Story of The Hair
Saturday 9th May 2015.
A laid-back week of reading in cafes, or tidying up at home. ‘Cut thistles in May / They’ll grow in a day’, goes the gardening rhyme. No gardener I, not even of pot plants. Instead I prune my books, lest they march across the floor.
Lots of taking back of library books, and donating to charity shops. A certain elation now, over being able to read what I want, without the guilt of thinking I should be spending such time on a set text. But there’s also a kind of grieving, of not being able to comprehend how the course is finally over.
* * *
Monday 11th May 2015.
4pm: To Maison Bertaux in Soho for tea with Laurence Hughes. New paintings by Noel Fielding on the walls. Laurence reminds me how Derek Jarman was a regular here: he visited Jarman in his Charing Cross flat.
I rather like how this chat turns out to be my first social occasion after the election, given that LH is a UKIP member, and I’m a Green. We politely agree to disagree over matters political, but otherwise get on fine. As it is, we can grumble in unison over the unfairness of the voting system, when millions of votes can only result in a single MP.
Today I remind myself how many of my favourite writers were not exactly tuned into my political wavelength. Evelyn Waugh for starters. A man who in his novels could write so perceptively and beautifully about the business of being human full stop, while in his diary he made remarks like: ‘It is impudent and exorbitant to demand truth from the lower classes’ (Waugh: Diaries, July 1961, p. 784).
Similarly, I’ll always remember how during my candidacy in the 2006 Haringey Council elections, the people who were friendliest to me at the count, after the Greens, were the local Tories. All anyone ever wants to know about anyone is ‘were they nice?’
* * *
Wednesday 13th May 2015.
A day trip to Brighton. £19 day return, a noon train from Victoria, the sea appearing in under an hour. I feel smug about the timing: the sunniest day all week. Some men on the pier are going bare-chested, in that time-honoured, overly optimistic, utterly English way. I revisit the Pavilion for tea on the balcony, this time learning from the staff that the Banqueting Hall was once used for a film dream sequence. It’s in the Barbra Streisand musical, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970). I find it on YouTube (one must search for the song ‘Love With All The Trimmings’). Given that the Pavilion is often held up as an example of camp avant la lettre, and that the building inspired Aubrey Beardsley, who in turn inspired a whole universe of camp, it’s fair to say that the Streisand scene attains a level of campness that soars off the scale. Even more so: her costume is designed by Cecil Beaton.
* * *
Thursday 14th May 2015.
To the new Maggi Hambling exhibition at Somerset House: War Requiem & Aftermath. A couple of sound installations, one using Britten’s War Requiem, one using ambient sea noises. Most of it is on the theme of war and ruins, but there’s also a posthumous portrait of Sebastian Horsley, which I’d not seen before. SH’s face is a mass of morbid, octopoid black swirls, in the typical Hambling style. Actually, my hair is very Hambling-esque at the moment. I’ve left cutting it for so long that it’s turned into a thick hedge of curved lines, without quite becoming curly. It never grows down, only out.
* * *
Friday 15th May 2015.
The Boston bomber gets the death sentence. He is 21.
For all its faults, today I feel glad to live in a country that has fully abolished capital punishment, in all circumstances.
* * *
To the Curzon Bloomsbury cinema in the Brunswick Centre, formerly the Renoir. A sign in the shopping centre nearby still points to it as the Renoir. This triggers a phobia of mine: signs that point to things that no longer exist. A hint of reality breaking down. Bloomsbury has a shaky relationship with time as it is: every other building is entirely held together by blue plaques.
In music news this week: Jarvis Cocker and the other members of Pulp unveil a plaque to mark the site of their first gig. Cocker gives a witty reply to the inevitable query as to the next Pulp reunion: ‘I think plaques are the way forward for Pulp now.’ The heritage explosion certainly mirrors the endless need for commenting online: primary content must be secured, anchored, celebrated, pored over. No end of anniversaries.
And so: no end of documentaries either. I’m here to investigate the new Bertha DocHouse inside the Curzon Bloomsbury, billed as London’s first documentary-only cinema. It’s one of several small screens inside the same underground complex, so I’m not sure it counts as a ‘cinema’ in itself. However, the screen is given its own little entrance lounge, Minotaur-like, deep within the labyrinth of the Curzon. This is two floors down, past three bars, and along several corridors, all of which are refurbished in a kind of Brutalist Deco style: part 1960s (to acknowledge the Brunswick Centre), and part 1920s Metropolis, with dark spaces punctuated by elegantly shaped pools of light, with signs in Deco lettering.
The new documentary I see on the DocHouse screen is Lambert and Stamp. It’s about Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, who managed The Who during the band’s 1960s and early 70s heyday. In the archive footage, Chris Stamp is a shockingly pretty young man – a proper ‘Ace Face’ Mod, with an immaculate feathercut hairdo and a range of sharp suits. Much is made of the way he looked more like a rock star than the band he managed. When Terence Stamp turns out to be his brother, it all makes sense. The Epstein-esque Lambert – very gay and posh – is long dead, so Stamp – very straight and working class – does most of the talking in the film. He seems to have had a life of falling into things accidentally. He thought he’d be a documentary filmmaker himself – The Who were originally taken on in order to appear in some sort of film about the London music scene. But the band took over, and the film was never made. By the time a film was made – Tommy – Pete Townsend feared the managers had enough control, so it went to Ken Russell. Eventually it all ends in drug addiction, and the band sue Stamp and Lambert for mismanagement, though Stamp is at pains to point out that the Who owned Shepperton Studios thanks to them, so they can’t have been that bad. I later discover that Chris Stamp died in 2012. It’s proof that these independent documentaries can really take a while to come out.
Also learned: when the High Numbers changed their name to The Who (‘the High Numbers sounded too… Bingo‘), one name they considered was The Hair.
* * *
Evening: to the Birkbeck student union bar, for a drinks gathering among my fellow English BA finalists. The bar is on the fourth floor of the main college building, in Torrington Square. We stand outside, on the bar’s rooftop terrace.
