Show of Hands gig review/Kzine published

Diddly-dee

Kzine is now available from Amazon, price £2.40 or US$3.79.

I went to see Show of Hands recently at the Guildhall in St Ives and the local rag (The Cornishman) has published my review. It’s corny in places, but it’s the style that the paper likes. It’s not available online, so I’ve reproduced it here:

“They may be from across the Tamar, but Cornwall loves Show of Hands as much as the rest of Britain. Tonight’s gig, with a band who’ve played the Royal Albert Hall many times, was always going to be a sell out – it was just a matter of whether the band could live up to expectation. As it happened, they were simply magnificent. One reason might be that music as social protest and commentary is as needed now in these harsh times as it ever was and the intimacy of the venue enhanced communication between band and audience. The band was certainly as passionate as any of the punk bands I saw in my youth. A unique folk duo – in that Steve Knightly and Phil Beer usually appear with double-bassist Miranda Sykes – tonight, with the audience singing along loud enough to raise the roof, it was more like a band of five hundred.

The night had begun well, with Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin in the support slot, providing some very contemporary folk music. Their recent album ‘Singing The Bones’, a mix of original and traditional songs arranged in their own inimitable way, is justifiably causing a stir and I wonder how long it will be before they’re headlining at the September Festival. Definitely worth seeing if you can.

From the moment Show of Hands took to the stage, however, the night was theirs. They seemed fresh, relaxed and very happy to be there. I usually scribble notes and a set list at gigs but I was too busy clapping and stamping along to the songs to write anything. I do know that they played plenty of favourites such as Santiago, The Napoli, Country Life, The Galway Farmer, Youngs Town, The Falmouth Packet, Boys of Summer and a very emotional Blue Cockade, as well as a couple of new songs and their still very topical comment on the banking crisis and the mess it’s left us all in – Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed. This wasn’t a lecture, though – the seriousness of the recession, the recent riots and the terrible mining tragedy in south Wales was all there, but the night was about having a good time and the songs were interspersed with stories from the band’s many years on the road and even a joke about Camborne. Just in case there was anyone left to win over. When they returned, to play their West Country ballad Now You Know and finish, appropriately enough, with Cousin Jack, the story of Cornish miners emigrating to find work, the crowd was quite euphoric and many were on their feet at the end.

Someone said that hard times can bring out the best in song-writers and the so-called revival in folk music includes plenty of people capable of reflecting life, injustice and current events. Show of Hands are right there with the best of them. They write beautiful, moving songs. And seeing them live is like sitting down with old friends.”

Wounded Souls

I nearly didn’t watch Mysteries of the Vampire Skeletons, part of Channel 5’s Revealed series, basically because it was on Channel 5 and I didn’t think it warranted attention, but after catching the first few minutes I was intrigued enough to continue. The main focus was on archaeological digs in Ireland that had uncovered some unusual skeletons with large stones forced into their mouths or, in one case, the legs broken and twisted around a huge rock. The skeletons were dated to be from around 500 – 600 CE (Current Era, or AD, if you’re of that persuasion). Which was something new to the archaeologists. Folklore evolves over time and tends to have roots as far back as humankind, but this seems to be the earliest evidence of protection against vampires.

Was it that most, if not all burials were done in this way at this period in time, or was it that the individuals were specifically suspected of being the kind to become vampires? The programme didn’t answer that question, but it gave some explanations of classic vampire mythology. For instance, most people wouldn’t know how long a corpse takes to decompose, and what the various stages are. Digging up someone who’d been dead for a few months would therefore have caused further terror to folk who were probably frightened enough as it was – they may well have looked as fresh as when they went in the grave and the breakdown of the stomach would’ve caused blood to pour from the mouth – which would look like a vampire having had a recent feed. Also, of course, opening up a corpse to take out the heart (for burning) was likely to make gas escape, hence the idea that a corpse sighed or growled upon being cut. In times of more basic medical knowledge, premature burial was reasonably common, which meant that some did literally rise from the grave. Or were exhumed and found to be dead, but looking as if a terrible spirit had possessed them in the casket. And finally, there were illnesses and conditions that made people extremely sensitive to sunlight and tightened the skin to give an enduring youthful appearance. All very feasible. However, the books I’ve read (most recently The Vampire in Europe by Father Montague Summers, written in the first half of the 20th century) show how deep seated these beliefs were over the whole of the continent. Summers’ book has case after case where the existence of vampires is completely accepted as fact. And rituals against the dead rising from the grave as a vampire still take place in parts of rural Romania, (although apparently city dwellers find this quite embarrassing and backwards). It’s something that just hasn’t gone away and may never disappear, either from Europe or the rest of the world; each continent has its own version of the belief.

