Nostalgia for an age yet to come

Photo: watchmaker’s tombstone, Lydford, Devon by Julie Travis

Last week’s trip to London – to catch up with much missed friends – left me with a fresh perspective on the city I left nearly 15 years ago. The relentless nature of the place hasn’t changed, of course; I knew that however far I walked, the city would still stretch out around me, unlike Penzance, where you can stand at the top of the main road and see buildings give way to green fields and the sea. But what I was surprised at was the cleanliness of the streets in comparison with Cornwall, which looks as if its residents just don’t care about their environment and the politeness and patience of city people, despite the stress of everywhere being constantly busy. I couldn’t connect to the magickal elements of the city when I lived there, but I’m more knowledgable now, so perhaps it would be possible to do so on my next trip there. A visit to Treadwell’s Occult bookshop proved wonderfully overwhelming and will provide the setting to new story Beautiful Silver Spacesuits. I could have spent days there.

One of the friends I met up with was Andy Martin, who has been mentioned here many times. The last time I’d seen him was around 1985/86, when we recorded the 7th Apostles’ e.p. (with the Joy of Living). It was an emotional meeting for me. We spent a couple of hours talking about everything from Nazi skinheads and the Neo-folk movement to musical time signatures to childrens’ tv drama Grange Hill and listening to Unit tracks, and I bought a couple of Apostles’ LPs from the late 1980s off him. My extensive vinyl collection – including at least one of those albums – has mostly been sold over the years, but a few gems remain and to add two mint condition albums to it was very gratifying. A few days after I got home, I had an email from Andy, asking me to contribute a third story to his anthology Fast-Clean-Cheap, scheduled for publication later this year. I didn’t want to take a story from the second Wapshott Press collection, so I dug through my files and found a story that was written about ten years ago, but never submitted for publication because the content – domestic abuse – was based on my own experiences and too painful to share. It’s still a difficult read, but I thought the story was good enough that, with a bit of spit and polish, I can give it to Andy for consideration. He, of course, will make the final decision as to whether it sees the light of day. If it does, however, it’s one story I won’t be saying much about. Hopefully it will speak for itself.

I’m working on two stories simultaneously again for the Wapshott Press collection – The Spoiler is nearing completion of its first draft, and is currently 6500 words long, so may easily get to 8000 by the time it’s finished. And I’ve just begun the aforementioned Beautiful Silver Spacesuits, as well as working on the Foreword and story notes for the book. I’m beginning to feel a bit burned out now, so perhaps once these two stories are completed, it will be time to hand the thing over to Wapshott Press.

But on the other hand, if I push myself just a bit further, who knows what I could come up with…?

All images and text © Julie Travis, apart from the title, by Pauline Murray/Penetration

 

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I shall look into the Eye of the storm

Wistman Spiral 1

A week staying on a smallholding on the western fringes of Dartmoor has done me good; I’m currently over 1100 words into a new story. A Fairy Ring contains neither fairies nor mushroom rings but is, inevitably, about the process of grieving, although that’s hopefully not obvious at first read. The subject matter, of course, is something everyone has to experience many times through their lives, so perhaps this is the most mainstream piece of fiction I’ve ever written. After three months of being incapable of working on anything new, it’s a relief to have such a full story just appear in my head in the way it has done. I have three finished stories sitting on the chair next to me, and I have no inclination to send them anywhere. That’s how it is for now, who knows how I’ll feel in the future?

Haytor 1

UNIT has recorded a cover of Regime Of Kindness, a song I wrote the music for around thirty years ago and which appeared on the Death To Wacky Pop e.p. Andy Martin kindly sent me a copy. It’s a fairly different arrangement, far more prog-rock than the original, and I think it’s excellent. It’ll appear on an album of theirs set for release next year. Many thanks to the band for digging this song up and doing their own version.

