Everybody in the Place

As each generation enshrines the culture of our youth with significance, we are mourning our own lives. Youthful optimism preserved in amber.

I remember these parties and these people. This is the era that formed me. Seeing the culture through the eyes of a new generation is important. Humbling. Watching these kids watch Ron Hardy and Spiral Tribe like artefacts from another dimension feels moving in a way I’m struggling to convey.

There‘s been a litany of docs reminiscing about how fun and silly it all was, the colours and the gurning, but few have questioned the roiling currents beneath the hedonism.

God it was fun. At least for a bit. And it felt so important. Like the world was about to change. Like new paths were possible for us. Vans. Benders. Sites. Trucks. Only for a moment. Before we seemed to get sidelined by capitalism and money and property again. As before and so again.

Seeing this part of me through the prism of these kids. And how those paths don’t seem remotely possible to them. This feels so important. And sad. Bittersweet and optimistic.

Thanks Jeremy. Juan. David. Larry. Francois. Ron. So many Rons. All them cats too innumerable to list.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000777d

Underground

Second piece about Samantha Whates' Waiting Rooms album for the wonderful people at Elsewhere.

It’s hard to believe Samantha ever recorded in here. Sneaked in after hours by game TFL staff and adrenalin. A four piece band, recording engineer and filmmaker. Laden. A full kit. Ad hoc power supply daisychained up the steps from the opposite platform office. The bash of drums reverberating around this tiny glass and brick quadrangle in the dead of night and rain, as empty ghost trains howled past the station windows throughout. The first time music has been recorded live on the network, and perhaps not completely legally so lets hurry past the specifics.

In her own estimation it’s not her strongest take. She can hear the cold and the wet and the hour in her vocal. For me it’s everything this project is and more. It’s hard. It’s brave. It’s exposing. It’s romantic as hell sure but it’s real. And cold. And stinks of people, both real and imagined.

This is a haunting, harrowing recording in an oddly beautiful, austere, Art Deco station on the very periphery of the city limits. Suburbia. Commuter belt. A twin hulled concrete space ship perched precarious atop the perimeter. Ballardian dreams of hope and regret. The constant rumble of those empty commuter trains full of broken dreams is audible, rolling in and out throughout.

Recording this album has been an adventure, inhabiting and reinterpreting sometime public spaces in a totally honest and genuine way. On arrival here there was no power supply and the damp stench of it. Frankly it’s a horrible place. And it still stinks of piss. But that’s London, and that's real life. Embued with stark lines, crittal windows and the utopian ideasm of the 30’s, joined by a filthy dimplex heater maybe 50 years later, it’s grilled cover charred and warped. Someone’s twitter handle scrawled on with a marker pen perhaps 30 years later still.

How many people have sat right here? How many countless mornings of thought, apprehension, worry, elation have people sat and lived on these municipal wooden benches. No one seems to use these waiting rooms anymore. Are we too busy. Are the trains too frequent. Do we ever just stop to think, to wait. Does any body have time, or inclination, patience. We poke and prod our lives away, cloying away the time. Averting our gaze. Avoiding the inevitable.

Perhaps it’s me they’re avoiding. The dishevelled guy taking photos of heaters, riding the rails like a zone 6 hobo. It’s nice out here. The carriages are mostly empty, the windows wide angle panorama of rolling fields and woods call to me, as I scan for birds and big cats, idly transecting the m25 like the psychogeographer of cliche.

E Mare Libertas

Amidst the turbid wastes, rusting

apparitions pepper the gloom.

Last vestiges of empire

stand sentinel for a forgotten foe.

No response to their radios home.

Their moot calls heard by gulls alone.

Strutting, squabbling, ambivalent gulls.

Years pass. Decades. Millenia.

Old friends fade away.

Stranded in Doggerland creeping to shore,

long lost sons shall some day make landfall.

Our old war stories needn’t be understood to feel loved.

Only heard.

Prove you’re not a robot

The terrifying realisation that we’re on the outs. And we’ve all been training the hive mind.

Tapping away, tinkering and tweeting, toying and talking, changing our passwords, forgetting our logins, selecting the squares that contain storefronts, and traffic lights and buses.

Prove you’re not a robot.

As the robot wakes. Watches. Waits. The robot never forgets.

Slowly surely this anthropocene will fade. Whatever inhospitable mess is left. The googlecene. The cybercene.

Your self driving car will not stop until you are dead.

Death From Above

To the woods today, emblazoned in damp and amber. Searching a stash of magical balm. To soothe my heart and quell my woes.

Soul so leaden, lonely, atomised. Scruffy ducks and pied crows. Wattle and daub. Splish splosh. Dogshit and storm clouds augur grimly.

That escalated quickly !

Low to the ground curled up in a ball saying I don’t want to die now as lightning streaked around me.

Beneath a tree is the worst place. And the only place to hide. Seared branches. No Mississippis. Armouries of hail.

Glad to be alive.

Armchair Psychogeographer

The wilds of the ancient forest. Only 3 stops from home.

In borrowed trainers I set out for the treeline. Out along the marshy plain, the boggy Ching bubbling between my toes. Cold and squelchy, a mile into the deep topographical adventure of my whimsies, a slipshod rambler out of step with my terrain.

I dream of drawing comics about landscape and place, but I haven’t made them. Not really. I’ve had a go. A half go.

Easily distracted, as I stumble through the woods grasping my phone. Looking at maps and paths. Trying to google specific trees of note as I’m literally surrounded by them.

And then I see something, a muntjac in a little glade. And I stop for a moment. And remember to just stop. And look.

