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Friday, 9 April 2010

"Be reasonable - demand the impossible!!"...

It's some time in 1977 - early spring? Late summer? (Or was it 1976?) The years and the seasons blur, but whenever it was the sky was washed out blue, suburban and vast overhead. A youthful John Lennon was on the front of the New Musical Express along with the strapline "Oh no - not another bloody punk rocker!" as David Lawrence and I stood waiting for the 90B bus that would take us to school. He was about three years ahead of me and the obligatory sneer that someone with that sort of advantage over you would adopt by default was beginning to fade as our halting, maroon blazered bus-stop conversations grew a little more animated and unguarded with each daily wait.

The Hamburg-era Lennon photo was a valuable if tenuous link between us; a rare bit of shared rock grammar. That apart, we spoke two different languages. He was a punk, you see and I was...well, I was 11 going on 12 and all I knew about pop music was contained within my copy of The Beatles: an illustrated record by Roy Carr and Tony Tyler. 1977 for him was 7 A.D. as far as I was concerned. I think it was during one of these bus-to-school meetings that David revealed to me that he was forming a punk rock group and had started building his own guitar. "It's just a simple plywood thing, nothing special," he said. "Besides, I'm only going to be bashing it over people's heads." Despite my already heavily entrenched rock classicism, this still sounded pretty impressive. And somewhere, no doubt, the wily, wiry art school dropout who'd played no small part in sparking this nice young Jewish lad's urge to destroy was probably chortling with delight at the thought of it.

It took some time for the astonishing import of its ethos to filter down to me and I was never a part of the original punk explosion, but it still came as a bit of a jolt to learn this morning that Malcolm McLaren had died, aged 64. The BBC breakfast news used a nice photo of him in later life. I think it's the one at the top of this post. Aside from a slightly faux-aristocratic bearing there's no real clue as to the puckish, prankster spirit that animated him. No, Malcolm looked what he'd probably become; urbane, relaxed and perhaps a little smug and haughty. Combined with the knowledge of his death, this serene bearing felt surprisingly right - where one would have expected to feel disappointment at such a sell out; the complete absence of the confrontational attitude that will probably elsewhere loom large in his legacy. This benign image of the man was reinforced by the conciliatory tone of the statement made by his once bitter foe John Lydon - "I'll miss him. So should you" - and I'm reminded of Larkin:

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

"Only an attitude remains". Attitudes were Malcolm's stock-in-trade, but you feel that a lot more love than you'd ever have thought while he was alive survives of him too.

(Oh, and for the record; the last time I met him, David Lawrence had become an architect...)


Monday, 5 April 2010

"If I said you had a beautiful Boty..."

Secret histories are so regularly more interesting and enlightening than the official version of events that it makes you wonder why we ever allow ourselves to be blinkered by the un-secret variety at all. I really can't recommend Barry Miles' London Calling: a countercultural history of London since 1945 enough. But for works like this, a whole treasure trove of the weird, the wonderful and the arcane would be in danger of slipping permanently and irredeemably through the cracks in the pavement of the collective memory.

Take Pauline Boty.

Lovely looking lass, played one of Alfie's birds in the iconic Sixties adaptation of the Bill Naughton novel and, not content with all that, was a fabulous Pop Artist who would no doubt have gone on to eclipse most of her former classmates had she not tragically died at the ridiculous age of 26.

Michael Bracewll can tell you a lot more, obviously - although he'll probably spoil the pun in this post's title by pronouncing her name all wrong or something:

As well as being a dab hand with the old oil, turps and linseed oil (did I forget to mention that she was a first rate cook to boot?), Boty was also what the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood would doubtless have called a "stunner" (amongst other things) and was somewhat less (or more?) edifyingly known by her peers as "the Wimbledon Bardot". You can see why in this clip from Ken Russell's film on the British Pop Artists, Pop Goes the Easel. She certainly knows how to shake a tail feather:

Reading about Boty - an artist I wasn't familiar with before - is almost as uplifting as the discovery that Absolute Beginners author Colin MacInnes "basically liked to be raped by a black man, preferably a ponce..." (You show me a black man who's willing to do something like that to a 50s novelist whose famous relatives included Edward Burne-Jones, Stanley Baldwin and Rudyard "Ruddy" Kipling and *isn't* a ponce and I'll give you a fiver, Gungadin....)

But it's not all high cultural insight. There's fascinating stuff like the fact that the CND symbol was designed by Gerald Holtom; a Christian pacifist from (of all places) Twickenham. According to this, he had a factory there which was used to make the original placards bearing his now universally recognisable design ahead of the first Aldermaston peace march. Worthy of a blue plaque, don't you think?

But that's not all. Miles' book also has stuff in it of genuinely earth-shattering and global importance. For instance, of all the artists in Larry "Parnes, Shillings & Pence" Parnes' stable of British rock 'n' roll legends - Vince Eager, Billy Fury, Johnny Gentle, Dickie Pride to name but a few of the least ridiculously coiffed - only one was headstrong enough to refuse the monicker Parnes attempted to foist on him. Who else, but the original Bovver Boy of British Pop...

Yes, Joe Brown he remains to this day.

And the name he so strenuously and successfully managed to dodge?

Elmer Twitch.

L.U.V. on y'all,