About owlwoman

Writer of Surrealist/Occult/horror/dark fantasy short fiction, widely published in the sf/horror/speculative fiction independant press in Britain and North America. Pagan. In previous lives has been: a skateboarder, bass guitarist (in The Joy of Living and, briefly, Rubella Ballet), political activist, writer for the gay press, union worker. Inspired by the darker side of nature, the paranormal, dreams/nightmares, unquiet skulls, the big skies of Cornwall. Element: stone, preferably in circles. See 'Welcome to Levanthia' for more.

And dead unicorns will scatter the land

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Photo: Julie Travis

I’m delighted to announce the creation of Dead Unicorn Ventures. This is a group of three – Cat Astley, Teresa Knight and myself – who have become tired of nothing of substance happening for the Queer community in Cornwall, and nothing at all happening in Penzance! As will be obvious from our name, we want to make a point without being po-faced about it and I’m hoping people will get the spirit of what we’re trying to achieve. We have spent the last month or so working on our first event, Swallow Your Pride, which will take place at the Acorn Arts Centre in Penzance on 26 July 2019. This event showcases a real diversity of Queer talent and I cannot express how excited I am at the line-up we’ve managed to book: The Tribunes are from Penzance and play punky rock with a Socialist agenda, Jim Causley is one of the country’s brightest folk singers and musicians and Joelle Taylor is an extraordinary performance poet who’s toured many countries but has not, as yet, ever appeared in Penzance. I’ve worked with Joelle twice before – at the inaugural Queeruption festival in 1998 and at The Poetry Society Cafe in 2002 and I’m finally making good on my promise to get her a gig in West Cornwall! There may also be some comedy and a performance/reading of one of my stories and hopefully an art exhibition elsewhere in the town to run alongside the event, as well as the possibility of a programme/fanzine to be made available on the night. A Facebook page is in the process of being constructed to give details of what we’re doing. It feels like the right time to be doing this and I’m happy to bring my punk sensibilities and experiences to this project. May it lead to many wonderful things.

All text and images © Julie Travis

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Lie down among the flowers

Photo: Julie Travis

I’m delighted to announce that Tomorrow, When I Was Young has been accepted by Eibonvale Press, for publication as a chapbook in 2019. This is particularly exciting on several levels – a stand alone publication is a big vote of confidence, and Eibonvale Press is a UK publisher – the first in this country, apart from Andy Martin, to publish my fiction for more than a decade. EP’s David Rix was calling for long short stories with an emphasis on magical realism and surrealism and it felt right to send him the manuscript. Thanks to David for having faith in me. If you check out the website, you’ll see how striking and individual the press’ book covers are, so it will be extremely interesting to see what they do for my chapbook.

I’ve now finished all my collaborative projects and am able to reconsider the new story I began a while ago – which has a working title of Sky Eyes. At present, I only have one piece of finished fiction – The Cruor Garland – that hasn’t been placed. As previously stated, I am in no hurry to send any more work to publishers, so it will sit awhile and I will continue to work on it for my own purposes. The Cruor Garland is a fairly Gothic story, hopefully remininscent of 1970s British horror films/tv, but with a far more contemporary attitude, ie the protagonist is of Central or South American origin in a very English establishment setting. Of course, I have to consider what purposes this story will serve. There is usually at least a hint of transformation in most of my work, on various and different levels, and this one features a man being transformed, firstly by the sadness of divorce and then by something possibly far more malevolent. It does, perhaps, reflect the last few years, where much about myself and my life has been changed and some orientation is needed.

 

All images and text © Julie Travis, apart from the title of this piece (from ‘Rosa Decidua’, by Coil)

Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality

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Photo: Julie Travis

We Are All Falling Towards The Centre Of The Earth has been getting some extremely positive reviews and feedback. Author Tom Adams describes it as an “enchanting collection…reminiscent of the best that authors such as Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick or Robert Aickman can offer,” while author Priya Sharma states it has “the same bold surrealness….of Leonora Carrington. It’s utterly strange and beguiling”. Bearing in mind how much of my work has been overlooked by reviewers in the past (with some notable exceptions), it’s certainly been overwhelming to find this reaction. Additionally, Andy Martin has recorded an audio version of Beautiful Silver Spacesuits and uploaded it (in Parts 1 and 2) on YouTube. I think he’s done a grand job – the sound effects give it a very 1970s radio feel – and I’m grateful to him for the effort he’s put into this.

Vastarien has had a good reception, from what I can tell, with Des Lewis stating my contribution, Trigger, is “unique, I suspect”! And I hope to be able to make an announcement about a major project, due in the Autumn, soon.

Text and images © Julie Travis except where stated and in the title of this piece, which is from Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

 

Vastarien emerges into the light

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I’m very happy to announce that Issue 2 of Vastarien has now been published, which includes a story by me. Trigger is much shorter than my usual fare, but is probably the most brutal and intense piece of fiction I’ve ever written. It was distressing to write but it needed to be done – and if it helps even one person to understand certain states of mind, then that would be a wonderful bonus. I’m impatiently waiting for my contributor copy to arrive – I’m very interested in what this journal, dedicated to the work and ideas of Thomas Ligotti, contains. If the front cover is anything to go by, it’ll be dark and beautiful. Vastarien is available from Amazon.

We are all Falling… reviews

A couple of very kind reviews of We Are All Falling… have appeared. Author Kathryn L Ramage wrote this on Amazon: “This is a collection of short stories of macabre fantasy by British author Julie Travis. Most are set in the UK or Europe in modern and realistic locations, with the uncanny just a step or two away, but at least one seems to take place in an antipodean other-world not far from Australia. Travis’s work is strange and imaginative, sometimes disturbing, often sad, but also occasionally beautiful. The ones I liked best feel as if they ended too soon, as if these were only the first chapters of longer stories. But perhaps it’s a good thing to be left wanting more. As I read these stories, elements in them reminded me of the grotesqueries of Clive Barker, the dark fairytales of Tanith Lee and Angela Carter, the wild countryside of Arthur Machen haunted by pagan gods and lesser beings, and even a little bit of Lovecraft, but there are also startling images and ideas like nothing I’ve read before.”

Des Lewis has also treated the book to one of his intense Real-Time Gestalt Reviews, and I’ve reblogged the entire thing here. There are possible spoilers in this, so be warned.

I’m extremely grateful to both for taking the time to write about the book. Other feedback has compared the stories with either the style or the work of Anais Nin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges. It’s extremely interesting to have these new comparisons; it’s only Nin’s work that I’m in any way familiar with. I think it proves how my writing has changed over the years, although it’s also true that the comparisons with Clive Barker and Thomas Ligotti linger, so I still clearly have my roots in a particular style of horror/dark fantasy!

DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS

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by JULIE TRAVIS

The Wapshott Press 2018

Whenever I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

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Guest post by writer, musician and political activist Andy Martin: Faded Fig Rolls Of Custard Creams

In 2017 an on-line art and politics magazine based in Germany interviewed me – not our group (UNIT) but me, personally, which I considered rather odd behaviour although intensely flattering, of course…as if I’m sufficiently interesting to warrant such attention. The writer asked me to describe myself in just 3 words. That’s easy: fast – clean – cheap. She then asked me to name 3 famous historical people I admire and respect. That’s also easy: Alexander 3rd Of Macedonia (aka Alexander The Great), Oliver Cromwell and Valerie Solanas. Now, I suspect a few (probably male) readers may not be so familiar with the name Valerie Solanas as they are with the other 2 heroic figures from history. Type her name into a search engine in the internet and add to it The SCUM Manifesto then…read on!

