I just realised that it is about ten years since I last gave a reading in London from my novel CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO, which was published by former Hove-based publisher Codex in 1999. I’ll be reading from the novel this week in the event I’m doing with Malcolm Bennett of Brute.
The back cover blurb of the beautifully designed and published Codex edition describes CHARLIEUNCLE… (for short) as ‘a “stream-of-sentience” alien-abduction cop novel’. It grew out of a short story that I’d initially written for Stewart Home‘s Suspect Device anthology. By the time Stewart got back in touch to say that the story was a bit out of kilter with the rest of the collection, I’d written another 10 or so chapters: the story had become a novel.
From 1997 through publication and on to about 2000 or so I was reading from the novel quite regularly, often with a live, improvised musical accompaniment from keyboard player James T. Ford. A former Hammond organist to The Jam no less, Jamie would accompany the reading in the manner of a pianist at a silent movie, responding to the story on the hoof: it was great fun to do. We played various venues including Christopher Hewitt’s underground performance art venue Hollywood Leather, the ICA, Clerkenwell Literature Festival, the Zap Club in Brighton, Vox’n'Roll at Filthy McNasty’s and more. Jamie also accompanied my reading for the book launch in October 1999 at Cabinet, London.
Pre-publication, Codex had celebrated their list with an event at Sussex Arts Club, Brighton on 28 July 1999, where I was to join Steve Beard, Stewart Home and Billy Childish reading from our various forthcoming titles. The invite lists James T.Ford as my accompanist, but for some reason Jamie couldn’t make it so I did the reading with live improvised percussion from Billy Childish’s regular collaborator and Buff Medways drummer Wolf Howard.
During soundchecks Billy sat down and scribbled furiously, stopping only to chew his pencil or to ask me about replacement words used for particular letters in the radio-telephony ‘spelling alphabet’ that I’d used for the title of my novel.
During his set that evening, Billy announced a tribute to CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO, which he duly performed before presenting me with the full text. Here is a scan (click on the title above to see the post and this image full-width):
Later that year I collaborated with another percussionist on a reading from CHARLIEUNCLE… This time it was the late, great and very sadly missed Paul Burwell, a co-founder of London Musicians’ Collective and of post-industrial noisescape and pyrotechnic artists Bow Gamelan.
Arriving at the venue (the former Penny Black pub on the corner of Exmouth Market), and thinking of how it had gone with Wolf, I suggested to Paul over a pint that he might want to start the accompaniment gently with some brushes on a snare drum and then take a lead from me so he could pick up the pace as the chapter, and the reading, progressed.
That was the plan anyway.
Paul lasted about 30 seconds with his brushes, if that, before chucking them away and pulling a mallet out of one pocket and a couple of drum sticks from the other then playing the function room’s walls, floor, fixtures and fittings at such a furious pace and volume that I had no choice but to follow, raising voice and tempo until it felt as if I was chasing him around the room. It was an exhilarating ride and my ten minute reading was over in about five, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
My reading on Wednesday will be unaccompanied :-)
‘And the book meets the table’*
Looking for some footage of Paul Burwell in action I found instead this rather beautiful live recording of ‘Hull Air’ a posthumous birthday tribute by Corona Smith et al, which sets to a new composition some archive recording of Paul’s drumming and an extract of a poem called *’Adventures in the House of Memory’ which I’ve seen credited to both Paul singly and Paul Burwell and Anne Bean jointly.
I emailed Anne to find out more about ‘Adventures in the House of Memory.’ At time of writing Anne is in Utrecht so was unable to check details, but she replies:
‘Adventures’ was a part of many improvisations Paul and I were trying out before William Burroughs Final Academy at [Brixton] Ritzy, 1982. I improvised words and unusually for us, Paul suggested writing them down. He began from my improvisation but wrote most himself and pulled it into shape. We then wrote the words on huge pieces of paper which we burnt as they were sung. It was printed in the publication for the event.
(Screengrab taken from Brian E. Schottlaender’s fantastically comprehensive, 121 page, 2010-published Anything But Routine: A Selectively Annotated Bibliography of William S. Burroughs v.2.0)
CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO is currently out of print but some copies are available from Abe Books.
I’m reading with Malcolm Bennett of Brute! on Wednesday 26 May, 7:00 pm, at 3 Blind Mice, Ravey Street, London EC2 (opposite the Griffin pub).
Anne Bean is currently working on a project for Matt’s Gallery, London for September 2010 which will include ‘much live work, that is neither a tribute nor a retrospective but a vibrant series of events and installations that highlight the times, ethos and context within which Paul [Burwell] worked.’