Sunday, 24 August 2008

New Site

Caught by the River can now by found here:

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

This, is Soul...

So I am sitting outside the Italia, minding my own one afternoon , checking the shoes, checking the shirts, when a text arrives on my phone from Signor Chuvalli.
I have known Signor Chuvalli since Jesus was breaking bread for the disciples and if there is one thing this boy knows about it is music. He has put me onto more good stuff than Maradona has scored goals. So when he writes that I have to hear the new Erykah Badu and Al Green albums, I’m down the shop, swift as a greyhound.
Now this girl Badu I remember from about a million years ago when that Nu Soul thing came up. In fact I heard that tune of hers On and On the other day and I got to say it was mighty groovy. But this album, Amerika, Jesus, this is something else. I mean I’m reading all these reviews lately about this guy being innovative and that band breaking new musical ground but believe me they ain’t close to what this girl is doing with this album.
All the time it is playing it’s like the ghosts of the past are drifting in front of my very eyes, like Sly and The Tower of Power and George Clinton and Eddie Kendricks and Bootsy and Stevie and solo Curtis, all that great heavy '70s soul gear, but the great thing is that Erykah is right in there herself at the centre of it all directing the musical traffic. This ain’t pastiche; this is the past put through the future. This music is captivating and hypnotic and honest (she even sings about getting old and her ass getting bigger, that’s how straight this lady is with you) and its hip and its hip hop and its r’n’b and its beautiful and funky as hell. Its sloppy and carefree, and its about Amerika but it ain’t, and there’s even tracks on there which came about in jam sessions and she hasn’t had time to finish the lyrics but what the hell put it on there anyway, and that there is the spirit of this great album rolled up in one.
Funny, ain’t it? Everyone is looking towards this one and or that one for the real deal and suddenly it shows up from a source you had forgotten all about. Tell you what. Buy a copy. If you don’t like it, I will give you your de niro back. I’m serious That’s how good this album is. The fact that I will be abroad and uncontactable all summer will in no way affect this agreement………

I now put on the Al Green album. My sincere apologies. I don’t put on the Al Green album, I put on the Reverend Al Green album because this man is reverent and to be revered because that stuff he did in the 70s, that cool amazing Memphis sound he and Willie Mitchell came up with, those songs which break your heart the second he opens his voice, well that sound is one of the all time great sounds in music - up there with anything you care to mention.
Then Al played around a lot, got burnt, literally, found God, went off and became a Minster, started making Gospel albums, and a lot of good stuff in there as well.
But that period 1970 – 1977, the man was faultless. Now he has gone back and found the same groove, the same sound. And it’s amazing. You could put at least five of the songs on this album on one of his ‘70s LP’s and you wouldn’t spot the join.
He’s got it all back, the coo-ing backing singers, (both male and female,) the restrained bass and drums which sound like God tapping his fingers on your window sill, the quick organ licks, the funky bass lines, but above all he is singing like he did when he started out, his voice is fresh and clean and finding all kinds of little peaks and troughs, it’s soothing, sexy and salacious, swift, sullen and superb, and that’s because the songs here are quality, demanding and receiving the best out of him. There’s even one song where he takes out that beautiful descending guitar figure he used to love so much and he dusts it off and he starts singing around it and the hairs on your neck stand and applaud. .
Okay, the middle of the album sags, got to say that. They don’t keep up the pace but round about eighth or ninth track they wake up and get the whole thing back on course. When the album ends my main thought on the matter is this - God bless Al Green, I mean it, God bless him. You too, when you hear this music.

Paolo Hewitt

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Back In The Briney You Go, My Beauty

Though it's July, the mayflies are still rising to the surface of the river in some places and the trout are rising for the mayflies. It's a lovely time of year to be strolling along the bank, with everything in flower and the swallows skimming the water. But the recent new moon meant that, down by the sea, the tides were big, bringing the bass in, and suddenly I couldn't think about the river any more.

I am sitting on a rock on the Dorset coast, scribbling this into my notebook while I wait for the tide to turn from the ebb. When it does, I shall pick up my rod and start casting. The sky is full of well-spaced white clouds, the sun is warm, the breeze is soft from the north-east and the sea calm. Not ideal conditions for bass, who prefer a bit of swirl and chop; but come high tide, an hour before sunset, I sense the potential for a bent rod.

I have always been enthusiastic about the sea. This year my urge to migrate to the coast began in early spring, though I didn't actually cast until the full moon in May, traditionally the time when the bass first move inshore in large numbers. I went in the evening to one of my favourite stretches of rocky coastline and walked under the cliffs for a mile or so, looking for any activity along the shoreline. Gulls swooping on a shoal of small fish, or mackerel on a splashy hunt often indicate the presence of bass, which will strike into the mackerel from below, or ambush the small fry from between sunken boulders.

I began fishing at the first likely looking place, close to a kelp-covered reef. But after a dozen unresponsive casts with my favourite bass lure, a flock of gulls began wheeling around a rocky outcrop, a few hundred yards to my left and I hurried towards the spot.

The whirl of excited seabirds spiralled up and away as I hopped suddenly onto a rock next to them, yet, though the water was clear and comparatively calm, the clouded evening light wasn't strong enough for me to see what had attracted them. There were a few little splashes between the incoming waves that I took to be panicking tiddlers, perhaps sand eels or whitebait, and I cast over them immediately. My lure was designed to look and behave like an edgy prey fish, skipping across the surface to attract any predator in the vicinity. I felt it was the most obvious method for that situation, but despite 20 minutes of long searching casts, nothing even swirled at me. I switched lures, snipping off the floating plug and retying with a heavy silver spoon that would flicker alluringly through the depths.

I cast five times straight out from the rocks, then once alongside them, letting the spoon sink almost to the bottom before beginning the retrieve. But I reeled in only a yard of line before I felt a resistance so solid that I was convinced I'd snagged a boulder. I gradually increased pressure and the rod jerked back a bit, then lurched forward as something realised it had been nabbed. The reel made a lovely screech as the fish dashed out to sea, but it turned after a short distance and rather disconcertingly headed straight back towards the rocks, getting between two half-submerged boulders and making me wince as I felt the line chaffing against them. I lowered the rod and worked the fish gently but steadily towards me.

I wondered initially whether it was a pollack, but the longer it tussled with me the more I recognised the tail-swipes of a bass. Then I saw the big spiky dorsal cutting through a wave and in a few moments I had piloted the fish along a channel in the rocks and brought it safely ashore - a lovely silver five-pounder, my first bass of the year.

Being the first, it went back into the briny after a photograph. Catch and release is, anyway, a common practice nowadays among responsible bass anglers. Bass, incredibly, are not yet a protected species. If we don't conserve them they'll go the way of the cod - and the dodo.

Chris Yates

from todays Telegraph

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Pleasures Of June

A Saturday afternoon on the river Cam with Robert Macfarlane and friends
Terry Reid 'Mayfly'
Al Green 'Lay It Down'
Richard Price 'Lush Life'
Jay Z's intro tape at Glastonbury
Neil Diamond at the O2 (perfect mix of quality and utter cheese)
Dennis Wilson 'Pacific Ocean Blue'
Robert Macfarlane 'The Wild Places'
Roger Deakin 'Waterlog'
Fullers Organic Honey Dew
Youngs Kew Brew
Mountain Of One "Brown Piano" Remake by Studio (off Studio Yearbook 2 on Information - proper balearic revival!)
Five Dials
Six Bottles
Iain Sinclair on the Olympics and the supposed regeneration of the East End
M83 "Saturday = Youth"
the new Beck single
the trailer for Hellboy 2

Caught By The Reaper

Nick Sanderson April 22, 1961 - June 8, 2008

We lost a mate recently. Below is a remembrance from John Williams, an old school friend of Nicks, followed by the trailer for a film on the FA Cup that Nick was making with Paul Kelly. It's Nick talking and it'll make you smile;

One Sunday during the long hot summer of 1977, when we were sixteen years old, Nick and I went to find Peter Gabriel’s house. We were in school together at the time, a boys’ boarding school in Bristol. We’d known each other for a couple of years then, since Nick arrived in the summer term of 1975. I’d already been there two terms and met no one who seemed to have any interest in the one thing that was keeping me sane: rock’n’roll. This new kid with the blonde hair in a weird fringe, though, he was well into it.

