Sunday, August 31, 2014

Brown Sugar

Walking through my local orchard, I noticed that the rows of heavily laden Discovery and Cox’s Orange Pippin apple trees were interspersed with the odd Russet tree. Distinctive for their leathery brown skin, they stood out, not just for their appearance, but for their infrequency. Growing odd cultivars from the same flowering group amongst the main crop ensures good pollination and a better yield. Being my favourite apple for its nutty aroma and sweet white flesh, I scavenged a few windfalls even though they were not yet quite ripe.

When I asked the fruit farmer why he does not grow more Russets, he said that at Farmers’ Markets they are popular, but the supermarkets will not buy them from him. The average shopper has become so conditioned to the idea of a shiny rosy apple that they baulk when confronted with a dun-coloured fruit with a matt finish.

The alienation of the Russet is not confined to its fruit. When I arrived at the fag end of a fruit tree sale at a local nursery recently, there were only two apple varieties remaining – a Laxton and a Herefordshire Russet. Even my own kids, who I thought were free of aesthetic prejudices when it came to food, pleaded with me not to buy the tree with “the brown apples”. The thing is, they had eaten peeled Russets as toddlers and loved their sugary taste. So I ignored their sensibilities and bought the Russets. If they were good enough for Shakespeare ("there's a dish of leather-coats for you" - Henry IV) and the Victorians, who knew them as the best tasting apple, they should still be good enough today.

Monday, August 25, 2014


In two weeks’ time the Trash’d New Wave Festival 2014, the third Trash Cannes festival, will be coming to a close with RAW, a showcase of local young punk bands. Not that this is just a music festival: Trash’d also incorporates art, literature, film and fashion over four days at a variety of venues in Hastings.

An independent festival, it is directed by filmmakers and writers Keith Rodway and Garth Twa. Rodway was part of Mark Perry’s The Good Missionaries and is a product and resident of Hastings. Twa has written for, and about, film and has worked at Universal studios. With a mandate of ‘informed irreverence’, the pair founded Trash Cannes in 2012 with festival patron TV Smith, one-time frontman of first-wave ‘one chord wonders’, The Adverts.

This year’s not-for-profit festival begins at the Memorial Art Gallery on the evening of Thursday 4th September, with a free exhibition of artist Cat Rosseiter’s work, and continues at the Stade Hall on the Friday night with an alternative fashion show, a programme of film talks and a screening of Sam Harris’s film, Arthur Sleep, with a live score. The following afternoon sees a return to the Memorial Art Gallery for Saturday Salon, a set of talks on literature, music and Garth Twa on twenty years in Hollywood.

The festival’s set-piece, Punky Monkey Night at The Brass Monkey in Havelock Road, looks like a real treat: there will be a Q&A with Nina Antonia, music journalist and author of books on the New York Dolls and their guitarist Johnny Thunders, and a screening of Danny Garcia’s recent documentary, Looking For Johnny, telling the story of Thunders’ life, career and early death in 1991. Live music will be supplied by The New York Dollies, a ukulele doo-wop punk covers trio, and headliners the sublime Vic Godard and The Subway Sect, who were on the bill of the seminal punk festival at London’s 100 Club in 1976. Godard’s 1993 solo album, The End of the Surrey People, featured a tribute song entitled – of course – Johnny Thunders. There’s a theme there…

The new bands appearing on the final night will play to a panel of musicians from Alabama 3, Ruts DC and The Wedding Present, and the festival will be brought to a close with a gig by locals The Fabulous Red Diesel and DJ sets until late. Shot through with the spirit of art school punk, Trash’d promises to be diverse, original and affordable.

The festival runs from 4th – 7th September 2014. Times, venues and ticket information can be found on the Trash Cannes website.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Over The Hill

When the marriage of Glaswegian folk and blues singer John Martyn, and his wife Beverley, broke up at the end of the 1970s, they were living in Heathfield. Interviewed in 1981 by Chris Salewicz of the NME, Martyn reflected on the fact that he had returned to Scotland whereas his wife still lived in the East Sussex town. “I don’t know how she can stand it,” he ruminated, “I suppose she has learnt to live with middle class ponces.” Hmm…

If that sounds as though Martyn was never at home so far from Glasgow, it could not be further from the truth. From the age of five, he had divided his time between his estranged parents’ homes north of the border and in the home counties. And in the first half of the seventies, Martyn and his own young family lived on the Sussex coast. Indeed, his time in Hastings probably saw Martyn at the peak of his creative and commercial powers.

Having already been an important figure in the British folk scene from the mid-1960s onwards recording as a duo with Beverley, Martyn’s sound took a distinctive turn when he experimented with guitar delay effects and a slurred vocal style, and teamed up with jazz bassist Danny Thompson. This new and unique sound was first fully heard on the 1971 album, Bless the Weather; but it was the next album that was his apotheosis: 1973’s Solid Air, with its title track dedicated to friend and regular visitor to the Martyns’ Hastings home, Nick Drake, was a huge critical and commercial success.

However, Martyn’s prodigious appetite for alcohol and drugs had become a central feature of his life and, on the beautiful Over The Hill, his paean to Hastings’ West Hill, he was at his most confessional:
Can't get enough of sweet cocaine, get enough of Mary Jane/Going back to where I come from, going rolling back home again/Over the hill
Although his lifestyle had caused the family’s life to become increasingly chaotic, Martyn was still self-aware enough to realise where his priorities lay:
Been worried about my babies, been worried about my wife/ Just one place for a man to be when he's worried about his life/ I'm going home, over the hill
The image of the troubled troubadour, returning home over West Hill, is a powerful one.

In an attempt at a new beginning, the family moved 15 miles inland to Heathfield in 1975. But what was intended as salvation was merely a postponement of the inevitable; by the end of the seventies, Martyn had left Sussex behind. He continued to record, perform and consume consistently throughout the following decades, until his death in 2009.

Once their young children had grown, Beverley also returned to music, latterly with this year’s The Phoenix and the Turtle album. And most recently, the young man who visited the Martyns’ hill-top Hastings home to stare out to sea for hours on end has propelled Beverley into the headlines. The ownership of early demo tapes, long in the possession of the Martyns, has been called in to question by the estate of the legendary Nick Drake.