The three printed issues of Fire Raisers can be downloaded in PDF format there or here:
In case you’re coming to the conversation late, here are the previous parts:
Here’s the third part of a series of four reflecting on Fire Raisers, the magazine that Alistair and I co-edited in the early nineties. The last part will be appearing over at Unpopular before long.
All three issues are available as PDFs via either of the links below or as paper copies for purchase. Do feel free to comment, whether as a contributor, a reader from back in the day, or on the basis of coming upon the magazines for the first time.
Daniel: Was it a pain having a co-editor? Would you have preferred absolute power?
Alistair: As a self-acknowledged control freak, I suppose I should answer yes to that. But actually no, it was fine. It was good to have someone else make some decisions about content etc, and of course your proof reading skills have always far outshone mine! Looking back though, I don’t actually remember how much real editing was needed. Did we turn down any contributions? Did we actually do any physical editing of other writers’ work?
I think the sense that we were properly collaborating was novel to us both, and exciting, and of course it never lasted long enough for serious issues to arise.
D: I think we took the ‘produced naturally’ approach to editing (analogous to groups recording without direction from an ‘auteur’ producer, leading to an end product whose audio quality is diminished but has greater charm). I’m sure that stemmed (a) from how sensitive we personally would have been at that time to editorial suggestion or interference, and (b) because we were a long way from having the skills you need to be an editor (some might say still are, if they’re wading through this!).
We did however turn down several proposed contributions, including one by a member of a certain pop group of whom we were fans. I meanly decreed in my mind that he should stick to music and leave the writing to us! I’ve always felt bad about that since.
But yes, I totally agree that the experience of working together on something was exciting – and instructive to two habitual loners like ourselves. Our chief obstacle as co-editors was of course one of us being in Scotland and the other in London in the days before email.
D: What reactions do you recall the magazine getting?
A: I don’t remember a huge amount, but then it was so long ago and many things have sunk into the depths of lost memories. I do recall the feedback from Richey, as noted previously. That would have been around the time of the Manic’s first Heavenly singles I think. I also remember doing a phone interview with David Belcher at the Glasgow Herald. Belcher was something of an iconic figure in the Scottish broadsheets at the time, championing lots of music and culture that the English broadsheets wouldn’t have touched with a bargepole. I sent him a copy of Fire Raisers on the off-chance he might like it, and then he phoned wanting to do a short feature. I’m sure I have the cutting somewhere in the vaults… The thing is, I remember thinking at the time that the article was a great coup and that it would surely increase sales. The truth was that it had an almost no impact at all. Except possibly to have the Scottish Library write to me and demand copies of all issues for their collection. They never paid, either.
Some years later, however, I sold a copy of my third Melody Haunts My Reverie fanzine to a bloke in The Cavern in Exeter. He came to be a good friend (even published my book of Pop witterings!) and it turned out he remembered buying copies of Fire Raisers at the local small press outlet and being impressed. So you know, people did take notice.
D: Having been tipped off by you, I made a special trip to King’s Cross early on the morning that particular edition of the Glasgow Herald was published to get hold of a copy – feeling somewhat like a playwright on the morning after press night, or Kerouac buying the New York papers the day On The Road was reviewed when I read: ‘Fire Raisers fits in somewhere between Granta and Sniffin’ Glue’!
That’s quite heartening, that Rupert had encountered Fire Raisers before he’d encountered you. It’s a perennial concern when you’re sending out writing into the world in no matter what form: are your words connecting with people and having an effect? Or are people completely disinterested? How can you know?
Being the hoarding type, I’ve kept a file of letters that first my fanzines and later Fire Raisers generated, and there are a fair few. There’s a great one from a Shaun Johnson of Melton Mowbray, who tried to get his local radical bookshop to stock the second or third issue of Fire Raisers only for them to refuse because ‘it didn’t sell well last time’! Shaun went on to say that Fire Raisers ‘is the best literary magazine on the market’, which may not be that far from the truth, given that the lifetime of literary magazines then as now tended to be brief, leaving plenty of windows where there wasn’t much or even any competition.