Some years ago, when the smoking ban came in, the idea of there being non-smoking areas outdoors was laughed at. Not anymore. Despite being in the open air, and high above street level, half the rooftop terrace is designated for non-smoking, while the other half is for smoking. A security guard gets into a loud and embarrassing argument with one of our party. It turns out that our friend has accidentally dared to smoke slightly over the border between these two sections of unfettered breeze. It’s only now that we learn that an object, mounted on a nearby wall, is meant to mark the dividing line: ‘You’re standing on the wrong side of the satellite dish!’
* * *
Tags: aubrey beardsley
, brighton pavilion
, lambert and stamp
, maggi hambling
, Sebastian Horsley
, the who
Reanimate Your Darlings
Saturday 22nd November 2014. I finish the first draft on the Waugh essay. Nearly a thousand words over the 1,500 word limit. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but academic writing is so painstaking. Every paragraph has to be crafted to fit a template. It has to introduce a new point, followed by an explanation of the new point, then offer up evidence in quotations. And then you have to add a little arm-wrestling with a critic on the same point, to prove you can not only look all this stuff up but that you’ve managed to think for yourself as well (something which only comes with practice).
Then there are the citations in the footnotes, which all have to be tailored to fit a particular style guide. Birkbeck’s English programme uses the one issued by MHRA. Which may sound like an unpleasant virus but is actually a little book of infallible commandments, along the lines of ‘Thou Shalt Use Full Stops In Footnotes, But Not In Bibliographies. Do Not Ask Why.’
And on top of all that, you have to abide by a word count. Which – and this is truly the bane of the student – has to include the footnotes. It’s bad enough when academic articles have long titles, but then you also have to cite the book the article is collected in, which often has a long title itself. And then you have name the book’s editors, who are often at least three people who insist on having three-word names. So the footnotes can really eat away at a word count. I always feel like Alice in the White Rabbit’s house, banging my pretty yet oversized head against the ceiling.
But then I’m bad at conciseness per se, whether it’s haikus at school or tweets today. I can’t feel at home if there’s not enough room to swing a clause.
* * *
Evening: to the BFI Southbank. I still dislike the inelegant name and think of the venue as the old NFT. But these are branded times and one must be brave. Anyway, whatever the BFI Snickers wants to call itself, I am grateful that tonight it is showing the cult 80s film Liquid Sky. I am also grateful that Ms Silke noticed it was on, remembered that it was one of my favourite films, and invited me to see it on the big screen for the first time.
I first saw Liquid Sky on VHS, in the year 1999. A copy fell into my hands when I was in a rehearsal studio in one of the less sequinned parts of Outer London. It was the sort of area that is not so much a district as a punctuation mark. Like a lot of rehearsal studios, it existed purely to stop industrial estates from being seen together in public.
This was during my role as quondam guitarist for the band Spearmint. At one particular rehearsal the singer Mr Lee gave me the video in question. I think it may have been a gift to him, or perhaps it was an impulse buy on his own part. Either way, after seeing Liquid Sky he passed the video onto me for good, with the words ‘I think this is more your sort of thing than mine’.
He was quite right. Liquid Sky is a low-budget tale of dayglo-attired and androgynous New Romantics, who spend their days taking drugs, dressing up, performing experimental poetry, and generally draping themselves around New York until the time of the next photo shoot. As is so often the case, a flying saucer arrives full of invisible aliens who feed on sexual energy. In one scene, the heroine has sex with a male model, who in turn is played by the same actress in male drag. All this occurs to a soundtrack which resembles a synthesizer being attacked by an embittered squirrel. So yes, it is very much My Sort Of Thing.
Thankfully for the BFI, it is other people’s thing as well. This screening is healthily attended: about two-thirds full. Watching it now, I note how it nearly crosses the line from trashiness into plain bad cinema in terms of acting and production values. Yet with its startling costumes and make-up, and with its sense of not wanting to be anything but itself, it triumphs.
* * *
Afterwards Silke and I walk around the temporary Christmas Market on the South Bank. There is a miniature railway running along the riverside. Not only miniature in height, either: it barely runs a few hundred yards. I imagine it appeals to the sort of children who find vaguely moving about to be enough excitement for one day.
We buy mulled wine from a tasteful stall outside the RFH. £3.80 for a generous mug. All the really popular stalls in the market are for food: Polish sausages, fries, Dutch pancakes, pizza slices. Silke points out a stall that only sells wooden neckties. She says it’s there every year, yet she’s never seen anyone buy a tie.
* * *
Sunday 23rd November 2014. I hack away at the essay, and get it down to the required word count. I find the process less painful if I paste the deleted words into a separate Word file marked ‘Offcuts’.
* * *.
Monday 24th November 2014. Third draft of the essay. The hacking gives way to moulding and shaping. I restore one of the deleted sections from the ‘Offcuts’ file. Some other poor passage of text takes its place instead. I walk away from its pleadings. ‘You lied to me! You said I was special!’
Never mind the writing advice about ‘kill your darlings’. It’s not enough. Kill, then reanimate your darlings. Then kill other darlings to make room. It’s a bloodbath, frankly, whatever happens.
* * *
Tuesday 25th November 2014. Fourth and fifth drafts of the essay. The moulding and shaping becomes tweezing and polishing. I think it’s okay. I upload it to the college’s website, then print out a paper version and drop it into the designated essay-scoffing letterbox in Gordon Square. That’s my deadlines for the Autumn all done. From now till January, it’s all about planning, research and reading.
Class tonight: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Tutor: Joe Brooker. I have a slight argument in the class about whether the novel qualifies as a modernist text. The gist of my argument is this: no.
* * *
Wednesday 26th November 2014. Tea with Silke in a trendy Fitzrovian emporium, ‘Sharps’, in Windmill Street. A barbers shop and café. I read their price list. As well as haircuts, they offer a full shave which takes 45 minutes, at a cost of £35. My tea comes in a cup without handles.
Class tonight: The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon. Tutor: Grace Halden. Much discussion on identity, from race to nationality to accents. Funny how accents are still the acceptable home of prejudice. I once met a young academic who had a strong Essex accent. She said she was so tired of getting jokes about Essex Girls and The Only Way Is Essex, that she often introduced herself as being ‘from outside of London’.