Early in 2011 I completed my 1st book. Various people recommended a couple of independent publishers to me. I ignored them all. This is not mere churlish behaviour. In 1984 I was in a rather daft little pop group called The Apostles. We were offered what in those days was known as a ‘record deal’. The record company was an established commercial concern with a name that began with ‘P’ so it must be either Polydor, Polygram or Parlophone which I believe is a subsidiary of EMI. Dave Fanning (then in charge of the group) rejected the offer and in retrospect I believe he made the correct decision. By ‘correct’ I mean ‘desirable’. At the time I considered his rejection of the offer slightly eccentric but frankly I did not care strongly enough about the group to voice any sign of dissent. Besides it was mainly his group so the decision ought to be his and his alone.

Suppose we had accepted the offer made by that record company (which arrived via telephone when we worked in Little @ Printers in Wapping)…what effect would it have on the group and our work in it? En passent, how did they know we could be contacted there anyway? This question has yet to receive a satisfactory answer and it still bothers me, now and then. Camera pan to a plush reception area where Dave, Malcolm Lewty, Chris Wiltshire and I wait to meet a representative of this record company. He / she would explain to us the terms of the record deal – which was standard practise in those days. These terms would be contrived in advance by the record company, terms contrived in our absence and for which we would not be able to make amendments or modifications – which was also standard practise in those days. This is how record companies functioned. Once a pop group is (in music business parlance) ‘signed up’ then we become the property of the record company who also (and this is crucial) can, and will, instantly claim copyright ownership of every note we record and every word we sing. This, again, is standard practise with record companies.

Why should I expect a book publisher to behave any differently? Besides, there is an ethical consideration here. I do not require (indeed I am profoundly indifferent to) a seal of approval from a book publisher whose employees do not know me and are indeed irrelevant to me. I do not seek to have my work (music or literature) accepted by a group of people who are total strangers. After all, what are these people to me? They are nothing. My music and my literature are precisely that – mine. I insist upon total control of its contents and the manner of its presentation. There is also a pragmatic consideration: I am utterly convinced the book publisher who would accept any of my books without making editorial cuts, omissions or changes does not exist. My political views are (so I am given to believe) repugnant to ‘many people’ although who these ‘many people’ might be and where they reside has yet to receive a satisfactory answer. In my experience, when a person tells me my political views are repugnant to ‘many people’ what they actually mean is, my political views are repugnant to him / her and they invoke mythical ‘many people’ to imbue their reaction to my beliefs with more substance and creedance than is actually merited. Book publishers, like record companies, exist for one reason only: to make money. I accept this. My books would (so I am told) offend ‘people’. (Again I ask: what people? Where are these ‘people’?) Therefore book publishers would not look favourably on the contents of most of my books. This, also, I accept with equanimity.

Do record companies still exist? If so then I regard them, like book publishers and gas lamps, as anachronisms that ought to be shoved into museums along with typewriters, record players, vinyl records, audio cassettes and Marxists since that is where they all belong. I publish my own books and our current pop group (UNIT) publish our own CDs. We do not require some middle class pansy to tell us our work is acceptable to them. Yes, well, this is all very bold and brave, is it not? Of course it does generate a most unfortunate corollary: hardly anybody reads my books and scarcely more people listen to our CDs so my comments on record companies and book publishers (with reference to our own work) are largely academic. Do I care? No, not especially. It’s what I expected. The majority of human beings are despicable creatures whose continued existence represent a blight upon the planet.

In 2012 I received an email from a disgruntled chap in Scotland who asked me a curiously nonsensical question. ‘Why do you dislike people?’ How am I ever supposed to formulate a sensible, logical reply when the question itself is bereft of either sense or logic? In 1933 a Polish academic called Alfred Korzybski wrote a huge book on general semantics called Science & Sanity. This book should be compulsory reading in every school in every nation on the planet. (I would also like to add to this same school curriculum Might Is Right by Ragnar Redbeard but now I’m just being naughty.) Why do I dislike people? What people? Which people in particular? Do you mean ‘all people’? If you mean ‘some people’ then again I must ask to which people you refer. A more useful question would be this: why do I regard the majority of humanity with such contempt? That, at least, I can answer. In fact, I can do better – if you really want a clear and concise answer then I simply invite you to take a good look around you, pal, just take a good look around you.

This 1st book was called Progressive Rock: The Music That Dare Not Speak Its Name. What a spectacular waste of time, energy and effort. Honestly, who cares what I or anyone else thinks about progressive rock? Does it matter…to anyone…anywhere? Less than 8 months later I published my 2nd book: Chinese Cinema – A History Of Chinese Films From 1905 To 2005. This I can justify (not that I am obliged to justify myself or my work to anyone, anywhere) because at the time it was virtually impossible to find an academic study of Chinese films in English. A couple of volumes did (and maybe still do) exist in Chinese and I believe there was a study of 20th century south east Asian cinema by a Japanese author. However, the only books I encountered in English that included references to or acknowledgements of Chinese films were either idiotic paperbacks contrived to appease morons who think kung fu films constitute an art form or arty studies written by miserable Marxists who sought to impose their vile beliefs upon their readers. I think to date (2018) I have sold around 30 copies of this magnificent volume. Yes, all right then – those miserable Marxist writers can rub their filthy hands with glee and go to bed at night, satisfied I pose no threat to their popularity.

By this time it occurred to me I just might be a writer. I tried to compose a couple of short stories but when I read them next week, I shuddered, tore them into tiny shreds and deposited the fragments into someone else’s dustbin. Then I decided it was time for me complete a book I first commenced in 1989, abandoned, attempted again in 1997, then abandoned: a detailed and unexpurgated account of my time in Amery Hill School during the 1970s. It was never my intention to write an autobiography. Even now, when I am, for the sake of brevity, obliged to refer to my 3 ‘autobiographical books’ (my 3rd, 6th and 10th) I grimace slightly because the term suggests the books are concerned with myself whereas in fact they are concerned with other people – teachers, prefects, pupils and people I knew at the time. After all, who the hell wants to read about me? Why should I expect anyone to want to spend their time reading about me and my life? Such an expectation would constitute the epitome of conceit and even I am not quite so arrogant as that. Thus my 3rd book, Faded Fragments Of Distant Dreams, is a massive 690 page testament to a few people who, in my admittedly biased opinion, warrant fame and recognition. It also provides the first and, to my knowledge, the only study of life in Amery Hill School during this period…a period when teachers could slap, poke, prod, punch and otherwise assault children (and not just physically) with tedious regularity. I sought to present a savage indictment of the teachers who made our lives so miserable and, as a consequence, satisfy my own lust for revenge and retribution.

