Author Archives: Editor

Is War Between the USA and North Korea Likely?

The media is foaming at the mouth at the prospect of a war between North Korea and the USA. Is a nuclear war likely between North Korea and the USA? Are Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un likely to go to … Continue reading

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Small Business Fed Up of Queuing at The Post Office?

Hermes direct:

Eventually we started using Hermes directly. Same bulk upload tools as P2G but a few pence cheaper.

Cons:

Hermes are great for low value items you can afford to give some away of – because you will be doing.
The drivers routinely lose/steal stuff or deliver it to random neighbours, sometimes other addresses entirely, leave it in their car for a week if they have flu, drop it in puddles or simply toss stuff over walls in the rain.
Because of the above, tracking will sometimes say delivered but customer says it isn’t.
We found Hermes to be more trouble than they were worth eventually and preferred to pay more to get a better service.
Put Collect+ and Yodel into the same category.
>>Read about Hermes/MyHermes here<< My preferred options: We use a mix of Post Office PPI and DPD courier. Royal Mail Business. You get in touch with Royal Mail business section and tell them you want an OBA (online business account) and want to use PPI. This allows you to book your own boxes online, select Recorded etc, and drop them off at the post office in bulk done already and walk out. You pay every month by DD. You are sat at home with a glass of wine rather than standing in the PO. Now they will make you buy a £250 printer to do this now (we use the old label system still) and the software is a bit of a learning curve, but once you are doing it, it is easy peasy and a bit cheaper than the PO counter. Cons: Your local post office might sulk at taking them in pre-paid this way – ask them. They are contractually obliged to take them but many still refuse citing lack of space. You may need to remind them they still get paid if they scan recorded mail (which they do from your book 10 at a time using the bulkscan tool on their screen). Continue reading

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Teddy Boys and the Rock’n’Roll Revival

Although fifties-styled clothing was not readily available in High Street stores, revivalists were catered for by small shops, who frequently sold goods through small adverts in music papers. Perhaps one of the best known is Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s shop at 430 King’s Road, Chelsea, which opened in 1971 as ‘Let it Rock.’

The shop initially sold original fifties clothes, but Westwood soon started to produce new copies to sell.

These were not exact copies; colours tended to be brighter than the fifties originals, and featured camp detailing like fake fur or lurex trim.

As a youth tribe, the new Teds in Britain were not far removed from the skinheads. Both movements were almost exclusively working class, and they were both known for racist behaviour and general aggression.

But the teddy boys were far more flamboyant, from their gaudy suits to their authentically charged style of dancing. Even their choice of car was crucial-in the mid 1980s, a car magazine, commenting on the very American looking Ford Consul Capri of 1962, noted that many of the surviving vehicles had tears in the cushion of the driver’s seat-attributed by the magazine as being caused by metal combs sticking out of the seat pockets of the driver’s trousers.

Teddy boys were still around at the dawn of the punk age; indeed, contemporary pictures show than some punks adopted a certain amount of punk gear, with drainpipe jeans or trousers being notably popular (no flares!).

Not that the two factions were united-Poly Styrene, the leader of the punk rock group X-Ray Spex had her market stall of kitsch trashed by a gang of teds. But by the end of the seventies, only the most dedicated of teds remained.

The fifties had by then featured in several high-profile films and television shows, most notably Grease and Happy Days. Although these were American products, they both had a considerable impact in Britain too.

By the 1980s, nostalgic perception of the 1950s was quite different to what it was in the previous decade. In the 80s, cod-1950s style was far more archetypally American, typified by the leather jacket/blue jeans/white 6 t-shirt look. Although the yearning for the past survived, any historical accuracy had been obliterated. Continue reading

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The Phenomenon that was The Shangri-las

By this time, however, her mother has died of a broken heart – “She got so lonely in the end, the angels picked her for a friend… And I can never go home anymore.” Their label, Red Bird, was in serious financial trouble by this point, a situation which had been becoming increasingly serious for some time, and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich had left the label before the release of the above single. Indeed, Red Bird shut up shop in 1966, and the group and Morton transferred over to Mercury records for a further two singles before disbanding. 14 Between I Can Never Go Home Anymore and the demise of the group, a further five singles were released.

