Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Alternative Ummagumma

I’ve been obsessively listening to Pink Floyd these past few days, prompted I suspect by the colossal Floyd boxset released earlier this week. Needless to say I could never afford such an luxury (and besides, the underwhelming packaging has nixed any such extravagant notions), so I’m making do with my modest collection of CDs. Speaking of CDs (and formats), last week I ripped my Ummagumma CD to mp3 and re-sequenced the entire double album to follow the 1971 8-Track Cartridge track-listing, which dispenses with the Live and Studio sides, and mixes the solo contributions with the songs recorded at Birmingham & Manchester - so Rick Wright’s "Sysyphus" flows into "Astronomy Domine" which is followed by Roger Waters’ Grantchester Meadows and so on. This is not so much a fan-edit on my part, more like an alternative Ummagumma experience and I find myself enjoying the album as a complete work – in the past I’ve been guilty of neglecting the Studio side, apart from "Grantchester Meadows" and Dave Gilmour’s "The Narrow Way" (which is one of the best things on any Floyd record), all too often skipping over the brooding and austere Sysyphus and Nick Mason’s treated drum track "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party". The jury remains out (for several years now) on "Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict", which I tend to lump in with Meddle’s "Seamus" as one of those Pink Floyd duck eggs, although with repeated listening to it these last few days, I’ve come to re-evaluate it as a sort of proto-Nurse With Wound piece. And interestingly, the bawling Scottish burr heard on the track is performed by Ron Geesin, who appears on the Nurse With Wound List…

Tuesday, 15 November 2016


Just reading Nathaniel Thompson’s Blu-Ray review of C.H.U.D over at Mondo Digital, and I’m pleased to see Arrow have turned in another fine job. I caught the film again a few weeks ago courtesy of the 2001 Anchor Bay DVD (which still looks pretty good!), and the film remains a smart, witty and fast-paced monster romp. Watching the film again, I was particular struck by one sequence which anticipates Aliens – when a search and destroy team descends into the sewers, complete with flame-throwers and helmet cameras relaying their progress back to a monitoring station. Inevitably the mission goes awry. I’m not suggesting James Cameron was taking notes, but it’s a nice bit of serendipity all the same. C.H.U.D is notable for being Kim Greist’s film debut and she’s very good too, landing one of the film’s most memorable moments and I had to wonder why such a talented actress didn’t become a big 80’s star – at least she’s in two of the decade’s finest films, Brazil and Manhunter.

If my Aliens connection seemed tenuous, my ear caught two music references spoken by Daniel Stern – at one point he shrugs off Christopher Curry’s police captain with “It's a Buck Dancer's Choice, my friend” (a line from The Grateful Dead’s song Uncle John’s Band) and later upon entering the sewers, Stern warns “This ain’t no disco” (a line from Talking Heads' Life During Wartime). I went back and listened to the commentary during these scenes but nothing was confirmed in the riotous chatter between the Stern, John Heard and director Douglas Cheek… Incidentally, the excellent UK quad poster above was sourced from the very impressive Film On Paper site which I stumbled across preparing this post. Be sure to pay it a visit.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Clive Barker's Hellraiser

I mentioned Clive Barker’s Hellbound Heart in my last post and at the weekend I took some time to reacquaint my myself with my collection of Hellraiser comics picked up in the early 90’s. The series ran for 20 issues from 1989 to 1993 and I was fortunate enough to pick up most installments (not so easy in the pre-Internet days). I was quite an avid reader of Clive Barker’s early excursions into the world of mature Horror comics (or graphic novels as I stringently referred to them back in the day). By the early 90’s Barker had relinquished control of Hellraiser and was inching ever closer to full blown fantasia with the epic novel Imajica and The Thief of Always, a book written for young adults. The dark and perverse horror of the Books of Blood and the two Hellraiser films seemed increasingly remote. Fortunately, Barker found an outlet for the darker side of his imagination with comics like Tapping the Vein (1989-1992), Son of Celluloid (1991), Revelations (1992), and Dread (1992). The Hellraiser series which Barker occasionally contributed to was not based on the films, but instead built upon the Hellraiser mythos, as characters in various time-lines and locations (the Middle Ages, Silent-era Hollywood, the Vietnam War) invoke the Cenobites by meddling with the Lament configurations.