What’s made me (fairly!) hopeful that these creatures don’t exist is the oft-repeated assertion that those with a ‘difference’ of some kind, be it ginger hair, a disfigurement or being foreign, were said to be likely to become vampires after death. Fear of the ‘other’ is one of human nature’s nastier sides, which constantly needs to be battled with education and communication. But I have respect for these legends – there’s usually a grain of truth in them somewhere. I’ve no doubt that many strange things, both physical and spiritual, walk the Earth, but I’m not convinced that vampires, in the classic sense, are one of them. Although we’ve all met people who thrive by sucking the life out of others!

Elizabeth, resting.

But ghosts are a different matter. I’ve always loved ghost stories and like any decent child was frightened of graveyards, but I’ve long since found cemeteries to be places of peace and calm, as resting places should be. Life is lived outside of them, and so, if a ghost is a recording of an event replayed over and over again, seen by the living if they’re tuned in to the right frequency, or a more coherent, trapped spirit interacting with the world of the living, it makes sense for them to do so in the places they lived and died.

I’ve never seen a ghost, but I have had many experiences that have left me in no doubt that a ghost has been present. The house I spent most of my childhood in was haunted. I’ll state that as fact, because I can’t find any other explanation for how the place was, the happiness I felt when we moved out and the nightmares I had for years afterwards. From the age of six months to around 17 I lived with my family in Ruislip Manor, on the far north-western reaches of London Underground’s Metropolitan Line. It was a small, terraced 1930s house with a long back garden and narrow alleyways behind and around the blocks of houses. I don’t know anything of the house’s former inhabitants or the plot the house was built on. What I do know was that it was an extremely frightening place. Many times at night I heard footsteps on the stairs that stopped at the top of the landing. One night I looked up and saw my bedroom door open; a shadow came in and touched the end of my bed. I screamed and it dissolved before my parents could come rushing in. I heard whispering right outside my window (I was on the first floor) and had recurring dreams of a pale, white coach and horses driving at speed along the alleyway and into our garden. On one day, my brother, sister and I were in the front room and heard someone coming down the stairs. The connecting door’s handle was pressed down, as if someone on the other side was about to open it. Then – nothing. When we eventually had the nerve to look, no one was there and everyone who was in the house was accounted for downstairs. It was not a happy house – and I always got the impression that it was the skin and bones of the house itself that was unquiet, rather than something separate inside.

The next odd event occurred when I was about 17 or 18 and was alone in a room in a squatted house, listening to music and lying on a bare mattress on the floor. The top corner of the mattress suddenly began moving up and down, as if someone had grabbed it and was violently yanking it. I watched it for a while, then reached out and turned the music off, as I thought the vibrations might be causing it. The violent movement continued. I didn’t see anything or anyone, didn’t feel a presence of any kind, it was just a physical manifestation. Eventually it stopped and I never found any rational explanation for what happened.

Perhaps ten or so years ago I visited a notorious gay bar in King’s Cross, north London. At the time a couple of friends worked in the basement bar, so I went along one Saturday night to see them. I sat for a while at the side of the room and watched the dancers. Completely sober, I should add! I was suddenly aware of a horrible presence. Something was seeping out of the walls of the basement. All I can say is that it felt like Death was there. It surrounded the dance floor and moved in. I got the feeling that it was centring on one man, who appeared unaware of anything going on. Perhaps it was just that he was in the middle of the room. It felt appalling and I had to leave. Afterwards I spoke to one of my bar worker friends and she said the basement did have a reputation for being haunted. Weird stuff, like glasses jumping off shelves, happened there. She’d heard that a customer had died in one of the little cubby holes while cavorting. Because drugs and dodgy sex was involved, the body was carried to the upstairs bar and propped in a corner, so as to be found in a more ‘innocent’ position. How much of this was true was unknown. I seem to remember going back to the basement bar but not having anything untoward happen.

My most recent experience was at Minions in Cornwall, which I’ve written about previously (30 August 2011). Coincidentally, (pah!), just as I was writing this piece, I found a postscript in the back of Barbara Erskine’s novel Daughters of Fire. Called Why Ghosts?, it’s part of an address given by Meryn Jones to the annual meeting of the Celtic Society (no year is given). The piece sums up Celtic belief in what happens to the soul after death, which just about word for word mirrors my own beliefs and goes on to describe ghosts thus: “The choices the soul makes can leave it unhappy. The life it has led may not have been full of glory. It may have ended in anger, sorrow, unfulfillment. Some will go for another crack of the whip in a new lifetime. But others haunt the scenes of their last life. And in doing so they can grow frustrated and angry because they find that people on the whole cannot see or hear them…” More than just recordings, then? I remain open-minded.

Publishing news: ‘Cross Bound’ now online in Aphelion webzine

Aphelion Sept 2011

This was supposed to be a post about the supernatural and paranormal, but I’ve had to delay it slightly due to lack of time. And I’ve just found that Cross Bound appears in the ‘Serials’ section of September 2011’s Aphelion science-fiction and fantasy webzine. I did not expect to see it published so soon! So here it is.