Actually calling what Nick was into back then ‘rock’n’roll’ might be a bit of a stretch. He loved Genesis, he told me. His curious haircut was the remnant of an experiment in which he’d aped Peter Gabriel’s reverse Mohican, cutting a vertical segment out of the centre of his fringe. I’d just recently started listening to Genesis, I said, I had a tape of their new double album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Nick was utterly stoked, as we didn’t say back then. And much of the next few months was spent sat in my so-called study – a room I shared with three other kids - listening to this mysterious recording over and over. Nick told me about the other stuff he liked, Van Der Graaf Generator and Gentle Giant. I lobbied for Mott The Hoople and John Cale. He told me he played the drums, and he had an older brother who’d been at our school but had run away and been expelled. Some time later Nick ran way too, I can’t remember the details now, did he last a couple of days or just till dinner? I’m pretty sure he ended up at his parents’ place, near Amersham

In general, though, Nick coped pretty well with school. He soon had a gang around him He had that quality then, that he continued to have through the time I knew him, which meant people always wanted to be around him. It was only partly that he was funny, which he certainly was, but it was more that he was himself in a way that few of us are. He didn’t care what people thought of him, and as a result people loved him. Nick was just a completely original person and that originality fed whoever was in his circle.

Strangely, considering that Nick was probably most sociable person I ever met, his ambition back then was to become a lighthouse keeper, inspired by a Van Der Graaf Generator track called a Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, or something like that. At fourteen he went to see the school careers master and asked him to find out how one went about entering such an occupation. The careers master was delighted by the challenge, surrounded as he was by the sons of chartered accountants who didn’t need anyone to tell them that they were going to be chartered accountants too, and soon got Nick an application form. Nick filled it in, sent it off, and was mortified to receive a reply telling him he had to be twenty-one before he could be considered. Which really only left one option, career wise.

At first the knowledge that Nick played the drums was a bit imaginary: he didn’t turn up at school with a kit. It was only when I went to stay with him in Amersham, during the holidays, that I realised how completely a part of Nick the drums were. Right away it was obvious, even at fourteen, that this wasn’t a passing teenage craze: this was what Nick did.

After the first year or so I didn’t see as much of Nick. We were still good friends but he had gathered a posse around him, people who took life a little less seriously than I did, people he could have a laugh with, develop in-jokes and routines and a satiric, surreal private world, all the things you’d see in Earl Brutus twenty years later. And then his brother Sim moved to Bristol with some friends and Nick started to hang out at their flat, playing music and getting into teenage stuff. Our musical tastes too started to drift apart. Punk came along and I embraced it wholeheartedly, tried to convert Nick, who was reluctant, seduced as he was for a while by the muso charms of jazz rock. It was only when I played him Marquee Moon that he started to weaken.

So that Sunday afternoon in the long hot punk rock summer of 77 was not exactly typical. Why did we go in search of PG, the former Genesis figurehead who’d just released his first solo album? Well I’ve never known boredom quite as intense as that we experienced on Sunday afternoons in a 1970s boarding school. So Nick came up with the plan. His enthusiasm for Genesis was still bordering on the obsessional and he’d discovered that Peter Gabriel was living outside Bath, somewhere near a place called Solsbury Hill (it’s possible, of course, that he simply listened to the song Solsbury Hill and took it from there). So why didn’t we go and find his house, he suggested? Well, why not indeed?

We took a train to Bath. Found a bus that took us out to the nearby village of Batheaston and walked towards Solsbury Hill. After a little while we saw a house on our left that looked promising. On the front door that was a note that said ‘Ant - Gone to play tennis back around 3 - Peter.’ Ah. We rang on the door just to make sure. No reply. Nick led the way round the side of the house to the garden. There was a lawn and there was a patio door that led into the living room of the house, and it was open. We walked in. And so for the first and last time in my life I found myself an uninvited guest in a stranger’s house.

The living room was full of records and tapes and music stuff. That was as far as I got. I surveyed his tape collection and was chuffed to see that he had Marquee Moon in his collection, but chickened out of going any further into the house. Nick was more adventurous, went off to explore. I suspect he took some small souvenir. I know he wrote down Gabriel’s phone number because the following week he phoned up and spoke to an unsurprisingly perturbed Mr. Gabriel. I’m not sure what Nick was hoping for - an invitation to join Gabriel’s new band maybe? But looking back I think the significance of the trip for both of us was to prove to ourselves that these people we admired really existed, lived in the same world as us, so that maybe one day we too could live in that world of people who made music and wrote books, and not in the world of the children of chartered accountants.

We both left school in the summer of 78, and for the next few years we saw each other intermittently. We shared a flat in London during the winter of 1981/2 .Then Nick joined Clock DVA and moved to Sheffield, his career as a professional musician properly under way. It took me a few more years to make any kind of mark as a writer but I got there in the end.

Our meetings became more and more sporadic. We saw a bit of each other round the turn of the nineties in when I lived in Kensal Rise: our lives had gone in different directions, if sometimes parallel ones. But while I didn’t see that much of Nick it was always a comfort and an inspiration to know that he was out there being himself, following his path. The last time I saw him he told me about his new band Earl Brutus, in which he was to come out from behind the drums. I regret very much that I never saw them play. On one level this was because I moved back to my hometown of Cardiff soon after, but really I was happy just to know they existed. Likewise I doubt very much that Nick read any of my books but I remember him coming to my first book launch and I could see how happy he was that I too was on this path of - I can’t think of a way of putting this that isn’t clich├ęd or sentimental, so here goes – following our dreams. What I’m trying to say is that knowing Nick was out there made me feel better, feel stronger.

And now I have a son who’s sixteen, the age Nick and I were on our housebreaking adventure, and he plays the guitar like Nick used to play the drums, like it’s an extension of him. And I wonder if he’s going to follow the same path, the path of most resistance. And I both hope and fear that he will. And I wish very much that he could have met Nick. Now he never will, but I do believe that Nick’s spirit will still be out there, and may it guide his footsteps, and may we all of us strive to take some part of the joy Nick so naturally took in this precious life of ours.

John Williams

Mojo obituary

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Normal Service Will Be Resumed

Apologies for the irregularity of the posts over the last ten days or so. We have been working away on going over to a website 'proper' - the plan was to have been up on the 16th - but it's proving to be a bigger job than we thought. Now Glastonbury is upon us and not much is gonna happen before mid next week. So, for those of you who appreciate these things, here's a picture of Jakub and his cracking start to the new season. A beautiful female Tench weighing in at 8.8, caught many hours in to a very long session at Osterley Park;

(Wendy took the photo)

Monday, 23 June 2008

Wild China

One of Caught By The River's favourite writers (and an all round top bloke to boot) is on the BBC tonight and the following three Monday nights. Robert Macfarlane's exploration of China can be heard on Radio 3 tonight at 11pm - will be on listen again tomorrow if yr out and about though... essential listening!

"In Wild China nature and travel writer Robert Macfarlane takes four journeys in Beijing and beyond to find what remains of wild China as the country industrialises at an astonishing pace.

