Sunday, 31 January 2016

Poem: 'A DIFFERENT KIND OF LOVING'



A DIFFERENT 
KIND OF LOVING/ 
LES POMMES MASSACRÉES 


her breath smells of French movies (Godard?)
a strange drug, an Indian take-away; she squats
forward, speaking past me, speaking past me,
nipples shimmer cinematically in green light,
hair frowning sideways ‘I’m HERE, on THIS bed
 – my room within the extra-normal parameters of
fuck-faced Harrogate & I’m on this R-E-A-L-L-Y
good blow, right? tripping, y’know? I’m
looking in the mirror & I see all these people
coming out at me, right? & these people,
they’re all ME! You know what I’m saying…?’
Clive rolls a pipe from Bacofoil, squints thru
blurry numbness, Sanyo double-drumming from
2 speakers siding the bed level with her nipples,
a body-language that’s by-passing the brain,
‘…Isle of Wight it was – BUT LISTEN! some
REALLY good acid (TALK TALK TALK TALK)
watching the sun go down over the Needles,
& it was ‘DARK SIDE OF THE MOON’ on play,
& it was… like, WOW! ...just so beautiful…’
A dog snorting pilau rice, tail lashing,
luminous green LCD pulsing in the Sanyo,
guests in prison-photo poses, zomboid eyes,
I’ve been through this post-gig party before,
this party before, party before, before, be-4.
From the double-glaze I see Clive’s Mobile Home
asquat the verge, Richard out cold in the back,
the dog-hairs & roaches, the cul-de-sac shrubs
neatly pacing this terminal Harrogate UKIP-zone.
Ian (?) leans into dog-licked polystyrene tray,
thumbs a bean-sprout up, she’s watching from
the duvet-cover, tits shimmering cinematically
green – ‘do you do acid, Andy?’, her breath smells
of French movies (Beatrice Dalle in ‘Betty Blue’?),
odd, I was at THIS party clear through ’68-’72, in
‘Seaview’ Barnsley (no sea, no view) & every-elsewhere,
the stuff was oozing outta the walls, the air heat-dancing
with internal rainbows (TALK TALK TALK TALK)
s’where I first heard all these stories; ‘R-E-A-L-L-Y
good blow, right?/ watching the sun go down/ looking
in the mirror/ over the Needles/ people coming out
at me’ – like some triggered sequencer echo on
diminishing decay, some shared race memory eroded
with repetition, some tele-pathetic chem-raddled
tribal vibe, a collective myth like the regurgitated
taste of Indian take-aways, leaking down decades…
this is a Robert Crumb cartoon brought out like a
faded tourist snap from Benidorm… It was me,
I saw that FIRST mirror. I saw that FIRST sunset.
I also saw the hair on the back of her hands, the
rats hung in the freezer unit, the goldfish drowning.
Ian’s chewing dog-licked bean-sprouts contemplatively,
trailing punchlines, ‘y-e-a-h, wow, right, I know
what you’re saying. And hey, did I tell you?…
Isle of Wight it was… BUT LISTEN!!!’


Published in:
‘KNICKERS: BOGGERS ALL no.3’
(UK – December 1995)
and in my collection:
‘POWER LINES’
(Unibird Publications) (UK – October 1988)


Saturday, 30 January 2016

Autobiography: BOBBY WOMACK 'The Poet's Story'




BOBBY WOMACK: 
 ‘THE POET’S STORY…’

Book Review of: 
‘MIDNIGHT MOVER: 
MY AUTOBOGRAPHY’ 
 by BOBBY WOMACK 
(John Blake Virgin Books - £17.99 - 
ISBN 1-84454-148-7) 

 Bobby Womack: 4 March 1944 - 27 June 2014 


The cover-sticker proclaims ‘The True Story Of The Greatest Soul Singer In The World’. Well… yes, since by then Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown were all gone, that was probably true. Bobby Womack was the last of the muscular old-style gritty blue-collar R&B shouters, from an era before the genre sophisticated into insipid vacuous gloss. But he was always more than just that. Sure, he had hits. And they were superb hits. But he was also a hugely prolific session musician and accomplished songwriter who played on so many super-cool records, and wrote more classic tracks than you could shake a funky tail-feather at.

The Rolling Stones first ever no.1 UK single “It’s All Over Now” was his, check the credits in brackets beneath the title. And “Midnight Mover” – which titles this playful autobiography, is another – a defining smash for Wilson ‘The Wicked Wicked’ Pickett. And it’s a great great story related with wit and humour, rich with highly entertaining anecdote and a wealth of insightful pen-portraits of the giants of Soul. Try the passage about the brothers catching a dose of clap from a white whore, and Solomon Burke’s terrifying fatherly advice about how to cure it!

Bobby was born 4 March 1944, a Pisces in Cleveland Ohio, one of five brothers so poor they grubbed through garbage cans for discarded pig’s tails, pigs’ snouts, ears and ox-tails, his father – Friendly Womack, even declaring ‘fasting days’ when they had no food at all. The Womack brothers began singing by mimicking their father’s inept ‘Voices of Love’ vocal group behind their backs. Until his father bartered a guitar in exchange for giving four free haircuts. Risking a beating, while Friendly was out, Bobby learned to play it left-handed, with the guitar upside-down, learning his style by listening to Floyd Cramer – a piano-player! Soon, the results of his first-ever recording sessions with his brothers were ‘stolen’ and released under a bogus name – ‘the record business started screwing me then and hasn’t stopped screwing me since’ he adds ruefully.