Other radical concerns were keener – a publication called the Exeter Flying Post got in touch to ask for ‘a statement of our aims’, which I presume I gave them.
And it was through Fire Raisers that we made contact with folk like Robin Tomens, who would later go on to write for Tangents. He bought the first issue in Rough Trade and wrote recognising Fire Raisers and his Ego were kindred spirits. Balancing up Richey’s verdict, Robin said he loved Carrie’s ‘Snowboots’ story, and Sam Matthew’s piece in the first issue. And that Fire Raisers was ‘beautifully produced’.
A: Although I would say it, I also liked Snowboots. Not sure what Carrie would think of it now, though perhaps she will let us know in the comments.
D: I think the tale of the beach shelter needs to be retold.
A: Oh gosh, the beach shelter… This was for the cover photo for FR 3, for which we wanted to borrow Paul Morley’s infamous ‘boredom or Fire Engines, you can’t have both’ line. I had this idea of painting the slogan (with ‘Raisers’ in place of ‘Engines’ of course!) on a beach shelter in my then hometown of Troon. I did the painting on the wall at around midnight after a night at my friend Stephen’s ‘Subculture’ club (I spent the night with a paintbrush and a small jar of white paint in my pocket) and then we went down the following day to take the photos. The cover star was a Subculture regular called Rozlyn, who I barely remember now. I think we asked her because she had a parka, though you can’t really tell that from the photo. There is also a photo from a few weeks later when you hitched up to Troon, I think. I’m standing beside my artwork, dressed in anorak and desert boots. Height of fashion.
The real interest in the story though is from several years later, when I had left Troon and was living in Devon. My mum mentioned on the phone that there had been a story on the front page of the local paper about an arson attack on a beach shelter in town. Seems the paper thought that the graffiti on what remained of the torched shelter (touched up just a few weeks earlier by our friends Andrea and Suzy) suggested that there were a group of arsonists at work in the town… naturally my mother was anxious about a visit from the local constabulary! I suspect the truth was that a bunch of glue-sniffing casuals got bored and cold on the front one night and decided to warm themselves.
The shelter was rebuilt, and these days the only graffiti you’ll find on it is of the ‘Baz 4 Shaz’ type. No imagination in the young people these days…
Alistair has posted the second of our four-part reflection on Fire Raisers, in which we get our teeth stuck into taking risks, stylistic tics, and graphic design. Part one is here, and part three will appear on this blog next week. All three issues are available as PDFs or paper copies for purchase via either link. Do feel free to comment, whether as a contributor, a reader from back in the day, or on the basis of coming upon the magazines for the first time.
About twenty years ago, having respectively produced a fair quantity of solo publications, Alistair Fitchett and I joined forces to co-edit a new magazine that for many and various reasons we stopped short of calling literary or cultural, though in truth it had aspirations to be both. In the first of four parts which will alternate across this blog and Alistair’s Unpopular, we discuss our motivations and the place in the world of such a magazine back then. We are making all three issues of Fire Raisers available in PDF format, so that you can make sense of the conversation, and perhaps enjoy the magazines in their own right.
We also have a few paper copies of each issue left; click here to purchase these perfect early Christmas presents for the literary fanzine fetishist in your life. Or for yourself, of course.
Oh, and if there do happen to be any Fire Raisers contributors or readers lurking out there, feel free to pitch in your comments as we go along.
Daniel: Was the motivation behind Fire Raisers the same as that which led us to produce our solo fanzines? What do you think we were we aiming to achieve?
Alistair: After so many years it is difficult to recall exactly what motivations might have been driving me personally, yet I suspect they were very much the same as they were when making the solo fanzines in so much as they were about fulfilling a need to communicate and to share enthusiasms. Indeed that motivation is one that has been largely unaltered in what I’ve done myself since, with other solo fanzines, through Tangents and blogs etc. Having said that, I also concede that the motivation for Fire Raisers was probably subtly different, given that it was a shared idea. Perhaps we felt that Fire Raisers was a step up from the solo fanzines, a sense of getting a bit more serious and grown up about things. Certainly looking back at them now there is a sense of that, I think.
