Friday, 5 December 2008

Once upon a time..

..I was a rock band manager, and here's the proof..

Yep, that's me surrounded by the ever-so appreciative of my management skills, the adorable, quixotic, anarcho-syndicalist crusty funk monsters, The Thunderdogs.

That iconic wall behind us is the boundary wall of Christiania, the self-proclaimed anarchist free-state in Copenhagen. This huge ex-naval base was first squatted in 1971 and the community has been there ever since. We stayed there during our Danish tour around 1993/4 (can't quite remember, it's a bit of a blur), in a wooden house built entirely without nails in the shape of a banana.. called, appropriately enough, the bananahuset..

I had one of THE craziest nights of my life in this funny little place..

After our last gig I finally succumbed to this strange British outcast Kenny and his infamous chillum. The rest of the band had already been Kennyed and feeling that it was safe to let my hair down at last, after what had been a pretty hair-raising tour, I lay against the back-stage wall and took a walloping great lungful... and then my head exploded. It felt like my third-eye had been split open with an axe and I descended into dope-hell. I had the entire tour takings in my pocket and this huge wad of money turned into a fiery snake-like thing that I had to get rid of, immediately. I tried to stuff the wad into my best mate and lead singer Tone's hands, but
he had no idea what was going on and tried to give it back to me. But by now I was stricken with horror and there was no turning back. Picture the scene if you can, the two of us shoving each other around, banknotes flying as the rest of the backstage party scrambled to grab the money and mostly try and shove it back in my pocket. Within moments this surreal scene became too much for me to bear and with a yelp I ran out into the cold Copenhagen night.

Pinballing off lumbering drunken Vikings, I desperately tried to find my way back to the Banana House through the wild darkness, but somehow I got caught up in a hedge and spent frantic minutes trying to disentangle myself from this gargantuan beast. At last I broke free and sprinted across the wasteland towards our funny wooden home.

I slammed the door behind me and bolted it, convinced there were hellhounds, or worse, on my tail. I dashed upstairs and flung myself on my bed, trying to calm my ragged breathing. The only person still in the house was Nut, our photographer, and sensing my distress, she came and sat by me, soothing my fevered brow and telling me everything was okay. And I did begin to feel all right, until she turned her head.. and revealed the half of her face that had been in shadow until now. She had covered it with these Maori-like black swirls. In my uber-stoned state, I thought she was some kind of soul-stealing demon. I screamed in terror as poor Nut tried to hold me down. At this point I looked up and saw a distant red light through the upstairs window, and suddenly it all dawned on me with horror: I was still inside my mother's womb. The whole of my life up till now had been one long twisted dream, and the horrible reality was that I had yet to be born into this hell-world. The red-light was the only way out, the exit from the womb, my mother's pulsing vulva.. and it was just too much for me!
"Cut me out! Cut me out!" I screamed.
Nut dashed for the phone and amazingly managed to get hold of Tone back at the gig.
"He's gone mad!" she gasped "You've got to get over here now!"
Somehow the boys made it back in record time. I was a gibbering wreck. Tone grabbed me and began to shovel sugar and rescue remedy into my mouth. Incredibly, within moments, I was back. I had just been about to disappear up a flowing river made of Shiva's hair, but the sugar assault had worked its magic. I stared round the room at my shocked friends. They had seriously thought they were going to have to call the men in white coats. I smiled weakly.
"Er, hi guys.. I think I'm okay now.." I grinned, and then I collapsed on the floor.

And that, my friends, is but one extract from that insane tour. Maybe I should write a book about it. It makes Spinal Tap look positively tame...

Laters dudes..

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Sentimental... moi?

Excuse me, but I couldn't resist! Jamie just sent me this pic of me and my god-daughter from a few years back... yeah, I know, I'm gonna get slated for it... but... some of you might like it ;-)

I've just spent two weeks in Mallorca, chopping wood, building fires and helping to look after Lola-Mae and Memphy and I think it's been the most rewarding fortnight I've spent for years. Basically, I think I'm just cut out to be a dad!

