Over the years, the Variety Bar near Charing Cross, Glasgow has been a hotbed for artists and musicians: from painters, such as Steven Campbell, Peter Howson, and Adrian Wiszniewski, to the legendary AC Acoustics (one of John Peel’s favorites), Happy Particles and now, Pioneers of Anaesthetic.
Pioneers Of Anaesthetic is the name by which musician Steven Cossar writes, records and releases his music. Since 2000, Steven has recorded almost 400 songs, which he compiles onto “albums” of 30-40 tracks each, these are then sold or given away at gigs.
“I try not to use the same guitar tuning twice, although there are many identical tone intervals with transposed sets of strings. I have played occasional shows around Glasgow, which typically consist of 2 sets - One written and one written on the spot ; Instant Composition Improv, if you will.”
So successful is Steven’s Instant Composition that many of his audience have asked after shows if he is “actually lying and have pre-written the Improv sets.” For the record, he doesn’t, which makes Steven’s talents all the more exceptional and impressive - “Apparently, the less writing I do… the better.”
“I’d describe the music as short songs for a long attention span. The ideas and melodies are repetitive but usually dissolve quickly enough to (hopefully) warrant repeated listening.
“A recurring structural trait is to leave the flourishes and embellishments out until the last phrase or chorus, so that the song seems like a short glimpse of it’s potential and there is plenty left to the listener’s imagination.
“Lyrically, I rely on home-truthing and coming clean about stuff I’d usually shy away from in ‘real life’.”
It is this that makes Pioneers Of Anaesthetic’s music deliciously addictive, the songs, none of which last much more than 1 minute 30 seconds, are short enough to catch interest, but finish before that interest is sated.
Steven’s interests and influences include Guided By Voices, Red House Painters, and Lou Barlow. He’s also claims he is “Inspired by the approach of the late Hip-Hop producer, J Dilla more than any other artist. His influence on urban and all alternative musics is staggering.”
Over the years, Steven has been a well respected ‘Gun For Hire’ around Glasgow, contributing his musical talents to several bands.
I am a multi-instrumentalist, but have a heavy slant towards guitars and drums. I guess most of the bands I’ve played with never really wanted to commit fully and it’s always been a case of not taking it too seriously.
“I play in Larmousse (City Slang) with Cliff Henderson and David Gow (Sons & Daughters), I’m recording an album with Steven Ward (Empire Builder), I play in Mandrake Shepherd who’ve just completed a 3 song Demo session at my house in the preperation for Studio Album.
“I’m rehearsing a new Band, tentatively called Mussel Memory, with two friends I’ve played with for years, Iban Perez (Tut Vu Vu, Sparkling Shadazz, Rags & Feathers) and Ben Ashton (L Casio Immunitas, Sparkling Shadazz) and we’re incredibly excited by the material we’ve garnered thus far. I’m preparing to release a split 10” and Download with fellow Glasgow Bedroom Savant, BLOOD BLOOD. We have a mutual appreciation for the processes we share and the slightly off-kilter side to each other’s songs.
“I’m also rehearsing a full band version of Pioneers Of Anaesthetc for some shows this Winter. The band will feature Paul Foley (Eva, Vaselines, Mandrake Shepherd), Gordon Farquar (Stapleton, Happy Particles), and Cliff Henderson (Larmousse).”
But all this other fruitful activity won’t mean a lessening of his creative work as Pioneers Of Anaesthetic.
“I am continuing my current exercise in high volumes of output. It’s what I call ‘Quantity Control’.
“The idea is that I limit myself to one hour to write and record each song. I feel that once an initial idea leaves your head, with every passing second - it’s being compromised and re-thought. I just want to try to minimize the interference I have with the imagination’s melody-writing process.
“Quite often, It makes me laugh out loud, as the stuff that comes out is nowhere near what I’d usually shape it into, but that’s got to be healthy.”
In 1979, rock singer Frankie Miller landed the lead as Jake McQuillan in Peter McDougall‘s brilliant play Just A Boys’ Game. It was an incredible piece of casting for what was one of the best dramas produced for British TV in the seventies.
Indeed, it is fair to say McDougall, along with Dennis Potter and David Mercer, wrote some of the greatest and most powerful dramas produced during this time:
There can be no better justification for the modus operandi of the BBC drama department of the 1960s and 70s than the discovery of Peter McDougall. The most original Scottish voice of the era, McDougall might never have been given a break at any other time in broadcasting history.
McDougall started work at 14 in the Clydebank shipyards, alongside Billy Connolly. After a few years, he left and moved to London, where he became a house painter. One day, while painting actor and writer Colin Welland’s house, the young McDougall impressed the future Oscar-winner with his tales of marching and mace throwing in an Orange Walk. Welland encouraged McDougall to write his story down, which became the Italia Prix-winning drama, Just Another Saturday:
Just Another Saturday was first broadcast on 7 November 1975, as part of BBC2’s Play For Today. Britain, then as now, was a place of great inequality. Sectarian troubles in Northern Ireland were at their height. Issues of Scottish independence/devolution were in the spotlight, with the collapse of traditional industries such as shipbuilding on the Clyde, and the associated poverty, mirrored by vast wealth promised from North Sea oil in Scottish waters.
The script, screenplay, direction, film stock, lighting, photography, sound recording and editing of Just Another Saturday combine to give an understated, real-life appearance; making the emotional impact of picture and dialogue all the more intense. The use of brief close-ups of very human details add hugely to the emotional effect; faces in the crowds tell, evocatively, of Scotland’s pride and sadness. Outdoor shots especially show powerful visual imagery. The Duncan Street violence is that much more disturbing because much of it is hidden from view.