Their next singles were done for Sam Cooke’s SAR indie-label, the second – “Lookin’ For A Love” as the Valentinos sold two million, rewritten by Bobby around an old gospel tune. His father promptly disowned them for selling out to the devil’s music. Schmoozing his way into playing a Dean Martin session – and getting thrown out for his pains, Bobby wound up playing on Sam Cooke’s 1962 hit “Twisting The Night Away” instead. Nevertheless, this burgeoning career ran aground when the man he called ‘my mentor, a second father’ was shot dead in a Motel 11 December 1964, and within three months Bobby married Sam’s widow. He was just turned twenty-one, she was ten years older. The troubled marriage, entered more out of loyalty to Cooke, was violently resented by both families, by fans and record industry insiders. Bobby began using coke to escape the pain.


He got a call from Ray Charles, and toured with his band, but quit because he was terrified by Ray’s habit of piloting the tour-plane himself! He did session-work at Chip Moman’s ‘American Studio’ which brought him into contact with the greatest artists of the era, Joe Tex and Jackie Wilson. He played on Aretha’s ‘Lady Soul’ (1968) and ‘Dusty In Memphis’ (1969). Previously unimpressed by Elvis, he found himself overawed by the King’s charisma when he played the “Suspicious Minds” sessions. Then, dubious about the white boy Jerry Wexler called in for another recording date, he found that Eric Clapton played more authentic Blues guitar than he did! Bobby toured with the violently confrontational Wilson Pickett, but had to fill his own debut solo album – August 1968’s ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, with covers because he’d given all his own songs to Pickett.

He went through the coke-fuelled madness of Sly Stone’s ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’ (1971), emerging ‘too broke up to work’. He even faked blindness as an avoidance strategy to get out of playing live. Stevie Wonder called round to offer his sympathies. Bobby watched him through the fraying strands of his fake eye-bandages. His next record project was to be a C&W album he titled ‘Step Aside Charley Pride Give Another Nigger A Try’, until the distraught label changed it, and then dropped him.

To Bobby, ‘my view was, I wasn’t a guy you could put in a bracket’. Yet despite much hilarious absurdity, the music flowed, he toured and recorded with the Faces and the Rolling Stones. Until his album ‘The Poet’ (January 1982) provided his major break-through into the big-time, and it’s classic defining Soul, even though record company politics ensured he would never receive his just rewards from its success. ‘I’m a legend’ he acknowledges wryly ‘not a rich legend’. For anyone with a passion for sixties music, for Soul and R&B, there’s a wealth of it here. Even if you don’t like Soul music and never heard of Bobby Womack, this book is still a wonderful trip.

www.blake.co.uk

 An expanded version of a review published in:
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.3’
(May/June 2007)


Friday, 29 January 2016




Book Review of: 
AND NOBODY LIVED 
HAPPILY EVER AFTER 
by KATE FARRELL 
(Parallel Universe Publications, 2015, 
ISBN 978-0-9932888-8-3. 186pp)


The colour of pain is white. The text is black. The balance works immaculately. “Mea Culpa” is an everyday tale of domestic violence, the psychological interplay of victim and perpetrator, until the final paragraph rips your head around, rethinks your every assumption, and sends you zapping back to the opening line to check out details you missed. Originally published in Charles Black’s 2011 ‘The Eighth Black Book Of Horror’ (Mortbury Press) it proved a startling debut for Edinburgh-resident Kate Farrell. Then there’s “Waiting”, which I first encountered in the anthology ‘Kitchen Sink Gothic’ (Parallel Universe, 2015), it gossips along with an unerring ear for voice and dialect, moving through meticulously-observed dialogue which makes you wait until the very last line for the almost-casually delivered kick in the head that leaves you reeling. So obvious, yet so lethal it stings.

As Reggie Oliver’s personalised introduction explains, Kate’s theatrical sense of structure and character-interplay may derive from her thirty-year thespian back-story, ‘dressed up as somebody else’ playing from Chekhov to ‘Chucklevision’, with supporting roles to the likes of Roy Kinnear or Anthony Quayle in national theatre productions during the Thatcher years. Unimpressed by the luvie tendency, and by the unpredictabilty of tours, she begins sketching out her own subtle bite-size dramas of sinister nastiness. In which yes, nobody does live happily ever after.

Seldom supernatural, and yet riddled with an air of tangible evil, these playlets chart the macabre results of perfect three-year-old Martha “Helping Mummy” deal with spiteful toddler brother Adam, each small minutia of detail snared in carefully calibrated phrases building inexorably towards horror. Or the starkly mythic rural haunting of “A Murder Of Crows” punctuated by the silver ice-picks of pain. The vicious vengeance inflicted on the ‘No Junk Mail’ harridan, the fate of the hideously-disfigured former-sixties model, the lethal extremes to which twins Nic and Anton go to avoid the sheer embarrassment of their self-made Bob Hoskins-alike “Dad Dancing”. The smugly evil paedophile priest.

There’s also the original version of teenage-misfit “My Name Is Mary Sutherland”, the lethally-effective short-story of screwed-up adolescent angst later expanded to novella-length for Peter Crowther’s PS Publishing in 2014. These are exquisitely-crafted tales that unsettle and disturb – there’s got to be a word that means more than that, because they’re so easy to read, they’re here and now, in the recognisable world. Eleven of the eighteen are new. All are object lessons in twenty-first century shock.

www.mynameiskatefarrell.com


Thursday, 28 January 2016

Live in Wimbledon: BERNARD CRIBBINS


Live, In Person: 
BERNARD CRIBBINS: 
SUNDAY STORY SESSIONS 
at the Polka Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon (17 January 2016) 



Are you sitting comfortably, then we’ll begin…

Bernard Cribbins stumbles up the wooden steps, flounders onto the stage on all fours for all the world like a huge unwieldy Womble. Before standing to acknowledge the warm audience reception, and shuffling towards the blue-green armchair placed centre-stage. There’s a music stand to his left, and local musician Julian Butler’s keyboard still further away. Bernard Cribbins in 87. This is story-time. He begins by reading the opening chapter of ‘Wind In The Willows’, which – although he reads it with obvious affection, is perhaps a tad too long for some attention-spans. But then again, here at the 300-seater Polka Theatre, it’s not quite clear who is the target audience. The Cribbins cult-appeal spans generations, and each has its own following. Some know him through Cbeebies’ ‘Old Jack’s Boat’ or ‘Jackanory’, to others he’s the station porter in ‘The Railway Children’ (1970). Even before we get to the hit singles, the Wombles or Dr Who.


