Monday, August 22, 2011


CSM12952 Charlie is a number one, A-list geezer who I’ve known off and on for almost four decades. He first came to prominence as one of  the wild children of School Kids Oz, graduated to the NME academy of new rock writing, hobnobbing with some of the greatest names around and writing extensive chronicles from the frontline of all the madness. The blues were in his bones. Blast Furnace and the Heatwaves was his band. As I recall, he generally wore a black leather jacket and had an bit of an afro thing going on. Words spilled out of him, long digressive thought waves, always worth listening to. Looking back on it, we were all crazy at that time, full of jumped-up juice and ready for action.

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Charlie has produced two stone-cold classic books; ‘Cross-Town Traffic: Jimi Hendrix and Post-war Pop’ and ‘Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century’. An archive of his music journalism can be found on the wonderful Rock’s Back Pages site and there is a collection of his  journalism still available called ‘Shots From The Hip’. He’s done loads of other stuff, which is covered in Wikipedia.

So now we come to the purpose of this post – Charlie’s first novel ‘The Hellhound Sample’, recently published by HeadPress. Briefly its the story of James ‘Blue’ Moon, an old black blues guy, not long for this world, who gets it into his head that, for his last project on earth, he wants to make an album with his daughter Venetia ( a major music diva), his grandson Calvin Holland (rap producer with a multi-million dollar clothing business) and Mick Hudson, an English rock guitarist, who idolised Moon, learnt all his licks and has been thick with the old man for decades. Needless to say there’s a big back story behind this family and their intertwined fate and relationships. Making the album proves to be quite an adventure.

To cut to the quick, this must be one of the best music novels ever written. Its a totally assured and wonderfully realised piece of writing. What makes it so good: great premise, skilful plotting, full-blown characters that you really care about, brilliant set-piece scenes full of telling detail, believable dialogue. Charlie’s deep appreciation and understanding of music gives the book complete authenticity. In short, its a great read. The author’s end notes suggest that there’s more novels to come.

Someone somewhere will be smart enough to buy the film rights. In the meantime, waste no time in getting your hands on this little beauty. Hats off Charlie, you’ve pulled off a BIG ONE.

PS Look out for Charlie’s band  Crosstown Lightnin’ and check in with latest developments at his excellent website.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011



“I only listen to cassettes” – Thurston Moore/Sonic Youth

Its been more than four years since my Previous Post ‘The Death of the Cassette’, reported the decision of a major UK retailer to stop selling them, a move that triggered an emotional outcry. Now, thanks to Emil, The Generalist can report on the fact the fact that there is a thriving underground world of cassette releases, out of sight of the main stream media.

This Is Not A Mixtape by Marc Hogan on the Pitchfork website. This extensive article does a grand job of analysing the scene and listing some of the major bands and labels releasing them

Paradoxically, it may have taken the technology of the 00s for the technology of the 80s to really make a comeback. Today's cassette culture is both a reaction to and a product of digital media, the Internet, and downloading, says Shawn Reed, who runs Iowa City-based cassette label Night People. On one hand, tapes are "the embrace of something old and outdated, intentionally obscure and marginal, almost pointless in some way," he acknowledges. On the other hand, the Internet is a place where cassettes are "allowed to flourish."

NP126 Sewn Leather- “No Need for Reverse Talking” C26 on the Night-People label.

101 Cassette Labels by Ceci Moss on the Rhizome website is a wonderful place to view the outpouring of creative work on cassettes.

‘In the age of GarageBand, Myspace, and file sharing, it may come as a surprise to some that cassette labels are still very much in operation. Tapes now function as a basic form of patronage between musicians and their audience; since a physical format is no longer necessary to send or receive music, these objects become a gesture of support. Tapes act to make tangible the connection between a creator and their listeners, and the attentive and often handmade packaging speaks to this exchange.’



Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture by Thurston Moore [Universe Publishing. 2004]

Love Is A Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song At A Time by Rob Sheffield [Crown Publishing Group, 2007]

SEE ALSO: Cassette Culture on Wikipedia

Cassette Tape Culture on Design Boom

Hasbro cassette transformer, 1984/Cassette wallet by Marcella Foschi



 Reconsidering The Revival of Cassette Tape Revival by Calum Marsh on the Pop Matters website. Marsh is not in favour of this trend. The extensive comments under his piece examine many arguments for and against his position.

