Friday, December 29, 2017

The Last Post

At a New Year’s Eve gathering in 2009 I was asked by one of the other guests what my top five personal highlights of the year had been. Feeling put on the spot and under pressure to come up with some things that made me seem like an interesting and well-rounded person, I said: a good harvest at the allotment; my middle child starting school; witnessing Gary Alexander's wondergoal at Wembley; seeing Richard Hawley play live; standing at the Hardy Monument on the top of Black Down Heath in Dorset. My questioner smiled and reeled off her own (which, I then realised, had been the real reason for asking me): getting an HD TV; getting a new car, getting new double glazing; getting a smartphone; going on holiday abroad. As the general conversation then centred around holidays and cars, I sat there feeling stupid: I had come across as earnest and worthy and entirely out of step with everyone else’s mood. It was at that moment that I decided to start a fanzine.

Reflecting on my humiliation, I thought that there was much to be said for celebrating the simple things in life and, with two friends, launched Sussex Sedition. The ‘sedition’ of the title was to go against the prevailing materialistic thinking and the ethos was to be positive - there were enough bitter words out there already. Drawing inspiration from writers such as Kathleen Jamie, Tom Hodgkinson, Roger Deakin and Iain Sinclair, we wrote in praise of the pleasures to be derived from the world just outside our windows. Early articles covered vegetable growing, walking on the Sussex Downs, and British Sea Power. It was a desktop production - printed cheaply by a local firm - and distribution was something of a guerrilla operation. It was available free from those tables of leaflets and magazines that pubs always have - sometimes with permission, sometimes without.

After a few quarterly issues the, albeit small, cost of production became prohibitive for a bunch of cash-strapped public sector workers and Sussex Sedition ceased to be a physical fanzine. Wishing to continue paying tribute to the revolution of everyday life, I kept the name going as a blog with a few posts each month. Using the natural and man-made landscape of East Sussex as the mainstay, the blog also strayed into politics and music. What I found incredible was how many more people would read an article on popular music than, say, buttercups – who knew? Pieces I have written on Sleaford Mods, Vic Godard and Augustines have been the most-read by a long way. In fact, the review of Sleaford Mods’ Brighton gig in 2015 is the piece the frustrated NME journalist in me is most proud of – writing it took me right back to my punk fanzine days.

It has been a joy to write this blog for the past six years and I have received some lovely comments from people in response; but today I am writing the last post. I have embarked on a more substantial project and I need to focus all of my writing attention on that. I had thought about trying to collect the pieces together in some sort of bumper retrospective issue of the printed fanzine but instead I think I will simply leave them here in cyberspace - floating like defunct satellites in real space, blinking as they orbit the earth – just in case anyone picks up their signal.

Finally, most things make me think about music and, talking of satellites, three of my favourite songs have that word in the title. Therefore, apropos of nothing in particular:

Satellite of Love by Lou Reed – I was probably about thirteen when someone told me that David Bowie and Mick Ronson played on an LP by Lou Reed. When you are obsessed with a singer, you tend to explore anything associated with them and I went out and bought Transformer. It is an album I have been playing ever since and one that sent me down the back-doubles of discovery to the Velvet Underground. Satellite of Love is my favourite track: often in the shadow of the hit single Walk On The Wild Side or the beautiful Perfect Day or the pre-punk Vicious, it is the most tender paean to love and jealousy. And if you ever heard it sung by the late, great Kitty Lux of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, you are lucky too.

Satellite by Sex Pistols – the B side of Holidays in the Sun, the sheer racket and sense of everything being on the verge of collapsing into chaos make this my favourite Pistols’ track. Lydon is at his most demented: he spits out his feelings towards people the band met at those early gigs in London’s satellite towns over Steve Jones’ fantastic reverb-drenched guitar and Paul Cook's phenomenal drums. Recorded in the capital in June 1977 at the height of the bands’ justified paranoia over Jubilee fascist thugs, you can hear Lydon’s frustration in the outro as he repeatedly smashes the microphone on the Wessex Studios’ floor. It leaves me exhausted each time I hear it.

Satellites by Bill Ryder-Jones – 2015’s West Kirkby County Primary is probably my favourite album of recent years. Its combination of hushed ballads and fuzzy rock was a revelation to me; with an honesty bordering on confessional, its songs are both painful and liberating. Satellites, the album’s penultimate song, slowly builds its tale of regret – “I'm stranded in the dark/ of everything I've loved and went and tore apart/ I got lost in myself and time got lost as well” – to a stunning slacker crescendo.

So, it ends with music; and, for me, everything does. In truth, I do not think I have encountered any problem that could not be made even a little bit better by listening to the songs that saved your life. See you on the other side.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Warmth for the Soul

Last night might not have been the coldest of the season but this morning felt like the hardest ground frost of the winter, so far. The divots thrown up by the horses' hooves were frozen solid and I was making slow progress on the bridle path I was walking along. The sun was shining so I benefited from some apricity but whenever the path fell into the shade of hill or wood I felt chilled to the marrow.

Just below Comphurst, the path bordered open fields and there was a clear view across Horse Eye Level, Down Level and Glynleigh Level all the way to Shepham Wind Farm at Stone Cross. The three 115-metre turbines began generating energy at the start of the year after a five-year planning battle had been finally resolved when Wealden District Council's refusal of permission was overturned by the government's Planning Inspectorate. The inspector ruled that the farm's capacity to generate 7.5 MW of energy, sufficient to power 4,000 homes, and save 8,475 tonnes of carbon would make a material contribution to renewable energy objectives.

There is still some local animosity toward the wind farm on aesthetic grounds; but the sight of the turbines this morning, standing majestically in the shadow of the Downs, was undeniably beautiful. The contrast between the renewable engineering of the modern age and the timeless sward of the Sussex hills was warmth for the soul.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Stand-Up Guy

You are always guaranteed an entertaining time when you go to see Pictish Trail and last night's Melting Vinyl gig at the Rialto Theatre in Brighton was no exception. A bloody good job, too, as it was sub-zero temperatures outside and by the time I got to the venue I was so cold I was desperately in need of some winter cheer.

Main man Johnny Lynch was on good form, regaling us with stories of drug-addled audiences in Hartlepool, near death experiences in Machynlleth (I will refrain from writing how he pronounced it) and eco glitter from Bristol (the latter made from unicorns' tears, natch). In fact, despite coming from the far-flung Isle of Eigg, there is a real sense of rootedness in the whole country that comes from the band's relentless touring of these islands.

There was a smaller group of musicians for this tour - "I'm just wringing the final drops from the last album" - with Lynch assisted by Suse Bear on bass and keyboards and John B McKenna (AKA Monoganon - who was also the support act and inexplicably started his set wearing a terrible wig and ended it wearing a rather fetching cloak-cum-habit) on guitar. And it was not just the band that was stripped down: there were some beautifully spare arrangements of Lionhead, Easy With Either and Dead Connection from last year's Future Echoes album, and earlier songs from the Pictish Trail repertoire of folktronica.

Despite some provocative audience comments about the nature of familial relationships on the Isle of Eigg, Johnny Lynch (almost) refused to be dragged down to our level and maintained his dignity and humour throughout. I laughed like a drain at his between-songs repartee and the only other performer I have seen who comes close to being such a laugh is James Yorkston. Those Fence Collective guys: what are they like? They should be doing stand-up.