Tattoo 2 Swarming Shapes

Last week I had a new tattoo done – a detail from Ian Johnstone’s 23 Swarming Shapes. It’s my first new tattoo in around thirteen years. The whole process is hugely ritualistic for me. There are a couple of tattoo studios in Penzance, but I tried one of them and the vibe wasn’t right, so I went back to Shoreline in St Ives, where I had my last ink done. I knew it was the right place as soon as I stepped through the door, so I made an appointment and had a week of getting into the right frame of mind for it, hoping that Ian would have approved: he knew I thought the work was perfect for tattoos and he had one of the shapes tattooed onto his leg, so I think he’d be okay with it. The healing process is as much a ritual as choosing/designing the ink, and it’s healing incredibly quickly. Which is useful, as I can’t dress properly until it’s done so! The money to pay for it wasn’t easy to find, but I don’t think such permanent body modification should be effortless. Thanks to Cherry at Shoreline for an excellent job.

Cross Bound to be made available in physical format

Mulfra Thru Grass

Ridiculously prolific musician and writer Andy Martin is having several more books published, one of which is an anthology that he has invited me to contribute a story to. Cross Bound, a story only available online in Aphelion webzine’s September 2011/February 2012 (best of year) issues, is at 14,000 or so words, a long read on a computer screen, so this will be included in the anthology. Perhaps I am also quite old-fashioned in that I do prefer physical to digital art! Anyway, I’m delighted to have been asked to contribute. The story has had a few tweaks in terms of making parts of the prose more fluid, but the story hasn’t been altered. The anthology is due to be published in 2016.

Andy has also remastered all of The Apostles’ singles and several of their albums, ready for cd release on BBP later this year. He’s sent me the remastered Apostles’ 7th single, Death To Wacky Pop, which was recorded with my band The Joy of Living, nearly thirty years ago, and it does sound a little beefier than the version that appeared on the Mortarhate Records compilation cd a few years back. He also described two of JoL’s songs, Regime Of Kindness and A Walk With Love And Death as ‘superb pop songs’ and wants to record them with his current band, UNIT. Can’t wait to hear them!

Feedback to Storylandia 15: The Julie Travis Collection has so far been positive, but no reviews have yet appeared, so it’s difficult to tell how it’s being received. I’m very aware that I have long since left behind the shock and gore of my early writing and perhaps am wandering around the slipstream genre even more than before. I have no idea what kind of person might like what I write these days. The copies I sent to two local radio stations have been met with deafening silence, but since BBC Radio Cornwall has described the tv adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell as ‘too weird’, they’re hardly likely to embrace my stories. Meanwhile, after a week walking and discovering more megalithic sites on the Isles of Scilly, I’m still trying to come to terms with the disastrous result of the General Election. I’ll be back working on Pig Iron very soon.

A first glimpse of Storylandia

Storylandia 15 Proofs

These are the front and back covers of Storylandia 15. It will be re-titled as the Spring 2015 issue of the journal rather than Winter, but apart from that all is more or less now finalised (photographed are the first and second proofs) and I expect physical and e-copies to be available soon. My huge thanks and appreciation to editor Ginger Mayerson and all at Wapshott Press for their faith in me and all their work on this collection.

In other news: Andy Martin is reportedly remastering just about all of The Apostles’ releases, beginning with all the singles, for cd releases on BBP Records. This was begun some time ago but was halted due to the untimely death of BBP’s Stephen Parsons. I’m assuming the first compilation will include The Apostles’ 7th e.p. recorded with my old band, The Joy of Living, which has been described as ‘folk punk’ and ‘anarcho acoustic’. This was released on cd several years back as part of a Mortarhate Records compilation, but was taken straight from the vinyl rather than remastered. I’m intrigued as to how this will turn out!

 

Clive Barker and the future of the human race

St Ives Hepworth

“It’s amazing how often I hear people say, ‘You know, we shouldn’t be on this planet.’ I’d never heard that before. That’s very new, the whole idea that the people on the animal planet are talking about the fact that we are the problem not the solution – the wolf not the shepherd – and the decent thing that we should do is just get a gun and put it to our collective heads, I’d never heard of that said before, or mooted before, but it’s an incredibly scary prospect that people, sensible people now think the only solution for what they consider a more valuable piece of creation than us – which is the rest of nature – is best served by us packing our bags and leaving. And that is a frightening thought, just because sensible people are saying that. And I want to address that in the third book of The Art – we need to be pro-life; and pro-life isn’t just about babies, it’s about old people too.”