‘At best, the cassette revival is merely a vacuous fad of no genuine value; but at worst, it’s a confused, regressive cultural misstep more dangerous than most would care to admit. There is danger here, and despite the intentions of its advocates, this is a trend that’s less a tribute to the DIY mentality than a betrayal of its basic premise.’


Make your own virtual cassette with Cassette Generator

Two other links which you  might also find interesting:

Excellent essay about the democratization of music production:

An audio lecture by Bill Drummond of the KLF on the end of recorded music:

Sunday, August 14, 2011


West Midlands Police appeal to the public by displaying pictures of suspected rioters outside the Bull Ring shopping centre in Birmingham England Friday Aug. 12, 2011. (AP / Rui Vieira)

Two very strong pieces on the London riots – Paul Lewis’ first hand account of a journey through the riot zones and Jack Shenker’s broader context piece about youth riots around the world + GANG MAPS of London




UK riots: Paul Lewis's five-day journey

Paul Lewis charts the journey from the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan to civil unrest on a grand scale

‘It was just before 9pm on Sunday when I saw hundreds of youths head to the G Mantella jewellery store on Enfield high street, six miles north of where the disturbances had begun.

Police had earlier warned residents that the suburb would be on the "frontline" that night and filled a Tesco car park full of police horses in anticipation.

By late afternoon, a police car had been attacked in Enfield, and a handful of shop windows broken. The attack on the jewellers was over in seconds.

Minutes later I was stood on a side-street, where young men were knocking down garden walls and collecting bricks to hurl at police. I used my bottled water to wash the bleeding hand of a boy who looked about 12.

This was the opening salvo in what would turn into the second night of disturbances.’




How youth-led revolts shook elites around the world – Jack Shenker

From Athens to Cairo and Spain to Santiago, old certainties are being challenged after the Arab spring and financial crises

"Historically in any country and in any context it's young people who are at the core of protests. But at this moment in history we're seeing a shared sense of deprivation among the young, a shared sense of there being a democracy deficit across the world. In all these places neoliberal economic policies have intensified their hold and affected young people most directly, young people looking for employment, study, prospects. I think it has cut young people to the bone, and they're confronting it directly."

-Priyamvada Gopal, an English professor at Cambridge,

"Today there may not be a single unifying ideology of change among global youth protests of the sort that united people in 1968, but there is a common ideology embedded within our shared model of organisation – no egos, no celebrities, no one telling anyone else what to do and no one willing to take orders – one that lends itself to online social media and has captured people's imaginations." - Steve Taylor, a campaigner with UK Uncut.

UK gangs thrive in August riots

By SHAWN POGATCHNIK, Associated Press

Virtually every spot on the English map that suffered riots is home turf to one or multiple gangs, according to an interactive online map called London Street Gangs and related gang-mapping efforts by the Metropolitan Police and University of Bedfordshire youth-crime expert John Pitts.

One riot spot, Enfield in north London where a Sony distribution center was ransacked, hosts a half-dozen active gangs including Dem Africans, Red Brick Crew and Gun Man Down. The south London borough of Croydon, scene of the worst arson attacks and the fatal shooting of a 26-year-old man, is the power base for the Don't Say Nothin gang.


Camila Batmanghelidjh: Caring costs – but so do riots

These rioters feel they don't actually belong to the community. For years, they’ve felt cut adrift from society

‘Working at street level in London, over a number of years, many of us have been concerned about large groups of young adults creating their own parallel antisocial communities with different rules. The individual is responsible for their own survival because the established community is perceived to provide nothing. Acquisition of goods through violence is justified in neighbourhoods where the notion of dog eat dog pervades and the top dog survives the best. The drug economy facilitates a parallel subculture with the drug dealer producing more fiscally efficient solutions than the social care agencies who are too under-resourced to compete.’

See: Kids Company

Friday, August 12, 2011



Had the great privilege and pleasure yesterday of meeting Antony Penrose (thanks to Daisy) who gave us a guided tour round Farley Farm House in Chiddingly, East Sussex.