The Beatles were initially dubious about signing to Parlophone, because the label was best known for its comedy content, even though John Lennon loved George Martin’s work on the Goons’ surreal nonsense, as witness his own ‘A Spaniard In The Works’ effort. And comedy records were a big deal at the time. Charlie Drake had started out on Parlophone by covering Bobby Darin’s novelty Rock ‘n’ Roll hit “Splish Splash” and following it with his version of Larry Verne’s US million-seller “Mr Custer” – about the nervous cavalryman approaching the Battle of Big Horn. Drake found his true comic niche with “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back”, under Johnnie Spence’s direction and George Martin’s production.

Benny Hill scored a series of successful singles before “Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West” gave him a no.1, including “Transistor Radio” which spoofed various Pop Stars, including Elvis’ “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. Morecambe & Wise issued singles – including their answer-disc to Gerry Goffin’s insider tongue-in-cheek “Who Put The Bomp”, responding as “We’re The Guys (Who Drive Your Baby Wild)” (HMV POP957), plus their 7” 45rpm Pop harmony-group TV routine “Boom-Oo Yatta-Ta-Ta” (1962, HMV 1240). It’s probably best not to even linger on Ken Dodd’s successful career-arc as an unlikely romantic balladeer! But there was also a big market for comedy LPs by Tony Hancock and Kenneth Williams, adapting or modifying radio shows. A practice that continued with the Monty Python vinyl LPs of the 1970s.


The two hits establishing Bernard’s image as the working-bloke always ready to stop for a fag and another cup of tea. In the former record, he gets the better of an interfering ‘bloke in a bowler’ city-gent, in the latter he’s shifting an object – presumably a piano, by half-demolishing the house around it. When he does a jaunty version of the song now, he uses lyric-sheet prompts from the music-stand, stomping his feet to the simple keyboard accompaniment. The sound-effects of falling rubble, twanging hinges, heavily ascending boot-steps are obviously missing, but he does the fade-out commentary word-perfect ‘I said to Charlie, ‘we’ll just have to leave it standing on the landing, that’s all, you see the trouble with Fred is, he’s too hasty, you’ll never get nowhere if you're too hasty.’ He saves “The Hole In The Ground” as a request item in the Q&A session, standing behind the chair and slapping out the rhythm on the chair-back, apologising in advance for not remembering the words – but remembering them anyway!


Myles Rudge, who penned lyrics for the two hits, also wrote the liner notes to Bernie’s ‘The Hole In The Ground’ EP (GEP-8859), explaining how the record ‘zoomed straight into the Top Ten. Bernie received this information in a stunned silence, then said – ‘How dolly!’ and went fishing to try and work out how it happened. He still doesn’t know. To reporters who asked for some sort of explanation he said – ‘Don’t ask me, I’m just the nit who sang it!’ An amiably engaging figure specialising in a slightly befuddled air, he’d begun as a straight actor – or ‘as straight as it’s possible to be with that kind of face’, according to Rudge, an actor who accidentally stumbled onto vinyl through recording a number called “Folk Song” (1960, R-4712, c/w “My Kind Of Someone” with Joyce Blair) which he’d performed at the Fortune Theatre as part of the ‘And Another Thing’ revue.

He does talk with affection about a track called “The Tale Of A Mouse” on his tie-in LP ‘A Combination Of Cribbins’ (1962, PMC 1186). Even though ‘the love of the mouse was as big as a house,’ the tiny rodent’s romance with an elephant is doomed, so it falls in love with a horse instead! ‘Next time I come here I’ll make sure that I have it in my head and I’ll do it for you. It’s a lovely one’ he promises. It’s one of twelve tracks directed by Johnnie Spence in sessions supervised by George Martin, the comic cover-art pose, with him wearing all-over white ‘combination’ underwear belies his straight melodic interpretation of “I’ve Become Accustomed To Her Face”. Yet the album also includes his third light-hearted single of the year, “Gossip Calypso” c/w “One Man Band” (R-4961) – ‘hear all about it, Yakka-Yakka-Yak, ev-ery woman up at the window, giving out the gossip and getting it back’, written by Trevor Peacock. It enters the ‘Record Mirror’ chart at no.38 (20 December), and crossed over into the new year, peaking no higher that no.25 (3 January 1963), in a chart headed by Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley and Frank Ifield… and with the Beatles “Love Me Do” one rung higher than he was!


There was another single the following year, “The Bird On The Second Floor” (R5025) – a slightly skewed Dicks-Rudge love-song interjected with ‘cor, these stairs, why don’t they get a lift in here?’, flipped with a baroque-Shakespearean spoof called “Verily”. A further single, one of a number of covers of “When I’m 64” (June 1967, R-5603, c/w “On My Word”), eventually found itself on the compilation LP ‘Sing Lennon And McCartney’ (1970, Music For Pleasure, MFP 5175), alongside the likes of Billy J Kramer, Cilla Black, Peter & Gordon and Kenny Lynch.

