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

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008
    The two free men of Fazakerley
    Highlight of the day: a joyous exchange with a man in a hospital car park. The usual queue to get into the main car park, people waiting for others to exit, man on the barriers in soaking wet rain allowing them through slowly, one in, one out. As ever, I won't wait. There must be other places to park. I'm on the hospital's offenders list for once slotting my vehicle into a half-empty consultants-only (pah!) parking area and consequently receiving a letter telling me 'do that again and you're fined'. I swerve around the queue's back vehicle and chug along past A&E and maternity to an overspill car park a quarter mile away from where I want to be.

    You have to slide into a right-hand slip lane and wait at barriers to get into this overspill car park. Two vehicles are in line here as I approach. They're static, but from the road it's clear that there are at least two free spaces visible. As I pull up behind the second car that driver's impatience defeats him and he drives away. This is where the joyous exchange took place. At the moment I noticed that the car park entrance had been blocked by two orange traffic cones, the man in the first car jumped out and moved them out of the way. Hooray for another blow against sanctioned officiousness!

    The man-who-moved-the-cones looked over his shoulder at me as he stooped to get back into his car. Sensing that he may be feeling a little guilty at his small act of disobedience, perhaps nervous that I might be critical of what he'd done or maybe spoiling for a nark, I decide to make it very clear to him what I feel about his actions. Broad grin; thumbs up. Which he returns. We direct our vehicles, in turn, under the obeisant electronic barrier, slot them neatly into those available spaces, and emerge into the rain as the two free men of Fazakerley.
    Monday, September 29, 2008
    Merton, de Mello, Manglewurzle and many other saints

    A Toxteth calypso band on the south side of the church trading tunes with a Liverpool Irish folk group on the north, generous helpings of food and drink at west, and eastwards, the stage set for the sharing of a 'Last Supper' within a party yesterday afternoon. And films projected on one wall including Boys from the Blackstuff and The Cruel Sea. All in celebration of Robert having been a priest for forty years. The above text is an extract - a small extract - from Robert's programme notes for the occasion which consist solely of a list which begins simply but profoundly: 'The people and characters who have 'informed' Robert's Priesthood'. It has been an excellently singular journey.

    Click on pic or here for Robert's entire list
    Sunday, September 28, 2008
    The atheist hymnwriter and his vision of something beyond
    Fascinating to read in this month's Fortean Times, David Sutton's article about the life and work of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Sutton champions Vaughan Williams as being far from a nostalgic composer of 'cow-pat music', far more 'a musical mystic - a deeply feeling, and often deeply divided, visionary in the eccentric British anti-tradition that embraces Blake and Palmer, Arthur Machen and John Cowper Powys, the British Neo-Romantics of the interwar years, the new antiquarianism of John Mitchell or Julian Cope, and the fantastic cinema of Powell and Pressburger.'

    Any member of this thrilling list is bound to be a wonderfully complex character, and the Fortean Times feature illuminates one of the fascinating contradictions in the man - and in our culture. Vaughan Williams edited The English Hymnal and The Oxford Book of Carols and composed some of the nation's favourite hymns, For all the Saints and Come Down O Love Divine among them. But for much of his life, Sutton writes, Vaughan Williams 'proclaimed himself a staunch atheist'. So why did he contribute so much great music to a church to which he never belonged?

    Sutton finds clues in Vaughan Williams' appreciation of the church's role in 'the old ways of the country' which fascinated him and inspired his deep interest in folk music; and 'the link between music and death - and religion in the form of the tolling church bell - is just as important, and runs through all of his output'. The article explores these themes in Vaughan Williams' work - and the recurring motif of the soul's journey, 'an image of a universal quest for a "vision of something beyond"' which drew him to Wagner, Whitman and the Blake who strove with that struggling biblical character Job. Clearly for Vaughan Williams it was music which held the key to that 'something beyond'.

    "In the next world I shan't be doing music, with all the striving and disappointments. I shall be being it," Vaughan Williams once said. David Sutton concludes that 'the famous lark's airborne arabesques' were not 'just a musical representation of some carefree bird flying over the English countryside; the solo violin, in its ascent, is too yearning and sounds too much like the harder-won, cadenza-like solo at the heart of the suffering Job.'

