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FROM THE LARKIN SOCIETY JOURNAL: TERRY KELLY TRIBUTE

As already noted, Bob Dylan wasn't Terry Kelly's only interest. Thanks to Val Kelly via Roy Kelly, I've been sent this, written by James Booth and just published by the journal of the Philip Larkin Society:


TERRY KELLY

I'm extremely sorry to be saying that longterm Bobcat Terry Kelly has died, aged 57. I've written more about this here on my Facebook page, but here on this blog post I hand over to guest writer Roy Kelly (no relation), who knew Terry better than I did and who, especially, kept abreast of Terry's wide knowledge of, and writing about, poetry:

Terry knew and read a tremendous amount of poetry, and had much wider interests than me, even though I write poems.  He was particularly interested in Ian Hamilton, and poetry associated with his circle, and was really pleased when a posthumous big collected volume of him came out and he got a chance to review it in London Magazine, where over the last at least four years, and possibly more, he had had become a regular.  He liked too Craig Raine, Derek Mahon, Seamus Heaney and Hugo Williams, and was able to review his then latest volume (I Knew The Bride), weaving into it a skilful, knowledgeable round up of Hugo's whole career and technique and development. Recently he had reviewed Clive James The Kid From Kogarah, and poetry by David Harsent and Robin Robertson, and the big T S Eliot collected volume so eagerly awaited by aficionados. In his early reporter life he worked with and later championed a poet called Barry McSweeney, also a huge Bob fan, who had a difficult life but produced a lot of poetry. Terry was involved in a memorial type volume for him, including essays. He really did know an awful lot and liked an awful lot. 

Of late he was really proud of the London Magazine work because at first I think it was for nothing but developed into him being a rated and paid reviewer. He knew the whole modern British and American poetry scene very well. He liked what was the Hamilton template, the short, slightly obtuse lyric, but was also way open to modern American forms. He was endlessly getting books and telling you of his haul, either as review freebies or what he'd bought. Poetry totally engaged him. In some ways the literary life seemed more real to him than actual life, which was probably a help in the trial of his last fourteen months. He had also recently starting reviewing for a newish thing called The Next Review and was very pleased about that.
 
A major poetic interest, too, was the work of Philip Larkin. He wrote articles for About Larkin, the journal concerned with Larkin's work and life, reviewing there and elsewhere new Collected editions, and writing knowledgeably about the choices different editors of the volumes made. One of his most recent reviews was of the new book of photographs taken by Philip Larkin, and the connection that could be made with his poems.

I should say too he was always very kind. I think that was a big aspect of his character. He was a networker and a giver, and, that old-fashioned word, a gentleman. Unasked for and unexpected at different times he gave me various books that he knew I would like. He did love Bob Dylan and his work and thought he was a genius, and probably didn't think plagiarism was relevant to whether he was or not, unlike me, but he knew and was interested in everything poetic really. I mean everything. He was much more than someone who was crucial to a Bob Dylan magazine [The Bridge]. Though of course he was always that.
 
_____

BOOKS READ IN 2015

I seem to have read more books this year than last - and far more than in any recent year before that. I haven't included here the Dylan-related books I've also read or skimmed through during 2015:

THE 8.55 TO BAGHDAD, Andrew Eames, 2004 so badly written it’s absurd that it won an award from the British Guild of Travel Writers, but good subject-matter
LET THE DEVIL SPEAK: Articles, Essays, & Incitements, Steven Hart, 2014 some substantial, brilliantly sleuthed essays
CHATTERTON, Peter Ackroyd, 1987 vivid, absorbing, but the insistent wackiness of every  character is over the top, & really he says nothing about plagiarism, which is his theme
CROW LAKE, Mary Lawson, 2002 completely wonderful novel, fresh and true
THE DOCTOR & MR. DYLAN, Rick Novak, 2014 good on Hibbing, hopeless on humans; it's not about Bob Dylan, and it's a novel
THE ASSASSINATION OF MARGARET THATCHER, Hilary Mantel, 2014 short stories, with a whiff of using up old rejects; 2nd-rate by her standards
HISTORY OF MADNESS, Michel Foulcault, 1961 I gave it up: it's far too clever for me
GREAT APES, Will Self, 1997 I gave this up too: couldn’t stand his interminable showing off or his brutish arsehole-obsessing modernism
REVALUATION, F.R. Leavis, 1936 his least readable book
THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS, Joseph Conrad, 1897 a slim volume but very demanding: intensive and poetical, with echoes of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner
JOURNEYS: An Anthology, ed Robyn Davidson, 2001 snotty intro, sloppy edits, and a wayward selection of pieces, in that many aren’t really travel pieces at all
THE HUNGER GAMES [Bk 1], Suzanne Collins, 2008 clever, strongly plotted, decently-written dystopian-world page-turner; understandably a cult best-seller
TO FOLLOW THE LEAD, Annie S. Swan, c1911 appealing simplicity till the regrettable crescendo of god-bothering
THE SAFFRON KITCHEN, Yasmin Crowther, 2006 boring till p60, then a great central patch of affecting drama, and then a long ending of tiresome didactic hokum
THE OUTCAST, Sadie Jones, 2007 strikingly clear prose describing a slew of terrible events; compelling, sensitive, touching, and with strong characters
PRECIOUS BANE, Mary Webb, 1924 I was bereft at finishing this wonderful, beautiful, forcefully-written, unique book: so vivid, poetic, touching, sustained, humbling, sweet-natured - all without any cuteness or arch self-consciousness
THE GOLDFINCH, Donna Tartt, 2013 couldn’t be more different from ‘Precious Bane’ but its equal or better: phenomenally good - vast canvas (centred on a small one...)
FRANKIE & STANKIE, Barbara Trapido, 2003 terrible title and a bit shallow, but funny, fresh and quirky
WRITERS IN HOLLYWOOD 1915-1951, Ian Hamilton, 1990 very solid but afraid to be anything but studious, so too few Hollywood Babylonian anecdotes
THE EDWARDIANS, Vita Sackville-West, 1930 patchy writing; some implausible plot twists & characters; poor dialogue; fascinating material; glad I read it
DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE, Amanda Petrusich, 2014 loved it: a necessary look into the avid world of the 78rpm rare record collector; intelligent & humane
THE PAYING GUESTS, Sarah Waters, 2014 riveting, richly imaginative, a tense major work: nearly as good as ‘Fingersmith’ (high praise); so admirable
THE VERSIONS OF US, Laura Barnett, 2015 alluring premise, crap book: all so calculated instead of imagined; in shaming contrast to the Sarah Waters
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Harper Lee, 1960 a book almost everyone read at school but I never did; lovely, though read now - in retrospect - a bit apologist about the very southern racism the book deplores
SKIOS, Michael Frayn, 2012 this is Wodehouse Lite (with similarly ingenious plotting)
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS, John Boyne, 2006 a clever, touching, unusual, good novel by no means only for Young Readers
WHEN WE WERE THIN, C.P. Lee, 2007 a really interesting social history of the UK music biz 1968-1980s - and a great title
THE MAN IN THE QUEUE, Josephine Tey, 1929 engaging and well-written, except for the purple prose paragraphs designed to prove she’s a Real Writer; the usual whodunit cheat: introducing a surprise relationship we couldn’t have guessed at
SMALL CEREMONIES, Carol Shields, 1976 at times piercing observation in taut, captivating prose; at times I felt oh-for-fuck’s-sake-you-precious-twee-middle-class-wimp
THE TERRIBLE PRIVACY OF MAXWELL SIM, Jonathan Coe, 2010 the terrible title, the awful postmodern ending - both indicative of garrulousness - and in between, a deflating, depressing book; Time Out found it “hugely enjoyable”...
PURPLE HIBISCUS, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2004 completely absorbing novel from a justifiably confident writer creating a refreshing, convincing Africa
THE TRAVELLING HORNPLAYER, Barbara Trapido, 1998 substantial, fiercely intelligent, dexterously plotted but with a horrible and improbable end section
BUDDY HOLLY, Dave Laing, 1971 captivating, modest, refreshing to read again now, full of acute small observations & quite right in its analysis of his influence [I wrote an earlier blogpost about this book]
THE MILLSTONE, Margaret Drabble, 1965 a slim volume in the best sense as well as literally; light touch, swift intelligence, subtlety & gaiety & delicacy of feeling and, now, a fascinating glimpse into pre-Carnaby St 1960s London life
STRAIGHT LIFE, Art & Laurie Pepper, 1994 edn mammoth oral autobiography + others’ testimony, of & to a very contradictory life: rich yet impoverished, creative yet sunk in addiction & its gruesome degradation; and vivid, espically about violent prison life; a hugely more candid autobiography than most
THE END OF THE AFFAIR, Graham Greene, 1951 occasional moments of sharp interest sticking out of the blancmange of dated Catholic hooey
THE L-SHAPED ROOM, Lynne Reid Banks, 1960 marvellous to find so belatedly: brilliantly plotted, vivid characters but subtly drawn, a glorious opinionatedness and such robust intelligence about human feeling and behaviour
THE BACKWARD SHADOW, Lynne Reid Banks, 1970 so very disappointing: contrived, ricketty plotting, shallowed characters who become hard to care about; a plunge into what would now be called Chick Lit
UNDER MILK WOOD, Dylan Thomas, 1954 [posthumous] pioneering but now a smaller thing than its reputation
BHOWANI JUNCTION, John Masters, 1954 powerful, compelling, brave, compassionate book it would be all too easy to dismiss today for its political incorrectness, yet in some ways ahead of its time, and from a really individual writer
THE LAST SEPTEMBER, Elizabeth Bowen, 1929 full of her exceptional brilliance, yet an oddly muted depiction of a crucial period in Irish history and the uncomfortable Anglo-Irish life clung to within it
SKATING TO ANTARCTICA, Jenny Diski, 1997 abiff with intelligence and self-indulgent pawing at the wounds of her appalling childhood; and brilliant, if brief, about penguins
A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD, Anne Tyler, 2015 much lauded; I was left wondering why
THE DEATH OF THE HEART, Elizabeth Bowen, 1938 another piercing scrutiny
CANADA, Richard Ford, 2012 not a pleasurable  read but a highly compelling and original novel
TIPPING THE VELVET, Sarah Waters, 1998 not a patch on ‘Fingersmith’: far too and-then-this-happened-and-then-this-happened, and too heavily playing the lesbian card - where ‘Fingersmith’ was a masterpiece of plot, character and prose
MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT, Charles Dickens, 1843-4 a great start but then filler and comparative failure: the least solid Dickens novel I've read
LONG BEFORE THE STARS WERE TORN DOWN, J.A. Wainwright, 2015 very readable cowboyish novel with a deft structure, though weak on women characters and with an unsatisfying semi-postmodern ending (aren’t they always?)
_