But by then he’d moved on to other things. In today’s ‘Jackanory’-style session, wearing a big sloppy red jumper, he reads one of AA Milne’s ‘Winnie The Pooh’ stories, the one in which Christopher Robin puts on his Big Boots for an ‘Expotition’ to reach the North Pole. It is not one of the stories that Bernard recorded as a ‘Sunday Times: Selected Stories From Winnie The Pooh’ (2002) CD. ‘But we’re here in Wimbledon’ he enthuses, ‘so how could I not read a Wombles story?’ And he proceeds to read “Orinoco And The Rabbit Hole” – ‘getting stuck in a rabbit hole can be a very upsetting experience,’ from Elisabeth Beresford’s debut 1968 collection about the furry eco-friendly rodents whose names were apparently selected at random from a world map, Tomsk, Tobermory, Great Uncle Bulgaria and – ‘a fine figure of a Womble’, Orinoco himself. Of course, Bernard was not only the perfect narrator-voice for the two TV series of 1973 and 1975 (sixty five-minute episodes) which made them national stars, but also led ‘Orinoco’ onstage to guest on Cilla Black’s January 1974 TV special!


‘Underground, overground, Wombling free,’ their celebrity was accelerated by Mike Batt’s catchy series of spin-off hit singles, utilising session musicians of the star calibre of Chris Spedding (guitar), Ray Cooper (drums) and former-Tornado Clem Cattini. Among the eight hits following “The Wombling Song” (no.4 in October 1973), Batt expanded his ambitions into the classical affectations of “Minuetto Allegretto” (no.16 in October 1974) and the lavish Fred Astaire-style “Wombling White Tie And Tails” (no.22 in April 1975), while still finding time for “Wombling Merry Christmas” (no.2 in December 1974). It’s rumoured that for one ‘Top Of The Pops’ appearances the Womble costumes were actually occupied by Steeleye Span, who were also benefitting from Mike Batt production at the time.

As with all character actors you feel you know, there’s a lot more to the Bernard Cribbins filmography than you suspect. You forget that he was ‘Mr Hutchinson’, the pretentious spoon-salesman guest in “The Hotel Inspectors” episode of ‘Fawlty Towers’ (10 October 1975). He was in three ‘Carry On’ films – ‘Carry On Jack’ (1963), ‘Carry On Spying’ (1964) and the ill-advised ‘Carry On Columbus’ (1992). He can also be seen in ‘The Avengers’ (1966 and 1968), ‘Space 1999’ (1976) and as ‘Wally Bannister’ in ‘Coronation Street’ (2003). He was also the belligerent barman in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Frenzy’ (1972). And much much more.


In the final Question-and-Answer wind-down session, one boy – possibly prompted by his father, enquires what it was like working on ‘Dr Who’ with Tom Baker. Apologetically Bernard explains that it was the David Tennant-era Doctor in which he features, as ‘Wilfred Mott’, Donna Noble’s (Catherine Tate) grandfather (from “Voyage Of The Damned”, the Xmas Day Special 2007, recurring through to the two-part “The End Of Time” episode Xmas Day 2009). Although, he does delight in launching into an anecdote about once being auditioned by producer Barry Letts as a possible replacement-Dr for the retiring Jon Pertwee. Suggesting to Letts that he’s handy in a fight-scene, Bernard was tut-tutted with a reprimand that the time-travelling Gallifreyan never hits anyone! Later, tuning in to watch Tom Baker filling the role he’d been turned down for, he was amused to see the new Doctor immediately punching out a bad guy.


Bernard seems agreeably happy to talk, and to reminisce. Yet he, perhaps modestly, fails to mention that the Cribbins name also forms a unique 42-year link in the ‘Dr Who’ mythos by bridging decades back to his earlier appearance in the movie ‘Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150AD’ (1966, Amicus). As bumbling policeman ‘Tom Campbell’ Bernard unwittingly gets caught up with Peter Cushing’s second big-screen appearance as the Doctor, in a rewriting of the TV serial involving Robomen and sinister Daleks roaming the streets of a conquered London. In a neat full-circle plot-device the Tardis even allows ‘Tom’ to revisit the opening scene of a jewellery-shop raid, at the film’s close, moments before it happens, allowing him to take full credit for foiling the crime! ‘Peter Cushing was a giggler’ Bernard once confided, about the film experience.

This is Bernard Cribbins. Are you sitting comfortably, well, there’s no more…


Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Book Review: RON ANDROLA 'Confluence'



Book Review of: 
‘CONFLUENCE’ 
by RON ANDROLA 
(Busted Dharma Books, 2015 
ISBN-13:978-0692554128. 184pp) 

Don’t be alarmed, you’re inside a poem. And yes, everything is a poem. All that’s required is the insight and perception to see it. Ron Androla is an original. An authentic voice. He’s old enough to know, although we might be made of stars, we’re subject to fleshy failures too. ‘Confluence’ is the act or process of merging. Well, maybe, but this is a singular no-compromise voice. In “Digging For Inspiration” Ron lists Ray Carver, Bukowski, translated Rimbaud, Jack, Beats, New York murderers, dead Russians, dead poets, live poets. Which sets up a notoriously unreliable sat-nav of direction points. In fact, his long grey thin ponytail is a rope to nowhere, and everywhere. Since 1980 he’s located in Erie, Pennsylvania.


