Monday, 30 March 2009

Tea Towels

I still love going to gigs, but being of advanced years I can no longer get away with buying band T-shirts. However, I am not so old that I am incapable of doing the dishes. Therefore, I require tea-towels. Could bands not produce tea-towel merchandise for the likes of me?

But there is a problem. Tea-towels are mundane and domestic. Few bands are confident enough in their mystique to risk associating with them. Could there be anything naffer, for example, than a Coldplay tea towel? Even Kiss would draw the line at an officially sanctioned tea-towel. What artist is so cool that they can produce their own tea towel, and not only still be cool, but somehow be even cooler?

There is only one – just one. And that is Nick Cave.

Friends, the day has come where I share with you my collection of Nick Cave tea-towels. You may be wondering how large my collection is. I can tell you that it stands at two. Two is a good size for a collection of Nick Cave tea-towels, I think. Any more and it would start to get weird.

This is my first, which I bought at a pre-tour warm up gig on Hastings Pier. This tea towel shows the lyrics to The Lyre Of Orpheus. I'm afraid that over the years it has become somewhat grotty. Click to embiggen.

Here is the second of the two, from a more recent tour. This one features the hand-written lyrics to the Mercy Seat. Note that Nick has skimped on the two-colour printing for this tea-towel, but was still charging the same price. Not your finest move, Nick.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

It's Written in the Bible, Herod had the Right Idea...

Following on from recent posts about Pen Monkeys, I suppose I should mention that it spawned a sequel of sorts. This was in the final days of 4Later, Channel 4's weird and experimental late night slot. It was closed down shortly afterwards and the days when a broadcaster would allow you to "make a half-hour animated comedy show for the price of a Ford Mondeo", to quote Peter Scott, were no more.

The bods at Channel 4 knew that the department was closing and that they would be moving on, so they figured "what they hell, lets name this programme Live Sex". That will be funny, they thought, to see in the listings. We were a bit taken back by this. We argued that viewers might be a little disappointed to tune into Live Sex and find a ropey cartoon about Posh & Becks. Hence the poor show got stuck with the compromise title of Sex Bar. To be honest though, the whole programme was a bit compromised and unloved. It had the single ugliest visual style of any programme that we have ever done, and sadly neither myself or anyone else thought to say, 'hang on, this looks terrible, lets do it differently.'

Still, we did one good thing in the show, which was to ask the v. lovely comedian Jackie Clunes to write and record a spoof charity single, on the subject of giant mutant celebrity babies going on the rampage. Of course, Jackie Clunes has since gone on to have an exceptional amount of children, written the book Extreme Motherhood: The Triplet Diaries, and become an inspiration to mothers everywhere. These events were perhaps not that evident in the song she came up with back in 2001, though. This is Kill Your Children:

Believe it or not a clip of that was on our company showreel for a while. The company has done much better since we took it off.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Book Dedications

Where did the trend for dedicating books to people come from, I wonder? Other pieces of work do not do this. Architects don't put a plaque on their new Tesco Metro that reads, 'To Mum & Dad'. If you look underneath Hirst's pickled shark it does not say 'To Anita'. In film and TV, a dedication is only acceptable if someone has died recently. But a book seems unfinished without a dedication. I do not know why this is.

As for the dedications themselves, about 90% are to whoever the author is sleeping with. This is probably understandable, as writers mostly have no money and spend years locked away in a little room by themselves. They therefore need some carrot to persuade their partners not to run away, and the promise of being immortalised once the book is finished is a tempting carrot.

As for the other dedications, they are usually to parents, children or colleagues. Occasionally however there are dedications that are interesting - being either mysterious, funny, or just plain arsey. Here are my top five:

5. Flying Saucer Rock 'n' Roll by Richard Blandford:

"To the Skyman"

4. Post Office by Charles Bukowski:

"This book is presented as a work of fiction and dedicated to no-one"

3. The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson:

"To Richard Milhouse Nixon, who never let me down."

2. Principia Discordia by Malaclypse the Younger:

"To the prettiest one. All Hail Eris! All Hail Discordia!"

1. Better Than Sex by Hunter S. Thompson:

"To Nicole, my vampire in the Garden of Agony"

Monday, 23 March 2009

One More From BB

Here we go - the third of out three readings from Brian Barritt's Unpublishable Stories.

This is a tale of Vampires, junkies, sex and the Soho art scene, hence the title: Pricks.

