Amorphous Albion by Ben Graham

Last week, I read Ben Graham’s novel Amorphous Albion. The book is linked into the ongoing Discordian Revival in the UK, which Ben talked about in a recent interview with Historia Discordia. This revival links in with a lot of things I’ve loved for years including British comics, the KLF, and Ken Campbell. Ben has used this rich stew as the basis for an adventure story about the battle between order and chaos.

The book is written in a fast-paced pulpy style which reminded me of Michael Moorcock. But it’s also a richer text, with a dense network of associations. I picked up on a lot of them, but I had to pop online to check a few things, such as the Jimmy Cauty image of Stonehenge. I knew I’d love Amorphous Albion from the first page, which includes the line “We came back to earth with all the grace of a floundering car-park”. Ben is a poet, and uses this with fine effect, with some stunning use of language.

Amorphous Albion starts out on Brighton beach, with the Hove Space Program, who are devoted to the ‘exploration of inner and outer space’. Something bad has happened to the country; Ben describes how the i360 “lay on its side, half-submerged in the pebbles like a downed flying saucer”. The book heads out from Brighton on a tour of the country. It describes the fate of commuters at Three Bridges, what happened to Glastonbury, and Stonehenge overrun by military camps of Salisbury Plain. Lord Andrew Eldritch makes a cameo as the Raven King.

You don’t need to know about Robert Anton Wilson or the KLF to enjoy things like Ben’s theory on the 5th Beatle, which is sublime. But there are some lovely references, such as the way the 1992 KLF Annual becomes important to the plot; or the importance of Sheffield’s connection to Brighton. It’s also great to see mention of Wonderism.

Wonderism is the opposite of terrorism. There’s increasing terrorism in the world — to counter than, we have wonderism, which is random acts of joy…re-enchanting the world, making it seem strange and wonderful again through various artistic acts.

Sometimes I feel cynical about the Discordian Revival. There is a danger of the whole thing turning into counter-cultural cosplay – it can’t just be DJs and writers who are on the second or third act of their careers. Writers like John Higgs and Ben Graham shows there is more to it than reformed bands. There might actually be something gathering, a return of a counter-culture. “The loose collection of rebels, shirkers, outcasts and oddities generally known as the amorphous freak franchise… We’re not any kind of organised movement as such, but we know each other when we cross paths”

Ben has been working on some live performances of the book, including one at last year’s Superweird Happening. There was another one in Glasgow this weekend, and hopefully I’ll catch one in Brighton soon. (I missed the one last April to watch the Sisters of Mercy in London – very much the wrong decision).

While I’m cynical about some aspects of the Discordan revival, works like this make me authentically excited. While it does hark back to RAW and the KLF, there is enough new raw energy here to make it worth reading.

The Frankie Vah Revival

Frankie Vah, ranting poet, must be in his mid-fifties now. It’s a long time since the 1987 election, when Frankie toured the country as a support act for indie band The Midnight Special. Vah would be completely forgotten if he were not the subject of Luke Wright’s new play, Frankie Vah.

By looking at the problems within the Labour party of the 1980s, Luke has found an interesting way to approach contemporary issues. There’s an incredible amount of research into the time – Kinnock: The Movie, an election broadcast, is an essential point, as is the deputy leadership contest between Dennis Healey and Tony Benn. Somehow, this level of political geekery is passed off gently, introducing the background without obvious exposition. And it’s done well. The show I saw was followed by a Q&A with various politicians who’d attended gigs at the time, possible even ones Vah had performed at, and they accepted the reality of Luke’s play without question.

Obviously, I never heard Vah perform, but Luke’s performance does an incredible job of summoning an energy and outrage around Thatcherite politics. Lady Winter, Luke’s reconstruction of the sort of poem Vah might have done, is pitch-perfect and stirring.

For a play about the 80s, Frankie Vah made me think a lot about current politics. About idealism vs compromise. About what art can do to change the real world. The show is currently on at the Soho Theatre, but if you can’t make that, then the script has been published by Penned-in-the-Margins. It kept me company on a recent trip to Ireland.

Brighton Festival and Fringe 2018

It’s that time of year when Present James commits Future James to attending lots of events, even though Current James can’t stand the idea of going out two nights in a row. It’s great that the Fringe brings so much great entertainment, but it would be better to have it spread out across the year. There are too many things happening in a short time.

Of course, May’s highlight will be seeing the full version of Rosy’s show Passionate Machine. She performed a version of this in a previous fringe, and since then has been working with producers and dramaturges, meaning that the new version will knock people’s socks off. You can read about it in this interview with Rosy. I’m going to the Monday show.

  • Sh!t Theatre’s Letter to Windsor House is one of my favourite ever theatrical things, and I can’t wait to see DollyWould. I saw a version at Latitude last year and it was great: cloning, body farms and Dolly Parton!
  • The main festival is curated by David Shrigley, whose contributions include Life Model II, which replaces “the live model with David Shrigley’s caricatured sculpture of a nine-foot-tall woman“. So, not problematic at all. Kate Shields is one of the people appearing at a (free but ticketed) discussion panel at Fabrica on May 2nd, Between Artist and Model. Is this the art equivalent of an automated till?
  • Sunday May 6th, there’s a fun double bill at the Dukebox, with two spoken word shows on the same evening. Luke Wright is performing his Down the Pub show, a relaxed pub set. Earlier that same evening, Jonny Fluffypunk has a show at the same venue, How I Came To Be Where I Never Was.
  • On 8th of May, there’s Laud of the Rings. I’ve been thinking a lot about hiking and Tolkien as part of my Walkerpunk project so couldn’t resist this: “Josh Gardner saved Europe by reenacting Frodo’s journey to Mordor [travelling] from Oxford to Istanbul dressed as a hobbit
  • I’ve no idea what to expect from The O.S. Map Fan Club, but I don’t see how a show on that topic won’t be interesting.
  • Iain Sinclair is talking about his book the Last London on May 15th
  • On May 26th, David Bramwell is doing his The Cult of Water show.
  • There are a couple of good events at the Bosco Tent about theatrical genius Ken Campbell. His daughter Daisy is doing her show Pigspurt’s Child (“a romp through Ken’s legacy of lunacy, and a quest for Daisy to make peace with the gap he has left”) and there is a night dedicated to Ken Campbell too.
  • Rosy Carrick is an expert on weightlifting, so was definitely up for seeing Brawn.
  • And, of course, the surprise return of Dynamite Boogaloo!

The Return of DEAN

I was sent the above photograph by Chris, who took it in Barcelona. The lighting might not be perfect, but you can make out the graffiti: DEAN.

A long time ago in Brighton, there was a graffiti artist who wrote that same word in huge capital letters. I’ve written about DEAN in the past; despite the unsophisticated tag, the genius placements made DEAN my favourite graffiti artist.

I read a rumour that the artist had died fleeing from the police. But seeing this picture from Barcelona, I like the idea that DEAN moved to Spain, and has lived a life so wonderful that they have added colour and sparkles to their tag.