This was the home of the remarkable photographer Lee Miller and her husband Roland Penrose, the leading British Surrealist, co-founder with Herbert Read of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, and biographer of Picasso.

During their time, the house became a meeting place for some of the greatest art figures of the age – including Man Ray, Max Ernst, Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso.


Antony Penrose holding a picture of himself as a small boy with Pablo Picasso. He has written a children’s book entitled The Boy Who Bit Picasso

The beautiful half-timbered house has now become a museum but it still has a cozy lived-in feel and the spirits of those times still lingers in the air.

Each room and corridor is stuffed with treasures. Beautiful surrealistic paintings, displays of Lee’s photographs, rich libraries of books and hundreds of wonderful works of ethnographic art, objet trouvĂ© and personal belongings.

I was privileged to be shown the Visitor’s Book which the above artists had signed, often adding quirky pen drawings or full-colour artworks.

A visit to Farley Farm House is truly an inspiring experience which I urge you to explore. The House is open for guided tours from April to October; the tour dates left for this year are:

August 21st/Sept 4th and 18th/Oct 2nd and 16th

It is also open on the following dates during the Chiddingly Festival: Sept 24th and 25th; October 1st and 2nd

No need to pre-book. Full details at the website:



This is a truly remarkable and moving documentary by Antony Penrose about his mother’s life (available through Amazon and on Lovefilm)

It was only after his mother’s death that Antony discovered in the attic a huge cache of Lee’s photographic work, personal writings and possessions. Lee had been traumatised by her wartime experiences and had hidden all her work away for more than 20 years. Antony has rescued and catalogued almost of all of the 60,000 images she took, has authored books and curated exhibitions of her work. As a result, Lee is now considered one of the great women photographers of the 20th century and the quality and vision of her photos matches the work of many of her more famous male counterparts.

image The book ‘The Lives of Lee Miller’ by Antony Penrose is published by Thames & Hudson.

See also: Lee Miller Archive

Lee was the one-time lover and muse of Man Ray who took some of the most beautiful pictures of her.  She was originally  his photographic assistant but went on to establish her own photographic studio. She and Man Ray rediscovered the technique of solarisation as a result of a happy accident. This famous Man Ray painting  - ‘A L’Heure de l’observatoire, les amoureaux’ (c. 1934) - features Lee’s lips.

Other Links:

Lee Miller and Man Ray: crazy in love

The Roland Penrose website

The Art of Lee Miller

Lee Miller by Ursula Butler

Friday, August 05, 2011


Copy of IRWIN1950 

Picture of Robert Irwin

‘It was in my first year at Oxford that I decided that I wanted to become a Muslim saint.’

This the first line of Robert Irwin’s remarkable memoir of the 1960s. He wrote it, he says, ‘to give my youth a retrospective artistic shape… But I also wanted to give an account of Sufism from the inside, as well as instructing readers of the basic elements of Islam and the difficulties a Western convert is likely to face…I also wanted to shed some light of on the occult and mystical aspects of the counterculture, as well as some of the ludicrous aspects of the hippy sixties.’

In an article for The Guardian  on his Top 10 quest narratives, he wrote:

"My own quest began in the 1960s when I travelled out from the home counties in search of the meaning of life and self-knowledge. I hitchhiked across North Africa and in a zawiya (a kind of Sufi monastery) in Algeria I saw miraculous things and experienced ecstasy, but, though the books listed below are narratives of successful quests, my own Memoirs of a Dervish is uniquely an account of ultimate spiritual failure."

Irwin’s picture of his younger self is less than flattering. For much of the narrative he appears out of his mind. An outsider, obviously fiercely intelligent but disturbed, he explores a myriad of mystical beliefs, samples a variety of drugs, has love affairs and pursues his spiritual quest. Hs experiences in Algeria are intense and his account of those days is very valuable.

Algeria at that time was still experiencing turmoil after the  "Algerian Revolution" which, according to Wikipedia, was ‘a conflict between France and Algerian independence movements from 1954 to 1962, which led to Algeria's gaining its independence from France. An important decolonization war, it was a complex conflict characterized by guerrilla warfare, maquis fighting, terrorism against civilians, the use of torture on both sides, and counter-terrorism operations by the French Army. The conflict was also a civil war between loyalist Algerian Muslims who believed in a French Algeria and their insurrectionist Algerian counterparts.’