I've had countless brilliant ideas for posts in the last few weeks, ranging from my take on the US presidential elections - Wham Bam Thank You Obama - to the Joy of Hypochondria, and all I can come up with is this. Is that what you're saying? And I used to be such a reliably cynical correspondent. What IS going on??

Monday, 27 October 2008


What's that old twit John Sergeant still doing on Strictly? He can't dance and he looks and sounds like Jo Brand. Get him off.

It's official: Left is Best

I’m left-handed, and proud of it. And you might be amazed to know that the next US president, whether he be Obama or McCain, will be left handed. Indeed, they will be the fourth left-handed president out of the last five. How about that. The chances of this occurring are apparently 0.00009. Which one of ‘em is a rightie? Yeah, you guessed it, only the loathsome Dubya…

Given that roughly one in ten of us are left-handed, we definitely punch (southpaw) above our weight; Leonardo Da Vinci, Aristotle, Einstein, Julius Caesar, Emperor Charlemagne, Napoleon, Marilyn Monroe, John F Kennedy, Jimi Hendrix, even Jesus for Christ sake… all left-handers.

It’s fascinating to note just how many actors are left-handed. At a rough guess, I’d say it’s 50/50. Check it out for yourself next time you watch a movie… Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Steve McQueen, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt – I mean, come on!

But because of the cultural imperative that in the old days you had to choose which hand you wiped your arse with – the poor old left got the bum rap. Now you know why it’s called cack-handed. Sinister (from the Italian for left), gauche (from the French).. thank goodness modern hygiene has finally allowed us to flourish without prejudice.

Considering this yesterday, led me, by a tentative left-handed path that I can’t remember now, to thinking about personality. This was my thought: without other people to reflect back to you the kind of person you are, do you actually have a personality? I know, I’m going to bang on about it again, but who is the ‘you’ that you think you are, when you’re on your own?

I find my ‘personality’ entirely portable and chameleon-like. Sure, over the years I’ve grooved a personality that like an old overcoat I grudgingly slip on when I’m in company. But when I’m on my own… wow, you wouldn’t believe the different people that I am. In fact, I find that I can let the whole personality thing go, and watch it blob and morph around like a balloon without a social circumstance to anchor it. Do you ever sit and watch your personality going through its motions? When you go out, does it go through a check-list? Witty – checkish. Cool – hmm – kind of. Handsome – err, sort of. Suffering? Worried? Angry? What’s my story again? Oh yeah, I’m a 40 something would-be writer/reader/raconteur/iconoclast/decorator/dad/football fan/bon-viveur/traveller/thinker/seeker/visionary/natural philosopher/ bastard/has-been/fuck-up/survivor/guitarist/singer/songwriter/wanker/lover/man. Aren’t I?

Well, I know one thing, I’m left-handed.


(PS I lied about Jesus, but hey, you never know.)

Saturday, 25 October 2008

..creeps in this petty pace

Yesterday, my uncle died. I'm struggling for something to say that has not been covered a million times, about death, about the experience... that is not clich├ęd and platitudinous and glib... I can't think of anything. I am mired in suffering and the constant challenge of being; I want a break, forever, from this tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.. signifying nothing. What is it that cries, and yearns and burns? The ego, the ego, the ego... let go, let go, let go... collapse, surrender, go within... how does one do that, in London, right now? Does one shun all social life, become a hermit? Should I travel to India, seek solace, lose myself? It's the physical thing that gets me most you see. And the anger that comes with it. Why me?

And yet reality keeps breaking through. The sound of water hitting the enamel bathtub in the shower. The cool calm of autumn sunlight on still-green leaves. The whole terrible, still, beyond reckoning, sense of being. It's here and now. Always.. underneath, beyond, behind... vast.. being.

The seductive reality of the surface, that I find myself always drawn to, the rush and chatter of human daily trivia, promises solace, delivers it, temporarily. Temporarily.

Thank god one can express one's self. I feel better now.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

How many rivers?

It's been a tough week. Tough but incredible. At Shaka's wake on Tuesday afternoon, I was moved to tears several times by what people had to say about him. But also by the people themselves. I was blown away by the beauty, the openess, the courage, the depth of my friends, and how willing they were to be seen, to be open, to be honest.