BOB DYLAN DREAM

I've written before of my admiration for Roy Kelly's writing about Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan fandom and the past and its impingement on the present, so it's no surprise that I should be glad to see, published at long last, Roy's book!:


As you may barely be able to see, I've written one of the endorsements for it - the one in the white ghetto by the barcode at the bottom of the back. But that aside, I like the whole cover - the very Woody Guthriesque Bob figure on the front, the pale blue, Roy's own very skilful blurb on the back, and the splendid quote from Nigel Hinton quite rightly there on the front.

It's available as a paperback and as an e-book, and the link to the paperback is here. Get it and read it. A Christmas present to yourself.

DYLAN'S GREAT 1980 TORONTO CONCERT: MASSIVELY UPGRADED FOOTAGE

Before Bob comes on and starts the main and lengthy part of this exceptional concert with 'Gotta Serve Somebody', things begin with a still unpalatable, hopelessly corny godbothering "story" from Regina McCrary. Then comes some beautifully sung, very ordinary gospel fare - though with gorgeous keyboards, and the pleasure of seeing the wondrous Clydie King and the others so clearly. But Bob arrives to offer a really forceful performance of many gems. He gives out so much energy and yet takes so much vocal care - and of a kind only Dylan can. Now this whole concert has been made available with hugely improved footage and audio quality. My thanks go to Andrea Orlandi for posting it on Facebook today.

I thought it might be useful to add the approximate start times of each Bob song performance. They are:

18:00 - Gotta Serve Somebody
24:36 - I Believe In You
29:30 - When He Returns [Bob on piano]
35:20 - talks about Ronnie Hawkins
36:15 - Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody
40:43 - Cover Down, Break Through [brief remarks at end]
45:20 - Man Gave Names To All The Animals
50:59 - Precious Angel
56:06 - instrumental twiddling, feeding into...
57:03 - Slow Train
1.03:30 - introduces 2 solo song performances by women singers
1.13:42 - Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others)
1.18:23 - rambling, opaque, preachy speech eventually leading into...
1.25:00 - Solid Rock
1.29:10 - Saving Grace
1.34:17 - Saved [no pause at end]; straight into...
1.39:06 - What Can I Do For You?
1.45:52 - speech
1.46:48 - In The Garden
1.53:00 - introduces band & singers & goes preachy again
1.56:20 - Are You Ready?
2.01:10 - Pressing On.

If these timings don't exactly correspond to what you find when you try them, it'll be because (a) my computer is elderly and (b) everything digital is inherently unstable and unreliable. But anyway, an extraordinary concert.




CELEBRATE BOB'S 75th A MONTH AHEAD

You may be busy at a Dylan Days type event next May - specially around May 24th, a Tuesday, when Dylan turns 75 - but if you'd like to be involved a bit earlier, why not take part in our first Bob Dylan Discussion Weekend since 2014?

It's happening on the first weekend in April - Friday the 1st to Sunday the 3rd - and there are places for just six people.