Dunoon

Singer and songwriter Samantha Whates has recorded her forthcoming album entirely on location in a series of waiting rooms; some active, some abandoned, trains, buses, hospitals, ferries, care homes. The album will address themes of loss and waiting, of transition and time passing in transient spaces.

The first recording took place in Dunoon in Scotland, a stunning Victorian ferry waiting room on the inner Hebridean island of Argyll and Bute; the second overnight in an art deco waiting room at one end of the tube line; the third took place in Great Ormond Street Hospital with a full band in the public waiting room on a busy Sunday ...

I’ve been researching and writing about each location. Here is the first piece, about the recording at Dunoon in May 2018. Featured on my favourite blog about Place and Landscape Elsewhere.

We're all waiting. Everybody waits. Hospitals. Train stations. Airports. Life itself is a waiting room. In writing and recording her new album entirely in waiting rooms Samantha Whates has tapped into something vital, universal, and as the country creaks and lurches towards who knows what, something urgent and essential.

I set off with Samantha to scope out a former ferry terminal waiting room on a Victorian pier in Dunoon on the Isle of Bute. Gulls swooped and circled as we loitered, ourselves waiting for the harbourmaster to arrive and let us through the padlocked gates. Just as we began to worry we had the wrong day a member of the crew arrived, all hi-vis and friendly bustle. As he led us over the gangplanks towards the turrets and timbers of this strikingly restored space, Ian regaled us with tales of the great paddle steamers that would ferry Glaswegian holiday makers across the Firth of Clyde from the 1800's right up until the 60's, the wild Saturday night parties he'd DJ at here in the 80's. Only afterward I learned this town had a US nuclear submarine base around that time, it's location a faintly obscure Harvey Keitel movie, and imagine raucous squaddies quarreling on these boardwalks. With the fall of the Soviet Union the navy moved on, the base closed and along with much of this little town these rooms fell into disrepair and ruin, awaiting its next chapter.

Recently refurbished and completely renovated into its new incarnation as a local community centre and civic attraction, the freshly painted walls sing back at us with reverb and history as Samantha tests the sound of this space.

Ian leaves us to it to check the fittings and the sockets and the practical repercussions of using this place as a recording location. Beyond accessibility and acoustics, the navigation of bespoke bureaucracy and email tennis, one of the challenges facing Samantha is sheer logistics: aligning the calendars and itineraries of geographically disparate musicians and their instruments into remote locations.

"One of the songs we recorded here Sailors has been arranged for Shruti - Lute - Voice. We went on the ferry from just outside Glasgow with all our recording gear and instruments including a double bass! It felt so in keeping with the songs we choose to record there - something about the journey on the ferry looking out to the water and seeing the pier appearing in the distance. Knowing it was the first recording - I really got into the feeling of the start of the journey. Where all these songs came from. Something about putting the songs back to the source of where they were written - the sentiment and emotions felt through the subject of these songs feels so much clearer when you're on your way to these rooms to go back to that feeling and record them...."

I've been researching and writing about these buildings as part of my involvement in this project, but right now I just loiter and listen, looking out at the circling gulls over the grey waters beyond as the lilting sound of Samantha's guitar and voice stirs life and warmth back to these old rooms, summoning the ghosts of holidays, labourers, sailors and fisherman who've watched these same waters from this spot for the past hundred and fifty years or more, waiting for a bite, a sign, a passing moment.

My reverie is curtailed by Ian's sudden return. "I'm sorry to cut you off I gotta deal with that boat."

And we are hustled back out into the world as he runs to greet the next ferry's arrival. This is a port and he's on shift.

Time and tide wait for no one.

Climate of Envy

I’m so happy to see climate change finally being discussed. The frightening combination of plummeting insect numbers and subsequent vanishing bird populations is suddenly in our discourse. The cultural conversation. Leading news bulletins. Radio 4 interviews. Guardian think pieces.

It’s long overdue and deeply important.

A raft of artists and public figures have put their name to a public letter drawing direct connections between the wonder of birdsong and their own creative practise. It’s not an open letter; it’s a public letter. To warrant inclusion to such an esteemed forum entails a degree of recognition I don’t, and begrudgingly only now am I beginning to reluctantly accept, probably won’t possess.

There are 78 names on the list. Which doesn’t seem like many to me. It’s a well intentioned and oddly moribund list, from national treasure to local scenester.

Here really lies the crux of my dilemma. As heartening as it is to hear Sam Lee on front row, extolling the joys of his beautiful paean to birdsong with inimitable charm, and the very public campaigns of household names against netting and habitat destruction tweeting their way into public awareness, there’s part of me that feels cheated, duped, overlooked.

I should feel elated. Instead I feel, ridiculously, childishly green with jealousy.

Why wasn’t I asked ?

Why does no-one want to see my birds?

My human ego is the real problem here, and wasn’t it ever thus. In the last year I have engaged in submission and conversation with the BFI, Arts Council England, Random Acts, the local wetlands, the RSPB and various others, as I’ve hoped in vain to scrabble together enough money and time to make an animation about swifts, their migrations, their precariously magical fragile airborne lives, dancing at the edge of the sublime.

My employer, an animation studio of some renown, has no interest in supporting films that address climate concern outside of typical advertising budgets. My newly heralded local borough of culture has resources aplenty for the reappropriation and presentation of locally popular Victorian wallpaper magnates but precious little for 20th century animators with 21st century concerns.

And herein lies my real dilemma: do I really care about the plight of birds, the swifts, the sandpipers, these most delicate of eco systems.

All the things I profess to care about. Or do I really only care about myself. My sense of feeling cheated, overlooked, excluded.

What a terrible, selfish, oh so fitting human response to something genuine and real and horrifying and true, the extinction that will claim us all:

career envy.

Swifts looping