Saturday, 10 June 2017

Pan Review of the Arts - No.3

STEPHEN EMMER describes himself as an 'independent composer/arranger hailing from Amsterdam.' His distinctive musical resume goes back to the Seventies, while he has worked with other great production wizards such as Tony Visconti, Trevor Horn, Martin Hannett and Nigel Gray. Having produced the collaborative, filmic, European soundtrack International Blue in 2014, he is now back with another collaborative effort, the more soul-inspired Home Ground, featuring the vocal talents of Chaka Khan, Patti Austin, Andy Bey, the late Leon Ware, vocal poet Ursula Rucker and others.
How would you describe both the ethos and genre of music encapsulated in the new album?
SE: Well, lets start with the genre if I may. To me it seemed, a few years ago, that another type of music slipped off the mainstream radar and that was ‘orchestral soul music with lyrics of social awareness.' Like there was in, say, the Seventies, with albums such as 'What's Going On' by Marvin Gaye and many more in his slipstream such as Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Gill Scott Heron and so on. I suddenly felt there was something right in that genre, as the psychology behind it was to tell a realistic story about society yet encapsulate that in soothing music instead of having an urgent message accompanied by aggressive music; to make a fist, but wrap that up in a velvet glove. Given the time we live in right now, I thought that to be a good method of communication to a) avoid preaching to the converted and b) the relevance of commenting on society is maybe even bigger today then it was back then.
Musically, I also felt like experimenting with the musical adventures of that era and create generic, new, orchestral soul music that doesn't borrow the past, so to speak, by taking samples of older work, but actually only take the best characteristics of that musical school of thought and build your own music on that from the ground up. Yet, avoiding the predictable trappings of creating mere nostalgia, which I definitely didn't want to do, so we also really looked, with the lyrics about today's issues, to incorporate modern sounds and productional approaches and developments in the mix and really try and create something that wasn't a pure retro exercise. I guess this also kind of answers what the ethos is of the album: it's about humanity; where is your home? In your house? Your village? Your country? Or, is it in your heart, your family or your own mind? i.e. where and what is your Home Ground? At this moment, 650 million people are nomadic, so the issue means so many different things to so many different people… So, I think this is the biggest issue, next to – and related also - to the ecological issue on Earth. As Nina Simone once said; how can you not write about this as an artist?
How did the linkage and support of 'War Child' come about?
SE: I liked the idea of another organisation from Holland that operates internationally, like myself, to be involved. We have the same mindset, but, more importantly, I think in the most sincere way possible that the childeren are the most victimised of victims worldwide, thanks to war, other conflicts and famine. So, they need extra care in my opinion and if we, through this project, can make a little bit of a difference, that would be great as music-making shouldn't be seen as a corporate venture in the first place. It's about artistry first, humanity second and economically last.
Your previous collaborative album was only in 2014 with 'International Blue'; a tribute to the pop crooners and the big productions that inspired you; from Scott Walker to Burt Bacharach to Billy Mackenzie, whom you worked with in the early Eighties. Do you therefore prefer to manifest your own vision for an album, or are you equally open to artists approaching you for arrangement or production, without recommendation?

SE: I would favour both. They can exist next to each other, so whoever is out there with a good concept or idea, give me a call! in fact, I did work on an album a few years ago by the Lotus Eaters from the UK (in 2009) and arranged the whole of that album on my own for them by adding all kinds of instruments to their bare vocal and guitar compositions. Unfortunately, it got shelved indefinitely but as Michael Dempsey ( also a Lotus Eater and ex-Associates and Cure member) said of it: it is probably their best album, so its a shame its not out there yet.
Rather than specialise from early on, or be known as one kind of artist, your involvement in music over the years has been incredibly broad; encompassing radio show production and founding and editing a music magazine. ('Vinyl'). You are like a one-man WOMAD. Why do you think this has been the case?
SE: Ha! Thanks. Yes, I did very, very different things over the years; electro-noise with The Minny Pops, tv news theme music with an orchestra, free jazz trio gigs, pop, film music, sound design for museums, had three of my own radio shows, and so on. I dont know why. I suppose I get bored easily of the monotony of things. I have a mind that apparently races all the time. I love doing many things, very busily, as I am a bit of a zombie in my free time when I need to relax. I never had a hobby or something, so its music, music, music, all the time and even that can bore you. On the other hand, this muse is now my longest serving partner in life.
The possibilities of the film soundtrack – real and imagined - has clearly been a large part of your musical life. Since the late Nineties, more ambient soundscapes (breaking away from the simple three-four minute song structure), such as Trance, by once dance-orientated artists and producers, have also made their mark in various media. What is your view of this branch of music?

SE: I think post-modernity in music has only really started and I love it. We need the excitement of developing new art, new music and, if now appears to be a transformational period in music history in the years to come, I'm all for it. I'm against creating more of the same without adding something new to it yourself.
Is the internet also broadening music fans tastes, geographically, or do you find most still quite 'old skool' and nationalistic in their allegiances?
SE: I do actually like today where unknown archives are being opened up to new audiences and generations and I therefore am not really nostalgic about the past, where these archives were always a little mysterious or, as I think, simply went unnoticed. So, yes, it is very good for music. As my colleague Tony Visconti said: back in the day, when some artist was a worldwide star, in actual numbers it only scratched the surface by lack of digital distribution. However, what's going on with the low payments from ISPs and streaming platforms and the big data movement is bound to be misued by the more corporate-driven parties and these have become even more invisible than in the past. Frank Zappa, a visionairy man, said: the old guys in the record industry smoking their cigars at least admitted they didn't know about music, whereas the modern music industry folks pretend they do, based on f.e. big data, and thats even worse.
Will 'Home Ground' have a life live on stage, or will getting the disparate artists together be too much of an ask?
SE: A collaborative project usually is a logistical nightmare. Everybody involved has their own agenda and schedules. I'd hope for it to happen once or twice with the full line-up, but more realistic is to say that we will do a few performances here and there with some of the album's line-up. I'm working on that right now. In fact, I'll be doing a mini performance in New York with Ursula Rucker next week and in Amsterdam with Mary Griffin in mid-July.

Many thanks to Stephen for sparing his time during a rush of publicity.
http://stephenemmer.com
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Cumbria-based RUSSELL MILLS describes himself as a 'multimedia artist (who) has exhibited internationally and created numerous site-specific, immersive installations in the UK and abroad.' He is also known for his award-winning album covers for the likes of Brian Eno, Nine Inch Nails, Peter Gabriel, David Sylvian and Japan, Toru Takemitsu, Michael Nyman, Harold Budd and others; and influential book covers for Samuel Beckett, Ian McEwan, Milan Kundera, Graham Swift and Peter Ackroyd. I'd previously interviewed Mills at a London pub in 1996, during which he had mounted the installation, Measured In Shadows, with his then creative partner, Ian Walton. In our current exchange, he refers to his ongoing Still Moves project; an ongoing labour of love since 1994. We open on his most recent activity; curating an exhibition of locally excavated historical photographs.

Were you given a specific brief for the art and design of the Brunskill Collection exhibition, or a completely free hand as to how to contribute?

RM: My partner, Deborah Walsh, is the curator of the Armitt Museum and Library here in Ambleside. We’ve worked closely together researching for and co-curating several exhibitions since 2010, including 'Forward To Far: Telescoping Time: From Schwitters to Now' (2010), 'Bohemians In Exile: The Royal College of Art in Ambleside 1940-45' (2011), and 'Sublime Transactions: Contemporary Responses to the Armitt Collection' (2013).
  We began discussing and researching ideas for the exhibition 'Still Lives: Photographs from the Brunskill Collection at the Armitt' several years ago. Based on the theme of the exhibition, any particular focus that it requires, and the material itself, (in this instance a remarkable collection of over 17,800 plate glass negatives), we collaborated on devising possible directions for the overall design. Alongside these discussions, I explored ideas for the look and feel of the specific print elements that would be conceptually appropriate and visually coherent. As with the other exhibitions and publications for the Armitt, working with my design assistant, Michael Webster, I undertook all art and design, including catalogues, posters, flyers, and the exhibition itself.

What was the thinking behind the 'Still Moves' CD / book packages and where are you now with the latest in the series?

