Keep on Running

Do you recall Worzel Gummidge? He was a scarecrow, a walking, talking, living, breathing scarecrow, portrayed with admirable joie-de-vivre on Sunday afternoon children’s TV during the late 70s and early 80s in a metaphysical and sartorial about-turn by the former Dr. Who, the late Jon Pertwee. Worzel had the unique facility of being able to switch his heads around to suit his requirements, so, for example, he could change his usual ‘mischievous’ head for his ‘thinking’ head as and when the occasion demanded. As he grows older and wiser in the ways of this world, little O also seems to be developing that facility, albeit with slightly more variance than dear old Worzel managed.

Saturday last he had his ‘Roger Bannister’ head firmly in place. The International School of Phnom Penh were holding their annual sponsored Landmines Fun Run (sounds ever so slightly wrong, doesn’t it?), to raise awareness of the continuing blight caused to this country by unexploded ordnance (UXO) and landmines, and to raise funds to support the Cambodian volleyball team whose members include many survivors of these deadly legacies of conflict. We had put little O’s name down for the elementary fun run, assuming that he could be escorted by yours truly at a sedate pace around the dusty pebble-strewn track for the duration of one quarter kilometer lap. The big day dawned, and with it a gnawing sense of unease churning in the stomachs of all participants. Not caused by the worry of impending physical exercise, or indeed a dodgy roadside snack from the night before, but the real foreboding generated by the revelation, for the first time in public in Cambodia outwith a swimming pool, of your humble correspondents stick-like, white and hairy lower appendages… yes, I too had dressed for the occasion, baggy t-shirt, shorts and trendy black converse hi-tops in place…well, brothers, sisters, we don’t need this fasttrack groove thang…, oh no. Once the murmurs of distaste and ripples of barely suppressed laughter had subsided, all were called to order and lined up at the start line. A barely noticed countdown and we were off, in clouds of billowing dust, jogging along to the strains of Alice Cooper ‘School’s Out’ (Mostly ‘good’ music all morning, I have to say. Congrats to the compiler!). Little O, who was the youngest participant, waved to all around him and seemed really into this idea of trotting around trying to keep up with the big kids. The cheering and encouraging announcements must have spurred him on, for as eventually the end of lap one loomed with mummy cheerfully and excitedly waving him into the pits, the O decided that he wasn’t going to stop. ‘One more’ he said, and carried on trotting…
This was repeated FIVE times, until we put a stop to it after six laps and dragged him protesting into the sidelines, along with yours truly who was by now completely hot, dust-covered, sweaty and exhausted from keeping up with the little chap…

The mischievous head was firmly in place at a colleagues wedding this week. We had endured almost an hour stuck in a tuk-tuk in horrendous traffic to get to the venue, arriving there to marvel once more at the feats of cosmetic engineering conducted upon hapless Khmer brides by the beauticians of this fair country. I have sat beside my colleague for nearly two years now, but I completely failed to recognise her when we entered the reception, wondering to myself who was this glittering vision, who looked like a tiny alabaster version of one of the Roman Goddesses, hair piled in Medusan coils and eyes framed by the darkest thickest lashes, mascara’ed beyond even the wildest imaginings of Dusty Springfield. She seems to know me… who is it? Then realization dawned, this was indeed her, trapped like a frightened bird under the layers of the beauticians craft. It does look wonderful in the photoshopped marvels that pass for wedding albums round these parts, though…

My other female colleagues from work had also gone into unrecognizably glamorous overload, and from the make-up, hair and clothes you would have thought that we were actually attending an Oscar ceremony from the 1960s where all females present had entered into an Elizabeth Taylor look-alike contest. Comfortingly, the men mostly resembled extras from a black and white 1960s British kitchen sink drama, Cambodian Tom Courtenay’s all, looking as if they had just come in from the allotment, wiped their faces on their sleeves, splashed themselves very briefly with ‘The Great Smell of Brut ©’, then got stuck straight into the minced pig entrails and greasy scrawny chicken on offer with considerable gusto accompanied by copious amounts of liquid lubrication (‘Cold Guinness… Number One!’ as our waiter rather enthusiastically informed me). I felt very much the barang exception in my white Ambre suit and black shirt, but I imagined that most of the Khmer guests thought I was a very important foreign gangster, so nobody really commented for fear of going for a concrete-booted paddle in the Mekong.