We’ve sporadically intersected since the mid-1970s when we appeared in the same disreputable Indie small-press journals, and zipping down the contents-page, his is always the name you riff to first. The debut, apparently, was Richard Peabody’s excellent ‘Gargoyle’, while he grafted at a sewage treatment plant in hometown Ellport. Seldom, if ever since, do his thorn-and-blood word-pits let you down. Ampersands (&) and abbreviations (yr) spatter, as though his mind’s chain-of-detonation races so fast, fingers pecking at keys scramble to keep up. You have to bleed, he says, to know blood. Poetry, he says, reverses our mouths. An unremembered poem wakes him beneath black night sheets. Another poem bursts dopamine into bloodstream on its way to cerebral flashpoint, to nail molecules to the rush of eternity. A place where atoms bloom and germinate, and poems are biological constructs that breathe by way of rhythm and sound. “Shrinking” is also an eerie vid-clip on ‘Belinda Subraman’s Gypsy Art Show’, charting the metamorphosis inflicted by aging, some body-places imploding, others sagging, some hollow, others thickening in a disturbingly malleable switch-trade. The brain ticks and records each fleshy betrayal. Ron says as how he’s always writing his first poem and always writing his last poem and always writing between poems. That’s what writers do, with every twitch and spasm of mortality. And while the world fails us, these poems rarely do.


Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Poem: 'AN INDUSTRIAL ROMANCE'


AN INDUSTRIAL ROMANCE/ 
CLOCK DVA AT THE ‘F’-CLUB 
               (Leeds, 24 February 1980) 


strobe
white lines on black
throb of inset
luminous symbols/green
in tape machine

sax shreds Coltrane
thrashing cracks in air
with spatial/temporal
dislocations

now me, 3 decades on,
longevity as accumulation
of experience, wisdom,
long-toothed, raggy bearded &
redolent of guru-like beatitude,
or just gradual deterioration
into senile mumblings,
bleary-eyed with glaucomatous
hung-over antiquity

lacerated by
ironic curtains
of concrete noise

they told me
fluoride grows strong white synapses,
so how come I still wake up
screaming for gipsy visions?
been adolescent 30-yrs
& still dream of finding
the Enchanted Ring-Pull Tab…

outside these walls
industrial romances are
being consummated in the
soft-focus drizzle of
fluoridated rain

in here there are
strobe-storms of
repetitive verticals,
in corridors of
diminishing
mirror images


Collage by Steve Sneyd

 Published in:
‘SEPIA no.16’ (UK – November 1981)
‘POSITIVE TOUCH no.2’ (UK – June 1982)
‘STINK no.1’ (UK – April 1984)

STEVE SNEYD Interview 'From Mars To Marsden'



STEVE SNEYD: 
FROM MARS TO MARSDEN - 
THE UNTOLD STORY


 He is Britain’s – and possibly the world’s most widely 
published poet. He’s been featured regularly, week-by-week, 
month-by-month, year-by-year since the 1960’s in more strange, 
obscure, and esoteric journals than even he can possibly remember. 
Now he’s singlehandedly resurrecting the ‘Genre SF’ poem 
as a unique and distinctive verse-form. He is Steve Sneyd… 



FROM MARS TO MARSDEN 

Steve Sneyd can be a distracting interview.

He’s the guy sitting at the end of the bar, with a Philip K Dick paperback crammed conveniently into his corduroy jacket pocket and an obscure crossword-completing word on the tip of his tongue. Spinning looping, leisurely soliloquies that lengthen for about the time it takes for a pint of best to settle, or for someone to get the next round in. As we talk he sketches zigzag castles and mythic faces on the beer-mat, scribbles sudden ideas in interacting hieroglyphs of longhand script into the dog-eared flyleaf of the paperback in his pocket, then hand-rolls a matchstick-thin cigarette infiltrating a fallout of tobacco strands across the table between us. He has quotes, phrases, lines and useful expressions for future use in black biro on scraps of paper in every pocket.

As he tells Marge Simon ‘I’m endlessly writing such bits down on paper, always carry some, and a pen, or into notebooks – though the problem is the vast majority never develop any further, just silt up in vast accumulations of such scraps, though sometimes, years later even, one or another will resurface and a poem will come together out of that seed. Ideas can come from anywhere – flashbacks of memory, of places, people, events, items from the radio or books, curious facts or images, fragments of phrases, odd images springing to mind.’ And he talks. He talks about everything from the lost galaxy-spanning poetry of obscure American fantasist Lilith Lorraine, to an interminably convoluted comic routine about Bob Marley’s arrival in heaven, to tales of legendary Beat poetry heroics in the back rooms of 1970’s Yorkshire pubs, and about the prehistory of Pennine earthworks and tumuli. About everything – in fact, but Steve Sneyd himself.


‘This whole thing has a sort of boot-strapping quality’ he concedes warily, ‘ie, we find out what we’re talking about, by talking about it.’ But, once the train of ideas ignites, it rapidly assumes esoteric dimensions – shifting the question further from the personal at each remove. ‘Maybe it’s more a worm in the programme. It gets in and you can’t get it out, so you have to talk it out. Like they used to lure the tapeworm out with a bit of whatever tapeworms like. It stuck its head out, and when you had enough of it for a loop, you rolled it around a knife-blade and kept rolling, and very steadily you pulled the whole thing out. Talking about poetry, or SF poetry, or SF generally come to that, is like that. If you can get a handle on it, you should – in optimistic theory someway, get a grasp on all of it.’ He pauses. Flicks tobacco strands thoughtfully as the ideas continue. ‘That’s assuming...’ he elaborates, ‘that it isn’t so busy quick-silvering and changing that what you’ve got is the dead skin it just shed. To switch metaphors from tapeworm to snake...’, and he starts again to explain further why poetry cannot be explained.