* * *
Thursday 27th November 2014. To the Phoenix cinema for The Imitation Game. Benedict Cumberbatch brilliant as Alan Turing. That said, it’s a straightforward wartime thriller, rather than a biopic. Although there’s a little about Turing’s past as a schoolboy in frustrated love, his life as a gay man isn’t fleshed out at all.
When I was a teenage stage hand at the Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, I worked on a production of Breaking The Code, Hugh Whitemore’s play about Turing. I have a vivid memory of watching a scene from the wings, my headphones on, where two men kissed onstage. The scene was a sunny hotel room in Corfu, where the post-war Turing finds happiness with a young Greek. At one point Turing addresses the youth fondly and says, ‘Oh Nikos, Nikos from Ipsos’. This was turned into a joke at the Wolsey: ‘Oh, Nikos, Nikos from Ipswich’.
The Imitation Game is oddly closer in tone to Dirk Bogarde’s Victim from 1961. There’s a character seen briefly in a police station who has a sexual connection to Turing, but he’s not deemed important enough to speak. Instead, the film focusses on Turing’s achievements during the war. I found this frustrating, but I saw the filmmakers’ point. It’s more in the style of those old praise-singing John Mills films about war heroes, and less about tragic private lives.
* * *
Evening: A drinks do at the London Library, then I nip over to the 4th floor of Waterstones Piccadilly for a book event. This is for Tony O’Neill, promoting his latest novel, Black Neon. I’ve known Tony since 1996, when he was the keyboard player in the band Kenickie. These days he’s a noir-ish New York-based novelist in the vein (in every sense) of Burroughs, Welsh, Thompson and Bukowski. Tony turns up in red braces, dark grey shirt, and trilby hat. In the queue to get books signed, the person before me is the novelist Tom McCarthy, while behind me is the singer Marc Almond. I say hello to the photographer Lili Wilde. She reminds me how she once took my photo a block away from this shop, standing on ‘The Four Bronze Horses of Helios’ fountain at the corner of the Haymarket. This would have been as one half of Orlando, in 1995. She looks exactly the same now as she did then.
Tony O’Neill is an admirer of Sebastian Horsley, and starts Black Neon with a Horsley quote: ‘Any movie, even the worst, is better than real life’. In fact, this is Horsley paraphrasing Quentin Crisp, which he did frequently, even more so than me. That was one of the main reasons I was drawn to him. The Crisp quote occurs right at the beginning of the 1975 film The Naked Civil Servant, spoken by Crisp himself. Horsley has made it harsher, because Crisp’s exact wording is just that little bit more camp: ‘Any film, even the worst, is at least better than real life’.
Tags: alan turing
, liquid sky
, quentin crisp
, Sebastian Horsley
, silke r
, the imitation game
, tony o'neill
Gary Kemp’s First Wok
Saturday 31st May 2014. To the New Rose pub in Essex Road for Taylor and Sam’s birthday drinks. I chat to: Ella & Kosmos, Sarah Bee, Andrew Mueller, Suzanne, Seaneen & Robert, and Richard. The New Rose is something of a rock-fan compatible bar, with used festival wristbands dangling from the ceiling. It encourages festival goers to stop by on their way home from Glastonbury or wherever, and promises them a free drink in exchange for their wristbands.
* * *
Sunday 1st June 2014. To a birthday picnic in Regent’s Park (or THE Regent’s Park as it’s officially called now), this time for Martin Wallace. Martin sends me an invite in the post – first class, too. I recognise the illustration he uses: Mia Farrow in Broadway Danny Rose. The weather is sunny, the park teeming with picnicking people, wandering toddlers, panting dogs. I’ve known Martin on and off since – and we work this out today – 1995. It was at Erol Alkan’s indie disco, ‘Going Underground’, at Plastic People in Oxford Street. Since then he fronted the band The Boyfriends, and more recently did the very same course at Birkbeck as me: BA English. He finished it just as I was starting. We bumped into each other in the student bar on the day he had his final exam. Since then we’ve stayed in touch, and he’s given me lots of invaluable study advice, which I in turn pass on to my classmates, ‘paying it forward’, as they say. Some things haven’t changed, though: we rave about the latest Morrissey record, ‘Istanbul’.
* * *
Tuesday 3rd June 2014. To the ICA to see The Punk Singer, a film-length documentary. It’s about Kathleen Hanna, who fronted the Riot Grrrl band Bikini Kill in the 1990s, and then the electronic group Le Tigre after that. The topics discussed are deserving of a much wider audience than fans of Ms Hanna’s music. For instance, there’s the various issues of women in music, not just as artistes but as audience members. It reminds me of the clichéd media image of female fans at rock festivals – a girl sitting on a boy’s shoulders in the crowd. Every year, the press coverage of Glastonbury seems to include such an image. There’s rarely any asking of why it is a cliché. No addressing of how women might have a hard time getting a decent view of the band.
But Ms Hanna was known to stop her own gigs and demand that the men get out of the way and let the women move down to the front. The gigs are now over twenty years old, yet the idea is still provocative and relevant. Everyone with the slightest interest in rock and pop music should see this film.
Here’s a quote from Ms Hanna which stayed with me:
‘When a man tells the truth, it’s the truth. But as a woman, when I go to tell the truth, I feel like I have to negotiate how I’m perceived.’
I don’t think that feeling is limited to the world of indie bands.
* * *
Wednesday 4th June 2014. I read The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller. It’s a guilty pleasure: a book about books which I read when I know I should be instead reading the very books he discusses (ie good novels). The idea behind this one is that it’s an account of finally tackling all the classics Mr Miller has lied about reading for so long: Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Middlemarch. Much of Mr Miller’s childhood and taste is close to mine: he includes his schoolboy Puffin Club bookplate, which gives me a Proustian shudder, and is a fellow admirer of Sondheim’s Sunday In The Park With George, though he goes on the defensive about liking musicals (no need; be proud!). I am even familiar with ‘I Start Counting’, a Basil Kirchin song from a Truck Records compilation, which Mr Miller uses to wake up to.