He Cried was a cover of She Cried, by Jay & the Americans, and was produced in a typically melodramatic style. Past, Present and Future, the last single for Red Bird featured oblique lyrics to the tune of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and Sweet Sounds of Summer, a lightweight pop number, featuring an incongruously psychedelic middle eight that sounds like it was lifted from the Pink Floyd’s debut album. More interesting were the final single on Mercury, Take the Time, and the penultimatebut-one single for Red Bird, Long Live Our Love. By the release of these two singles, the US had already embarked on the Vietnam War, and the drafting of young men to fight in the war zone had started.

Although no one was aware at the time of the outcome of these hostilities, the decision was taken by Morton to record not one, but two songs that were in market contrast to popular music’s later reactions to the situation. Long Live Our Love opens with a half-spoken monologue (“When Johnny comes marching home again, hooray, hurrah”) before we hear a drum roll, and the song bursts into life The second verse gives a flavour of the song: “Something’s come between us, And it’s not another girl, But a lot of people need you 15 There is trouble in the world.” And apart from a brief soliloquy towards the end of the song (“Please Lord, don’t let anything happen to him… Please.”), there is little suggestion that the boy will come to any harm.

After all, the earlier songs of the Shangri-las were morbid fantasies that in reality represented highly unlikely scenarios; the Vietnam War on the other hand held a very tangible risk of real death, not the comic-book kind. Take the Time was even more remarkable, although it must have seemed hugely out of step in 1967. “This Country that we’re living in knows only that we’ve got to win, no matter what the cost may be, our loss is keeping you and me free” go the lyrics patriotically, to the complete apathy of the record buying public.

By 1967 though, girl groups were no longer selling, with the exception of the Supremes, who had the backing of the powerful Motown empire behind them.

The music of the Shangri-las was considered particularly anachronistic – rock and pop’s newly discovered intellectuality had no time for silly teenage angst about boys and parents. But despite this snobbery, the Shangri-las racked up two further hits in the U.K, both times with reissues of Leader of the Pack, which reached the British top ten in both 1972 and 1976 (a better chart placing than the original release had managed here). Lucy O’Brien recounts the appeal of this record to a pre-teen audience in 1970s Britain in She Bop II – “This was our pre-teen drama, the one we learned the words to – right 16 down to every tear and every rev of that deadly motorbike.”

This success testifies to the magic of this silly little pop song. The Shangri-las are unlikely to ever be categorised as high art, but this is unnecessary anyway, as the combination of the quaint lyrical thrust of the songs along with their distinctive structures makes them unique.

No matter how old fashioned their music sounds now, the Shangri-las also brought a darker edge to pure pop , turning self-righteous and immature teenage angst and rebellion into unique pieces of music. Continue reading

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Essay: Domestic Nostalgia

This is a large estate on the edge of a village, built within a small forest, the construction of which required annihilation of most of the foliage. All the roads are named after trees, and the style of houses all 7 conformed to an olde-worlde stereotype of leaded windows, canopies over front doors and fake half timbering. But why do so many people favour the traditional over the modern? It would appear that to many, the past offers reassurance and security. In Traditional Interiors, which is a book from the USA published by the Architectural Review, the notion is suggested that “In a marvellously comforting way, the past is forever there; the rules are established; the mistakes have been eliminated.

A sort of purification has taken place, and the trends of the moment have been eliminated”2 . The idea of the traditional being away from the realm of fashion is an important one when considering architecture, or home fittings and furnishings. Nothing dates as quickly as the ultra contemporary, and as the purchase of a home and/or its furnishings represent a considerable outlay, people tend to be wary about that which will date quickly. Traditional designs are a safe option; while they will never be terribly fashionable, they probably will never be particularly unfashionable either. Another interesting parallel to note is that both the inter war years and the period from the eighties on have both been periods of remarkable growth in domestic consumer technologies. While the earlier period saw the introduction of scheduled radio and limited television broadcasts and increasing ubiquity of the telephone, the later one has so far.

Traditional interiors. Los Angeles : Knapp, 1979. 8 seen mobile phones, powerful computers, the emergence of the internet and a glut of television channels all become a part of everyday life. The unprecedented levels of mass communication achieved in both of these eras served to considerably alter perception of time and space-speeding life up as well as making information ever more accessible. In a world where the unfamiliar constantly becomes the normal, people can feel the need for something tangible and familiar to grasp on to.

The future is not the certainty of an exciting new world that it was in the two decades following the cessation of WW2. Indeed, the problems associated with modern design and architecture of this period are well remembered, and add to a suspicion of the ‘new.’ Even the lack of regional variation in recently built estates can be perceived as offering reassurance. In an age where people’s jobs can easily lead to them relocating to an unfamiliar part of the country, the similarity these developments have to each other almost eliminates the need to get used to the new area, which is something that seems to have been happening over the last couple of decades in terms of global standardisation as well.