Come to our home in beautiful rural southwest France - specifically in département 32, the Gers - the département with the cleanest air and the emptiest roads in France.

the house
garden, pool & other side of the road

All the details are here on my website and this is what some of our previous guests have written to say afterwards:


"We really enjoyed it, thanks to both of you. The setting was wonderful (as was the weather), the food sublime, and the discussions were great."
Martin and Michele

"A special thank you for a gem of a weekend. Wonderful food, warm hospitality and an amazing giving of knowledge."
Jill and Louise

"We thoroughly enjoyed our visit in every respect and we offer our thanks to your good self and to Sarah for making our stay so  memorable."
Dave and Irene

"Thank you again for this excellent weekend. Sarah's cooking was brilliant and both Dylan Evenings are engraved in my mind. It was an unforgettable weekend. It's sometimes so easily said or written, but it really, really was. We're wallowing in pleasure. May you stay forever young."
Lukas and Saskia

"Thank you so very much. Everything was just perfect, Sarah's fantastic food and the great new insights into Bob Dylan's life gained through Michael's incredible knowledge which he so enthusiastically shared with his guests. I really loved the chosen tracks too, how different they are from the ones on commercial CDs..."
Marion

"Many thanks from the three of us for a great weekend. Lovely food and wine (our thanks to Sarah of course) and terrific conversation. All highly recommended!"
James

"I look back at a wonderful weekend. Thank you very much for your hospitality and inspiring sessions. Thanks too to Sarah for the delicious meals."
Robert


"Michael, we had a wonderful time and it was a privilege to spend some time with the two of you."
Irwin & Erica

"The house is in a beautiful part of France, and the food cooked and served by Michael's wife Sarah is absolutely outstanding, as is the wine ! It's by no means all about Bob, and we met some very interesting guests, but it was wonderful to have the opportunity to chat with other people who are equally enthralled by Bob's work, and to hear at first hand Michael's extensive knowledge of Dylan's work. A truly marvellous weekend!!"
Martin

"Thank you to both you and Sarah for a lovely weekend: we both enjoyed it immensely."
Catherine

"Can I just thank you once again for the weekend? We both had a fantastic time. Please pass on our thanks to Sarah as well, not least for her truly outstanding cooking."
Daniel & Ruth

"You made me and everyone feel very welcome and I couldn't really think of anything to improve the weekend. The food was divine and it was great to be able to indulge our Bob Dylan interest (I'm avoiding using the word obsession!) in an unfettered way!"
Ian

TRAVELLING IN THE NORTH COUNTRIES, AND A SOUTHBOUND TRAIN

This is a look back over my October-November tour of talks, now that I'm home again in the southwest of France.

I gave talks on BOB DYLAN & THE HISTORY OF ROCK'N'ROLL at Cape Breton University, Nova Scotia, Canada; at the University of Texas at Austin; at Arkansas State University at Jonesboro AR; and at the University of Oslo. And I gave talks on BOB DYLAN & THE POETRY OF THE BLUES at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada; at the University of Chicago; at Southwestern University, Georgetown TX; at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln NE; at the University of Nebraska at Kearney; and at Goldsmiths College, London.
The quirky, surprisingly classy-roomed Royal Hotel, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Aside from the talks themselves, and the people who made up my audiences and hosts, and others met along the way, the most memorable episodes for me were encountering US Customs & Immigration on the way in  to Chicago from Canada, and the 29-hour train ride I took out  of Chicago all the way down south to Austin Texas.

I'd expected to meet US Customs & Immigration when I reached  Chicago, but no, they occupy a whole portion of the main airport in Montreal - and a vast acreage of corridors and checkpoints it is too. And instead of granting me the Visa Waiver Business stamp for my passport straight away, as always in the past, they made me wait, and then pulled me aside - "Is there a problem?" "No, no problem: just go and take a seat over there, sir, please"... and so I had to sit and fret in a special waiting area while a gathering of these officers discussed me. None seemed able to dare be responsible for simply letting me in. Time passed. Then one of them, who looked more like a lapsed Amish in fancy dress than an immigration officer, called me over to his small cubicle ("Michael, just step in here a moment...") and grilled me for the longest time, making me show him all the university letters of invitation I had with me, peering through my 7-page printed itinerary like a man who could hardly read, and then sending me back to the forlorn and deserted waiting area while he went off once more to consult . . . while I sweated away and the time ticked by right up to my the gate-closing time for my flight - and beyond. Then he called me back int one more time (and it was "Mr Gray" now, which sounded worse) - and finally gave me the passport stamp thtree minutes before my flight was leaving from a long way away down the airport. "There are plenty of flights to Chicago," he smirked. Mine, of course, was of the cheap, non-transferable type, valid for that flight only. Luckily, Air Canada were kind and gave me a boarding pass for the flight a couple of hours later. Not my favourite part of the trip.

