Showing posts from 2014

Meet Lew Bear

Lew Bear is a folksinger (at least, that's what I'd call him) making albums and appearing live, when work allows, in and around Northamptonshire. He probably goes further afield, but in keeping with SP's usual commitment to high quality investigative journalism, I don't have that information for you. Have a look at Lew's website and I'm sure there'll be information on gigs.

Like all artists, I imagine Lew has been practising and refining his craft since he was old enough to pick up a guitar; I know I wrote my first novel, a revenge Western called 'Blood Lust', when I was 10 or 11. But the three albums he sent me, which cover 2011 to 2014, show that the process of critical self-appraisal necessary to the creation of good work in any medium, continues with Lew even though he has found the space in which he wants to work.

How is that evidenced? Not necessarily in quantum leaps of improvement, because the first album, 'Done in the Dark', is by …

Kenneth J Nash & Friends at the Pomfret Arms

The Kenneth J Nash & Friends concert tour, which I'm proud to be a part of, landed at the Pomfret Arms in Northampton on Sunday. Playing out in the barn at the back of the building on a windy afternoon, several musicians , one band and two poets performed to a modest but approving audience--which included my friend Martyna's daughter, who can be seen running in and out of shot on at least one of the videos filmed at the show. This tour is growing in style and confidence already, and we've only done two gigs.

I can't single out star performers because I genuinely liked them all. Star moments? Ken Nash performing 'Like A River', the chorus dreamed Coleridge-like by his mother Carol. Jay Jones' song 'White Feathers', which all of us were impressed by. Jono Bell's beautiful ukulele song for lost friends. Chris Browne's exceptional guitar playing. Curtis E. Johnson generally. Sheila Mosley's self-penned song in defence of the NHS (she sa…

Chris Browne BrowneProject

This is 'Silver Sun' by Chris Browne. He's from Rushden in Northamptonshire and usually he busks on the streets around the county (although lately he's played indoors a few times with the 'Kenneth J. Nash and Friends' travelling show).

Chris has an album out called 'Busker Rhyme', which you can get on iTunes (I think that's how you spell it). And next weekend he's auditioning for 'Britain's Got Talent'. I hope he does well. If there's any justice he should blow the competition out of the room--although he's far too nice a bloke to want to blow anybody anywhere.

Watch this for proof of what I'm saying. He's a hell of a guitar player. And he's singing this one at the audition.

Songs of Experience: 'the fall of Eden' by Kenneth J. Nash

There's not much that satisfies more than getting an album as good as Kenneth J. Nash's 'the fall of Eden' in the mail for review. His last, 'the brewer and the dealer' (I think that was in lower case too), was a sophisticated pleasure indeed; nothing I heard in 2013 surpassed it, although anyone who knows me will be aware of the enthusiasm I have for Dubvocaliza and the Scrumpy Bastards. But if anything, 'the fall of Eden' is an advance on Ken's last outing, with mesmerising production (by Mr. Nash himself) matching quietly dramatic songs of love, loss, memory, death and renewal. Here is an artist who has been through several circles of Hell and come out on the other side a better, because more humble, man.

Instrumentation is one of the keys to the beauty of this album. Mandolin, Irish whistle, cello and double bass give songs a full, luscious sound that recalls (to this poet) the aesthetic joys of the Island folk output of the early 70s, as well …


The highlight of the first day of this year's Summer Retreat in Northampton was a great set by Dubvocaliza, from London. Returning for another appearance after storming the festival in 2013, they took to the stage (newly situated in the woods) late in the afternoon and played for what seemed like only ten or fifteen minutes--although it was really much longer than that. When Barrington and the band are at the mic, the vibes are so good you forget time, and yourself as well.

I love Dubvocaliza, if that's not obvious already. So does everybody else who sees them (everybody I've spoken to anyway). It's those classic reggae sounds, the interplay between vocalists, and the sheer stagecraft; Barrington doesn't stand still for a moment, and between songs he talks to the crowd, offering pithy inspirational messages connected to the music. Dubvocaliza are all about positivity, keeping the faith in a world ravaged by 'pirates and vultures' (the title of one of their…

Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

“We knew about the Kingston Trio and Harry Belafonte and their hordes of squeaky-clean imitators, but we felt like that was a different world that had nothing to do with us. Most of those people couldn’t play worth a damn and were indifferent singers, and as far as material was concerned they were scraping the top of the barrel, singing songs that we had all learned and dropped already. It was Sing Along with Mitch and the Fireside Book of Folk Songs, performed by sophomores in paisley shirts, and it was a one hundred percent rip-off: they were ripping off the material, they were ripping off the authors, composers, collectors, and sources, and they were ripping off the public.”

“We had so much opportunity to try out our stuff in public, get clobbered, figure out what was wrong, and go back and try it again. It was brutally hard work, because these crowds of tourists usually started out at the bars and by the time they got around to us they were completely loaded. So we would be play…

What You Gonna Do When The Mail Runs Dry?

It’s World Book Day, and in answer to the question World Book Day naturally provokes, I’m reading the diaries of English actor Kenneth Williams. I’m also reading the journals of Betsy Sheridan and Soren Kierkegaard and the letters of William S. Burroughs. I move between them, usually using their proximity to the place I’m sitting as my criterion for selection.

I love reading the private documents and ephemera of public figures. I know that some insist creative work should be read and understood without reference to its creator; but something that excites my intellect or my imagination always provokes an extra curiosity in me. When I read “A Season in Hell” by Arthur Rimbaud the fabulousness of it made me want to know more about the person responsible for bringing it into the world. Not that Rimbaud was an easy man to locate.

Which has me wondering, today, how the arrival of the technological age will affect our future study of the arts. My poet friends and I used to send each other…

GUEST POST: Fear and Loathing at the Royal Mail (by Bartholomew Bundy)

2013 ended for me not in the blaze of literary awards shows and gala dinners, but in the hard slog of casual Christmas work for the Royal Mail. This is how it is for poets and artists in the underground, unless they get lucky, and no one complains about it. You start out believing it will give your work an edge, but then you realise that’s romantic drivel. Manual labour is as soul-destroying and spirit-flattening as any other kind of labour; usually after a day digging gardens or sorting in a warehouse all you want to do is get drunk, not write poetry. But while it’s no better than any other kind of work, for the poet, it’s no worse either, and even John Cooper Clarke spends half his life on tour. Unless you’re rich or dead you have to do something.

The Royal Mail job seemed like it would be okay. I needed the money, and we would only be doing 8 hours a day 5 days a week. But I wasn’t prepared for what I found at the freezing cold, leaky warehouse the Royal Mail had rented temporari…

Virginia Cherrill

There are two scenes in all the movies I've ever watched that I would run into a burning house to save if the last copy were inside. One is the final moment of Eric Rohmer's "Le Rayon Vert," where Marie Riviere sits on the cliffside with a new love as the sun goes down over the sea. The other is the scene in "City Lights" where Virginia Cherrill's flower girl, her sight restored, sees Charlie Chaplin's tramp for the first time. Both moments are so beautiful and so moving I cry every time they're on.

A week or so ago Michelle and I were in Kettering, touring the charity shops as we do in search of rare books, movies and things for the flat; and we heard a violin playing mournfully. Someone nearby was busking in the rain. "God, that music so reminds me of 'City Lights'," I said, and began talking, probably for the hundredth time, about the scene with the flower girl.

"Le Rayon Vert" has an underlying theme about pers…

Technicolour Dreams

Today started in a really dull way for me: a letter through my door telling me I hadn't got the job I went for on Friday. Community support worker. Christ! I thought. What sort of body odour or invisible-only-to-me skin condition must I have? I'm being turned down for jobs I walked into ten years ago. "The quality of the candidates was very high," said the letter, as if this were some sort of consolation. Ta very much!

But then I sparked up the capricious, prehistoric laptop someone gave me at uni three years ago and my mood improved. I had an invitation from artist/singer-songwriter Helen Verrill to go and read some poems at the Technicolour Dreams Art Exhibition in Northampton in March (the exhibition runs to the end of April). I thought about it for a while and then said yes. I need something nice to happen right now, and some practice before Woodfest in August wouldn't hurt.