His travels see him take a dip with the ice swimmers of Lake Houhai and explore an un-restored section of the Great Wall where nature is doing what the Mongols never did, by colonising the great man-made fence.

Robert also undertakes a mountain pilgrimage to one of the most dazzling wild places in China – the high peak of Minya Konka

Click here to hear...

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Andrews of Arcadia

ladies and gentlemen

the hunting horn has been sounded on the heath and the mist has
cleared onto another season of coarse fishing. to celebrate this
glorious occasion i have a small number of john richardson 'specials'
- floats to the uninitiated - remaining and for sale on the stall as
well as the usual array of rods, reels and other oddities. from
baitdroppers to blue duns, from centrepins to silk lines you know
where to go when its a thursday. alas, we are still waiting for the
opening of square pie but in the meantime you can splash out on a st
john bacon sarnie - possibly the greatest bacon sandwich of its time.

i will only excuse those of you going to the riverbank and in the
meantime may a fat chub fill your net.

john andrews

andrews of arcadia
vintage fishing tackle for the soul
spitalfields antiques market
commercial street
london E1
(opposite the ten bells public house)
thursdays 7am - 3pm
07980 274 383

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Country Got Soul

Our good friends at the record label '1965'(a fine vintage) continue doing what it is they do best - releasing cool records, flicking the finger, smiling for God's sake - by releasing a new record by Larry John Wilson. His first in many years. It's great too. Really good.

Here are the liner notes and below that there's a link to a website that's showing a film relating to the making of the record. Worth a look.

In June of 2007, Jeb Loy Nichols, Jake Housh, and I met up with Larry Jon Wilson in Perdido Key, Florida to do some recording. Larry Jon knew the area well and when he spoke of it in the months prior to the session, it sounded fantastic and lush. The Spanish named the land, meaning “lost key”, when it was founded in the late 1600s. I’m not sure when Larry Jon found himself there for the first time, but he knows the area like a native. And though the days I spent there may not be “lost”, they’re certainly fuzzy.

Throughout the next seven days, Larry Jon recorded about twenty songs. A man-out-of-time, he told stories about hitch-hiking, hustling pool, being a father, gambling, drinking, women, and friendships, focusing mostly on those he shared with Townes Van Zandt and Mickey Newbury. As Jeb and I poked Larry Jon for stories, Jake was quick enough to roll tape when the narratives turned to songs. Larry Jon never gave us any indication when things were about to begin. He would pick up his guitar, crack open a corner of memory, and play without concern that it was being captured. Often times, at the song’s end, he seemed surprised by himself, like he was channeling some feral piece of his past. Many of these songs he wrote, and the ones he didn’t have now been officially “Wilson-ized”. Only the song “Shoulders” was performed twice; the rest of the album is all first and only takes.

This may not be the best way to make records. There was no order, no schedule, no plan. But we pushed a microphone in front of a man with a guitar and now we have a record. Nobody told Larry Jon what songs to sing (not that it would have mattered if we did). Nothing here is showbiz; there’s no “production”, no glitter. And so, these songs sound like music, like Life with a big “L”, like Larry Jon Wilson and no one else.

Jerry DeCicca

go watch the film



Realise you'll probably be off fishing, but thought you might like to share this. It's a new blog dedicated to old brazilian music videos, and there's some great stuff on there already.

Bosse Filmes

Best wishes

Kevin Pearce

Letter From Arcadia

  • click here for the latest LETTER FROM ARCADIA, a regular correspondence between angling's two most original contemporary writers...

  • Monday, 16 June 2008

    Gone Fishing

    Wishing you all a glorious 16th.

    Back soon......

    Sunday, 15 June 2008

    on my behalf, your brothers in the resistance wish you all a memorable june 16th.
    tight lips

    Saturday, 14 June 2008

    Thursday, 12 June 2008

    Alice Oswald; Dart.

    David Wheatley finds Alice Oswald's river flows smoothly between Hughesian myth and Larkinesque realism, in Dart.

    Like Langston Hughes, Alice Oswald has known rivers. After three years recording conversations with people who live and work on the Dart in Devon, she has produced a remarkable homage to it and them, called simply Dart. The poems of Oswald's 1996 debut The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile were full of well-trimmed lyric borders, reflecting her love of gardening, but no proof against the invading power of water, disrupting our human arrangements and losing itself in itself: "the very integer / and shape of water disappears in water".

    From its burbling beginnings in Cranmere Pool all the way to the sea, Dart is an attempt to give an outline to that disappearing shape, exploring the balance between the river as wild force of nature and biddable resource. But rivers can be many things simultaneously. Heraclitus thought we couldn't step in the same river twice; Wordsworth saw in the river Duddon not flux but continuity, "what was, and is, and will abide". Most of the time, Eliot writes in "The Dry Salvages", the river is "unhonoured" and "unpropitiated", without ever ceasing to be the "strong brown god" of myth, "sullen, untamed and intractable".

    Dart opens with a scene of primal beginnings. An old man of the river lumbers into the poem like Edward Thomas's Lob, and Oswald's constantly shifting metrics take one of their sudden forward surges:

    What I love is one foot in front of another. South-south-west and down the contours. I go slipping between Black Ridge and White Horse Hill into a bowl of the moor where echoes can't get out












    and I find you in the reeds, a trickle coming out of a bark, a foal of a river

    Oswald prefaces Dart with a list of people she's spoken to about the river, but despite this and marginal notes telling us who says what, "all voices should be read as the river's mutterings". Among the local deities muttering with the river's tongue is the King of the Oakwoods, "who had to be sacrificed to a goddess", a pattern the river repeats on later victims like local bogeyman, Jan Coo, and an unfortunate canoeist. Dart is "old Devonian for oak", and Oswald underlines its sacred associations by mutating "Flamen Dialis", the priest of Zeus, into "Flumen Dialis", his river. The substratum of mythic violence is very Hughesian, and like the river of Ted Hughes's 1983 sequence, River, the Dart can "wash itself of all deaths", though after a drowning Oswald follows the dead man's last thoughts with a respectfully blank page ("silence").

    "The water is my only neighbourhood," Sean O'Brien wrote in Downriver, and there is scarcely a line of Dart that does not squelch with riverine ooze. Oswald's delight in the liquid textures of language show how much she has absorbed from the most onomatopoeic of all writers, Joyce. As Tom Paulin has reminded us in a recent essay, water was always central to Joyce's aesthetic. In Ulysses Stephen Dedalus is described as "distrusting aquacities of thought and language", while Mr Bloom is an inveterate "waterlover, drawer of water" and "watercarrier". Hydrophilia wins out in Anna Livia Plurabelle, which Joyce told Arthur Power was "an attempt to subordinate words to the rhythm of water", "the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters of" the Liffey. And not just the Liffey: he worked in Oswald's river too, when Anna Livia runs "like a lech to be off like a dart".

    Oswald finds a match for Mr Bloom's descriptive rhapsodies in her water abstractor, verifying his calibration records and monitoring for "colour and turbidity". People are forever sifting the Dart or trying to harness its power: tin-extractors, millers washing their wool and making dyes, dairy workers using the water to cool their milk, not to mention its ecosystem of "round streamlined creatures born into vanishing".

    Like Wisdom Hely's sandwich-board men in Ulysses, Dart gives the alphabet human form when a swimmer spells out what she is doing by visualising her body as an S, W and M. Also Joycean, and Hopkinsesque, is Oswald's delight in the water music of the Dart's "foundry for sounds", "jabber of pidgin-river", and the springy Devonian of words like "bivvering", "slammicking" and "shrammed".

    Not all the Dart is equally inviting for swimmers. Eliot doesn't go into detail about the colour of his "strong brown god", but Oswald properly includes a sewage worker, describing "a rush, a sploosh of sewage, twenty thousand cubic metres being pumped in", overlaying her "sloosh" with the "splash" of all that shit getting dumped in it. From the polluted present she returns to a time "when oak trees were men" and "water was still water", retelling the story of Brutus, grandson of Aeneas, setting sail from Troy for the Dart (a tale that also turns up in David Jones's The Anathemata, a book whose mythic method has much in common with Oswald's).

    The river's classical past survives in the names of boats ("Oceanides Atlanta Proserpina Minerva"), combining with the accounts of fishermen, boatbuilders and oyster gatherers to freight every passing tide with memory, "a whole millennium going by in the form of a wave". Joyce's Anna Livia is careworn and weary by the time she reaches the sea, and the Dart exacts its human toll too, with its old river pilots groaning about their arthritis but unrepentant ("tell me another job where you can see the whole sunrise every morning"). In the poem's last lines 20 seals accompany the Dart out into the sea, and Oswald faithfully records its final Protean transformation:

    With their grandmother mouths, with their dog-soft eyes, asking

    who's this moving in the dark? Me.

    This is me, anonymous, water's soliloquy,

    all names, all voices, Slip-Shape, this is Proteus,

    whoever that is, the shepherd of the seals,

    driving my many selves from cave to cave . . .

    This is a heartening book for all sorts of reasons. Oswald shows that poetry need not choose between Hughesian deep myth and Larkinesque social realism. Dart frequently combines the two, moving in the same sentence from religious invocation to marketing jabber ("may He pull you out at Littlehempston, at the pumphouse, which is my patch, the world's largest operational Sirofloc plant"). She shows, post-New Generation, that wry ironies and streetwise demotic do not exhaust the avaliable range of tonal and thematic possibilities. She offers, in a word, what too much contemporary poetry forbids itself: ambition.

    Oswald joins Ciaran Carson, Iain Sinclair, Hughes and ultimately Joyce himself as one of the great celebrants of the genius loci, the spirit of place, or what the Irish call dinnseanchas, lovingly elaborated topographical lore. According to Stephen Dedalus, Epictetus was "an old gentleman who said that the soul is very like a bucketful of water". Oswald has soul in riverfuls.

    · David Wheatley
    is co-editor of Metre magazine.

    This article originally ran in July 13, 2002

    Tuesday, 10 June 2008

    From Cabaret Voltaire to Curlews

    Chris Watson picks his favourite bird song;

    New Order’s Bernard Sumner once explained the inspiration behind his songs: “It’s all about birds isn’t it?” He wasn’t talking about the song thrush or semipalmated sandpiper. It’s difficult to imagine the inspirational but hugely lazy Manc picking up some binoculars and trekking through the woods. But some pop songs really do deal with the feathered mass.
    Edwyn Collins has hymned both the blackcap and black-headed gull in his songs. Bert Jansch named an album Avocet - after the elegant pied wading bird of the RSPB logo. Noble, the guitarist with British Sea Power, gave the name The Great Skua to his soaring instrumental on the band’s recent album Do You Like Rock Music? (The great skua, of course, is a ferocious seabird also known as the bonxie and robber bird). But no musician has moved from rock to birdlife quite as impressively Chris Watson. He was once part of the Sheffield avant-dance group Cabaret Voltaire, but Watson has long since moved on to become one of the world’s foremost wildlife sound recordists. In an excellent free birdwatching supplement from The Guardian and Observer, Watson has selected his 10 favourite bird songs:

    click here

    When Watson talks about the spectral in-flight ‘drumming’ of the snipe and the gorgeous song of the ubiquitous blackbird, it’s perhaps clear this is a man who has surveyed all rock can offer - and found it wanting beside the wonder of the avian world. Anyone who has witnessed the courtship dance of the Slavonian grebe will know that here is display, drama and vocalisation to shame anything you get in the concert hall. With its fierce red eye and outrageous mustard-yellow tufts, the Slav grebe could’ve been the template for Bowie’s Aladdin Sane period. But the grebe didn’t have to daub on red slap or resort to hair dye - and, as far we know, Bowie hasn’t performed while walking on water (or, indeed, learnt to fly).
    Read Chris Watson on the melancholy minimalism of the golden plover or the swallow’s “freeform jazz” and it will perhaps become further clear why musicians from Billy Fury to Elbow’s Guy Garvey have been smitten by the music that fills our skies - all around us, unamplified, astonishing.

    Roy Wilkinson

    Monday, 9 June 2008

    Island Life

    Ended up last week on Lundy. 12 miles out into the Bristol Channel, nearer to north Devon than my native South Wales coast, Lundy is a 3 and a half mile long granite lump and was always somewhere that my Dad went on booze cruises back in the day with my Uncle Dennis and assorted pisshead mates. This was back when much of Wales was still dry on a Sunday. The pub on the island, the Marisco Tavern, adhered to no such rules. The only real problem was that for 7 hours of sailing time to get there you got just 2 hours of shore leave. Weirdly, last week when we went, the daytripping twitchers on the boat didn't seem to have the same desperate rush to get up the hill and into the tavern as we did. Their loss. This scan is from the island magazine from back in the 70s. It sums the place up - very England In Particular, very The Wild Places, very very beautiful.

    Lundy - hell of a way to go for a pint. (RT)

    Seven Days and Counting..

    Andrews of Arcadia

    Friday, 6 June 2008

    Caught By The Reaper

    Jimmy McGriff, April 3, 1936 - May 24, 2008.

    The death of Jimy McGriff this week comes as particularly sad news to those of us who grew up in the 1960s believing that the sound of the Hammond organ was an indispensable element of life's soundtrack. McGriff's passing completes a clean sweep of the decade's big five, following the deaths of Richard "Groove" Holmes in 1991, Brother Jack McDuff in 2001,Big John Patton in 2002 and the most famous of them all,Jimmy Smith, in 2005. (Hard-core Hammond fans might add the names of Roosevelt "Baby Face" Willette, who died as long ago as 1971, and the most original of the lot, Larry Young, who departed in 1978.)
    McGriff was the one whose records implanted themselves most deeply in the hearts of soul and R&B fans, not least because you could dance to them. His early hits, notably "All About My Girl" and "I Got a Woman", were issued in the UK on the impeccably hip Sue label, which Guy Stevens -- the disc jockey at the hugely influential Scene club as well as Sue's visionary A&R man -- made a byword for good taste among mods in the early '60s.

    Another Sue release, recorded in 1963, was the double-sided "The Last Minute Pts 1 and 2", a deliriously funky piece of work on which McGriff plays both organ and piano. Forty five years later, its relentless chugging groove still makes it sound like the signature tune for the late-night radio show of your dreams.

    Richard Williams.

    Ten Days and Counting.....

    Avon Calling by John Richardson, The Two Terriers Press

    Thursday, 5 June 2008

    Eleven Days and Counting...

    Andrews of Arcadia, Antique Fishing Tackle & Books, Spitalfields Antique Market, London E1. Thursdays 7.30 - 3pm

    Wednesday, 4 June 2008

    Twelve Days and Counting....

    dear jeff

    the 16th june. so much has been written about it. below are sheringham's words on the matter and a few other snapshots from arcadia including a john richardson highgate ponds tench float to be used on the very morning.