RM: I’ve been creating site-specific, process-driven and conceptually anchored multimedia installations since 1994, with each having a multi-channel aleatoric soundwork as a central element. All of the soundworks for these installations used sounds that have a significance specific to place and the ideas that each place has triggered. Each sound work comprises an amalgamation of disparate, yet spatially and conceptually connected, sonic elements. Reflective of place and history, and analogous to the ceaseless flux of nature’s generative processes, the pieces use electro-acoustic and hybrid instruments, non-musical objects such as stones, gravel, ice, breathing, found sounds, urban and rural field recordings and occasionally archive audio samples.
  Some years ago, an old London-based friend and admirer of both my visual and sonic work, Clive Maidment, who is also an ardent follower of experimental and electronic music, suggested that the soundworks made for these installations should be released as a series of limited edition CDs. He very generously offered to financially back the project and soon set up a label, Slow Fuse Sound. We then secured a publishing agreement with Touch. Via email and the occasional meeting, either in London or here in Ambleside, we spent about six months exchanging ideas as to how we might achieve this series, what we wanted it to be and what might be the best format to use.
  The A5 40 page, full colour, hardback book format seemed the most appropriate and achievable format; also it’s a pleasant size to hold. The books and the CDs they carry are designed primarily to chart and document the installations. We wanted them to be beautiful, but understated, simple and elegant, with no gratuitous indulgences, no excess. The final page count was partly determined by the requirements of both the texts and imagery for each and every installation, with some books covering five installations and others only one or two. Necessarily, the editing of both text and imagery has been rigorous.  The first two books of 'Still Moves' have been produced... 'Still Moves 3', the third in the series, is currently in production. It documents the installations 'Static' (2001), which was devised, but unfortunately not realised, for North Tyneside in 2002, and 'Hold' (2005) a collaborative work made with Petulia Mattioli for the Palazzo delle Papesse Centre for Contemporary Art in Siena in 2005. It will carry two CDs of the extended mixes of the installation soundworks, which have been mastered by Mike Fearon.    The soundwork for the installation 'Static' features award-winning poet Robin Robertson reading his specially written poem 'Sea Fret,' the full text of which is also printed in the book. The soundwork for 'Hold' was created by Mills and Fearon with Eraldo Bernocchi with contributions from Bill Laswell, Harold Budd, Gigi and Lorenzo Esposito.

When I first interviewed you in, I think, 1996, artists' were still discovering the possibilities – and drawbacks – of utilising computer technology. To what degree do you think it has helped, or hindered, the way you've worked since then?

RM: On the whole, computer technology has been a great boon to my work, both visual and audio. I’ve always considered the computer to be just another useful tool to add to traditional media such as paint or a hammer. The only things that limit creativity is a lack of imagination, a reluctance to accept change and a failure to experiment. As one of my heroes Samuel Beckett wrote, “Dare to fail. Dare to fail better.” 
  With design commissions I still prefer to first make work by hand using a diverse mix of materials and processes, including plaster, earth, ashes, coal and rust dust, blood, fabrics, soap, hair, found objects, and chemicals, amongst many others, as well as more traditional paints. Given that most of my works are textural, photographing them successfully is notoriously difficult, and crucially important. Once photographed they are then brought into the computer where they may be variously combined and manipulated using whatever creative editing programmes I think might enable me to experiment further. Whether working with my hands or through the computer, I’m continually experimenting, all the while being conscious of the commission, of its conceptual needs, and importantly, of the essence I’m trying to convey to complement the design brief, be it for a book. an album, a poster, an exhibition, an installation, recording music, or self-generated works. 
  Working with computers on design commissions allows one to try out numerous ideas in the near-certainty that nothing will be lost or destroyed; one can always go back, undertake changes, make and save endless variations. Such flexibility and security was not always possible pre-computers. The much reduced size and increased power capabilities of contemporary computers allow easy mobility and also enable one to work quickly, near-intuitively. And rather than having to arrange for the delivery of a physical artwork via a courier or in person, and live with the fear that the work might get damaged or lost in transit, the computer allows finished designs to be delivered through the ether almost instantaneously. 
  I was taught typography and learnt how to set type by hand when at art school, so I understand its rules, its nuances and its possibilities. Pre-computers, working with typography and typesetting was a bit of a nightmare. Laying out and marking up typesetting instructions required specialist knowledge and a feeling for the spatial possibilities and constraints that typography, when used carefully and thoughtfully, could bring to a design. Second-guessing and hoping that one had made the right decisions and choices of font sizes, weights, line lengths, leading, etc., was nerve-wracking, and occasionally one made the wrong choices. With computers this uncertainty has been removed: there should be no excuse for errors or bad design. However, too often I see a plethora of clumsy, atrocious typography made by people using computers who have no real understanding of the underlying principles of typography and no genuine feeling for type and design. Lazy reliance on digitally prescribed pre-sets leads to shoddy results. On the one hand the computer’s creative editing tools have democratised design, allowing anyone to be a designer or a musician; on the other, its ubiquity and relative ease of use has also encouraged and enabled a great deal of lazy, appallingly crafted and conceptually thin work to get out into the world.
  Before computers, if one wanted to record and manipulate sound, one had to hire an expensive studio, travel to and from it, and be subject to numerous logistical constraints that made it nigh on impossible for anyone, apart from those with access to excess dosh, to work on and produce recorded music. Working with sound, the computer is invaluable. As with my visual work, I generally begin with ideas and research, which lead to a cat’s cradle of associations. These allow me to then proceed to experimenting with the handmade, the electro-acoustic, found or made sound, then onto to the digital of the onboard studio (Logic, Reaper, et al) and assorted technological hardware wizardry. I’m not technically savvy - I think in and imagine sound/music in images - however I’m extremely lucky to work with people who are technically adept and quick to interpret my sometimes baffling ideas and vague directions. I work with Michael Webster on design commissions, and on sound projects I work with Mike Fearon, a brilliant guitarist, multi instrumentalist and sound engineer: he’s worked with me on sound for all of the multimedia installations since 1994, and in my 'Undark' collage recording project. Both, thankfully, like my work and somehow manage to accommodate my experimental approach: they seem attuned to the unpredictable and the felt. Having worked together for so long we rarely need to talk much about what we’re doing; our working relationships have become near-intuitive.  

At the time, you were involved with the 'Measured In Shadows' installation with your then creative partner, Ian Walton. Has the assemblage of all the disparate elements required to set-up an installation become easier to bring together over the last twenty years, or do you face exactly the same obstacles?

RM: Researching and conceptualising an installation, and pulling usually disparate ideas together in a coherent form, is still as challenging as ever. However the technical side of mounting an installation has become far easier, primarily due to the rapid advances in technology in recent years. The kind of technology that I need to use in installations, say, for generative lighting and aleatoric soundworks, has become far cheaper, smaller, more efficient, more reliable and with greater power, thereby enabling both greater mobility and variability.

Which reminds me; is your imagery being ripped off even more now than back then, or have you since found a way to copyright-protect your work?

RM: I’m not particularly aware of being ripped off to any significant degree recently, but as I don’t trawl the art or media landscape, I may well be missing any plagiarism that’s occurring. When I do occasionally come across work that seemingly seeks to emulate my work, it doesn’t overly worry me as most of it seems to be very self-conscious, more concerned with surface and style: pretty perhaps, but, to me, completely lacking resonance and historical or cultural heft. Without meaning or metaphor, I find it is rarely worthy of attention. I have no idea as to how I might copyright protect my work. I would’ve thought that having proof of its existence, documented and dated, should be enough protection. However there have been occasions where a piece of my work has been used without permission and I’ve contacted the offender and requested that they desist from using it. There have been a few occasions where I’ve been obliged to threaten legal action.

By reinterpreting a text through sound and / or image, or when you have re-presented a found object in a personal context, what do you hope to inspire in an objective observer?

RM: My work uses and is about collage, not just in the creation of art that juxtaposes disparate elements in new contexts, but as a construct, a governing idea. Some years ago I realised that even though I’ve produced a lot of work, in diverse media for numerous genres, there is a constant thread that weaves through all I’ve done and continue to do. Contingency: actions borne out of an reaction and reactions borne out of an action. I’ve always believed that life is a ceaselessly and seamlessly changing collage of dislocated experiences. In our daily lives we overhear snatches of conversations and clips of music, catch signs and headlines, meet people, exchange information and gossip, glimpse fleeting vignettes of human activity, all the while absorbing facts, ideas and sensations. The media world and politics, both shaped by advertising’s fabricated fictions, bombard us with mediated ‘truths’, pre-empting any original responses to experience. These experiences - our ‘reality’ - when recalled, do not unfold objectively or coherently, but as a series of meandering, disparate and jumbled memories, filtered, by jolts and twists, through association and deviation, to produce a montage of fragments, a collage of our consciousness.
  I enjoy complexity and ambiguity. My thinking proceeds through a cat’s cradle of associations through which I seek to find correspondences between numerous seemingly unrelated ideas, inspirations and facts, to reach a coherent, if allusive, conclusion. The works normally evolve through a symbiotic exchange between contextually anchored ideas and physical processes, each, by degrees, influencing the other. How others read, interpret or receive my work is beyond my control. Essentially I hope that an observer or viewer, or listener of my work, will bring their own experiences and thoughts to the work, and thereby interpret it in their own way. I don’t work in a way that is designed to trigger emotional responses (the emotional responses in a work are mine and are genuinely felt, but I wouldn’t want to cynically manipulate people’s emotions). However, I do hope that some people might ‘get it’ and might be moved emotionally, but more importantly I hope that people might ask questions in response to their reading or reception of the work, be it visual or sonic.

What do you think you get out of the art you create that keeps you going? 