The play is about beliefs and innocence, and the desire to escape. As Lizzie tells John, “at least you believe in something”; Dan despises all “the organisations” on both sides of the Glasgow Protestant/Catholic divide: he ridicules what he sees their moral hypocrisies, like “suffering for the cause”. There is pointed irony in the fact that the only injury John incurs over the whole day is from a confused drunk. Dan points out the divisions that the organisations cause and the many contradictions from Scottish history that make their positions absurd. His quiet socialist conviction is delivered with great pathos.
Director John Mackenzie was flabbergasted at McDougall’s raw talent, and claims the finished film barely contained a single change from the original draft of the script. However the Glasgow police blocked filming on a drama they feared would cause “bloodshed on the streets in the making and in the showing.”
There wasn’t bloodshed, but considerable outrage that McDougall had highlighted so many of Scotland’s ills. McDougall was undeterred by the controversy, going on to write: The Elephant’s Graveyard (1976), with Jon Morrison and Billy Connolly; Just A Boys’ Game (1979), with Frankie Miller, Ken Hutchison, Gregor Fisher and Hector Nicol; A Sense of Freedom, the story of Scotland’s notorious gangster, Jimmy Boyle: Shoot for the Sun (1986) with Jimmy Nail, and told the dark story of heroin dealers in Edinburgh; Down Where the Buffalo Go saw Harvey Keitel as US Marine stationed at Holy Loch naval base, and the slow disintegration of his life; and Down Among the Big Boys the story of a bank heist with Billy Connolly.
These days, McDougall’s work is rarely seen on TV, as those now in charge of drama commissioning are but mere “civil servants”, more interested in focus groups, audience figures and mediocrity, than genuine talent. It’s a shame, for McDougall is the best and strongest voice to have come out of TV over the past few decades.
McDougal’s Just a Boys Game is an equal to Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, and contains some of the finest performances put into a TV film - watch out for comedian, Hector Nicol’s sly performance as the elderly hard man, whose respect Miller wants to earn, as well as brooding Ken Hutchison (from Straw Dogs) as Dancer and a young Gregor Fisher (who later starred as Rab C. Nesbitt) as Tanza, and Katherine Stark as Jane. It is an brilliant, brutal and unforgettable film.
The astounding Just a Boys Game (Play for Today, tx. 8/11/1979), was another ‘play in a day’, pursuing hard man Jake McQuillan, whose life of alcohol, violence and emotional impotence is threatened by the arrival of a younger, razor-wielding thug. Jake’s casual ‘boys’ games’ ultimately result in the death of his only friend.
Featuring some of the strongest violence the BBC had ever dared broadcast, it was stunningly photographed by Elmer Cossey and featured McDougall’s most crackling dialogue and richest characterisations, all brilliantly evoked by a cast headed by blues singer Frankie Miller in a performance that melts the camera in its intensity.
Miller sadly suffered a brain hemorrhage in New York in 1994, while working on new material for a band with Joe Walsh of The Eagles. Miller spent five months in a coma, after which he went through rehabilitation. In 2006, Frankie released his first new material in almost twenty years, Long Way Home.
The rest of McDougall’s ‘Just A Boys’ game’ plus ‘Just Another Saturday’, after the jump…
In the Fall of 1982, Eric Bogosian traveled to Britain, where he performed in his two solo shows Men Inside and Voices of America. His tour took him from London’s ICA, through Cardiff, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Middlesborough, to Glasgow and Edinburgh, during the months of October and November , traveling with just one small suitcase of clothes, a black wool overcoat, and a selection of paperbacks to keep him company. Quite a feat at a time when things were organized without the advantage of the internet, emails, texts or mobile phones. It reveals much about Bogosian’s ambition and self-belief, as it does about his talents.
Bogosian had opened Men Inside and Voices of America that Fall, at the Martinson Hall in New York, where he was hailed as “the best performance artist I’ve yet seen,” by Valentin Tatransky in Arts Magazine. He had also been described as like “a man possessed, a medium, a schizophrenic,” by Sally Banes in the Village Voice, and as someone who could “perform the performer, and out-perform the performance artist,” in Flash Art.
At the time, I was a student, avoiding studies while editing the university magazine. How I’d heard about him, I can’t recall, a press release or flier most likely - my life back then seemed lived from the inside of an aquarium - knowledge, happiness, love and success were always beyond the glass. This disengagement with the external world might explain why I turned up late after his first show at the Third Eye Center, on Sauchiehall Street. Understandably, he was pissed, but I made my excuses and walked him back to his hotel on Cambridge Street, with arrangements to see and meet the following night in Edinburgh. These then are extracts from that interview.
Bogosian performed in a small stage area, surrounded by raised seating. He was imposing, for such a compact figure in black shirt, black pants. A bare stage except for one chair. Everything was suggested, created, from Bogosian’s physical presence. He walked onto stage and became a small child flying as Superman, talking to his father, mimicking adult bigotry before, shockingly, breaking into a stutter. So began the darkly comic Men Inside a carnival of souls from a troubled America - dysfunctional men, unable to interact with the world because of their bigotry and hate.
From Superman, Bogosian became a young man masturbating before declaiming his loneliness by saying “I love you” to a centerfold. Then on to a bored teenager, a stud, a bully, a sleaze-ball, a down-and-out, a Blood and Sword evangelist. It was loud, noisy and funny. Bogosian’s performance was as brilliant as his characters were low:
“Each character, each scene, flows into the next presenting different aspects of man gone wrong: his sexism, his racism, his hate.
It’s my effort on my part to try to communicate from a man’s point of view, trying to be sympathetic to men, saying this is how it happens, this is how a man ends up with these perspectives about women, about life - what can we do about it?