Clive Barker, Revelations interview, May/June 2014

This excerpt, from the latest interview on Barker’s website, is interesting for several reasons. But first, a pedantic point: the idea of the Earth being salvageable only if the human race is removed from it, is not a new one. I remember discussing this with Andy Martin (then of The Apostles, now of UNIT) at his home in Hackney around 30 years ago. Andy’s question – “If you had a bomb that wiped out humans but didn’t damage anything else, would you use it?” – eventually became the basis for my first novel, The Gathering, which was drafted several years ago but is as yet unfinished. I’m sure it was discussed by ‘sensible’ (assuming Barker means intelligent people who are approaching the issue from an environmental/bigger picture angle, rather than screaming fascists who just want to choose in which order to execute everyone) people before then, too.

Anyway, it’s interesting to me to hear that the thought is being discussed more. I’m not sure what Barker means by being ‘pro-life’, although it appears that he’s restricting the term to human life. For me it’s not just about babies, or old people; as far as I’m concerned it’s about all life. Is it such a radical concept to consider that the incredible array of life on this planet (as well as the planet itself being a living, evolving thing [Gaia, the Great Mother of All, or, for the more scientifically minded, the Gaia Hypothesis]) has as much right to be here as we consider ourselves to have? Even to be pro-human life (above all other forms of life on Earth) surely means that we have to face the fact that humans have massively over populated the planet and the way in which we live is destroying it? We are so close to the point of no return (and further as far as having made untold species extinct) that I find it astounding when other ‘sensible’ people talk about simply adapting in order to feed the massive amounts of people that humans are producing instead of dealing with the issue of over population. We are a part of nature and yet totally apart from it. Could any other species survive in such unsustainable numbers? It really, really isn’t just about us.

I’m also unsure as to what Barker finds scary – the fact that ‘sensible’ people can see how things are going for the planet and therefore it must be bad, or whether he feels that such people have, perhaps, given up on the human race. It could easily be both. This was a small point in an interview, of course, but it would be fascinating to expand on it with him. I’m looking forward to seeing how he addresses it in the third book of The Art.

Barker, presumably, is of the opinion that humans can be better than they are now, can make the Earth a better place. This is an optimistic view – and, of course, it’s always possible – but then I’ve always thought of Barker as an optimistic person. More probable, in my opinion, is David Attenborough belief that we will bring about some kind of environmental catastrophe and then the Earth will continue, with a far, far smaller amount of humans on it than there are now.

But basically, it comes down to this: is the good of the planet and everything on it worth the extinction of the human race? Or is the short-term good of some of the human race worth the ruin of the planet and the extinction of many of the other species which live on it?

UNIT re-records ‘The Wasteland’

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Andy Martin’s prog-rock/avant garde/difficult to label music group Unit have re-recorded The Wasteland for their forthcoming album (release date as yet unknown). Martin wrote the song many years ago, but it wasn’t suitable for his group at the time, The Apostles, so it was recorded with the remnants of The Joy of Living, the band I was in at the time and it appeared on our joint e.p. (see this entry for details). Andy has sent me an MP3 of the track and while it’s utterly different from that version, with some ethereal lead and backing vocals and different instrumentation, it’s still almost instantly recognisable. I am extremely fond of both versions and Andy says the new version is closer to what he originally had in mind. The band has also been generous enough to dedicate the track to myself, drummer Yvette Haynes and singer Sharon Cooper, a very touching gesture.

And for a heavy but essential read, try Andy’s recently published account of English comprehensive school life during the 1970s, Faded Fragments of Distant Dreams. Anyone who suffered at the hands of bullying ‘classmates’ or teachers during their school years will find parts of this tome shudderingly familiar. These things need to be documented, but it’s taken a braver person than I’ll ever be to set these stories down.