RM: What I do is not a job, nor is it a vocation.  It’s what I do. I can probably do nothing else (although I occasionally toy with ideas of opening a bookshop or an esoteric junk shop, or a combination of both). What I do is a condition. Being an artist (or what I’d call a self-unemployed artist) is not easy. By choice I work with ideas and outcomes that are possibly obscure and perhaps ludicrous to many. I live a very unstructured life, without regulations or timetables, and, unless I’m working on a commission, with no deadlines or obligations to others. I don’t have an agent or a manager. I'm not contracted to a gallery. I have no assistants or a team of glib PR spinners and nor do I actively promote my work. Consequently, it’s also a financially precarious activity. To many I’d be considered to be a dilettante, a dabbler in too many things, lacking in ambition, unprofessional and quite possibly utterly useless. Despite all this I think that my quality of life is bloody wonderful, However in order to live and work with the freedom that I have, to investigate and explore any ideas I want, requires me to be fairly tough on myself and pretty selfish with my time.
  I’ve always been fascinated by how things connect and interact, how disparate things and ideas can converge and commingle to create new ideas and new things. Fuelling this fascination requires research - plenty of it - reading, writing and thinking. I really enjoy the research as an activity and for the treasury of ideas that it reveals, which enables me to work in the way I do. I’ve done this all my life so I’m pretty adept at focusing on what I need to do, no matter what else may be impinging on my life. Like everyone else I have to pay the bills and put food on the table, but I genuinely don’t give a toss about money.
  This probably doesn’t really answer your question? All I can say is that I think I’m extremely lucky in that I love what I do and I do what I love. I believe I've made the right decisions and choices, ethically and morally, and thus far my creative compass has served me well: I’ve survived and enjoy my life immensely.

Big thanks to Russell for his time and committed responses.


The first two books of Still Moves - in the projected series of six - have been produced and are now available to purchase from: www.slowfusesound.bandcamp.com

It is hoped that Still Moves 3 will be available from slowfusesound.bandcamp.com in
July/August 2017.


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The House Of Silence by Avalon Brantley, Zagava Press
In The House Of Silence esoteric publisher Zagava have released their first commercial novel; a surprise move, and a genre novel at that. Of the author, I had only just begun to discover Brantley; through her essays in Wormwood and her short tales for Egaeus Press. (Most recently, 'Window Widows' in A Midwinter's Entertainment (2016) and 'Twa Sisters, Ane Swan' in Murder Ballads (2017)). A brief surf also revealed a play, Aronos (Ex-Occidente, 2013) 'set in Greece during the Archaic Period.' The historical voice in these texts are uniquely hers, and I'd yet to satisfactorily define it to myself when I was sent her latest – a novel - for review.
  A presumably fictitious foreword by Brantley herself leads into her relating the contents of a surviving journal and letters from a deceased relative that make up the account of the tale that unfolds. What begins, seemingly innocently, as a search for the protagonist's childhood pet dog, deepens into a nightmare when it leads to a burial mound that also appears an exit portal for some horrifically primal underworld. In truth, this is a memory 'mistaken for a dream' that acts as a portent to gradually disturbing events, seemingly proscribed by fate.
  Bachelor Ashley Acheson receives a last minute invitation, from his brother, to their late father's funeral and a memorial dinner with their engaging but strange host family. The plot is in Kraighten, Ireland, an area of the country Acheson had assumed his father never cared for. It turns out to be upon a hill, now waterlogged, where local history had long ago claimed a supernatural source. Deja-vu at the site had already encroached upon Acheson's waking life and disconnected glimpses of dread draw him further into a web of victimhood. All the while, he is haunted by an unconsumated lost love from boyhood, in a manner that compels his journey and loosens his hold on sanity.
  If this sounds all very familiar, the novel's dedication 'for William Hope Hodgson' and allusions to his The House On The Borderland and occult bible The Night Land are not disguised. Yet, there is a freshness from the sense of present-tense imperative that transcends any tired derivation. Intimations of The Wicker Man are also evoked in the echoes of folk memory and its manifestation into folk horror in the siege-based climax. These race-memory anecdotes are absorbing and detailed without being anally so, pedantic, or overtly slowing the pace. Then there is the Brian Blessed-like head host of the house; the charismatic, ebullient O' Brien. An intriguing character, at once hail fellow well met and controlling.
  The sadness in Brantley's promising debut is in it likely being her sole novel, since she passed away in March at the Byronic age of 36. (Although Jonas Ploeger – her publisher – has since hinted at other writings left behind). The usual, unanswerable questions regarding 'unfulfilled potential' apply; particularly where the likelihood of a future publishing contract from one of the big publishing houses is concerned. The House Of Silence leaves a forlorn, but resounding, echo in the affirmative.



Saturday, 8 April 2017

Pan Review of the Arts - No.2

Editorial: Welcome to the second issue of 'Pan Review of the Arts.' Here, Tracy Tynan talks about her famous parents and the key role clothes played in their and, subsequently, her life.  In review, a 'prose poem' collection of past dreams reflects the waking life of its author, while Stephen J. Clark brings us a new prose poem, augmented by his very own art. Finally, Lidwine De Royer Dupre talks of the role the harmonium and harp play in her singular musical journey. Enjoy...

                                                                            
                                                 books.

TRACY TYNAN had been silent, in print, for many years on the subject of her parents; the great drama critic Kenneth Tynan and the novelist and biographer Elaine Dundy, to whom she was their only child. Her new memoir, Wear and Tear – The Threads of My Life (Duckworth (UK) / Simon & Schuster (US)), definitively reveals why. Subsequently a costume designer for both Hollywood and independent cinema - on films such as 'Breathless,' 'The Big Easy' and 'Great Balls Of Fire!' - the book relates how Tracy's eye has long been strong on colour and broad in style and how clothes got her through the worst of familial times. Her tone, throughout, is admirably self-deprecating, especially through the early years of almost cavalier abandonment. Today, she lives in Los Angeles.

I never realised I cared that much about clothes - until I read your book. Then I recalled the silver silk and dark pink cotton shirts I once owned in the Eighties for evening wear, and the two-tone Mod shoes in the Nineties, and how I wanted to achieve a certain look --- and give a certain impression about myself. Have you found your book to have triggered similar, unexpected recollections in readers’ elsewhere?

TT: Yes, because everyone — except nudists! — wears clothing. Everyone has an association with clothing, a favorite item, a good luck item or the reverse. A bad experience wearing something can taint that piece of clothing forever.

Your child's-eye view on your parents' fighting is your memoir's darker underbelly. It's not uncommon for children of a dysfunctional relationship to experience self-destructive behaviour later in their own lives. How do you think you managed to avoid becoming another victim of such dysfunction?

TT: I think going to boarding school at the age of 10 saved my life. It removed me from a toxic situation and put me into a bucolic, supportive place. Also, I think I was just lucky not to inherit the addiction gene. Although I have dabbled with drugs and alcohol, my tolerance is pretty low, so engaging in long-term behavior was not physically possible. And then there was therapy. I have had years of therapy, which was very helpful, which led to me attending an offshoot of AA - Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA). In those meetings I discovered other people who had experienced similar things to me, and actually much worse, and I was able to share and process my experiences.

Have you found your book's personal revelations to have helped friends, or more remote readers, approach and confide in you about their own childhood and parental relationships?

TT: Yes, a few people have written to me and told that they identified with my sense of isolation and fear. Of being around unpredictable adults and having to become an adult before one’s time.

I realise your father wasn't at home very much but, later in life, did he ever relate to you his awareness of your mother's addictions and behaviour? For example, via greater empathy or sympathy towards you?

TT: I am not sure he really comprehended the extent of her mental illness, as he was not around to witness it. I think he understood that it was not a good situation but did not know what to do about it.

You write admiringly of your father's writing. What do you think of your mother's published work? (i.e. The novels, biographies, and autobiography).

TT: I think she was a terrific writer. Her first novel, 'The Dud Avocado,' remains a classic coming of age story. And her second novel 'The Old Man and Me' is very dark and funny. A fictionalized account of her friendship with Cyril Connolly. Both have been optioned to be made into films. I hope that comes to pass. Her non-fiction work was very deeply researched and her book ‘Elvis and Gladys’ is very respected by many Elvis scholars.

Your last line in the book states; '...I hope, as I grow older, that I shall continue to be curious and discover new stories to tell.' So, does this mean the experience of writing 'Wear and Tear' has fired you into writing more in future? For example, a biography, short stories or a novel?

TT: I would like to continue writing, but I am not sure what form it will take. I have enjoyed writing scripts in the past, and I like collaboration, but the odds of getting a script made are practically zero. Writing scripts taught me a lot about structure and dialogue. I am usually inspired by a real-life situation and use that as a jumping-off point. Also, I am very visual and have worked on various art projects and I would like to try working in that area for a while. A few years ago I collaborated on an art installation based on real suicide notes. I might try to turn that into a book. (I know, not the most upbeat subject, but some of the notes were actually funny).

What kind of writing do you most admire – why? - and who are you reading at the moment?