Perhaps you were aware that – further to his ‘Amazing Stories’ interview, Steve Sneyd was nominated, or elected, or appointed as ‘Grand Master of SF Poetry’, so some kind of honorific became appropriate…? Surely it was only a matter of time, and now constitutes a well-deserved and entirely appropriate recognition of his epic contribution to the genre. Odd that he didn’t actually start out with that Lit-orientation. When pressed he estimates that ‘about forty-percent’ of his output would so qualify. ‘I’ve never systematically done the figures, but as an impressionistic guess, would say about 40% of my published poetry has been SF, and overall perhaps 70% has been genre. Boundary drawing can be hard – eg. is a poem about the historical Dracula genre or ‘mainstream’?’ It seems there was always a myth-continuum, and bits of SF imagery surfacing here and there, but it only became more dominant later. Or at least that’s what my immediate recall tells me, without delving back through what he terms ‘the whatever decades’ of magazines and old small-press journals.

Anyway – it also turned out that I’d been nominated, or elected, or appointed – in some way, to make the ‘Grand Master of SF Poetry’ presentation. Although by then he’d already received it via airmail! He’d already received the Gold Chalice, or Scroll, or Coat Of Arms or whatever it was from America. And we were required to fabricate some kind of ceremony, photographed for posterity, to record it all. Marge Simon (of the ‘Science Fiction Poetry Association’) contacted me through ‘Facebook’ about doing it. She’s a lady who brooks no refusal. So we devised a joint strategy to meet up in Huddersfield to enact this arcane ritual. It took the ‘New Horizons’ probe nine years to reach the Pluto system, we did marginally better than that…!


It’s cool, with just a promise of drizzle. The fountains are arcing in the town square adjacent to the statue of former-PM Harold Wilson. We sit outside the ‘Kings Head’, a licensed premises uniquely dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, who is the ‘king’ on the pub-sign. I’m wearing a Dan Dare ‘Mekon’ T-shirt in honour of the occasion. We talk, about how to actually pronounce China Miéville’s name, about Steve’s recent visit to his brother in Norfolk, about walking the West Yorkshire canal tow-paths, and about a night at the ‘Builders’ where we both once watched poet Michael Horovitz perform. Steve can’t remember whether Horovitz interjected his set with blasts from his famous anglo-saxophone – ‘he said he’d been playing it at his gigs since the sixties, a ‘mouth-harp wrapped in brown paper’, I don’t recall him using it when he read at the ‘Bleeders’, the gig you wrote up, but maybe it’s one of my myriad memory glitches.’ I assure him that yes, Horovitz did indeed wield said mighty instrument. And the ‘Builders’ – site of those ‘Inner Circle’ poetry events? Long gone.

Then Steve carefully extracts the presentation plaque from the box in which it was posted to him across the Atlantic. A black resin monolith emblazoned with a comet-tailed star, and the legend ‘Steve Sneyd: SFPA Grand Master Poet 2015’ etched in silver lettering. Various curious photos subsequently take place, some of then snapped by a bemused passer-by who is inveigled into the impromptu ceremony. The photos eventually appear in the SFPA news-site for the entertainment and edification of all! Afterwards we sit back on the pub-seat in the weak sunshine, and Steve sips reflectively at his pint. ‘I thought afterwards, possible reason the lady who volunteered to take pics got so far away as soon as possible afterwards, maybe she saw words ‘Grand Master’ on offending object and feared was Crowley-style occult cult, and your Mekon manifest of familiar/ demon familiar…?’


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‘Ought to give up listening to World Service new’ says Steve wearily, ‘endless litany of going-to-hell-in-handbaskets. Trouble is, I’m a news junkie and can’t stay off…’

To Fred Beak, writing the afterword of Steve’s 200-page collection ‘In Coils Of Earthen Hold’*, ‘the neglect of Steve Sneyd’s work is one of the mysteries of our poetic era.’ There’s possibly something in what he says, but neglect is not what you’d normally associate with a writer responsible for over 3000 magazine appearances and a near-ubiquity in literary magazines for over thirty years. Steve is Britain’s most widely published poet, and one of the world’s top ten most frequently published, too. He also figures in ‘The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’ for his contribution to ‘genre’ poetry both as archivist, and scribe. So ‘neglect’ is relative. Perhaps by ‘neglect’ Fred Beak means his exclusion from that kind of self-congratulatory Oxbridge clique massaging each other’s sterile celebrity from elitist London art-circles? In which case he could well be correct. If such issues still have relevance. Which surely must be marginal, at best. Steve’s voice is Yorkshire, and it’s too vital, too involved, too real for such distractions. He writes from Almondbury, Huddersfield, beneath the appropriately gaunt tower of Castle Hill. He muses that he never intended Huddersfield to be so central, but here he is, four decades later…

Steve is bearded with a shaggy fringe of greying hair, and an air of constant pre-occupation. Reading to an audience – as he does in his mesmeric set at the Huddersfield Poetry Festival, he can conjur time and space, myth and magic, history and futures through a temporal warp, and then back to the Hotel bar again with a bardic resonance that story-tells and weaves strange truths, ‘finding skulls under every grin.’ 

‘Poetry, in the final analysis’ he opines, ‘is surely nearer – or can be, to the working of actual thought, than prose.’ But he takes it beyond such meagre limitations. Writing dialogue with a dry kitchen sink sense of desperate ordinariness, and line-breaks set to the rhythms of breath – ‘you go on and on, she said, you repeat yourself endlessly, she said, you whinge and moan, she said, some time went by, you never talk to me, she said, there was nothing to be said’ (“A Season For Taking Stock”). While above such drab domesticity there’s always awareness of the sky. The ‘Half-Moon… swollen could be her mother, shrunk could be her daughter, half-face missing as if turned, away from life...’ And beyond even that normality there’s a mythic depth behind actions that align with the symbols and rituals of lost archetypes – ‘wrote three lists – what he, feared most, what he’d done worst, what he most wished he’d done, hung each on chosen tree – oak, ash, rowan – set each with, fire. Collected ashes with, care. Buried in three holes between monster roots, then sang, light of burden at last’ (“Wildwood Days Recalled”).