    Fascinating stuff. And the Archbishop of Canterbury is encouraging churches all over the world to sing Vaughan Williams' hymns on 12 October, the anniversary of his birthday. Now that's what I call a good theme for a Back to Church Sunday.

    Pic from www.singers.com
    Saturday, September 27, 2008
    Tried, found wanting
    'Every trial endured and weathered in
    the right spirit makes a soul nobler and
    stronger than it was before'

    W.B. Yeats quoted in When Skies are Grey, the Evertonian Fanzine #142.

    Well, here's to the young generation, hoping they'll suss what a 'right spirit' should mean, because all their elders in the stands could muster today was a show of nastiness and aggression towards each other which was shameful, really. Every year, hating this, I say, that's my last derby match. The following year, stupidly, I try again.

    Friday, September 26, 2008

    "There is much more mystery in the shadow of a man walking on a sunny day, than in all religions of the world", said Giorgio de Chirico. Stare at this for a while, his Enigma of a Day (II), and it's possible to see how.

    Pic: from the Giorgio de Chirico pages of the the Ten Dreams website
    Wednesday, September 24, 2008
    Through a glass darkly

    So they've told me at the Urban Theology Unit that every morning for the next four (or possibly six) years I should get out of bed, stand in front of the mirror and remind myself, 'I'm a scholar'. I tried it in my digs in Sheffield this morning, but the bleary bloke in front of me in the looking-glass didn't look too convincing. Maybe I'll grow into it.

    It's exciting but daunting standing at this end of a MPhil/PhD research project, looking ahead to a very large amount of work, but after three days' orientation there it strikes me that UTU is a fine group of people to do it with. They've got over thirty years of experience of helping people practicing ministry in urban areas to flesh out a theology for what they're doing. Amongst other excellent staff there it's a privilege to be supervised by John Vincent who established UTU in 1970 and has been a pioneer of liberation thinking and radical community action throughout the intervening years. Eighty next year John is sharp, insightful and wise and has sent me home with two typically challenging books to read, Vamos Caminando: a Peruvian catechism by the Pastoral Team of Bambamarca and God-Walk: Liberation Shaping Dogmatics by Frederick Herzog. Blimey.

    I guess the MPhil may impact on my blogging. Maybe there'll be fewer blog entries as the written work kicks in. Maybe there'll be just as many and they'll be sidelines to the project. Plenty of stuff which has appeared here over the past few years may well find its way into the thesis. I tend to blog at night; so to complement that perhaps I'll regain a good habit I had a few years back, of doing my reading first thing in the morning. After, of course, that questing look in the mirror.
    Sunday, September 21, 2008
    Feeding Psychogeography
    John is good at taking the initiative and he's done it again - adding a psychogeography news feed to his national psychogeographic website. Straightforward enough idea; helpful to those of us too preoccupied to do our own google news searches all the time. One drawback: the feed churns up rather a lot of Will Self. This is compensated by surprises such as a link (via Wired) to the Near Future Laboratory's Drift-Deck (Analog Edition), which is quite simply a deck of cards each bearing instructions which guide the walker on drifts about the city:
    Each card contains an object or situation, followed by a simple action. For example, a situation might be - you see a fire hydrant, or you come across a pigeon lady. The action is meant to be performed when the object is seen, or when you come across the described situation. For example - take a photograph, or make the next right turn. The cards also contain writerly extras, quotes and inspired words meant to supplement your wandering about the city.
    Designed for exhibition at the recent Conflux Festival I don't think the Drift-Deck is for sale. However it's the sort of thing any self-respecting psychogeographer might invent for themselves, in situ. I may just give it a go sometime. Maybe over the next three days which I will be devoting to my own new psychogeographical pursuit. More about that back here on Wednesday.
    Saturday, September 20, 2008
    Glaswegians lost and found
    More on Glasgow. No apologies. For part of the aim of the Glasgow 2020 project was to generate conversations in other cities about their experiences and their futures. Last weekend Doug introduced us to the book The Dreaming City: Glasgow 2020 and the Power of Mass Imagination, and though I absent-mindedly left it in the Chinese restaurant last night they looked after it for me and today it's been good getting into it. A record of an experiment in enabling a city's people to tell stories of their dreams of the city's future. Engagement in something called 'futures literacy'.
    We wanted to see if there was the potential for people to be able to tell their own more compelling stories about the city and its possible, probable and preferred futures than the restricted menu on offer from the official future.
    It's a very good idea. A mark of that is its honesty, as demonstrated in areas like the Lost Glaswegians workshop which took place in London, where ex-Glasgow people considered how important the city was to them now, what their lives would be like if they had to go back and what kind of a city they might find.