The irony is, though, that people who are quite happy to live in a modern ‘traditional’ home, with ‘traditional’ furniture could also be the kind that would turn down living in a genuinely old (but modernised) house or owning antique furniture. This is illustrated in a brilliant quote from a book on the Channel Four series Sign of the Times (broadcast in 1992) which was a show about the nation’s taste in home décor. One of the participants said that “I’m put off real antiques because to me they look old and sort of Barker, Nicholas and Martin Parr. Signs of the Times: A portrait of the nation’s Tastes.

In summary, domestic nostalgia, despite its detractors, offers the consumer a retreat from the high speed world that we live in. The mistakes made post war in relation to ‘the new’ have remained in people’s consciousness for a long time, and even today, the traditional is associated with quality, and a slower, more peaceful world. It is a completely idealised vision of the past, but because of this rose tinted depiction, a home built or decorated in this style provides a symbolically safe environment for its occupiers. Continue reading

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David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust and the construction of an image.

In the summer of 1971, the play Pork, based on the diaries of Andy Warhol had run for 26 nights at the Roundhouse in London. Angie had befriended many of the players, a mixture of New York freaks and Warhol ‘superstars’ such as Cherry Vanilla, Wayne County and Geri Miller.

In Nicholas Pegg’s book The complete David Bowie, Wayne County recalls that: “There was someone else [in a newspaper] who said ‘Pork is nothing but a pigsty. Pork is nothing but nymphomaniacs, whores and prostitutes running around naked on stage’3 ”

Most of the cast ended up with Bowie’s manager Tony Defries’ Mainman business organisation, which carried on where Defries’ associate Laurence Myers’ company, Gem Productions, had started off in looking after and grooming Bowie. Essentially employed to ‘put on a show’ and create a buzz around Bowie outside of the UK, the staff excelled in their role, indeed, they probably did take it too far, particularly in the USA. They generally put the impression across that Bowie was a ‘pinko commie faggot.’

Assistants were paid to make sure that doors were always held open for him, the entire entourage travelled in a fleet of limousines and their mantra was ‘Mr Bowie does not like to be touched.’ They both helped project the image and helped him fulfil DeFries’ belief that ‘To become a star, first one has to act like one.’

Bowie himself was noted in that he refused to fly anywhere; American tours had to be embarked upon using the QE2, which was even then, an essentially obsolete yet very expensive way to travel, adding another layer to the Bowie mystique. 3 P283 8 At the time, Bowie had stated that his intention was to create something that rested somewhere between ‘Nijinsky and Woolworth’s.’ The art was not in the music alone; the art was the whole concept of Ziggy Stardust himself.

As Bowie later stated: “I wasn’t surprised ZS made my career. I packaged a totally credible plastic rock starmuch better than any sort of Monkees fabrication. My plastic rocker was much more plastic than anybody’s.” And this was quite true.

Bowie later reflected in Feb 1976 that: “I could have been Hitler in England. Wouldn’t have been hard. Concerts alone got so frightening that even the papers were saying “This ain’t rock music, this is bloody Hitler!” And they were right. It was awesome.” (bihow p30).4 And to see that, one has only to watch the footage of the final concert as Ziggy Stardust, just before the culmination of the Gig, and the final song.

Bowie makes a short speech, telling his audience at the end of it that this was “not only the last show of the tour, but the last show that we’ll ever do,” which led to one of the most anguished outpourings of confusion and bewilderment ever committed to film or tape. One feels after seeing this, that Bowie was not overly exaggerating. Continue reading

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What is a Cult Film?

In his essay on Casablanca, Umberto Eco speaks about attributing the fascination with the work as being due to what it fails to do, rather than what it achieves. Many films designated as cult movies have failed in some way or other; While many failed as commercial entities, there are other factors in evidence that could be considered. For example, the Monkees’ Head failed to get the band taken more seriously. BTVOTD failed to turn Russ Meyer into a mainstream director, and Death Race 2000 was not always recognised as a satirical piece.

Also, a cult movie tends to be caught very much in its own period, rather than transcending it, and this tends to be part of the appeal. A film such as The Wizard of Oz still holds appeal to a similar audience to that which it sold to in 1939. They almost certainly would not care about the apocryphal story of the munchkin that was unintentionally filmed committing suicide on set, or about deleted sequences from the original print. In these days of marketing demographics, the cinema industry produces product intentionally destined to be cult pieces.

