The mild, muggy, rainy, northern summery weather is breaking into autumnal gales and horizontal rain and the harvest is bountiful. All the potatoes are in storage in the barn (between layers of straw in a rat-proof mesh cage). Despite a poor apple harvest, there are enough for us, and some of them have great flavour. The Bramley though is dripping with big apples. In contrast to bucket-loads of hazel nuts last year, there are hardly any forming on the trees. I’ve no idea why. Nature is a right mystery trickster.
The pest that trounced the figs last year is so far absent and the harvest has begun – the tree is laden. I don’t particularly like them and usually end up giving them away. Courgettes too are in abundance and I’m actually struggling to get rid of them.
Despite my best efforts to sell and distribute, once again, I haven’t done very well. I thought car boots would come back and I’d be able to do plant sales in the van, but it never happened. I have a certain disjoint when it comes to selling. I’m just not very good at it, although I have sold more this year than ever before. There’s a missing piece to the jigsaw. I can grow it, but I need help passing it on. Many of the plants that we planted from seed to sell are now bolting and I’ve planted most of them out for seed in the space left by the spuds.
There was high drama on the hill on Saturday – a big fire in one of the unused allotments at the bottom. Kids have been going in and dossing in the caravans on it. It was over in the far corner where there’s no vehicle access, so the fire brigade couldn’t get near. In the end, they ran a hose right from the top. There were several firemen (and one woman). It was potentially very dangerous because we had no idea whether there were gas bottles in the caravans. The fire tripled in size in minutes, taking out a large ramshackle tree-house shed. Afterwards, their fire engine got stuck at the top of the track, and it took over an hour to get it out.
Late last September, I set myself the task of prospectively writing regularly for a year, with the nominal notion of it becoming a second book. That’s what I did with the first book. I’ve nearly done it. Not sure whether it will form the second book, or whether I’ll write something altogether more visceral – possibly under a pseudonym. One thing though, is that I can write like the wind now with ease. Like most worthwhile things, practice is imperative.
As ever, the ranch forms the gentle unfolding backdrop. Still, I’m starting to repeat myself. There’s only so much you can write about beans and gherkins. I predict that demand for growing land will escalate in coming months, particularly in spring. The seed catalogues will sell out again too. Order early. I save a lot of my own seed.
Rock & Roll
Sheila Kennedy and I and a few others once went to an all night reggae party in Liverpool – I think it was called a blues. It was in a big cellar. There were massive speakers and cool black blokes in a sea of ganja smoke – it wasn’t the skunk shit of today, it was quality Jamaican. We were the only white people there and at first I was scared, but they really didn’t give a shit. They literally didn’t give us a second glance. They didn’t dance in the conventional sense. They just swayed in total absorption. They were inherently infinitely cooler than we could ever be. I remember walking home around six in the morning with Sheila across Sefton park.
It was the time when Liverpool grabbed my heart and imagination and I almost moved there. Sheila and James, Simon Kember and Tom lived in a big old red-bricked house in the Lark Lane area and I was on the verge of cutting my bumpkin roots and exiting the dull old town.
During slavery, what they couldn’t take away was music in the soul and hence music as we know it today was born. My 7″ singles are categorised into boxes: mainstream Northern soul; R&B and mod; 1960s; funk and funky; Rock & Roll, Reggae, cheerful and cheesy; 1974 onwards. They all have more than 90% in common i.e. written, played, recorded by black people. Although slavery was nominally abolished in America after the civil war, it effectively continued in the form of an apartheid just as bad, if not worse than many other countries (including ours). Sadly, it continues today as black people are still murdered by white supremacist police. Lets not mix words. lets not mince about. that’s just the way it is. 7 bullets in the back and rioting and polarisation inevitably spread.
People of my ilk and generation embrace equality and diversity but let’s be honest – there are some things that black people do better than white people. There’s another common theme to all this black music and that’s a visceral, smouldering raw and filthy sexuality. Often it’s thinly and cleverly disguised so thicko white censors don’t spot it.
Let’s take Shake, Rattle and Roll as just one example.
Elvis more than anyone else made black music acceptable for a white audience. In the deep South, before he became famous, he lived and breathed it. In my top five favourite recordings is The Million Dollar Quartet when an already famous Elvis gatecrashed a Carl Perkins recording session at Sun studios. Jerry Lee was on piano and at some point Johnny Cash was there. Oh how exquisite is Carl’s guitar sound. At one point, Elvis talks at length with great enthusiasm about going to see Billy Ward and his Dominoes. He describes going to see them ‘four nights straight’. In particular he raves at great length about the singer ‘He tried so hard until he got much better boy – much better than that record of mine …. he was real slender, he was a coloured guy … man he sung that song’. He’s talking about Don’t be cruel. The singer of course is Jackie Wilson.