Technicolour Dreams will be a showcase for the work of Helen and some of her artis…

Pussy Riot

The shameful treatment of Pussy Riot at the Winter Olympics was noticeably under-reported by Western media this week. We saw the pictures, but all of the debates about our responsibilities towards those feeling the whip hand of repressive Russian government were exhausted before the tournament had even started. Most of us would agree that the public flogging of a musical group engaged in a funny demonstration is ugly and excessive, but we would prefer to be able to focus on the curling thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin and his thugs know nothing about the true nature of rock and roll anyway. If they really want to neutralise whatever threat Pussy Riot pose to their nasty bigoted criminal rule, they should give the band a multi-million pound contract with a major label; and then let them headline big shows in Moscow and St Petersburg. Nothing sucks the juice out of rebellion like success.

My Desert Island Movies


Poster/Cover Art: Le Rayon Vert


They Were Never Lovelier

George Clooney said something I liked to Matt Damon when they were discussing the new, but deliberately atavistic, war movie Clooney has written and directed, "The Monuments Men." It went something like, “People aren’t as cynical as their movies.” I don’t see many war movies, but the best of them portray war as a bloody horror; and yet the number of wars around the world seems to multiply with gay abandon. Could it be, possibly, that the folks back home (safely back home) who vociferously support conflict after conflict think war is really a bit more like “Kelly’s Heroes” than “Apocalypse Now”? Of course it could. If they believed the latter had any truth to it they would never vote for another hawk president or prime minister again.

As we get older and we have less time to fool ourselves about our vanishing life, and less desire to posture for others, we find we no longer like the films we were once so enthusiastic about, or even the films we know we’re supposed to like. …

Looking for Pascale

Pascale Ogier was the actress I most liked to watch in my late teens. She was in three movies I saw in those days: “Le Pont du Nord,” in which she appeared with her mother Bulle, “Ghost Dance,” with Robbie Coltrane and Jacques Derrida and “Les Nuits de la Pleine Lune,” directed by Eric Rohmer. All of them were shown, at one time or another, on English television, although “Full Moon in Paris,” to give the last of the three films its English title, didn’t appear until after Pascale had died.

I didn’t know that when I saw it on tv, although somehow I found out before I bought the film on VHS. All I knew, watching each movie in turn, was that I was captivated. She was beautiful, with a turn on the style of the best young women of our generation that was very individualistic and very French. (The measure of her individualism is that she designed her own [and other] costumes in “Full Moon in Paris,” as well as having credits for production design.) And, in the films,she was working wit…

Poster Art/Cover Art: Le Pont du Nord (1982)


Gertrude Stein: Would You Ask This Woman For Tea?

I have been reading, with some difficulty, “Three Lives” by Gertrude Stein. I say with some difficulty not because of her well-known and much-debated prose experiments, but because of her boring and offensive characterisations of different races, and her generalisations about class.

Ann Charters explains in her introduction that the constant repetition of names and phrases Stein indulges in has something to do with an attempt to create a written equivalent of the paintings of Cezanne. I’ll buy that, although to my eye/ear at least it doesn’t work, not here anyway.

Charters also says “a feminist reading of the book as a literary satire, […] could argue that each of the three heroines exemplifies different aspects of the way society trapped underclass women […] in stereotypical roles.” I’ll also buy that, cautiously, although it’s a tough one at times given that the author is a rich woman looking down on everyone.

Take this sentence I read yesterday on the bus after deciding to giv…

Luke, Mike and John Storm the Royal & Derngate

  I saw John Cooper Clarke at the Derngate last night. The Royal & Derngate, as two people in front of me insisted on calling it. Two drunken patriots in velvet hats.

I'd been looking forward to this show for months and I wasn't disappointed. John was supported by two poets: first Luke Wright, then Mike Garry. I hadn't heard of either of them before the show, but apparently they're quite well known. Shows you how much I get around.

Luke, who has a quiff that makes Morrissey's early 80s barnet look timid, performed a bunch of rhymers about himself, the honours list and the decline of the English community. (Etc.) It was heavy, insightful (and inciteful) stuff couched in humour. He charmed the hell out of those people in the hats.

Mike Garry's set was more serious. He joked that he was positioned between Luke and John in the running order to provide emotional balance. One of his poems was a half-sung, half-spoken thing about Tony Wilson. It was grippi…

Bob Dylan at the Superbowl

I was disappointed when I heard Bob Dylan had done an advert for Chrysler at the Superbowl. I knew he’d advertised other things, and his songs pop up everywhere these days; I regularly hear “Like a Rolling Stone” playing in the shopping centre in Northampton. But somehow Bob and the gigantic mainstream consumerist orgy of the Superbowl still seemed strange bedfellows.

“Variety” said with a weird mixture of glee and sadness “Bob Dylan is for sale.” They pointed out that Bruce Springsteen had resisted corporate advertising. But hang on a minute, Springsteen sang at the inauguration of a president who bombed innocent people in drone strikes, refused to close Guantanamo Bay, tapped the communications of everybody in America, was complicit in the persecution of Chelsea Manning and chased Edward Snowden to Russia for patriotic whistleblowing. Bob and Joan Baez have sung for Obama too, but Bruce is no paragon of virtue

However unedifying I find the spectacle of the guy who sang “The Balla…

Back at the Typer with the Care Work Book

I found my care work novel today, hidden away in one of the boxes we haven't unpacked in the two months since our house move. And as I've been really keen to get going on it again, I started this afternoon, at chapter 21. Chapter 1 is normally the starting place, in my experience, but writing these things the normal way has never quite worked for me; so I'm trying something different. It's fun.

The novel is about a miserable, failed poet (see if you can guess where I got him from) who's trying to hold onto his soul and his sanity in a care work job he hates. His relationship has broken down, he can't write, he's being persecuted by the vengeful ignoramus who manages his care home, and his only friends are an insane Christian who delights in fucking with his mind, and a poster of Alan Moore that talks to him from the wall over his bed.

I haven't got a decent title for the book yet. I'm enjoying myself too much with the manuscript to think of one. …


Poll results are in. The favourite William S. Burroughs novel of "Suffolk Punch" readers is his first novel, "Junkie," luridly subtitled "Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict" in the first edition, and published in 1953 under Burroughs' pseudonym William Lee.

Beat enthusiasts will know that Allen Ginsberg acted as Burroughs' literary agent for "Junkie" (English spelling "Junky"). The subject matter being rather dangerous in 1950s America, Ginsberg could only find a home for the manuscript at Ace Books, run by Carl Solomon's uncle A.A. Wyn. Burroughs took an $800 advance.

To soften the impact of "Junkie" on readers--or perhaps to deflect the inevitable criticism of Ace that would come from the moral watchdogs of pre-"Howl" America--Wyn published the book in conjunction with a forgettable(and forgotten) 1941 text by a former FBI agent, Maurice Helbrandt. This was called "Narcotic Agent" an…

Joan (2)

Today is the anniversary of Neal Cassady's mysterious death in Mexico. It's also the anniversary of the birth of Joan Vollmer, who became William Burroughs' wife and went down in twentieth century cultural history as the woman who died from a bullet wound to the head in a game of William Tell that went tragically wrong

Joan was, of course, worth more than being a ghastly footnote in someone else's biography, even someone as considerable as William Burroughs. By all accounts she was more intelligent than her famously brilliant husband and eventual slayer. But the process of re-integrating all the significant women into the cultural stories from which they have been excluded is a slow one. We wake up from the past with all the verve of blind oxen.

In a post from the Nineties on his excellent "Literary Kicks" page, Levi Asher writes that Joan's death has caused some people to dismiss William Burroughs without reading his work, and others to regard him as …

Ladies & Gentlemen, Your Host Is... . . .