Films such as Being John Malkovich, or the work of Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino are marketed to appeal to a ‘select’ audience to whom a light-hearted romcom or a good versus evil action film would be anathema, even though they are mainstream products, and represent a strong box-office draw. Such an instant cult following for a film would rarely have been considered thirty years ago, and certainly not by a major studio.

It is only the eventual phenomenal success of the RHPS that awakened filmmakers to the potential of cult appeal as a selling point. That is not to say, however, that cult cinema cannot be produced today. A prime example of this, and conforming to many stereotypes of the genre, is the 1997 film Velvet Goldmine, directed by Todd Haynes. On release, the film underwhelmed critics, despite the hype and anticipation that heralded it.

On paper, it seemed like a winner; A semi-fictional account of rock decadence (read: David and Angie Bowie and the Mainman entourage) and sexual fluidity in early 70s Britain, produced by an up and coming auteur, starring many hot new actors and with a soundtrack that mixed classic glam rock tunes with remakes and pastiches by several cutting edge rock musicians such as Thom Yorke from Radiohead and the group Placebo.

In practice, however, the film showed itself to have a rather garbled plotline, suggesting that Oscar Wilde was, quite literally, an alien, and the clumsy portrayal of 1984 as a repressive totalitarian state, a la both George Orwell’s novel and Bowie’s aborted musical production of it. Bowie had refused to allow Haynes to use any of his songs, so the film had to resort to numbers by Roxy Music, Brian Eno and Cockney Rebel, and the film proved to be a rather revisionist version of the era-much of the dialogue comes from contemporary quotes by Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop (plus a smattering of Wilde-isms), but while characters like, say, Mandy Slade are instantly recognisable to Bowie buffs as being Bowie’s first wife Angie, other key players of the era are distorted into completely different people.

The film is unsatisfying as either a work of fantasy or a factual document as it veers erratically between 8 the two. But despite its disastrous reception (“Ziggy Plop!” said the now-defunct Select magazine), the film has gathered a dedicated cult following-one has just to search the internet to find several fan-pages dedicated to it.

Despite its numerous faults, it has to be said that the film is beautifully shot throughout, the soundtrack remains entertaining despite the conspicuous lack of Bowie material, and although most of the principal players are rather unengaging, there is a feast of entertaining bit-part characters such as Toni Collette’s Mandy Slade, and the performance artist The Divine David’s role as a particularly flamboyant member of the Bijou Records entourage.

The film seems to be particularly popular amongst a select band of young gay men, especially those who feel outside of the mainstream. Cult cinema is difficult to define, as it is pan-genre, and although some films are similar enough to have featured on double bills together, such as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Myra Breckenridge in 1970, or The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Phantom of the Paradise in 1975, cult films tend to stand very much alone.

A film can be a cult item because it proves to be more effective than its sum of parts or it could be because it falls into the camp double bluff of the “its so bad its good” kind. The style of the film tends to be a more important consideration than the plot, and like with 1960s episodes of the TV show Doctor Who, the more quaint and unconvincing the special effect, the better. But perhaps the main appeal of the cult film is that it was either rejected by, or never intended for, the mainstream. Finding art in that which is perceived as trash by the mainstream can be a lot more satisfying than simply consuming that which is an accepted part of the dominant cultural ideology. Continue reading

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Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is maverick 1960s porn purveyor Russ Meyer’s finest achievement. Mayer had made many low budget flicks before this, like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, a great film depicting the adventures of three psychopathic go-go-dancers (it’s as good as it sounds). But Beyond the Valley was his first for a major studio, and as well as having a higher budget (all the better for filming the crowd scenes and financing an appearance by The Strawberry Alarm Clock, a late 60s rock group that was on the wane).
The script was jointly created by Meyer and Roger Ebert, a film critic, of all people. Although a colourful whirl of Los Angeles life at the turn of the decade, BTVOTD was not based in any fact – the men got their idea for the unhinged ‘Teen Tycoon of Rock’ Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell from Phil Spector. Neither of them actually knew him, or knew much about him, so they wrote the character as they thought he’d be like. It certainly isn’t an accurate source of reference for its period, but it is lots of fun.