Older readers may remember the day Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison and the despicable apartheid regime in South Africa finally crumbled into dust. Within a matter of weeks his government formulated the ‘truth and reconcilliation’ committee designed to forgive and forget what black African people suffered during the previous 130 years. Think of all those South African police thugs, the blood of innocent black Africans barely dry on their hands, who must have all breathed an immense collective sigh of relief when they heard that news. Forgiveness is a curiously weak, ineffectual (at best) or seriously damaging (at worst) concept concocted by Christians to allow the victims of brutality the luxury of passivity and timidity rather than risk the courage and struggle required to challenge that brutality. I am not a Christian. I do not forgive my enemies. On the contrary, I want to see them suffer and squirm, preferably in mental and physical agony, until the day they die. Why? Because I find the concept immensely satisfying, like relaxing with a cup of tea and a cigarette after a hard day’s work.There is a far more important and certainly constructive reason for the promotion of revenge and retribution. These days if an adult man sexually abuses a 10 year old girl (to provide one admittedly extreme example) if he is caught (and often he is not) then he receives a custodial sentence together with palliative care for his ‘condition’…at the expense of us, the tax payers. Since this form of antisocial behaviour continues today, it is apparent the British legal system fails to deter the culprits. Now, let us suppose my team take over the government for a copule of years. We make it perfectly legal for the parents or guardians of an abused child to inflict their own revenge, personally, on the culprit, if they so desire. Come on, what decent parent would not desire it? Camera pan to a group of infuriated parents who froth at the mouth with an insane lust for revenge, angry pinched faced mothers with garden shears, red faced bellicose fathers with kitchen knives and blowtorches…the child molester craps himself in terror but his demise is a certainty; indeed it is a foregone conclusion. What is not so certain is how long it will take him to die…weeks if mummy and daddy can spare the time off work. See what I mean? With a regime like that in progress, just sit back and gasp at the dramatic cessation in cases of child abuse. Champion.

The same applies to bullies in school. Thanks to the proliferation of loony lefties in local councils and, worse still, in our schools, these days we are encouraged to express sympathy for the bullies and seek to help them. What a monumental insult to every boy and girl who has ever suffered sheer unmitigated misery at school as a consequence of being bullied by these despicable cowards on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Well, I have a solution to that and it works, too. How do I know? Because I was directly involved in it and, being one of those boys whose life was made miserable by bullies, I can vouch for its efficacy. When I was in the 3rd year, my pal Eric Cooper and his girlfriend Susan Wilkins (peace be upon their names) commenced their operation: they forced me (and other victims of bullies) to attend weekly self defence classes every Saturday in a patch of woodland next to the old monastery on Kings Hill in Beech, a tiny village near Alton in east Hampshire. After a couple of months we suddenly erupted into action: in the playground, in the toilets, in the corridors and behind the bicycle shed we flung ourselves at the groups of boys (plus the occasional girl) who previously had made our lives hell in school. We assaulted them with absolutely merciless brutality. Susan actually put one boy (Derek Taylor) in hospital for a week. I battered Reed, Morgan and Eaton with such ferocity it took 3 of my pals to drag me off their crumpled bodies. Oh, my brothers it was glorious. Guess what: not one of those bastards bullied anyone in school again…ever! That, dear readers, is how you address the problem of bullies in school.

‘Oh, but perhaps those lads Reed, Morgan and Eaton were bullied at home.’ whines an especially odious specimen in a Renault with a rainbow sticker on the window and a CND badge on her jumper. Yes, I’ve heard that kind of objection far too often, too. All right then, let us suppose those cringing cowards were bullied at home – so what? Is that our fault? No. Does it give them the right to inflict the same behaviour on us? No. Does it affect our right to break some of their bones and remove a few of their teeth? No. I am familiar with the Essay On Understanding by John Locke, the intriguing 17th century English philosopher and his concept, broadly, can be summarised thus: we are all the ultimate products of the combination of social and biological forces that have influenced us from the day we are born. Therefore if we are usually rude and abusive to people then that is a consequence of the family life we suffered, the education we did (or did not) receive and so on and so forth. Ah, right then, so since Pol Pot was never properly potty trained when he was 2 years old and this had a malign influence on his personality, we must make an allowance for the 1 million innocent people slaughtered by his especially brutal example of communism in action…yes? Bollocks! Don’t even think of insulting my intelligence with such fatuous fol-de-rol.

My 4th book is called The Essays and is the one of which I am most proud. It features articles, monographs and essays on a wide range of disciplines that include mathematics, astronomy, physics, geology, meteorology, biology, history, literature, art, music and politics. There is even a critical study of the Japanese anime series Hajime No Ippo. This book proves it is possible for a person of initially low academic intelligence (i.e. me) to be expelled from school without a single qualification yet, through careful and diligent study in libraries (when such entities as libraries still existed) achieve a modicum of ability in a variety of subjects. There is, I admit, a sadly dilettante aspect to the book since it soon becomes obvious I do not possess a comprehensive knowledge of any single subject but instead select specific areas within each discipline that fascinate me whereupon I write copiously on the topic. That caveat aside, if I had to select just one of my books to serve as an introduction to my work then this would be it.

My 5th book, The Workshop, is an avant garde collage combined with dream diaries, cut-ups and experimental word games together with extracts from my school days not included in my previous book. It is not a success although I enjoyed writing it. I doubt if anyone will ever enjoy reading it although one chap (in America) took a couple of tabs of LSD and said it made him laugh almost continuously from start to finish (the book more than the acid). For that reason alone, I justify its existence. Keep your public happy, I say. My 6th book, I Wish I Was Dead, is volume two of my schooldays ‘autobiography’. I decided to write and publish it since sales of the 3rd book proved far more ubiquitous than I expected. Dare To Be Different is my 7th book and is really little more than a gigantic advertisement for our pop group although not for my specific benefit – I sought to celebrate the presence on the planet of all those people who worked in or for UNIT (and not only the band members) because they deserve to be acknowledged. It also allowed me the space to print various interviews with band members along with lyrics, both of which were requested by many of the people who still corresponded with us at this time, circa 2014.

Yet again I decided to try to write a couple of short stories. Ideally I wanted to see if I could construct a novel but I thought it might be advisable to work in the shorter format first…and in retrospect this proved a fortuitous decision. I allowed the stories to remain in my possession for nearly a month before I read them again and realised although they were a significant improvement upon my former attempts, they were still shabby affairs. In order to resolve this impasse, it occurred to me to read short stories by people I knew personally and whose work I respected. Thus I read The Great Divide by Lawrence Burton (a collection of 11 short stories in the science fiction genre, not one I generally favour unless it is written by John Wyndham, Angus MacVicar, Patrick Moore or Arthur C Clarke) and Storylandia Issue 15 (which contains a quintet of short stories by Julie Travis). These 2 books contain works I generally enjoy reading and which, more importantly, can be read a second time with the same or, in certain instances, even more enjoyment. Now I was able to ask myself: what did these stories contain that my own did not?

I have no Caucasian guilt and I will not accept the blame

for a government that murdered in Imperialisms’ name.

That government is there because of blood and tyranny.

That government was certainly not authorised by me.

I’ve heard so many left wing bigots preach naiveté;

it’s unfortunate they overlook some recent history.

Whether Hungary, Prague or Cambodia, innocent folk are slain,

so let those snivelling socialists all hide their heads in shame.

I am not responsible for what your country’s done.

If you’re looking for the perpetrator, I am not the one.

Socialism does not work, it’s plain enough to see.

The human race is not mature enough for liberty.

Their brave new world is based upon extremism and hate,

yes, their communist utopias are in a sorry state.

The plunder of all Africa by European greed

is another fine example of a typical human creed.

Racialists are black and white, they preach a hymn of hate.

You’ll find them on the loony left in every town and state.

I am not responsible for what your country’s done.

If you’re looking for the perpetrator, I am not the one.

Human nature has proved throughout recorded history,

most people can’t be trusted with responsibility.

It’s not for me to criticise the views that people hold

but it’s shame they all believe each fairy story they are told.

I never sent six million Jews to lonely German graves.

It wasn’t me who sold or purchased any negro slaves.