Friday, 20 March 2009

I have no idea what these are.

Sadly, I do not know who did these. I think I must have seen them on b3ta once, and liked them so much that I saved them locally. Then I forgot about them until I found them again yesterday.

I don't know why, I just think they are brilliant:

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Time I Shot Margaret Thatcher Through the Head With a Crossbow

In a previous post I talked about finding an old VHS of Pen Monkeys, a late-night animated comedy show we made for C4 back in 2001 (if you're wondering why what follows looks so rough, then nip back and read that first).

The one sketch from that show that I remembered most clearly was this one:

Now, it appears there are two types of people in this world - those who enjoy seeing Margaret Thatcher shot through the head with a crossbow, and those who don't. I spent the eighties and early nineties in North Wales and Liverpool, so I had no idea that the later category existed. But, apparently they do.

Even when I wrote that, I knew it was not ideal. Our brief was to make a topical satire and in 2001 there was nothing topical about Thatcher. Or Davros, come to that. Also, it wasn't actually satire. Heck, it's not even a sketch, for there's no real joke there. I just assumed that people would want to see Thatcher shot through the head with a crossbow. I have always had a fondness for clunking ham-fisted directness, having spent my teens listening to The The and Iron Maiden. But such blunt delicacies are an acquired taste, and most people require some form of sophistication or subtlety. Fortunately the folk at Channel 4 are not those people, and it stayed in the script despite strong arguments that it should go and be replaced with some jokes.

After Pen Monkeys was broadcast, all agreed that it was funny, but patchy. Unfortunately nobody could agree on what the funny bits were. The killing of Thatcher was a classic example. Some people - me, basically - claimed it was very funny. Others - pretty much everyone else - disagreed. Crazy! But there you go.

Then a week or so later I met up with an old friend, and discovered that he had watched the show go out, unaware of my involvement. He got very animated when he heard that we had done it, and immediately started talking about the killing Thatcher bit. It had made him laugh so hard, he explained - and he was completely serious about this - he had laughed so hard that he nearly died. That was how he described it.

Now, I have made a lot of media over the years - TV, radio, a book, articles, games - and some of that has been ropey and some of that has been almost competent. Very little has caused people to nearly die, to the best of my knowledge. That one reaction to this still fills me with a merry pride, long after I've forgotten most of the stuff we did back then. The issue here is that almost all media is judged via a headcount of its audience, rather than the strength of their reaction. But does making ten people mildly entertained in the short term count for more than making one person love something which they remember for years? How many content viewers does it take to equal the reaction on one poor sod who nearly died, in a good way?

Sadly there are no accountants fit for the job of reckoning these things, so the audience size is all that we fret about. But if you ever get the chance to slip in a little bloody-minded wrongheadedness, then I say go for it. These are the things, I think, that make it worthwhile in the long run.

More Moore

As I mentioned previously, I am loving this brief period where Alan Moore is in the mainstream spotlight, whether he wants to be or not.

The most surreal and unlikely events are occurring. Perhaps the weirdest has to be Moore and Melinda Gebbie being papped by the Daily Mail while nipping out to the shops:

Then there are all the spoofs appearing online, from the Saturday Morning Watchmen to Mad's Botchmen:

Best of all though, is that my better half has started to read Watchmen, rather than go and see the film. You can always rely on Joanne to find a new angle on things. Here is her first report:

"I'm liking it. The blue man is my favourite. He's just gone to Mars on a strop. He's a bit dim. You know how he can be any size that he likes? Well, he never gets it right, does he? He is always just a bit too big. It's like he has to be the tallest guy in the room."

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Pen Monkeys

Back in early 2001, a week or so after George W Bush became president, we made a dirt-cheap animated sketch show for Channel 4. It was called Pen Monkeys, and it set in motion the TV law that any comedy show with the word 'monkeys' in the title would be a bit ropey and not last long (cf Monkey Trousers, Monkey Dust etc.)

I've just found an old VHS tape with it on, and seeing it again after the Bush years makes it seem weirdly prophetic. I seem to remember that I wrote the bits about Bush before he was sworn in, so there wasn't a great deal to go on as to what he would be like as a President. Yet we have him starting wars on a whim, wanting to blow up Iraq, falling asleep instead of thinking about the deficit - to say nothing of the tall buildings exploding all over the place. It was, with hindsight, pretty obvious what was coming. That said, our take on the British reaction to Bush couldn't have been more wrong.