The thing I’m trying to lay out on women is the whole discussion of Women’s Liberation, Feminism, and the like, is all very complicated and that’s the first thing - it’s a complex issue, it’s not black and white. Women are perfectly justified in complaining about their situation, however, in different times men have also been put into situations that are not so great, the biggest one I can think about is certainly war.
War is Hell on Earth, and nobody should ever have to go through that. And of course, now, here in Great Britain people are thinking of the Falklands thing. I mean, it has to be thought about, if anything is sexist, it’s men should have to go off and die, that is sexist thing too. All I’m saying, we’re all people, let’s try and be a little sympathetic to each other, while we try to find out what exactly is going on.
I was in a restaurant on a Sunday morning in Vancouver, on tour, and I came in and had my breakfast around 10 o’clock in the morning, and there was all these men in the place, all by themselves: smoking a cigarette, reading a paper, eating a breakfast, looking kinda glum, kinda down. And these two couple came in, both in their sixties, and each guy was very dapperly dressed with his wife. And the women were happily chatting with each other and the men were sort of ushering their wives in. And you had a very strong feeling that these women were in some way protecting these guys, they were giving them something to do with themselves, yeah know. They weren’t like every other guy in this place, and you got the feeling that these guys were kinda looking across at these two couples, how these guys’ clothes were clean, their clothes were pressed, and how, how they had something to fucking do.
And all those other guys were just crumpled up pieces of paper. And here are these two guys, who because they stuck it out with a couple of marriages, now that they were in their sixties, had something to do. And somehow I wish people would admit this: that mean and women are different, and that for whatever reasons, whether they’re cultural or whatever, they are complimentary aspects of one another.
Bogosian was concerned that some of the Scottish audience was offended by certain aspects of his performance thinking they may have confused the views of the characters with the performer’s. After all, this was dangerous stuff to bring to a city more attuned to the Royal Lyceum’s revival of Noel Coward, than an act billed as a cross between Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor.
“I don’t expect anyone to be so critical about performance or experimental theater as I have been. I mean, it’s my life, it’s all I’ve been doing for the past 12-13 years, it’s all I’ve been doing - working in theater and complex theater. I don’t expect everyone who walks in off the street to understand about that - they’re taking it at face value, and they may not even notice the technique I’m employing.
For instance, the exotic dancer and the Led Zeppelin thing seem very alike, but their movements are very complex. You just can’t jump out and do that stuff, it’s all choreographed, and all rehearsed a lot, it’s just subtle. Someone might watch and go, ‘Hmm, not bad, that’s good movement.’ But not everyone’s going to understand that, what it’s about. They’re going to go ‘Ha-ha. look at that, he’s playing guitar,’ you know?
I can’t say if that’s something formal or theoretical in my work, it’s just something I’ve always done as an actor. It comes through from the inside. I don’t think any good actor can explain what happens when they become Someone. I become them totally and I know I’m inside them, and somehow it reads, and that’s the funny thing because at acting school they teach you how to relate what’s going on inside your head to what you look like outside. I don’t know what I look like, I’ve seen photos and stuff, but somehow what I look like is corresponding to what I’m feeling.
In a way that’s very direct and without any real training on it, I just hit the stage and it starts happening to me. But that’s just me, it’s like something I’ve got to my advantage, that I should make the best use of.”
The second half of the show was Voices of America a relentless tour of America’s airwaves, where every speaker, no matter how cheery or inane, seemed obsessed with death:
“If you had a choice to die from a nuclear holocaust (oh no!) or, a heroin overdose (oh wow!), which would you choose?” - ‘Voices of America’
This was all very much a hint of Bogosian’s Barry Champlain in Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio.
“Voices of America started out as a sort of finger exercise, so I could practice my voice, and it ended up as a piece.
At the time I was trying to get into advertising, so I made this demo tape of adverts and jingles and stuff, but the company thought it too cynical.
It’s very black. I’m interested in the way society’s fascinated with the lives of its stars and superstars, with its violence and consumption, its decadence.
Like how Keith Richard’s habits became published or how real death and real suffering are treated. How things are mass produced indifferently, and people’s suffering doesn’t come through, but is just forgotten.
Though I don’t think my philosophy or my ideas about anything are social or profound or anything, they’re just basic, mundane, liberal ideas, what we call liberal in America. It’s just like everyone else should be nice to everyone else, and how you can do it and go vote and I’m against the death penalty and for social programs. It’s just dumb stuff - I don’t mean these things are dumb - I mean I’ve got nothing to tell anybody that they shouldn’t already know. I’m just making stuff I’m interested in, it’s the piece I’m interested in - how can construct them and how can I act them out, it’s just all that stuff is in my head and it all might as well come out in the show, it might as well be there, as not be there.
And I know they’ll never put me on TV for saying these things, that’s the funny thing about it: I don’t think there’s anything radical about what I’m saying or doing, but they’ll never put me on a TV station saying this kind of stuff.
The current comedians in the States are just zany, they’re just crazy guys. Comedians with a conscience are not wanted in the mass media.
It’s just intuitive, a whole set of things are interesting to me, things that operate in my life. It’s like my face, if I get a nose job, and get my nose to be straight and my chin to be stuck out and stuff like that.
If I’m eloquent in expressing my particular set of perameters in my frame of mind they start to seem universal, or interesting or something like that, or, somebody at least might identify with them. I don’t start off with a theory and try to work it all out, it’s just that I try to express myself as best I can.”
Later, we walked out into the Georgian cobbled streets of Edinburgh’s New Town. It was late and cold, and the evening’s silence reminded us of our own past experiences of walking around empty streets at night listening for parties to crash.
Bonus clips of Eric Bogosian in performance, after the jump…
Upside Down: The Creation Records Story is a roller coaster of film, which tells the incredible tale of one of the most important independent record labels of the past fifty years - Creation Records.