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Already active in the 1960’s, it was the 1970’s that gave Steve a wider platform of possibilities. Beneath the (psychedelic) mushrooming underground press explosion – and infected by its anarcho-irreverence, looking as much to Dylan (Bob not Thomas) as it does to the performance legacy of the Liverpool Poets and the persistent viral illumination of the Beat Generation, the DIY small-press napalms the decade into the rudest of health. Traditional letterpress A5’s with neat wood-cut illustrations (‘Viewpoints’) interface with cleanly-cluttered photo-offset collages (‘Global Tapestry’), while mimeo – typed directly onto limited-run paper templates, proliferates through SF-fandom (Lisa Conesa’s ‘Zimri’) while strange mauve spirit-duplication produces ‘Bogg’ – until the dense black-solids made possible by Xerox infiltrate from the Punk-press towards decade’s end (‘Sniffin Glue’). In this raging firmament the inspirational Blake-Bardian Mike Horovitz lights ‘The Children Of Albion’, Jeff Nuttall ignites ‘Bomb Culture’, while Dave Cunliffe and Jim Burns – already outlaw literary stars of the previous decade high-profile alongside George Cairncross’ surreal humour, Dave Ward’s Liverpool urban, Barry Edgar Pilcher’s Beat-Zen, Pete Faulkner’s Rimbaud-Romantic, Tina Fulker’s brittle fragility, Derrick Butress’ precise dramas and Dave Caddy’s eco-rural.

While an International Reply Coupon – or, in that post-Imperial twilight, a Commonwealth RC, could gain admittance to the equally rich diversity of an American or Australian parallel universe. And beyond... Steve Sneyd flourished as a visible presence in it all. Each format. Every niche and sub-niche. Few magazines came – or indeed, still come, without a page or three of his distinctive voice. And although it’s obviously absurd to suggest that evolution has not taken place – because it self-evidently has, it’s equally true that early poems are as instantly recognisably Sneydian as are the latest. The shape. The breath-break punctuation. The chopped erudition…


Selected for the 1994 ‘Rhysling Awards Anthology’ Steve’s “Why Vampires Do Not Use Their Vote” is a fine balance of his style, macabre myth interacting with normality. It asks ‘why have doors for policemen to guard?’ answering ‘inaccessible windows are sufficient, access to my private dwelling.’ The dialogue continues, ‘in myself are a thousand lives, my older selves company me as I require,’ and ‘shade is enough from sunlight’s canker, shade and soil enough of home, to full a window-box my length.’

Inevitably, as perpetrator of the earlier ‘Riding West’ magazine, he was the obvious co-ordinating spirit when the ‘Inner Circle’ decided to launch its own print counterpart. As a series of Huddersfield-based live events, the ‘Inner Circle’ had already staged guests such as bussed-in Dave Cunliffe as well as providing debut-audiences for new writers and musicians. With its collectivist aspirations set to the pulse of the times – its title, an elision of errors on Steve’s notepad fusing suggestions ‘Thud’ and ‘Ned Ludd’ into ‘Ludds Mill’, it went on through changes and oddnesses through to the dawn of the eighties. By then Steve’s publishing had diversified through Hilltop Press, with irregular SF-poetry ‘Data Dumps’ linking a series of unique meticulously-researched stand-alone’s documenting neglected slipstream maverick names Robert Calvert and Lillith Lorraine (a research project begun in 1987, with a bio section appearing in ‘Fantasy Commentator’, and not ‘signed off’ until mid-2009 – although ‘as soon as book comes out some amazing new info about her life that should’ve been in will probably surface…’).

There’s also a CD by Icarus Landing, Steve’s legendary word-of-mouth underground performance-art duo. His poems delivered in a thick monotone the colour of Pennine Bitter, pointed up by slurs of betraying Yorkshire inflections, in spaces provided by Dave Jaggar’s Blues improvisations. Jaggar, he of Spider Lee Brown and the Champion Jack Dupree Band, plays dextrous guitar and – on “Trowell, Midnight”, harmonica. Blues from the Calder Delta, long-thought unrecorded and forever lost, the duo finally resurfaced with ‘Icarus Landing: The Crested Vulture Tapes’. A flood-damaged seventies tape, cleaned-up, digitised, and completely amazing. An audio artefact of smoke-hazed Folk Clubs and moist beer-mats, where sweat drips from the ceiling as if in some time-capsule monochrome photograph. Together, they pick up the rambling cadences of half-glimpsed and never-quite-concluded back-street pub people-stuff conversations and ignite them with surreal absurdist sense-of-wonder, from skew-wiff mythologies of visiting Martians, to the scrap-dealer clearing the Rhodes Colossus from where it blocks the harbour-mouth, the girl who half-inches cutlery from Motorway Service Stations yet only gets randy ‘for men with ideals’, the man on his ninth pint waiting for the girl who never turns up, then the puddled walk home uphill singing ‘Careless Love’ off-key. Like the line ‘crooked, as a ring around the moon’ – a ring, of course, is not crooked, but what they’re about is reconciling contradictions. These performances are unforgettable, like scars. 

