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Blue Cheer December 22, 2010

Posted by markswill in About me, Navel Gazing.

Weather, work and excessive socialising have deterred me from dallying in the blogosphere lately… And now it’s almost bloody Christmas, the weather has ironically become so bad that it’s screwed my plans to return to London for more ceaseless merriment and so here I am bored toiling and with a gap to fill. And happily enough, Christmas and the crap weather are the two cultural crutches I must kick away first.

I’ve never been a fan of either, really. The imminent, alleged religious celebration has long rankled for this card-carrying atheist appalled by the commercial pressure it now invokes for us all to over-spend and over-indulge in mawkish sentimentality and hi-cholesterol food’n’drink. And yet otherwise kindred spirits cave-in a few weeks before the slush-fest actually engulfs them and then scold me for some kind of joie de vivre denial, citing December 25th as a precious opportunity for family and loved ones to eat, drink and argue together amidst piles of presents they neither wanted nor need.

As for me… well I’ve actually spent a few perfectly happy Xmases on my tod catching up on my reading, taking long walks in the hills and downing much remedial Benedictine. And also the odd one with other similarly inclined humbuggers who just took drugs and drank fine wines ‘til we collapsed in a totally tinsel-free environment. But then… well read on my jaundiced friends, read on.

SNOWY WASTRELS      And talking of slush-fests – which I was – any Brit reading this will know that we’ve had almost Two Weeks of Wintery Hell (™ The Daily Star), which shut down most of our airports, motorways and encouraged the oil companies to rocket the prices of heating oil. Much hand-wringing from both the (in)appropriate govt. ministers and transport moguls who pathetically admit they weren’t ready for it because we had such a hard winter last time and couldn’t possibly expect another one in the next, ooh, 25 years. WAKE UP TO CLIMATE CHANGE YOU BASTARDS, which is what one ex-govt. scientific advisor uttered in slightly more restrained language earlier this week before letting on that like their advice on downgrading the illegality of cannabis, the official advisory panel he resigned from – along with four others – was ignored. Makes you weep, and indeed there might be some weeping, to say nothing of teeth-gnashing, if the traumatised transport infrastructure prevents me to getting to London for ‘Cosytide’ (as one individual I know of mysteriously calls it). More on which, yeah, later.

THE CAPTAIN GOES DOWN       Of course the biggest and saddest news of the week, indeed month, was the death of Don Van Vliet, a/k/a Capt. Beefheart at 69. I first had my ears scrambled by the good Captain and his extraordinary Magic Band at Frank Freeman’s School of Dancing (yes, it really was) in Kidderminster in 1968, bought all his albums before and since but even that mind-fuck of a gig was surpassed by a majestic brace of performances on consecutive nights at L.A’s Whiskey A-Go-Go in 1980.  I still regularly punish his vinyl outings (the re-mastered CDs are, to my taste, too antiseptic), my favourite being not the undoubtedly ground-breaking Trout Mask Replica, but 1972’s Clear Spot. This latter record, produced by Ted Templeman – a far better knob-twiddler than Trout Mask’s Zappa – exhibits the band’s fantastic rhythmic contrapuntuality (a word I just made up, but you know what I’m saying) within the bluesy context that spawned Don’s entire oeuvre (a word I didn’t make up but which I like to use ‘cause it make me sound posh). But then I’m also a fan of the Grateful Dead…

He was of course a famously abrasive and willfully obscure personality and for these reasons alone I declined an opportunity to interview him when I was what I laughingly call a professional music journalist, but truth was (also) that I was just so in awe of him that my queries would’ve quickly descended to the “Why are you so wonderful, Mr God?” variety these days beloved of Heat and, well, Q magazine.

The late, monumentally great, Don Van Vliet, a/k/a Capt. Beefheart

I left that instead to my erstwhile colleague on L.A. Weekly, Christine McKenna, who went off to visit him in his desert home where he’d already embarked on his second career as an abstract painter and came back genuinely disturbed by the experience.

Yes, it’s a cliché I’ve sadly had to resort to before in these scrawls, but we will not see, and certainly not hear his like again, and if you doubt this go out and buy any of his albums (except possibly Ice Cream For Crow).

AND FINALLY…      What else? Well after bitching about having had no work to speak of for exactly two years this Xmas, within 72 hours a coupla weeks ago I got commissioned to write a book, produce a series of magazine supplements and scribble several grown-up features. So I don’t, after all, have to sell the Lancia! Even better, this now gives me an excuse to whine about overwork and stress, the latter of which I had a dummy run at whilst appearing in this year’s Presteigne Players’ theatrical triumph, Les Mouserables, as a health’n’safety obsessed, er, mouse who joins a rodent uprising to defeat the local Fat Cats. As ever, Mary Compton’s clever, wry script had a tartly topical political subtext and tons of good natured local pokes and stirring songs.