This excellent film reveals how the gallus Glaswegian Alan McGee started the label with a £1,000 bank loan in the 1980s, and went on shape music in the 1980s and 1990s, as he made Creation home to such talents as The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Medicine, The Pastels, Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits, Super Furry Animals, The Boo Radleys, Saint Etienne, Momus, My Bloody Valentine, 3 Colours Red and Oasis - who were signed for £40,000.
McGee originally thought Liam Gallagher was the band’s drug dealer, as he told the Sun:
“I was up in Glasgow seeing my dad and I wasn’t sure I’d even go to the gig. I got there early by mistake. Oasis were on first, before most people arrived. There was this amazing young version of Paul Weller sat there in a light blue Adidas tracksuit. I assumed he was the drug dealer and that Bonehead, the guitarist, was the singer.
“It was only when they went on stage I realised it was the lead singer Liam Gallagher. I knew I had to sign them.
“Noel and I talked after the show and just said ‘done’ and he turned out to be a man of his word.
“I was lucky to be there. We didn’t send out scouts. Most of my signings were because I happened to see new bands. That couldn’t happen any more. If a new band as much as farts it’s all over the internet.”
It would be silly of me to introduce Divorce to a brand new audience, I feel, without also pointing people in the direction of the other relatively new Glasgow band that absolutely slays (in a punk fashion) - Ultimate Thrush. Being the day that’s in it, this can act as another special dedication to Kate and Harry. Perhaps this is a suitable soundtrack to the conjugal rituals that will take place in Buckingham Palace tonight?
Ultimate Thrush come from the same Glasgow School Of Art-influenced noise/d.i.y. nexus as Divorce, but have a very different approach. Comprising just one guitarist, one drummer and a lead screamer, they too make one hell of a racket but this time sound like a more math-rock take on the better bits of the Jesus Lizard. It should be noted that the drummer and guitarist are brothers, and are both incredibly good and incredibly tight.
Another band who have a dedicated mosh-pit following, Ultimate Thrush usually take to the stage dressed only in white sheets, and have been known to crucify their fans for the benefit of spectacle. Their stated aim on forming was to piss people off, but this backfired majorly as they are now one of the most popular live acts in the city. They have toured the UK and released a split tape with Divorce on Milk/Winning Sperm Party, and their debut 10 track EP on Winning Sperm Party is one of the best rock releases I have heard in the last 5 years. If you like punk/noise/thrash/Black Flag/Melvins/Sonic Youth I really can’t recommend it highly enough. As a taster, check out these two rehearsal clips:
You can listen to and download (for free) the debut Ultimate Thrush EP from Winning Sperm Party. If you want to hear more, I guess you could go to their MySpace.
What a beautiful day. The sun us shining, birds are singing in the trees, flags are fluttering in the breeze. It is, indeed, a nice day for a white wedding. And down in old London town, ancient rites of passage are being replayed as we, the British Nation, stand as one in mind, body and spirit to salute the dawning of a new era, the start of a new chapter in how we the common people are governed over by ancient power elites.
As the future king takes his bride-to-very-shortly-be up the aisle, I too would like to do my small (but perhaps significant) part in helping write this page of history. Tonight I shall be dressing as a priest and singing “Gett Off” at a gypsy wedding reception in Salford, but until then I will turning the volume up, banging my head, and revelling in the girl-powered noise glory of Glasgow’s Divorce.
Inspired to form at a gig by modern noise legends Aids Wolf, Divorce launched in 2008 with a core ratio of four girls to one boy, and a run of chaotic but highly energised gigs around the city. The mosh-pits they inspire are instantaneous and legendary, with as many women being thrashed about as men. The group released their first (self-titled) 10” single on the Optimo label in 2009, to considerable acclaim, and have gone on to release split singles with Comanechi and Ultimate Thrush. A full album was recorded and mixed for release in 2010, but was put on indefinite hold after the departure of the singer Sinéad and guitarist Hillary.
While this may seem like a career-ender for anyone less committed, Divorce have taken it in their stride, moved on and hired a new singer called Jennifer. There have been some new demos floating around on the net of this new line up (that sound great) and having seen Divorce mark II play I can confirm that they have lost none of their energy and connection with the crowd. Now, if only they can get their fingers out and finish another album, then we’d really have an excuse for the country to take a day off work, get blind drunk, and beat up anybody perceived to be even slightly different.
W/S of cranes and ships along the river and docks, tinged orange by winter’s twilight. City lights sparkle, the small theaters of tenement windows, the sound of distant traffic, blue trains rattling to the suburbs.
: Glasgow, 1963
Interior Night: The Lindella Nightclub. Wisps of smoke, tables along one side of room, a bar with a scrum of customers, eager to get drunk, enjoying themselves. Backstage - a band, The Gleneagles, are ready to go on. They can hear the audience getting restless. The bass player asks if everything is okay? Over the sound system, the voice of the compere introducing the band. This is it. A ripple of applause, a rush, then the band is on stage. At the rear, a young girl, who looks hardly in her teens, her hair bright red, sprayed with lacquer, and set in rollers. She has a cold, but smiles, and looks confident. A pause. She checks with the band. The audience are uneasy, mutter quick comments (“Away back to school, hen”). Laughter. Then 14-year-old Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie, opens her mouth and sings:
The voice is incredible. Little Richard, Jerry Lewis and The Isley brothers all rolled into this tiny figure at the front of the stage.
At the back of the room, a woman stands slightly away from the crowd, which is now mesmerized by the young girl’s singing. The woman is Marion Massey, and she will become Lulu’s manager.