    Tuesday, 3 June 2008

    Letters From Arcadia

  • click here for the latest LETTER FROM ARCADIA, a regular correspondence between angling's two most original contemporary writers...
  • Caught By The Reaper

    I've got a story I really want to tell,
    About Bo Diddley at the O-K Corral,
    Now, Bo Diddley didn't stand no mess,
    He wore a gun on his hip and a rose on his chest,

    Bo Diddley, December 30, 1928 - June 2, 2008

    Saturday, 31 May 2008

    Notes From Walnut Tree Farm

    "For the last six years of his life, Roger Deakin kept notebooks in which he wrote his daily thoughts, impressions, feelings and observations. Discursive, personal and often impassioned, they reveal the way he saw the world. This book collects the best of these writings, capturing Roger's restless curiosity about the natural and human worlds."

    Amazing what you find when you're surfing the net, putting all those things you're meant to be doing off for another hour or two. Due to be published in October this year, "Notes From Walnut Tree Farm" is a posthumous collection of previously unpublished writings from the patron saint of Caught By The River, Roger Deakin.

    We're already planning the next skive off work to read it... (RT)

    Friday, 30 May 2008

    Pleasures Of...


    The Shield season 6 on DVD
    the Santogold LP
    Paul Weller "22 Dreams"
    John Head "Crocodiles"
    Big Tench
    Nuisance Carp
    George Plember
    350 Miles (An Essex Journey)
    Electribe 101 "Talking With Myself" (Knuckles mix)
    Cherry Ghost getting an Ivor
    Bill Drummond and Chris Watson saying yes
    Rocket Science
    any song by The Honeys
    "Eels with Strings Live At Town Hall"
    Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 4
    Seth Morgan 'Homeboy'
    Robert Plant & Alison Krauss at Wembley Arena
    David Kynaston "A World To Build (Austerity Britain 1945 - 48)"
    Otter Bright on handpump at The Dog & Duck
    opening night at Quo Vadis
    Youth Group "Two Sides"
    George Orwell "Shooting An Elephant" and other essays
    Porno For Pyros "Pets"

    Thursday, 29 May 2008

    The Pleasures Of......May

    By Robert Macfarlane;

    "Well now, what have been the multiple pleasures of May? May for me is the month of outdoor swimming: the first time in each year when it's warm enough to swim rather than just to plunge in, screech, and haul out. The month when the lidos open in Cambridge (on Jesus Green and in Emmanuel College). So I spent a weekend in Norfolk, swimming salt (on Holkham Beach, with a wintry bite still to the water, and my two-year-old son hanging round my neck like a sea-monkey) and swimming fresh (a pool in the River Stiffkey under an old hump-backed bridge, just deep enough that I could swim breaststroke and not brush the bottom, and the current just strong enough that I could swim against it and stay in exactly the same place. When I found it, the pool was guarded by a swan, who only ceded it to me, with a hiss, after I asked him six times if he'd mind me swimming
    I've also planned a 2-mile river swim from Grantchester to Cambridge, down the River Cam, for a couple of weeks' time. There'll be swimmers from all over the country, and other people manning the support craft (aka punts and kayaks filled with warm clothes and whisky-filled hipflasks). We'll be swimming through the stretch that Virginia Woolf said smelt of 'mint and mud'. Hoping for a hot day, and that the pike of The Cam don't mistake me for a bream.

    And I've read Wild Swim, by Kate Rew and Dominick Tyler, which is kind of a gazetteer to some of the best outdoor swims in Britain, but also a passport of a kind into the magical world of wild swimming. I'm biased, I guess, because I wrote the introduction to the book. But then I wrote the introduction because I really liked the book.

    Finally, terrestrially, I had an Andy-Goldsworthy-inspired reverie in which I spent an hour or two trying to work out if it would be possible to organise a thirty of my students to pick five or six thousand of the tens of thousands of daisies that have flowered on a vast lawn near my office, and then line all the blossoms up into a sine-wavey curve that would run the length of the lawn. That's how hard academics have to work at this time of year."

    Robert Macfarlane has a good attitude. He is a true adventurer and a great writer. We highly reccomend his books, "Mountains
    Of The Mind
    " and "The Wild Places" (out now in hardback, paperback in July) and thank him massively for this contribution.

    Wednesday, 28 May 2008

    Lost Lake Found


    Heaven knows where to start about the weekend I've just had, but I suppose the start's a pretty good place.

    It was the place I first learnt to fish back in the late 70's, a hidden little pond, formerly a victorian glass dump in the middle of the marsh sandwiched between the Linconshire coast and the Wolds a few miles inland, just off a B road in the middle of nowhere.

    My memories of the place are still some of my fondest; keep nets full of roach, perch and the occasional decent bream, fishing sound-tracked by Eric Riddell's steam fairground organ (Eric, a friend of my old mans, ran a steam museum a few hundred yards up the road), the chorus of wood pigeons, coots & moorhens and the utter wildness of the place. With hindsight I was spoilt. I spent most summer weekends at this place between 79-83 yet, even on the most balmy of days, we were rarely troubled by fellow anglers.

    I often fished with my older next door neighbour, David 'Didds' Lycett, a rather rotund lad with a penchant for oxford bags, Brutus shirts & polyveldt shoes yet, even at 13, he had an amazing knowledge and aptitude for catching fish. He was was with me when I caught my first pike from an old drain in Ingoldmells, he helped me land my first carp from a pit just outside Addlethorpe & he taught me how to tempt wary roach from tiny cuts using light pole tackle. We spent days at this place catching and learning to love all angling had to offer.

    In 1983 my folks moved about 30 miles inland and I lost touch with the place, instead my fishing came courtesy of the rivers & drains around Lincoln, yet as I drifted in and out of angling over the next 20 years I still often remembered this place I loved and learnt to fish. Often I would drift back recalling the catches, but mostly it would simply be a case of remembering the happy times I spent there with my old man and Didds.

    In the past twenty years I'd made the odd intentional detour on days out to the coast to look at the place. After I left in '83 I'd heard rumours it had been bought up by an angling club, but by the early 90's the former entrance was blocked by the planting of a line of conifers suggesting that whoever now owned the place had no intention of continuing to run it as a fishery.

    Yet, despite the dreaming and feeling that someday I needed to return, it never happened, that is, until this weekend.

    Circumstance & fate meant I was within 10 miles of the place, in a caravan with my folks and the kids, and so I decided, after all these years, to return.

    I really didn't know what to expect. Ordnance Survey confirmed the place was still there, but beyond that my expectations were muted. To be honest, I'd have been happy to simply see the pond again.

    And so I set out, full of nerves, both about what I'd find and simply getting in there. I made 4 passes in the car, worried about the couple of houses that sat on the opposite side of the road, before deciding to park a mile or so away the other end of bridleway.

    Armed only with a rod and Barbour pockets stuffed with a reel, a pack of hooks, a couple of floats & weights and a tin of corn I darted in under the conifers to be faced with a wall off twisted ivy, willow and bramble. It really was a case of crawling on hands & knees passing the odd familiar old tree before I came out and was able to view the pond which was sat, still as ever, sporting a huge floating raft of tree blossom.

    Ostensibly the place hadn't changed, yet having obviously being unmanaged for the past 20 years or so former swims and paths had been consumed by the gradual creep of willow, nettle & reeds. On first inspection the place, although the absolute picture of the 'lost lake', looked unfishable. Yet, the old path around the lake was still vaguely navigable and I found my way around to one corner, still shaded by a recognisible pair of incongruous Scots Pine trees, from which I was able to fish.

    A couple of handfuls of corn later and I was fishing. I've never felt such joy; nostaligia, without doubt, yet I was overjoyed to find the place still alive with fish after all these, neglected, years.

    Ater an hour or so of my grain of corn being plucked by a succession of tiddlers (I was cursing I hadn't come armed with a pint of maggots), the float slowly slid under in a manner indicating something a bit bigger. A strike and I knew it was somthing a bit more substantial. An obliging bream of around 2lbs was happy to be beached (I'd come light, without a landing net). A second came a few minutes later followed by a decent-ish roach.