That said, I also think in many ways we didn’t raise our sights high enough, didn’t get anywhere serious enough. In retrospect that sense of refusing to compete in the traditional market place and staying resolutely underground held it back, I think. Looking back on the premise of Fire Raisers, I wonder if that had been a pitch for a more mainstream magazine with advertising and so on, it might have worked. Maybe not at the time, but certainly in the later ’90s and early noughties perhaps.
But then, that idea of being a ‘proper’ magazine was not really what we were trying to achieve anyway, so it seems a moot point. And actually it seems telling that we probably defined our aims in terms of what we DIDN’T want as opposed to what we did. And whilst the ‘manifesto’ editorial inserts still seem stirring and passionate, I’m not sure it’s exactly clear where those manifestos intended to lead. In short, I’m not sure we really had the slightest clue about what we intended to achieve! I’m not sure that we particularly cared either…
D: Yes, there was that sense of ‘Oh my god! We’re doing it… we’re fuckin’ doing it’, as the caption we used from a cartoon showing a subverted, rioting version of Tintin had it. It almost didn’t matter what exactly it was that we were doing. My hazy recollection is however that we were actually collectively quite sure about we thought the magazine should be, but I don’t think we were at that point quite able to articulate it with any great subtlety in print, especially when we tried to produce text co-operatively – to my mind it reads as a particularly contrived and diluted Alistair-Dan hybrid.
We were certainly totally clueless about marketing and selling the ‘concept’, as well as antagonistic towards the compromise inherent in giving over time and energy to those practices; it was all about the words and pictures, and putting them together. Still, each issue shows a marked progression in terms of making the magazine more accessible, at least in a superficial sense – the cover got more inviting with each outing. That came about partly because of the dressing down I got from the man in Compendium bookshop in Camden, who took it upon himself to critique the cover and contents in forensic detail one day when I dropped in to see how issue one was selling (not very well). I didn’t fancy that happening again so we took on board his suggestions!
Had we persisted beyond three issues – had desktop publishing been accessible to us then; had I not disappeared off to France – I think the penny might have dropped, and we would have tried to put the magazine on a more professional footing. The notion that it was a step up from our solo efforts suggests that too.
A: Ah, isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? Really though it’s impossible to consider those ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ isn’t it? Because the needs that drove you to France, and the impending (or eventual) arrival of affordable publishing technologies were very real and, one could argue, equally undeniable. Our collective fiercely held opinions on commercialisation and almost OCD level obsession with not ‘selling out’ would also have inevitably hampered much forward movement for some time too, I fear. Not that that’s a bad thing necessarily, but nevertheless I think it would have been a very real barrier to making progress in terms of creating a product with much of a potential audience.
Interestingly I met with an old colleague from Art school the other week. We had not seen each other in twenty years, but he told me that he sometimes uses my old fanzine experiences as an analogy in business coaching situations. It all hinges on that sense of micro-conflicts between otherwise apparently similar people, or at least people with similar interests and roles. So that whilst as a fanzine writer I might have been arguing openly and heatedly with another fanzine writer about, say, which Talulah Gosh single is the best, to an observer it appears an illogical source of conflict. To the outsider it seems like, ‘hey, both these people love this group I’ve never heard of! Why don’t they use that shared love to make something great happen?’ So the micro-conflicts are damaging and holding back potential growth or positive development. Of course you can argue that those very micro-conflicts are at the heart of obsessive pop-cultural consumption, and that they are indeed desirable in that media and age context, which means that maybe the analogy doesn’t cross-contextual boundaries. Nevertheless I think it’s very useful, and I think helps to explain why I don’t think Fire Raisers could have grown beyond what it was within the context it found itself.
D: I was party back then to more micro-conflicts than I care to think about! Politics is of course also largely about micro-conflicts, with the same resulting positives and negatives.
D: Who or what were our inspirations, and our enemies?
A: I’m struggling to think of inspirations. Didn’t we think we were very much out on a limb, doing something different? I like to think so. And I like to think that we were fairly true to that. Certainly there were lots of dire small press fanzines that were doing fiction and other such things, but were they mixing it up like we intended? I’m not sure. Certainly I suspect things like Debris were a reference point, and to some extent people like i-D and The Face perhaps, at least in terms of those publications’ original ethos. Though by the time of Fire Raisers i-D and The Face were probably seen as much as enemies as anything else. I think perhaps the idea of the ’60s underground press was a reference point. IT and such like. Also, I would guess the more politically minded situationist publications were in your mind Daniel?
But yes, there was a lot of importance put on the idea of enemies in those days, wasn’t there? I am not sure if that was a reflection of the age, or of ours. I am not sure if people of that age now feel the same sense of having to take sides, of being for this and against that. I suspect in reality things are not much different and that the percentage of any given generation that really cares about such things at a given age remains roughly the same. But as for who our enemies were? Is ‘everyone else’ too flippant an answer? Perhaps so, and yet it feels honest and indicative of our glorious naiveté.
D: Oh yes, I don’t think it was until a while after the ashes of Fire Raisers had cooled that I finally got myself out of that situationist straitjacket. It was an unfortunate part of the baggage that stopped us from trying to sell or market the magazine. Situationism’s critique of capitalism was so devastating, and its political aspirations so remote, that for a long time I felt bleakly trapped by it. That came out in what I wrote for Fire Raisers. Having Guy Debord and Mark Eitzel as chief inspirations is not a great combination if you’re after producing happy text, or for that matter, a happy bunny writing it.
The fact that we felt unable to name more than a couple of even vaguely like-minded enterprises in the first issue – both in any case the projects of people who contributed or went on to contribute to the magazine – suggests that what you say is right. We did feel out on a limb. Debris was great, but it was more properly journalistic in its approach than we ever envisaged being. I never really bought into The Face and i-D thing, though later, when I lived in Bristol and started going to clubs , I bought them out of curiosity (and a lack of anything else to go for) in terms of that culture.
I think I was hoping to elicit from you particular individuals who inspired us as well as publications, whether that was personally or in a literary sense. As well as Debord and Eitzel, I was big on Georges Perec at the time; an excellent stylistic corrective to all the Kerouac I’d read. And personally Ross Reid (Cornish fanzine writer and sports journalist) was also a huge inspiration for me – in fact (now it can be told) he was the subject of ‘Spike’, the opening article in issue one. In February 1990 – in a classic example of micro-conflict! – he sent out a circular called ‘Anger the angels’ to certain friends and two of the Esurient groups with one of the classic photos from the May ’68 riots on the front, telling us all to ‘wake up!’ and issuing me with an injunction about getting on with Fire Raisers: ‘don’t fiddle with matchsticks while you can/could blowtorch the fucking lot.’ He demanded – alongside what I now see is an isolated and ever-so-slightly paranoid plea for contact – that we think big. We tried.
And of course we should direct a nod of appreciation in Max Frisch’s direction, for it was his play’s title that we appropriated for the magazine. Likewise a nod to Fiona of our Devonian contingent of friends (and contributors), who originally passed it our way. I haven’t reread the play since, but what I recall is a blend of Brecht, anarchism and something more conservative, the end result being not dissimilar to the recent German film The Edukators.
Anyone else you would add to the list?
A: Well, as you were perhaps moving on from the Kerouac obsession, perhaps I was moving into it. Hence the large photo of the man himself accompanying my new Orleans missive. I think there was something of the stream of consciousness prose in the Big Flame extracts too, although that was tempered with some conscious stylistic editing too. I suspect my Sylvia Plath obsession came slightly later…
Like you, I had never particularly bought into the i-D magazine culture, although as an Art student perhaps I was more inclined to dabble. Certainly I had loved The Face since the early ‘80s, and Blitz (which was run partly by Paul Morley, yes?) was a regular on my desk, although by the time of around ’86 into ’87 I’d had my head turned by things that would shortly coagulate into the dreaded ‘indie’ style, and this was very much seen to be in opposition to the glossy ‘style’ magazines.
I always thought it was funny that several of the images that were in my first (handwritten!) fanzine Delight In The New Wonderland were from fashion spreads in The Face. And I liked that the image we used to accompany the ‘Helsinki’ piece in Fire Raisers 3 about clubs came from i-D.
