Friday, 28 January 2011

Friars, Aylesbury

In the late 1970s, early 1980s, when I was a nice young grammar school lad, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, had the unlikely distinction of being the first town outside London that the 'punk' bands who scored headlines in the music press played after they'd done the 100 Club, the Roxy, the Marquee etc. For the price of a week's worth of school dinners, the likes of The Jam, The Clash and Ian Dury played the Civic Centre, only yards from the freakish, giant plastic animals Kubrick filmed for 'Clockwork Orange' but never included in the final cut. Aylesbury's own musical exports at the time - and, indeed, hereafter - were John Otway (taught in primary school by my godmother) and, erm, Marillion (who once enjoyed the ignominy of being beaten into third place in a Best Local Bands Poll by an almost entirely fictitious band of grammar school fifth-formers called HGB Terminal that only played one gig at a Methodist youth club).
Some photographic evidence of all of this era is at the following, thanks to photographer Don Stone:

1978: The first gig I went to, pretending to be my best mate's older sister (long story):

1978: Magazine, with Howard Devoto up a pole:

1978: Tom Robinson (no prizes for guessing which pic's from '2-4-6-8 Motorway'

1978: The Clash, The Slits and The Innocents

1979: The Undertones, The Knack (!) etc

1979: The Pretenders

1980: The Clash/Ian Dury (and note 'extortionate' ticket price of £3 - for the first date of the 'London Calling' tour).

1980: The Ramones/The Boys

1980: Iggy Pop/Psychedelic Furs

Tragically, there don't appear to be any photos surviving from U2's first UK gig outside Ireland (no, really, they were quite promising then: I only went because Peel was playing them all the time), or, indeed, the Wire/The Cure double-headlining diplomatic nightmare, Gang of Four with their arms in plaster after having been attacked by neo-Nazi idiots or Vic Godard and the Subway Sect in their Frank Sinatra phase.

What there are, though, are photos from John Otway's outdoor freebie in the Market Square (allegedly the very same Market Square mentioned by Bowie at the start of 'Five Years'), pics displayed here:

Sunday, 23 January 2011

How to be a poet

Aside from having great friends,
I will trudge up this hill with unknown implements
and dig into the sod using hand-held verbs
and words I’ve never heard or recognised.
The horizon will loosen into a simile
which almost hurts with its precision.
Long-dead authors congregate outside the church.

Somehow the link aches so much
there will be books handed round like liturgies.
Amongst the rain-swept gravestones
mourners reach for metaphors
like gangsters going for their guns
in an unfilmed episode of The Godfather.

At the kissing gate, there’s a pause.
Hen harriers jockey on the thermals.
Over and above the valley’s lack of ambition,
writers disperse along public transport routes.
I look down at my shoes.
Mushrooms grow between my flat feet.

Tom Phillips 2011

Friday, 21 January 2011

Saving faith

The lump of it, concrete, in the corner,
between Italianate gestures and the low shops
slung along streets which dropped away
into burlesque cellars on every side,
was as much as we could do to avoid
saying something out of turn.

Builders invested all manner of curious angles
with scaffolding and ad hoc cardboard signs.

Only here, with charred sweetcorn husks
being twisted on open charcoal burners,
there were dutiful faces pressed against glass.
Further on, by the corner, you were dealing cards,
as, inside the crowded Lovely Shop,
elbowing customers would like to think
they’d not wasted their fare on the bus.

On the terrace of the International Hotel,
we might be dreaming otherwise
as the cranes and mixers lay down
the building blocks of another religion.

Tom Phillips, 2011

Friday, 14 January 2011

Rock-pooling in winter

Smoke misting branches of a cypress
behind the vacant house signals
fluctuating wind directions
as we might be finding opinions
between rocks furred with lichen,
twisted strata, or two boys
who’ve tracked looped worm casts
and are digging, digging
for all their worth as bait.

Failing to predict erratic geometry
a hermit crab sketches across
flat stones, our son’s disappointed.
His empty bucket’s scooped up,
taps dull syncopations, flips
from ledge to ledge, blown down
to stall in drenched sand.
Flotsam, lost things dam streams,
create wreckage for the moment.

To have this beach to ourselves –
as if we had some prior claim,
being amongst those who, pinked
by on-shore breezes, have stood here
and recalled this or that winter
when the landlady took to the water
every day, or sea-spume
flecked the windows of her pub.
Or, perhaps, the year it didn’t.

Incontrovertibly out of season,
the market’s depressed. Cottages
won’t budge. Blacks scraps rise
against grey, too solid cloud
like all the punctuation shaken free
from yesterday’s paper. Gulls
go through their routines
while crows possess frail aerials.

In amongst these local territories,
we might well be out of place,
places we could call our own.
At odds now, we move back up the beach,
collect that wind-blown bucket,
read headlines, climb hills,
stare at the bay’s predictable waves,
retreat into somewhere that we’d call home.

Tom Phillips 2011

Some more books

Spring into Winter East European dissidents reflect, in 1990, on the anti-communist revolutions in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, East Germany etc, and refuse to buy into the Reagan-Thatcher line that it was all brought about because of the 'superiority' of the western capitalist system. Traces of a real 'third way' flicker momentarily in the triumphalist gales blowing in from Britain, America et al.

Orhan Pamuk Snow Modern Turkish politics dramatised in a story of apparently random assassination and a hold-up inside a theatre.

Claudio Magris Danube Immensely learned and slightly rebarbative travelogue about traversing the length of the Danube with shadowy companions and an esoteric interest in the history of the terrain.

Georgina Harding In Another Europe Communist Romania as you'd expect it to appear to a middle-class north Londoner approaching Ceacescu's 'golden age' on a bike.

Alan Furst Spies of the Balkans OK, I admit it, I'm hooked. Casablanca set in WW2 Thessaloniki. The Ipcress File for Balkanophiles.

Norman Lewis The World The World Why Lewis isn't more solidly venerated remains a mystery. Presumably it's because he chooses to report from some of the less easily palatable corners of the world - and lay the blame for their ills in all the right places.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Review at Eyewear

My review of City State, the (rather good) anthology of new London poetry edited by Tom Chivers, has just gone up at Eyewear.