Launch party for Rob Dellar‘s book Splitting in Two: Mad Pride & Punk Rock Oblivion and also Esther Leslie‘s Derelicts: Thought Worms from the Wreckage, starring Alternative TV and an Association of Musical Marxists’ freak-out with improvisors including Sarah Gail Brand, Alan Wilkinson, Dave Morgan, Paul Seacroft, Len Massey and Peter Baxter at The Lexington, Pentonville Road, 7:30pm Sunday 25th May.
Esther Leslie reads ‘Square Mile Quagmire’, the final chapter of her book Derelicts: Thought Worms From the Wreckage, accompanied by Paul Seacroft on lap steel guitar, while Rob Dellar introduces the event, explains something of the origins of Mad Pride, and reads from the final chapter of his book, Splitting in Two: Mad Pride and Punk Rock Oblivion.
Alternative TV play tracks including ‘Splitting in Two’, ‘Lost in Room’, ‘Action Time Vision’ and ‘Radio Story’.
Perfomances by Out to Lunch, Jim MacDougall (Ape Shit) and the AMM Orchestra: Alan Wilkinson (tenor sax), Paul Seacroft (lap steel guitar), Sarah Gail Brand (trombone), Peter Baxter (drums) and Len Massey (electronics).
Mainly Gargles and Raspberries: AMM9 (the Ninth Congress of the Association of Musical Marxists) is opened by Sarah Gail Brand playing trombone from the back of the auditorium (The Lexington on Pentonville Road, London, 25-v-2014) as the Electronic Section of the AMM All-Stars (Paul Seacroft on pedal steel guitar and Len Massey on analogue synth) and “sound drummer” Peter Baxter warm up the stage. OTL recites a poem he made up on the spot entitled “Mainly Gargles and Raspberries”.
Love at First Parp: In this second selection from AMM9, Paul Seacoft (pedal steel guitar) and Sarah Gail Brand (trombone) coo lovingly at each other whilst Len Massey (analogue synth) and Peter Baxter (drums) remind everyone that romance is not all; romance is a pale pink streak in a world strafed by randomness and surprise. You can hear some chatter in the background, that was Jim MacDougall, his sister and friends at the bar, so MC Lunch went and brought Jim onstage to help read OTL’s graphic poem “Whence once trifle merge as blong Sewell resting place FIST” which included an invocation of John Plant (absent).
Shit or Chocolate?: Third selection from AMM9 at the Lexington: Challenged as to whether he’s run out of material, Jim MacDougall recalls an old Fairy Liquid TV jingle; Dave Morgan from Alternative TV joins in on his drumset; and there’s a shout-out to Mad Pride poet Frank Bangay.
Alan’s Onboard: Alan Wilkinson arrives to join the rest of the AMM All-Stars: fourth selection from AMM9, the Ninth Congress of the Association of Musical Marxists held the Lexington on Pentonville Road in London on 25 May 2014. Sarah Gail Brand on trombone, Peter Baxter on drums, Paul Seacroft on pedal steel guitar, Len Massey on analogue synth.
We Keep Going: The Ninth Congress of the Association of Musical Marxists at The Lexington on Pentonville Road, London, 25-v-2014: Alan Wilkinson – sax, Sarah Gail Brand – trombone, Len Massey – analogue synth, Paul Seacroft – pedal steel guitar, Peter Baxter – sound drums, Dave Morgan – drums
Worthless Boogaloo: Dave Morgan (drummer for headliners Alternative TV, guest of AMM All-Stars) introduces a Bitches Brew beat to tidy up proceedings. But with these people it sounds more like Billy Jenkins than Miles. What I like about the All-Stars is that they are basically hostile to the entire syntax of “music”. Sixth selection from AMM9, the Ninth Congress of the Association of Musical Marxists held at The Lexington on Pentonville Road, London, 25-v-2014: Alan Wilkinson – sax, Sarah Gail Brand – trombone, Len Massey – analogue synth, Paul Seacroft – pedal steel guitar, Peter Baxter – sound drums, Dave Morgan – drums, Out To Lunch – harmonica, mouth noise.
Culture as Necessary Emetic & Grandiose Finale: Seventh selection from AMM9, the Ninth Congress of the Association of Musical Marxists at The Lexington on Pentonville Road, London, 25-v-2014: Alan Wilkinson – sax, Sarah Gail Brand – trombone, Len Massey – analogue synth, Paul Seacroft – pedal steel guitar, Peter Baxter – sound drums, Dave Morgan – drums.
Square Mile Quagmire: Esther Leslie reads “Square Mile Quagmire” from the last chapter of Derelicts: Thought Worms from the Wreckage (Unkant, 2014) at its launch at the Ninth Congress of the Association of Musical Marxists (AMM9) at the Lexington, Pentonville Road on 25th May 2014, with Paul Seacroft answering her phrases on pedal steel guitar.
I know the city’s water cannot stop its flow, but it can be re-routed. I saw it in the streets around Moorfields Highwalk – “We are replacing London’s Victorian water mains” and I saw the men spraying symbols in fluorescent paint on roads, dashing forwards to mark the tarmac only when the traffic lights glowed red, the vehicles’ current stopped for a moment. I know there is a world below of pipes and flow that pipes and flows ceaselessly and so must be diverted elsewhere. I imagine its gurgles gush mellisonantly but not for us. Or gurgle and splash in ugly spaces. I know that tears may never stop – even if they might be myriad, old, sighing, sad, forced, true or from a lover – but I do not know if capital ever stops its flow. I don’t know how it moves or what its pace is. The city is closed for business at weekends. The only (so-called) life (read: commerce) here on a Sunday is insane, in Sainsbury’s. But the markets don’t stop – the derivatives keep on deriving – without the latte-troops. The shares do not stop being shared (but not too much) even when those fat doors are slammed shut for the weekend and the building broods alone (save a security guard or two). In two different decades I went to stop the city. We failed. Our laments echo still in alleyways bouncing off the mirror glass and impassive office surfaces. Our old chants against war, oppression and destruction went ‘Out! Out! Out!’. Our social deficits, the sadnesses of decades of defeat, hang shrivelled, as the great god Money swelled and never stopped his swelling, until he burst, burst his banks. Capital, one day will you drown me in you, or did you already? Oh but I feel alone: We need our tears of mourning too – on Cornhill a newspaper vendor dies in the milieu of anti-capitalist protest, one last memory the blow of a police baton. City life wells up again, afterwards. Capital continues on its course. It flows like the river …
… no, it doesn’t. It works otherwise. It makes abstract. But the city was once a tangible city of Milk, Bread, Corn, Pudding, Poultry. In Change Alley and Token House Yard naming left clues of what was to drip drip drip into the puddle that is our world. Pathways of concrete things cluttered up now by arbitrary symbols in concrete. A silent Boots – with not a shoe in sight – facing off a dead Commerzbank, from whose name Kurt Schwitters, montagist, tore Merz, a name for all his art. Art cuts in, tears out, makes specific again, stops the flow, holds up something, some sound, for a bright moment of reflection. Our carnival of the weekend is interrupted by the flow of time into Monday. The unlife of the city returns, after art. Tears tears – I can’t be doing with all the tears after spilt milk. ‘Keep on keeping on’ was the popular catchphrase to give solace amidst endless setbacks. Tears – not sloppy drips, but rather tears as cuts, as rents. Cuts, cuts, rents, rents. Deeper, deeper. Sky-high, unpaid. We are back in the money language again – our words are too false-hearted, two-timing. These river banks freeze into vaulted banks. Capital flows – into the language, to coin a phrase. The money keeps flowing, even on the weekends, re-routed into language, just as it is channelled down a zillion electronic rivulets. “Flow, my tears, fall from your springs”. The river is but a grey and cold mirror of our current ache: “there let me live forlorn”. No, no, let me and mine “swell so high”, unlock our silent throats and cry, cry out.
During the Paris uprisings of May 1968, interesting items of graffiti appeared on walls in reclaimed spaces, the most notorious sharing the slogan ‘Beneath the paving stones, the beach’. Such words may or may not have been inspired by Guy Debord’s Situationists. I wasn’t there, and would only have been three at the time. But I gather there was another slogan, which simply said: ‘Quick’. In French.
What apparently this meant was that the insurrection taking place at the time was itself the experience of freedom, and it was no guarantee of any future emancipation. Most people involved must have been aware that the French state, with all its resources and its army and police force, would effortlessly recapture the sectors of Paris briefly reoccupied by those of oppositional outlook. Only briefly would the protesters be able to take control of the streets, find the beach beneath the pavement if they felt so inclined, and breathe the ephemeral air of what must have felt, for a few moments, like freedom.
In retrospect it’s easy to say that we should make the most of it while it lasts. At the time it’s all too easy just to miss it, not truly realising or experiencing what happens in the moment. This is tragic, because nearly all glimpses of emancipation turn out to be merely momentary, and their preciousness can so easily be lost in a fog of planning and rationalisation. This does not, however, mean that these glimpses are illusions.
Conversely, the trouble with living through such events in the moment is that very little in the future ever seems quite so good, and what follows may seem something of a let down. I wasn’t around in May 1968. I even missed the initial, authentic flourish of punk by being born three years too late. But my friends who were there during punk’s early stages realise, looking back, that they were in on something special that can never be truly recreated, and a sad thing for some is that they weren’t even aware of how special it was at the time. Maybe they thought that life could always be like that.
Two typical tendencies exist of people who have lived through such experiences. The first group enjoys nostalgia and dwelling in the past: not trying to recreate the intensity, but instead trying to find ways of remembering and celebrating it. The other involves romanticising that intensity, trying to find ways to simulate it, and perhaps looking for new situations where lessons learnt can be put to good use to create new, once again brief windows of freedom. Once that impulse is in your mind, it is hard to ever let it go.
This can’t hold true for all of us. Some of the characters in this book have settled down with their mortgages and their kids, as they have every right to do, and are frightened of anything that reminds them of their wilder pasts or indeed, anything that takes them out of their security zones. Those people who have conformed have not always been the people who I would have anticipated doing so. Some of these people have not only opted for comfortable lives, but also reneged on their previous progressive political and social beliefs. These days, such people avoid me like the plague.
I’ve lived through a few all too brief approximations of emancipation, not always at the time having the confidence or presence of mind to realise what was happening. The anarchist centres in Wapping and Westbourne Park in the early 1980s, looking back on it, were special places where anything could and did happen, where I was surrounded by other kids who felt as alienated and outside of it all as I did – though, sadly, most of us felt so alienated that we didn’t even realise that we all felt the same way, and we mostly failed to communicate with each other.
I’ve participated in several riots that I liked, and I can’t wait for the next one.
Hackney Anarchy Week gave me some kind of a sensation of freedom, unwell though I was. It was a co-ordinated series of autonomous actions completely against the grain, and a few of us lived through it and got away with it, though unhappily I wasn’t in a fit state to have experienced it with the sense of presence with which I would have liked to have done.
And most importantly for me, my work in the murky world of mental health helped lead to some precious times, including some of the outrageous stunts associated with City and Hackney Mind’s advocacy service and later with Southwark Mind, and in particular, the stuff myself and a few others got up to calling ourselves Mad Pride. For such a short time, we really thought we could change the world. We were wrong, of course. Mad Pride was just a group of us who briefly made a lot of noise that made us sound bigger than we really were. We created a gratuitously intense time for ourselves, which was also lived vicariously by a few other people, and we paid the price.
After such experiences, everything else is tame. But, older and more tired as we become, some of us will always be keeping an eye open for the next opportunity: the appearance of something which at least feels, just for a second, like freedom; which imparts the visceral as well as cerebral sensations that we are truly alive, sensations that will remain with us in our memories and yearnings.
For some of us, the trust that this can still happen, if we truly want it to, is what makes it worth staying alive. Creating the brief flashes of what may as well be authentic and unmediated experience is the best that some of us can ever hope to achieve, because we are the people our parents warned us against.