But ah, Chicago. The parts of the university I saw - the music department lecture theatre and the quadrangle you reach it from -  are elegant Victoriana, with ivy climbing stone walls and mullioned gothic windows: all this in sharp contrast to the soaring drama of the city's skyscrapers, which cluster together gleam with far more panache than New York's. I didn't have enough time here, really, to enjoy the zing of the city, before I set off in a cab to Union Station.

The train was just great. 29 hours with no wifi available (and in my case no American mobile phone): 29 hours throughout which no-one could demand anything from me. So rare a thing today. Just the innate glamour of the epic ride, the dining-car sociability - they put you together with strangers at shared tables - the changing landscape, the sleeping compartment, and the sheer olde worlde physicality of it: all iron and steel and rattling tracks and big old bridges taking you high up over muddy rivers and through woods with little wooden houses and mules and rusting 1940s pick-up trucks. We'd pulled out of Chicago at 1.45pm, and rolled on through the afternoon and evening, and all through the night. When I woke in the early morning we were crossing into Texas, and it took all that second day to clatter down through that enormous state; and after I disembarked at Austin, at 6.35pm, it was going to go head on further south, still in Texas, for a number of hours more.



And then at the end of my trip, the flight back to France from Montreal, and a quick side trip to London for an especially enjoyable talk at Goldsmiths College in New Cross (where I used to live, not especially happily, once upon a time) and on to Oslo on Norwegian Air, which had wi-fi on the flight (!).
flying out of Montreal, November 1st
flying in towards Paris next morning

My first visit to Norway, and an unexpected pleasure from first to last - from the elegant airport with its beautiful wood-floored corridors and the highly congenial, efficient train into the good-looking city centre to the university and my reception there. Texas is well over twice the size of Norway, but a good deal less civilised.

Back again via London, and home to beautiful weather: days of 25+ degrees Celsius (77+ Fahrenheit), and the keen anticipation of receiving Bob Dylan's most essential Bootleg Series issue, The Cutting Edge. Altogether this trip I was away for 26 days.

I calculated my mileage totals this morning:

By road: 891
By rail: 1,780
By air: 15,829

TOTAL = 18,500 miles.

________________


BUDDY HOLLY BY DAVE LAING, FROM 1971



I’ve been reading - for the first time since it was new - Dave Laing’s fine little book Buddy Holly, published by Rock Books/November Books in the UK in 1971.


Its atmosphere is, savoured today, soaked in the modesty of the pre-Google age: when we knew we had access to limited knowledge and that finding things out meant taking pains to explore around a subject. Laing’s personal style tends to the beguilingly tentative in any case, but this sense of limitation, of there being room for doubt, of learning being something demanding care and time, is also a symptom of the era.

Perhaps too there was a special compatibility between subject and book because back then there were only a very small number of books about rock music, a subject still regarded with disdain by broadsheet newspapers and the vast majority of publishers. The rock writing of the early 1970s was as far from mainstream as rock’n’roll when The Crickets cut ‘That’ll Be The Day’.

So we may know more about Buddy Holly’s life and work now - and of course we have easy access to hearing every aspirated glottal stop he ever put on tape; but the spirit of the book gets us closer to Holly’s own. It was published only 12 years after that plane crash, and when Dave Laing was only 24: hardly older than Buddy had been. Book and subject occupy a more similar world than ours can do, and comparable niches within it.

One of Laing’s observations, which I’ve not encountered elsewhere, is that Holly differed from the other major rock’n’roll stars in having a long, slow route to success whereas the others found stardom more or less from the start. He failed to get anywhere with the ‘Buddy and Bob’ Nesman Studio sessions at Wichita Falls, and again with the 1956 sessions for Decca in Nashville, returning to Lubbock still an unknown both times:
            “In this Holly is unique, for the first records of most of the young white rock’n’roll singers were their first hits.”
            He could have omitted the word “white”, since the same virtually instant success happened for rock’n’roll’s biggest black stars too, Little Richard and Chuck Berry.

It may be an obvious thing to say, too, as Laing does, that “in most rock’n’roll records...sound dominates meaning” - and that typically a Holly record exemplifies this: “the themes of the words on the page need not necessarily relate to the way the words are sung on the record.” But if this seems obvious, it is at least usefully specific. To say “sound dominates meaning” is a brilliantly economical statement of a truth that applies not just to 1950s rock’n’roll but throughout the whole of pop. I’m drawn towards words, and always have been, and find them infinitely easier to write about than music, yet when I listen back now to 1959-1963 records I bought and thought were great, not only do the words make me cringe but they show me that I never absorbed the verbal import of the words at all then.