After conquering his self-prescribed list of books, he says it hasn’t necessarily made him a better person; all that’s changed is that he can say he’s read those books. And being well-read is certainly no protection against literary errors. ‘Reader, I married him’ is not a quote by Jane Austen. It’s from Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. Mr Miller has got his Janes in a twist.
* * *
Thursday 5th June 2014. Something of an Edwards family day. In the morning I am a guest on my brother Tom’s music programme for Soho Radio, which broadcasts on the internet from a café on Great Windmill Street. Tom’s remit is mainstream rock, metal, goth and punk. I wear the Sebastian Horsley suit, partly because it plays up the Soho factor, but mainly because SH was more into that sort of music than me. So in tribute to him, I play three of his favourite songs, as listed in some editions of Dandy In The Underworld: ‘C’mon and Love Me’ by Kiss, ‘Double Talkin’ Jive’ by Guns N’ Roses, and ‘Personality Crisis’ by the New York Dolls.
Here’s the other songs I play, comprising my own favourite noisy records:
– My Bloody Valentine – When You Sleep (their concerts can damage the ears, yet their records can soothe and even heal; a friend used them to recover from a mental breakdown. She could only listen to MBV. The comfort of white noise.)
– Dressy Bessy – Girl You Shout! (love the muttered ‘sorry!’ at the 2.55 mark. More records should apologise for themselves.)
– Xiu Xiu – I Luv The Valley OH! (the volume of the screamed ‘OH!’ still impresses)
– Nirvana – Sliver (my idea of heavy metal; love how the guitar noise at the beginning always comes in at the moment you least expect)
– Pale Saints – She Rides The Waves (femme sweetness in butch noise)
– David Bowie – Queen Bitch (how an influential artist is himself a praise singer of his own influences – Velvets in this case)
– Dinosaur Jr – Just Like Heaven (the most irritating ending in rock)
– Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl (which opens The Punk Singer)
– Dresden Dolls – Girl Anachronism (my idea of a favourite ‘goth’ song, I suppose)
– Pixies – Gigantic (by coincidence, Tom was going to play this anyway. We are Pixies-brothers!)
* * *
In the evening: to Carlyle’s House in Chelsea for a talk by my mother. It’s on the story of quilts and the art of quilt-making. The evening is a marriage of two worlds for me, as the event is organised by Suzette Field of the Last Tuesday Society, who have booked me as a DJ on countless occasions for the last few years. A third world is present too, in fact, as I am still wearing Sebastian Horsley’s suit.
I’ve been reading about ‘female only spaces’ on Twitter, and Mum’s event reminds me that the issue is not new in the slightest. Women have used quilt-making as a way of securing time away from men for centuries. The only men in the audience are myself and Russell Taylor, Suzette’s partner. Mum is an engaging and eloquent public speaker – indeed, she’s done this sort of thing all over the world for years. I don’t know if TED Talks have quilt makers, but if they do, they need to book my mother.
Carlyle’s House is a painstakingly preserved Victorian home, once domain to Thomas Carlyle, he of the London Library. Who to compare him to today – a public intellectual who had the great and the good to tea? A more party-giving Will Self? Clive James? Melvyn Bragg? Certainly if Carlyle were alive today, he’d definitely have his own TV chat show. It’s a reminder that a house has a third use these days, after a machine for living in and a machine for making money (at the expense of those who just want somewhere to live). It can also be a vital machine for teaching, in this case about the way we used to live.
At the talk, the National Trust custodians serve wine. But they only allow white wine, not red, and you can’t take drinks into the upstairs rooms. So I have yet to visit the upstairs rooms.
* * *
Friday 6th June 2014.
To Ronnie Scott’s for a lunchtime event about Soho and songwriting, part of the ‘Soho Create’ festival. David Hepworth interviews Gary Kemp, the songwriter of Spandau Ballet, and Tim Arnold, once of the 90s band Jocasta, and now a devoted songwriter about Soho per se. Mr Kemp says that he was the lead actor in a Children’s Film Foundation film, long before he was a pop star. I look this up afterwards – the film in question was Hide And Seek (1972).
A quote from Gary Kemp at this event: ‘I remember when I started mixing with middle class boys. It was when I saw my first wok.’
* * *
I receive two further marks from the BA English course, both of which finish off their respective modules. For my piece on Jane Austen and William Beckford, I get 77. This makes an overall grade of 76 for the ‘Romantic Age’ half-module: a First. For my essay on Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled and the film Inception I get an 80, making my overall grade for the ‘21st Century’ module also an 80. So a First there too.
I just have the last ‘Fin De Siècle’ essay to come back and that will be the whole third year graded. I know I shouldn’t judge the year until I get that last mark. But I’m very, very, very pleased about it so far.
* * *
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Tags: andy miller
, carlyle's house
, gary kemp
, lynne edwards
, martin wallace
, new rose
, Sebastian Horsley
, soho radio
, suzette field
, taylor parkes
, tim arnold
, Tom Edwards
, year of reading dangerously
Among The Dandies
Tuesday 17th September. To the tailors Gieves & Hawkes in Savile Row for a book launch. The book is I Am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman, or as certain friends of mine would describe it, The Big Book Of Hot Men.
It’s a large and lavish hardback comprising profiles of about sixty gentlemen who dress in an individual and elegant way. The book combines full colour photographs by Rose Callahan with text by Nathaniel ‘Natty’ Adams, based on his interviews with the dandies. It is the sort of volume that was once called a coffee table book. I suppose now it is better described as a latte plinth offline HD tablet.
Given the event is about dandyism, I decide to don Sebastian Horsley’s old suit once again, the silver velvet John Pearse 3-piece, now altered to fit me a bit better. Keen to represent my own style as much as the late Mr Horsley’s, I leave out his wing-collared Turnbull & Asser shirt in favour of one of my own cheap small-collared supermarket shirts, and add my simple white pocket square handkerchief, seahorse brooch and cufflinks, along with my battered Gucci loafers. Belatedly I forgot I own a Cad & The Dandy tailored shirt of my own – never mind.
Some years ago a similar photography book on modern dandies came out. It included the Dexys singer Kevin Rowland and Sebastian Horsley. I remember (shamefully) whining to Mr Horsley that I wasn’t included. ‘Oh, you’ll be in the next one,’ he said. He was quite right. So that’s another reason to wear his suit to the launch. A Double Dandy representation.