TT: I have very eclectic tastes. I read a lot of memoirs. Michael Arlen’s 'Exiles,' the classic, original memoir about dysfunctional, talented parents. Artist Anne Truit's memoir trilogy, 'Prospect,' 'Daybook' & 'Turn,' about the struggles of being an artist and a single mother. Anything by Kate Atkinson. Roz Chast’s amazing and witty graphic memoir 'Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant.' It should be required reading for baby-boomers with aging parents! The moving memoir, 'The Light of The World,' by the poet Elizabeth Alexander, about the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, which also has a few delicious recipes as her husband was a chef. And since Trump became President, I have been reading a lot of PG Wodehouse, which I find is the perfect antidote to Trump’s insanity! Plus, the complete Wodehouse has been re-issued by my British publisher, Duckworth, and they have very kindly offered to give me a steady supply of the venerable wit.

I'd like to thank Tracy for her time and hope she writes more for publication in the future.


                                                                         
Nights As Day, Days As Night by Michel Leiris, Spurl Editions, (Translated by Richard Sieburth)

A dream journal is not an easy tome to critique; mainly because it isn't clear what you are being asked to judge. What are the parameters, either side of the line between 'good' and 'bad,' 'success' and 'failure'? What have you to compare it to? Other dream journals that are a genre all their own? (If a genre at all). There is, of course, the psychological approach that wedges a foot in the door of biography. Here, instinct is perhaps a more reliable guage for the critic than primary academic research into the whole contrary life. So to Michel Leiris (1901-90), whose life to me was – thankfully in this case – something of a blank page.
  A stylish, cosmospolitan figure, Parisien-born Leiris was an art critic, poet and anthropologist, also described as 'a pioneer in modern confessional literature' who'd modelled for Francis Bacon; an almost uniquely French combo of specialisms, rarely repeated either side of the Atlantic. Initially associated with the Twenties Surrealists, Leiris subsequently slipped from view, in precarious mental health, reappearing – to the public – at the end of the Thirties with a form of psychological autobiography covering the missing years. At this point, he'd just spent four years as Director of Research at the National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris; a role he'd remain in for the next thirty-one years.
  Nights As Day, Days As Night is an occasional but consistently kept series of dream diary entries of varying length. Some are only a couple lines, some take up to five pages; most written the morning after the night before; others written from daydream or daytime ruminations that somehow clung to justify inclusion. (Hence the title). In his Translator's Note, Richard Sieburth states that Leiris's dream journal entries are 'best approached as prose poems, their skewed rhythms observing the cadences of dream...' since Leiris himself classified them amongst his poetry. 
 Kept between 1923 and 1960, each are beautifully rendered, considering the inevitable incompleteness and lack of linear logic. Named friends and colleagues feature, some with mystery spouses, such as 'Z' - a companion of Leiris's own. (Whether or not he/she is the same one throughout is equally uncertain). Places he's worked in and women he's desired rub shoulders with impossible perspectives, imminent Establishment takeovers and threats of execution seemingly based upon his leftist resistance activities in the waking world.

It seems likely its initiation influenced his third release, the surrealist novel Aurora (1927).

'What I like about this work,' he once wrote of it, 'is the appetite it expresses for an unattainable purity, the faith it places in the untamed imagination, the horror it manifests with regard to any kind of fixity - in fact, the way almost every page of it refuses to accept that human condition in the face of which there are some who will never cease resistance, however reasonably society might one day be ordered.'

  This 'untamed imagination' and 'lack of fixity' are surely a writer's key pleasures encountered in any dream journal. To one also defiant of Establishment norms, his 'refusal to accept (the) human condition' suggests Nights As Day was, if only unwittingly, the template. Finally published in 1961 as Nuits sans nuit et quelques jours sans jour, this new reissue includes a 1971 'foreword' by Maurice Blanchot; another long-living novelist and essayist with a profile even lower and for longer than that of Leiris. As glimpses into the psyche of a polymath, Nights As Day succeeds as the kind of book that makes you want to seek out, and make sense of, the likely source of his desires.

                                                                        
                                                    art.                                                       
                                                                                                                         
                                                       Thresholds 
                                                     (On Drawing)

                                                   Stephen J. Clark

Perhaps we can no more dispense with myth than we can with words. In dreams we are carried in the currents of myth. Mythic forms persist as binding and constitutive elements within language and culture; through the imagination they can be invoked or awakened from their latency within memory, within the unconscious.


A key desire in my art is exploring where an image will take me; how it will unexpectedly evolve, leading me on the secret pathways of untold stories. As unforeseen associations and recurring symbols are revealed with each drawing, I find myself obsessively unearthing and piecing together a mythology that curiously knows how to speak intimately to me, and like an imaginary childhood friend takes the shape of my fears, my wishes and my memories. A prevailing assumption envisages human experience in Cartesian terms, wrongly de-limiting the unconscious as if it is sectioned from the conscious mind, the body and the world, reducing the unconscious to an estranged shadow within. Yet the unconscious is not only a repository, is not only something that contains, conceals or confines but can be responsive, becoming a way of reaching outwards to grasp, unveil and enchant the world we experience. In a sense the unconscious surrounds us, waiting in the world’s forms and in our encounters with others.


For me, drawing has become a process of revelation that is essentially to do with memory and the unconscious mind; my interest in drawing began in childhood with a love of comics and a fascination with monsters and mythology. As a child I recall chancing upon visionary and apocalyptic paintings by Bosch and Brueghel in an encyclopedia with the sensation of having crossed a line, trespassing on forbidden territory. Perhaps in childhood play there was the kernel of revelation I was to nurture later, in the poetry of the image.


The poetic image is a threshold where unexpected forms appear like messengers, leaving us speechless. This experience of seeing is often one of being silenced. In the gaze that ruptures speech signs take shape before us as seductive apparitions, curious interlopers or unwelcome guests. There is a dialogue, a dialectic communion, an exchange of glances between the visible and the invisible, between the present and the absent, the conscious and the unconscious. When we experience, we imagine.


Somewhere between reflection and chance the image emerges. A face is slowly coaxed to surface from the patterns of an ink wash. The image is a mirror; we find ourselves changed in its flickering contours. The act of drawing is a form of gnosis, of self-knowledge, of scrying into patterns, peering into hidden facets, a kind of meditative dream while awake. In drawing I’m lured into the image’s circle of influence, witnessing and participating in its transformations.


Affinities with alchemical and magical ideas and images have inspired and informed my understanding and process. In these drawings as in dreams mythic forms emerge through memory and as we remember we in turn cross thresholds, we take on different forms, wear other masks. On the other side we glimpse monstrous lives, encounter spectral doubles, phantoms of resemblance roaming lost margins steeped in fog or shadow. The personae and encounters in these pictures act out dramas on the stage of an inner theatre, a microcosm of the page where Faust enters to converse with his shadows. So the image becomes a hermetic riddle and the act of drawing a method of unraveling its many threads; a visual poem, a disturbance in habitual thinking where time is transmuted and the image stirs into life. 
  
                   All images are copyright: Stephen J. Clark (2013, 2014, 2015)

His collection of strange stories - 'The Satyr & Other Tales' - is available here:
http://www.swanriverpress.ie/title_satyr.html

See more of Stephen's art and writings at his official website: 
http://www.thesinginggarden.co.uk
                                                       
                                                       *                    
                                                  music.

LIDWINE was a name I initially discovered as a dustjacket credit, whose flawless photogenic features graced the monochrome cover of 'Ghosts'; a book of uncanny short stories by publisher Ray Russell (Tartarus Press, 2012) and reviewed in these pages on its release. A brief, subsequent surf revealed the subject – Lidwine de Royer Dupre - to be a musician of quite unique character; a harpist and harmonium player with a Bjork-like voice whose fluid musical genre reflects both the churches and chapels she performs in and the strikingly strange, cutting edge videos she produces. With a debut album behind her, ('Before Our Lips Are Cold' (Taktic Music, 2014)), and a new release imminent, it felt time to catch up, on what is one of her – so far – few interviews in English.

What can you tell me about your new album?

L: 'Alive' will feature ten tracks from my previous EPs' and album, but in new versions. My husband, who is also my drummer/percussionist, and I moved from Paris to Normandy end of 2015. At the time, I was performing with him tracks from my first album, in versions very close to the recorded ones; that is to say blending acoustic instruments and electronics. But, once we moved to the countryside, this way of presenting my work on stage did not seem relevant anymore. I guess having left behind the noise of the big city and finding ourselves in a very quiet environment surrounded by nature, we both felt the old versions were not in resonance with where we were and what we had become. So we unplugged everything and decided to rework the songs and make them totally acoustic.
  During summer 2016, we toured with this new set-up playing mostly unplugged concerts in churches and chapels in Normandy and Brittany. It’s been a great experience for many reasons; among them, the pleasure of singing and playing without electric amplification, using the natural acoustic of each place, the proximity of the audience and the sense of intimacy allowed by these kind of gigs, and the absence of technical problems related to electric amplification and the use of microphones… We wanted to document this, so we went to Mikrokosm Studios in Lyon last February and asked Benoit Bel, who I had been working with on my two previous recordings, to record us live in his studio. The tracks are currently being mixed by him. Meanwhile my husband and I are working on the artwork and packaging. We will release five-hundred CDs' in silk screen printed and numbered packaging. No exact release date for now, but it will happen sometime this spring.

