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Tuesday 21 May 2024

Bagging Area Book Club

The first rule of Bagging Area Book Club is, uh, you can talk about it. It's an irregular series of music and literature crossovers starting today and heading into the next few weeks, maybe beyond. Last Monday night I attended Richard Norris in conversation with Dave Haslam at Blackwell's bookshop at Manchester University. Richard recently published his memoir, Strange Things Are Happening, an account of his life and musical journey written as he explained to us in the first person present, a technique that gives the entire book a real immediacy and presents every scene as happening in front of you (Richard says he learned this from Viv Albertine's autobiography Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys. He also notes that that book opened the door for many others to write their memoirs and autobiographies, the generation who grew up with punk and its aftermath, including himself). 

Dave opens proceedings by noting that him and Richard have a number of parallels in their pasts- both ran club nights called The Hangout, Richard in Liverpool and Dave in Manchester, both lost parents at a young age, there were one or two others as well but they escape me now. Both also came to music with at least half an eye on writing about it as well as participating as musicians/ DJs, Dave writing his fanzine Debris and Richard writing one titled Strange Things Are Happening- there's a literate side to both of them that informs everything they've done. Dave dives into the Q&A starting in the middle with The Grid on Top of The Pops firstly in 1993 with Crystal Clear and Mancunian door face Elton on vocals. 

Richard talks eloquently about their experiences on the show, later appearing four times to promote Swamp Thing, a song they wrote as a joke which ended up becoming a smash hit, one which took them all over the world playing to huge crowds, something they eventually became tired of especially when the record company stated to put the pressure on for a follow up. Dave and Richard then go backwards, to St Albans in the late 70s and the nascent punk scene Richard becomes a mover in and the older folk crowd in the town who not only tolerate a group of fifteen year olds but encourage them. Dave says Richard's evocation of the St Albans scene is endearing and inspiring, something that struck me when reading the book- people crating scenes in small towns, across generations, finding places to play and making music. Not long after Richard's band, The Innocent Vicars, make a 7" single and Richard's dad drives him to London where they sell the entire run of singles to Rough Trade and then turn up at Radio 1, ask to speak to John Peel, meet him on the doorstep of the BBC and give him a copy of the record which he plays the following night. From that point Richard is off on a lifelong journey in the music world. 

I won't give to much away- you should read the book if you haven't already. Richard Norris music runs through my record collection like the writing in a stick of rock- from the psych compilations on Bam Caruso to his adventures with Genesis P. Orridge and the acid house album they made in 1987despite not having heard any acid house records at that point- Jack The Tab- to his writing in the NME which switched me onto stuff and his records with Dave Ball as The Grid. In the mid- 90s he wrote and recorded several songs with Joe Strummer, songs which were instrumental in Joe getting a band back together again. Richard is asked from the audience how it ended with Joe- 'badly' is Richard's short explanation, the circles around former members of The Clash not always easy places to navigate. Yalla Yalla is one of the results of that partnership, for my money one of Joe's greatest solo songs. After that episode Richard spirals on making music with Erol Alkan as Beyond The Wizard's Sleeve, makes psychedelic acid house as The Time And Space Machine, forms The Long Now and The Order Of The 12 releasing albums both both and then from c2019 and into lockdown and beyond, his long running series of Music For Healing/ deep listening and ambient pieces, a project still arriving on a monthly basis at Bandcamp- Richard says that he sees Bandcamp as a new Rough Trade, the conduit between artist and listener.

Richard reads from his book for us, the chapter on meeting Strummer, the arrival of Joe and his entourage at Peter Gabriel's Real World studio and the ensuing fun and madness which followed. As he reads he causally flings each completed page aside, a piece of stage craft he points out in a tongue in cheek way he learned from someone else doing a reading. 

Richard's book is full of other stories- the time he spent with Sky Saxon, his adventures in New York at the NME's expense in 1986 and his encounters with ecstasy, making a record in Amsterdam with Timothy Leary, a road trip to Mexico in Joe Strummer's Cadillac with Shaun Ryder and Bez, and more, a life well lived with music at the centre of it. At the Q&A Richard does pause at one point to question what it's all about, what the meaning of it all is. He recounts a trip fairly recently to Spain, hiking with Penny Rimbaud of Crass. Penny, Richard says, is a wise man, someone who surely knows what the meaning of life is. He asked him and was told sagely, 'to serve'. 

Dave Haslam is a great host, asking the right questions, clearly interested and alert and who has also lived a life with music at the middle of it. Dave has just finished writing and publishing a series of mini- books through Manchester publishers Confingo. These are short, essay length books on very niche topics, each book small enough to fit in your pocket and short enough to read in one sitting. He had a list of topics to cover and felt a series of small books was the best way to do it, not for making a pot of money but for the joy of the writing them and then publishing them. The series tackles a variety of topics starting with Dave's decision to sell his entire record collection (something Richard has done in recent years too), then exploring specific periods of people's lives: Keith Haring and 80s New York; the semi- mythical months Courtney Love spent in Liverpool in 1982; Sylvia Plath's sojourn in Paris; the Angry Brigade cell that existed in Moss Side in  the late 60s; the life and times of Cresser, Manc face, and Stone Roses dancer; Picasso's time in early 20th century Paris; and the night Grace Jones almost recorded Houses In Motion with A Certain Ratio and Martin Hannett at Strawberry Studios in Stockport in 1980. All of these are tales worth telling and tales well told (ACR will almost certainly appear at this blog again later this week). You can get all eight here or buy them individually here.  

Back to Norro, as Joe Strummer christened him- in 2016 Beyond the Wizard's Sleeve released this song,a gloriously melancholic piece of electronic pop, drums that patter away like Spacemen 3's Big City, synths like mid- 80s New Order and Hannah Peel's wistful vocals. For the full effect, go to the 12" version. 


JC said...

Sounds like quite the night......

Reminds me of many years ago, when Tony Wilson came to Glasgow and did a bookshop event for '24 Hour Party People'. One of the most entertaining and genuinely funny evenings I've ever seen.

Looking forward to more postings like thes.

Echo and Rauschen said...

Sounds like a good evening, Adam. and increases anticipation for the book. I picked up a signed copy via Bandcamp following khayem‘s post about the book. upcoming summer reading. thx, Alex

blureu said...

Can't wait for my copy to arrive.