It’s a rainy evening. A doorman tips his top hat to me as I enter. The shop is an unexpectedly large and high-ceilinged space, with a balcony floor that functions as a museum of Gieves & Hawkes’s history. Glass cases display military tunics, centuries old. Among the many suits on rails and manniquins, hat boxes, chests of drawers and cutting tables there is a jazz band playing, while at the other end of the shop a stage has been set up to make announcements. It has a screen as a backdrop which projects a selection of photos from the book. Waiters offer free champagne, then hover around and refill your glass when it runs low. After the champagne runs out, I move onto lychee martinis. One of the great things about book events is that they’re over by 8pm, so one can get drunk and be in bed by ten, to make an early start on recovering. Book launches lend themselves to efficient hangover management.
[pic by Suzi Livingstone]
I say hello to people I know: Suzi L, Minna M, Rose and Natty, and chat with some of the other dandies in the book who are at the event: Robin Dutt, Ray Frensham, Tony Sylvester (the gentleman from the Quietus article), Barima Nyantekyi, Michael ‘Atters’ Attree, Gustav Temple. There’s also the teenage dandy Zack MacLeod Pinsent. It will be interesting to see if young Mr P keeps up his look into his twenties and thirties; many people his age are still working out who they are.
[pic by Kira of Scarlet Fever Footwear.]
The photographer Kahlil Musa has a portrait studio set up in the changing room area. Here’s the shots he took of me on the night.
[Pics by Kahlil Musa, taken from the Gieves & Hawkes Facebook and Pinterest pages]
Given that dandies are like cats: essentially aloof, wary and self-contained (at least, that’s one way I define dandyism), it’s quite a coup to gather so many of them in the same room, let alone get them to agree to be in the same book. There are also inevitably going to be opinions over who should have been in the book but wasn’t, and who was included but isn’t a ‘proper’ dandy. But at this event no fights break out, and everyone seems friendly and fun. Mr Atters is particularly entertaining; I’m impressed by his choice of lapel brooch: a small stuffed bat.
[pic by Kelly René Miller from the Stylesight blog]
Along with the other dandies present, I sign a couple of copies of the book for Rose & Natty, for their own collection. Specifically, I sign the photo of me in a chalk white suit – the whiteness lending itself to the purpose.
It’s a shame the American dandies in the book couldn’t be there, as it’d be nice to see the ones I’m acquainted with such as Fyodor Pavlov (whose wedding I attended) and Cator Sparks (who showed me round New York). I’d also like to meet Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy and, most of all, Gay Talese. At 81 years of age, Mr Talese has maintained an almost OCD approach to dandyism: one of Ms Callahan’s most striking photos shows his wall of hats, all carefully wrapped in clear dust covers and labelled underneath like hunting trophies. Which in a way is what they are. He’s also the only dandy in the book to have his own words published as a Penguin Modern Classic.
I keep meeting British book lovers who haven’t heard of Gay Talese (pronounced ‘Ta-leez’), or his classic magazine article ‘Frank Sinatra Has A Cold’. I suspect this is because, unlike his New Journalism colleagues Tom Wolfe, Hunter S Thompson, and Truman Capote, he never wrote actual fiction, not even heavily autobiographical fiction.
The New Journalism gang believed – though perhaps not officially – that writers should put an effort into styling their appearance as well as their prose. Gay Talese is definitely a dandy. Wolfe has his white suits; Capote and Thompson each maintained a strong look. Whenever I’m in a bookshop and have to choose between two equally attractive books (in terms of content), I have to find a reason to choose one over another. So I look at the author photo and judge them by the choice of clothes they make. Double denim novelists, be warned.
Links with more photos & info on the I Am Dandy event:
Book ordering details from the publisher, Gestalten
Gieves & Hawkes blog
Rose Callahan’s Dandy Portraits blog
Gay Talese’s 1966 article ‘Frank Sinatra Has A Cold’ can be read for free at the Esquire website. But the more stylish option is to buy the Penguin Modern Classics edition. And be seen reading it in public.
* * *
Friday 20th September. Rushing to cross the road, I manage to pull a muscle in my back, and walking for the next two days becomes painful. I seem to be prone to such injuries, having consigned myself to a weekend of limping a month or so ago after doing something similar to my ankle.
In my case, the degree of overexertion is risible; it is not caused by any manly overdoing it on the rugby field or in the gym, but just by a sudden everyday movement after a period of staying still. The ankle pain was the result of waking up one morning, realising I was late for a train, then putting my foot out onto the floor too quickly. That was enough. An anxious and tense thing by nature, I am not built for making sudden movements full stop, even for flight rather than fight. I would make the world’s worst spider.
Saturday 21st September. To the Adam Street club off The Strand, to DJ for the Last Tuesday Society once again. Before I start there is a talk on the I Am Dandy book by Rose Callahan and Natty Adams. I ask them if they found some crucial difference between American and European dandies.
‘Firstly,’ says Mr Adams, ‘it’s only ever Europeans who ask that question about Americans being different. If there is a difference it’s that American dandies tend to look to the 1920s Jazz Age styles, while Europeans favour the Victorian age.’ He cites the top hat as something that Americans particularly tend to avoid.
Evidence of a post-Fifty Shades of Grey era. Although the club night is not a fetish one, in a corner of the room in which I am DJ-ing is an apparatus for being strapped to and whipped, and tonight there is a black-clad gentlemen hired to do just that. I think at first that the people being whipped are also hired by the promoters, in the spirit of providing an interesting ambience. But it transpires they are partygoers: it’s an option included in their ticket. Every song I play while the whipping and spanking goes on takes on immediate innuendo, though accidentally. ‘I Want To Be Happy’, ‘Get Happy’, ‘In The Mood’ and especially: ‘Blue Moon’.
Tags: book launches
, gay talese
, gieves & hawkes
, i am dandy
, natty adams
, rose callahan
, Sebastian Horsley
I am appearing in two books by other people, both due out this autumn.