Revisiting the comic again, I was a tad disappointed by the writing, which seems squarely aimed at teenagers looking for lashings of gore flavored with a little sex and nudity – which was fine by this 14 year old reader in search of illicit thrills upon graduating from 2000AD. The story artwork is rather variable at best (apart from exceptional work by John Bolton, Bill Koeb, John Van Fleet, and Scott Hampton) but my attention was drawn to the full page illustrations which bookended each of the 4 or 5 stories contained within each issue. I’ve gathered together some of the more striking illustrations that appeared throughout the series…

Issue 1 - Artwork by Kent Williams

Issue 1 - Artwork by Kent Williams

Issue 4 - Artwork by Bill Sienkiewicz

Issue 5 - Artwork by John Van Fleet

Issue 10 - Artwork by Mark Evans

Issue 11 - Artwork by John Van Fleet

Issue 19 - Artwork by Chris Titus

Issue 20 - Artwork by George Pratt

Friday, 4 November 2016

The 120 Days of Sodom

More p0rn to prise you away from your favourite dens of iniquity... Penguin's recently published edition of the 120 Days of Sodom is currently an Amazon UK bestseller, and I'm rather pleased that such an unhinged work of debauched imagination has joined the cannon of classics. I read the bulk of the 120 Days in my early teens, courtesy of  Arrow Books' 1990 edition, the novel, along with Naked Lunch, Crash and Last Exit to Brooklyn, was one of those transgressive works I was eager to investigate. But enthusiasm soon gave way to boredom, and the book’s wayward plotting, unrelenting repetition and Sade’s penchant for exhaustive detail eventually led to my abandoning the book after some 500 pages.

And yet… I find myself intrigued once again by the 120 Days. So much cultural water has passed under the bridge in the intervening years I feel much better placed now to tackle the novel which has been marinated with all sorts of interesting personal connections - I’ve seen the Pasolini film, Peter Brook’s 1966 film Marat/Sade, the Sade-influenced films of Jess Franco, and there are the odd stray references that I enjoy - Peter Cushing possessed by the spirit of the Marquis in the 1966 film The Skull, the cameo appearance of the 120 Days of Sodom in Clive Barker’s Hellbound Heart, as well as the titular reference of the 1981 Nurse With Wound/Whitehouse collaboration album 150 Murderous Passions.

Another interesting connection emerges with this latest edition of the novel, thanks to Penguin’s design team who have selected Man Ray’s 1933 photograph Monument à D.A.F. de Sade for the book cover. Ray’s photograph reflects two of Sade’s obsessions – the anti-Christian sentiment of the inverted crucifix, and Marquis’ predilection for anal sex. The photograph was re-staged for Coil’s 1984 debut album Scatology, which in turn reflected Coil’s interest in the occult and male sexuality. There’s a pleasing symmetry at work here: Coil sampled dialogue from Salò on the Scatology-era track Homage to Sewage, while the album itself contains some Sadean liner notes – a fictional sexual encounter between two men written to accompany the track The Sewage Worker's Birthday Party.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Exotic connections

I'm listening to the first two volumes of Martin Denny's Exotica series this morning, courtesy of Scamp's excellent 1996 twofer CD - required listening for any Throbbing Gristle devotee, though I tend to prefer Les Baxter's exotic excursions. This latest round of headphone tourism was inspired by TG's Greatest Hits album which I was poring over at the weekend in search of some elusive information. Greatest Hits was dedicated to Martin Denny (long before the lounge revival of the 90's rekindled interest in the composer) but it was the album's art direction which put Denny in mind, or rather, Liberty Records who issued Denny's early albums in some very attractive sleeves, starring Exotica Girl Sandy Warner. I can't help but think the alluring photograph of Cosey Fanni Tutti on the Greatest Hits album would have made a more effective cover for the 20 Jazz Funk Greats album (such was the propensity of record labels to use glamour girls to sell cut-price compilations) but either way it's an effective way of confounding expectations. TG also borrowed the typeface from the title of the second Exotica album for their own logo, and donned Hawaiian shirts (or in Gen's case, a Yellow Magic Orchestra shirt) for the group photo on the rear sleeve, complete with some amusing props - a mooring rope, a stray crab and Cosey's cornet.

Alternative shot of the Greatest Hits group portrait, courtesy of the 2011 re-issue

The connections between Throbbing Gristle and Martin Denny run deeper than packaging homages. The influence of Denny on TG's music is felt on some of the group's most beautiful songs - 20 Jazz Funk Greats introduced vibes to the TG sound, on tracks like Tanith, Exotica, Hot on the Heels of Love, later reappearing on the final single Distant Dreams (Part 2). The group paid its most explicit tribute to Martin Denny with the Journey Through A Body track Exotic Functions, with its strange animal noises and polyrhythmic percussion. I mentioned the renewed interest in the 90's of vintage exotica, and interestingly there's an overlap here between TG and the belated lounge scene. When Tim Gane of Stereolab was tested for The Wire's Invisible Jukebox feature in issue 164 (October 1997), he recalled first hearing Martin Denny's music on a TG tape: "The first time I heard Martin Denny was on a Throbbing Gristle cassette back in 1979, and I always loved the track. I didn't even know what it was. It was in the middle of a load of stuff - it was a live gig they were playing".