Have a look - it's taped off air with bad reception and lots of ghosting, so excuse the quality. As for other reasons why it looks so bad, well I'll get to that in a second.

At the time, we took great pride in how unprofessional the whole thing looked. It is hard now to imagine how Punk that looked back then, five years before YouTube launched and the we all became accustomed to cheap and cheerful animation with too much swearing. Animation on TV had always been crafted and lovingly sweated over. We were having none of that. Our beloved MD Peter Scott went as far as to use the following as our official company slogan: 'Television that Spoils it for Everyone Else'. Which summed up our attitude nicely, and made a bit more sense than our previous slogan, 'Tomorrow's Television Tomorrow.'

As a result, we made the cheapest animation in the land. Later that year ITV launched 2DTV, which was also a half-hour, topical animated sketch show, albeit one shown when people were still awake. I seem to recall that our budget was one thirtieth of theirs, but pleasingly their show also looked rubbish and wasn't very funny, so perhaps we were an influence.

Sadly the march of time has not been kind to Pen Monkeys - we are used to seeing stuff that looks like that now, and that look has become perfectly acceptable. Ah well.

At least we did the thing where - actually I'll save that for next time!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Brian Barritt reads his Unpublishable Stories.

As promised, I can now present two recordings of Brian Barritt reading his Unpublishable Stories. Please make yourself a cup of tea, grab a biscuit, and settle down in comfort.

First up is The Island, one of Brian's more autobiographical stories.

Next we have a bawdy little yarn called Lady God: An Olde English Folk Tale.

I hope they made you squeak with pleasure. Perhaps one day Radio 4 will be like this.

A third story is coming very soon.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

A Guide to Becoming Mad Enough to Enjoy Alan Moore

With all the hoo-ha and fanfare surrounding the Watchmen movie it is hard to open a newspaper, eavesdrop on the Tube or glance at Twitter without hearing Alan Moore being discussed by otherwise sane and respectable souls. I love it, this brief and surreal world, and am making the most of it while it lasts.

In fact I have been asked by two - count them, two - different people if they should risk reading any of his non-Watchmen stuff. This fear on their part comes about because everybody knows the following three things about Moore:

1) He is a genius. I would certainly not argue with this. Indeed, I would go further and claim that future generations will consider Alan Moore and Shigeru Miyamoto to be the most important artists of our times - both in terms of how ground-breaking their work was in their chosen fields, and how prolific, consistant and inspired they remain - but generally I don't say this out loud, for fear of upsetting the muppets who spent £111 million on Damian Hirsts.

2) He is grumpy. There does seem to be a strong case that the man is becoming increasingly curmudgeonly with age. But there's no reason why this should put you off his work. It's not like you have to live next door to the guy.

3) He is barking mad. He worships a Second Century Roman snake God called Glycon. I admit, that does look a little damning. This fact more than any other does tend to make potential readers back away slowly. It doesn't help matters that Glycon was apparently no more than a hand puppet, a hoax God created by the wonderfully-named Alexander the False Prophet. And then there's the matter of Alan Moore's openness about being a practising magician. And not in the Paul Daniels sense.

But hear me out.

Give him a chance.

Alan Moore's philosophy revolves around a core idea - that thoughts exist and have value, and by existing they should be considered as 'real' as material objects, albeit 'real' in a different way. As starting premises go, you must admit, it's not that bad. His talk of 'magic' describes the manipulation of ideas, and indeed his definition of magic comes close to how many people would define creativity. His insights into the ecology of thoughts and ideas - how they relate to each other and how our modern world is shaped by them - have implications for all of us, because we are all wrapped up in thoughts. It is his willingness to engage with such a slippery subject which keeps his work startling and it will, I think, be the reason that his work will be so highly regarded in the long term. Alan Moore's madness, then, is not as incomprehensible and off-putting as it might first appear, because you only need to use this one concept to unlock it all. It is just that, well, once you accept his central concept and start to consider the implications of it, then you have embarked on a slippery slope that can lead, in a consistent and logical manner, to the worship of Roman glove puppets.

So how should a Moore rookie approach his considerable non-Watchmen body of work? Well, I would suggest the following, a path into his books from the most accessible to the most magical, allowing the reader to fully enjoy all the delights along the way.