Where were you born and raised?

L: I was born in Le Mans, west of France, and raised in the countryside of this region until the age of 10. My father was then asked to move to Chantilly (50 km north of Paris) for professional reasons (he is a racehorse trainer) and I spent my teenage years there and then moved to Paris to study at University.

What influenced you into taking up the harp and harmonium as your instruments of choice?

L: I found my first harmonium (an Indian harmonium) in an Indian shop in Paris. Tried it on the spot, fell in love with its sound and bought it right away. Then I got really interested in the harmoniums/reed organs in general and bought a big one. The harp came later. I had an autoharp and a friend of mine told me, half joking, that one day I will maybe play a real harp. Two years later, when I got enough money, I decided to buy one.

When you started out, was your priority to sing and write your own lyrics, or was it to find unusual instruments to play?

L: I started creating music with a computer and a keyboard, and then sequencers (Yamaha QY70 & QY700). Right away I was looking for sounds that were different, using the available effects to customize the factory sounds available on these machines. I had to do this, in order to be inspired to sing and write. I guess, this is the same with my choice of acoustic instruments, I have to find sounds which are not too much related to already existing music styles. For example, the sound of guitar does not inspire me. It is too much related to rock or folk music and it does not trigger my inspiration. To answer your question, writing and singing was my primal intention but in order to do so, I had to find sounds that inspired me. So, as far as I am concerned, both notions are interdependent.

What is your approach to composition? (e.g. do the lyrics inspire the music, or does the music inspire the lyrics?)

L: For my very first attempts and my first EP, I had lots of writings in notebooks I could dip into while finding sounds and musical phrases. (I can’t say I was really composing at the time, I had no notion of how to build a song…). I was doing things instinctively and learning step-by-step by myself. Now it’s different. My skills have improved with each recorded project, be it in composition, arrangements or production skills. As far as composition is concerned, I am versatile. I could experiment on my Logic (music software) and find the beginning of something, then rework it on the harp, or the piano. Or I could sit at the piano and find a series of chords that inspire a melody and/or words and then my voice would lead me somewhere and my fingers would have to find the right chord to accompany it, etc.
  The composition of the music comes along with the writings of the lyrics and vice versa. It is an intricate process. A phrase can shape the way the melody comes out and other times, I have to write lyrics to fit in an already existing melody. But I never give up on the meaning of the lyrics. Besides, I must admit that the rhyming issue is never a priority. Meaning and rhythm of the phrases are what count the most for me.

Your website states that you were self-taught on the instruments. Does this give you greater freedom to compose in a way personal to you, or does it have its drawbacks that formal training might have overcome?

L: Apart from a two years harp training with a teacher, (my first 2 years with the harp), I am a self-taught musician. I have great difficulties reading scores, so, working with my teacher, I took the habit of learning exercises or pieces by heart. I am mostly visual when it comes to memorizing what I have to play. That is to say, I learn on a visual and muscular basis. (My eyes tell me where my fingers should be, my fingers memorize where they have to go next, the movements they have to make). When it comes to the consequences of being self-taught on my composition skills, I admit I certainly do not play the harp as most classically-trained harpists do and probably don’t think about composition as classically-trained composers do. I still feel like I follow my instinct, but with several years of experimenting and learning by my mistakes, my instinct has become sharper and more efficient. I play the harp my own plain and clumsy way. Finding finger movements that my body can perform.
  Same thing with any instrument I play. I use them above all, as accompaniment to my singing. The drawbacks of this lack of formal training (and the fact that I did not start at an early age) are that on one hand, I will never be a virtuoso, so I have to do what my body and brain allow me to do, and on the other hand, I do not share the common language of musical scores with classically trained musicians. But, thanks technology and computer assisted music softwares, I am able to create arrangements in MIDI and print out scores I can give to musicians for them to play. Besides, I know nothing about harmony laws, I have to rely on my own judgement, maybe it gives me more freedom, but I’m not sure.

Some artists who are self-taught do not reveal obvious influences through their work. Instead, the very organic nature of their work means it often exists in creative isolation. Do you consider your own music in such terms, or can you hear outside influences when you play back your recordings?

L: I thought about it a lot with my previous album and the fact that some of its songs where built on a 'normal' structure, like any pop song would, and some others were pieces with different 'movements' inside them and no repeated parts, just like in a classical piece of music: a series of various emotions unwinding one after the other, bringing a climax at some point and then a real end. I guess years of ballet training and listening to classical music and opera led me to this. I also believe I am entitled to say I have a large musical culture going from concrete music, to classical, jazz, minimal electronic, R&B, world music etc… All these kinds of music have influenced me one way or another. I have listened extensively to Prince for years. Discovering, with each listen, a little detail here, a little detail there. His production has had an influence on my first EP and my first album, even though they do not sound at all like Prince… I took pleasure in adding details, hiding little things for listeners to discover…
  Women like Björk or Kate Bush have influenced me in my way to approach music and production as a woman, because they represent great examples of artistic freedom. I guess Björk has influenced my way of singing, at least this is what many people tell me… I don’t listen to music often though. I don’t need to and anyway I don’t stumble often upon things that really draw my attention. But once I do, I listen to them extensively! I guess that consciously or unconsciously, I am, now and then, using little bits of other artists. One would have to live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with no Internet, radio or T.V., luxuriant vegetable garden and orchard, real skills in manual work and sewing to prevent him/her from listening to others music, be it only at the supermarket.

Many thanks to Lidwine for giving her time.

Pre-orders for her new album are available at Lidwine's shop:





Saturday, 11 February 2017

Pan Review of the Arts - No.1

Editorial: It's finally here! The new 'arts review' version of 'Pan.' Each bi-monthly upload will feature pieces on working artists and writers and their current and/or recent activities, which I very much hope will appeal to most readers. (If not necessarily at the same time...) Books, never fear, will never be too far away. In fact, this month and April will highlight them, alongside music, very much to the fore in both. I'm intending the layout should develop as we go along, so time-constraints have ensured that - for now at least - I concentrate upon content. Til later, then...enjoy!


music.


PETER COYLE has been a solo artist and collaborator for thirty years now. Best known to a general audience as the boyish-faced, founding lead singer of Liverpool band The Lotus Eaters, who first stormed the charts and the BBC Radio One playlist with 'The First Picture Of You' in July 1983, he subsequently forsook the usual route of commercial cashing-in to forge his own musical path, in his own way. I'd been in touch with Peter, on-and-off, since 2002, just ahead of the release of his album, 'Stay Deep In The Music.' (A phrase he still uses in correspondence, which, as an artist, highlights his main priority). With this year heralding a return to gigging under his own name, it seemed a good time to catch up...


What was the last book, or other text, you read that, either directly or indirectly, inspired your lyrics?

PC: First of all I should say that I work really hard to try and be receptive to everything. I am obsessed in a way, and like many creative people I am always on the lookout for resonances. In answer to your question… I have just been collaborating with Martyn Ware for the 'Everything You Can Imagine Is Real' event at the National Portrait Gallery. For this we wrote six songs and used the words from Pablo Picasso's 'The Burial of the Count of Orgaz and Other Poems,' which is utterly brilliant by the way. That was a really interesting process and we learnt a great deal from that. Also Sarah Lewis, the author, sent me a poem about the loss of her husband, Lee, to lung cancer called 'The Year After You,' which absolutely floored me with its beauty. I ended up putting music to those beautiful words.

Which of your recent work best reflects or expresses that inspiration?  


PC: I am still trying to find the creative spaces. For example, Picasso said in one of his poems it is a thing behind another thing…and it just screamed out at me. It says so much - and Francis Bacon said that his great struggle is how to capture reality without it being just an illustration. Again, it just says it all - and when you see that picture of Francis Bacon in his studio surrounded by all that cut up chaotic layer upon layer of colour it makes you realize how incredibly obsessive and dedicated the man was to his art. For me, there is nothing more beautiful. Exactly the same with Picasso. He never stopped working…he pushed himself to the limit…the same with David Bowie…you just know that music was his life. There are many more examples but these creative people take risks and, okay, the ones I have highlighted were extremely successful, but there are many incredible artists writers and poets who pursue their dreams regardless of the success. 
  I have been trying to create something for thirty-seven years now and I am still hoping that one day I will create something that is timeless…something that is inspired. For example, I have been reading 'The Birthday Letters' by Ted Hughes. It is mind blowing. You can feel all the years of work in every single syllable. It is truly an incredible piece of work…far and beyond everything. I would like to just spend a whole year on that one book and write some music around it…that would be a dream for me…and there are so many things like that…incredibly inspiring. I would just love to let that energy pour into me and try to step out of the way and distill the energy into music…

I know you've never been driven by a need to achieve some shallow kind of fame. At the same time, you seem to work harder than many of your contemporaries in releasing new material. What is the source of this drive? What are you striving to achieve?