: (V/O) When I was fourteen, I was very lucky. I was discovered - to use a terrible term - by a person who was absolutely sincere. Since I was five, people had been coming up to me saying: ‘Stick with me, baby, and I’ll make you a star’. In fact, nobody ever did anything for me. Then Marion came along.
CU of Marion watching Lulu perform.
: (V/O) She looked so peculiar that first time I saw her. Her hair was in curlers underneath a fur beret. She had a terrible cold, was very pale and wore three jumpers. But I was very intrigued by her. It wasn’t her singing;There was something tremendously magnetic about this girl. I knew she had the makings of a great star.
: London, 1964
Interior Day: Lulu performs on Ready Steady Go
More scenes from Lulu’s life co-starring David Bowie, Sidney Poitier, Maurice Gibb and Red Skelton, after the jump…
Back in the 1980s, when I had nothing better to do than watch TV and collect unemployment benefit, I saw a video of the artist Bruce McLean. It was shown as part of Channel 4’s art series Alter Image in 1987, and after watching, my first thoughts were: Who the fuck is Bruce McLean and what does he want?
I was lucky, I had time to go and investigate. In the library, I found this:
Maclean / McLean an Anglicisation of the Scottish Gaelic MacGilleEathain. This was the patronymic form of the personal name meaning “servant of (Saint) John”.
Interesting. But not quite right. Later, there was more.
Working in a variety of mediums including painting, film and video projection, performance and photography, Bruce McLean is one of the most important artists of his generation.
It was with live works that McLean first grabbed the attention of the art world. An impulsive, energetic Glaswegian, he became known as an art world ‘dare-devil’ by critiquing the fashion-oriented, social climbing nature of the contemporary art world in the ‘70s. At St Martins his professors included the great sculptors of the day, Anthony Caro and Phillip King, whose work he mocked ruthlessly. In Pose Work for Plinths I (1971; London, Tate), he used his own body to parody the poses of Henry Moore’s celebrated reclining figures, daring to mock the grand master himself.
Pose Work for Plinths (1971)
The notion of using his whole body as a sculptural vehicle of expression led him to explore live actions: ‘it was when we (a collective) invented the concept of ‘pose’ that We could do anything’. Pose was live sculpture: Not mime, not theatre, but live sculpture. My colleagues, Paul Richards, Ron Carr, Garry Chitty, Robin Fletcher and I created Nice Style ‘The World’s First Pose Band’, which performed for several years, offering audiences such priceless gems as the ‘semi-domestic spectacular Deep Freeze, a four-part pose opera based on the lifestyle and values of a mid-west American vacuum cleaner operative’. Behind the obvious humour was a desire to break with the establishment, something that he has continued to do throughout his life and work. In 1972, for instance, he was offered an exhibition at the Tate Gallery, but opted, for a ‘retrospective’ lasting only one day. ‘King for a Day’ consisted of catalogue entries for a thousand mock-conceptual works, among them The Society for Making Art Deadly Serious piece, Henry Moore revisited for the 10th Time piece and There’s no business like the Art business piece (sung).
Now, I knew. Bruce McLean is a performance artist, a conceptual artist, a painter, a sculptor, a film-maker, a teacher, a joker, who knows art can be fun, which is always dangerous.
Bonus clips, including Tate Gallery interview with Bruce McLean, after the jump…
Ivor Cutler was a poet, humorist, singer/song-writer, and performer, who was, by his own admission, “never knowingly understood.” Born into a Jewish middle-class family, in Glasgow’s south side, Cutler claimed his life was shaped by the birth of younger brother:
“He took my place as the center of the Universe. Without that I would not have been so screwed up as I am and therefore as creative. Without a kid brother I would have been quite dull, I think.”
He believed his younger brother had replaced him in his mother’s affections, this led Cutler to attempt bashing his brother’s brains in with a poker. Thankfully, an observant aunt stopped him. Soon his resentment to his two brothers and two sisters changed as he discovered music and poetry. At 5, he discovered politics after witnessing the bare-foot poverty of his school friends, and aligned himself to the Left thereafter.
After school, he worked at various jobs before he settled as a school teacher, teaching 7-11-year-olds music and poetry. His work with children inspired and reinforced his own unique view of the world:
He recalled how, in an art class, “one boy drew an ass that didn’t have four legs, but 14. I asked him why and he said it looked better that way. I wanted to lift him out of his cage and put my arms around him, but my intellect told me not to, which was lucky, because I probably would have been sent to prison.”
In the 1950s, Cutler started submitting his poetry to magazines and radio, and soon became a favorite on the BBC. His poetry was filled with “childlike wonder of the world”, created through the process of “bypassing the intellect.” He was, by his own account, a “stupid genius,” , as the London Times explained
Such genius derived from his ability to view life from the opposite direction to that taken by society, and his ability to empathise with the implications of that viewpoint, as in his one-sentence poem: “A fly crouching in a sandwich cannot comprehend why it has become more than ordinarily vulnerable.”
Cutler had a cult following of loyal fans, which included John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who cast him in their The Magical Mystery Tour film; DJ John Peel, who devotedly played Cutler’s releases; Morrissey and more recently Alan McGee and Oasis.
Ivor Cutler: Looking for Truth with a Pin was made shortly before Cutler died. The program has contributions from Paul McCartney, Robert Wyatt, Billy Connolly and Alex Kapranos, and is a fitting testament to the great man, who made life so much more fun. More interesting. More mysterious.
Admittedly, he might not be everyones cup of warmth, but as Cutler said himself:
“Those who come to my gigs probably see life as a child would. It’s those who are busy making themselves into grown-ups, avoiding being a child — they’re the ones who don’t enjoy it.”