    I'm glad I caught yet it really didn't matter. I'd returned to fish my memories and was simply happy to find the place still there, full of fish and even more untouched than I'd left it. Somehow I now feel complete; I'd be happy now never to return, although no doubt I surely will. Maybe next time I'll try and find an easier way in.


    Tuesday, 27 May 2008

    ACA Bulletin

    Two weeks into the ACA's 60th Anniversary Auction, the bids are now starting to roll in. Please take a moment to have a look at some of the wonderful lots and use the simple on-line form if you want to make a bid yourself. The more money we can raise the more we can do to fight those who harm our fishing. As in previous messages, we would be grateful if you let as many people as you can know about it -(auction)- even if they might bid higher than you!

    Legal News
    The insurers of a Powys farmer have agreed to pay compensation to two angling clubs for polluting a stretch of the River Camlad in June 2005. Despite a previous warning from the Environment Agency, slurry from Lynwood Farm near Churchstoke was released into the Caebitra Brook, itself an important spawning and nursery stream for trout, before making its way into the River Camlad. The pollution caused a fish kill of trout, grayling and bullheads, as well as wiping out invertebrate populations - a crucial source of food for the surviving fish. The civil case was brought against the farmer by the ACA on behalf of two angling clubs whose waters were affected, the Pheasant Tail Flyfishers and the Camlad Fly Fishers. According to the EA, it is likely that fish numbers in this once healthy river will take several years to recover. Despite this, the Agency failed to bring a criminal prosecution for the pollution.

    Progress has also been made on the River Derwent in Derbyshire, where a mine- tailings lagoon containing waste contaminated with heavy metals burst in January 2007. An EA fisheries scientist produced a report soon after the event suggesting that action was needed to minimise the damage caused and that there should be proper investigation and monitoring of the heavy metals in the sediment deposited in the river. Despite this, the EA has carried out very few of the recommendations of its own report. The limited and flawed sampling that has taken place has forced the ACA to instruct its own expert on behalf of the member clubs affected. Initial results demonstrate that the levels of heavy metals in inverabrate samples - particularly lead - are high. We are awaiting the trial remediation work, which is probably going to take place in June - almost 18 months after the pollution.

    Elsewhere, following pressure from the ACA and the Pickering Fishery Association, the EA has confirmed that funding has been secured to carry out a 12 month programme of continuous water quality monitoring to assess the impact of Costa and Willowdene fish farms and Pickering sewage treatment works on Costa Beck in North Yorkshire.

    Finally on the legal front, representatives from the ACA, WWF and RSPB met this week to discuss the potential for using legal tools to press for proper implementation of the Water Framework Directive. Please watch this space....

    Annual Report Misprint
    The latest Annual Report should have arrived with members this week. We would, however, like to point out an error on the 'Your Membership' section on page 51, which states that there is a proxy voting form enclosed regarding a proposed amendment to the rules of the ACA. This paragraph was printed in error: there will be no proposed amendment to the rules at the AGM and any such changes will be proposed in the autumn when more detailed information about angling unity will be available. Our apologies for any confusion this may have caused.

    Our work is only possible because of the support and generosity of our members. Thank you to all those who support us - please encourage all your friends to join up now!

    With best wishes from everyone at the ACA

    Monday, 26 May 2008

    Letters From Arcadia

  • click here for the latest LETTER FROM ARCADIA, a regular correspondence between angling's two most original contemporary writers...

  • Lush Life

    Found out this morning that one of my favorite writers, Richard Price, has a new novel just out in the States.

    Reasons I love Richard Price; his books, "The Wanderers" - '50's teenage street life in The Bronx as soundtracked by Dion DiMucci. Made into a great film by Philip Kaufman. Plus, "Clockers", 80's NJ projects and the crack life, set to a ghetto soundtrack. Awesome book and a pretty good film by Spike Lee. Writing for 'The Wire'; a couple of killer episodes in series' three & four.

    I trawled the web for reviews of the book and the word is good. This write up, below, is taken from the Rocky Mountain News website and is written by Clayton Moore;

    (pic by Sara Krulwich)

    Richard Price and the Lush Life;

    The more things change, the more they stay the same - even in the evolving heart of Manhattan.

    That's just one of the lessons to be learned in Lush Life, Richard Price's caustic fable of murder, injustice and culture clashes in the urban jungles of the Lower East Side.

    Like the misanthropes who populate his novels, including his newest, Price remains just below the surface world. Not only is he responsible for celebrated screenwriting from The Color of Money to HBO's The Wire, he's had a very respectable career as a novelist, fictionalizing his Bronx adolescence in The Wanderers and crafting the crack opera Clockers into a modern crime classic. More recent novels Freedomland and Samaritan found him waxing poetic on racial tensions in America, using New Jersey as his microcosm.

    I interviewed the author not long ago and found Price even more fascinated with his new backdrop, a place he likens to an overabundant garden. "I don't want to sound like the United Nations, but this place is a riot of people," he said. "It's as close to Byzantium as you could ask for."

    Here's the pitch on the new novel: During a drunken evening on the town, three lads are confronted by a pair of brazen but unsteady assailants. Eric Cash, 35, is a glossy representative of the new inhabitants of a very old neighborhood. He brays to the world that he's a multihyphenate artistic sort but has spent the past few years skimming the take as maitre d' at upscale restaurants.

    Fellow hipster Steve Boulware is so dead drunk that he has to be propped up between Cash and handsome young bartender Ike Marcus. When someone sticks a gun in his face, Ike goes off, telling his murderers, "Not tonight, my man."

    Bang, he's dead, and the offenders are gone before his last heartbeat.

    At least that's Eric's version of events, one which jaundiced homicide detective Matty Clark and his ambitious partner, Yolanda Bello, find to be less than clear-cut, especially as conflicting facts come spilling out. Cash swears he called 911, but his cell phone is a blank, not to mention he once owned a gun whose current whereabouts are unknown. A pair of "eyewits" claims there were no assailants and that the trio turned on each other.

    Not only is Eric not getting much sympathy from the cops, he and his ilk don't sway much sympathy from the ethnic pioneers - the entrenched populations of Chinese, blacks, Latinos and Orthodox Jews - around whom these new immigrants revolve like asteroids in a terminal orbit. Given enough momentum, there's bound to be a confrontation sooner or later, which comes as a surprise to guys like Eric.

    "Bunch of middle-aged, talentless artistes complaining about the very people who made them rich," scoffs Eric's boss, old-school restaurateur Harry Steele. "Sitting there saying they have a right to perfect peace and quiet in their own neighborhood . . . No. You don't. This is New York."

    And there's Price's real subject in all its dilapidated glory: an island of contradictions that still represents both wasteland and Promised Land to its denizens, depending on where they're standing at the time. The false resurrection of urban renewal, the bleak cells of the jail known as "The Tombs," the punk boutiques and overpriced party spaces are all painted accurately and populated with well-realized characters. Along the way, Price also captures the paradoxes that plague each character and, in doing so, makes them an integral part of his complicated landscape.

    Matty Clark's ferocious drive to find the answers in Ike's murder stand in stark contrast to his role as failed father to children he refers to as "the big one" and "the other one." Yolanda butters up Eric, trying to get him to spill his guts, and then turns viciously on him with murderous accusations.

    Against Eric's melodramatic version of events, the icy back story of gang shooters interlaced with Clark's brooding investigation seems almost mundane by comparison.

    All of this is unsentimental stuff, portrayed with unflinching bluntness and infused with Price's watermark: the blistering and deeply convincing dialogue that makes a reader believe he's eavesdropping on another reality.