PC: The truth is I don't know. I had double pneumonia and I had not finished the (third) Lotus Eaters album that we recorded in 2009. I remember feeling devastated that it would not be finished as I was scared that maybe it was my time to leave this earth. It was a horrible feeling and as it turned out we did get to finish the album thankfully but, unfortunately, it was never released…but at least on my death bed I will know that I used all my talents to do my best to serve people with my deepest creativity. So, everything I do is seen through the prism of my death bed…and that is why I work hard and hope that entitles me to be perceived as a genuine creative person - but I have no control over other people's perceptions. Every day, I try to write something beautiful and try to be as creative as I can be.

I know good poetry can be hard to achieve, but, as a writer, I find the presumed simplicity of song lyrics even harder. How easy, or otherwise, do you find writing lyrics?

PC: I
think everyone can write lyrics. It is more important to find the right fit to the music or inversely to the words. It is all about the fusion of the two, and how it feels. I don't really distinguish between poetry and lyrics. I think poetry is more technical sometimes but both forms of expression are stunning when they work well. Sometimes when I hear people speak it mesmerizes me and it feels like music to me. I truly believe that even the slight movement of a facial muscle is poetry…but I live in a kind of dreamworld…

You've collaborated with dance-orientated, and other, producers in the past. What do you find most worthwhile about collaboration and would you want to do more in the future?

PC: I think it is important to work with others so as you do not become too encapsulated in your own bubble; but, equally, it is good to explore your own paths undisturbed. The best thing about working with someone else is creating something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. And there is always something to learn. The learning never ends.

Last summer you did a couple of Rewind Festivals with fellow Lotus Eater, Jem Kelly, and Heaven 17. You looked like you really enjoyed the experience, working audiences again. Yet, I know you (and Jem) also create very much in the present. Does your early musical past serve a positive purpose in the present, or is it more an obstacle? e.g. in gaining a new fan following for your solo work.

PC: I think they are two separate things. Gigs are beautiful because it is a shared experience with the audience and they are not particularly bothered about the new stuff. They want to renew their connections with the older material - and why not? That is their prerogative. I am so proud of what we have done and love to share it; but, equally, I like to write and produce new material. That is important to me personally. So, yes, I think they are distinct and different. And I am very happy to be doing both. There is only love - and new music and live music is a beautiful way of sharing that love.

Thank you Peter - and good luck for the future.


Everything You Can Imagine Is Real at the National Portrait Gallery:
The Year After You:

https://myeighties.wordpress.com


*   *   *

THE LOUNGE KITTENS are a close-harmony trio specialising in sharp, funny, self-penned numbers and unexpected, re-imagined covers. I stumbled across them via their exuberant videos in summer 2015 and – discovering they were local to my old home town - followed their career to the release of their debut album last September and subsequent tour. Formed in Southampton, Hampshire, in 2012, (after singing for fun in the local choir), the star of Timia, Jen and Zan ascended further last December, attaining a support slot with Status Quo at the O2 Arena, with a second Download Festival penciled in for later this year. In keeping with their idea and outlook, responses are colour-coded to their signature hair dyes...

(To Jen & Timia): You met at a production of Stephen Sondheim's 'Company.' Where were you in your lives up to that point?

Timia: I was a mature student in my first year of a Psychology BSc at Southampton Uni. I'd kind of turned my back on music a bit after a few stints in bands and a couple of years of music school - I'd stopped enjoying it. I'd done a lot of musical theatre in my childhood, but had gone completely off it in my late teens. The fact that I even got cast in a musical at all was totally by accident and the result of a few weird twists of fate leading up to that moment. I'd never have met Jen otherwise, as our paths would not have crossed. Thanks universe.

Jen: I was currently studying for my Masters in Composition at the time. I had mixed feelings about whether I even wanted to be a composer, so was trying my hand at as many job opportunities and experiences that I could get hold of. I was teaching singing on the side, and one of my students wanted to audition for two musicals being put on at Southampton University so I went to accompany him with absolutely no intention of auditioning myself, until my friend said I should do it 'just for fun.' So I did and got in! I remember when I first met Timia at the read through, I thought she was WAAAAY too cool to want to talk to me, until we bonded over our matching socks.

(To Zan): When you weren't singing with Timia and Jen in the local choir, how were you getting by?

Zan: Well, we knew each other for years before we really became friends and I've changed career several times within the time we've known each other. We didn't get to hang out much at choir because Jen was up the front leading the sessions and Timia and I sing opposite harmony parts so we were sat on opposite sides of the hall looking wistfully at the other brightly coloured haired girl, wondering whether she might wanna be friends, but thinking that she was probably too cool to talk to me, ha-ha. The first time we went out together was when they told me about this idea for a band they'd had and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. And the rest is history. BUT in the meantime I had left my office job and started working for a live music promoter in Southampton, which turned out to be SUPER handy in providing me with a working knowledge of the music industry.

How did the hook-up with Adam Sagir and The Noise Cartel agency come about?

Zan: Adam and the team at Noise Cartel have been handling our press from the very beginning, back when we first got booked for Sonisphere (Festival) and we now consider the whole team good friends. Adam likes what we do and it's a nice example of how the music industry works (sometimes!) because he stepped in to guide us through our first experiences of festival press circuits and official releases purely because he thought we were fun and 3 years later, here we are working on some really cool stuff together. I'll never forget the whispers of 'who are the girls in the sparkly dresses' going round backstage at Sonisphere in 2014. The next day everyone knew who we were, thanks to Limp Bizkit!

At what point did you realise this trio was beginning to feel like a serious commitment?

Timia: For me it was when festival bookings started to come in. Once we'd said "yes" to those, that people were expecting us to turn up and be good, I felt there was no turning back. That if we were going to DO THIS I was going to have to overcome various fears and anxieties and just bloody get on with it, because the other two were relying on me to come through and I couldn't let them down.

Jen: When we realised people were actually listening to us! As a musician you can spend so much of your time serving as 'background music,' so to have people sit and watch and listen and laugh at your music is when you know you have to make it special. It was when we realised we had to ditch a lot of our 'filler' music because people's reactions to songs like 'Rollin' and 'I Don't Want To Miss A Thing' were just too special. That's when I knew we had something special.

Zan: It's always been a serious commitment for us because we take what we do very seriously, even though we like to laugh at ourselves so much. But I think there have been several stages where we've thought 'wow, this is actually a real thing,' and those moments (thankfully) keep on coming. Getting booked for Glastonbury for the first time and Sonisphere back in 2014, we thought 'this is fun. Let's see how far we can push it over the summer', totally convinced we'd be a flash in the pan, but wanting to take every experience we could from it. Then the Steel Panther tour came in and we thought 'ok, this is dream come true stuff now,' but still we figured it would all fizzle out after that. Then Download (Festival) came knocking and fans started clamouring for an album. The PledgeMusic campaign smashed its target in 3 weeks and we were like 'woah, we actually have REAL fans now'. And it keeps happening. Status Quo, Download announced today for the summer... I hope we never stop noticing those moments.

You played the O2, supporting Status Quo, last December. Leading up to it, did you harbour any worries as to whether a close-harmony trio with a keyboard could cut it, sonically, in the expanse of an arena and what reassured you it would work?

Timia: Not at all, because we'd done it before. With Steel Panther at Wembley and with Rock Choir at the NEC. Plus we had the full confidence of Status Quo who had asked us to be there in the first place, knowing full well what our set-up was. The sound quality can be particularly epic and beautiful in arenas, if you think about it - 3 vocals plus a piano is 4 instruments. It sounds fuller than it looks. Besides, when Elton John sits at his piano without the backing band, or Ed Sheeran does a number just vocals and guitar in a massive venue, there's never any doubt that they won't "cut it sonically" because there are fewer instruments playing in a big arena. If the performance is on point and the sound quality is great, the space isn't an issue.

Jen: In all honesty, no. I wasn't worried about 'filling the room' because we had done it before, so we knew how to project ourselves and what problems we would encounter. What WAS a worry was hearing ourselves, because we don't use in-ear monitors (there isn't enough music fighting against each other to make them worthwhile) which means we have to fight against the natural ambience and delay of a huge room, which was difficult and DIFFERENT every single night. It certainly kept us on our toes!

You released your first album – 'Sequins & C-Bombs' - last September. How easy, or difficult, was it to make it happen once you'd chosen the songs?

Timia: Actually, we kind of chose the songs as we went. The album took about 10 months to record and during that time we wrote a lot of new material for it, some songs we'd hoped to put on didn't work out in the context of the album, others got added at the last minute. The track list was always evolving alongside the recording process. For the record, it is in no way 'easy' for an unsigned group to go from having a 'a collection of songs we are performing' to a physical CD manufactured, with slick cover art photographed, designed and printed, royalties paid, legal stuff cleared and distributed globally in stores and digitally. It's bloody hard. And expensive. There is just no way we'd have been able to fund it without all the legends who'd contributed to the PledgeMusic campaign. Every penny we earned went into the making of the album. We were fed and sheltered by our loved ones so that we could make it a reality. A lot of people gave us help, advice and their services out of the goodness of their hearts and because they believed in us. For us, it took literally hundreds of people to make it happen, "Team Kitten" is a HUGE posse now.