I started reading Christopher Isherwood in my late teens, when I became a “paying guest” to an elderly spinster, who lived in an old tenement in the west end of Glasgow. She lived in the top floor apartment, where I rented the large front room, with a view onto the oval-shaped park below. My landlady was in her late seventies, bird-like, translucent skin, who whistled and took snuff in large pinches, sniffed from the back of her hand. She had inherited the apartment from her sister, and the interior had remained unchanged since the 1930s. The hallway with its bell-chimes for Maid, Bedroom 1, Bedroom 2, Parlor, and Dining Room, all still worked. In the kitchen was a range, and a small scullery with its fold-down bed, where the servant would have slept. Coal fires were in all of the rooms except mine. Of course, there was the occasional modern appliance, a TV, a one-bar electric fire, and an electric cooker, which was still in its plastic wrapping, and not to be used “under any circumstances”. Food was cooked over something that looked like a bunsen burner (what my landlady called “a blackout cooker”), and chilled products were kept in a larder. As for hot water, well that was never available, as the boiler was kept under lock and key, and toilet paper was sellotaped, to ensure I bought my own. The front door was locked at eight o’clock and the storm door bolted at nine. After ten, she never answered the door.
At the time, I was reading Goodbye to Berlin, which as you can imagine very much suited my surroundings. Like Isherwood’s character, Herr Issyvoo, I was surrounded by “the tarnished valuables and second-hand furniture of a bankrupt middle class.” A mantel-clock, a heavy glass ashtray, a green baize card table, orphaned figurines of a shepherd boy and shepherd girl, tending to their flocks, a large wooden bed (one leg broken) made in the 1920s. But perhaps, most significantly, was the fact my landlady had worked in Berlin as a furrier for a department store during the 1930s, and she often told me tales of her time in Germany. “Oh those Hitler Youth,” she once said, “Such smart uniforms, but the terrible things they did.”
At times it all made me feel as if I was living in Ishwerwood’s world, as in the evenings I would hear the whistles out in the park below. But unlike Herr Issyvoo, these were not young men calling up to their girlfriends, but dog owners calling to their pets.
The son of landed gentry, Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood was born in 1904, at the ancestral seat of his family, Wybersley Hall, High Lane, England. His father was an army officer, who was killed during the First World War. His mother, Kathleen, had a fractious relationship with her son, and she later featured in his stories.
At school he met and became life-long friends with W. H. Auden and Edward Upward. He attended Cambridge University, but found he had no interest in his studies, and was sent down for writing a facetious answer to an exam question. It was while at university that he became part of the famous literary triumvirate with Auden and Stephen Spender, who were hailed by the Left as “intellectual heroes.”
Instead of studying, Isherwood wrote an anarchist fantasy with Upward, centered around the fictional Mortmere:
...a village inhabited by surreal characters modelled on their Cambridge friends and acquaintances. The rector, Casmir Welken, resembles a ‘diseased goat’ and breeds angels in the church belfry; his sidekick Ronald Gunball is a dipsomaniac and an unashamed vulgarian; Sergeant Claptree, assisted by Ensign Battersea, keeps the Skull and Trumpet Inn; the mannish Miss Belmare, domineering and well starched, is sister to the squire, and Gustave Shreeve is headmaster of Frisbald College for boys.
Though none of the stories were published at the time (and Upward destroyed most of them later on), it was the start of Isherwood’s writing career, and led on to his first novel All the Conspirators in 1928.
Stifled by England, Isherwood followed in his friend Auden’s footsteps and moved to Berlin. It proved an historic re-location, one that inspired the first of Isherwood’s important novels Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin. Literature aside, Isherwood’s main reason for going to Berlin was “boys” - blonde, working-class youth.
Isherwood supported himself in Berlin by working as an English tutor, and he used this experience to form the basis for his Berlin stories, and the creation of his eponymous central character. “I am a camera,” Isherwood famously wrote at the start of Goodbye to Berlin, for he saw Herr Issyvoo as “unobtrusive, sexless,” someone who could only observe, and examine the lives of those around him. When later asked why he had not been more explicit about his character’s homosexuality, Isherwood said that if he had come out, then it would have been “a production,” something that would have “upset the apple cart” for the other characters. The poet Stephen Spender claimed Isherwood once claimed he couldn’t imagine how people behaved when he was not in the room.
During the 1930s, Auden and Isherwood wrote a series of plays together, The Dog Beneath the Skin, The Ascent of F6 and On the Frontier, which dealt with their own identities and the idea of masculinity as exemplified by a hero. They also traveled to China to cover the Sino-Japanese War, and published a diary of their exploits. It was this war that convinced Isherwood to become a pacifist.
Perhaps because of the horrors the pair had witnessed in the East, Auden and Isherwood traveled to America in 1939, just before the Second World War began. It was an event that led the two writers to be castigated as “cowards” and “deserters”, for leaving their country in its moment of need - as if Auden or Isherwood’s presence would in some way stop the advance of Germany. Auden stayed in New York, living in a house with the stripper and pulp writer, Gypsy Rose Lee, and novelist Carson McCullers; while Isherwood moved to the west and California, which he described as more “dreamy and strange”, more theatrical.
Here he reworked some of his Berlin stories, but he lacked the zest to keep him inspired. Like many other writers, Isherwood turned to Hollywood for financial security, but had the sense to realize he wasn’t “some great genius prostituting [himself]”:
“I always realized it was very good training, and it made you realize things that you often lose sight of, by getting so arty and literary, that is to say, the fundamentals of telling a story, and the very simple things of putting A before B, and B before C, and getting it all sorted out, and telling it in a direct visual way, and that is always you can learn by working for the movies, and it doesn’t matter what it is.