‘I honestly can’t remember ‘owt about the circumstances of the tape being made’ Steve comments the year of the CD’s eventual release – 2009, ‘though I do have a clear memory of a later one, ‘Manna From Heaven’, which also had Michael Massey on, done at Jaggar’s house, and he was getting drunker and drunker. As was his canary, which kept sipping from his glass. It died very young from that habit, despite Jaggar’s theory that bird’s hollow bones means they can take immense amounts of C2H5OH without harm. Massey had a nightmare rendering the tape listenable, as Jaggar’s sudden weird sound-fx, shouts of irrelevance, drumming of feet on floor etc. But of the making of this one? a total mindblank. A review on Paul Rance’s website creates urban myth that it ‘was made on tour’, so ‘print the legend’ applies…’


HOLDING YOUR EIGHT HANDS 

‘We’re in Marsden at the moment’ Steve announces on a radio documentary about SF poetry. A sub-genre that link-voice Ian MacMillan places ‘at the fringe of the fringe, at the end of the universe.’ ‘And this is where – when they put the new station signs up, someone graffiti’d really neatly underneath the name ‘Marsden’ they put ‘The Land That Time Forgot’. Which I think it’s pretty appropriate, although it’s been painted out since, because that’s what Science Fiction poets do. They try and forget about the limitations of our time, and look through all time for human experience. You look out from up here, you’re looking out on practically everything that’s ever happened in this country. You look over to our right – that big mound on the horizon, that’s where neolithic men were making flint tools. There’s little pits on the top of the hill where they were doing that. You look straight in front of us, you’ve got a sunk road going up the hill past the old – what used to be Marsden Manor House. That was probably a Roman road. Perhaps even earlier than that. A bit farther up the hill behind it you’ve got loads and loads of roads on top of each other, you’ve got the Roman road, you’ve got Turnpike roads, you’ve got the first attempts to get across the Pennines and the ones that went nearly up to the time when we built motorways. They’re all going across the hills in the same sort of places. History is all twisted and linked together here. And I think Science Fiction poetry is taking this same sort of wider view of humanity, of a species, of us. And of our future. It’s not saying we live only in this present time, this fixed present, we’re not just figures in a permanent unchanging situation. But we’re part of the process that goes on and on occurring and changing and reshaping – just like this landscape…’

Steve Sneyd can be a distracting interview. For a multitude of reasons…



ANDREW DARLINGTON & STEVE SNEYD: 
AN EXPLANATORY POSTSCRIPT 

They live within ten miles of each other. Together, over some thirty years of manic productions, they’ve made over 4000 magazine appearances around the world. They share an entry in the current edition of the ‘Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’ for their contributions to genre poetry. And they collaborated to produce ‘Ludds Mill’ – the leading vital anarchic arts magazine of the 1970’s. They have appeared together at venues dating back to the ‘Inner Circle’ events in Huddersfield, and were a regular part of the Tawny Owl group of writers which also numbered Horror novelist Simon Clark and ‘Krax’-publisher Andy Robson among its members. Yet their differences are just as pronounced. Steve Sneyd organised the live poetry programme at the Leeds Griffin Hotel SF Con – a landmark event in the recognition of genre-poetry. And he’s recognised as its leading archivist. While – although Andrew Darlington appeared on that bill, he’s equally adept at Rock journalism and erotica. And although both have an extensive fiction back-catalogue – Steve’s work in ‘Year’s Best’ and Andrew’s in New English Libraries, their styles operate in alternate universes of prose. Steve’s mythic and dream-like. Andrew’s sharp-edged and SF-literate. Only the respect is mutual.


*‘IN COILS OF EARTHEN HOLD’ by Steve Sneyd (ISBN 3-7052-0924-8 - £6.50) from The University of Salzburg, c/o Mammon Press, 12 Dartmouth Ave, Bath BA12 1AT

*‘A WORD IN YOUR EYE’ by Steve Sneyd (ISBN 0-905262-24-7 - £3.75 / $8) An introduction to the Graphic Poem, from HILLTOP PRESS, 4 Nowell Place, Almondbury, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire HD5 8PB



*‘NEOLITHON’ by Steve Sneyd & John Light (£5.50 from KT PBL, 16 Fane Close, Stamford, Lincs PE9 1HG) The poetry of prehistoric stone monuments

ICARUS RISING: THE CRESTED VULTURE TAPES’ by ICARUS LANDING (STEVE SNEYD & DAVID JAGGAR) (Crested Vulture Disks CVD-001 - £6.50 – Hilltop Press, 4 Nowell Place, Almondbury, Huddersfield HD5 8PB) www.booksmusicfilmstv.com/Poetry/SteveSneydDavidJaggarIcarusRising.html 

Steve’s entry in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database:
http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?11125

Hilltop Press Catalogue:
www.booksmusicfilmstv.com/HilltopPress.htm 
www.booksmusicfilmstv.com/DataDump.htm
www.booksmusicfilmstv.com/SneydSnarls.html 

Gerald England reviews Steve Sneyd’s ‘Gestaltmacher’, ‘Gestaltmacher’, ‘Make Me A Gestalt’: http://www.geraldengland.co.uk/revs/bs126.htm

PDF of Steve’s ‘Flights From The Iron Moon’ a ‘gazetteer’ collecting poetry from UK FanZines from the 1980’s: http://efanzines.com/IronMoon/ 

Steve Sneyd interview by Catherine Mintz:
http://catherine-mintz.com/cm_s_interview.htm

Steve Sneyd’ poetry in Atlantean Publishing: http://atlanteanpublishing.wikia.com/wiki/Steve_Sneyd

Full text of Steve’s epic poem ‘Crowland’, plus links to Steve’s ‘The Poetry Of Brian Aldiss’ etc: http://pandf.booksmusicfilmstv.com/sneyd.htm

‘Parameter Magazine’ two Steve Sneyd poems:
http://www.parametermagazine.org/Sneyd.htm 

Link to Steve’s essay ‘The Outbound Muse’s Despatch: The Science Fiction Poetry Of Calvert And Many More’:
http://www.aural-innovations.com/issues/issue7/muse01.html 

Diane Severson’s interview in ‘Amazing Stories’:
http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2015/03/interview-sf-poet-steve-sneyd/