Monday, November 24, 2008

Fluxus in Aberystwyth

As unlikely as it might sound a Fluxus concert took place at Aberystwyth in 1968. Artist Brian Lane along with a group of collaborators called First Dream Machine staged a three-day feast of Fluxus. There was a 12-hour concert of electronic music, which included a piece by Karlheinz Stockhausen; an international graphics exhibition; and a Total Theatre session. The focal point of the festival, though, was a concert in which, now classic, Fluxus scores by the likes of George Maciunas, Ben Vautier, George Brecht and Chieko Shiomi, were performed.

To mark the 40th anniversary of this seminal avant-garde happening, some of the events are to be re-staged in Aberystwyth. Local artists will perform their own interpretation of the original Fluxus scores on Saturday, November 29, 8-10pm, at the Castle Theatre. Just by being there you will instantly become one of the coolest people in west Wales - so don't miss it.

Admission is free. You can book tickets here.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ronald Lewis

Poor old Ronald Lewis. In 1982 they discovered his corpse in a cheap Pimlico boarding house. No longer a famous actor, his matinee idol looks gone forever, he had taken a fatal drug overdose. He was 54. The previous year he had appeared in a London bankruptcy court owing £21,188.

Lewis, like fellow thesps Burton and Hopkins, was from the Port Talbot area. After developing a taste for drama at school he went on to study at RADA. A successful career on the stage soon followed. Highlights included a starring role opposite Vivien Leigh in Noel Coward's South Sea Bubble; and a leading part in Mourning Becomes Electra directed by Peter Hall.

Being a handsome fellow, a move into the film industry was inevitable. His face became a familiar feature in flicks for Ealing, Alexander Korda's London Films, and later, Hammer. The best of his cinematic work included Helen of Troy (1956); A Hill in Korea (1956); Stop Me Before I Kill (1960); Scream of Fear (1961); and Billy Budd (1962). The early Sixties turned out to be his most fruitful period.

Things, however, started to go wrong in about 1965, when a summons was taken out by his wife Elizabeth, who alleged that he had assaulted her. Lewis failed to turn up at court. A warrant was issued for his arrest. At the time he was appearing in Peter Pan at the Scala Theatre, London.

From this moment on his career went into terminal decline. The movie roles dried up completely. Instead he had to make do with occasional television work. His last ever TV appearance was a bit part in an episode of Z Cars, in 1978. With his fame having evaporated, he killed himself on the 11th of January, 1982.

The above still shows Lewis (left) in fine hypodermic-toting form in Mr Sardonicus (1961), a decent horror film directed by William Castle.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Plop Plops

This EP, Plop Plops, by Welsh-language loons U thant was released in 1987. Amongst their ranks was Huw Bunford, latterly of the Super Furry Animals. I like the cover. It features probably the most famous toilet in the history of Welsh pop. But whose lavatory was it? If you know the answer, don't hesitate to share your scatological information with me.

In the meantime, you can see a YouTube of the band performing the song for a reunion gig at Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Oh For Christ's Sake

Christmas has come early for Patrick Jones. I bet he can't believe his good fortune. When you are struggling trying to flog an obscure volume of poetry amidst the sackloads of mainstream drek put out at this time of year, publicity like this must be an absolute God-send.

The Christians and the poetry enthusiasts.... it's like the Sharks versus the Jets. Give them all flick-knives and let them get on with it. Seriously, though, I'm so curious as to what's upset the religious fundamentalists that I might actually buy the thing myself. So hats off to Patrick Jones for creating a media stir and organising a great marketing campaign.

You too can purchase Jones's, ahem, highly controversial Darkness is Where the Stars Are from a bookstore with more balls than Waterstones, near you, now. Or via Amazon. It costs £7.99 and is published by Cinnamon Press.

For the Christian Voice's take on the matter, click here.

Three Steps to Heaven

Just a few weeks before he died in a car crash (April 17, 1960), American rock'n'roll idol, Eddie Cochran, performed in Cardiff along with fellow legend Gene Vincent. Here is a great review of their show from a now defunct South Wales newspaper.

Teenagers - Your Theatre Manners are Shocking

After going along to Cardiff's Gaumont Theatre last Friday night to see the Gene Vincent/Eddie Cochran show, I came away feeling disgusted at the way in which teenagers welcomed certain acts on the programme. Despite the fact that newcomer Tony Sheridan gave one of the best performances of the night singing When You Walk Through a Storm, impatient teenagers waiting for Gene Vincent, could think of nothing better to do than throw lighted cigarette ends at him during his act. The least they could have done was to give him a chance to prove his worth. After all they weren't bound to remain in their seats whilst Tony was appearing, as there is always plenty of room in the foyer of the theatre.

I'm pleased to say that those teenagers were in the minority, as this fast-moving "Beat Show" descended on Cardiff with a frenzied swoop, evoking screams galore from the majority of the 2,000 strong audience. The pity was that both these artists could scarcely be heard against the instrumental backing and the audience shouting.