O was the very modicum of stoic calmness during the first hour that we waited for our table to fill up and food to be served, he even ventured with me on a couple of occasions to view the band, who boasted a completely electronic drum kit, a jazz-thrash noodling lead guitarist, a PA system adequate for a small stadium and a baffling number of lead vocalists, including one man who was absolutely from the oh-so-smooth Andy Williams white loafer school which fitted in wonderfully with the whole Elizabeth Taylor imagined scenario going on in my brain…

Although the arrival of other guests (including some foreign women who were clearly and scarily misinformed that this was a Tammy Wynette look-alike event – thank the lord for A and her beautiful, simple little polka dot dress!) en masse to our table meant that the food had also arrived, O was by now well bored, and despite the tasty distractions of whole deep fried fish, mischievous head kicked in. He smashed some cutlery and stole the chopsticks off the woman sitting next to him, so we decanted him hastily from the premises, pausing briefly so he could have his picture snapped on the red carpet with my colleagues three year old cousin (who had obviously done this sort of thing before – she posed furiously for all she was worth as O remained clutched in her grasp with an expression of abject terror etched on his face) and then back into the tuk-tuk for a considerably faster trundle home. Once home, little O put his (and our) favourite head on, that of the wonderful, funny, sweet little chap that he is, and went off to bed with the story of The Gruffalo’s Child lulling him into the land of Nod from his stereo…

… and along with The Gruffalo’s Child, Robert Fripp now enters the picture. Not such a leap of the imagination as it may at first seem (what’s he talking about now? Robert Fripp? Isn’t he that Dorset guy who plays guitar, made a weird record with Eno and married Toyah? Yes, that’s the one.). I’ve recently been recording bedtime stories for the little chap using Garageband software on our Macbook, which has been enormous fun for yours truly and, it seems to date, enormously enjoyed by our little O. Whilst searching for suitable snippets of soundtrack music, I have rediscovered King Crimson. This has been a real joy to me, as regular readers will know that in addition to my love of rock, jazz, indie, punk, soul, latin, pyschedelia, country, folk, ambient, electronica, Hawaiian slack-key guitar, blah, blah, blah, I have an abiding and unwholesome fondness for Progressive Rock, or ‘Prog’ as it now seems to be known to the subterranean denizens of the vast and bewildering world of music. I think I’ve mentioned in these blogs before of balmy and not-so-balmy evenings spent appreciating each others record collections in the homes of Eric Law, Colin Morrison, Steven Beaton, Michael Houston, John Farquhar, Donald McIntosh and many others from that particular hall of infamy. Thurso High School record club and the redoubtable Leon ‘do you think I look like Ian Anderson? Great!’ Volwerk must also figure hugely in these formative years of my musical appreciation. Mr. Volwerk, Eric and Colin were big on Prog, as indeed I was, and one of my all-time favourites from that era when dinosaurs still roamed the earth with impunity was (and still is) ‘Lizard’ by King Crimson. It’s funny that listening to it now with the benefit of hindsight (or should that be hindhearing?) it’s actually pretty much jazz-rock fusion with a soupcon of classical influences thrown in. There’s even a guest vocal from helium lunged Accrington born astral elf Jon Anderson of Yes and the atonal piano dribbling of Keith Tippett burbling all over the place. It is however, in the grand tradition of all things Prog, majestic, moving, bafflingly dexterous in both scope and execution and, of course, supremely, wonderfully silly. It’s also full of Mellotron, that amazing Heath Robinson-esque instrument that added the mystery to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and the menace to ‘We Love You’… ah, the Beatles and the Stones, they sucked the marrow out of bones…(’House of Love’… remember them?). Mellotron gives a gloriously wonky orchestral feel to many of the tracks, and adds to the slightly creepy sensibility which pervades the album. The Beatles link continues with the track ‘Happy Families’ where Pete Sinfield’s occasionally obscure lyrics on the album clarify into a surreal discursion on the breakup of the Fab Four (‘Nasty Jonah grew a wife, Judas drew his pruning knife…’).