A safe place to start would be V for Vendetta, if just to relax your certainties a bit and leave you nice and loose for what is to come. It is from his mid '80s, 'pre-magic' period, so the extremes are political rather than metaphysical.

After that I would say cut to the quick and move on to From Hell, his take on the Jack the Ripper murders and the Victorian world. This is arguably the key text in Moore's body of work, and much of his philosophy was formed by the act of writing it.

Following From Hell you may find yourself reeling somewhat, and full of questions. This would be a good time to leave the work and go straight to the man himself for answers. In conversation Moore is extremely focused, with a habit of answering single questions in long, clear, multiple-paragraph answers. He is also very funny, which is always the sign of someone worth listening to. I would recommend tracking down A Disease of Language. This is a lovely thing, with two of his spoken word performance illustrated by From Hell artist Eddie Campbell. It also contains one of the best interviews with Moore that I've ever read. Failing that, head over to - one of those unsung web sites that make the Internet what it is - and browse away to your hearts content.

Now, Moore transcends comics in the way that Bob Marley transcends Reggae, so it might be an idea to leave comics behind for a bit, so not to get too bogged down in the medium. Time to tackle his first novel, Voice of the Fire.

A number of people have been put off this book by the first chapter. This is written in the dialect of a child in 4000BC, with a tiny vocabulary, no pronouns, and no real understanding of the difference between waking and dreaming - a challenging opening which, in the author's words, should 'keep out the scum'. But that won't put you off, will it? Heaven's no! You're up for anything. In fact, you're gearing up for the big one. You're about to read Promethea.

All of it, mind - there's no point starting this one if you are not going to finish it, for the end is a very different place to the start. There are 32 issues, collected in 5 volumes, and they need reading because nothing will give you greater insight into Alan Moore's mind, and what makes him tick. True, the story soon gives way into an extended lecture about the Kabbalah and other arcane matters, but stick with it, for all Moore's recent work will open up for you afterwards, and the ending is just unforgettable.

When I refer to his recent work, of course, I really mean the later League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Forget the film and even the early volumes, this has evolved into a borderline-insane mission to weave the entire history of fiction into a single narrative. It has become so inventive, stylistically impressive and just so out there that it validates every strange and stubborn twist in Moore's career. It is also an ongoing project, with the first volume of Century nearly with us, all ready for you to jump aboard - no longer baffled by the madness of Alan Moore.

I tell you, writers who don't worship snake gods just won't seem enough after all that.

Metro is the New Frontiersman

I found this on the train to work - surely a contender for the most geekiest stunt used to promote the Watchmen movie. The front and back pages of the (London) Metro freesheet were replaced by pages from New Frontiersman:


Do you think when the advertising people suggested this to Metro, they explained that the New Frontiersman is the paranoid right-wing publication from the Watchmen universe, one beloved by conspiracy nuts and vigilante psychopaths?

Metro - the freesheet from Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail - is the New Frontiersman. It is too perfect. I am not one to give credit to the advertising industry but surely this has transcended advertising and is some form of art statement.

(click images for hi-res)

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Brian Barritt's Unpublishable Stories.

Brian Barritt - Krautrocker, Albionist, Cosmic Courier and Last of the Beatniks - has spent years scratching away at a series of lucidly crazy and pleasantly obscene short stories. Once finished, they will be collected together under the title of Unpublishable Stories, and the literary world will be a richer place.

What are they like, you ask? Ah, you will soon find out, for on Monday I recorded Brian reading three of the shorter tales. These will be posted up here over the coming days, and I very much hope that you enjoy them and are not too traumatised.

While you are waiting, here are a couple of photos of Brian. In keeping with the tradition of this blog, they are photos of Brian next to signs:

This was taken during a trip round Ireland in 2005, in which Brian was our navigator.

This following photo was taken at the celebrations for Albert Hofmann's 100th Birthday, at Berne in Switzerland:

Monday, 2 March 2009

Headfuck Diagrams from Respectable Science Books, Part 2.

Our previous example received some nice feedback, but it did not seem to wreck anyone's head sufficiently. Clearly I must up the ante:

This also comes from The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies (page 287).

This example is deserving of more intense study, so to fully appreciate just what a marvelously weird-ass concept it is illustrating. Yes, the existence of 'Communicators' is directly feeding back into the laws of physics.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Sir Fred

Like many of you, I have found a few moments in my busy schedule to deface pictures of Sir Fred Goodwin: