Monday, May 28, 2007

The Continued Rise of Welsh Porn

The latest Welsh woman to be making a name for herself in the world of porn is Ionie Luvcoxxx (probably not the name on her birth certificate).

In recent times Welsh women have come to the fore in the adult entertainment industry. High profile performers like Kellemarie, Bev Cocks and Isabel Ice have ensured that the combination of a Welsh accent and hardcore sex has become a regular pornographic feature both here and in the United States.

Ionie Luvcoxxx, however, is slightly different in that she is a porn director. Her gonzo franchise for porn giants Private has proved to be a big success. Ionie, 27, apparently gained experience working for a regular TV production company before making the switch to the lucrative adult entertainment industry. She has made over 20 films and produced, directed and presented her own series on Playboy TV.

With more directors like Ionie and an ever increasing talent pool the first truly indigenous Welsh porn film is surely just around the corner. Personally I'd welcome it - porn with Welsh themes, Welsh locations, and even porn in the Welsh language. After all it is as much a part of modern cultural life as, say, opera - only a lot more popular.

Unfortunately there isn't really a cultural forum in Wales to discuss or analyse the rise of Welsh porn. And one can only speculate as to why the phenomenon has arisen at this particular point in our history. In the absence of any mainstream coverage of such issues I will continue to highlight figures - like Ionie Luvcoxxx - from the Welsh cultural underground.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ginsberg's Welsh Acid Trip

The absolute zenith of the hippy experience in Wales occurred in July, 1967, when Allen Ginsberg dropped some acid at Capel-y-Ffin.

Ginsberg had been invited to Britain by RD Laing to speak at the Dialectics of Liberation Conference in London. Other speakers at the event included New Age academic Gregory Bateson and black activist Stokely Carmichael.

After the conference Ginsberg and his British publisher Tom Maschler headed to the latter's Welsh bungalow in the Golden Valley. There they ingested LSD. Ginsberg is said to have sat cross-legged for hours tripping on the beauty of the Welsh landscape before penning the poem: Wales, A Visitation. Another version of the story has Ginsberg and Maschler embarking on an LSD-fuelled hill walk.

Maschler had the good sense to take photographs of the acid trip - Ginsberg in a pair of wellington boots staring at bits of ancient Welsh rock. They were published along with the poem in 1967, 1968 and 1979 (see pic).

Within the Ginsberg canon Wales, A Visitation is still highly regarded and seen as an early instance of ecological poetry. According to the Beat poet turned hippy guru the title of the piece is a reference to Welsh bards who went from village to village bringing news and stories in rhyme.

Various recordings are available of Ginsberg reading Wales, A Visitation; and in Jerry Aronson's documentary The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg you can actually see him reciting the poem.

Ginsberg's acid trip is another example of the rather odd significance of Wales to the hippy psyche.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Prefect - Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynolds - Barry's answer to Arthur C Clarke - has a new book out in hardback called The Prefect. It is his seventh novel.

Reynolds hasn't really been given the acclaim he deserves in Wales for his excellent Space Operas. His 2001 epic Chasm City (which won the British Science Fiction Award for best novel) is one of the most accomplished books written by any Welsh author in the last couple of decades.

Reynolds' brilliantly sustained imaginative fictions continue to impress. With nods toward the gothic and hardboiled crime writing his work transcends mere hard sci-fi. It's more fun too. Here's the blurb for his latest opus:

Tom Dreyfus is a Prefect, a policeman of sorts, and one of the best. His force is Panoply, and his beat is the multi-faceted utopian society of the Glitter Band, that vast swirl of space habitats orbiting the planet Yellowstone, the teeming hub of a human interstellar empire spanning many worlds. These days, his job is his life.

A murderous attack against a Glitter Band habitat is nasty, but it looks to be an open-and-shut case - until Dreyfus starts looking under stones that some very powerful people would really rather stayed unturned. What he uncovers is far more serious than mere gruesome murder: a covert takeover bid by a shadowy figure, Aurora (who may once have been human but certainly isn't now) who believes the people of the Glitter Band should no longer be in charge of their own destiny.