India was never ever colonised by me,

for when all these crimes occurred I wasn’t even born, you see.

I am not responsible for what your country’s done.

If you’re looking for the perpetrator, I am not the one.

Drug dealers and street gangs prove our nation’s in a mess.

We need a strong new order to control human excess,

so join up, form a citizens militia. Lend a hand

to restore some law and sanity into our troubled land.

Drug dealers and street gangs prove our nation’s in a mess.

We need a strong new order to control human excess,

so join up, form a citizens militia. Lend a hand

to restore some law and sanity into our troubled land.

I am not responsible for what your country’s done.

If you’re looking for the perpetrator, I am not the one.

For my 8th book Not In Front Of The Children I launched into an extensive critical survey of children’s television dramas from 1960 to 1990 in response to my discovery of Grange Hill in 2007 when I purchased the 2 official BBC box sets cheaply. Why did it take so long to respond to this impetus? First: I have never lived in a house or a flat which possessed a television. I insisted (indeed I still maintain) television in Britain is promoted primarily as a form of social control…chewing gum for eyes. Second: I simply did not have time to spend wasting away my life staring at a gogglebox while preening poufs and sequined sluts created idiot mambo in my living room. Third: despite this, I did catch glimpses of programmes on television when I visited other people, such as when we were given a place to reside when we performed concerts in various parts of the country. This is how I began to record episodes of the Open University (especially their 3 superb series of mathematics courses) and it is also how I encountered, purely by chance, 5 episodes of Grange Hill between 1982 and 1989. I noticed instantly the change in quality: here was a drama that merited respect. I made a mental note to investigate it properly…but later, much later. Ultimately ‘later’ never arrived for I was invariably too busy at work on my essays for Smile magazine (which ran for 27 issues from 1991 to 1998) and writing material for UNIT.

However, in 2005 I obtained a computer with a decent DVD player and the first DVDs I ever purchased were The Ascent Of Man by Professor Jacob Bronowski (probably the most important documentary series of all) and I Claudius by Robert Graves. Then I remembered certain episodes of children’s serials I watched or noticed during the 1970s when I spent time in the homes of my pals. This is how I came to purchase chunky box sets of Doctor Who, The Tomorrow People and Blake’s 7 plus special editions of Sky, Children Of The Stones, King Of The Castle and Survivors which I consider the greatest television drama series ever made. Well, by 2010 I possessed nearly 200 DVDs of various children’s television dramas and I began to compile notes on all of them for use in a book later…much later. This time, ‘later’ did arrive, thanks to the presence of an ebay seller who offered me pristine copies of seasons 5 to 16 of Grange Hill which the BBC have yet to issue on DVD. Then I trawled the internet and discovered nobody had ever written a critical study (or indeed published a book of any kind) on Grange Hill apart from the novels and annuals issued at the time the programme was originally broadcast.

Why did I suddenly become obsessed with what could – if you wished to be cruel – be dismissed as a soap opera for children? It concerns the mental and emotional turmoil I suffered as a result of the years I spent being ridiculed, bullied and intimidated in Amery Hill School in the 1970s. When I watched the drama (although I discount most of the episodes from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd series as they rarely match the magnificence the programme achieved during the 1980s and the latter half of the 1990s) I realised a group of people, initially generated by the creator of the series, Phil Redmond, had decided to offer a realistic portrayal of school life (well, as realistic as those trendy wet liberal pansies in the BBC would allow) that featured issues, topics, problems, incidents and events relevant to me – what I saw, heard and experienced – when I attended school. For me this was a novel experience. In general, what I saw on television remained utterly divorced from anything remotely related to my life. Apart from 2 years (seasons 15 and 16) in which the programme suffered severely as a consequence of a totally inept producer, Grange Hill managed, against all odds, to maintain a standard of excellence that only began to decline during its final 6 years (2003 to 2008) when Phil Redmond regained control of the series again and imbued it with a rather surreal mien although it still remained a superior drama to anything else the BBC or ITV had to offer at the time.

In 2017, while working on what would ultimately be my 10th book, I decided for my 9th book it was time to be less self indulgent (or maybe simply less selfish) and allow readers the opportunity to encounter the work of writers, poets and artists other than myself. Thus Fast – Clean – Cheap (like Dare To Be Different and The Workshop, named after an album by UNIT) is a large compendium of various contributors and possesses the aspect of a huge illustrated magazine rather than a book. Initially it was not my intention to include any of my own works in the volume but finally I began to write fiction that matched the criteria I consider essential for it to merit being read by the public…so I allowed a brace of my grim tales to share their places with other no doubt more experienced and technically competent writers. I am not ashamed of my contributions – I am proud of The Mutant, in particular – but do they share the same degree of skill and talent on display elsewhere in the volume? Probably not.

While I arranged for colleagues to proof read Fast – Clean – Cheap prior to its publication, I commenced work on what would be the 3rd and final instalment of my ‘autobiographical’ trilogy: My Very Brief & Unsuccessful Career As A Human Being. I intended this to be a shorter volume than its predecessors (filling the gaps left by the other books) but during the previous 2 years I began to receive requests from numerous people who asked me to write a history of my time in The Apostles. My instant response to these requests was – you have to be joking! Who the hell wants to read such tripe? I was in a poncy little pop group which released crap records hardly anyone liked – why write about that? Then I considered the matter from a different perspective: what about all those people on the periphery of the group whose lives and ideas were far more interesting than any of the racket we made and pressed onto cassettes and records? They, like my school pals, merit the attention of the general public…so I commenced work on an additional section of the volume and decided to extend it even further by the inclusion of incidents and events related to my next group, Academy 23 and the early years of UNIT, which took it to 739 pages – the longest book I have ever written.

10 books, all in A4 format, most of which are over 400 pages in duration, constitute a respectable body of work…but now I found it impossible to stop…which is fortuitous since I began to receive favourable (though often critical) reactions to my short stories that featured in Fast – Clean – Cheap. I read those stories again and found them full of violence, swearing, sex and politics. Perhaps it was necessary, given the nature of their contents, but I wanted to write a story or two that forced me to adopt a new discipline: an absence of extreme violence, swearing, political diatribes and sexually explicit narratives. In fact, I pondered upon the prospect of writing a story or two that could be read by children…could I dare risk writing stories specifically designed for a teenage audience aged, say, from 12 to 16? Did I consider myself a sufficiently skillful writer able to achieve such a feat? Look, writing books of high quality for children is fairly easy – writing books of high quality for children that children actually want to read is extremely difficult. I doubt I have succeeded but the discipline was useful and it generated a whole series of short stories I was able to collect together under the title Civil Disobedience (a name swiped from another UNIT album) together with a critical study of Murphy’s Mob, an essay that should have been included in Not In Front Of The Children but at the time of its publication I was not able to write a proper essay on it because I had yet to see all 4 seasons of the drama. It was not commercially available on DVD. Then one of our members, Keilan Knight, managed to obtain a copy of the complete series in remarkably pristine condition given its age.