    The funny thing is that everyone in the book - be it the new bohemians populating the city's cafes, the cops delving into a commonplace crime, the project orphans trying to scrape some dignity or the surviving victims of this accidental trespass - has his own act, complete with a mask firmly in place at all times.

    But the consequences of their inadvertent collisions are all too real. Just ask Eric, who ends up with nobody on his side, facing the music in ways he couldn't have imagined. "The people of this city are rubberneckers," he thinks, "and I'm the car crash."

    This is Price's urban realism stripped to its most basic, and his prose is at its leanest and meanest in years. While wryly satirizing the newly gentrified atmosphere of Lower Manhattan in a post 9-11 world, Price also pays tribute to its complicated history and capably fashions a very typical crime drama.

    This story might be the proverbial car crash, but just like a real one, good luck trying to avert your eyes.

    Clayton Moore. (check his blog, 'Bang')

    Saturday, 24 May 2008

    Alan Sillitoe

    from The Guardian

    words; John Crace, Photo; Eamonn McCabe

    There's a great story about Alan Sillitoe that's always done the rounds. He's hanging out in Mallorca in the late 50s, writing six or seven unpublished novels, when he asks fellow expat Robert Graves to do him a favour and read his latest effort. The distinguished writer duly obliges and offers Sillitoe five terse words of advice. Stick to what you know. Bish-bosh, Sillitoe mines his Nottingham roots and launches his career with Saturday Night, Sunday Morning - one of the defining books of the postwar era.

    Like many great stories, though, it's not quite true. "I had actually written a number of short stories based in Nottingham before Robert made that suggestion," Sillitoe laughs, "and when he did I just thought, 'Bugger this, what does he know? Why should I take any notice of him just because he's old and famous?' It was only two years later, when I was sitting under an olive tree working on The Adventures of Arthur Seaton [the book that would become Saturday Night, Sunday Morning] that I decided to pour in some of the incidents from the short stories to give the narrative more life."

    But what the hell? The first version is so much neater, so let's go with that. "If anyone should be able to edit their own life it's a writer," he says. "So I'm happy to rewrite my history. Anything to make the story more fun and interesting." It's the kind of advice that creative writing students at Ruskin College might well be hearing a great deal more of in the near future now that Sillitoe has been asked to give guest lectures at the Oxford college. And it will be strictly lecturing, he is quick to point out. "I don't have the time to go help knock students' unpublished novels into shape."

    Still driven

    Sillitoe was 80 in March, but his only concession to growing older has been to give up smoking, and even then he's reserving the right to take it up again. He kicks-starts each day with the 15-minute exercise regime of press ups and jumps he learned in the RAF more than 60 years ago - "Why on earth would I want to stop?" - and he still works with much the same intensity he always has. At an age when most people are winding down, he's still driven by the inner voice that tells him that a day not spent writing is a day wasted.

    These days he can remember the titles of other people's books rather better than his own. There again, with more than 50 novels, plays and collections of poetry to his name, it would be probably more surprising if he could. Even so, he's playing it safe at the moment and the manuscript of his current novel is lying, untitled, on the desk of his west London flat. He's not happy with it yet and has set himself a deadline of the end of the year to finish it; nor is he prepared to say too much about it beyond that it's set in Nottingham in the present day. But it's clearly in some sort of shape as it's type-written and he always writes the first few drafts by hand - not out of some sentimental attachment to the past but out of practical necessity. "I need to write at the same speed I can think," he says. "By hand, I write at 22 words per minute, while I type - [another hangover from his RAF training] at 90 words per minute. Which is far too quick."

    He's big on such details. Sillitoe trained as a wireless operator in the war and still practises taking Morse code every day. He's got a machine that generates code on his desk, and at night sometimes scans the airwaves: "There's far less traffic than there used to be, but you can find it if you look. There's a French station that broadcasts a poetry magazine in Morse. It starts slowly every Monday and speeds up towards the end of the week; I guess it's their way of keeping wireless operators in training in case the computer system collapses. For me, it's just a kind of therapy."

    Sillitoe readily admits that it's an unusual way to pass the time, but he's never been that bothered about what others might think. However, he does worry about what he has to pass on to Ruskin students. "I've really only got one story," he shrugs, "and that's mine; I'm not sure that I can tell anyone else how to write. About 20 years ago an American university asked me to fill out a 50-page questionnaire on the creative process. I didn't know what to say and was tempted to write any old crap and sign it Virginia Woolf. Then I thought, fuck it, that's just childish, so I didn't bother. I can't make those kind of generalisations."

    But he can make practical suggestions. His first is to read everything you can. The second is to read yet more. He spent five years in the early 50s devouring anything he could get his hands on, from Plato and Aristophanes up to Mailer and Salinger. "How else are you going to get a feeling for language?" he says. "And besides, you don't want to waste years writing War and Peace only to find it's already been written." For Sillitoe, these five years were a way of filling in the gaps in a formal education that had ended when he was 14; so there's a touching symmetry that towards the end of his career - even he would have to concede that - he's chosen Ruskin, a college dedicated to giving working-class adults a second bite at education, as the place to pass on what he's learned.

    Fear and chaos

    Sillitoe was born in Nottingham in 1928. His father worked in the local Raleigh bicycle factory. Money was tight, and his home life was both chaotic and frightening, with Sillitoe often left as a helpless spectator while his father beat up his mother. His only line of escape was to withdraw within himself.

    "I was sent to the local infants school, staffed by pale, etiolated female teachers whose boyfriends had all been slaughtered on the Somme," he recalls, "and each day one of them would read out loud to us from the King James Bible. I don't think anything much sank in, but I just loved listening to the sound of the words."

    In a characteristically un-PC turn of phrase, he adds that his mother then got him into a school for "subnormal" children. "She'd heard that the kids who went there got much better food than at other schools," he smiles, "and she wanted to make sure I got plenty to eat. Eventually, though, it dawned on everyone that I wasn't actually learning very much and I was moved to a junior boys school."

    Imagined worlds

    Here lessons were mainly spelling and tables tests. He loved it. "It was somehow quite beautiful," he says. "I loved the clarity of it, the knowing that something was either right or wrong. Getting things right meant that your brain was working."

    It also gave him one of the few measures of control in a childhood that was otherwise chaotic, and once he could read and spell he was free to explore the imagined worlds of Conan Doyle and Rider Haggard as well as start creating his own. He had his first run-in with the censors at 12. "My mother found a story I had written in a notebook about my cousins being caught thieving after they deserted from the army, and she ripped it up and told me I shouldn't be writing that kind of stuff." Was he pissed off about this? "Well, yes, but it was a comparatively gentle act of censorship in comparison with what was to follow with the film script and play of Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, where I had to make the abortion unsuccessful. The authorities hated the new generation of working-class realism, but they couldn't stop it."

    It was his grandmother who spotted that Sillitoe was bright, and at her suggestion he sat the 11-plus for Nottingham high school. And failed it. Twice. "Not many writers can claim that honour," he adds proudly. So instead of going to the grammar school, he went off to the local secondary knowing that his education was going to finish when he was 14. "It didn't feel like that big a deal," he shrugs. "It's what happened and I wasn't that disappointed. Besides, there was a war on and all I really wanted to do was join the RAF."

    Sense of regret

    There were a few years before he was old enough to do that, and when he was 14 he was taken on at the Raleigh factory and enjoyed the feeling of having money of his own. His father told him he was mad when he signed up with the Air Training Corps at 17 - "you could enlist with them a year earlier than with the RAF" - but all he wanted to do was become a navigator and drop bombs on Germany.