D: Was there a place in the world at the time for the kind of magazine we were aiming to produce? Is there one now?
A: This is something I’ve thought about often over the years, not specifically in reference to Fire Raisers, but in general. And I must admit that it is with something of a resigned sigh when I conclude that no, there isn’t and no, there wasn’t. Not if one wanted to make a living out of it at least.
I think if you drew a Venn diagram of potential markets for the things that ‘we’ like(d), then you are left with a tiny area that, globally, may never amount to any more than a few thousand people. Which in real terms is less than negligible. Our disinterest in pretty much anything remotely approaching ‘mainstream’ (or that our interest in anything remotely mainstream is placed in unfamiliar contexts) also precludes the potential marketplace for anything we might produce.
That’s not a criticism though, and nor is it a reason for not doing something. It’s just an observation and an acknowledgement.
D: I suppose it depends upon how much ground we might have conceded to the mainstream, or, to put it less grudgingly, how hard we might have worked to bring what we liked in a cultural sense to a readership that might be less familiar with it. Certainly we were never going to make a living from the magazine itself, but it might have led more directly to the chance of making a living from freelancing. But we were actively engaged in the enrichment of our own cultural lives, if no-one else’s. A salary, food and a roof were never going to be enough, with all due admission that we were and are lucky enough to be living in a time and place when we can say that.
If the cultural blend had been suitably varied – and I think it was well on the way to becoming so – we might have generated interest in and – to use your analogy – shaded a fair number of those intersections at the centre of that Venn diagram. If the way the internet has evolved proves anything, it’s that there are an almost infinite number of overlapping or interlinked musical and cultural localities; in our own small way, with our contributors’ collection of varied interests, we anticipated this – and contributed to that evolution itself when it began to happen.
A: There’s a symbiotic relationship, isn’t there, between our understanding of those cultural connections and the media through which we exploit the links. So without the possibilities offered by the Internet, for example, would our sense of connectedness be lessened? Or increased? Does the physical size of those distributed networks impact on that? So for example, is there any less a sense of belonging to a group when the membership is measured in the millions as opposed to the hundreds? And how ‘real’ is the sense of belonging? And how do you measure or judge the ‘reality’ anyway?
Sorry, that’s a lot of questions and thoughts starting to get up their own arses, but I do think it’s interesting. And I don’t think that Fire Raisers could have increased its audience without changing its fundamental form. Which ties in to what we were saying about contexts.
Bringing – at last – this whole exercise of republishing my solo fanzines to a close, here is the cartoon supplement for Pantry For The World, where we once again enter a portal on floor 7½ of the Mertin Flemmer Building in Melbourne and emerge into the mind of David Nichols circa twenty years ago.
David’s work from the previous issues of my fanzine can be seen here.
If anyone would care for Pantry For The World in unexpurgated PDF form, you can help yourself below; the advantage being that you don’t have to squint as much as you may have been doing at the jpegs I’ve been posting. Thanks for sticking with it.
Next up – Fire Raisers.
A piece about the Hellfire Sermons, which became the starting point of an article for Tangents, which itself was reworked as sleeve notes for Hymns: ancient and modern, the collection of singles and unreleased recordings issued by Bus Stop in 2002. It’s a great shame that the Hellfires never recorded an LP either for Esurient or Dishy – but at least Hymns helps fill that absence.
‘Not nailed down’ was the 1990 highpoint of their first phase as a fantastically melodic and incisive guitar pop group. And in ‘Covered in love’ you hear the precise moment at which singer Colin Pennington apparently comes unhinged, with the group following suit. It’s a thrilling record, crazed and dangerous but deliciously catchy. They even managed to pull off the same trick with their next single for Dishy, ‘Sarasine’, which was equally blood-curdling. In their guise as supreme melodists, they were another fab group from Liverpool to set alongside the Teardrop Explodes, Shack and the La’s. And as scary dramatists, they out-Pixied the Pixies.