One of the stories originally intended for the collection – Behind The Bike Sheds, an account of a pop group formed by 3 girls and a boy while still at school – began to develop into a longer story with a page count that increased despite stringent attempts to edit it. Eventually I realised the story warranted this longer page count so its inclusion would make the book too large (and thus too expensive) for its target audience which is why I removed it, published Civil Disobedience and commenced work on what I still believed to be a short story, albeit one of almost novella duration. I read again some of the emails and You Tube comments I had received over the previous year, a few of which contained variants of this refrain: if only someone had warned us this, that or the other might happen, we could have avoided all the trouble. These comments originated from people who had been in pop groups themselves and suffered all manner of trials and tribulation due to their ignorance of technical, social and political factors that can (and invariably do) interrupt and interfere with the formation and function of any artistic endeavour, especially pop groups. Could I add the aspect of a handbook to my story and include information useful to any readers who had formed or joined a group of their own? Well, yes, I could…but would it be relevant in 2018 when record companies are redundant and people hardly ever release CDs now that internet download programmes are available such as Band Camp?

No…no, no. To write such a story designed to interest teenagers proved a monumental task in itself without trying to make my job even harder…so I set it in 1997 instead. Why select that particular period? For me, 1997 represents the end of an epoch and the start of a rapid collapse in civil order, social cohesion, education, the arts and entertainment combined with a political system, many elements of which certain members of the 3rd Reich would approve. No, I mean it – I am perfectly serious here. Consider what this year actually represents.

1) The government of John Major (a working class chappie born in Brixton whose parents were circus entertainers) is ousted by a party that calls itself (perhaps with a grim sense of irony) ‘new labour’ headed by an aristocratic coward called Tony Blair whose gruesome regime quickly became apparent as its national socialist tenets were brutally imposed upon the nation: gigantic swathes of red and white signs, each of which command us not to do this, that or the other. Britain came to be defined by what its populace was not allowed to do.

2) CCTV cameras proliferated across the land. The excellent Job Clubs implemented by John Major were scrapped so finding jobs for unemployed people became time consuming, more awkward and definitely more expensive…yet each unemployed person found themselves suddenly vilified as persona non grata by a government obsessed with control…control over education, control over social services, control over the media. The term ‘work experience’ entered our vocabulary – it means an unemployed person can be forced to work for a firm for 2 weeks without receiving a single penny in payment!

3) Hong Kong is handed back to China (so its population are cynically cheated since the majority of Hong Kong people desperately sought to remain as members of a British colony – obviously – since who but a mentally disturbed masochist or a suicidal psychotic wants to live under a communist regime? Consequently another wave of ex-colonial immigrants flood the country, eager to escape the brutal dictatorship of communist China which means Britain receives yet more foreigners for which it must find homes (i.e. rent prices increase so it becomes even harder for indigenous British people to find or afford places to live) and jobs (i.e. it becomes even harder for indigenous British unemployed people to find work).

4) The government concoct a truly ludicrous department known as ‘health and safety’ which effectively prevents anybody from doing anything interesting, exciting or life fulfilling if any aspect of it might be construed as ‘dangerous’. The media, youth clubs and sporting associations are hit the hardest by the vile specimens employed by this department who seek to impose upon the nation the notion of a nanny state where contact sports, drinking, smoking, parties and lively dancing are frowned upon and ultimately will be either banned entirely or sufficiently curtailed to render the activities virtually useless.

5) People began to lose the ability (or the desire) to communicate intelligently as the internet encouraged ever shorter messages to be sent from one person to another while the proliferation of cable and satellite television channels combined with internet videos encouraged people to spend ever more time sat in front of computer screens while real life continued outside their homes or the internet shops in which they wasted so many hours of their lives. Prior to 1997 it was slightly unusual to find a house in which a family possessed his or her own computer. After 1997, people who did not possess computers formed a minority. With the tedious ubiquity of these purchases came a proportional increase in demand for electricity which placed a strain on generating stations.

6) The Blair government continued to encourage immigrants to flood the country so they could be used as a source of cheap (or, if you prefer, ‘slave’) labour which in turn generated interest in eccentric right wing political groups whose hostility toward the policy of immigration suddenly made them attractive even to otherwise decent people who began to feel alienated in their own country. In fact this has now reached absurd proportions: in 2017 an unemployed man was interviewed on television in which he said he found himself in an invidious situation – he had to attend a job centre where an immigrant tells him he’s not trying hard enough to find a job. It is a sad irony that if such immigrants stayed in their own countries, unemployed British people such as that man would not find it so difficult to find job vacancies.

7) There were plenty of young people in Britain in 1997 who were convinced ‘pop groups’ represented an obsolete concept now live musicians and real instruments were replaced by computer generated sounds and sampled beats / riffs et cetera. Recording studios closed down, unable to survive as ever more people became instant celebrities with the aid of a computer with a decent sound card and a music editing programme. That these instant celebrities would be just as instantly forgotten 6 months later never occurred to its exponents of course.

Despite all this, I wanted to address another matter that concerned me: the massive imbalance in gender representation in the rock and pop music industry. This is why I made my fictional pop group a ‘girl band’ with a token male member. Then I realised I could have fun with the loony lefties – let the band’s manager be a Pakistani…a Pakistani who is an avid capitalist, whose parents voted for Margaret Thatcher (as did many Asians during the late 1980s) and whose primary concern was to make quick profits from the bands on his brother’s independent record label. One of the other bands on the label (Blue Wind) contain 2 members who are supporters of the British National Party. This is only partially invented – much of the material in the story originates from actual people and real events. Oh yes…my long short story had now become a novel. Thus I completed my first novel even though it was never my intention to write a ‘novel’ as such.

In 2018 I commenced work on my 13th and 14th books simultaneously. When I finished Not In Front Of The Children, over half the book concentrated on Grange Hill (which was intentional). It ended on a bleak conclusion since I found myself unable to believe the programme would ever recover from the atrocious quagmire of idiocy to which it sank by the end of Series 16. However, one of our members (Keilan Knight again) was able to locate a source of the remaining episodes that constitute seasons 17 to 31 and he sent them to me on a spool of DVDs. I decided to watch the first 3 episodes of Series 17 purely out of curiosity…and instantly I realised my former conjecture was wonderfully wrong! A new producer (Christine Secombe) took control of the programme in 1994 and the profound improvement in plots, dialogue and stories caused me to ponder my position. To be fair to the production team and the actors involved in the programme from 1994 to 2008, I knew myself to be obliged to work on a sequel – Grange Hill part two, so to speak – that would have to include a prologue in which I admitted my former conjecture was fallacious. Well, on this occasion I was immensely pleased to be wrong…spectacularly wrong.

However, shortly after I commenced work on this book, Hackney Council rescinded their annual grant to Hackney Patients Council. This was an independent voluntary sector service instigated in 1994 by a social worker, an ex-psychiatric nurse and 3 psychiatric patients (now supposed to be referred to as mental health service users in politically correct parlance…which is absurd since such people do not ‘use mental health services’). Our task was to represent the anxieties, concerns and complaints of patients on the wards in Hackney Psychiatric Hospital then – when it changed premises in 1995 – Homerton Psychiatric Hospital. We were the only organisation able to represent with fidelity the concerns of patients on the psychiatric wards. Nobody else asked them for their opinions on anything – their medication, the behaviour of the nurses, the attitude of their psychiatrist or any of the other dozen major factors that, when not attended to, can make life a misery for people already miserable as a result of whatever mental condition afflicts them.

