This week’s book, record, and miscellaneous recommendations come from Jeff Barrett, Andrew Walsh, Robin Turner and Diva Harris of CBTR HQ, and longstanding contributor Ben Myers, whose new novel The Gallows Pole is our current Book of the Month.
– The 200+ free art books the Guggenheim Museum have just archived online. A dazzling array of subject matters are covered, from big artists and movements, right down to such niches as Marc Chagall and the Jewish Theatre and Gender Performance in Photography. I haven’t had the time to rifle through many of them yet, but rest assured, that’s how I’m intending to spend a large chunk of my weekend.
– Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – the now 94-year-old Ethiopian ‘Honky Tonk Nun’. I stumbled upon her story completely by accident and it blew my mind. Quick version: a talented pianist and composer, she hung out with/performed for Haile Selassie in the 1930s, then abandoned music and spent 10 years living barefoot on a holy mountain, then rose to international fame in the 1990s when her music was released in the Ethiopiques record series. The long version of events is even better. Kate Molleson’s Radio 4 interview with Guèbrou brought me to the brink of joyful tears.
– Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feminist utopian novel Herland, which features fantastical machines, a superior breed of fancy cats, and a straightforward argument against the dairy industry. It’s difficult to believe that it was written in 1915.
– The Worst Date Ever by Jane Bussman, who, as a journalist, switched from covering Hollywood starlets to African genocide because she had a crush on a peace envoy. Brilliant. Here she is discussing it with friend of the river Patrick Barkham.
– BBC3 comedy This Country, available on the iPlayer .
– Andrew Weatherall’s monthly NTS show ‘Music’s Not For Everyone’. Every episode is an education. And what a teacher.
– Nick Hakim – ‘Roller Skates’. “What’s rocking your world?” I asked my mate Deek the other day. Some new Nick Hakim record he said. He didn’t give me a title so I went looking online. Not sure if this is the one he meant but I’m going with it anyway. It’s properly gorgeous – Shuggie Otis style Technicolor lo-fi psychedelic soul music. Just need some sunshine to go with it now, please.
– Temple of Hackney. Of course there’s a bloody vegan chicken shop in Hackney. Of course there’s always queues of tattooed hipsters, plant-loving metal heads and people with mad pierced faces outside. And of course it looks like the kind of dump you’re attracted to after midnight like a moth to a light bulb. It might be all of those things, yet here I am, queuing up, part of East London’s image problem (I’m a big fan of local heavy metal record shop Crypt of the Wizard too). Although I’m hardly full time righteous when it comes to food, I’m down with the Temple heads. Cased in proper crunchy batter, the seitan (news to me too) tastes like chook. Dosed up with hot sauce and mayo, it more than satisfies that craving for truly rank chicken shop food that I get once in a blue moon. That said, that craving usually kicks in after 15 pints and a night bus ride home. Here’s hoping the Temple extends its hours.
– Mark James. Might seem a little weird giving huge props to a mate but I’m going to do it anyway. Mark is a brilliant artist and designer based in Cardiff who makes beautiful, often provocative statement pieces. Whether it’s a gloriously DayGlo anti-fascism poster inspired by Can’s Vitamin C cover or a commemorative badge celebrating the anniversary of Nigel Farage’s near death in a light aircraft (May 6th, if you forgot to put the bunting out), Mark’s work brilliantly pushes numerous buttons simulteaneously. I love his work, which was just this week described by a spokesman from UKIP as being perfectly representative of “the dribbling classes.” The guy would be wise to consult one of Mark’s earlier works “Sorry, it’s not for you.”
– Childhood – ‘Californian Light’ – The Style Council through a Prefab Sprout filter. Pop-soul perfection.
– The Gallows Pole – Deadwood in Calderdale.
– Post gig lock-in and up for a dance: Jake Xerxes Fussell asking Tom Friend if he had any Ned Doheny.
– Idles – ‘Brutalism’. From Bristol, Idles have created a debut album as cantankerous and thrilling a provincial punk racket as any I’ve heard in a long time. Here the pep and fire of bands like Crass, Fugazi, Jesus Lizard, Refused and McLusky is evident, but Idles’ jagged riffs and melodic violence belie a caustic and absurdist humour in the lyrics of Joe Talbot that sets them apart from their peers. Not for them the po-faced piety of the punk scene. “Mary Berry likes reggae” barks Talbot on thrilling single ‘Well Done’, apropos nowt. “Trevor Nelson likes football!” Even better is ‘Stendhal Syndrome’, which takes a witty sideswipe at the celebration of a tendency towards knuckle-headed idiocy amongst the masses when faced with real intellectual thought via fine art, and whose protagonist is the very personification of the dumbed-down age. “Did you see that selfie what Francis Bacon did?,” says one key line. “Don’t look nothing like him, what a fucking div.” They’re every bit as wild live too.
– The writing of David Brian Plummer. Writer, rat hunter and dog breeder David Brian Plummer became nationally renowned when, in a moment that surely inspired Steve Coogan during his creation of Alan Partridge, one of his ferrets latched onto presenter Richard Whiteley’s finger on a live TV broadcast. But between 1976 and 2000 Plummer also published an array of books about aspects of country life and old ways that have already slipped from view. Favourite subjects include lurchers, terriers, poaching, rural rogues, rabbitting and various aspects of hunting and the natural world. Unflinchingly red in tooth and claw, not all of Plummer’s work makes for easy reading – and I find myself disagreeing with a lot of his practices – but his books are well worth tracking down, and not only because fox hunting is inexplicably back on the political agenda once again. He was also a boxer, a gamekeeper and a school-teacher and, as he writes, once dieted on roadkill and diseased rabbits during a particularly fraught time of experimental subsistence living. A biography of him is begging to be written.
– Sleeping. We don’t sleep enough. Once or twice a year I have a tendency to have a mental and physical crash so powerful that it feels, in my own solipsistic way, as if the world may be ending. Anxiety, exhaustion and (perhaps) depression hit with a sledgehammer’s force, and it’s all I can do to pour cereal into a bowl in the morning. Colours lose their brightness, food tastes like mush and everything is pointless. It is like jetlag to the power of ten.
But I’ve grown to understand that this is often the effect of a cause – too much work, too many creative projects, a loss confidence – and that, in time, it passes. So now I go with it. Sleep is my main indulgence. Eight, nine or ten hours a night whenever possible, maybe a couple more in the afternoon. I reschedule work, put life on hold and obey my body. And I do the smallest things to get me through. I drag my feet a hundred yards to the park and listen to the morning birdsong. I eat lots of apples. I listen to pithy podcasts by Adam Buxton and Bob Mortimer. I give up coffee and switch to my own creation, The Yorkshire Espresso – black Yorkshire Tea stewed for ten minutes, with the bag left in. I read the London Review Of Books cover to cover. I spend a lot of time chatting to my dog. But mainly I sleep, and I wait for my battery to slowly recharge.