- Hellfire Sermons – Not nailed down
- Hellfire Sermons – Covered in love
- Hellfire Sermons MySpace
- Hellfire Sermons website
I was struggling to articulate all sorts of things in this excerpt from Pantry For The World, and Sarah Records got caught in the crossfire. A less violent, retrospective assessment of the label was delivered as part of B/w 42 on St. Christopher.
The sky blue colour of the cover of Pantry For The World was partly chosen in tribute to the covers of the first two Another Sunny Day singles. It’s great to see Harvey’s early work available again in the form of London Weekend (Cherry Red). I still love the contrast between the focussed musical rush of ‘What’s happened to you, my dearest friend?’ and its bewildered lyric, and the way the sound comes together with the words to create the yearning tug of ‘Green’.
The Orchids were definitely one of the more accomplished groups to record for Sarah. They were consistent too, and the LP Striving for the lazy perfection lived up to its own billing. It wouldn’t be quite true to say the same of the single ‘Thaumaturgy’ – miracle-working – but it’s not far off, and full marks to the Scots for helping to extend our vocabularies back in those days.
You’ll probably not be able to make out that the much reduced photo in the top left-hand corner of this latest page from Pantry For The World is of a model revealing herself from behind a Margaret Thatcher mask on a stick. I kid you not.
Never less than engaging as a lyricist, Simon Rivers’ songs piled (and via the Bitter Springs continue to pile) ridiculous images on top of comic ones in an unsparing assault on the people – himself included – that populate his corner of south west London.
More on Last Party over at Backed with, but here for your enjoyment:
28th September 2009. Set your faces to stunned and make a note of the date in your diaries, for that’s the day on which the Claim finally make it onto CD with the release of Black path: retrospective 1985-1992. Who’d have thought that in 2009 they would be releasing a record within eight days of the Clientele, whose Bonfires of the heath is out on 6th October; another astonishing preview track (‘Harvest time’) is available here. (I first hitched the two groups together for this 2001 piece for Tangents.)
To celebrate, here – courtesy of the Right Honorable Vic Templar – is a link to a YouTube outing of one of the previously unreleased songs on the retrospective, the not entirely typical ‘Between heaven and Woolworths’.
And here are the pages from Pantry For The World which celebrated the Claim’s Boomy Tella (‘the best LP of 1988’) and their subsequent singles for Esurient. The quote about the Claim live came from a letter written by one Richey Edwards, whose group had just made their London debut supporting the Claim.
Here also is one half of the Pantry For The World supplement, featuring a piece about the Claim by Kevin Pearce, who wrote about them with the appreciation and bias appropriate to the man who was releasing their records.
Black path tracklisting:
Picking up the bitter little pieces
Birth Of A Teenager
Mike The Bike (Featuring Vic Templar)
Being A Minor
Between Heaven And Woolworths (For Brian Patten)
Not So Simple Sharon Says
God, Cliffe And Me
Do You Still Feel?
Down By The Chimney
Wait And See
Seen And Done It All
That’s one half of Boomy Tella by my reckoning, and sadly means no room for the trombone-fuelled knees-up of ‘Beneath the reach’ or ‘All about hope’, on which the Claim were at their most exquisitely pastoral. Fingers crossed Boomy will before long get a release in its own right. Neither ‘This pencil…’ nor ‘Another yesterday’ feature – they can be downloaded here.
There is also at least one live date confirmed at the Royal Function Rooms in Rochester on Saturday 19th September with the possibility of a London appearance.
- The Claim (MySpace)
These two pages from Pantry For The World are the continuation of the piece comparing and contrasting Momus and McCarthy (which began here), with dollops of Billy Childish, Wings of desire, Jeanette Winterson and Malcolm Lowry thrown in for good measure. Laying my text over an interview with Nick Currie from French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles, this is just about the best laid-out page I ever pasted together. I love the photo of McCarthy, obviously taken around the time they were releasing ‘Get a knife between your teeth’.