The Apostles/The Joy of Living: ‘Death to Wacky Pop’

I first got to know Andy Martin in 1982, when The Apostles, an experimental anarchist punk band from East London, released their first piece of vinyl, an e.p. called Blow It Up, Burn It Down, Kick It Till It Breaks. Although the recording quality was quite poor I found the songs quite extraordinary; musically quite ferocious with shades of the Velvet Underground and early, raw punk rock, and lyrically just burning with anger. Class anger, racism, homophobia – all were faced head on. The band had a terrible reputation for violence and generally being impossible to get along with. I hadn’t long left school and was angry about everything. They were perfect for me. I’d written to a lot of punk bands and sent what was probably a long rant to Andy and to my surprise he replied. From then on we corresponded regularly and I began to visit him and Dave Fanning in their housing co-op in Brougham Road, Hackney. I found the pair of them to be extremely intelligent, funny and respectful – despite Andy’s insistence that he was a misogynist. I was honest with him and he was honest with me. Some of his letters were an absolute work of art and much of the band’s music showed a more melancholic side that described mental illness, sexuality and alienation. Their reputation was, it seemed to me, unwarranted; they were just passionate people who couldn’t stand bullshit.

I was getting various forms of a band together with my sister and, briefly, my brother, and once a line-up had settled (Lloyd Pettiford: vocals, Sharon Cooper & Helen Povey: backing vocals, Lol: guitar, me on bass guitar (a beautiful but incredibly heavy 1967 Les Paul Thunderbird) and Yvette Haynes: drums) we began looking for and later organising, gigs. I’d managed to get in touch with The Assassins of Hope and our first gig as The Joy of Living was supporting them at The Green Man pub in Stratford (which no longer exists, as far as I know). My first live appearance had been with The Light, in around 1981/82, at a Royal British Legion Club in Eastcote, Middlesex and we had to practically run from the place with lots of angry right-wing suburbanites in our wake who didn’t like our rather shouty attempts at punk/goth. Jamie Stewart, later of Death Cult/The Cult, was in attendance, along with the rest of his band at the time, Ritual. The first JoL gig was probably worse than this; we were virtually ignored.

The problem with the band was its lack of direction. I was influenced by punk, a bit of the darker Goth stuff (Sex Gang Children, Blood And Roses) and more avant-garde/Industrial music (Cabaret Voltaire, Psychic TV, Fad Gadget) but I didn’t really know what I wanted to play and I wasn’t a good enough musician or simply confident enough to experiment. I’d heard of other bands working well because they were friends first and fellow musicians later and I persevered with working with friends even when it was obvious that none of us was clear on where we wanted to go. Lloyd’s friend Sham joined us for a while on guitar, but they both left after a couple of gigs. We did one good gig at a community centre in Harrow, where everything clicked, but after our fifth gig (in Woking, supporting Brigandage and the Lost Cherrees), I had another argument with some of the band who just weren’t pulling their weight and it all fell apart. I was still intending to work with Yvette and we were still on speaking terms with Sharon, so when Andy asked if we’d be interested in playing a song he’d written called The Wasteland, which he felt wasn’t quite right for The Apostles, I jumped at the chance. We spent some time in Hackney rehearsing it and then Andy wanted to try our instrumental number, The Joy of Living, with the solo done differently to the way Lol (a real rock ‘n’ roll guitarist) played it. He also liked the time change in another song, called Dying For A Fag, so we played that one and also a couple of others, Regime Of Kindness and A Walk With Love And Death – which I was keen to get him doing backing vocals on. Of course he and Dave learnt our songs in minutes, while I had my work cut out trying to keep up with them. I got there in the end.