I heard them as sounds, and as a kind of expressive colouring for the singer. Only by doing so could I not have found them risible. The last thing the teenage me would have said to my girlfriend was “Bless you - bless every breath that you take”, and yet it splashed through me cheerily enough on the hit single by Tony Orlando, himself only sixteen when he made the record.

(It’s a charming quirk of this book, then, that having insisted on the secondary importance of Holly’s lyrics on his records, Laing pays quite close attention to those lyrics.)

The exception was Elvis, whose records before he came out of the army tended to have lyrics that were either so striking as to break through the sound (‘Heartbreak Hotel’ - and what a sound the lyric had to break through!) or they had meaning that impinged because it augmented and played upon his smouldering image of the dangerous, rebellious sexpot.

Which was, of course, the last thing you could say of Buddy Holly. What he and the Crickets did instead, more significantly, was, as Dave Laing summed up long before most, to open up “new possibilities for guitar-based rock’n’roll groups, and directly [foreshadow] the way many groups of the mid-’60s came to function as self-contained composing and performing units.”

That’s one hell of a prototype to have offered the music, in the early years of rock’n’roll and ever since.

________

To declare an interest - I've known Dave Laing off and on since about the same time this book was published. He was editor of Let It Rock  when we were members of the Let It Rock Writers' Co-operative; he took me in, and we ate toast together a lot, to save me being homeless in London at some point in the 1980s, and in the late 1990s he organised the first Robert Shelton Memorial Conference at Liverpool University at which I was a speaker.

BOB DYLAN & THE HISTORY OF ROCK'N'ROLL: A VIDEO

Here's a neat little video created by The Forum Tunbridge Wells to promote my BOB DYLAN & THE HISTORY OF ROCK'N'ROLL gig there on Sunday Sept 20 at 8pm.



But just a reminder that I'll also be giving this 1-man-show-type talk with loud audio and rare footage at...

An Lanntair, Stornoway, Sept 9
Halifax Square Chapel, Sept 11
Civic Theatre, Barnsley, Sept 12
Artrix Studio, Bromsgrove, Sept 13
Kitchen Garden Cafe, B'ham, Sept 15
Swindon Arts Centre, Sept 16
The Flavel, Dartmouth, Sept 19
Stamford Arts Centre, Sept 22
Colchester Arts Centre, Sept 23
Norwich Arts Centre, Sept 24 and
Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal Sept 25...

FACING UP TO FACEBOOK

Yes, after being urged by so many people that an author "needs" a Facebook page, I've succumbed:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Michael-Gray/886444541429784

and hope you'll have a look at it from time to time, for news & pictures.

UPDATED BOB & ROCK'N'ROLL POSTER!

Due to circumstances beyond my control, one of my September UK dates (the one in Dorset) has been cancelled. I believe it's the first time in 15 years that any of my gigs ever has been. So here's the updated tour poster, kindly revised by its brilliant designer, Jon Wainwright:


THE STAVES: WHITE TEETH & PLEASANT HARMONIES

I don't know why I can't an official video to go with the single of The Staves' 'Teeth White' - it's a pity, because I think it's better than this live version - but here they are on French TV. I like them because they remind me of that early Kate & Anna McGarrigle sound:




MAP NO. 26 - MY GIGS ROUTE in SEPTEMBER


WED SEPT 9 - An Lanntair, STORNOWAY
FRI SEPT 11 - Square Chapel Arts Centre, HALIFAX
SAT SEPT 12 - The Civic, BARNSLEY
SUN SEPT 13 - Artrix, BROMSGROVE
TUE SEPT 15 - Kitchen Garden Cafe, BIRMINGHAM
WED SEPT 16 - Arts Centre, SWINDON
SAT SEPT 19 - The Flavel, DARTMOUTH
SUN SEPT 20 - The Forum, TUNBRIDGE WELLS
TUE SEPT 22 - Arts Centre, STAMFORD
WED SEPT 23 - Arts Centre, COLCHESTER
THU SEPT 24 - Arts Centre, NORWICH
FRI SEPT 25 - The Brewery, KENDAL.

Details of times, tickets etc here on my website

[NB: The WIMBORNE event shown on the map has been cancelled.]

BIG FRONT YARD: A MEMOIR

There was a Birmingham (UK) based band at the start of the 1970s, Hard Meat, that released two albums on Warner Brothers Records, though being on that major label did them no good at all so far as sales were concerned. The core of the band was the Dolan Brothers, Mike (or Mick: people chose which to call him and he took no offence either way) and Steve.