Both Gene and Eddie were making their first visit to Wales and welcomed the opportunity of personally meeting some of their Welsh fans. Between shows they recorded special messages for transmission on the Hospitals Request Hour show. Interviewer was Vic Dawe, who has had the pleasant task of interviewing leading names in the world of entertainment visiting Cardiff over the past six months. Through Hallelujah! Eddie in tartan shirt and leather jeans built up to an earlier hit C'Mon Everybody and soon had the customers in the beat mood.

Twenty-one-year-old Gene Vincent on the other hand, is a more flamboyant showman, almost cuddling his microphone, kneeling and crawling on the stage and generally leaping about like some leather-clad spaceman from another planet. This rock'n'roller built up to a frantic finale before all the artists joined on stage for a frenzied rock session. It was a pity however, that Gene didn't have The Bluecaps (his original group from the States) to back him. The Wildcats didn't appear to be strong enough. Making a return visit to Cardiff with the show was handsome six-foot-plus Vince Eager, star of television's Oh Boy and Six-Five Special shows.

Also paying another visit to Cardiff were The Viscounts, a vigorous all-male singing act laced with good comedy. The threesome are surely heading for bill-topping status soon. One of the group Gordon Mills - hails from Cardiff.

Remembering that Eddie Cochran has appeared in several films, I took the opportunity of asking him whether he preferred films, television or stage shows, in the seclusion of his dressing room after the show. He replied: "Give me stage shows every time. TV and films are fine, but I much prefer to work live. It's so much more exciting and I feel I can get closer to people. When an audience is enthusiastic I get something from them, and in return give a better performance. Audiences can be very stimulating."

On Saturday, both Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran appeared on ITV's Boys Meet Girls.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

KKK by Bill Meilen

This fine piece of trash fiction by Bill Meilen, from Cardiff, came out in 1968. Pictured is the eye-popping cover of the American edition. Meilen always managed to sneak a Welsh hero into his novels, no matter how improbable the situation. Thus we find a sailor (and martial arts expert) from Cardiff sorting out some evil white supremacists in America's Deep South. Meilen even manages to mention Brains beer, the National Museum of Wales, and the Angel hotel, along the way. Below is part of Meilen's intro to the book:

The most significant thing about Klan influence to my mind is that at no time has there been a suggestion that the Ku Klux Klan (who stand most to gain) had any hand in the brutal slayings of President John F Kennedy, Doctor Martin Luther King, and senator Robert Kennedy. The Klan has not even been mentioned in hypothetical connection. I ask the reader to seriously think about such a possibility.

I am not a mystic...but to those interested in mysticism may I point out that from their point of view there is an even more significant factor. The three shining hopes of Democracy in the United States cut down just as they were becoming dangerous Kennedy, King, and Kennedy...their initials spell...KKK. I ask you to think about that, too, whether you are a mystic or otherwise.

My Favourite line: "Hogan wondered what he'd look like with a Welsh fist in his mouth."

Bill Meilen went on to become an actor and even appeared in Scooby Doo 2. He died in 2006.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Jennifer Daniel in The Reptile

This is a nice still from The Reptile (1966), one of Hammer’s more inspired cinematic efforts. The horror flick starred Welsh actress Jennifer Daniel (left). She was from Pontypool. Here she is looking remarkably calm after discovering the latest victim of the snake woman. Horror aficionados will know that a bite from her causes the heart to stop, the face to blacken, and the mouth to froth. But not necessarily in that order.

As far as her career in horror films went, Jennifer specialised in looking vulnerable and walking innocently into situations where you just knew something terrible was about to happen. Also catch her in another decent Hammer outing, The Kiss of the Vampire (1963).

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Nightmare on Clare Street

Words on buildings. Nothing unusual in that. From teenage tags sprayed on urban brickwork, to the officially-sanctioned graffito on the front of the Wales Millennium Centre: In These Stones Horizons Sing.

One of the more peculiar examples of architecture and the word, though, is this house on Clare Street, Cardiff. In 1984 its resident, Gerald Tobin, became embroiled in a bitter dispute with the council over grants. He began scrawling his grievances on boards and attaching them to the front of his house. He then barracaded himself inside.

Neighbours considered it an eyesore but I always thought his abode looked pretty cool. Like a giant artwork. As well as thousands of words he incorporated a cartoon of Edvard Munch's The Scream into his protest. The property became known, locally, as The Scream House. Adding further to the sense of horror, he wrote in big letters on his front wall: NIGHTMARE ON CLARE STREET. Many locals regarded him as a mad recluse.

I often used to take a detour to Riverside just to see if he had added any more words to his property. It was easy to forget that there was an old man actually living inside the building. And that he was going through his own, not very private, hell. In 2005 the council took out an injunction against him to remove his boards. When he refused, they did it by force. I took this photo about 6 years ago when his protest graffiti campaign was at its height.