Auden thought it nice work if you can get it, and said “At least you sold dear what is most dear.” Isherwood scripted a Rage in Heaven (1941), starring Ingrid Bergman and Robert Montgomery and The Great Sinner (1949), starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. Later, in the 1960s, he co-wrote the screenplay, with Terry Southern, for the classic film version of Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One (1965), and then co-wrote, with Don Bachardy, a memorable take on Mary Shelley’s gothic horror, Frankenstein the True Story (1973), with James Mason, Michael Sarrazin,Jane Seymour and David McCallum.
During all this time, he continued to write novels, most notably Prater Violet, based on his first dealings with film-making and the rather brilliant, but under appreciated, Down There on a Visit. On a more personal level, in 1953, he met Don Bachardy, the man who became his life-long partner.
In the sixties, Isherwood achieved considerable success with his “devastating, unnerving, brilliant book” about middle-age, A Single Man. The novel’s central character George, is like Isherwood, and describes a day in his life, when he no longer fears annihilation but survival, and all the debilitating side affects old age will bring. Isherwood said the book was about:
“...middle age, because what I wanted to show was the incredible range of behavior in middle age, part of the time on eis quite tending towards senility, and other times one is rash that is way a way boyish, and apt to indulge in lots of embarrassing behavior, at the drop of hat.”
In the 1970s, Isherwood returned to the Berlin of his youth with his autobiographical memoir Christopher and His Kind, it was a crowning achievement to a literary career that had already delivered at least three or four of the twentieth century’s best novels.
Gore Vidal has said Isherwood is “the best prose writer in English,” which is perhaps true, as Isherwood’s writing is subtle, clever, and is always fresh, even after repeated readings.
This documentary A Single Man: Christopher Isherwood 1904-1986 wa smade not long after his death and composed from a selection of interviews from British TV from the 1950s-1970s.
For fans of Isherwood, the BBC has just completed a drama Christopher and his Kind, adapted form Isherwood’s book, starring Matt (Doctor Who) Smith in the title role, which will be broadcast later this year. Further information can be found here
The rest of ‘A Single Man: Christopher Isherwood 1904-1986’, after the jump…
Michael Prince‘s photographs of the last days of the George Hotel, capture the faded elegance of this once famous location, now sadly replaced by anonymous shops. The pictures were taken in the spring of 1998, just months before the Hotel stopped accepting bookings and closed its swivel-doors for the last time. Michael is a Glasgow-based director and photographer, who has now collected these historic photographs together in a book called Goodnight George.
Situated at the top of the city’s Buchanan Street, the George Hotel kept its doors open for 162 years of business, offering accommodation to actors, performers, the rich and not so famous. Stan Laurel stayed here when he performed at the city’s Britannia Panopticon Theatre, just before he left for America, as did Cary Grant (then just Archie Leach) and later Joan Crawford. The hotel was known as the “nearest”, for it was handily situated between the main points of entry into the city, and ideally placed for all of Glasgow’s theaters. At one time it had over a 100 staff, including twenty-two chefs in its kitchens.
Things change, and by the late nineteen-seventies the George fell in to disuse, and its owner, Peter Fox, a former ballroom champion, let its rooms out to the homeless and unemployed. By the nineteen-nineties, the building’s faded grandeur proved an attraction to film-makers and promo directors. It was amongst these rooms that key scenes for Trainspotting (the scenes in the circular hotel room doubled for London, where the drug deal takes place) and The Big Man (Liam Neeson getting his rocks off) were filmed.
I lived here, on-and-off, from 1996, moving room-to-room, often as the hotel’s only tenant (apart from Mr Fox), until the George closed its doors in 1998. It was a great place to live, with 4 floors, six unused bars, a large kitchen, smoking rooms, a cocktail lounge, and a dance parlor, where a few club nights were had. After it closed, the interior was demolished and replaced with retail units, like Virgin Records. Where once I laid my head is now pop, and my feet, country and western, which is a shame, as the George should have been Glasgow’s answer to the Chelsea Hotel.
More of Michael’s work can be viewed here, and his book Goodnight George is available here.
More of Michael Prince’s photographs, after the jump…
The novelist Ewan Morrison came to prominence in 2005 with his excellent collection of short stories The Last Thing You Read. Since then, Morrison has written three novels, Swung, Menage and Distance, which are amongst the best new fiction published in the UK over the past decade, and if you haven’t already, do go read him.
Ewan’s a clever man, a former TV Producer and Director, who has now created Tales from the Mall, a project he describes as ‘a book of short stories and facts about shopping malls, it’s a compilation of aural history and urban folklore; it’s also an ongoing video project. It might turn out to be a new kind of book app.’
Over the past few months, Morrison has been interviewing staff at various malls thru-out Scotland and the north of England - cleaners, car park attendants, retail agents, designers, town planners and security guards:
‘...recording their tales, confessions and anecdotes and on the way discovering a lot about how the modern world actually works and how consumerism effects and transforms people on a subconscious level.
‘People actually love shopping, and hate themselves. The two things are connected.’
He has compiled this information into short stories, some of which he has made into animated video clips. Now, in an exclusive interview with Dangerous MInds, Ewan discussed his thoughts, ideas and ambitions for Tales from the Mall:
‘I know that Malls sound boring - it must seem a bit like writing about airport terminals or trains stations, but it’s not. Malls are, it turns out, one of the most important subjects in the world. They are really the homes for the worlds leading multinational corporations and are portals to the non-space of globalisation.
‘Malls create cultural conformity and eat away at the values and traditions in all countries they move into. They also spread virus like. GAT, NAFTA, the IMF, the World Bank – these international trade and loan agreements are all about malls. “We will give you this billion dollar loan on the condition that you privatize certain tracts of land and facilitate these corporations” – that’s how Malls spread.’
This spread has been aided by recent political and cultural events.