In their post-Hard Meat days I knew the Dolans very well. Mike Dolan died last year, on August 2nd, from brain cancer, having survived the throat cancer he had fought against a few years earlier. Steve, the younger brother, died 15 years ago today - May 22, 2000.

I met the Dolans in 1973 when we all lived around Malvern, Worcestershire. They played a few local gigs with a changing assortment of other local musicians; I met them by going to one or two of these gigs.

At some point in 1974 they became Big Front Yard (another bad name? – anyway, taken from a sci-fi short story Mike admired) and I became their manager. They got nowhere.

When exactly they became Big Front Yard I’m not sure, but it was fixed only after Mike & his wife Sue (whose sister lived in the Napa Valley in California) went to London, supposedly for a week, so that he could rehearse with, and join, a group named Forsyth... but they came home a few days later, Forsyth having broken up. They paid Mike off with £30. This was in March 1974.

Mike Dolan in my West Malvern garden, June 1973
© Michael Gray, 2015
 

£30 was about the amount Big Front Yard were being paid for most of their gigs: £30 to be shared between the band, roadie Phil, me and the petrol for one gas-guzzling old van after another. They played all around the Birmingham area, on average once a week. It was that weary period punk soon abolished, when groups had to be fine musicians with loads of heavy-maintenance equipment just to be able to play in a pub for next to nothing. The best-paying gig was the one we promoted ourselves every couple of weeks at the Foley Arms Hotel in Malvern.

Mike was the leader of the group, lead guitarist and lead vocalist. He and Sue lived down a winding hill just outside West Malvern, in a cottage that had once been a country pub and was still called The Bell, with Jesse, their very Just-William little boy. (Sue and Jesse both live in California now.)

The first drummer, I believe, was Alan Mennie, always known as Min, and he was older. If he’s still alive, he’ll be 74 now. My then-wife and I had a house on a hill, with two storeys at the front but four at the back, and these extra layers were flats we rented out. In 1974 Min and girlfriend Dot had one of them. Min and I played chess together from time to time. I can’t remember when he quit the group, but it must have been at some point soon after February 1975, when he was playing (and speaking) on the recording session they did at Birmingham’s commercial radio station BRMB.

Min gets credits on albums by King Crimson and Pete Sinfield, and was always somewhat jazz-oriented. Many years later – in the early 1990s – he and Dot co-owned a house in a little village in Turkey with Mike Dolan and his girlfriend Glenn, and I remember calling in there once on a family holiday and seeing Mike emerging from the sea with his surfboard, looking far healthier than he’d ever looked in the 1970s of his youth.

Min seems to have disappeared without trace now, along with Dot and the son they had called Jamie. We’ve googled till we’re blue in the face but cannot find them.

There were a couple of drummers after Min – the dark, handsome one whose name I’ve forgotten: Rob Mason? - in the "official" photo from mid-1975 (below)  - and then Keith Baker, a local postman who in 1976 also became a tenant of a flat at our house.

Keith had known the Dolans forever, and had played music with them in earlier incarnations; he's here at the back in a photo from 1965 (which I've no idea how I acquired):

Front: Mike Dolan; Back, left to right: unknown; Keith Baker; Steve Dolan

At one point, early on, the band had also included an organ player, and he’s to be heard to good effect on ‘Mad John’s Dream’, the B-side of their one single. The A-side was ‘Money-Go-Round’. It was recorded in a nearby barn, and issued on Rampant Records, a label formed by my then-wife and I specially to release their record.




Around the end of 1974, BFY lost the organist and added a second guitarist, Sam Sun (Keith Sampson), who is on the BRMB sessions and the A-side and was a long-time stalwart of their gigs. He was a likeable, sensitive man, full of pain, who drank far too much horrible Barley Wine. He’s dead now too. I believe he killed himself.

Mike Dolan, Sam Sun, Rob Mason (?) & Steve Dolan, early 1976

Live and on record, Big Front Yard sounded pretty much like Hard Meat – which, impressively, the Dolans rarely mentioned afterwards. Big Front Yard played a couple of London gigs (eg Newlands Tavern, Peckham, Feb 19, 1975: fee £20) which we hoped A&R men would come to, but none did. We sent a demo cassette to John Peel. Nothing.

Mike also had a little home studio at The Bell, and there produced, and played guitar on, a couple of tracks by a childhood friend of mine, Peter Harrison – whose splendidly politically incorrect stage name was Huge Black Gussie Watson – which I still have on a home-made CD. (Peter died in 2007.) Steve played bass on an unissued track I wrote and produced in 1981 and have yet to give up on... Mike went on to achieve a great deal in the latter half of his life. Steve died too young for us to know what he might have done.