Jen: It depends exactly what you mean because recording, mastering and mixing the album was a lot of fun and the 'easy' part! The song choice was ongoing throughout the recording process and Timia and I were arranging songs against the clock, often resulting in us singing it together for the first time IN the studio, then recording it then and there. CD design, photo shoots, album covers, copy-writing, social media interest, the Pledge campaign, upholding pledge treats, the list goes on... That's what takes it out of you, it's all exhausting. The administrative and distribution side of the album creation was done by Zan and I think she is a saint. It looked terrifying... there is so much that goes into releasing an album and it is expensive. Be completely passionate about the music you want to release, because it's a long ride!

Zan: Like every challenge worth doing, making the album had massive high points and huge low points and was a LOT of hard work. We pushed ourselves harder than ever before in the studio, often resulting in tears. Putting together everything else to do with the album ourselves and becoming our own record label was an incredibly steep learning curve. But the result is something we're amazingly proud of. The fact we managed to get it showing in the charts was such a shock and, as Timia said, it really was a team effort. Hundreds of people donated their time, money, skills and support to us and we couldn't have done it without our C-Bomb Squad which makes it an even better feeling.

When you choose a song to cover, do you have any pre-agreed priorities between you or go solely by instinct?

Jen: Both. We all have lists of songs that we want to try out, and it's only when we sit down and try them out that we know whether they're going to work or not. Sometimes we have 'lightbulb' moments when we hear something when we're out and about and we all look at each other and say 'this would be great' and it gets added to the list.

Zan: The priorities are that it has to be a banger - we try to aim for songs that everyone knows but aren't the obvious option for a particular band. Also, we made a pact never to repeat songs that Richard Cheese has already done. How many lounge versions of 'Killing In The Name Of' does the world really need? There are other qualities that might instantly cancel a song out - for example, if its already laden with harmonies there's not a lot we can do which, unfortunately, counts out a lot of the cock rock I love! And with a lot of bands, there are so many great options we end up shoving as many as we can into a medley, because who doesn't love a great medley?

Huge thanks to Timia, Jen and Zan for taking the time out and good luck for the rest of the year...



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books.


SISSY PANTELIS is an Athens-based writer of fantasy graphic novels and prose. A professed dreamer – 'the rest is not important' – she has been contributing stories and collaborating with various quality artists for the past twelve years. Specialising in modern fairy tales, her approach is romantic without being sentimental; moral without moralising. On the back of her two most recent releases, it seemed a good time to discover more...


RED NIGHTMARE and BLUE SPARKLES are the first graphic novels of yours I have read. Although fairy tales, my initial impression was that they seem to inhabit worlds neither strictly for the young nor for adults alone. Is it your intention for your work to appeal across the age ranges, or are you mindful of a specific audience?

SP: With a few rare exceptions – some fairy tales I wrote for young children -- my stories are meant to appeal to a wide age range. I hope that all those who read my tales will enjoy them, regardless of their age.

The graphic novel seems to have saved the fairy tale as a form in recent years and given it renewed life. Were you aware when you began writing them that you would have to collaborate with graphic artists to see them published? Or did you previously ever consider writing them as text-only tales?

SP: Ever since I started writing, my preference was to write long stories in prose. I wrote such stories long before writing comic scripts. Not surprisingly, my attraction to long prose affected both graphic novels, but each one in a different way. RED NIGHTMARE was at first a fairy tale I wrote as a birthday present for my niece. It was too short so I had to add a few things, like the newspaper opposing the king, the club of the nobles and so on, to have a 50-page comic.
  BLUE SPARKLES was born as a graphic novel. It was, however, my first comic to be accepted by a publisher; so the first version of the story was written with the logic of a novel. The story was 180 pages long (which is twice the size of the final version!) Obviously, there were, in this initial version, many elements that you will not see in the graphic novel that came out. For instance, there was much more about the time that Blue Sparkles spent in Thunderland. Also, the journey of Blue Sparkles and Iridania through the Dream Realms was much longer. As time passed, I realized that I had to take things off. One reason was that such a long story would take too long to be completed by the artist who worked on it (it took about 4 years as it is!) The other reason is that such length is not compatible with a good pace in a comic story. In a prose book, describing such details works; in a comic, you have to go faster or the reader becomes bored. So it really was necessary to shorten the story, not only for the sake of the artist, but also to make the tale work as a comic.
  Which brings me now to the first part of your question: it is true that you find many fairy tales in the form of graphic novels. The reason for this is that people in the comic field (creators and publishers included) are much more open-minded towards fairy tales than people in the literary field of fantasy. There seems to be a kind of prejudice against fairy tales in the literary world of fantasy. Fairy tales, in their original form, are considered too naïve; the sense of wonder incited by a fairy tale is not seen as a positive thing in literary fantasy. The notion that “fairy tales are for children” has been widely spread in literary fantasy for a long time. With this in mind, sadly, many fantasy writers will gladly sacrifice the imaginative part of a story to more sophisticated themes. By doing so, they hope to prove that fantasy is “serious”: a fantasy book ought to make people think about various philosophical, social or existential issues. I belong to those writers who believe that the first aim of fantasy is to make people dream. Most comic creators share this opinion. In comics, one does not fear imagination and the sense of wonder. That fairy tales are at home in comics is therefore no wonder. The wide range of fairy tales available in the form of graphic novels is the result of the open-minded mentality of the comic creators towards fairy tales. It does not necessarily mean that comics are the best medium for fairy tales or that it is impossible to have very good fairy tales in the form of text books nowadays.
  The fairy tale anthologies by Ellen Datlow, for instance, are proof that there are still people, in the literary world of fantasy, who genuinely love fairy tales and still put effort into the creation of fairy tales too. Fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman or Tad Williams fearlessly include elements of fairy tales in their novels or short stories. Some of their stories are versions of well-known fairy tales; others are fairy tale-inspired. There are also literary magazines that publish fairy tales. In 'Danse Macabre,' a magazine published by Adam Henry Carrière, fairy tales are written by the modern writers who contribute to the magazine. Classic fairy tales regularly appear in the magazine as well.

You've written that both your grandmother and mother were highly influential in your love of fairy tales, while your father was a journalist. Can you say a little about him – and what influence, if any, he had on you?

SP: My father had an enormous influence on my love of fairy tales too and of literature in general. To start with, my father was an avid reader. We had many books of various genres at home. My parents never pushed me to read books, there was no need for it. I loved reading, and had a big choice of books at my disposal ever since I was a little girl. When I was reading books, my father would discuss those books with me. He would ask me what I loved in the book or what I did not like. He was always open-minded – he would listen to my opinion and give his own, without criticizing. Those discussions definitely contributed to developing my critical mind. Listening to the opinion of my father, I learned how to better think about a book. Later, those discussions incited in my mind a critical, albeit positive, way to judge a story by considering it from different angles. In the same way, those discussions influenced my critical thought about the stories I was writing. My father would also read me his articles before he sent them to the newspaper to be published. He was extremely demanding while writing his articles; I believe that I must have learned a few things when he read his work to me, even if the prerequisites for a journalist’s writing are quite different from what is required for writing fantasy. 
  One of the most important things that my father brought to me is that he always loved fairy tales, and he was never embarrassed to admit this. He told me a few stories from the 'Arabian Nights' when I was a little girl as those stories were still difficult for me to read. And he would always read fairy tales with as much pleasure as when he was reading an “adult,” more complicated, book. Even in his articles, he would sometimes mix elements of fairy tales – whenever possible - in articles that were not too technical. Growing with a father who claimed his love for fairy tales openly and without the slightest embarrassment, it is no wonder that I too never feared to claim my strong love for fairy tales without any guilt or shame.

Could you briefly describe Greece's tradition of fairy tales and what sets them apart from those of other countries?