    The war ended before he got his chance, and he admits feeling ambivalent on hearing the fighting was over. "I'm fairly sure I'd have been one of those who were killed if it had continued. But I couldn't help feeling a sense of regret at having missed out on something important." What he did get was a two-year posting to Malaya, and it was on his return to England in 1948 that his life changed.

    He'd been planning to join the Canadian air force - "you could earn twice as much over there" - and he'd travelled up to Liverpool for his final medical ("they wanted to check you were in the same shape as when you signed up") before getting discharged from the RAF. Instead of getting a clean bill of health, he was told he had TB - "some bastard must have coughed over me" - and he was packed off to the RAF hospital in Wiltshire for nine months before being sent home on a pension of £5 per week.

    The money gave him the freedom to do exactly what he wanted. And, with the American poet, Ruth Fainlight, who would later become his wife, he upped sticks for the south of France. "I was just desperate to get away from England," he says. "Everything was so grey, so hard. There was still rationing in England and I can remember passing through Paris en route to Menton and being amazed by all the food on sale in the shops."

    On the move

    He didn't last long in France. But then he didn't last that long in any one particular place, as he and Fainlight were forever on the move, finding cheaper places to stay and meeting new friends. The only constant was reading and writing, and in 1959 Sillitoe finally hit gold with Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. He found it slightly odd to find himself lumped in with the Angry Young Men group of writers as he'd spent most of the previous nine years sunning himself abroad, but otherwise fame left him somewhat unfazed.

    "I was doing what I wanted," he insists, "and nothing was going to get in the way of that. A Hollywood studio offered me £50,000 to write a film script after the success of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and I thought about it for a bit and then told them to fuck off. I even moved to Tangiers when the film came out as I didn't want to get caught up in all the hype."

    Sillitoe has been writing and moving with the same restless energy ever since. And there's little sign of him letting up. So what final piece of advice would he offer wannabe writers? He thinks for a moment. "Make as much time for yourself as you can," he says eventually. "Go on the dole, pretend to go off sick from work, steal or borrow off of your parents; anything that will buy you time."

    "I'm not sure we can suggest that kind of thing in the Guardian," I reply.

    "OK," he demurs. "Then just tell them to use their imagination."

    It sounds as good a place to start as any. And to end.

    Curriculum vitae

    Age: 80

    Job: Writer, guest lecturer, Ruskin College

    Selected books: Saturday Night, Sunday Morning; The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner; A Man of His Time

    Likes: taking Morse code, reading

    Dislikes: present Labour government. 'I've voted Labour all my life but I couldn't bring myself to do so this time. They are incompetent and want too much control. I abstained instead.'

    Married with two children

    (CBTR thanks to Mathew Clayton)

    Friday, 23 May 2008

    Raising Sand Live

    For a while back there, I worried that I was alone last year in wishing that Robert Plant would knit off the Zeppelin reunion and get himself out on the road with Alison Krauss and T Bone Burnett. On the evidence of a gig I recently witnessed, I very much doubt I was. For two hours, a sold out, 12,000 capacity Wembley Arena was somehow made to feel like an intimate club while one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll stars on the planet was humbled by his fellow players to the point of adoring silence. Plant & Krauss’s “Raising Sand” album, released towards the end of last year, was one of those unexpected curveball records, the ones that take you entirely by stealth, the ones that come along once every few years and take up permanent residence on your stereo. A selection of covers produced by T Bone Burnett (described by Plant onstage as “a man who has produced so many beautiful records, overseen soundtracks and done lots of drugs”), “Raising Sand” is the kind of record that people who’ve been in the game for years (check Prince, Bowie, The Stones…) just don’t seem to make – and, really, why would they bother? It’s a record imbibed with bright eyed passion, a fire even. As a set of covers, mainly obscure, it mines the very coal face of Americana, of early rock ‘n’ roll, of the blues, of country. Really, you can't imagine the bank manager thinking that the Mothership is being dusted off for a global jaunt then hearing about this record and sparking up a fat Cuban in celebration.

    So, six months after the release and the record is taken on the road in the face of legions of angry Zeppelin fans, feeling like they’ve been robbed of their birthright by Plant’s decision to explore a very different set of waters. That's quite a lot of stoney faced rockers with a large chip on the shoulder about what they're denied. You can imagine the rehearsals for the gigs and the old Tony Soprano maxim coming to the band's minds “You’d better come heavy or don’t come at all.” The point at which the band lay waste to Zep’s “Black Dog”, with an overdriven, squalling fiddle taking the place of the guitar solo, you sense that the band have risen to the challenge of appeasing Plant’s core fanbase and then decided to see if they can fuck with their heads a little. The music is a perfect storm of noise – bluegrass, pure country, four-piece harmonies, fiddle solos that sound like Jimmy Page going crackers at the Grand Ole Opry. At points, it’s pure New Orleans voodoo up there – I mean, there are two dudes in the band who look like Dr John which can only add a pure menacing Gris Gris effect. The Black Lodge nightclub in Twin Peaks also springs to mind, the kind of band you might witness in a spooky, dusty off-the-beaten track kind of clubhouse. When playing the Townes Van Zanzt song “Nothing”, Plant describes the lyrics as “a profound piece of pain”, then proceeds to go at it with the full force vocal onslaught you’d normally see reserved for galloping hair metal music. This - you think - this is special.

    What’s really most surprising about the pairing is how much Plant’s voice is an eerily symbiotic foil to Krauss’s and vice versa. It’s also touching to see how respectful he is of her voice. A four song section where Krauss takes the lead produces the most jaw dropping moment, the “Oh Brother Where Are Thou” stand-out “Down To The River To Pray”, performed accapella with a 3 piece back up, including Plant, who keeps a safe minimal distance, huddled round one microphone with two band members, lost in the moment. This really couldn’t be any further from hammering out “Kashmir” at Knebworth if it tried. Add to that “The Battle Of Evermore” which manages to fuse a deep soul country soul to the late ‘60’s folk rock movement, with Krauss taking on Sandy Denny’s backing vocal and you’ve just witnessed something pretty magical.

    The rumours abound that with this tour out of the way, Zeppelin will get back on the road and show the current generation how it’s really done, that Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones are waiting in the wings with a dry towel and a pocket full of cheques for amounts that could eradicate world hunger. More encouraging for me though was the recent interview with Plant & Krauss where they talked about continuing this project, possibly with an album of songs written by them and the current band, exploring fully the sound they're creating. Call me old fashioned (I mean pre-Zeppelin, pre-rock 'n' roll old fashioned) but that really is something to get excited about…

    Robin Turner

    Wednesday, 21 May 2008

    Guilt Free Beer

    Been a while since we've posted a 'Caught By The Liver' so here goes...

    Much as I try to live my life as eco-consciously as possible, annoyingly there's always a concession to be made when it comes to beer, and trying to work out the air miles (beer miles?) that a bottle of Little Creatures Pale has clocked up on it's way over from Western Australia or an Anchor Steam has notched up whilst winging it's hoppy way from San Fran is enough to turn anyone to drink (well, that's my excuse anyway). So, tipping the balance back ever so slightly and helping the planet pint by pint is Adnam' new East Green beer.

    Housed in an innovative lightweight bottle, proudly Carbon Neutral (they offset any emissions made in the bottling process) & pesticide free, East Green is another great beer to add to the Southwold brewery's small but perfectly formed list, a 4.3% golden ale that made for a very fine Saturday afternoon 'take the edge off last night' drink. To paraphrase the great man Tom Sheehan, "very quaffable". If you happen to be in Southwold, Adnams deliver all their beer by horse and cart round the town, so the only emission there is likely to be a little equine methane. (RT)

    Currently available in Tesco or online from Adnams