Claimed (later) by both men to be a parody, BTVOTD is an odd film – it looks several years older than its release date of 1970. Interestingly, the band that the film is centred round, The Carrie Nations, nee whatever, had no precedent at the time – successful female groups of this time tended to be a puppet of a pop svengali, not the feisty, songwriting, instrument-playing bunch depicted here.

The band, consisting of feisty lead singer Kelly, doe-eyed and melancholy Casey and hip soul sister Petronella were all played by ex-Playboy centrefold girls. Despite their dubious pedigree, all three pull off their parts with great aplomb, even given Dolly Read (who plays singer Kelly), whose accent sometimes veers back into English – she was born in Bristol.

The film charts their rise to fame, and their downfalls along the way. Starting off by playing college gigs, they move to Los Angeles, where one of the band has a long lost aunt, who she is convinced will help them. And this she does, by promptly offering her neice half a million dollars of an inheritance. She then introduces them to a leading music producer at one of his parties, the suave Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell. This bizarre character, who constantly talks in a cod-shakespearean way was indirectly inspired by legendary loony record producer Phil Spector -neither Meyer or Ebert had met him, and so came up with a fantasy of what they imagined him to be like, a technique which helped them create other characters too.

All three of the girls were played by ex-nudie models with no previous acting experience. To their credit, they pull their roles off very well, although Dolly Read, the female lead, does occasionally slip back into a British accent (she was from Bristol, fittingly enough). But the most striking character goes by the name of Ashley St. Ives. Played by Meyer’s then-wife, she is quite terrifying in the pursuit of the band’s original manager, Harris Allsworth. “She went after me like a barracuda”, quips one (clearly gay) gentleman at one point, and you can clearly see what he means. Sadly she isn’t in the film for long, but she sure makes her mark.

The film looks rather older than it is, which makes all the jaunty drug references and sudden nudity all the more jarring. In fact, it is more reminiscent of a highly condensed soap opera than a movie at times, a fact borne out by the use of dramatic organ music at pivotal points, in the way that a show such as Peyton Place would have done.

BTVOTD comes across as a lurid and hysterical piece of exploitation, and a lot happens during the running time. Apparently Meyer and Ebert insisted that the parts were to be taken seriously by the actors, but had intended the whole thing to be a send up, and the lack of knowing smiles or winks just heightens the ridiculousness. Filmed in glorious, saturated Technicolor, and with sets that represent the worst (or best) of late sixties design, BTVOTD is quite a trip in every way possible. Continue reading

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Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Olivia De Havilland is particularly good in her role, especially as she normally played a wholesome character in most of her films. In Charlotte, her character’s about face, from angel to monster, is carried off with great aplomb – it would have been even more shocking to a sixties moviegoer who had only ever seen De Havilland in nice-girl roles, to see her hiss “Damn you! Now will you SHUT your MOUTH!” to a boggle-eyed Bette, after a few good slaps.

Charlotte is in my humble opinion, a better film than its predecessor. The pace is snappier, and the horror more ludicrous. And unlike Baby Jane, the ending could almost be described as a happy one. Continue reading

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Ocean Hotel, Saltdean, Brighton

Along with the Lido to the south, the Ocean Hotel (sometimes known as the Grand Ocean Hotel) is another fine example of thirties seaside architecture in the south coast village of Saltdean.

Indeed, it was constructed by the developers responsible for the Lido and much of the actual village, the saltdean Estate Company, formed by speculator Charles Neville in 1924.

The Ocean Hotel was acquired by Butlins and opened its doors for business in May of 1953 after an extensive refurbishment. Six months of hard work had gone into restoring the near-derelict building to its former glory.

As luck would have it the hotel turned out to be excellent investment for Sir Billy Butlin. With its close proximity to the bright lights and night-life of Brighton, the hotel proved a very popular destination for honeymooners throughout the fifties, sixties and seventies.

It stayed in their ownership until Rank Leisure, the owner of Butlins, put all of the Butlins hotels up for sale in 1998. They went to the Grand Hotel Group.

There is so little demand for accommodation in the hotel now, that plans are being made to house asylum seekers there, which is currently rousing local protest.

Unfortunately, the front view from the hotel (which faces north-east) was blighted in the 1950s when the countryside opposite it was redeveloped for housing.

However, the hotel appears to be in good condition, retaining many original features, including glass-brick columns flanking the main entrance, and the mouldings on the ceiling of the foyer. Due to its slightly off the beaten track location, it is not somewhere you would find without looking for it, but it is a beautiful building. Continue reading

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