Wake up: time to Live

Teresa Boscawen-Un 17 July 2015

T at our memorial for Ian Johnstone, Boscawen-Un stone circle, 17 July 2015

After what has been a long break between posts, it’s time to do an update. Writing fiction has been almost impossible since Ian’s passing, as it was after my mother passed away, so I have been concentrating on re-drafting Pig Iron, to the point where I think it’s now ready to go for publication. The Man Who Builds The Ruins – the story inspired by Ian and his partner Mikel’s agroforestry project in Northern Spain – has been rejected yet again. I read it through, prepared to ditch the story if necessary, but instead I think it’s one of the best stories I’ve written, so I’ve made a few changes to the prose and am hanging fire on what to do with it next. It does have a very occult/’out there’ feel to it, so perhaps horror/dark fantasy publications are not the right places to send it (although it was nearly placed in two publications).

On a very different note, I’ve been chasing Penguin Books for eight months for an interview with Sue Perkins, but have just been turned down due to her ‘full schedule’ (her memoir, Spectacles, is out in early October). This was to be for Curve magazine in the United States and they are as disappointed about this as I am, I think – Sue has some forthright opinions and would, I think, make the subject of a good article. I’ll be writing to Sue direct in a final attempt to arrange this – if she doesn’t want to do the interview, I’ll accept it and move on. But I do need work that might pay as much as anyone else does!

Otherwise, I’ve been working on Ian’s page for this website. As you can imagine, it’s been a difficult task – plenty of material to choose from, but very emotional to put together, but it’s nearly there. I’ve also been putting Ian’s texts and emails into a document for my personal records, which has proved even more difficult to do! But out of all this grief has come some positive things: contact from some Russians who corresponded with Ian and are constructing a site in his memory, and an email from Phil and Layla Legard of the Hawthonn project, based around Jhonn Balance, grieving, and a journey from Balance’s home in Weston to his resting place at the hawthorn tree near Bassenthwaite Lake. I thank them all for their kindness and generosity.

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An interview with Ellyott

 

I now have a copy of Curve magazine with my article on Ellyott. It’s been shortened a bit, unsurprisingly, due to lack of space, but it’s come out well (apart from Curve’s insistence on calling Ellyott ‘Ezzer’ for much of the piece – their doing, not mine) – Ellyott gets to say plenty. What follows are the bits that didn’t make it into the article. I thought the material was too good – and important – to not see the light of day. Some pieces are straight from my interview with her, others are from the original article. The result is inevitably a bit of a jigsaw, but I hope it makes interesting reading.

JT: “While most of the songs are in Hebrew, three are in English. Was there any particular reason for that? [Was it a matter of communicating these songs to a wider/different audience?]”

E: “I have been writing in both English and Hebrew my whole life, I feel both languages are my lovers, and this is the only field where I care to be polygamous. Some songs declare themselves in a certain language, and I just let them drive me, happy to ride shotgun, and let the song unroll.”

The loss of Ellyott’s father in 2010, as well as other members of her family in the holocaust, are clearly evident in the songs and among the sleeve notes are dedications to Queer activists John Edward Campbell and Tutu Tedder, along with Sister George’s bass player Lisa Cook, all of whom have passed on. As loss was the driving force behind the album’s creation, it was perhaps inevitable that it was a central theme.

While Ellyott wrote most of the lyrics, she also took the opportunity to arrange music to a poem written by Ester Raab, the sister of Ellyott’s grandfather, (‘A Song For The Mediterranean’), and covered one of Israel’s best known children’s songs.

E: “I recorded ‘My Dad’ as a requiem to my father. I actually recorded it the week my dad died and you can hear my voice breaking up at the end of the song. This, for many people here, has been the best loved song of the album and has been played here a lot. People really relate to my version.”

I had hoped that life as a Queer artist in the UK would be somewhat easier than in Israel [where her songs were banned in the 1980s and she was front page news as the first out-dyke artist in the country], but evidently I was wrong, as Ellyott is quick to point out.

E: “I thought it would be easier in London but actually it wasn’t. Sister George was allowed its fifteen minutes of fame as ‘Queer Punk Badass Gang’. We were on the cover of the New Musical Express, but were not taken seriously as musicians, which is a shame as I feel our later songs were far better than our debut album. We broke up when the others in the band thought I was trying to get U2’s scout to sign me as a solo artist, when he came to see us. Needless to say, it was never so. But we broke up and I never got to talk it out and make up, as our bass player Lisa Cook died a few years back, and it broke my heart that I never got to sort it out. Lisa was fierce, I admired her greatly.”

Despite her misgivings about the UK’s attitude to Sister George (and I can testify to the songwriting leaps the band made during their career), Ellyott has fond memories of its Queercore scene.

E: “Queercore was a beautifully exciting wave of energy. I feel lucky to have been a part of it. I guess I always will be, among other things. We all needed to be heard, and so took up the space and made sure the world heard us. This much hasn’t changed. People who are different still have that need to be counted, to express their wants and pains and joys. I just choose other genres of music to do it in nowadays.”

And part of that change of direction, musically speaking, is Ellyott’s hugely successful career as a DJ, although her playlist certainly has its punk ethics.

E: “I DJ house and techno music, and I infuse it with bits of spoken word and speeches of the likes of Gloria Steinem and Patti Smith. My heart is still a big, raw, pulsing mass of sound and energy. How I express myself might be different, but singing with my guitar or DJ-ing my tracks is all one and the same. I get to DJ to tens of thousands of people in Tel-Aviv’s Pride, for example, or as a resident of the country’s biggest gay party, Forever Tel-Aviv, and I love every second of it. I am more exposed as a singer, and find it easier to whip people into a frenzy when I DJ, but the two are very similar, the thrill of performing is the same. I have been doing it for nearly 30 years, and I am addicted to the buzz.”