Colin Morrison used to particularly despair of my attitude towards much of the music he enjoyed, but as I recall ‘Lizard’ seemed to be a common ground between us. Colin and I used to get into some fairly heated arguments, particularly about jazz-rock, and sometimes his taste seemed to me to be bafflingly obtuse – sorry to bring this up again Colin, but Jukka Tolonen…? – but I really miss the overall over-intellectualised and frequently smarmy silliness that used to pass between us during our ‘appreciation’ evenings… these might, for example, include lengthy discussions about the stunning left-handed bass technique of another Colin, Mr. Hodgkinson of Back Door. I’ve mentioned them before in a blog, but just to recap they were an early 70s Yorkshire bred jazz-rock trio of sax, bass and drums with a punk attitude and by ‘eck bloomin’ good they were, too. I bet you really wish now that you had been part of those music appreciation evenings, don’t you, eh? I hope that you’re still out there in the land of the musical avant-garde, Colin (Morrison that is – Mr. H is still a very active musician and has recently put together a new combo based on the Back Door sound), baffling your neighbours with Jukka and the rest. If you should happen to stumble upon this, please do get in touch… the same goes for you, Robert Fripp… I’m sure your well developed sense of the absurd will be tickled by the thought that snippets of your meisterwork ‘Lizard’ are now adorning my renditions of ‘The Selfish Crocodile’ and ‘The Gruffalo’s Child’.

I wonder too if my dear little tousle-haired O will grow up to mumble incoherently from behind a curtain of shoulder length hair, wear an ex-Navy greatcoat, 26-inch loon pants and desert boots and waste many evenings of his teenage years earnestly debating with his long-suffering friends something earth-shattering such as the nuances of style that differentiate Steve Howe’s picking technique from that of Robert Fripp …

… or perhaps maybe, just maybe, unlike his father, he will actually get a life!

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What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been…

‘and in the end, the love you take
is equal to the love you make’

The Beatles ‘The End’

This is going to be The Last Post from me for the foreseeable future and I really want to talk a bit about music again, despite the fact that, yes, I know I’d promised something a little different for my next blog last time, but of course I’m nothing if not unreliable. So, in an effort to soften the blow of my final blathering I asked my friend Skip if he had anything interesting to share. He’s been writing various bits and pieces over the months with a view to putting together a children’s book of cautionary verse, but we all know he never finishes anything so I’ve managed to persuade him to release one poem to an unsuspecting world. Here follows the sad tale of a little chap who stood out from the rest of the little chaps around him. Suitable for children? You decide…

The Sad T(r)ail of Mollusc Boy

Mollusc boy was different from
The other kids in town
He kept his house upon his back
And always wore a frown
He had no legs to speak of
Just an elongated tail
And everywhere this strange boy went
He left a silver trail

He wandered ‘round the neighbourhood
On paving stones and walls
and left his slimy signature
Wherever he would crawl
His friends (of which there were but few)
Would say (to no avail)
‘please do not crawl across our floor
and leave your sticky trail!’

and so he grew and went away
to where the grass was greener
and got a job (surprised? I was!)
as a high-rise window cleaner
as he could stick to brick or wall
with ease, and lean right over
to polish glass with pail and mop –
for now he was in clover!

But nothing in this world can last
and changes they must come…
poor Mollusc Boy, he lost his job
and boy, was that boy glum
he slithered off into the night
and when the dawn appeared
they found him in a garden quiet
drowned in a pint of beer…

©Skip Cormack 2008. All rights of the author reserved. Please don’t copy or use any part of this without asking me or I’ll get upset and cry.

