemonheads fan, but many were.

17) Black Flag - "Louie Louie"
Cover version of the classic Kingsmen song. Only when singer Henry Rollins says he's going on a killing spree, you believe him.

18) The Specials - "Message To Rudy"
Another cover version, this time of a song by Dandy Livingstone. As with everything the Specials touched, this was pure gold.

19) Eminem - "Stan"
Not a paean to Stan Collymore, just one of Eminem's intricately created characters in song.

20) REM - "What's The Frequency Kenneth"?
Again, not a band I was overly a fan of, but I did remember liking this title when it came out.

Bonus Track:

The Who - "Boris The Spider"
Only the anachronistic dates prevent this being an ode penned to the departing Mayor of London... This is what happens when you let the bassist in the band pen a song.