Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tom, Elvis and Priscilla

Talking of Elvis the Pelvis. Here he is in 1971, in Vegas, checking out Tom Jones’s wristwatch which, most probably, he bought from Pontypridd market. Priscilla looks on.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Welsh Elvis

I thought the Welsh Elvis myth was a relatively new phenomenon. Turns out it has been doing the rounds for decades. It first raised its silky quiff back in 1965, as you can see from the cover of Elvis Monthly (issue 69). The journal’s investigation trots out the now familiar tenuous links between The King and Wales. There’s the parish of St Elvis (or St Elwys) outside Haverfordwest; the nearby Prescelly mountains; and the fact that Elvis’s parents were called Gladys and Vernon. Even back then it must have seemed a tad desperate. Anyway, who needs the real Elvis? Wales already has plenty of home grown Elvii: Tom Jones, Shakin’ Stevens, and Mark out of Demented Are Go. That’s enough ersatz rock’n’roll for any country.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Freaks and The Sex Clinic

Doug Lang is from Swansea. He wrote fiction and poetry in the UK before eventually moving to the States. In 1973 cult publishers NEL published two trash fiction novels by him. Freaks is typical NEL fare in that it fictionally exploits a youth cult – in this case hippy drop-outs. Set in a communal house in London, the tag line reads: "A novel of today's drop-outs and their hang-ups". It wasn’t ever going to win any literary prizes but it is interesting from a Welsh perspective in that the narrator is a poet from Wales.

Doug Lang’s other novel, The Sex Clinic, was published under the pseudonym of JJ Lyly. It is extremely rare – I’ve never even seen a copy in the flesh. But I am curious about it, so if anyone has a copy I would love to borrow it. As for Lang himself he has more or less disowned both novels. He continues to write poetry and teach in the US.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Terry Nation

This photo from 1938 shows pupils in Mr Herbert's class at Radnor Road School for Boys. The gloomy looking kid in the middle row, far right, is none other than Terry Nation inventor of the Daleks and one of Cardiff's most pop culturally influential sons. The educational establishment is still going strong today but is now known as Radnor Road Primary School.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Black Narcissus

This picture shows English actress Kathleen Byron receiving a bouquet of flowers on her arrival at Cardiff railway station in 1947. As you can see from the sashes worn by the girls on either side of her, she was promoting the film Black Narcissus. Directed by Powell and Pressburger it is now regarded as a classic nun flick. Byron stole the show playing the mentally unstable and pathologically jealous Sister Ruth. In the above snap she is on her way to the Capitol Theatre, Queen Street, where she was to make a personal appearance before the screening of the movie. It wasn’t all glamour, though. Amusingly, she had just come from Llanharan where she had been sent down a pit for a photocall. The film had nothing whatsoever to do with coal mining. I’ve seen one of the resultant pics and she doesn’t look at all happy:

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Spencer McGarry Season: Episode 2

Those who enjoyed the mod stylings and 1979-ish power-pop forays of Spencer McGarry Season's debut album, Episode 1, might be in for a bit of a shock. In Episode 2 electric guitars mingle with cellos, clarinets, flutes and flugel horns. Fear not though, beneath the orchestral arrangements and dickie bows a-go-go Baroque flourishes, the ensemble's trademark killer melodies shine through. Also present and correct are Spencer McGuigan's now familiar idiosyncratic and engagingly oddball lyrics. Topics covered on this outing include Serology and Robotics. I was also much taken with the dialogue between a boy and a bridge in the fabulous The Loneliest Bridge. All Things To All Men, The Giveaway and Great Enemies are my entirely subjective highlights, but it's all fine tuneage and not a duff track in earshot. Something of a slow burner you'll end up whistling snatches from Episode 2 for months, if not years, to come.

*Episode 2 by Spencer McGarry Season is on sale now on Businessman Records. Watch the amusing video for Great Enemies here.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Great God Pan

The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen has just been reprinted in the Library of Wales series. As well as the title novella Machen's short stories The White People (just astonishing) and The Shining Pyramid are also included in this edition. The volume contains an introduction by horror writer Ramsey Campbell and comes replete with endorsements from a host of literary luminaries. If you've never read any Machen - Gwent's master of the macabre - this might not be a bad time to start. At £7.99 you can't really go wrong.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Jane Arden

Jane Arden (1927-82) was pretty cool. Actress, playwright, screenwriter, avant-garde film director, poet, you name it. Her talent, it seems, was both great and multi-faceted. A shame to learn, then, that she committed suicide in 1982.

She came from uptown Pontypool (47 Twmpath Road, if you're ever in the area). Her real name was Norah Morris. Her father, W.T. Morris, worked as a butcher in Newport. Her uncle was the singer Parry Jones. She went to Newport High School for girls before leaving, aged 16, to attend RADA.

She appeared in two films while still a teenager; acted in a couple of plays broadcast from Cardiff. Went to New York and did the whole starving artist routine. Back in Britain she concentrated on becoming a writer. One of her dramas, The Party (1958), starred Charles Laughton and Albert Finney. Another, The Thug (1959), provided Alan Bates with one of his earliest TV roles.

In the Sixties her writing became more feminist, experimental and radical. Her most notable play during this period was Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven (1969) which ran successfully at the Arts Lab in London. With her lover and creative partner, Jack Bond, she also made the documentary Dali in New York (1966). How amusing to see her questioning the great Surrealist artist as he takes his pet ocelot out for a stroll.

Her film work was even more avant-garde. She scripted and starred in the experimental Separation (1967). She wrote, directed and appeared in The Other Side of the Underneath (1972), much of which was filmed in South Wales - including a scene at Newport Transporter Bridge. In 1979 she penned and directed Anti-Clock. All three films were re-released in 2009 by the BFI rekindling an interest in her life and work.

*If you want to further investigate Jane Arden's fascinating oeuvre you'll enjoy these two rather fine articles at Vertigo (and here). The Jane Arden MySpace site - set up by Tracy Granger - is also well worth a look.