I've been talking on Twitter tonight to singer/songwriter and friend of "Suffolk Punch" Kenneth J. Nash. Ken is organising the acts for this summer's Irchester Woodfest, which I've written about at the blog before. You know the deal: bands, chainsaw carvers, stalls, historical re-enactments and wasps on the candy floss. It's a brilliant show, set against the backdrop of my favourite green hideaway in the whole of the county.

This year Ken's adding a Spoken Word stage to the show, and tonight he asked me to host it, announcing the poets and all that. If it's possible to gush in a tweet I gushed in my reply. What a fantastic offer! So now you're reading the ramblings of the Spoken Word stage host at Woodfest 14. I'm also going to read a few ditties of my own. I'm excited already and I've got another seven months to wait!

There was a time when I was dubious about standing up in front of people. It made me nervous. But I got over that …

A Message From Suffolk Punch To Our Hacker

Queen Liz says it all. Fuck off, you sleazy back-sliding thief in the night, and take up a different profession. You're not even smart enough to be a hacker. Don't you know PayPal have security measures that stop robbing bastards like you profiting from the labours of people with more talent and intelligence? Which, by the way, is almost everybody?

William Is Expecting You

Have you voted in our friendly poll of favourite Burroughs novels yet? What's the matter? DON'T YOU LIKE ME???

How The Dad Of A D.J. Did For P.J.

Stories about Northampton's part in cultural history always grab my imagination. This one is so indicative of its time it's great. I first heard about it from my mother years ago, who liked rock and roll even if she was never convinced by P.J. Proby; then Whispering Bob Harris talked about it on "Desert Island Discs" this morning.

Harris, who for a d.j. chose a really boring list of records by the way, grew up in Northampton. His dad was a policeman here, one of the blue boys sent out to watch the performance of P.J. Proby at the ABC (yes, the cinema that The Beatles played). Improbably, Proby had become a figure of controversy because his trousers had split when he was performing in another town somewhere. The young American star was under strict orders not to cause a repeat of this wardrobe malfunction with his onstage movements.

But in Northampton his trousers split again. This was too much for the custodians of the uptight morality of the times and the show wa…
Another cover from the Norton Records catalogue. Norton's co-founder Miriam Linna used to be the drummer for The Cramps. She now plays with these fine fellows.

Go to for more album / poster art and to order some hot wax.

The Mugwumps

The Meet Cafe occupies one side of the Plaza, a maze of kitchens, restaurants, sleeping cubicles, perilous iron balconies and basements opening into the underground baths. On stools covered in white satin sit naked Mugwumps sucking translucent, colored syrups through alabaster straws. Mugwumps have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor-sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds in fights over clients. These creatures secrete an addicting fluid from their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism. (In fact all longevity agents have proved addicting in exact ratio to their effectiveness in prolonging life. ) Addicts of Mugwump fluid are known as Reptiles. A number of these flow over chairs with their flexible bones and black-pink flesh. A fan of green cartilage covered with hollow, erectile hairs through which the Reptiles absorb the fluid sprouts from behind each ear. The fans, which…

Naked Lunch


Charles Plymell Interviewed By Catfish McDaris 1996

Catfish McDaris Interviews Charles Plymell

"By 1964 a new generation had arrived in San Francisco and made City Lights their rendezvous. Claude Pelieu, a young Frenchman with a thorough understanding of surrealism, had arrived with Mary Beach, the distant cousin of Joyce's publisher . . . and Charles Plymell, a jazzy poet from Kansas, onetime editor of Now, who did sadistic collages. The two Bulletins from Nothing and Grist from Wichita give the prevailing mood. ... Funk in San Francisco, rather different from Ed Sanders's blithe scatology and the total sexual gluttony of Tangier, has at least something to do with the tough spirit that Kansas gives to the West Coast." (Jeff Nuttall, Bomb Culture. [New York: Delacorte Press, 1968], 194.)

CATFISH: With the republication of The Last of the Moccasins by Atom Mind, do you have any plans for a reading tour?

CHARLES: My plans never work.

CATFISH: How has the poetry scene changed since the beat days in San Francisco?