Perhaps 5772 is as much about celebrating life as it is about loss – love and family are ever present in the songs. It has its sadness, but also its optimism, its acknowledgment that life continues, despite everything. Ellyott has a strength that is difficult not to take heart from. She has lost none of the fire she had when I knew her decades ago but she appears to be happier, and the self-assuredness of maturity and motherhood is reflected in her song writing.

Curve magazine now available

 

My article on Ellyott is included in the June issue of Curve, which is now available. I haven’t seen the magazine, so I have no idea if the piece has been edited or shortened (it could have been much longer – Ellyott always did have plenty to say), but I hope to see a version of it soon.

Never forget the dream element

UNIT Rock In Opposition Front

UNIT have just released a new album, Rock In Opposition Phase 5, and the booklet includes some more of my bird photography. I was not expecting this, so was very happy to get a copy at the weekend. Now the weather is more settled, I am trying to get more photographs for the band’s future releases (and just this morning have had a photoshoot with a bold jackdaw just outside my window). I’m proud to be associated with UNIT.

The article on Ellyott Ben Ezzer is now finished and Curve magazine will be publishing the article in their June issue. Ellyott’s answers to my questions were well worth waiting for and make her album (5772) even more moving. She’s as much a force to be reckoned with as she ever was, and I’m glad that a Western magazine will feature someone with such a high profile in a different culture.

Chapel Carn Brea House

The Man Who Builds The Ruins has now been drafted and I’m in the process of re-writing it. The end of the story, which I was having difficulty ‘seeing’, came to me after repeated plays of the Electric Sewer Age album. I found that there was, of course, only one ending for the story, or rather, one place in which to leave it. It often feels to me that a story is not so much ‘made up’ as the writer having tuned in to something happening Elsewhere and it’s a matter of writing it down accurately. Thanks to Danny Hyde and the late Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson for inspiration.

At the death of 2013CE

UNIT cd cover

As 2013 – a year where utter disaster has rocked myself and almost everyone around me – shudders its last, a few plans are showing progress. First of all, as the photo above shows, UNIT’s new album, The Colours of Life, has just been released. It includes the reworked version of The Wasteland mentioned here a while back, a track which appeared on The Apostles/The Joy of Living e.p. Death To Wacky Pop, which appeared back in 1986, plus the bird photographs that I have recently taken for the band.

I am currently in the process of conducting an interview by email of Ellyott Ben Ezzer, which may appear in Curve magazine. The feature will focus on Ellyott’s impressive solo album, 5772, released in May 2013. The article is already part-written, as I have been familiar with Ellyott’s work for many years, and I’m looking forward to completing it. As far as fiction is concerned, Rebecca Shadow is being extensively re-written in order to base it closer to home (in every respect) – fantastique things happening in the deprived ex-industrial heartland of Cornwall is more exciting and relevant to me than having them happen a step away from the world (or this one, at any rate).

Penzance at 4.51 pm, Winter Solstice 2013

Penzance at 4.51 pm, Winter Solstice 2013

Back in 2002, I attended an event by most of the anarchist punk band Crass at
the South Bank, London. For the sake of completion, I have included a link to Barbelith Webzine, which published the review I wrote just after the event.

Curve magazine now available

 

December’s issue of Curve magazine is now available and has been confirmed as including my article on the St Buryan Village Wisewomen, Cassandra and Laetitia Latham Jones. A couple of copies of the magazine are on their way to me. I’m looking forward to seeing it. So many projects/articles/interviews fall through at the last minute, often without explanation, that it’s always a relief when things go to plan.

Focus on infinity

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A few more things are falling into place now: after several months of sitting in the ‘slush pile’ (a term I always thought pointlessly derogatory), Ellen Datlow’s new horror anthology Fearful Symmetries has finally rejected The Ferocious Night. I have no way of knowing if anyone even read it, but at least I’ve been notified. With over 1,000 submissions to wade through, it was probably inevitable that the process was impersonal, but my polite query regarding the timescale on their tracking system got a huffy reply that the tracking system was basically useless. In which case, folks, why have it? It must have created a lot of unnecessary angst among authors and editors alike. Anyway, the story has been snapped up by Storylandia for their Spring 2014 issue. Just when I thought the story would never see publication. Bless them and their fine journal.

The ‘Two of Us’ feature on the St Buryan Wisewomen has been finished and sent to Curve magazine, together with a couple of photos (not taken by me, I should add). It’s tempted me to do more interviews. The thought of getting the stories of local 21st Century witches (and there are a fair few of them around) down on record could be an amazing project and important for historical and social reasons. I no longer have the tape of the interview I did in 2005 with Cheryl Straffon but the article is elsewhere on this site (‘The Cornish Witch’).

As for fiction: Widdershins is awaiting its second full draft, while I steamroller my way through the first draft of Grave Goods, a proper horror story, which is proving quite fun to write. Not as ‘deep’, perhaps, as what I usually write, but hopefully it’ll have a nice twist at the end and some interesting characters. I’ve been playing Kitty Jay, probably Seth Lakeman’s greatest album, full of dark Dartmoor tales and it’s undoubtedly an influence. From The Bones, meanwhile, has been rejected a few times, most recently by KZine. Editor Graeme Hurry has always offered wise and constructive criticism, so I’m going to have another look the story as soon as time allows.