    The Glasgow 2020 approach dovetails nicely with the Liverpool Biennial's 2008 theme, Made Up. Which is an expression we Liverpudlians use to mean 'delighted', etc, but carries all sorts of other meanings:
    MADE UP sees imagination (called ‘invention’ in the 18th century) as the dynamo of art. At the heart of this exhibition’s broad ranging exploration of ‘making things up’ (which includes utopias and dystopias, narrative fiction, fantasy, myths, lies, prophesies, subversion and spectacle) is the emotional charge which powers the artistic imagination. Whether mischievous, constructive or iconoclastic, MADE UP is about art’s capacity to transport us, to suspend disbelief and generate alternative realities.
    Well, we've had so much art over the past nine months and we'll be getting so much more before the Culture Capital year expires, and the city itself is the site for so much of it, that hopefully some of this imagination will rub off, and like those Glaswegians so too we Scousers might spend much time subsequently 'generating alternative realities'.

    Pic: Lost Weegies Mindmap from the Glasgow 2020 website
    Friday, September 19, 2008
    The difference between art and politics
    'The great only look great because we're on our knees', once said Liverpool-Irish trade union leader Jim Larkin. Dick Gaughan quoted him tonight during his set at the Liverpool Working Class Music Festival, to help illustrate the difference between art and politics. 'I'm about to sing a song which says just about the same thing,' Gaughan said, 'except the song has got nine verses... that's the difference between art and politics.'

    Actually art and politics mixed well this evening. Gaughan's committed big songs were complemented by the English whimsy of Leon Rosselson and the liberating bile of Attila The Stockbroker, with local acts Alun Parry and rapper Young Kof completing a very generous bill. Each in their way sing great songs (and in Attila's case, perform great poems) about the lot of ordinary people.

    Inevitably Attila stole the show, with his 'pre-emptive party song' celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher, "Maggots one, Maggie nil, allelujah! Maggots one, Maggie nil, allelujah!". Rosselson's The World Turned Upside Down (popularised by Billy Bragg) focussed us on St George's Hill, site of the utopian Diggers' experiment in egalitarian community and now site of an exclusive golf club and, behind high security gates, the home of Cliff Richard. And Young Kof managed to win over a substantial portion of the mostly folky audience with his charisma, his raps rooted in Liverpool life getting the respect they're due.

    All this, in The New Picket, a venue which boasts a fantastic mural painted by Belfast artists and highlighting Irish people who have influenced the life of Liverpool over the years. Appropriately enough, the central figure of this artwork is Jim Larkin.
    Thursday, September 18, 2008
    It's the size and shape and weight of a bible, Bill Drummond's 17. It's a corresponding brew of inspiration, immolation, contemplation and misinformation. And it moves from a fall to a revelation - the demise of recorded music as the dead form of the twentieth century, rendered ineffective by its ubiquity, and the promise of something new emerging from The17, a choir whose music has no history, follows no traditions, recognises no contemporaries. A choir of seventeen voices who use no libretto, lyrics or words, no time signatures, rhythm or beats, and have no knowledge of melody, counterpoint or harmony. A choir who 'struggle with the dark and respond to the light.'

