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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, October 26, 2002
    Road to - where?
    Iain Sinclair's Barbican presentation of M25 London Orbital was billed as "a parallelist performance in three-lane theatre". It was certainly very linear, one artist, speaker, performer after another taking their turn to do their particular thing relating to Sinclair's adventures or reflections at a particular part of the motorway. Or something. So it was a mixed bag, all of it at least 'challenging', much of it of the best quality - especially the leftfield music, Scanner's 'found sound' from the airwaves, WIRE's electro-punk assaults, and a marvellous bit of thrash-metal from Jimmy Cauty and cohorts dressed in fluorescent 'Motorway Maintenance' jackets on a smoking, flashlit stage.

    Sinclair's prose was rich as ever and a mixture of his usual demons (Reggie Kray got a look-in) and new observations (a brilliant line about Margaret Thatcher in a tryst with Count Dracula as she cut the ribbon on the London Orbital). His mates were wild and wacky, Ken Campbell especially, describing the arcane art of using the alimentary canal to draw in the spirit of a place, and they were at times wonderful, especially canal-boat-dweller Bill Griffiths, fine pianist and performer of some impressive English pastoral verse.

    It was an impressionistic evening. The one thing lacking was coherence. Maybe the subject doesn't lend itself to coherence - life on and around a mighty ring road. Maybe the richness and diversity of the discoveries these mavericks made, is good enough for now. Sadly through ill-health J.G. Ballard couldn't take part in last night's show. If he had, then maybe it would have been more intellectually 'together'. Sinclair leans heavily on Ballard when he begins to explore the significance of the road and the life it engenders. He niggles with Ballard's sixties statement, "The motorway landscape is where the future of England reveals itself - and that future is boring", suggests that Ballard has something when he insists that "Through repetition, boredom becomes transcendence". Reckons that "The M25 works - if you stay on it long enough. if you allow it to become the gateway to an alternative reality."

    The whole project is dark but also revealing, doomy but also prophetic. It's a rich and mixed-up insight into the 'alternative reality' in which many of us live and move today - the road, and the world of "off-highway shopping, gated communities, CCTV, mediparcs, Heathrow, low-concept executive housing, marinas..."

    To avoid Railtrack chaos I went East Coast to London, so drove back from Leeds to Liverpool last night. Pondering the contrast between the dream-world inside my Rover 214, and the fast, brutal metallic reality of the road while overtaking lorries through rain and spray. Working on a new idea. 'M62 Liverpool - Hull'. Actually, it is the most beautiful motorway in the country, walking alongside it would be a great journey. Passing through some of the greatest towns of England, and landscape rich with resonance, peaking at Saddleworth Moor, where Morrisey meets Myra and .... so on. Bill Drummond might do it, he's a fan. In How to be an artist he writes of how the M62 inspires him, especially "driving it east to west, at the close of day into the setting sun". But could such a project be as insightful as Sinclair's? He's a hard act to follow. (London Orbital is on Channel 4 on October 29, 11.40pm - 1.10am)