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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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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Sebastian’s Hoarding

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/).

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There’s a portrait of Sebastian Horsley, with Babette Kulik:

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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.

 

 


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Sebastian, Melting

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:

 

 

 

 


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Fridge Madness

Quick announcement. Dedalus Books is once more applying for funding. They’re going to use their petition from last year as evidence of support, so please sign it now if you didn’t do so last time: http://is.gd/44qPb

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Sat 11th Oct: With Anna Spivack to see the new play of Prick Up Your Ears. It’s based directly on the Orton diaries and John Lahr’s biography rather than the Alan Bennett 80s film. Matt Lucas as Kenneth Halliwell and Gwen Taylor as the landlady and neighbour.

Gwen Taylor for me will always be her characters in The Rutles: manager Leggy Mountbatten’s mother (‘He hated their music. But he liked their trousers’) and Chastity, the nazi-uniform-wearing Yoko Ono figure (‘a simple German girl whose father had invented World War Two’)

Despite allocating over an hour to get into town via the 91 bus, we end up gridlocked in Bloomsbury and have to race through crowded Soho, arriving at the Comedy Theatre in Panton Street just in time for curtain up.

We needn’t have bothered. The ushers and box office staff are standing outside, telling people the performance is cancelled and handing out details of how to get refunds. Matt Lucas is still out of the show due to his ex-husband’s suicide, which we were prepared for, but his understudy is off sick too. The understudy doesn’t have an understudy, so the play’s off.

We have a couple of drinks at 23 Romilly Street (where many of the old Colony Room regulars now go), before repairing for a bottle of wine at Anna’s flat in Archway rather than hit any clubs or further bars. One of the few ways I’m growing up, I suppose.  More restaurants and quiet dinner parties,  fewer loud clubs and gigs.

So sad about Matt Lucas’s ex-husband killing himself like that. I can understand Mr L pulling out of any play, let alone one about a doomed gay relationship where the non-famous one commits suicide. The tabloids have responded with predictable drool, flagging the word ‘husband’ in the headlines with smug inverted commas. One 21st century twist: the suicide note posted on Facebook.

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Three weeks since varicose vein surgery. The bruises have faded okay, but am concerned about residual patches of numbness above my ankle. According to the literature, these could fade in 2 weeks, or 2 months, or 2 years, or in some cases not at all. I suppose given the choice between recurring pain (which prompted me asking for the optional operation), and permanent numbness, I’ll settle for the latter.  But I’d rather the numbness would go. And soon, please. Prodding the space above my ankle, I think of cold rubber. The type lining car doors. And the stuff used to make those thin mats in school gyms.

Other diary wishes: I really want the ability to write a decent amount every day, (as opposed to a habit for Olympic procrastination) but also the ability to just write and read faster. When I finally sit down and do it, I take far too long. I envy those people who speed through 800 page books in single sittings. I want to be one of those. I don’t mind having to do umpteen drafts – as long as they’re fast drafts.

***

Current madness: a fixation with the creaking and popping noises made by the casing of my fridge expanding and contracting when the motor is off. A bedsit hazard: I have to sleep and work in the same room. The fridge is only 2 years old. Did it always make those noises? Were the noises always that loud and frequent and distracting? Is it just me?

Other news: am back in therapy. Friday mornings, NHS so no fee, 90 minute sessions for six months. Have mixed feelings about whether I need them. But they were offered (after a year on the waiting list), and I’m clearly in need of something.


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Pose With Wine

Bit of a gap in my diary, but I’m back now. So what have I been up to?

I’ve just written the phrase, ‘days of wine and poses’ by way of a response and as a title for the entry. Then I realised it’s the Wrong Kind Of Pun. Puns can make you sound like a matey fake-everyman playing to an imagined gallery (the literary equivalent of a corny wink). I am not that kind of writer. At least, I like to think I’m not.

If I’m worrying about a pun, it’s probably a sign I should take it out. Rewrite it. Fiddle with it. Try reversing it. Poses And Wine? Sounds too much like a Cliff Richard song. Poseur With Wine? Too hard on myself. Pose With Wine could be the title of a painting, like Figure With Meat by Francis Bacon.

You see, these are the things that bubble around my brain on this rather chilly day in September.

Last week: I am pulling off a Pose With Wine at Mr Bacon’s old drinking and posing hole, The Colony Room in Soho. I am there with Clayton Littlewood, having first met for coffee at Bar Italia, then dinner at Stockpot. Pure Soho stuff.

Clayton used to live in a basement flat under Old Compton Street, which fascinates me. He could hear the prostitutes upstairs plying their trade. He says it was always noisy, unsurprisingly, and almost impossible to get any sleep at night. But that the mornings made up for it: Soho at 7am has this incredible atmosphere. The quiet after the storm, sobriety kicking in, people with proper jobs starting to get up and go to work. Streets caught naked, clear of teeming crowds. Small children go to school here too,  not always something you associate with Soho (just been watching this video about Soho Parish School). A sense of recovery, of the sun getting its own back on decadent humans, of pores getting a chance to breath.

We visit the Colony Room in Dean Street at a critical point in its 60-year history. A party of regulars, including Salena Godden, have just been to the private view of a much-feared auction, where some of the Colony’s art is being sold. Michael Wojas, the manager, plans to move the club out of its Dean Street premises, in order to save it from escalating rents. To this end, he’s selling off the artwork on the club walls, including a 1950s mural by Michael Andrews. Some club members have protested, both about the move and the art sale. There was even a story in Private Eye about it all. (Interview with Mr W here)

I initially lent my name to the rebel members’ ‘Save The Colony’ campaign, but have now changed my stance to a neutral onlooker, having understood more of Mr W’s point of view. It won’t be the same away from 41 Dean Street, but then it wasn’t the same after the smoking ban, anyway. I hope it continues in new premises, as long as it’s still in Soho.

[Update after the auction: The good news is that the Michael Andrews mural sold at a good price, according to the Independent, to 'a representative of the Andrews estate... in the hope it can be placed in a museum.']

Clayton L tells me it’s about time I pitched a non-fiction book to agents and publishers. ‘The Manesake Diaries’. ‘Boy With A Too Many Track Mind.’ ‘Secret Diary Of A Fallen Boy.’ The secret being there’s no sex in it whatsoever.

I could focus on the ‘modern dandy’ episodes, the music biz and DJ adventures, my veteran blogger status, the unlikely Shane MacG capers, and the general Being Dickon Edwards philosophy. Whether such a volume would draw a decent book-buying crowd or not, I don’t know. Only one way to find out. All I have to do is… work hard at it. Ah. The W word. Okay.

***

RIP Paul Newman, giving the newspapers a good excuse to print huge close ups of those famous eyes. Far nicer to see those in the corner shop, first thing on a Sunday, than anything more to do with banking or the ‘credit crunch’. The latter phrase being as tiresomely over-bandied about in the press as the word Facebook was last year. ‘Tortoise Breeding & How The Credit Crunch Will Affect It’, that sort of thing.

RIP also Bryan Morrison, music biz manager and publisher, whose clients included Wham, Pink Floyd, and very nearly, Orlando. We went to his office for a single meeting, during our mid 90s hustling days of being The Next Big Hubristic Thing. Mr M turned out to be the proper personification of a rock ‘n’ roll  impresario: cigar in hand, which he used to make a point, gold discs on the office wall, 1960s anecdotes about The Pretty Things. As we walked in, he pointed at me and said, ‘LOVE the look!’


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