The same again at Shaka's funeral yesterday. It's been so good to feel this connection and to finally release the pent-up emotion that was stuck inside me. And insights have poured into me - I have seen myself measured against others and found myself wanting. Why is it, I ask myself, that I still find myself stuck with this carapace of pain, tension, and insecurity? Is that really me? Well no, it's not. This is one insight, that despite my understanding this truth again and again, especially through the hell of last year's emotional burn-out, I'm still coming to terms with. This stuff: it's not me. So what the hell is it? Who is it? Who am I? Do you recognise a unique emotional-psychic flavour that is you? You know the one - it's the one you relate to, when you hear your name, that's who you are, that cherry-vanilla burnt acid ice-cream sundae. But is that you?

Then today my aunt called because my uncle - her brother - was in a bad way. I hastened over to see him and ended up going into hospital with him. Here's a man who has reason to want to let go - at 88 years of age, and having survived the loss of his wife, his job through modernisation (he was working up until earlier this year and received a CBE for his contribution to his field last year), he's been hit with incurable cancer. I helped him change to go to hospital. His arms and legs are shockingly emaciated. He is so much more feeble than last time I saw him 2 months ago. He didn't want to eat or drink.

In A & E as he waited on a gurney, I asked him if he wanted to die. Yes, he said, I've had enough; I want to go to sleep. After doctors came and went and procrastinated I finally managed to persuade them to put a drip in his arm because he was so dehydrated. Eureka. Half and hour later he was feeling better. Still weak. But able, eventually, to go home. And I think how often I've wanted to die in recent years. Why? Because of the immense amount of pain I've been in. Is that an excuse? Probably not. Eckart Tolle says women are closer to enlightenment that men because they have to endure more pain. Well I don't know what the fucking yardstick is - but I can tell you, in terms of emotional pain, I've ridden the hoary razor-backed monster to hell and back. In terms of physical pain... well, I guess having 50% of your body covered in thick plaques of searing, burning, crusted skin, so sore there is NO release... 24/7.... that must qualify me for some kind of enlightenment equivalent, by Eckart's reckoning. If you consider I've been enduring this torture for the most of the last 20 years...

But what of it? There is no cure in resistance, and even less in self-pity. There is certainly redemption in love. Despite, in spite, of this suffering, I have managed to feel, more and more, that I am loved. And to say to myself, if I can truly feel this pain, and be in my body, and accept this, then I can be cured. Become whole. At Shaka's funeral I felt the bonds of love, and friendship and family. In truth, I felt this: that WE ARE FAMILY.

Peace out brothers and sisters.

Thursday, 2 October 2008


Sometime on Monday, Shaka, a beloved friend of mine, died on the Harrow Road. He was 32 years old. At the moment no further details are known.

To think that Shaka died just down the road from me, possibly alone, certainly with no close friends around him, hurts.

Being with Shaka always made me feel good. He always brought a smile to my face, he could always make me laugh, even when I was feeling down. The last time I saw Shaka, just over two weeks ago in the Salusbury pub, I was jokingly telling him how I'd love to inhabit his body just for a day, just to experience what it must have been like to be him. Shaka had the moves. Shaka had inimitable style. To see Shaka on the dance floor was something else! Women and men alike adored him. I know he was troubled, and for years struggled with the dark side of his nature; something we shared in common, and would sometimes talk about... but no one was the life and soul of the party like Shaka was... his smile lit up every room he entered, and warmed every heart that was blessed to experience it.

One day last year I came out of my house and Shaka was walking past my front door. He was feeling very bad, as his relationship with the woman he was deeply in love with had broken down. To see this gentle man laid so low really touched me. At the time this was another thing we shared in common.

I hoped I was able to bring him some solace, through the experiences I'd had in life, and I know that recently he was in much better spirits.

But we had so many fantastic times together. In Mallorca. At festivals and parties here and abroad. In Brasil, Christmas 2004, we roamed the countryside of Bahia, swimming huge rivers, feasting on freshwater crabs, mangoes plucked from roadside trees and generally living it large. Shaka's love of food was legendary and boy could he cook a good steak! One of the funniest things that happened was the way he heard the Portuguese for 'thank you' - obrigado - as 'boogazzi!'. Boogazzi became the way we always greeted each other from then on. Boogazzi baby!

