Life is Not a Dream

Martin Sherman, Gently Down the Stream (directed by Sean Mathias, Park Theatre, Finsbury Park)

GentlyForty years ago, Martin Sherman wrote the play Bent, which in its original version starred Ian McKellen (before he publically came out) and Tom Bell and was set in 1930s Berlin as Hitler was strengthening his power. McKellen’s then partner, Sean Mathias, directed a revival and a film version – although I have I suspect a false memory of seeing it on TV. Now Mathias has directed Sherman’s new play, which ranges across the last eighty years. It debuted last year with Harvey Fierstein in the lead, a production I wish I’d seen, directed by Mathias.

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Underground, Overground

Never Going Underground: The Fight for LGBT+ Rights (People’s History Museum, 25 February-3 September 2017)

I had a bit of a mooch around this, although I think that I spent an hour in here. It is an interesting example of history from below, curated by members of the Manchester LGBT+ community, which I suspect meant that things were selected that might otherwise have been missed. It also meant that there were overlaps between sections and probably gaps. There was probably more stuff from post 1968 than pre-1968, but it was good to see a copy of the Wolfenden Report. There were posters, badeges, photos, fanzines, newsletters, tickets and so on.

It was hard to navigate, although perhaps it made sense to have a section on protest and another on Queers of Color, even if Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners weren’t in the former section. There was a front page of a tabloid covering Sue Lawley’s experience of a protest on the Six O’Clock News but a photo of four of the five lesbians who abseiled into the House of Lords. The context for this, Clause 28, is explained elsewhere with a copy of Jennie Lives with Eric and Martin, the book that triggered Tory homophobia.

I suspect the last thing that you are likely to see is a timeline, from 1533 or thereabouts, to the present day, noting significant moments in LGBT+ history and law. The temptation is to go round again, slotting everything into its rightful place, restoring the master narrative. Perhaps this needs to be avoided? Perhaps you can’t separate issues of ethnicity and suffragism out from each other, although the exhibition does. I think I would have placed this first, or on the way in.

For the third time this year, I saw some Claude Cahun photographs — in two parts of the exhibition — although this was clearer than the Sidney Copper Gallery or the National Portrait Gallery in suggesting Marcel Moore took them. Like the other two exhibitions, they insisted on naming them by birth name or deadnaming them. Did this need thinking through? Is it different from an artist going by a name other than their birth one?


Meanwhile, upstairs in the main gallery you can see the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners banner. There’s also a group of photos covering the 1970s and 1980s music scene in Manchester, which overlapped with the queer communities. I overheard a group of young men discussing Queer as Folk and being nostalgic about its depiction of Manchester “even though I wasn’t there”.

I suddenly felt very old.

Hallucinating Freedom Calls

So, along with the Saturdays searching through Good Vibrations or Rob’s Record Mart for copies of albums by Tangerine Dream or Edgar Froese or Peter Baumann or Yes there was a band called Gong. I might have been recommended them by my big bother, I might have just stumbled across them.

I bought Camembert Electrique with an ambivalent attitude toward its gatefold interior — too hippy and yet pleasing. The music itself swang from noise and howls to heavyish guitars. I bought a couple more albums, Angel’s Egg and You, but I never quite followed it up or understood what the pot head pixies were up to. Now, their lead musician during that period, Daevid Allen, has died of cancer.

I don’t think I can do more justice to him right now than quote from Solar Flares

Allen had discovered works by writers of the Beat Generation in a bookshop in Melbourne and travelled to Paris in 1960, staying at the Beat Hotel in the Latin Quarter, frequented by poet Allen Ginsberg, and visiting jazz clubs. Travelling to Dover the next year, he wanted to be part of a band, and, inspired by the mythology of jazz musician Sun Ra, formed a trio with Wyatt, performing at William Burroughs’s happenings in London, before he helped found Soft Machine. Refused re-entry to Britain after a European tour, Allen settled with his partner, academic Gilli Smyth – who performed as Shakti Yoni – in Paris; in the lead up to the May 1968 student protests, they formed the band Gong. Their albums – including Camembert Electrique (1971) and the trilogy Flying Teapot (1973), Angel’s Egg (1973) and You (1974) – offered an expansive fusion of psychedelia, quasi-Eastern mysticism, concept albums and fantasy, with overt drug references. The band continued through many incarnations, changes of personnel and
different names over the next forty-plus years. The Radio Gnome trilogy drew upon Allen’s own mystical experiences, especially at Deià, Majorca; Zero the hero has a vision in the Charing Cross Road and goes through a process of seven initiations, enabling him to leave his body for the Planet Gong. Having gained an audience with the Octave Doctors (which appear in the form of a giant eye inside a cone inside an egg-shaped aura), he is charged with bringing the vision to the rest of the world via a music festival, but fails. Allen’s cosmology of pot-head pixies, flying saucers, flying teacups and flying teapots, the Planet Gong, the pirate radio-like Radio Gnome and the recurring characters such as Mista T. Being, Herbert Herbert Esq, Fred the Fish, Selene the Moon Goddess, the Good Witch Yoni and the Submarine Captain offer a kind of mind-expanding science fiction.

I’ve yet to follow up the Canterbury Scene or the Canterbury Sound (which arguably has barely more to do with the city than Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales), but I will one of the days. I suspect I missed Allen more than once at the Adelphi Club in Hull and at Lounge on the Farm, and now he’ll be missed forever.

Another one gone.

Upon this Key, Time Will Slide

I don’t recall how it was I first got into Tangerine Dream in the early 1980s. With Neil and Paul I shared an interest of making music although I was always on the production side. I don’t recall whether we got into Tangerine Dream because Neil had a keyboard or whether Neil got a keyboard because we were into Tangerine Dream. Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and Genesis were hanging around, perhaps drifting from older brothers’ bedrooms and there were two drama teachers who were to be our gurus to alt.culture. Jean-Michelle Jarre had released three albums – Oxygene was too abstract for me, Magnetic Fields felt too commercial and Equinox was just about right.

We were considered to be old enough to be allowed to go into town with friends or even on our own without adult supervision, and not only were there two or even three HMVs, but Selectadisc had two branches, probably three shops, and WH Smiths still sold vinyl. Brothers in Arms was yet to convince us that plastic boxes were the way forward. There may have been an Our Price and an (ho hum) Andy’s Records, and a market stall and – a miraculous discovery – Good Vibrations, a secondhand music shop raising money for Greenham Common protestors with a psychic cat who sat on the precise stack of LPs you wanted to look through next.

Of course, we must have heard some – it was regularly used in documentaries and we watched Horizon most weeks – or got into it somehow because one day I went into town and went from shop to shop checking prices. The cheapest two available were Phaedra and Rubycon and I suspect that I just thought that the ghostly blues of the sleeve were more pleasing than the drop of water on Rubycon.

It would be ten years or more before I was to read Walter Benjamin but already I got aura. A gatefold is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. The twelve inch of cardboard already gives a fantastic canvas, but a gatefold gives you a landscape. In time it gives you Roger Dean (and you end up with Avatar) and a whole new world. (Triple albums on the other hand I was in two minds about. Maybe they were a little … decadent? Pretentious?) The album held a magic that CDs never did – they were regressive in design terms, mere functional – and I cannot embrace to download, as a child of objects rather than services. I scoured the sleep for information – dates, personnel, who played what and noted a child’s face (a boy? a girl?) hidden in plain sight in the artwork.

And having got the bus home and the not then so Aged Ps being out at work, I could listen to Phaedra on the stereo in the living room. There is that moment of anticipation when you buy a record you know nothing about – if I could remember church services I might compare to the vicar raising the host or something – the moment of not knowing what sound is going to emerge or whether the stylus will not just scrape across that disk.

