Saturday, January 28, 2012

Astrid Proll in Llangollen

Having recently outed myself as a teenage fan of the Baader-Meinhof gang I was interested to learn that one of the group, Astrid Proll, once gave a talk at the Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod. The event took place in 1999 as part of the fringe festival. There was also an accompanying photo-exhibition which provided a pictorial history of the gang’s terrorist shenanigans during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Some of the snaps were taken by Proll herself and were included in her book Pictures on the Run 67-77 (see pic). Astrid Proll might seem like an odd choice of guest for such a gathering but by the time of her appearance in Wales she had long since renounced her terrorist beliefs. In fact her political apostasy fitted perfectly with the festival’s harmonious ethos. The International Eisteddfod was established in the aftermath of WW2 to promote peace and reconciliation through music.

*If anyone has any photos of Astrid Proll in Llangollen or any posters or other promotional literature from the event I would love to see them.

Carl Mydans in Swansea

In 1954 legendary American photojournalist Carl Mydans visted Swansea to conduct a shoot for an article on ‘Britain’s Prosperity’. I’m guessing Swansea must have been enjoying some kind of a post-war boom, or something. Anyway, to illustrate the piece he took as his main subjects: workers in heavy industry; and folks out shopping. The above snap is from that shoot. You can see the full and quite extensive Swansea set over at the Life magazine archive. Mydans is perhaps best known for his WW2 photographs. His shot of Douglas MacArthur wading ashore in the Philippines in 1945 is especially iconic. During his long career he also completed memorable portraits of Thomas Mann, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, and a butterfly hunting Vladimir Nabokov.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Virgin Soldiers

Talking of smutty books written by Welsh people, here’s a cool edition of The Virgin Soldiers (1966) by Newport’s own Leslie Thomas. I was somewhat startled the other day to hear culture critic, Tony Parsons, referring to Thomas’s sex and soldiering comic novel as “the British Catch-22”. He then went on to place it in the same bawdy tradition as Chaucer and Benny Hill! I’ve never actually read the book myself so I can’t unfortunately attest to the veracity of TP’s analysis. However, I have seen the film version which was kind of a cross between a Carry On flick and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. One curious factoid about the film is that David Bowie appeared in it very briefly as an extra. You can see the amazing clip on YouTube here. In 1975 Thomas wrote a sequel, Stand Up Virgin Soldiers, which was also filmed. David Bowie actually auditioned for a leading part and even underwent a radical haircut to improve his chances. Unfortunately for The Thin White Duke his trip to the barber’s was in vain as he failed to land the role.

*The above book cover is from a 1967 reprint.

Up Tight

This is the infamous front cover of Welsh writer Molly Parkin’s 1975 novel Up Tight. The back cover shows the same knicker-clad model but from the rear. Harri Peccinotti is credited with the book’s cover design and photography. The shamelessly tacky aesthetic is quintessentially mid-seventies especially in its preoccupation with sex and hairiness. It would, I'm sure, have taken a certain degree of front to march into one’s local bookshop, pluck Up Tight from the shelves, and present it to a smiling till person. Apparently Hatchards dealt with any potential embarrassment by actually selling the novel under the counter. For the record Parkin’s book is the tale of a young woman, fresh out of art college, who finds sexual adventure in London's bedsit land.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Independent Tropical Wales

It’s May 1999 and Queenie, Charlo and Phil the Greek are en route to officially open the Welsh Assembly building in Cardiff’s Docklands. Their Ascot landau can be seen gliding up Bute Street – once a notorious haunt of prostitutes but also a haven for sailors from around the globe. Look closely at the railway wall in the background and you can see the proud graffito: INDEPENDENT TROPICAL WALES (now sadly gone). From a compositional point of view this forms an amusing and sweetly subversive juxtaposition. The photographer, Nick Treharne, clearly armed with local knowledge must have been laying in wait to capture this exact moment. Puzzlingly we don’t have a National Photographic Gallery of Wales, as such, but if we did then this excellent image would surely be in it.

This photograph is the copyright of Nick Treharne.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Bob Marley at Deeside Leisure Centre

Bob Marley’s open-air concert at Ninian Park, Cardiff, in 1976 on his Rastaman Vibration tour has gone down as one of the great damp squibs in the history of Welsh pop culture. A Biblical downpour ensured a poor turnout and a bleak atmosphere. Reggae in the rain just doesn’t work. Nor does reggae in a monsoon. A far happier affair was Marley’s often overlooked 1980 show at Deeside Leisure Centre, north Wales. There he performed in front of 4,500 joyful punters on his Uprising tour - one of his last ever tour dates, in fact. Above is a ticket for the Deeside gig and here is a bootleg track from the show.

Ceri Richards by Ida Kar

This is a photograph of Swansea Surrealist Ceri Richards looking very dapper, taken by Ida Kar. Kar is famed for having snapped some of the greatest artists and writers of the twentieth century. Amongst her illustrious list of sitters were Chagall, Man Ray, Le Corbusier, Giacometti, Yves Klein, Braque, Sartre, Breton and many more. Her portrait of Ceri Richards was done in 1960 during his solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. Far be it for me to pick holes in Ida Kar’s work but I would have shifted that potted plant. Kar also photographed Augustus John.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Ken Kesey in Swansea

In 1999 Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962)) turned up in Swansea in a replica of his famous Magic Bus. He was in the UK to celebrate the solar eclipse and to search for Merlin. Merlin, it was said, would reappear before the start of the new Millennium. Swansea would be the only Welsh stop on Kesey's Where’s Merlin? tour. By all accounts his psychedelically painted vehicle was parked on Castle Square, while the Beat/Hippie legend himself spent the day chatting to Welsh fans and inviting them aboard his bus. In the evening he gave a talk on Merlin at the Brangwyn Hall and did something vaguely theatrical. The event concluded that year’s Dylan Thomas Festival.

In 1964 Kesey and his Merry Pranksters had steered his original Magic Bus –FURTHER – across America on an era-defining trip. That LSD-fuelled epic journey was immortalised by Tom Wolfe in counter-culture classic, The Electric Kool–Aid Acid Test (1968). His 1999 jaunt to the UK was funded by Channel 4 who were filming proceedings for a projected documentary. Not sure if that doc ever saw the light of day but it probably means that there is footage knocking around somewhere of Ken Kesey in Swansea. Which is, like, Far Out. Kesey died in 2001, aged 66.

*The above photograph shows Ken Kesey in Swansea in 1999 and is the copyright of Jeff Morgan/Alamy Images.