Before long Dreyfus and his team are fighting against something worse than tyranny . . . and Dreyfus discovers that to save something precious, you may have to destroy part of it.

The Prefect: a rollercoaster ride through the dark and turbulent universe of Revelation Space; an interstellar thriller where nothing - and no one - is what they seem ...

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds is published by Gollancz and is on sale now.

Friday, May 18, 2007

L'Équipe de Cardiff

French painter Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) belonged to no particular artistic school but was nonetheless highly influential. He had associations with the Fauves, the Cubists, and took part in the Blaue Reiter exhibition in Munich (1912-13). He is also regarded as the founder of Orphism and Simultaneism in art.

One of his paintings in particular has always intrigued me: L'Équipe de Cardiff (The Cardiff Team) (1912-13). There are several versions of the work in existence. The example pictured here hangs in the Stedelijk van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven.

In L'Équipe de Cardiff we can see various adverts; a ferris wheel; and Delaunay's favourite motif the Eiffel Tower. Also discernable is a rugby ball flying through the air. On closer inspection we can observe that there is a rugby match in progress and that a line-out has just been taken.

The title of the work indicates - of course - that it must have been the Cardiff rugby team in action. A visit to the newspaper archive confirms this - the match was in fact Stade Francaise v Cardiff, which took place at the Parc de Princes in February 1912. Egg chasers from the capital will be delighted to learn that Cardiff won 3-19. Both teams were enthusiastically cheered off the field at the game's conclusion.

Did Delaunay attend the match in question? Possibly - a large crowd certainly turned up to witness the contest. However his painting is actually based upon a photograph culled from a Parisian newspaper. Aside from the adverts, Ferris wheel and Eiffel Tower, the newspaper would have a fairly convincing case for copyright infringement. The rugby players in Delaunay's "sample" exactly echo the composition of the photograph.

It's an interesting example of his art and with the Rugby World Cup taking place in France later this year it might be a good idea for a French gallery to showcase L'Équipe de Cardiff . Not only is it a classic work of modern art but probably the most famous rugby-related painting on earth.

Friday, May 11, 2007

At the Staff Club with Maciej Dakowicz

It's Wednesday night at the Glamorgan County Council Staff Club and as usual it's like a Toulouse Lautrec painting come to life.

On the banquette Mary and Tony are kissing with eyebrow-raising intensity. Mary will be 60 on her next birthday, Tony 63. Over in the corner Alan from the Docks holds court telling everyone about his failed singing career and what might have been. Silently sweeping the floorboards in a three-piece-suit is Dan who always has mirth in his eyes. Harry, John, Jim, Percy, Meic, Ted, Louise - all the usual suspects are in tonight.

At first amid the raucous laughter and good natured banter you hardly notice Maciej Dakowicz. The unassuming Polish photographer sits at a table enjoying a quiet beer. He likes to neck a couple of pints before starting work - it helps him relax. More importantly it enables him to blend in with his surroundings, to become part of the scene. This is the photographic equivalent of method acting. By the end of the evening he will be as half-cut as the rest of the clientele.

Maciej has been photographing customers at the Staff Club now for 18 months. During that time the 30-year-old from Bialystok has won the trust of the regulars who treat him with genuine affection. Why though, they wonder, does he find this place so interesting? Some nights he dishes out prints for them to take home to their families. Examples of his work can be found on mantelpieces from Grangetown to Craig-y-Rhacca. The less enlightened use them as beer mats.

"You berrer not be sticking me on the internet!" warns Debbie from Ely, when she spots him aiming his camera. Thing is, when he directs his Canon EOS 5D at somebody else she strikes her best Kate Moss pose and bellows: "Oi! get yer arse back yur and shoot me". Maciej obliges with a broad smile and tells her that the camera adores her. He is a good people person.

Not everyone likes to be photographed. As the Polish lensman moves from table to table snapping grizzled drinkers one belligerent punter tells him to: "bugger off!" It is interesting to see how he deals with such a confrontational situation. Maciej apologises and hands over his digital camera. Take a picture of me, he says. Surprised, the malcontent accepts the invitation and takes the shot. Together they assess the result on the LCD screen. Maciej is brutally honest: too blurred, he says, here let me show you how it is done. And click, he has his picture.