When they rescinded our annual grant in June 2016, they denied psychiatric patients on the wards access to a service upon which many of them relied for truly independent support and representation at senior management level and they also made 3 people unemployed, one of whom (myself) is an ex-psychiatric patient himself. In their literature Hackney Council claimed to support ‘user empowerment’ and the ‘promotion of user involvement in health care’. Their term ‘user’ refers to current and recently discharged psychiatric patients. Evidently their ‘user friendly’ policy does not apply to me…or the patients in Homerton Psychiatric Hospital. Now I had to try to secure an alternative source of funding for our service. From July 2016 until August 2017 I sent letters and petitions to the local papers, to City & Hackney MIND (a mental health charity), to 3 different members of parliament, to the Clinical Commissioning Group (responsible for the allocation of funds to voluntary sector services such as ours) and the People’s Network. Now, I was the deputy chairman of The People’s Network for Hackney – this was a community based service designed to assist and support recently discharged patients of African and West Indian origin. How did I, a white man whose vehement opposition to Marxism was known publically, come to be its deputy chairman? Because at a meeting of the steering group, they nominated and elected me into that position.

How on Earth does this happen? I became the only white person employed in Hackney Chinese Community Centre (when I joined the staff of their youth club) and became the only white person on the steering group of the Peolple’s Network despite my well known sympathies with the views of Boyd Rice and Anton La Vey. Evidently in the opinion of the Chinese community and West Indan community, my politics are not as important as my work and my ability to represent their concerns when requested to do so. Anyway, after 13 months I finally had to concede I really wasn’t liable to locate any agency able and willing to fund the Patients Council so, with bitterness and resentment, I signed on the dole…for the first time since June 1994. Thus did I discover what the phrase ‘universal credit’ actually meant…an immigrant in a job centre trying to tell me how to look for work when I have never been unemployed for longer than 2 months and so I have thus paid tax and national insurance contributions to this country since 1982. I admit I am a bad loser. Indeed I am proud of it. Look, you show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.

Suddenly my cosy little world collapsed: I could never again afford to spend £120 a day in a recording studio…which meant future recordings by UNIT were (possibly…probably) implausible because neither Fabian Fritze nor Colin Murrell can afford to fund the group, despite having full time jobs. They have financial commitments elsewhere but this is their private business and I am not going to divulge it in a public forum such as this. Now, I have been a creative person since 1982. It is essential for me to create and produce music and literature. Very well then – since I couldn’t record music any longer, I’d concentrate on my literature instead. This is why I decided to embark on my first book of short stories designed for an adult audience. I named it Birds & Boys (after another UNIT album). To date, 2 stories are finished and I have commenced work on a 3rd.

I completed The Cleaner in less than a fortnight – an incredibly lurid tale of cold, brutal violence I enjoyed writing even if nobody will enjoy reading it. Then I decided to try an experiment: a story within a story within a story. To imbue this concept with verisimilitude I asked Julie Travis if she might consider writing its central story (about a girl in a school set in 1968) which appears inside an account written by a boy in school in 1975 which is read by a girl who has recently left school and now lives in north London in 1981 during the time of the riots that swept the nation. It allowed me to assault children’s homes and schools while it simultaneously launched a new direction for me – never previously have I ever collaborated with another person in any of my literature with the possible exception of Pete Williams when I asked him for technical assistance in a couple of my essays on mathematics in the 1990s.

Might was right when Caesar bled upon the stones of Rome

and might was right when Joshua led his hordes on Jordan’s foam.

Might was right when German armies entered Paris gay.

It’s the gospel of the ancient world, the logic of today.

Sword strong races own the Earth and ride the conquerors’ car

and liberty’s never been won except by deeds of war.

Might is right when empires sink in storms of steel and flame

and it is right when weakling breeds are hunted down like game.

Then what’s the use of dreaming dreams that each shall have his own

by forceless votes of timid fools who blindly sweat and moan?

A curse is on their cankered brains; their very bones decay.

Go trace your fate in the iron game is the logic of today.

That the strong must ever rule the weak is grim primordial law.

On the planet’s brutal threshing floor the meek are beaten straw.

Then ride to power on foemen’s necks; let nothing bar your way.

If you’re fit, you’ll rule and reign is the logic of today.

Prove you’re right by deeds of might, of splendour and renown.

If need be, march through plains of Hell to dash opponents down.

If need be, die on scaffold high in mornings misty grey,

for liberty or death is still the logic of today.

Is this ostensible exploration of literature and the motivation behind creativity really just a vehicle to surreptitiously advertise my books? Well, no, at least, not deliberately…it is merely a statement of intent, a response to my own attempts (however flawed and limited in technical skill) to add my books to a marketplace otherwise cluttered with volumes written by nice well behaved mild mannered white middle class cunts who want to read reviews in the Guardian Literary Supplement by equally nice well behaved mild mannered white middle class cunts. I am not here to advertise my books, only to alert readers to their existence…which is not quite the same matter. One critic said my books were obviously a labour of love, for all their many faults and foibles. No! Most of my books are labours of hate – cold, hard, glorious hate, the same hate that has kept me alive since 2011 when I came so very close to ending a life I was convinced served no useful function on a planet blighted by this creeping pestilence called humanity, most members of whom are determined to make life intolerable for the 5% of decent, vibrant, intelligent people obliged to share it with this squabbling rabble.

I adopt a similar attitude toward the performance of my music. Speak the term ‘pop group’ aloud. What is the initial mental image that instantly appears? 4 young white men who prance about on a stage clutching guitars, yes? Christ, how boring. After our flute player and band leader, Zhang Yao Min (also known as UJ) departed from UNIT in November 2011 (no longer able to tolerate my musical works whose lyrics he said gave him nightmares because they were usually so grim, bleak and drenched with despair) he joined a pop group called Pharaohs From The Grave. Their singer was an African woman, their guitarist a West Indian woman and their drummer an Indian man. UJ himself is Hong Kong Chinese…so here was a group with 2 Black girls, an oriental and an Asian. Pity about the shabby music but you can’t have everything, can you? Mind you, to be fair, at least they possessed a distinctly individual sound that separated them from other groups.

I used to believe the reason nearly all pop groups are populated by white middle class men was because women wanted to stay at home to look after babies and clean the house or do other girlie stuff while “niggas” were too busy playing reggae or shooting each other. Asians only ever wanted to set up corner shops, of course, so they didn’t count anyway. Obviously most pop groups were middle class because the equipment required was so expensive only wealthy people could afford to purchase the gear. Admittedly I entertained this belief shortly after I was expelled from school and I knew virtually nothing about any genre other than classical music because that was the only music in the world of any importance. Then 2 girls in school (Susan Wilkins and Barbara Jackson) virtually forced me to listen to music they valued highly in the belief they just might be able to convince me not all pop music was the mind numbing trash broadcast on BBC Radio 1 or Crapitol Radio.

It was Susan who emerged triumphant first of all: she played me the free 7” EP issued with the album 154 by Wire. My response proved somewhat akin to that stupid doctor character in Star Trek: it’s pop music, Jim, but not as we know it. However, Wire were 4 white men who were probably middle class as well. It was Barbara who scored the 2nd and 3rd victories. She introduced me to the 1st single and 1st album by The Pop Group…and I thought ‘what a splendid name for a pop group!’ This time there were 5 white men. Mind you, I suspected they were probably middle class, too. Later that year, one Saturday morning she called at Hooker Place, the little cottage in Beech, Kings Hill, where Eric Cooper lived with his older sister and father, with a blue carrier bag that contained 3 singles and the album D.O.A. by Throbbing Gristle. I played the singles first and quite frankly I could not believe my ears. This simply had to rank among some of the best music ever made outside a classical concert hall. 1 of their members was a woman, too…no babies or house cleaning for her then. Thus when I was forced to move to London with my mother (after she and my snivelling coward of a stepfather finally instituted divorce proceedings) I was familiar with 3 pop groups: Wire, The Pop Group and Throbbing Gristle. I had never heard a single track by any other contemporary groups at this time.

My only other introductions to non-classical music were provided courtesy of Mr John Novak (the father of Paul, a boy from the year below me in school with whom I was utterly besotted) and Mr John Cooper, father of Eric. Now Eric had absolutely no chance: his 3 favourite groups were The Stranglers, Deep Purple and (groan) Judas Priest. Well, he was never liable to win any respect (or friends) with an act like that, was he? His father, however, played me a few records by a group called Manfred Mann. I heard a saxophone, a flute and a vibraphone in addition to an electric organ, a bass guitar and drums…my kind of group! Mr Novak played me (for over an hour) selected tracks by an outfit called The Graham Bond Organisation…a saxophone, an electric organ, a bass guitar and drums. I preferred Manfred Mann but I enjoyed the sound of the singer’s voice in the GBO. Strange coincidence: when I was admitted into Springfield Psychiatric Hospital after my first suicide attempt, I was placed on Willow Ward…the same ward where, a few years earlier, Graham Bond himself was incarcerated.

Is it any wonder then that when I first began to write works for The Apostles in 1982, the music was not ‘normal’ and did not follow the conventions paraded by all those other boring old pop groups who had nothing to say that I wanted to hear? Punk rock meant absolutely nothing to me. It sounded stupid, silly, a vacuous racket churned out by middle class white boys who wanted to shock mummy and daddy for a while before they returned to college and found jobs in the city or social services. Punk rock and its purveyors were irrelevant to me. Its tedious cacophony was simply dinosaur rock and roll, played faster (but ineptly) with swear words and regional accents. Why the hell would I want to waste my time on such trash? Tell you something else: it was white white white as far as the eyes can see. Only later did John Soares (one of the early guitarists in The Apostles, an Indian lad) introduce me to a group called Alien Kulture – who consisted of 3 Pakistanis and a token white honky guitarist. The music was poor and the politics were even worse (they were loony lefties) but I welcomed their existence because apart from The Apostles they were the only group in existence who featured members who were not white and middle class.

The initial format of The Apostles provided a typical example: 3 nice middle class boys from Hampstead and a nice middle class boy from Islington. The guitarist’s mother worked for Camden social services and his father was a psychiatrist, for crying out loud. Ye Gods, why did they ever select me to join such an outfit? Maybe they possessed an unusual sense of humour. They sacked me after 3 months…so I formed my own group and stole their name. There – that told ‘em. I still can’t quite remember how I came to write a letter to Andrew Bynghall, the older brother of Pete, the guitarist but as a result I encountered Twelve Cubic Feet, the band for which he played drums. Yes, they were all middle class and yes, they were all white but there were 6 people in the group and 3 of them were girls. Also, their music had nothing to do with punk junk – it was bright and breezy pop inflected with occasional funk influences. Groovy! I think it was through them I discovered The Lemon Kittens, a daft duo from Reading (more white, more middle class but at least one of them was a woman) and thus the course of our future career was set: The Apostles ought to sound like an amalgam of Throbbing Gristle and The Lemon Kittens. Trouble is, my fellow band members had other ideas…and they all listened to punk rock.

Anyway, germane to my rumination on pop pap is this: being in a pop group in the 1980s taught me a few valuable lessons.

1) The reason there were so few genuinely working class pop groups is because they have to work for a living and can’t afford to pay the exorbitant prices demanded by musical instrument shops and recording studios…which is why they leaped instantly at any record company offer made to them. Only nice middle class groups could maintain a rigorous stance of independence from the established commercialism of the music industry…they could afford it.

2) Girls were acceptable in punk bands but only if they were pretty and prepared to prance around on stage with a microphone and squeal while the boys wrote the music and played the instruments because that’s where all the serious stuff happens. There were exceptions – Gaye Advert (bass guitarist of The Adverts) and Claire Bidwell (bass guitarist of The Wall). I could mention The Slits, of course but they were hardly a punk band.

3) The punk scene in the 1980s did not take kindly to the presence of People of Colour in its retinue. Apart from the Kill Your Pet Puppy fanzine collective and a group called Hagar The Womb (who together provide a shining example of what the punk scene ought to be…or could be, given a few brain cells and imagination), the British punk scene was just as white, male and middle class as the progressive rock, glam rock and heavy metal genres its purveyors claimed to despise.

4) The mob mentality pervaded the entire scene with all its rich variety of an old compost heap. We were given 2 choices: we either belonged to the Crass camp or the Oi camp…our gang is bigger than your gang and my dad can beat up your dad. What bollocks! We were not a punk band so their squalid territorial disputes were totally irrelevant to us. This is how we came to be allied with a political group called Class War…because what they had to say meant more to me than any poxy punk group or fanzine. Is it not a sad indictment of British teenage mentality that a decade later this same dreary routine was resuscitated except now ‘punk rock’ became ‘Brit Pop’ and you were asked to choose between Blur and Oasis. At least this time the choice was easy: whereas both Crass and all those Oi outfits were all as wretched as each other, here we were given a choice to which I could respond: Oasis!

Lest any readers over a certain age think I am obsessively biased against punk rockery, I am not a complete bigot. There was one punk band who merit respect – Eater – the one band able to represent what punk could, would and should have been but after they ceased operations in 1978, the whole farrago should have stopped, shut up shop and moved on. At least then we might have been spared the grim grey grotesque melodrama of Crass and, better yet, maybe Oi The Pantomime might never have happened. If I had to pick one band from the 1980s who came close to being able to match the magnificent punk ethic of Eater then it would have to be the American group Artless, formed by journalist and performance artist Mykel Board and his pals…but they came along a decade too late. Punk rock served a purpose in 1976 and then only in Britain and then only for a couple of years. Look, I can relate to Eater’s lyrics. The crap contrived by Crass and the mindless bilge spouted by the Oisters all means nothing to me. I can appreciate why so many British punks turned to the American hardcore scene of the 1980s but that, of course, very quickly became a meticulously truncated concoction of rules and regulations. Besides, the bands all sounded the same, probably because they were all the same. Give me Creedence Clearwater Revival anyday – at least their work resonates with character and reveals a level of intelligence rarely displayed by any American punk band except Minor Threat and Artless.

By the 21st century I should have been able to breathe a blessed sigh of relief that the punk rock pantomime was totally dead and buried…so imagine my horror when, in 2001, Achoi (our drummer in UNIT at this time) discovered a couple of ‘punk fanzines’ who claimed to welcome submissions to their ‘music review’ columns. The daft sod only went and posted copies of our 1st CD to them. Well, technically it isn’t our 1st CD (Sons Of The Dragon) but it was the 1st to feature our new group (Lang Kin Tung (aka CK), Gieng San Man, Ngo Achoi plus Dave Fanning and myself). One of these ‘publications’ (Head Wound) decided to ignore the music and simply deliver a sarcastic assault on my physical appearance – apparently it was not acceptable for me to have long hair and a moustache and, worse still, wear a shell suit. More rules and regulations then. The other one (Fracture) lambasted us for being Chinese and ridiculed our references to martial arts…although, on closer inspection, there are hardly any such references either in the CD artwork or in the lyrics. Look, Dave then studied Iaido (a Japanese martial art involving swords which looks fearful) while I, San Man and CK all practised Pak Mei kung fu. So, er, what were we supposed to do – keep quiet about it? Anyway, how could there be ‘punks’ in 2001? It’s like seeing elderly teddy boys in 1980…sad, pathetic and frankly creepy.