    Like many of Bill's projects The17 is a purification rite, a cleansing, a clearing-of-the-air to permit something new to emerge. It's something he can't stop himself doing.
    '... earlier today I took every vinyl 45 and LP, every CD and cassette I own down to the local Oxfam and left them there. The feeling is fantastic, as though a massive weight has been lifted that I have been literally carrying around with me for the last 35 years. Tomorrow I plan to take all my books.'
    This sounds like an Ash Wednesday feeling, an eve of Advent emotion. Another of Bill's projects No Music Day is held on the 21st of November because the 22nd of November is Saint Cecilia's day. 'Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music. In many countries the 22nd of November was the day chosen to give thanks for and to celebrate the existence of music.' Bill insists that No Music Day has nothing to sell. But it clearly promotes the idea of clearing our heads so as 'to think about what we do and do not want from music, and to develop ideas of how that can be achieved.' A bit like Lent before Easter.

    Bill took a two-year tour around Europe, forming choirs of The17 in Newcastle, Oslo, Saint Petersburg, Newcastle, Stockholm, Sete, Huddersfiled, Vienna - and at Greenbelt, of course. 17 is his frank account of this endeavour, and the mid-section of the book an extended set of treatises on music, largely based on his own experiences from inside the business and as a listener, critic, fan. All this (Bill freely admits throughout) is riddled with contradictions, the major one being that two years of The17 has clearly failed to expunge his enthusiasm for music of the existing kind, his comprehension of the virtuosity of great artists, present and passed-on including, for him, Elvis Presley and Syd Barrett.

    The17 has prompted Bill to compose some scores which indicate the power of pure music to connect at the deepest levels. These include SCORE 16, COMPLEMENT, in which the family and friends of a deceased person make sounds together which complement their feelings about a positive incident in the dead person's past life. I suppose it could be thought of as a sort of eulogy without words. It's there, on page 334 of 17.

    Now I'm a slow reader so that's as far as I've got in the book, but Paul alerted me to something else in 17 which had caught his eye. 'Have you got to p398 yet?' he asked me. On p398 Bill is becoming obsessed with a sense of his own imminent death.
    ... I was heading up the Holloway Road in a northerly direction [and these thoughts] swept over me again. The perfect ending to the book - my death. It would be like Otis Redding dying just before the release of Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay. Instead of doing the responsible thing of turning around and heading back home, I texted John Hirst - 'if I die could you ask John Davies in Liverpool to take my funeral' - nothing else, no explanation.
    Well, if that happened then I wouldn't take that responsibility lightly. But I take it as a complement. And though (unlike me) he hasn't yet made an entry on his own mydeath.net website, at least Bill has helpfully created a very good score for the occasion.
    Tuesday, September 16, 2008
    Too good to leave
    Anticipating time off in November I thought I'd do what I often do at that time of year: have a city break. Good to get away to one of the other great British cities: London, Glasgow, Cardiff: somewhere full of cultural delights, high and low. Thinking about it though, this year there only seems one option. I'll have a city break in Liverpool. Why? well, there's so much here to see and do. Not only will the massive Liverpool Biennial (which starts this weekend, though The Joyful Trees are already delightfully installed) be reaching its peak, but also the greatly anticipated Le Corbusier exhibition (the first in Britain for over 20 years) will be on by then too. So the only question for me is: should taking a city break in my own town involve me booking a B&B and seeing the place like any other tourist would? Mmmm... tempting.

    Pic: Motif from Le Corbusier, design for a tapestry in the Parliament Building, Chandigarh, 1961.
    From the RIBA Le Corbusier exhibition website
    Monday, September 15, 2008
    Mind the gap
    A very fine gift from Greenbelt arrived today, unexpectedly: a cd containing mp3s of all the talks at the 2008 festival. Whether that was in recognition of my (very slight) contribution to the process of arranging this year's talks, or whether all the speakers get this valuable gift, I'm not sure. But one of the rewards was to discover that, contrary to the listings in the slightly screwy Greenbelt online shop, one of the event's best talks was, after all, recorded for posterity: a talk called Mind the gap by Jane Corbett and Ann Roach, who told their story of decades of community involvement in West Everton with typical wit, directness and insight.

    Taking examples from an inner city community in Liverpool: does inequality really matter? What could be a response? Is the Bible silent on the matter?