He’s a strange one, that Skip… anyway, back to music. I’ve only relatively recently realised the power of music. That’s a strange acknowledgement to make, I know, but true. I spent the greater part of my adult life involved in selling, producing and playing music, but always had a kind of selfish approach to it, in that it was just for me or my immediate circle of friends to understand how deeply a particular piece could affect an individual or a group. I scoffed at the statement at the time, but that tree-hugging yoghurt knitter Jon Anderson from Yes probably summed it up pretty well when he said in the booklet accompanying ‘Fragile’

‘Music’s chosen colours move the soul –
War music, Peace music, Love music,
We move to it all.’

As I type this I am listening to Cheb Khaled, the Algerian Rai singer, on my I-pod. I’m not really meant to be, as it should actually be John McLaughlin’s Shakti, but the guy from the CD shop put the wrong CD in the sleeve and… I now have to say, that more than twenty years on, Olaf Cowan, you were right. Olaf was a regular customer who was into all kinds of music, particularly folk and world music (though at that time it wasn’t even called world music) and would often try to get me to listen to some of the artists he liked (Khaled being one) to no avail, as I knew what I liked, and it certainly wasn’t some singer from North Africa who didn’t even sing in English… but I was wrong, and my narrow mind has at last expanded to recognise the worth of more than just skinny white kids with guitars (although they probably will always be my major musical influence).
Some final thoughts and recommendations then, before I fade into the sunset…
sunset… hmmm… I can think of two great contemporary songs about sunset… ‘The Consul at Sunset’, by Jack Bruce (which works in so many ways… bit of a genius, Mr. Bruce) and ‘Sunset’ from Roxy Music’s weary masterpiece, Stranded. The most perfect ennui song ever, bar none, with one of the most evocative opening lines of all time ‘oh, look at the sun, it’s all aglow… slow burning orb, sinking low…’. How I wish I could write like that. Sorry, that was a bit stream of consciousness wasn’t it? That’s how my mind is working at the moment, flitting from thought to thought just like a butterfly, alighting for just a moment then spiraling off into the blue.
Calexico’s new album ‘Carried to Dust’ is going to become a favourite; I can feel it in my bones. It’s low-key, and dusty, and hazy, Cormac McCarthy-ish and a real grower methinks. I love a few tracks off Elbow’s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, particularly the tracks ‘Mirrorball’ and ‘Grounds for Divorce’ where the album’s title originates. They really remind me of Gabriel-era Genesis, which is no bad thing round my ranch. Epic 45 have been a fixture in my ears for the last couple of months also – their album ‘May Your Heart Be The Map’ is just so evocative of a mythical English summer, all acoustic guitars and hazy samples and church bells and wispy vocals – mind pictures of dappled sunlight through green trees, combined with aural honey for the synapses. The US has responded by bestowing the Gabe Dixon Band, who summon up the ghosts of early Jackson Browne and ‘Madman/Tumbleweed’ era Elton, and wrap it in an album cover that is so 70’s, very American Gothic. I like them a great deal. As usual, there’s oodles (Is that a word? Must ask Skip..) of other stuff out there, but you’re all smart enough to figure that out.

Blogging is pretty much an egocentrical kind of thing, and I suppose I hadn’t thought too much about boredom levels, or levels of possible offence, or other things I should have been thinking of in any audience out there when I write these things. I probably basically just haven’t thought,full stop. I’m afraid I’m totally incapable of writing the diary type of thing that a blog should be, so I’ve decided to knock this on the head for the foreseeable future. For those who are wondering, day to day life is probably pretty much like yours at the moment. We just muddle along, getting things right and wrong and steering a middle path most of the time.

It’s been fun being Lost in Space – maybe one day I’ll fire up the supersonic rocket ship engines and get lost again. Until then, thank you so much for your support, you cyberspace friends out there.

‘ If you have a revolution, do it for fun.’

Goodbye, and may your God go with you.

James