I last spoke to Mike on the telephone when he was living in Cornwall in another relationship that broke up subsequently. In his last two or three years he spent half his time in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, with his final partner Jackie, and half his time, also with her, in another little village house in Turkey, having quarrelled irretrievably with Min & Dot over their previous shared Turkey house. I was able to get to Steve's funeral but not to Mike's, nor to Sam Sun's.

Here's another picture of the late-75-and-76 line-up, all posed with their dilapidated Renault 4s outside The Bell in summer 1975:

It's disturbing to me that of these four, all younger than me, only one is still alive (Keith Baker, on the left of the picture).

Lastly, here are the Dolans onstage at the Foley Arms, Great Malvern in 1976:


 It's a long time ago (so any corrections will be welcomed), but it was a distinct part of my life in that pre-Thatcher world, in which I'd not long given up my dayjob (teaching English in schools) on the strength of signing my first book's US deal (1972) and had moved to the Malvern hills with wife, young son and high hopes. By the end of the long hot summer of 1976 I was on social security and by the start of 1977 I'd taken a job as Head of Press at UA Records in London, where self-styled punk artistes were telling 30-year-old Old Hippies like me that we ought to be lined up against a wall and shot. Mike Dolan's response would have been to turn the other cheek. Steve's would have been to throw a punch.

Footnote: I'm pleased to say I shall be revisiting Big Front Yard's general area on my own September tour of gigs: I'll be at Artrix in Bromsgrove on the 13th and then at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in King's Heath, Birmingham, on the 15th. I'm hoping Keith Baker might come along...

________

LORD JANNER & CO.: TOO ILL TO TESTIFY, TOO ILL TO STAND TRIAL

What a shame none of these widely-admired people were well enough to face the courts...


1974: Richard Nixon, Watergate cover-up

1987: Janet F. McKinzie, forgery & fraud charged re collapse of North America Savings & Loan Assn

1989: President Ferdinand E. Marcos of the Philippines, corruption charges

1992: Newport Beach Police Chief Arb Campbell, rape and sexual discrimination charges

1993: Erich Honecker, treason, corruption and abuse of power charges

2000: Margaret Thatcher’s friend General Pinochet, “too ill to stand trial” (Jack Straw)

2000: Former Indonesian President Suharto, corruption enquiry

2005: Former taoiseach Charles Haughey, to the Moriarty tribunal into dodgy deals re property and tax

2005: Dr James Lennox Kane, accused of maiming women in bungled operations

2006: Convicted racketeer Rick Rizzolo, tax evasion & racketeering, Las Vegas

2008: gangster Charles (Charlie Moose) Panarella, labour racketeering, NYC

2008: Pakistan President Zardari, corruption charges

2009: Colin Cope, independent school head accused of sexually abusing five boys

2011: Jacques Chirac too ill to stand trial for embezzlement

2011: Khmer Rouge social affairs minister Ieng Thirith, too “aged” - ie 69

2011 & 2012: Hilary Clinton, twice avoiding giving congressional testimony re murder of US ambassador & three others by Islamists in Benghazi

2013: Marcus Schlosser, head of an international investment scam

2013: Henry Assumang, in trial re his deliberate HIV infection of 2 women UK

2014: Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic trial

2014: Former Chicago Mayor Daley, police torture & his 30-year cover-up of it

2015: Leo Barnes, accused of double murder in UK

April 2015: Lord Janner, child sex abuse (9 days after signing letter wanting to continue to be in the House of Lords)

May 2015: Oskar Groening, Auschwitz bookkeeper in murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews trial

______

BOB DYLAN & THE HISTORY OF ROCK'N'ROLL: 2 MAY GIGS

Pleased to say I'm making two live appearances next month - one in Dorset and one in Suffolk. Details:

Friday May 15, 7.30pm 
BLANDFORD FORUM
BOB DYLAN & THE HISTORY OF ROCK'N'ROLL
Coade Hall, Bryanston School

Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 0PX
tel: 01258 484623 or boxoffice@bryanston.co.uk
admission free but please book

Sunday May 17, 7.30pm

BURY ST. EDMUNDS FESTIVAL
BOB DYLAN & THE HISTORY OF ROCK'N'ROLL
The Hunter Club Main Hall
6 St Andrews Street South
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP33 3PH

tel: 01284 758000 or
https://www.buryfestival.co.uk/whats-on/event/1443/bob-dylan--the-history-of-rock-n-roll
£12 but only £5 for under-25s; Festival Friends get discount