Shake, Rattle and Roll was written in 1954 by Jesse Stone (usually credited as Charles E. Calhoun, his songwriting name). The title is borrowed from an earlier song and is actually a reference to gambling. It’s a typical wholly inappropriate leching sexist Rock & Roll song. The line Way you wear those dresses, the sun comes shinin through. I can’t believe my eyes all that mess belongs to you was banned, but I’m like a one-eyed cat peepin in a seafood store made it through.
I have a nominal record label and my inspiration has always been American labels who bang out endless records, recorded by the same tight-knit bunch of musicians often loosely referred to as The House Band. Motown (The Funk Brothers) is perhaps the most well known example but my favourite by far is Stax. The house band by and large comprised Booker T Jones, Steve Cropper, Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn (who replaced original bassist Lewie Steinberg in 1965) and Al Jackson Jr. They played on hundreds of classic soul records. One of the most wonderful things is that racism was completely transcended by the music. There’s not an ounce of racism in Elvis’s glowing description of Jackie Wilson. Booker T and the MGs had two white and two black members – something revolutionary at the time in the deeply segregated South. Steve Cropper is coming to Barnoldswick in January and I’ve got 2 tickets.
My naive imagining of a house band actually came true when we did the 40 year on punk gig in Feb. Me, Sam, Dawn, Gaz & Tyler pretty much played the whole night, backing Leon and doing a bunch of Notsensibles songs.
Now that Matt, Tyler and Liam are back in town along with Bryn and Elias, we once again have our house band and just as soon as our wonderful government allows us, we’ll be kicking out the jams again. We certainly won’t be breaking the rules like those underground musicians did back in the day. Liam is a great guitar player and a consummate copyist and he can play lots of classics note for note. In particular he’s mastered Keith Richard’s DADGAD playing. Between us, we’re ex or present members of several bands: The Norms; Nervous Whippet; The Jazz Bastards; Bumprint; Thruster; Shaft grinder; The Strange; Sauce; Notsensibles; Sam and Garthunkel; Bulbeater; Vincent Black Lightning; Billy Pikkel; Kebabylon; The Deke Bevington Eclipse; Ichabod Crane and the Mundanes; Bourneville Boulevard; The Futons and so so many more.
One idea we’ve discussed is to meet up specifically to write a hit record. They’ve been doing it in America for yonks. There’s no reason why we can’t. My American connection continues – Khany is in Florida and I get updates on life over there from my friend Emma in Delawhere.
Many bands have a ‘go to’ end of set song which is blistering but simple so it can be jammed at length. Ours is a smouldering version of Willie Dixon’s Wang Dang Doodle which describes an all night long party: We gonna break out all of the windows. We gonna kick down all the doors. When the fish scent fills the air, there’ll be snuff juice everywhere. I wonder what that’s about? Perhaps they’re having a chippy tea? Hypothetically when De Pfeffel says it’s OK (where is he btw?) we might have a late-night ale-fuelled jam with Garth and I playing twatty call and response guitar licks.
Just about everything I do has the common theme of recording observations: writing; music; film making; gardening and even the day job – medicine and science are so dependent on observation. I never planned to write songs. They just sort of happen, usually from a single line or idea. I could never be in a position of having to come up with a record every so often. I’ve always been a frightful music snob. I harbour the notion that folk music is somehow a cop out after the blistering heights of punk and Rock & Roll but of course that’s bollocks. Now I have the notion to just sit down with the camera on and record all my songs unplugged, one by one with a bit of accompanying twat-chat.
Of all the above, the medium that best unites observing and recording is film making – you can get everything in there: theatre; art; music; writing + tell a story. Even in its most rudimentary form, it’s a mighty time consuming process. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that for every second that makes the final cut, there’s at least five minutes of unused footage.
At the other ranch our recruitment film has gone live and by my standards it’s gone quietly viral with thousands of views. Painting a 2-minute picture of a bunch of people and their work place, that captures the flavour and uniqueness is quite a challenge. It’s hard not to leave anything out. Yesterday morning, Bruce, Smithy, Nasreen and Jess acted out an ATLS* moulage and I filmed it (as an alternative to face-to-face during COVID). It was good fun. What? Fun? At work? A curmudgeon like me? In the afternoon, I went up to the ranch and spent an hour harvesting. Flexible working. Work, life, balance, innit.
*Advanced Trauma Life Support
Ergot of rye
It’s funny the things that you remember from medical school. I can clearly remember about ergot of rye and St Anthony’s fire but I have to look up sodium-potassium balance every time. Ergot is the fungus claviceps purpurea which caused outbreaks of gangrene and hallucinations throughout the middle ages. LSD was first isolated from it. The last recorded outbreak was in France in 1951 from contaminated flour. Ergotomine prescribed for the treatment of migraine and Ergonovine for the treatment of post-partum haemorrhage and induction of uterine contractions are also derived from it. I spotted a black cylinder coming from one of my rye grains and when I looked it up sure enough that’s what it is. I had it for breakfast and now my toes and fingers are black and I’ve been tripping for days. Only joking.