But now he's gone and he's left so many devastated friends behind him. My heart especially goes out to his mother.

Shaks, I miss you man.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Tales from the City

Ah Brixton. The bustle. The hustle. Skunkweed mate, skunkweed? Popped over to my old mate Tone's squat in Coldharbour Lane last week. Clifton Mansions retains a faded boho glamour, crack whores notwithstanding. The architectural details that were lovingly crafted are still in evidence, even though the paving stones are now split by rampant weeds and too much London rain.

Another old mate, Natty Bo - eclectic DJ and frontman of Ska band the Top Cats - was also there. We got to talking about the crazy misspent days of our youth, the 80s, that seem so distant now, like something out of myth. How we dabbled, foolishly, in things beyond our ken.. magick.. mystery.. madness..

Natty recalled a typical day, when he lived in his old squat in the Pullens Buildings in Kennington. This was before we barricaded ourselves in and fought a pitched battle with the police and the bailiffs...

It might help you if you visualize Nat sitting at Tone's kitchen table in his Che Guevara beret and zoot suit, gold front tooth glinting, smoking a spliff as he recounted this tale (that's Natty in the pic below)..

Jim Vane – the Morrison-like lead singer of Ring of Roses and the New Apes, was sitting on the floor of Nat’s front room, singing toneless, repetitive nonsense, using the grab-handle from an old tube train as a microphone. In the background, Nat’s Teac 4-track added a backwards looping wallpaper of slurred sound..
There came a knocking at the front door. Abadab Terry (or Terry Dactyl as he was sometimes known) burst in, followed by a bunch of his gormless acolytes. Abadab Terry was one of those self-styled gurus that seemed to abound in our early 80s milieu.
Terry pulled out seven ready-rolled joints and commanded all present to smoke. He then began a toneless chanting of his own, a weird counterpoint to Jim Vane’s odd bleating.
All of a sudden, Terry leaps to his feet, grabs a dusty jar from the shelf and turns to Nat.
“Can I have these?” he asks.
Nat was dumbfounded. How on earth did Terry know where his magic mushroom stash was? Without waiting to be told, Terry stuffed the entire stash into his gob and began munching them manically, eyes popping, grinning like a madman. The background droning continued. Nat eyed Terry nervously. Terry sat back down, eyes streaming and cheeks bulging like a bullfrog as he inhaled hash smoke from a red plastic bong. Suddenly he leapt up again and grabbed a book of spells from the shelf. He began reciting one at random, then let out a piercing scream, pointing at Nat. Then he ran out of the door. Moments later, his acolytes followed. Jim was still droning into the tube handle. Relieved, Nat headed to the kitchen..

The following day, there came a hammering at the door.
“Let me in,” pleaded a voice, “the police are after me”.
Nat edged open the door, and Abadab Terry burst in. In one movement he punched Nat full in the face and then pulled out a large kitchen knife.
“I know you are in league with the Devil!” Terry screamed. I saw it all last time I was here. I’m gonna exorcise this flat!”
Nat had a kind of mandala patterned carpet. Terry pointed towards it.
“This is the source of your magic power!” He fell to his knees and proceeded to cut the mandala out of the carpet with the knife. Pulling this up with one hand, he grabbed the book of spells with the other and ran out of the door.
Apparently Terry then ran down to St Agnes Place at the back of Kennington Park (they used this as the location for the Buddha of Suburbia) and held up two Rasta drug-dealers at knife point, before legging it over to Lefteye Lee’s place. He kicked Lee’s door down and demanded Lee submit to his superior will. And give him all his money. Lee eyed him carefully for a moment and then knocked the fucker out with a smart left hook to Abadab Terry’s jaw.

So as I say, a typical day in the life, back in the day. I was telling a similar story, recounting the wild late 70s/early 80s Richmond nightlife and the crazy characters who inhabited it to someone l met on a date a few weeks back.
“You make me feel like I’ve hardly lived” she said. Well she did seem to have led a sheltered life..