    It's not flagged up in the online shop listings, but it's catalogue no. GB08-29 and if you hack the Greenbelt site a bit you can hear the first three minutes of it, and purchase the whole talk, here.
    Sunday, September 14, 2008
    A display of breathtaking impudence

    Pete Burns almost stole the show at the Eric's gig the other night with a characteristic display of breathtaking impudence. Having kept the audience waiting for his arrival on stage a full two hours later than billed, he then only sang three songs. But they were each storming, of course. No explanations, no apologies, just the line: 'This is the song which got me out of Liverpool - THANK GOD!' With an attitude and a get-up like that: what a fantastic cameo, totally befitting the occasion.

    YouTube clip, Pete Burns Liverpool 12-09-08 You Spin Me..., from metalbearuk
    Saturday, September 13, 2008
    Is Dickie our dad?

    Jacob Epstein's Liverpool Resurgent which stands above the entrance to Lewis's department store on Renshaw Street. He's locally known as Dickie Lewis, and features in the line of a popular song which goes, 'We meet under a statue exceedingly bare, in my Liverpool home'. Lucy's mum was a bit disturbed that this massive statue will be in the sight-line of her and her four other female student flatmates as they eat their breakfasts each morning in Grand Central.

    Through a rendition of Mother Glasgow (see yesterday's blog) Doug's talk introduced the idea of the city as a nurturing parent to us, its children. He asked us to consider whether we might see our own cities in this way. So is Liverpool a mother to us, or a father?

    Epstein's sculpture was an attempt to personify the city, to offer a symbol of vigour at a time of post-war reconstruction. That it's mostly entered our culture as a gently ironic line in an already quite dated folk song, and has not featured at all, as far as I know, in any Capital of Culture events or promotions, suggests that we tend to regard Liverpool Resurgent as little more than something to fondly smile about. He clearly hasn't been embraced as an embodiment of our city, and in the dark days of the 1980s Liverpool Resurgent's confident posturing mocked us - Liverpool was naked then, but broken too. Dickie Lewis isn't our dad.

    So is there another sort of parental metaphor which might fit Liverpool? I find it easier to think of the city as a mother, but in Liverpool's case I think she may be that sort of mother who tries hard but is accepted by her offspring as actually being not that good at it. Her bad habits and inconsistencies get in the way of her keen attempts to nurture us well. She's unreliable, we have to mop up after her, but we're the fonder of her for all that.

    Or maybe Liverpool is more like one of those uncles who is always around the house, full of jokes and stories which fascinate the youngsters, a bloke so gifted and so entertaining that they can't get enough of him. But who, when the chips are down, is nowhere to be found (or is, if you look among the all-day drinkers lining the snug of a city-centre pub)... What do you think?

    Pic: Dave Wood, Liverpool Resurgent, from Liverpool Monuments website
    Friday, September 12, 2008
    Radical intoxication
    There was music during Doug's talks at the Core Cities Theology Network conference on Culture this morning. It makes all the difference to urban theology, a bit of music.

    First there was a communal rendition of I belong to Glasgow (which many of us non-Glaswegians thoroughly enjoyed singing with gusto). Doug's talk was titled Radical Incorporation: the City as Body, but he told us that this song is a fine example of radical intoxication:
    I belong to Glasgow,
    Dear old Glasgow town;
    But what's the matter wi' Glasgow,
    For it's goin' roun' and roun'!
    I'm only a common old working lad,
    As anyone here can see,
    But when I get a couple o' drinks on a Saturday,
    Glasgow belongs to me!
    Many cities, Doug noted, have similar songs wherein their citizens express deep attachment to the place, even love for it: 'Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner, that I love London town', 'Ferry 'cross the Mersey, 'cause this land's the place I love, and here I'll stay'. Later I suggested to some of the conference's Geordie contingent that 'Fog on the Tyne is all mine, all mine' fits that too.

    And then we got even deeper, as Doug invited Brian McGlynn to sing Mother Glasgow, in which the city is enfleshed in a most intimate relationship with her offspring...
    In the second city of the Empire
    Mother Glasgow watches all her weans
    Trying hard to feed her little starlings
    Unconsciously she clips their little wings

    Mother Glasgow's succour is perpetual
    Nestling the Billy and the Tim
    I dreamt I took a dander with St. Mungo
    To try to catch a fish that couldnay swim

    [complete lyrics here]
    'Let Glasgow Flourish' are the words which end Michael Marra's song, the city's motto which is an abbreviated quote from a sermon of Saint Mungo in which he said 'Lord, Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the word and the praising of thy name.'

    And then we were into Jesus standing over Jerusalem wanting to gather its children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings [Luke 13:34], and we were into St Paul's richly suggestive writings about the church as the body of Christ and we were awakening to all sorts of connections between the body social, the body spiritual, the body urban, the body politic. Intoxicating stuff.
    Thursday, September 11, 2008
    A size 8 woman wearing a size 14 dress
    Among many other great quotes about Liverpool and its life at the culture conference this evening, John Flamson of Liverpool University described the city in a very interesting way, saying 'it's like a size 8 woman wearing a size 14 dress'.

    Other people have researched and written widely on Shrinking Cities. And this struck home on the walk I led around L11 this afternoon, where we spent a lot of time standing in acres of abandoned land while I described what used to be there - Croxteth Comprehensive when the community, protesting its proposed closure in 1982, occupied it and ran its own educational programme for months until the council relented; English Electric which once employed 14,000 and was the focal point not just for these people's working lives, but their social lives too; and the blocks of flats on Storrington Avenue, removed some years ago, their elderly occupants relocated in low-level houses or sheltered flats nearby.

    Standing at the wasteland at the corner of Storrington Avenue brought home to me how much the city has shrunk inwards. The counterpoint to the loss of Storrington Heights and many others in our edge-of-city area is the expansion of high rise - ahem - apartments in the city centre. Odd how a city can justify demolishing decent homes which people loved in one area whilst building very similar ones (for other sorts of people) elsewhere... John maybe unwittingly gave the game away when he spoke of the 'need' to change land values in the city. You do that by eradicating the poor from an area and selling the land on to developers who will profit on their subsequent sales of new property to the wealthy.
    Wednesday, September 10, 2008
    Edge Culture Liverpool

    Spent some time planning a Croxteth and Norris Green walk for delegates on the Core Cities Theology Network conference on Culture tomorrow. I think, en-route, we'll meet some ghosts (map segment above). Meanwhile a colleague is about to begin taking a presentation involving a minature Superlambanana and a Liver Bird Prayer Tree around the various nursing homes of our area - 'to bring the Capital of Culture to people who can't get out'. I think it's getting to us. In a good way.
    Tuesday, September 09, 2008
    Totally unsissified
    'The best culture is made by erudite barbarians,' said Julian Cope interviewed on Radio Merseyside this morning in anticipation of this weekend's Eric's tribute gig.

    'Liverpool is as mad a place to have a culture festival, as it should be. The best culture is made by erudite barbarians. The trouble with civilization is that it gets too sissified - and Liverpool is totally unsissified.'

    Bring it on, Julian. Interview in full here [MP3, 4.5MB]

    Poster from Liverpool Confidential website
    Monday, September 08, 2008
    What is the sound of the war on the poor?
    What is the sound of the war on the poor? An interesting question to ask sonic artists - because all wars create noise. And precisely the question posed by the sound-art collective Ultra-Red last year.

    One artist (anonymous as far as I can tell) made two audio pieces in response. One was a recording of the Severnside Siren over at the heavy industry docks of Avonmouth and the other was a recording of a walk from the M32 motorway during rush hour to Stapleton Road, Easton, Bristol.

    The artist web page describes the M32 as 'a large motorway built in the 1970's, dividing the communities of St Paul's and Easton. It was built with minimal consultation.' They quote a Bristol City Council document:
    "The M32 is the motorway that runs into the heart of Bristol from the M4 (London to South Wales). It carries over 80,000 vehicles per day and links the M4 north of the city with the city centre. It runs into the Broadmead Expansion area where it becomes Newfoundland Way, which is not classed as a motorway. The City Council will shortly take over responsibility for this road from the national authority, the Highways Agency. The location of the road is problematic for a number of reasons: it divides the two communities of Easton and St. Paul's, it generates a high level of vehicle emissions leading to declaration of an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) along its length, and it also generates high levels of noise due to the high traffic flows and speeds. Additionally, part of the motorway ... is elevated above the ground approximately 8-10 metres and is in close proximity ... to residential properties in this elevated section. This means that air and noise pollution impact disproportionately on the residents of these properties, adversely affecting their quality of life and potentially, their health."
    Thus the 59-second long wav file, a recording of the thunderous roadway, is the sound of a war on the poor. Other artists listed here [scroll down] responded with recordings of a rickety bus ride from Jerusalem to Beit Jala, a mass protest against the election of Sarkozy as President of France, and the sounds outside the factories of Sanyo, Pioneer, Panasonic, JVC and Casio in Tijuana, Mexico.

    Almost inevitably, thanks to The Wire for featuring Ultra-Red in two recent issues
    Sunday, September 07, 2008
    Au revoir, La Princesse

    Franco-Scouse relations are pretty, pretty good at the moment after the past five days we've spent in a sort-of wonderland wandering around the streets with the giant mechanical beauty which is La Princesse. Tonight's finale, watched by tens of thousands on and around William Brown Street, saw the Spider disappear in a blaze of light down into the mouth of the Queensway Tunnel. The fireworks shooting from the roofs of all the grand buildings framed what Ellen rightly described as a perfect ampitheatre in a scene of wild sound and colour (lovely to stand on the Museum steps watching this with a blogger-friend: we somehow connected in the vast crowd). But the very end was gentle, the notes of a solo harp stippling the surface air around our heads as the red light in the tunnel entrance faded slowly into black. A fittingly calm finale because the whole production has been graceful - the Spider was massive but was no monster, she moved slowly and wondrously through our streets and thousands took her into their hearts.

    The French do this sort of show often, of course, that's why this whole Spider experience was so good. Struck me that part of the joy of the past few days has been the permission given to those following the Spider, to break many of the usual rules of the city - we walked down the centre of wide highways rid of traffic, we climbed walls, bus shelters, telephone kiosks, trees, without censure or reprimand, we smiled at each other a lot. Not unlike the experience of the rolling roadshow which is Le Tour de France, and its less lauded but equally thrilling sister shows of sporting subversion where the cycle rules the road, at speed and in glamour. La Princesse has disappeared (waiving, I'd think, the £1.40 tunnel toll), but these very roads will be closed again next Sunday when the cycling Tour of Britain 2008 takes its final laps around Liverpool city centre. Vive la difference! Is right!

    Saturday, September 06, 2008
    Graced living
    designed spaces
    graced living
    flowers & fires
    and the hexagonal
    achieved thru the spreading of a
    construction hormone emitted by the queen
    and pervading the entire society

    Seminal Liverpool day today; viewing the city from a student apartment, floor ten just beside Lime Street and above Concourse House where crowds were gathering for the return of The Spider this evening. We spent a little time walking with La Princesse, up Church Street, crowds tremendous in size and curiosity. Quite a day for my friends' first visit to the city.

    Then home to enjoy my own copy of Bill Griffiths' Mr Tapscott, the epic poem about Liverpool from where the above lines come [previously blogged about here and now available with all remaining stock of Bill's poetry books and pamphlets from West House Books].
    Friday, September 05, 2008
    Spiders and Snakes

    With Jim Stafford on my mind, of course, I took to the Spider and Snake trail this evening. The Snake being Churchill Way flyover which sheltered me from steadily-falling rain all the way onto Dale Street, the Spider being... well the Spider, the one those thousands of little kids massing around the Albert Dock today will be telling their grandchildren about.

    The show is a masterpiece - of engineering, of logistics, and of beauty in music and movement. A live orchestra follows La Princesse in a convoy of cherrypickers, as she makes her way through the crowds, paddling her feet inches above the people's heads, playfully prodding umbrellas, giving folk the chance to touch her. Photos and words won't do justice to the experience of following this friendly beast through the city's streets in the company of so many other awed ones. Strangers are walking through Liverpool today smiling broadly at each other. It's because of the Spider. Think about it too much, it's overwhelming.

    The spider on The Strand: pic from my growing Flickr photoset Arachnid: La Machine in Liverpool, Sept 2008.
    Web coverage is massive now: Google it, or YouTube it, or Flickr it.
    Thursday, September 04, 2008
    You’re going to be fine
    In a granite city awash with dismal rains, incongruously seated in damp denim jeans and soggy hiking boots in Scotland's oldest and most wonderful small concert hall St Cecilia's, supping Guinness on an empty stomach at a table directly in front of a low stage, I saw Kristin Hersh perform Paradoxical Undressing.

    This was every bit the unique and memorable event I'd anticipated (see blog, 31 July), one of those very special gigs which are a world to themselves, in which Kristin, a painfully introvert performer, got up-close and personal sharing the experiences which have helped shape her powerfully complex music over the years.

    Kristin's lyricism is intricate but not impenetrable. You need a sort of intuition that the intense imagery and deep metaphors in her music relate to direct experiences, even quite mundane ones. If you have that intuition and you can make the connections then you find her songs exploding into the loveliest colours or the scariest shapes as they take on meanings for you. Paradoxical Undressing revealed a lot of astonishing details which my intuition had previously missed.

    One day Paradoxical Undressing will be a book, I hope. In Edinburgh it was one small woman at a lectern with a ring binder full of papers by her right hand and a guitar strapped across her left shoulder, reading and then singing, reading and then singing again in front of a screen projecting the richly coloured paintings of Molly Cliff Hilts. Captivating.

    Kristin has eschewed music business norms and as well as inviting donations to keep her work going she fills her websites with artwork, photography, music and video clips free for all to encounter and enjoy. She also posts out pieces of writing like this below, which she shared with us beneath the chandeliers in Edinburgh and is a perfect illustration of the power and wonder - and agony - of her life and work.
    Then some old lady forgot how to drive for a minute and suddenly, I was flying. I flew up over her car and through the air in vivid slow motion, thinking, so this is what this feels like.

    As the pavement came toward me, I could see tree branches blowing in the breeze and smell cut grass. I seemed to have stopped somewhere between flying up and falling down, as if I were hovering over the street. Then the words “go limp” popped into my head, so I did.

    As soon as I relaxed my muscles, time sped up and the ground jumped into the air, crashing into my head. I slid down the street on my face for what seemed like a very long time, then flipped over. My neck snapped back and my legs twisted up underneath me. The old lady and her car were long gone.

    I lay there on the street for a minute, feeling the brand new sensation of a lot of blood leaving my body, then tried to unfold myself. I lifted my left leg, noticed that there was no longer a foot at the end of it, then sat up and looked around me. Blood spread across the ground in a deep red puddle, pouring into the sewer. I'd never seen blood pour into a sewer before.

    A woman appeared from nowhere and leaned over me. She was wearing mirrored sunglasses. What I saw in her glasses was bizarre: I had no face, only hamburger and blood with two blue eyes staring out. Even my hair was red with blood. It snaked out from under my head, unrecognizable as hair. I looked away, deciding to look for my missing foot. “You were hit by a car!" the woman said loudly. “You’re going to be fine!”

    Pic: from Nailest's Paradoxical Undressing Flickr photoset
    Wednesday, September 03, 2008
    Arachnid at large

    The spider on Concourse House. Pic from my Flickr photoset Arachnid: La Machine in Liverpool, Sept 2008. A whole lot more coverage on the web if you google it.
    Tuesday, September 02, 2008
    La Machine is coming

    I noticed today that they've taken out the roundabout at the Birkenhead Tunnel entrance. Completely flattened it. A pretty major piece of work, perhaps in preparation for the arrival of La Machine, a closely-guarded secret but which, rumour has it, is a massive, magnificent mechanical assemblage nearing completion in Cammel Lairds at the moment. Tomorrow, they say, on their website, details of the weekend's events will be revealed.

    Wednesday update 07:39 - a giant 60ft spider has appeared on the side of the soon-to-be-demolished Concourse House tower block on Lime Street. It's breathtaking, according to morning radio reports. BBC website has pictures, and details of the weekend's movements of this creature around the city. La Machine website promises more later.
    Monday, September 01, 2008
    Building Site

    from Zoë Skoulding, Remains of a Future City,
    which is supplying my 'one-poem-a-day' diet at the moment.
    , a poet and experimenter in psychosonic geography,
    was at the TRIP conference in June.