Punks – if they were on fire I wouldn’t even piss on them to put them out.

Then there is the ludicrous tendency these days – it has almost become an alternative fashion – for ancient, crusty old buggers to crawl out from under their duvets, hide the slippers, squeeze into the tatty togs that used to fit them 30 years ago, trudge onto any stage that’ll have them and bash their way through a set of songs that were already old fashioned when they first appeared. I refer here to 1980s punk bands who decide to ‘reform’ (usually with only 1 or 2 original members in them) and try desperately to relive their adolescence and play music that might have meant something, somewhere, to some equally sad bastards back in 1982. Can you think of anything more woeful and wretched? All right, I know groups who play music in other genres are also guilty of this rather eccentric practise (Deep Purple come to mind, God help us) but I expect such behaviour from people who think it’s cool to write songs about shady ladies in L.A., dealers and back door women et frigging cetera. It shows these punk bands are no different to the bloated rock stars they so frequently claim to despise.

In 2006 I received one of the most curious emails ever: an offer from some absurd oaf to ‘reform The Apostles’. He said he could offer a financial incentive to cover whatever costs might be incurred. First: he contacted the wrong person. I’m not qualified to ‘reform The Apostles’ even if I was daft enough to try it. It was Dave Fanning’s band more than mine so this cretin should have asked him although I suspect Dave would either have ignored him or sent him a deliberately surreal reply. ‘Reform The Apostles’ for crying out loud – I sent back an email the same day. I told the cunt to either wake up and get a life or go home and kill himself. That’s the kind of cool, windswept and interesting guy I am. Look, just because I’m a spastic doesn’t mean I’m also a mental retard, all right? It’s the 21st century and we are here to go. It’s time to wake up and face facts: the planet is probably buggered and humanity is on the brink of its inevitable collapse. Good. I find the notion immensely satisfying…so long as its leaders don’t decide to blow the world up with it.

All right then, I’ve managed to trash punk rock – so what about other genres of pop music? What about gangster rap – is that worthy of my attention? Most of the time, no, it isn’t. It is computerised balderdash, samples taken from other people’s records (in other words it is other groups who do the real hard work) while some middle class “nigga” bellows profanities over the top of it as he pretends to be ‘from the hood’, acquainted with 9 millimetre machine guns, slapping his bitch and dissing Jews and queers because that makes him a real hard character yawn, yawn and double yawn. Most gangster rap is simply heavy metal without the funny bits. Is this a valid advertisement for Black people in America…or anywhere? Frankly no, it isn’t, but then punk rock is hardly much of an advert for honkies either. Earlier I indicated (albeit flippantly) that I enjoyed the work of Oasis – as indeed I do. However, I am aware their lyrics are usually bonkers, ineptly concocted (which is part of the attraction, of course) and accompanied by music that most 2nd rate punk bands could play.

Take any other group then – Blur, Radiohead, Verve, Pulp, Franz Ferdinand, Coldplay, even One Direction…what do they each have in common? They rarely, if ever, sing about anything that really matters to real people anywhere in the world. Take an 18 year old girl. She is afflicted with motor neurone disease and spends 80% of her time in a wheelchair. She knows by this time next year she will probably spend 100% of her time in it because her body will have deteriorated further. A couple of years after that she will no longer be able to hold proper conversations with her family because she will lose the facility of speech. That is one subject for a pop song…but for me even that doesn’t go far enough. You see, unfortunately her hormones are not adversely affected by her terrible affliction. She still fancies that young gypo with the red scarf and the tight jeans whose family are camped in the opposite field. What is she supposed to do now she’s a cripple – live like a nun?

I can almost hear the furniture creak as some of you squirm but I don’t care, I don’t care at all. This is what I mean by REAL LIFE, a typical topic most of you prefer not to ponder upon. I find it difficult enough and I’m a partial spastic yet it won’t go away just because we ignore it. Have any of you heard about that group of prostitutes in Europe – they’re based in Switzerland – who offer their services almost exclusively to spastics and cripples? Every one of those noble girls deserve awards for their contribution to human happiness. They are superb examples of humanity. To the best of my knowledge, there does not yet exist a male prostitute equivalent but if I am wrong, please enlighten me. In 1983 I wrote a ballad called The Cripple which addresses this issue but, to date, I have never heard of any other pop song by anyone, anywhere, that addresses the same subject. Why are most other pop groups full of such craven cowards?

In fact, the subject of severe disability is almost taboo in the pop music scene. There was a punk group in the early 1980s called The Assassins Of Hope who wrote a very sympathetic song called Spastic Disco in which a couple of punks stumble into a hall where a crowd of disabled people are throwing themselves around to disco music – it’s a chaotic shambles but everyone there is having fun, except the punks, who are unable to assimilate the scene. The Assassins Of Hope warrant praise, accolades and commendation for this one song alone. (There, you see? Finally I’ve been able to say something charitable about a punk band. It is possible for me…just very difficult.)

If that subject is too emotionally turbulent for you, consider a family in which the mother dies of a debilitating disease or maybe she’s killed in a road accident. They have a young daughter – let us make her 14 years old because that can be an awkward age for teenagers and often even more awkward for their parents. Her father meets another woman, all smiles and sympathy. After a few months they fall in love but the girl vehemently resents this incursion into her life – how dare this alien woman, this outsider, attempt usurp the place occupied by her (dead) mother. Come on all you people in pop groups, write a song about that. If pop culture is genuinely concerned with real life then don’t commit the same errors as the gumby dinosaur bands your parents rate so highly. Change the record – cause a paradigm shift – hit the charts with a lyric that has something important to say.

I can (just about) remember a single released by – of all people – Rod Stewart called The Killing Of Georgie. I think it entered the national pop charts in 1975 or 1976 and probably only reached the top 20 and even then only because Rod Stewart was its singer. It was a gentle ballad about a (possibly imaginary) friend of Rod who was homosexual and murdered by bigots one night after a party. Yes, it’s pure melodrama and contains more sickly sentimentality than a walnut whip but for its era, it caused a minor furore because it was not considered desirable or even ethical for a major public figure (Rod Stewart was extremely popular in the 1970s) to sing about sexual perverts, especially not in such a sympathetic manner. Now then, people in pop groups…are you going to admit to me you possess even less courage than Rod Stewart?

Then again, am I really qualified to urge people in pop groups to sing about this, that or the other? After all, hardly anyone ever purchases our CDs or listens to our tracks on You Tube so who am I to be critical?

Andy Martin, June, 2018. You can contact me at unitunited (at) yahoo.com although God knows why you’d ever want to.

All text copyright Andy Martin

Footnote: This is a slightly edited text. Andy’s original used various racial terms in the context of making his point but I felt unable to use them and, with his consent, have replaced them, IE Pakistani has replaced ‘Paki’. Despite the original text’s context and Andy’s clear opposition to racism, colonialism – in fact, most of the things white people have been responsible for – I was aware these terms could cause deep offense to PoC. As a Queer woman, references to pansies caused me no offense and I felt happy to leave them in! – Julie.

 

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Slowly ascending: book relaunch

Photo: Julie Travis

We Are All Falling Towards The Centre Of The Earth, published by Wapshott Press, is finally now available from Amazon, in paperback and Kindle formats. Once again, I must apologise for the mess of the original launch.

Today is the third anniversary of the passing of Ian Johnstone, to whom the book is dedicated.

All text and images © Julie Travis