SP: Greek mythology has a strong influence on fairy tales. Of course, most of the elements in myths have altered with time. For instance, dryads and nymphs became “fairies” in modern fairy tales. Fauns became various kinds of gnomes. According to Nikos Politis, who thoroughly studied and collected Greek fairy tales of various regions of Greece in various periods, one strong feature that passed from the ancient Greek myths to modern legends seems to be the existence of a “hero”. This is a powerful man, who has the sense of justice. He fights for right causes and defends the weak, the poor, the unfairly treated minorities. The characteristics of the hero change in each period. The hero in the stories of the Byzantine period will be somewhat different to the hero in the period of the Greek revolution against the Turks. But, his physical and moral strength and his sense of justice will always remind me of Hercules, Perseus or Theseus.
  Greek folkloric songs are another major influence on fairy tales. Those songs are about love stories, local heroes and sometimes even of supernatural creatures and their doings. 'Aesop’s Fables' are still widely taught in schools, but also told as stories. The versions of those fables are the original ones- very short stories in simple prose, instead of the most complex form of the fables in poem, in their adaptation by Jean de Lafontaine. Lafontaine had not worked on all Aesop’s fables either, so in Greece we have more of them. Most regions – or islands- have their own legends or myths and legendary creatures. The sea and ships are very important in Greece, so obviously there are quite a few legends connected with the sea. One of the most famous sea legends is about a siren, who is the sister of Alexander the Great (also connected to many legends). This siren will stop the travelling ships and ask the captain of the ship if her brother is alive. If the captain answers that Alexander is alive and rules the world, the siren will go away happy, and leave the ship to continue its journey in peace. If the captain is an unfortunate ignorant, who answers that Alexander the Great is dead, the siren will be furious at this answer. She will provoke a dreadful storm that will sink the ship and kill all those who travel in it. Just for the record, I used this theme of the siren in a short story I wrote some time ago. It is called 'Graveyard Siren'. ( https://angiesdiary.com/spring-contest-2014/graveyard-siren/ ). Now, many regions in Greece have been under the dominion of various Western countries (Venice and France among others). It is, therefore, no wonder that some Greek fairy tales are just variations of the well-known fairy tales of Grimm or Perrault, while the influence of well-known Western fairy tales on some other Greek fairy tales is quite obvious as well.

While fairies are clearly fantasy creations, can the escapism that they represent offer any solutions, for anyone, in the real world?

SP: This is a difficult question; it could have been asked by fairies. If you ask ten people, you will probably get ten different answers. One thing is that fairies are dream creatures. Their ethereal aspect, their detachment from material things (fairies need neither food nor money!), their magic powers, their capacity to fly – actually anything about fairies will make people dream. When something makes you dream and relax, be it a fairy or beautiful music, you feel better and your thought becomes clear; you can thus face whatever problem preoccupies you with more clarity and take better decisions. This is one thing fairies can do. In this case, they are quite similar to a good night's sleep filled with pleasant dreams, or even nightmares. Sometimes, bad dreams also clarify your mind. The other aspect of fairies is more complex.
  Fairies are creatures of passion. You see this in fairy tales, also in Shakespeare’s 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' (BLUE SPARKLES is inspired by this play), but also in 'The Silmarillion,' the saga of the Elves by J.R.R Tolkien. Fairies are not always kind. They often make mistakes that can lead to disaster – not only for the fairies that made the mistake in the first place, but also for all the others involved in it, willingly or not. In BLUE SPARKLES, fairy princess Iridania and her beloved Thunder Prince pay the price of the indomitable passions of Oberon and Titania. However, unlike humans, fairies live their passions – they never refuse or refute them and they don’t feel guilty about their passions or the price they have to pay for them. They take responsibility for the consequences of whatever chaotic situation their passions have caused. As fairies are themselves, without wearing the mask of hypocrisy that humans put on so often in society, they develop a healthy pride that has nothing to do with arrogance. Their sincerity gives them the force to deal with their passions and accept their errors. Those elements give fairies an awe-inspiring majesty and a clear superiority over humans. Maybe the awe-inspiring strength of the fairies is due to their close connection to Nature. Related to natural elements (air, water, earth or fire), fairies possess the power of Nature. Even if humans ignore or destroy Nature, the power of the natural elements will always overcome the restricted, limited humans. If humankind respected Nature and took lessons from it instead of ignoring and destroying it; if humans could accept themselves and be tolerant to those different to them, tolerance and sincerity could lead to freedom. There is no need for a human being to be isolated in a desert or on inaccessible mountain peaks to be free. True freedom is to know yourself, your strength and your limits, and to respect other people. Freedom means to accept your own passions – not to fear them. Freedom means to be tolerant of those who are different from you– not to be upset by whatever you cannot understand in others and reject or criticize it so that you don’t get out of your comfort zone. This is the way of fairies. If humans could do those simple things, they would have some of the majesty of the fairies and the world would probably be a better place too.

What of your work – so far – are you most proud of and why?

SP: Unfortunately, I cannot afford to be proud of my work. This is not about modesty. If a creative mind becomes proud about one of the things s/he creates, there is a big risk in ending up stationary. If you think that one of your works is wonderful and you are too proud of it, this pride will disadvantage your next endeavour. Every creation is a challenge and has its own difficulties; neither pride nor despair is the best way to sort out those difficulties.
  Regarding myself, I am happy when I have a good idea; I am also enthusiastic like a child when I can work this idea into a story. Of course, I am satisfied when a story is completed. But all those feelings vanish at some stage, after I have finished the story, and will be renewed by the starting of the next story. I believe that BLUE SPARKLES was one of the most difficult stories I have written until now. Everything was challenging – from the writing itself to the concept of the pictures. I am happy and fortunate to have collaborated with an artist as talented as Vurore for this story. Some chapters were really difficult to write - to the point of causing me a (mental) block for many weeks, during which I was just biting my nails and cursing myself for my lack of resources. For other parts of the story, I had a genuine inspiration – to write those parts was like flying in a dream and I was sad when they were over. I was moved and relieved when the story was completed and the book was finally out. Even so, once the story was finished, all the sensations that went with it progressively vanished. I need this kind of energy for the next story. I am happy that Vurore and I have completed BLUE SPARKLES, but I always hope that the best is still to come – in the next stories.

What are your writing plans for this year?

SP: I already know that one of my fairy tales, which is illustrated by Vurore, will come out soon. I am currently working on a long fantasy story in prose. It will be a long fairy tale illustrated by Dutch artist Nelleke Schoemaker, with whom we collaborated in the past. Nelleke has beautifully illustrated some of my short stories. We are preparing a long comic series with Vurore. I cannot say much about it. Secrecy is an unbreakable rule in comics and there are good reasons for it. I believe that it is quite safe to say that there will be a lot about dreams, but not the dream world depicted in BLUE SPARKLES – something quite different.
  I am also preparing an illustrated version of a well-known classic work, in collaboration with Italian artist Dario Balletta. This is a very challenging project, but I have been thinking about it for a long while and I am happy that Dario has agreed to work on it. I keep writing short stories too. Most of them appear in 'Danse Macabre'. I love this magazine, and my stories have found a good home there thanks to its founder Adam Henry Carriere. I cannot thank him enough for his warm support of my work. There are many other projects, but they will have to wait for the future.

Many thanks to Sissy Pantelis for giving her time.

You can view a cross-section of Sissy's work here: http://gliovampire.deviantart.com/

Both RED NIGHTMARE and BLUE SPARKLES are published by Markosia Enterprises Ltd.


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Why I Wrote...

'Oothangbart'
by Rebecca Lloyd


I wrote Oothangbart as a response to my working life in London between 2000 and 2004. As a maverick woman - and one who had been working with tribal people in Tanzania before I moved there – I found it excruciatingly difficult to fit in with English societal norms and particularly those that haunt the workplace. I felt dreary, constrained, irritated, and sometimes horrified by certain aspects of my working life, even though it wasn't a bad one, since I worked for charities. But, my constant underlying intention was to work purely to pay-off my house mortgage so I could be free of that large and important debt. But, finding enough time to do what I considered my proper unpaid job of writing was difficult indeed until I took to working at dawn for four hours before leaving for what I called my 'secondary' work.
  At secondary work, I could not help but notice the nervous rituals that took place; the pressure to conform, the fakery of friendships, and the gruesome Christmas parties and so, to ease my constant discomfort, (and rather than write it in the early morning when I had other fiction work to attend to), every lunch hour I escaped into the world of Oothangbart. I used to write in parks, cafes, at my desk, or any other place where I could be alone in the Oothangbartian world of absurdity – absurdity, which I was simply observing and copying with a degree of artistic licence, from the work world in which I existed in reality. I paid special attention to those things called 'meetings,' which function to remind us that work is serious and awfully important, when really they are ritualistic conventions whose true purpose is to remind each worker of his or her place in the hierarchy.
  As the novel Oothangbart took shape, the characters that inhabit it formed themselves in front of me as if walking out of mist and their names came to me as surely. If readers are able to recognise certain types of people they are familiar with then I am pleased, although I did not deliberately study my fellow workers to create the characters. I took great comfort in the creation of Oothangbart. I regarded it as therapy, of sorts, that got me through my work day. It would seem from a recent (Amazon) review that it might work the same way for readers:

"Meetings for the sake of meetings, with no real reason for the meetings and no real outcome at the end. Doing things a particular way because they have always been done that way. There was a particular chapter where the great escalator stopped working, that had me chuckling away to myself in recognition of ghost bosses in the past. It's a marvellous parody of the world of work and I laughed to myself as I recalled many workplaces and many big bosses who were staring at me from the pages of Rebecca Lloyd's novel..."


Read more at Rebecca Lloyd's official website:


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APRIL's issue will feature costume designer and author TRACY TYNAN, on her recently released memoir on her father, the controversial drama critic and literary manager-consultant Kenneth Tynan and novelist-biographer mother, Elaine Dundy.