‘Since the fall of the Berlin Wall the developing world has been hit by a shopping mall pandemic, while ironically in the US malls have started dying-out at capital moves east and the US landscape has surpassed the point of retail saturation. The UK jumped on the bandwagon in the Thatcher era, and now is building new malls to deal with the problems caused by malls.
‘Malls are not just places where some people shop. Malls are all about temp labor and sweatshops and unsustainable resources being repackaged into cycles of planned obsolescence. Malls are about the artificial manipulation of desires and the expansion of sexualised youth culture into our daily lives. They are about making everything including people, increasingly disposable. They are about living on credit and working in repetitive jobs that make you desire an escape. You see, this is fascinating.’
From his many interviews, Morrison has uncovered what he describes as some “astounding” things. For example, the “check-out girls” or “till Jills” suffer from high instances of deja-vu and amnesia; mall car parks are often used as a “try-out space” by some transvestites; malls have even become a safe, go-between space for divorced parents to hand the kids over to each other on restricted visitation times.
‘I’ve also come up with a theory about how consumerism is encouraging divorce, and how the sexualisation of retail has resulted in malls being magnets for extreme behaviors.
‘These are important facts of recent history, which can only really be told through the medium of storytelling. I’ve quite simply been retelling other peoples tales, in much the same way Dave Eggers did with Zeitoun.’
But Morrison has been doing more than re-telling tales, he has also invited stories, poetry and videos from the public, via his site and through The List magazine, all of which have been ‘eye-opening, very telling and moving.’
‘One is about losing virginity, another is about losing a child, another is about shoplifting, and another still is a poem inspired by a mall fountain. I’d like to get more of these coming in.
‘Doing this project shown me the hundred small ways that people resist and modify consumerism in positive ways every day, even those at the bottom of the pecking order who clean up other peoples crap from shopping mall floors. Some of the funniest and deepest tales have come from cleaners and car park attendants. The biggest discovery of all is that mall workers have really funny, dark stories to tell, and that storytelling is a really big part of how they make their anonymous, repetitive jobs bearable.
‘So as well as stories that I’ve re-told, and a few I’ve made up, the idea is to have a book- as-portal, which has at its core nine key stories (named after retail outlets) and around that people can contribute their own mall tales into a growing archive which is open ended and open access.’
This possibility of an app for the project means the book ‘would keep growing over the years as new audio, video and written material comes in from other people. After a decade the thing could be immense.’
‘The idea however is not to castigate, critique or damn shopping malls. but to treat them as a culture in much the same way that historians and archivists treat dying tribes or folk songs. I’d originally thought that Malls might prove barren ground – that really consumerism is empty and has no stories to tell – but I turned out to be wrong. There’s an amazing diversity and richness in people’s mall tales.
‘Over time I realised I wanted to dig out the history of malls and how they’ve come to dominate the globe, and it turned out no-one had actually compiled a decent and readable history yet. So that too has become part of the project.
‘The history of the mall is really the history of American style capitalism. On the local level, I was amazed how the self identity of my city - Glasgow - is blind to it’s own reality. People from Glasgow still tend to look back with nostalgia’s soft focus to the days of heavy industry on the River Clyde. The fact is that Glasgow has had a life post-post industrial decline. It is perhaps because Glasgow is so full of old communists that the reality has not been accepted – Glasgow is now the UK’s leading mall city. It has the second largest amount of retail space per head, next to London; it has five vast malls, one on each of its tributary roads. Its central street is the only one in the UK that has a mall at either end, which makes it “the seventh largest retail avenue in the world”. So part of my project has been to own-up to the fact that Glasgow is incredibly consumerist, and to find out how the city came to be like this and how it operates. How it effects people.’
Ultimately, Morrison believes the mall will die out:
‘I predict that Malls will start shutting down in the UK, as they have done in the US, and also that we will start to see malls targetted with violence, vandalism and political demonstration in the coming years of austerity– as people look for a representative symbol to blame and attack. Bricking a building is easier than attacking a brand logo. Malls in Europe will burn, as the department stores they put out of business burned back in the late 80s.’
If you have any stories, comments or would like more information about Tales from the Mall then check here.
John Butler’s superb latest animation T.R.I.A.G.E. is a speculative tale showing how:
A sick and failing area is swiftly restored to sound financial health
T.R.A.G.E. is an acronym for
Of course, triage is “the process of determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity of their condition.” With this in mind, any similarities between actual events is purely intentional.
Bonus animations by John Butler ‘Unmanned’ and ‘Sub Optimal’ after the jump…
In 1993, Scottish artist Douglas Gordon exhibited his 24 Hour Psycho, a slowed-down screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film that lasted twenty-four hours. The project contained “many of the important themes in Gordon’s work: recognition and repetition, time and memory, complicity and duplicity, authorship and authenticity, darkness and light.”
In 2005, talented artist Chris Bors created his own version of the film and art work, but this time as 24 Second Psycho.
24 Second Psycho appropriates the entire Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho and condenses it into twenty-four seconds. Tweaking the concept of artist Douglas Gordons 24 Hour Psycho, where Hitchcocks masterpiece was slowed-down to a crawl, here the process is reversed to accommodate society’s increasingly short attention span. Seeing Hitchcocks most lasting contribution to cinema flash before your eyes in a matter of seconds represents our new information age where culture is packaged for easy consumption at a breakneck pace.
Bors work has been exhibited at PS1 MoMA, White Columns, Sixtyseven and Ten in One Gallery in New York, Casino Luxembourg in Luxembourg, and the Videoex Festival in Zurich, Switzerland.
Also over on You Tube, Joe Frese has created a variety of mini masterpieces, including his own Sixty Second Psycho.
Bonus clip Joe Frese’s ‘Sixty Second Psycho’, after the jump…