Battle of Algiers

Irwin refers to the truly amazing  and prescient film ‘The Battle of Algiers’ by Gillo Pontecorvo, one of the greatest drama documentaries ever made, which captures this bitter and bloody struggle in all its terrifying reality. Read Ian Jack’s piece ‘Back to The Future’

In retrospect, the Algerian war was the first conflict of modern times between Islam and the West. Algeria remains one of the few Arab countries that has not become part of the Arab Spring.

IRWIN1950‘Memoirs of A Dervish is a must read. I followed this immediately with one of Irwin’s six novels ‘ The Arabian Nightmare’ which is a wonderfully evoked complex orientalist tale-within-a-tale about Balian of Norwich, trapped in the labyrinth of Cairo and in his own dark nightmares. Here we meet Fatima the Deadly, the Father of Cats, the Laughing Dervishes and the leper knights to name just a few of the strange and exotic characters. Its wonderful and haunting story which bears comparison to ‘Samarkand’ See Previous Post: Cult Books: Amin Maalouf]

Looking forward to tackling more of Irwin’s other fiction works as well as well as his non-fiction, which include ‘Night and Horses and the Desert: The Penguin Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature ‘

Irwin lectures on Arabic and Middle Eastern history at the Universities of London, Cambridge and Oxford, and is the Middle East editor for the Times Literary Supplement.

Footnote: Interested to discover Malise Ruthven’s review of a new book ‘Reading the Qur’an’ by Ziaddin Sardar – a progressive reading of Islam’s sacred text.



The Generalist has always been fascinated by fossils in general, dinosaurs in particular, and the ever-changing story of our own human origins.

In my lifetime alone, there has been a continuous string of new and exciting discoveries that have radicalised our understanding of the evolution of life on our planet.

For instance, we now know for sure that birds are the descendants of one group of dinosaurs – which group is still a matter of scholarly debate.

Amongst the remarkable treasure trove of fossil discoveries found in China in recent years have been the remains of a previously unidentified group of dinosaurs with feathers and primitive wings. As a result, according to this week’s news, Archaeopteryx, long considered the world’s oldest bird, has now been reclassified as a feathered bird-like theropod ( a group of meat-eating dinosaurs), many species of which ‘were fluttering around in the Jurassic period more than 150 million years ago’ One other example is this new fossil find, of Xiatingia, believed to be 155m year old

The fossil of Xiaotingia, which is thought to be about 155 million years old


[See: ‘Chinese fossil knocks oldest bird off perch’/The Independent 28 July 2011]

Which brings me back to the main purpose of this post which is to sing the praises of this remarkable new book - ‘Written in Stone’ by Brian Switek, which uses the history of the search for ‘missing links’ – fossil forms that bridge the gap between one group of organisms and another – as a peg for re-examining the long and fascinating story of paleontology. Discovering such links was considered crucial for confirming the theory of evolution.

In a series of remarkable chapters he explains the oldest and latest views of how fish evolved into reptiles, dinosaurs into birds, land creatures into whales and examines the relationship between mammoths and elephants, the evolution of the horse and – last but not least – our own  human evolution.

Switek is incredibly articulate and extremely well-informed and his accounts, whilst dense, make fascinating reading, not least because the book is bang up-to-date, including fresh discoveries up to 2010.

For anyone who really wants to understand our current state of knowledge in these fields this book is essential reading.

It has been favourably compared with my other favourite book in this field - ‘Wonderful Life’ by the late Steven Jay Gould’s  - which is high praise indeed.

At the book’s end -  after revealing that our human lineage is shaped more like a bush than a tree, made up of numerous hominid species of which we homo sapiens are the only ones left standing – he concludes:

‘’Nothing quite like us has ever existed on earth before and may not ever again after we are gone. Given the contingencies  of our own history, that we exist at all is amazing. If we wish to know ourselves, we must understand our history. We are creatures of time and chance.’


Brian Switek’s excellent blog Laelaps on Wired Science