But my verdict on The enraged will inherit the earth was extremely harsh – ‘Sitar-y guitar sounds and meek mediocrity’! It’s a much better album than this suggests, and as one of only three McCarthy made, it has to be cherished, though it’s true it’s not quite at the level of their first and third. But it contains some of Malcolm Eden’s most striking lyrics (‘What our boys are fighting for’ neatly aligns soldiering and football hooliganism) and some of his most devastating, unsettling and arch attacks on the liberal left (‘I’m not a patriot but’ skewering those who lent their support for central American ‘freedom fighters’ while simultaneously withholding it from the ‘terrorists’ ‘not far away’ from Britain). And Tim Gane’s melodies are as lovely in essence as Laetitia Sadier would make them on Banking, violence and the inner life today and later with Stereolab.
To continue the compare and contrast theme here in the 21st century, let’s pair one of those lovely Gane melodies in the form of ‘An address to the better off’ with Momus’ Stock, Aitken & Waterman parody ‘Lifestyles of the rich and famous’ from his Don’t stop the night LP. Plus the video of ‘Keep an open mind or else’ for its rarity value.
The second page has Momus’ explanation of who Momus was. En français.
Though he tried, Wim Wenders could never top Wings of desire. Never mind the wonderful German actors – Nick Cave! And Peter Falk! In the same movie!
- McCarthy – An address to the better off
- Momus – Lifestyles of the rich and famous (via UbuWeb Sound)
- McCarthy – Keep an open mind or else
At the foot of Pantry For The World’s editorial page, I wrote ‘Some days I listen to but one song, once. That song is “Stumble”…’ That song, as regular readers of Backed with will know, is by Emily, and is available for download here. The words led into the next page, which reported on ‘Doing it for the Kids’, the Creation all dayer at the Town and Country Club (as the Forum in Kentish Town was then known).
‘That day, six minutes stood apart from the other six hours…’ This hyperbole is a bit harsh on Felt and the Jasmine Minks, who also played that day, and on Momus, whose thing was in no way comparable with anyone else’s. But I was right about Emily, and I’m glad I captured my excitement in print around the time they were taking off.
I was heading for a fall, pooh-poohing high pitch bleat-squealing sax. It wasn’t long before I was listening to Coltrane, Coleman and, in Archie Shepp, the high priest of high pitch bleat-squealing sax.
With surprisingly neat sequencing, the ‘Doing it for the kids’ piece was followed by one called ‘Doing it for God’, which compared and contrasted Momus and McCarthy, about whose second album, The enraged will inherit the earth, I was incorrigibly harsh. There’s just no pleasing some people.
My innovative design feature for Pantry For The World was to insert a portrait A5 page between the A4-sized pages 2 and 3, with the same layout at the other end of the magazine. The two photos of Emily were positioned one above the other so as to create a flick-book effect if you quickly raised and lowered the A5 page: see Emily play!
Well, the underlining to make a point is still in effect – straining too hard to be heard – though I seem to have reined it in a little for this Pantry For The World editorial, when compared with the previous issue. My new favourite trick was the use of ellipses.
That aside, this is strong stuff, and it brings the psychic energy of that time out of the stock room of my mind and right back onto the shop floor. Pop groups; situationism; London; Kevin’s ‘parturient Esurient’ record label. A network of fanzine friends, potential co-conspirators, up and down the country. Political and personal revolution.
The ‘plaintive cries’ quote is from an A5 pamphlet called Effigy by “Scolex”, which I bought in Compendium in Camden, a haven for all shades of left-wing and outsider literature. I must have visited that shop on a more or less weekly basis for a fair number of years, in conjunction with Rhythm Records across the High Street. I still have Effigy, among many other weird and wonderful publications which I suspect one day will have some kind of historical value. Its eight pages hold a set of thirty-odd pensées or aphorisms which owe a debt not only to the situationists but also to an unholy alliance of French Symbolist poet Paul Valéry’s Analects and Morrissey’s witticisms. Now a fair number strike me as commonplace or mundane, including the one I quoted, and, for example: ‘Unwritten rules are the most exhausting to rebel against.’ But I still like ‘Conceal your existence to resist the control of those who would revert their attention to you and swamp you with the futility of the plans they strive to have for you.’ It’s possibly a more sophisticated response to power and authority than the attack the Manic Street Preachers were about to unleash, though obviously a less effective one. And yet, in the end, Richey Edwards chose the ultimate concealment of his existence.