Dorothea Tanning, 1946

Dorothea Tanning, 1946

Andy and Dave had released a lot of records by then, including at least one on Conflict/Colin Jerwood’s record labels (Mortarhate/Fight Back) and he’d agreed to let us release an e.p. on Fight Back. So in 1985/86 we recorded five tracks at Redchurch Recordings in Shoreditch, London. Most of the recording went well but Andy and Dave left us to do the production ourselves and we were out of our depth, so it didn’t come out well. Andy turned up to produce The Wasteland and his experience really showed – the layering and sophistication of the song was way above anything I ever wrote. By that time Yvette and myself were  barely on speaking terms with Sharon (this happens in all bands, from what I can tell) and so it became quite tense when putting the A3 size cover together and rerecording some of A Walk With Love And Death (Dave’s guitar had been knocked out of tune and clashed terribly with the vocals; we repaired it as best we could at Abacus recording studio in Eastcote). Again, we had all the space in the world to say whatever we wanted to say, but we couldn’t agree on what that should be. It felt like a terrible waste, although the poster on the inside of the cover was appropriated from Dorothea Tanning’s 1946 surrealist painting A Little Night Music, (original above), redrawn by singer Sharon. We all liked the dreamlike quality of the work although I’m not sure Tanning would have been happy with what we did! We gave some space to The Apostles and Andy sent me instructions and artwork on squatting and how to make a bomb. Very Apostles! It was probably the most coherent part of the cover. I spoke to Colin Jerwood a couple of times (someone else with a bad reputation but I never had a problem with him) and had to wing it a bit when he found out the band had split, but by that time Yvette was in A Strange Desire and I was working with Leda Baker and Rubella Ballet, so some of us were still involved in music and that seemed to satisfy him. The e.p., with four of the five tracks we’d recorded (we dropped Dying For A Fag due to time constraints on the vinyl), came out on the Fight Back label in 1986. I never knew how many copies it sold. It got a decent review in one fanzine but I never read any others. There was talk of The Apostles supporting the Dead Kennedys at a gig in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which we were invited along to in order to play The Wasteland and perhaps a few other songs, but it fell through. Despite all the problems and the disappointing quality of the recording, I’d been proud to work with The Apostles and had enjoyed the rehearsing and much of the recording process – including getting the record cut by the legendary ‘Porky’. I just wish I’d been more assertive, about every aspect of the record.

The only copy of the record I had (apart from one of the Mayking test pressings) had been sitting quietly in my now-pared down record collection, more or less forgotten for a decade (having had no record player for years), until I found out that Mortarhate had put together all their singles, in A Compilation of Deleted Dialogue, on a double cd, in 1997. The cd’s front cover was excellent but the accompanying booklet was a bit of a mess and selected random extracts from the record’s cover. But it meant that I could hear the songs again. And recently the single appears to have had a bit of resurgence. A couple of copies have been sold on Ebay for over £20 each and reviews (rather kind reviews, actually) have appeared on various punk/anarcho websites from Britain and America, calling us a punk-folk and anarcho-acoustic band. As labels go, they’re not too bad. And the review on Amazon, describing the double album as excellent apart from a couple of slower tracks that ‘suck’, made me laugh. I expect the review’s referring either to our songs or the Flowers In The Dustbin tracks. More recently, Yvette was sure that one of the tracks was played on the radio – as a backing for announcing Saturday afternoon football results. This has not been confirmed! The Apostles’ Facebook page (an unofficial band site) has listed links to all of their singles, so the e.p. (their 7th) is downloadable for free. Which is fine by me*. I play the e.p. now and again. It brings back some happy memories and although it has a thousand things about it that I’d change, I’m proud that I was involved with it.

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UPDATE 2 JANUARY 2014: I’ve just found out that A Walk With Love And Death from the e.p. was included on a compilation cassette, called Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart – Punk Rock Love Songs, released on Hick-Up Tapes (HICKS 003), Germany, 1992. While I’m happy for the song to appear, an attempt to contact one of us and check that it was okay to use it would have been appreciated!

* Andy Martin has written comprehensively on The Apostles’ records and it appears that all of the singles were reissued on cd by BBP in 2009 (although it should be noted that Stephen Parsons of BBP crossed the Threshold late in 2012, so I’m not sure what has become of the label and its releases). Andy is quite scathing of the quality of the recordings and the musicanship (he describes The Wasteland as the only track on the DTWP e.p. that he can listen to without wincing) and urges people not to buy either of the two volumes of the cd, but he did so some of the remastering. And anyway, that’s Andy – always expect unflinching honesty. Anything less would be a disappointment.