“Delicia Jangle Pop!”

A track from my sister’s old band A Strange Desire has popped up on YouTube, and I’m shamelessly linking to it. It’s a great pop song, recorded in 1987 in the wake of The Smiths. I find a lot of the pop groups from that time rather twee but I liked ASD. They played The Timebox a few times, a pub in Chalk Farm (north London) that showcased a lot of such bands. There’s a compilation album around somewhere.

I was thinking of going to Bosiliak Barrow yesterday. It’s a beautiful little Scillonian type chambered cairn. There’s some excavation work going on on nearby settlements, and yesterday was an open day. I was nearby at Lanyon Quoit and saw a group of people around the cairn but didn’t join them. When the vegetation dies down (or gets ripped out by the coming storm) I’ll return for a proper look. These places are always better when they’re quiet, although some archaeologicial information would have been interesting.

Lanyon Quoit

Meanwhile, no pop songs for me as I write. Instead, some Daniel O’Sullivan wierdness, or the story will just be too happy.

Story accepted/Julian Cope and The Modern Antiquarian

Cross Bound has been accepted by Aphelionan American webzine, for their next issue. I’m assuming that to be October 2011 but have asked for confirmation. This is great news for several reasons. I seem to have got a real momentum going which I’m determined to continue. Having five stories published during the course of a year is probably no great shakes to some writers but for me it’s a real achievement. Better access to the Internet has certainly helped me find suitable magazines/outlets, and I’ve been lucky in that the two pieces I had in Kimota magazine were re-printed in the anthology, but I also feel I’m in a better frame of mind for writing. I’d placed just about all my completed short stories when I relocated to Cornwall (and was finishing off Darkworlds) and spent years writing two novels and the initial chapters of a book on punk rock ‘n’ roll band Green Day. When that fell through I returned to the short story. It is not, as someone insisted to me the other day, a way of ‘working up to writing novels’! It is a completely different art form. I wrote the two novels because that was the only way of telling those stories. Since then I have finished one novelette (Cross Bound), one short story (The Ferocious Night – with another editor as I write), have nearly completed another long short story (The Falling Man) and have sketched out a new, more concise horror short, (working title Pieces) that had me crawling out of bed the other morning to make notes on it before it disappeared from my sleepy head. I’m aiming to have this one in at under 5,000 words, mostly because I think that’s all I’ll need to tell the story but also because I want to make sure I can still do such a thing. I’m incredibly relieved to know that my more recent, post-novel, work still cuts it. Cross Bound is very different to everything else I’ve done – as I’ve said before, it’s definitely dark fantasy rather than having a crossover with horror. Some of the references to witchcraft and witch hunts come from the Pendle witch trials of the early 17th century, with bits from German witch hunts of the same era, so thanks to R. Hart’s Witchcraft and The Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft and Demonology for essential details. Also to Coil’s Musick To Play In The Dark Vol 2, which has provided the soundtrack to the writing. Coincidentally (if you believe in such things) there was a programme on BBC4 a few weeks back about the Pendle witch trials, which was very well done, with some animation creeping over the brooding Lancashire hills and Simon Armitage walking around in the mizzle.

Holy well, St Agnes, IoS. Photo: Teresa Knight

When my family lived in London I would occasionally meet my parents at Regents Park. One time, around my 30th or 31st birthday, they presented me with a very heavy parcel. It was the recently published The Modern Antiquarian by Julian Cope, in all its blue and orangeness. They’d even got a signed edition. The book has survived many house moves since then and is still in almost perfect condition. Obviously, it’s not a tome that can be taken on trips to sacred sites (and Cope has recently stated that it will always be reprinted in its original format, never as a paperback) but it’s a constant source of information and reference. I’ve always been interested in archaeology but found the more academic work to be dry and without passion. Along with knowing his subject very well, Cope is passionate beyond words. The book has notes written at every site visited, often in howling winds and rain, and he gives a sense of the place, the vibe if you like. It reignited my interest and made me feel that someone like me, who didn’t know the ins and outs of archaeology, could get into it again. And the spiritual side – Paganism, Goddess worship, is as close as you’ll get to where I am – has just exploded in recent years. Try TMA’s website for huge amounts of information on sites all around the UK. The website has branched out to mainland Europe, but I haven’t got that far yet. In another life, perhaps.

Publishing news: Kzine out 30 September

Kzine Issue 1 cover

I’ve just heard that Issue 1 of Kzine will be out, via Amazon, at the end of this month, to coincide with the first day of Fantasycon in Brighton. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very happy to have Blue included, it’s a story that’s always meant a lot to me and the previous two attempts at publishing – several years ago now, in an anthology edited by Justina Robson and Rosanna Rabinowitz – fell through. Fantasycon looks interesting, although due to being a complete recluse there’s no chance of me getting there. I’m saving my pennies to spend a week on Dartmoor in a house far away from other people. No contest, I’m afraid!