The Perfumed Garden

I’ve alluded previously to my great debt to John Peel. For several years in my teens I listened with religious devotion to Peel’s show. Finger poised on the pause button of my reel-to-reel, I recorded anything that piqued my interest. These were the days when brilliant new singles from likes of The Cure, Buzzcocks, Jam, Undertones and Specials seemed to emerge each week. Typically though, it was the mavericks who inspired me. Obsessions with Captain Beefheart, Ry Cooder, Van Morrison, Loudon Wainwright, Black Uhuru and Misty in Roots were initiated by Peel’s shows. I was infected with Peel’s affection for great soul singers: Millie Jackson, Bettye Lavette, and ‘Starting All Over Again’ by Mel & Tim, which JP played on his 40th birthday show. I was first exposed to African music, via Pablo’s ‘Bo M’banda’; in our ignorance we were satisfied with the generic description, African, years before we learned the subtleties of Malian, Zimbabwean or, in this case, Zairean pop.

Now I find a contingent of Peel obsessives are blogging the praises of the great man. The John Peel Tape & File Project, and right place, right time, wrong speed are both publishing whole shows from private collections. The Perfumed Garden runs a complete Peel session each week.

Perhaps it’s time to dust off the reel-to-reel.

Make Music! with Chris Redmond

Every year during the half-term holidays about this time I go to the Tower Arts Centre to do a workshop. Sometimes it has been art and crafts, drama or singing but this year and two years ago (2004) I went to the Make Music! workshop with Chris Redmond. The aim is to write and record or perform a song. But, with so many different ideas and styles our songs always end up a little strange. In 2004 we made a song called No Driving Tonight and this year we made a song about evil hamsters trying to take over the world.

It is the classic story of evil hamsters trying to invade but we fight back by spraying white power on monkeys’ heads to make them fly and the monkeys round up the hamsters. The hamsters think they will be made to suffer but instead the monkeys take them to a rock concert where our band plays and the hamsters realise that Earth isn’t so bad after all because it has rock music and hamsters and humans live in peace together.

There isn’t really a storyline to ‘No Driving’ but it is almost as strange.

Hear them here:

No Driving Tonight

Evil Hamsters

"Gotta get through January, gotta get through February…"

January is bitter. It sometimes feels as if you spend the month locked in a darkened room. 3 foot square. Fed on nothing but white bread. Nothing ever happens. The exception is when something bad happens.

Perhaps it was the imminent end of the month, but a chink of light entered the room on my long drive north yesterday. Something reminded me of Woody Allen’s famous soliloquy in Manhattan. In his own pit of despair, Woody reminds himself of all the reasons why life is worth living:

“Groucho Marx; Willie Mays; the second movement of the Jupiter Symphony; Louis Armstrong’s recording of Potato-head Blues; Swedish movies; Sentimental Education by Flaubert; Marlon Brando; Frank Sinatra; those incredible apples and pears by C’zanne; the crabs at Sam Wo’s”

As I drove, my own list took shape:

A live recording by Van Morrison with the Caledonia Soul Orchestra; a brisk walk on a cold clear day in Dorset; the Glastonbury sauna; a play by Stephen Poliakoff; sunshine on my skin on a secret beach; old friendships renewed; establishing clarity from confusion at work; a goal scored in front of the Chapel stand at St. Mary’s; Clara’s smile when I return from working away; Tom’s joy at seeing a bittern; making lists; the kindness in my lover’s eyes and the touch of her cheek.

February’s a little brighter.