Am I Mouse or Man? Oh the shame of it. (Pic: Alex Ramsay)

And after the first, second and third night nerves, a jolly good time was had by all involved, and even the audience I’m told. Which brings me to my own Xmas arrangements and despite all my earlier protestations I also, as almost usual, will ultimately be surrendering to the inevitable and having a fabulous, self-indulgent weekend with friends and family.

I hope you will too.

Please check-out my website, sign-up to get these blogs automatically, or read previous scrawls by checking out the right hand panel. And do please comment, however angrily.



1. misstokes - December 23, 2010

hi ya, Mark,
hmmm…this is good…tho wot killed him..just old age n disease? I mean iffin he’d broken his hip n died, that’dbeen even better..Captain goes doen w/ his HIP, yeh? i sent off box tops in hi-skool fer Trout mask..the guy was awesome…

2. markswill - December 23, 2010

Wish it’d been a failed hip replacement Dr Stokes, if only so’s I could’ve used your headline, but it was the malign consequence of multiple sclerosis.

3. col - December 23, 2010

Christmas is marvellous, we need more festivals in this bleak, roundhead, self-flaggelating nation. Avoid most shops, all TV, radio and newspapers and invite like minds to laugh and toast another unlikely year on planet earth. I’m off to the butcher for dead things to eat. Salut!
Shame about the captain, it’s been a bad year for Heads.

4. hed maginnis - December 23, 2010

My head is my only house, unless it snows

5. Alex Ramsay - December 23, 2010

Man or Mouse? no, that’s no mouse suit, that’s your old winter camouflage outfit from the good old days with the SAS up by the Arctic Circle

6. Paul N. Blezard - December 23, 2010

Mark, having no clue what Cap’n Beefheart looked like I presumed that the fella in the top hat with tache-less beard was none other than your good self in your mis-spent youth. Are you by any chance related to the late, great,
Cap’n B?! Meanwhile, I’ve been experiencing the joys of two-wheel drive with slick tyres on snow thanks to the Wisper fold-up pedelec…..!

7. Tom Stewart - December 23, 2010

Speaking as a fellow, hand-to-mouth freelancer, if your recent deluge of commissions isn’t reason enough for (modest) end-of-year celebration, then I don’t know what is. Bottoms up.

8. tony rooney - December 23, 2010

entertaining as ever, keep it up , and seasons greetings to you.

9. Jonti - December 23, 2010

Glad to hear you have some work coming in – and.. Jesus wasn’t born at Christmas and Christmas hasn’t anything to do with religion…Soooo go and have a great time!!!

10. Ian Hinksman - December 23, 2010

Enjoy the festering season squire.

I too was at the said Gig at Frank Freeman’s School of Dance as a spotty 13 year old dragged along by his older cousin who drove us from Birmingham. In later years i moved to Kidderminster and witnessed many local gigs both at Franks and The Riverboat who tried to pick up the baton and run with it when the rock gigs were too much for Mr & Mrs F.

Despite being there the Capt. did not set fire to my soul, I was probably too young to appreciate it. I preferred Band of Joy, recently re cast upon the worlds ears by Mr Plant and Chicken Shack

In the strange circular nature of things tomorrow night we are off to Grateful Dead themed birthday party. The guy has Dead head sticker on the back of his Merc . Not quite “boys of summer” but close enough.

Blog on

11. Gus Sette - December 24, 2010

Merry Bah Humbug Day.
However you spend it, enjoy it.

12. andy tribble - December 24, 2010

I laugh when religious people complain about partying, presents, shopping etc intruding on a religious festival. Wait a minute, i say, what about religious stuff intruding on the pagan midwinter festival, Saturnalia, etc etc. That was first!

For me it’s the very useful festival of the address book. I send out apologies to people I should have seen and haven’t.

13. WTK - December 28, 2010

After suffering through this winter blizzaed and clocking almost 1,000 miles of brave driving, I arrived upstate to a well-lit Christmas tree and the pitter-patter of elves feet. What is wrong with the UK? A lack of elves? I must tell of the gig with Beefheart at the Royal Albert. The R&R world was there—all the fame and glory, all salivating to see the Cap’n. Well, the curtain opens to a Prima Ballerina dancing Swan lake for 12 minutes in a sole spotlight. Heads were scratched and nervousness of the croud abounded. Then Rocket Head blasted across the stage. A regular uncomfortable mind-f__k. ANyway, have a good new year.

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