My situationist fixation had led me into developing a hypersensitivity to advertising and the potential to subvert corporate messages. ‘FREEDOM TO TAKE OFF ANYTIME’ was Reed employment agency’s catchy little 1989 campaign. To an avid fan of Bob Black’s The abolition of work, freedom most certainly was not equated with filing and photocopying. An interest in signs of all kinds was sparked; the use of words not just in advertising but in those kinds of messages you bump into randomly as you move about the world – outside shops, churches, in the middle of nowhere. I’ve snapped a lot of similar signs since, either to subvert the subversion of subversion and so restore the universe to balance, or simply because they are comic – as I hope a quick look at the ‘Signs of life’ photographs over at A wild slim alien will reveal.
How quickly revolutionary zeal comes up hard against real world necessity. After a depressed and depressing year on the dole, I surrendered, and walked into a Reed equivalent, Manpower, and let them place me in a temp job: clerical assistant with London Underground’s Lifts & Escalators division, Pumps & Drainage (New works) section. Manpower obviously knew what I was good for. Filing and photocopying.
That one line I elevated from the horizontal – ‘be Fire Raisers’. A reference to the play by Max Frisch, which one of my contingent of Devonian friends had recommended to me. Alistair and I would use it as the title of the collaborative project we were about to embark upon. But more of that before long.
With this fourth and final Pantry fanzine, I finished the journey on which I had embarked in issue 3, and cast myself away on a desert island, thoroughly isolated. But having recognised the need to stand free of my influences and heroes, I wasn’t quite able to define myself with as much weight and clarity. It was summer 1989, and I was on the dole after finishing my third year exams; the Berlin Wall had not yet quite come down, and under the weight of the third Thatcher government and the all-embracing influence of situationism (it was even the subject of my dissertation), I did not feel free. So I roamed – as the Clientele song has it – emptily through Holloway, seeking solace in the streets, in the messiness of overlapping relationships, and – as ever – in music. The last being the simplest thing to hold on to and examine, as I turned life over in my hands. So that – no surprise – was what Pantry for the world was about. Not that you’d know from the cover, which with highly refined indifference gives no indication of the contents. Instead simply that arch and ironic title, whose grandiloquence is softened once you register that it’s a tribute to the Isley Brothers’ ‘Harvest for the world’, which I had grown to love that summer.
The photograph is of the house that stood opposite the point at which Hertslet Road was met by Roden Street, where I lived. The house never recovered from its state of disrepair. Not long after the photo was taken, work began on the Nags Head shopping centre, which also erased Bovay Place and the squatted red brick building that stood there.
But while I stop here with my thoughts awhile, mourning lost streets of London, why not hurry on over to The London nobody sings? The party’s in full swing, and it surely won’t be long before the scribe behind Your heart out posts a song which celebrates the part of London that you know and love best. (The same scribe, I should add, who twenty years ago contributed a piece to Pantry for the world, as we shall soon reveal.)
Great to to see residents of the Five Boroughs taking up the challenge to bring us The New York nobody sings as well. Just need Paris and Munich now.
The cartoon supplement for Pot Plant Pantry was once again given over to the surreal lunacy of David Nichols’ creations.
To my (admittedly warped) mind, Minty and McGinty anticipates the wonderful Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie and Pigeon series of books for children.
And Dr. Seuss meets Viz in the form of Woop and the Poops, with a bit of Cambridge Footlights satire thrown in for good measure.
Woop and the Poops is dedicated to Tim, for remembering it down the course of twenty years.
David’s work from the previous issues of my fanzine can be seen here.
A clamor went up for more Laugh, in the absence of a retrospective. Over at Backed with, you’ll now find both versions of ‘Sensation no. 1’ alongside B side ‘It’s easy’; here we’ve added ‘Never had it so bad’ (AA side from debut 12 inch for the Remorse label) to the ealier post, and now offer up the awesome ‘Time to lose it’ (A side of their third single for the Remorse label) and the earlier version of ‘Take your time yeah!’, proving that the flexi disc has no challengers when it comes to the award for the format with the worst audio quality.