But Maciej dislikes posed shots. He prefers his subjects to be completely unaware of his presence, that way the results are more natural. For him the important thing here is that he has taken the "threat" out of the camera. Now he is just that harmless Polish guy who likes taking pictures and thus he becomes invisible. In this state he will take his best photographs.

As the evening proceeds gangs of spruced-up youngsters stream past the windows heading towards the main drag of bars and nightclubs. They wouldn't be seen dead in a place like this. The clientele here are too old, too unfashionable, too down-at-heel. Like dog shit on a Jimmy Choo the Staff Club is a bit of authentic Cardiff clinging obstinately to a metropolis getting glitzier by the day.

And make no mistake change is in the air. Places that hitherto defined this city keep vanishing from the landscape. The latest local institutions threatened with extinction are The Vulcan, Bear Shop, and Spillers Records. Breathe in on St Mary Street and you can taste the dust from the monstrous St David's 2 retail complex (the size of 30 football pitches) currently under construction. Cardiff is in a state of flux.

But tonight at the Staff Club everything is as it should be. Harry, from Pontypridd, is in his usual spot by the fruit machine; Jessica mops up the bar; and a pint of Brains Bitter still only costs £1.85. Music is playing - a mix-tape of old favourites: Only the Lonely, Wooden Heart, Mack the Knife. In shuffles Wilfred from Maesycymmer resplendent in the loudest shirt Oxfam has to offer - he looks like a Welsh Charles Bukowski. Nobody takes much notice. Nobody except Maciej Dakowicz who steadies his hands to capture the moment and fix it absolutely in time. Here at the Staff Club, Cardiff, one warm Spring evening in 2007.

*The above photograph is used with the kind permission of Maciej Dakowicz.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I Sing of a Maiden

Sisters, it appears, are doing it for themselves over at Chapter Arts Centre this week. Cardiff-based true crime writer/alt.folk singer (go figure!) Charlotte Greig teams up with Rachel Trezise, Rachel Calder and Carys Eleri to bring you I Sing of a Maiden.

It's a collaboration that explores the experience of young motherhood in Treorchy. Don't despair though it's not all doom and gloom up in the Valleys. We're promised an amusing script from Trezise; songs from Greig's (rather good) Quite Silent album; and an impressionistic 8mm filmic backdrop by Calder. Eleri will take care of all the acting.

Sounds interesting. So if you fancy some girl/girl/girl/girl multi-media action you'd better get down to Chapter Arts, Cardiff, on the following dates: Thursday 10th May - Saturday 12th May. Performances start at 8pm.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Calling Gene Loves Jezebel

As, ahem, regular readers will know the collision of the local and the international really fascinates me. So it was great to learn that cult writer Poppy Z Brite's first paid interview as a journalist was with Porthcawl goths Gene Loves Jezebel.

Apparently Ms Z Brite conducted the interview by telephone from the States to Wales with the result that her phone bill was greater than the fee she actually received for the work.

The connection doesn't end there. It is widely believed that the physical prototype for the psychic vampire twins in Brite's first novel Lost Souls is based upon Gene Loves Jezebel's twin frontmen Jay and Michael Aston. Ooooh.

Her interview appeared in the Miami music fanzine Alternative Rhythms (see pic) back in 1986. Such is the power of the internet that you can actually read the result of this odd cultural coming together here.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Blue Tattoo

A new short story magazine Blue Tattoo has just appeared on the Welsh literary landscape. Published in Aberystwyth and edited by Dafydd Prys the emphasis appears to be on quality rather than quantity.

Issue 1 showcases work by, amongst others, Tristan Hughes, Leonora Brito and Anna Wigley. The magazine also contains a graphic story (ie one with pictures) by Niall Griffiths. How very modern!

In his editorial Prys encourages us to write "better and more challenging" short stories. Let's hope Welsh scribblers take up his challenge and that Blue Tattoo flourishes.

I got hold of my copy from Waterstones, Cardiff - it cost £2.50. For more details check out Blue Tattoo's myspace.