It’s been an intense, edgy, lurching rollercoaster these last thirty years or so. But who would swap it for safety and suburbia? I wouldn’t.

Laters prudes.

Friday, 22 August 2008

On Hampstead Heath

With an hour to spare before a meeting in Hampstead last night, I strolled up onto the Heath. It was a beautiful late summer's evening, the sun beginning to set behind sturdy cumulus clouds. The August bank holiday fun fair was already set up in the lower car park, the bumper cars neatly parked, the Wurlitzer in wraps.

I wandered through the deserted site; I've always felt strangely drawn to the traveller lifestyle. A rottweiler looked up eagerly at my approach. Around the perimeter of the site the trailers are parked up, washing hangs on the line, the latest model 4x4s with personalised plates, the mobile homes spick and span. Coming back out onto the path just above the lower pond, a red transit passed me. I caught up with it as the occupants exited, a man and a handsome woman in her 40s - we smiled at each other as I approached, a companionable smile.
'Are you looking for work?' She asked me.
'No, I'm all right thanks.' I replied. She held my gaze.
'Well, if you're looking for work, or you know anyone who does, just call here - she indicated the large white trailer behind her - and ask for Barry.'

I walked on, between the ponds, through the wild woods towards Parliament Hill. I felt extremely pleased that she'd asked me that question, whatever the implications..

Sitting on top of Parliament Hill, looking out across London, I felt a peace I've never felt before. Deep and constant; my heart is finally opening.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Here we go again

Summer? Ha! Rain spatters the window. The nights are closing in already. It's a full moon comedown. I'm partied out. Time to quit smoking, again..

From the recovery position on my couch I laughed, cried and punched the air between coughing fits through a golden Olympic weekend. But now it's Monday. Muted, moody, munted, mundane Monday. What to do? Bed by 10pm and Nausea by Jean-Paul Satre. Does life always have to be great? I celebrate the ordinary. Vive l'ordinaire.


Saturday, 2 August 2008

World Without End

Walking through the sleepy August streets today I was struck by how little life has changed; the same daily rituals are enacted today as they have always been. All that has changed is the perception that life is moving on at an ever increasing pace, and it is that illusion that fascinates me.

I wonder if in our limitless desire for the new we seek to escape from what is. Why are we so afraid of being? Why are we perpetually driven to fantasise about the future, or reminisce about, or continually revise and review our past?
The enduring fascination with sport illustrates this perfectly; in sport there is always another challenge, a new contender, the ever-present possibility that things might change for the better, for our team, for our hero.. and among football fans at least, the delicious schadenfreude in the anticipation or experience of our rivals downfall. We can happily remain stuck in this pseudo-reality for our whole lives. People claim allegiance to their team as a substitute for identity. It fulfils a deep need to belong, to be recognise, to experience life's glories vicariously.

Yes, we are apparently increasingly exhorted to explore these triumphs for ourselves, to go for it in the gym, to travel to far flung places; always more, always something else, always onwards. This kind of aspirational culture for the masses is something new, yet it goes hand in hand with a deep dissatisfaction with simply accepting what is. Acceptance in this sense is perceived as something negative, a cowardly surrender.

Yet in this dissatisfaction lie the seeds of liberation as well. This is what all spiritual texts point to; to look within, to find the way that leads to salvation from this world without end.

I find myself continually poised between desire and acceptance; I want to prove something to the world outside and to myself, I want to 'make it'. I want to be a contender. At the same time, I want to let go of this desperate pursuit and turn within. I think I enjoy the delicious suffering this induces. In a perpetual either or situation I find my identity stretches and warps, but at the same time deeper truth is revealed, a melting and reforging.

Maybe this seems like a melancholy first post for the revived West of Soho; no flash, no bravado, no tales of mishap or mayhem.. but then it is August. The month when London empties and for a month or so and there is a semblance of peace in our careworn streets. Plenty has changed since I last posted, and yet much remains the same.. all I can say for now is that I am conscious that I am different in some way.. and it is that subtle difference that I will try to elaborate in my future posts. So until then, take care out there dudes..