I can’t write about music and I can’t dance about architecture, but then you knew that. A seventeen minute thirty nine seconds instrumental using moogs, mellotrons, organs and sequencers – the flob flob flob running water/fan of the VCS3 – and somewhere in the mix guitars and bass and flute. It felt – at an age too young for drugs – like I’d been taken on a trip. Certainly I was already hooked.

Meanwhile Neil had gone out and bought Rubycon. He played it to me and I liked it but obviously it wasn’t quite as good as Phaedra, although it had that secret head hidden on it. We had a kind of unspoken agreement – home taping was killing music and so we would each buy a Tangerine Dream album and allow the other to record it. We went into town and – trust a thirty year memory – we bought Stratosfear and Tangram. (Might it have been Exit with its sell-out five minute tracks or Ricochet?) I can’t remember if Neil’s version of Tangram had an inner sleeve design or an insert, but some versions had them. We researched tangrams. We looked up the strange words from the track titles in dictionaries and thesauri. We went out and bought Force Majeure and Hyperborea and I liked both them rather more than Neil did who wasn’t sure if that had been a fiver well spent.

At some point Paul joined in – I think we let him buy Cyclone (oh poor pretentious children) and I think he bought White Eagle and I had this sense that was risking the pact because we weren’t keeping up in buying them all together (really? What was I thinking?). Over the next two years we collected all the Virgin studio albums and two live albums. The local library had – why I have no idea but someone must have ordered it – the OST for Sorcerer and one of us must have bought Thief and Le Parc. The double live album Poland came out and was maybe a little meh. The Virgin years were behind us. TD wise.

And we saw them live at Nottingham Concert Hall, sat in the front row and then we had everything they’d released (or we assumed) and the new stuff was too electronica my tastes. I saw them live again and again too much BPM. By then we were at uni and I listened to taped copies and the albums gathered dust – I bought some of Paul’s cast offs and filled in my gaps. Vinyl was over though.

How did we know what the gaps were? I suspect we scoured microfiche in the library and maybe there was a reference book. I’d borrowed Atem, Alpha Centauri and Zeit (“Shite”) from the library, but a boxset scored me copies along with Electronic meditation. Klaus Schulze had gone solo and I think I was the only one to really like him – although the fake strings of X (“Heinrich von Kleist”?) nearly swayed Neil’s classical loving Dad. Peter Baumann released two albums – poppy technoish – and so did Steve Joliffe – one about extra bodily experiences the other butterflies. Edgar Froese released solo work – but that was pretty well Tangerine Dream anyway, although I was less of a fan. I tried atonal music and Bach and dipped into Eloi, but never quite went the krautrock route. I collected Bo Hansson’s four albums and some of Gong and… the pretentious progrock of Yes.

Vinyl was dead. My brother bought me CD compilations and when I saw the other CDs in Fopp for a fiver I picked them up. I put some on my hard drive. My brother burnt me later albums onto CDs, I found bits on Spotify and YouTube but it lost the aura.

And now Edgar Froese is dead. Chris Franke aside, he was for me Tangerine Dream.

I’d only just played one of their CDs but don’t blame me.

It’s a whole chunk of my teen years – my eighties as uncanny echo of the then hated (by others) seventies, the decade that taste forgot. Did I write about them in Solar Flares? (I dance on the inside.) It was technology and culture and internationalism; it was Saturday mornings; it was friendships and altruism and rivalries; it was teenage bedrooms and joss sticks and a row of trainers by the front door; it was playing with keyboards and home made multitrack; it was a pile of TDK D90s. It was a way into baroque and to minimalism, although for me it wasn’t the diddly diddly diddly music our parents scorned but the minimalism that would change, the abstract that shifted into tune – the unexpected melody of a piano, the screech of electric guitar disguised. It was analogue fucking with digital. It was the thrill of the hunt, it was that pile of record sleeves. It felt real and it would last forever.

It didn’t. It probably wasn’t.