One is I am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman. Published by Gestalten (Link here). Portraits of modern dandies, of which I am one, as taken by Rose Callahan. Nathaniel Adams provides a text. I’ve not seen a copy yet, but the cover looks like this:
The other is A London Year: 365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters, compiled by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison. Published by Frances Lincoln (link here). My online diary is in there, along with the diaries of Samuel Pepys, Derek Jarman, and Alan Bennett.
In both cases, I’m enormously flattered to be included. It’s heartening to feel of abiding use in two fields I feel at home with: dandyism and diary writing. It’s also a reminder that I need to do more with both.
The third field I’ve felt of use to lately is academia. In mid-July, I got the results for the 2nd year of the BA in English which I’m doing at Birkbeck. I was very, very pleased to receive a First in each of the three modules that made up the year, despite my misgivings about the exams and suffering what I suppose must be Difficult Second College Year Syndrome. The novelty of being a mature student had worn off, the work became harder, and I was constantly faced with wondering if I should stick with the degree at all.
So the results remind me that despite the lack of paid work coming my way at present, I know I can at least produce written work in a particular style (in this case, academia) and deliver it on time, and that it’s objectively regarded as Of Worth. So I have that to cling to, for now. Having no money beyond the basics is always going to be frustrating, but it’s really the sum of my problems at present, and it could be much worse. I hope something turns up. I’ve no idea what, though.
In the meantime, I’m getting on with studying the texts for the next term.
Reading about rare words, I come across one which seems to sum things up for me: ‘aestivation’. It means the act of passing the summer. More particularly – when referring to animals – it means spending the summer in a state of inactivity; the summer equivalent of hibernation. In Alan Hollinghurst’s The Spell it is used to describe a character’s sex drive: ‘it seemed to have gone into a monkish kind of aestivation.’
Saturday August 24th. A rainy day in Soho. Parts of the district are still being clawed out of the earth by the diggers, as part of the endless Crossrail development. Some of the building site hoardings are used as a kind of outdoor museum, laminated boards telling the history of Soho. I find the section about The Colony Room, tucked away in the northwest corner of Soho Square, by the junction with Soho Street. I brave the rain and take a few photos. The images on the hoarding are mainly taken from Sophie Parkin’s book on the Colony (link: http://www.thecolonyroom.com/).
There’s a portrait of Sebastian Horsley, with Babette Kulik:
Taylor Parkes comments: ‘That’s London these days, isn’t it? Let all this stuff die, then set up a bloody museum in the street about how great it all used to be.’
Sebastian H certainly shared this sentiment about the Crossrail works affecting Soho, just before he died. So it’s quite amusing to see him decorating the building site like this – I like to see it as a defiant reclamation of territory.
Later, I walk around the newly expanded King’s Cross station. A regular sight there is a crowd of tourists queuing up to have their photograph taken with the half-embedded luggage trolley beneath the obliging sign for ‘Platform 9 and 3/4′. For eight pounds, a couple of enthusiastic staffers from the nearby Harry Potter souvenir shop provide each tourist with extra props – a Hogwarts scarf and an owl cage – and take the photo for them. ‘One! Two! Three! Jump! Awesome!’ And again, for the next person in the queue.
, Sebastian Horsley
Saturday 16 June. I DJ at the Last Tuesday Society shop at 11 Mare Street. The event is to mark the opening of an exhibition of Sebastian Horsley’s art, though there’s also quite a few exhibits which count as posthumous relics of his life, as in the medieval saint sense. One is his Filofax appointments diary, open at the week in which he died in 2010, now mounted in a box as if it were just as much a considered artwork as his huge paintings of crosses and sunflowers. It is art as souvenirs of a life. Which is one way of describing all art.
I wear his silver velvet suit, the one that his girlfriend Rachel Garley picked out for me. Rachel is there herself, as is Ms Manko and Jason Atomic – people I knew from my Kash Point days. A few people say hello who read my blog, which is always nice. Particularly when they buy me drinks. Someone says the suit makes me look like… (wait for it)… “David Bowie during the Serious Moonlight tour”.
Monday 18 June: one of the buttons on The Sebastian Shirt has broken, its plastic clasp split. So today I look for a replacement. In his book (and in the Tim Fountain stage play), Sebastian quips about needing covered buttons because ‘there’s nothing so rude as an uncovered button’.
It is only now that I realise just what the phrase ‘covered button’ truly means. It means that not only has the shirt been handmade, but the buttons have been handmade too, covered with the same material as the shirt. I don’t think I can cut a piece off the shirt to do this – that feels rather wrong. It is, after all, made by Turnball and Asser, shirtmakers to The Prince Of Wales.
So, seeking a replacement, I take the broken button to John Lewis. They’re not much use, as they deal only in the uncovered sort. Then to The Button Queen shop in Marylebone Lane. They are very nice but they send me away to hunt down a ribbon of matching material first. This feels too much like hard work. I like errands to be self-contained and finite, not to give birth to further errands with no end in sight.
Taylors Buttons in Cleveland Street saves the day. The business has been going for over 100 years, and the lady who runs it, Maureen Rose, has herself owned the shop for 60 years.
Ms Rose suspects correctly that I want the problem solved with zero further effort on my part. She finds some white material in a bag and makes me a replacement button on the spot. It takes her about two minutes, and she charges me £1.
News story about Maureen Rose here.
Evening: to the Wheatsheaf pub in Fitzrovia, for a book event hosted by the Sohemian Society. Cathi Unsworth talks to Laura Del-Rivo about her wonderful 1961 novel of bohemian Soho life, The Furnished Room. Ms Del-Rivo describes the sense of needing to find other bohemians in her youth vividly – the sheer relief at discovering the shared houses and bars where there were people like her. These days all one needs to find people as strange as oneself is just to go on the Internet; back then, you had to move house.
Afterwards I chat with Travis Elborough in the alleyway outside. Suddenly a taxi drives through – Ms Del-Rivo and the rest of us have to stand aside – and out gets Ben Goldacre, who is a kind of Cult Author of today. He happens to be on his way to something nearby, but stops for a quick chat. It’s all Very London – different worlds of writers, different interests, but always colliding.
Another Very London moment is when I arrive before the talk and join Travis as he chats to a blond woman. I’d assumed she was some friend of his. In fact he’d arrived by himself, and has known her about five minutes; it’s just that the atmosphere is of such unabashed and open friendliness, the kind people might associate more with New York. Halfway through the event, she is sitting with us when, without a word, she gets up and leaves and is never seen again.
A line from The Furnished Room (paraphrasing), which seems Very London, 50s and now:
‘But what exactly are you looking for?’
‘Something to look for.’
The Furnished Room has just been republished by Five Leaves, available here. Highly recommended.
I love this photo of Laura Del-Rivo, taken by Ida Kar in the early 60s:
Tags: ben goldacre
, last tuesday society
, laura del rivo
, Sebastian Horsley
, travis elborough
Into my last week of revision. One of the many rewarding things about studying English literature at Birkbeck is that the lecturers have often written introductions to the books. Today I was going over my lecture notes on Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde – the lecturer being Roger Luckhurst – and re-read the Oxford Classics edition of the text, which has an introduction and annotations by him too.
Today: I look at the London Library’s 1886 edition of Jekyll & Hyde, available for members to borrow. The book was first published in January of that year, but the library’s copy is not a first edition. Or even a second. Jekyll & Hyde was such a bestseller – such an instant myth – that the book hit its sixth edition within a few months. How strange to think its original appeal was as a crime mystery as much as a gothic horror: the revelation that Dr Jekyll IS Mr Hyde is the twist ending. Now, of course, the twist is more famous than the original story. But the Stevenson text always feels fresh, however much one re-reads it. There’s the business with the two doors, the flat in Soho, and the innuendo over what exactly it is that Hyde gets up to (as played on by Wilde in Dorian Gray). But what impresses most of all is the sheer innovation of the text, blending genres, creating levels of disorientation, anticipating Modernism and psychoanalysis, inspiring The Hulk; all this, and Stevenson carries it off in a mere sixty pages.
The other day: I bump into Darren Beach on the tube, who tells me about his new concept music blog One Below Ten. The idea is that every entry is about a pop single that made it to Number Eleven in the British charts; so close yet so far to becoming a proper Top Ten hit (which really matters to those to whom it matters). The first subject is ‘Michael Caine’ by Madness, which I’m rather fond of. Still odd to think that the very mannered and gentle lead vocals are not by Suggs but by Chas Smash, the same man who shouted ‘Hey you – don’t watch that, watch this!’ on ‘One Step Beyond’, in rather a different style. But then, as Mr Beach says, Madness were a different band in 1984:
My friend, the charming glam rock god David Ryder-Prangley, has just moved in next door. By coincidence, I’d been listening to a track by KISS, of whom I’m not a massive fan, but I know that Mr DRP is very much an admirer. It’s because I’m preparing a DJ set for an event to celebrate Sebastian Horsley, and the song – ‘C’mon And Love Me (Alive! version)’ is in the late Mr H’s list of his favourites. Like a lot of those sort of bands, I may not be keen on the music, but I fully approve of the glamour.
, david ryder-prangley
, jekyll and hyde
, Sebastian Horsley
Had my weekly session today with the college mentor. It’s a kind of student-friendly therapy, checking I’m coping okay with deadlines, adapting to the campus world and so on.
Bumped into Clayton L & Clair W in the ’34b’ cafe on the corner of Old Compton St and Frith St. Like Bar Italia nearby, it’s one of those tiny old fashioned cafes in Soho that somehow always has a free seat, or rather a free stool.
Other cafe haunts today, while reading my set texts for college: the basement cafe in Waterstones Piccadilly (usually after I’ve been to the London Library), the crypt in St Martin’s (a perfect place in central London for meeting one’s parents), and Bar Bruno in Wardour Street, where Sebastian Horsley used to eat; very much a part of Old Soho.
Tonight: saw the new Stewart Lee show, ‘Carpet Remnant World’ at the Leicester Square Theatre. Lots of the usual deconstruction of his own comedy and attacking sections of the audience for not being quick or clever enough. What’s new is that he ends with a poignant piece of surreal storytelling, the kind he’s not done since the ‘Pea Green Boat’ show some years ago. His best show yet, I think.
Clayton L showed me the cover of his new book, Goodbye To Soho. It features a portrait of Sebastian H by Maggie Hambling. Deliberately unfinished, as if he’s melting into the ghost world:
, Clayton Littlewood
, Sebastian Horsley
, stewart lee
Dickens, Barnes and The Book As Object
Here’s an article on The Quietus website featuring myself and Tony of Turbonegro. We talked about suits & music. Tony was promoting his gig and I was promoting, well, myself in general. Good to have a chance to show off the Sebastian Horsley suit.
Link to Quietus article.
Link to S Horsley obituary, with pic of him in the same suit.
One of the Study Skills workshops I attended in the last fortnight was for Time Management. I was late for it.
A strategy that keeps coming up is to stick to a rigid schedule, putting aside study slots but keeping them to 45 mins at a time. After 45 mins concentration is thought to tail off drastically, and one needs a break. It’s also said that if you do the same thing every day for six weeks, you’ll do it forever. That goes for giving up smoking, giving up sugar in tea, taking up writing, whatever. Actually, six weeks in my skittish, near-addict case sounds too much: I think I form my habits after two.
Tonight was a lecture on Wordsworth and Milton, and how the former used the latter in his Prelude.
Then we had a seminar on The Book As Object. Although I’ve been careful not to pipe up too much in classes up to now, I couldn’t help chipping in on this topic rather more often than usual. I find it such a fascinating subject. I can link the way Dickens’s novels were originally published in cheap monthly paperback instalments, each packaged in green wrappers with a supplement of adverts that had been specially selected to go with the story. For me, that’s comparable to Search Engine Optimisation on the Web today. Victorian SEO.
I also linked the way Voltaire put out his works in varying editions, some with exclusive additions, in order to play the booksellers of 18th century France off against each other – not to make money, but to get his Enlightenment ideas as widespread as possible. This, I suggested, was comparable to the way Terry Pratchett has let Waterstones put out an special edition of his latest novel with an extra short story in the back – not a new marketing idea at all.
Meanwhile Julian Barnes, in his Booker acceptance speech the other day, praised his designer and added:
“If the physical book, as we’ve come to call it, is to resist the challenge of the e-book, it has to look like something worth buying and worth keeping.”
It’s interesting that Mr Barnes thinks the e-book is a ‘challenge’ to the paper book. I think he’s quite wrong. The e-book should be regarded as a third format, alongside the paperback and hardback. There’s a lot ebooks can’t do which paper books can, and vice versa. Many e-sceptics might not be aware that e-books have given a new lease of life to slow readers, dyslexics and the poorly-sighted, thanks to the way you can enlarge and space out the fonts. However, they’re still at the mercy of battery power, pricey tablet devices, DRM problems, and the sense that an ebook isn’t quite the personal property of the reader in the way a paper book is – you can’t easily get it signed, lend it to a friend, or scribble in the margin.
As Douglas Adams said somewhere, nothing is getting replaced. Things just budge up to make room.
The little Barnes hardback is beautifully designed, but whether it’s worth owning and paying the recommended retail price of £12.99, when the Kindle ebook version is only £3.59, is debatable. And paperbacks can be beautiful objects too (the Penguin ‘Great Ideas’ range springs to mind), but the Barnes novel won’t be in paperback until 2012.
That’s another issue. There is still this ludicrous, elitist idea amongst the British publishing and reviewing scene that a literary novel must come out in hardback first.
If, like Voltaire, you think the main thing is to get your work read by as many people as possible, you need to not only embrace e-books, but join the growing trend to put out a mass-market paperback alongside the hardback (like the rest of the Booker shortlist, in fact). There is no challenge to any format, unless you believe that novels are ‘meant’ to be in hardback form. Which would rule out Dickens and his original, cheap, flimsy, advertising-packaged installments.
Dickens and Voltaire wrote to be read, first and foremost. They’d have welcomed e-books. Why shouldn’t anyone else?
Tags: charles dickens
, degree course
, julian barnes
, Sebastian Horsley
Anecdote In Silver Velvet
I’ve officially confirmed which degree course I’m going to do. BA English, at Birkbeck University, starting this October. Four years, part-time, evening classes, and I still have to find paid work to support myself while I’m doing it.
Monday March 28th: I’m interviewed at Birkbeck for my other choice, BA Creative Writing. One of the interviewers is Jonathan Kemp, author of London Triptych. I’m offered a place on that too, so it’s down to me to make the big decision. After closer studying of the courses, it turns out English has the option of taking some creative writing-type modules, so in typical cake-and-eat-it approach, that’s what I go for. These are both incredibly popular courses, and after much rejection by the world of work lately, it feels so gratifying to find acceptance in the world of academe, twice over.
The Birkbeck building is at 43 Gordon Square, so I’ll be poring over the works of Ms Woolf close to where she actually lived. The houses have been knocked together and are now something of a warren of classrooms and corridors. If you get lost there, as I did, you can find yourself in an underground cinema (home to Birkbeck’s film course) or a secret pocket-sized cafe.
Sunday April 10th: To an elegantly crumbling room at 33 Portland Place, now recognisable as the location for Geoffrey Rush’s consulting chambers in The King’s Speech. A few weeks ago, at one of the Last Tuesday Society’s balls, I bumped into Rachel Garley, partner of the late Sebastian Horsley. She said she wanted to give me one of Mr Horsley’s suits. I was honoured, and agreed.
So here I am in the King’s Speech room, with a long mirror, a rail of clothes and a dozen other gentlemen standing around in their socks and pants – other suit recipients – trying on the accoutrements of the deceased dandy. I know one of the others, Clayton Littlewood, whose book of modern Soho anecdotes, Dirty White Boy, featured Sebastian H on the cover.
In my case, Ms Garley has picked out an ensemble specially for me: a silver velvet 3-piece with pink lining, plus a large-collared white shirt and a fat pink tie. There’s a photograph of Mr H wearing it in his Guardian obituary.
Ms Garley’s plan is to have a big dinner at the Ivy in Mr H’s memory, with all the men wearing his suits and all the women ‘dressed up the way he liked them’ (stylish with decolletages to the fore, I think). But this will be in the autumn, as it’s getting too warm for velvet suits. Well, for other men anyway.
While this suit-giving (I refuse to say ‘gifting’) ceremony is going on, we’re told the jacuzzi room in the floor below is being used to shoot a porn film. It’s exactly what Mr Horsley would have wanted.
I wear the suit straight to a party that evening: a food & drink do for Dedalus Books in Camberwell. There’s a connection: Sebastian Horsley wrote an unkind foreword to Dedalus’s Decadent Handbook. I recall that he still turned up to the book’s launch party, though.
At the party, the suit is anecdotal gold. Or more precisely, anecdotal silver. People ask me about the suit – and who can blame them – so I get to tell the tale. And if they’ve not heard of Sebastian Horsley, I tell the tale of him too. I’m worried about going full Ancient Mariner, though, with so much to say about such a man, and such a life. How to know when to stop?
I suppose I could just say, “It was a gift from a deceased dandy” and leave it at that. But if they do leave it at that, I rather think I’m at the wrong party.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Ballet are mounting an interesting new production of Alice In Wonderland. Their Humpty Dumpty is based on Leigh Bowery, while the Mad Hatter is inspired by Sebastian H. From a piece in the Herald Scotland:
The Hatter who’s on stage in the Alice ballet owes his eye-catching appearance to the late Sebastian Horsley, the self-styled Soho dandy who died last year. “Horsley was a tremendous peacock, wonderfully eccentric, full of flair,” says [designer Antony] McDonald with undisguised relish. “There are so few genuine eccentrics around these days.”
Their costume designs are here.
In fact, I mention the Scottish Ballet show to Rachel and the others while I’m at the suit ceremony.
Rachel: I didn’t know that. How did you hear about it?
Me: I have a Google Search alert. It sends me an email whenever Sebastian’s name turns up in a newspaper.
Rachel: Oh yes. He had one of those, too.
, rachel garley
, Sebastian Horsley