Thursday 29 May 2014

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York - The Elderly Brothers: -

Set 1: -
Crying In The Rain
Then I Kissed Her
Dead Flowers
A Horse With No Name
Country Roads

Set 2: -
Green, Green Grass Of Home
The Sound Of Silence
Things We Said Today
All I Have To Do Is Dream
The Boxer
Surfin' USA

The Elderlys opened and closed Wednesday's open mic on a relatively quiet night. Things livened up considerably after 10:30 and the final set was enjoyed by both players and punters. A Saturday night Elderly Brothers gig has been pencilled in for 2nd August - tbc.

Maya Angelou RIP

Maya Angelou in pictures: Coretta Scott King and Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou obituary
Writer, poet and civil rights campaigner lauded for her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Lyn Innes
The Guardian
Wednesday 28 May 2014

The writer Maya Angelou, who has died aged 86, won acclaim for her first autobiographical memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), a scathing and sardonic indictment of the racial discrimination she experienced as a child in Arkansas and California. "If growing up is painful for the southern black girl," she wrote, "being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult."

The book is also a celebration of the strength and integrity of black women such as Angelou's grandmother, who enforced the respect of white adults and endured the impudence of white children. Unlike Richard Wright's autobiographical Black Boy (1945), which has a similar setting and theme, it gives a sympathetic and compassionate account of a beleaguered black community while also humorously dramatising Angelou's need to find self-fulfilment outside it.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has had a wide appeal, particularly to younger female readers and continues to appear on school and university reading lists in the US and the UK. The critic Harold Bloom noted that Angelou achieved with the book "an almost unique tone that blends intimacy and detachment, a tone indeed of assured serenity that transcends the fearful humiliations and outrages that she suffered as a girl".

She was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and naval dietician, and Vivian (nee Baxter), a nurse, professional gambler, bar owner and entertainer. Maya was the name given to her by her brother, also Bailey. When her parents separated, her father sent three-year-old Maya and her brother alone by train to live with his strong-willed and deeply religious mother, Annie Henderson, in the small, segregated town of Stamps, Arkansas.

When she was seven, Maya was raped by her mother's boyfriend. This traumatic incident, recorded in her autobiography, and the man's subsequent murder, for which she felt responsible, led her to stop speaking for five years. She was encouraged to read works by black authors such as Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar, and was later persuaded by Bertha Flowers, an educated black citizen of Stamps, to read aloud from the works of Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare and various poets. She acquired a love and appreciation of the spoken word which informed her writing and her performances of her own and other people's works.

As a teenager, her brother became increasingly restless under the restrictions, discriminations and dangers experienced by black men in the south, and so their grandmother took the children to stay with their mother in San Francisco, where Maya attended Mission high school. At the age of 14 she ran away in search of her father, and lived rough in Los Angeles and Mexico for a time.

She then returned to San Francisco, completed her high school education, took lessons in dance and drama and, at the age of 17, gave birth to a son. She had no desire to marry the father, who is not named in her autobiography. She also became possibly the first African-American female streetcar conductor in San Francisco. As she recounts in Gather Together in My Name (1974), the second volume in her autobiographical sequence, she found work as "a shake dancer in night clubs, fry cook in hamburger joints, dinner cook in a Creole restaurant".

In her early 20s, she was married briefly to an aspiring musician, Anastasios (Tosh) Angelopulos, a former sailor, of Greek descent. She trained as a dancer with Martha Graham and worked as a nightclub singer, taking at that time the professional name Maya Angelou, borrowing a form of her husband's surname. In the mid-1950s she toured Europe with a production of Porgy and Bess. She recorded a calypso album and appeared in the off-Broadway show Calypso Heat Wave, also taking a part in the 1957 film version. Angelou played the part of the Queen in the 1961 off-Broadway production of Jean Genet's The Blacks, which starred Roscoe Lee Browne, Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones. In New York, she was encouraged by John Oliver Killens and James Baldwin to join the Harlem Writers Guild and to take her creative work seriously, and she also became involved in the civil rights movement.

In New York in 1961, Angelou fell in love with the South African civil rights activist Vusumzi Make. She moved with him and her son, Guy, to Cairo, where she worked as an editor for the Arab Observer, an English-language weekly. Later she moved with Guy to Ghana, taught at the University of Ghana and worked as a features editor for the African Review. While in Ghana, she met Malcolm X.

Angelou returned to the US in 1965 intending to help Malcolm X build his new Organisation of African-American Unity. That organisation collapsed with the assassination of Malcolm X that year, and Angelou then began to work more closely with Martin Luther King. When King was assassinated on 4 April 1968 (her 40th birthday) she was devastated. Friends such as Baldwin encouraged her to begin writing, and in 1969 she completed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Narrating her changing awareness and struggle for self-fulfilment between the ages of three and 17, it portrayed vividly the characters of her glamorous mother, her proud and dignified grandmother, her beloved brother and her disabled Uncle Willie, as well as the troubled relationships between the races in the south during the depression.

While this first volume of her memoirs is generally considered to be the best, the subsequent instalments – Gather Together in My Name (1974), Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas (1976), The Heart of a Woman (1981), All God's Children Need Travelling Shoes (1986), A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002) and Mom & Me & Mom (2013) – have also achieved a large and appreciative audience. Collectively, they portray Angelou's experience as a young single mother; her travels in Europe and Africa with the cast of Porgy and Bess; her involvement with the civil rights movement and meetings with iconic figures such as King, Malcolm X and Billie Holiday; her life in Ghana, her son's car accident and her decision to leave him in Ghana to recover; and finally the years after her return to the US in 1965 and her decision to begin writing her first book.

She once described her writing regime thus: "I keep a hotel room in which I do my work – a tiny, mean room with just a bed, and sometimes, if I can find it, a face basin. I keep a dictionary, a bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry in the room. I try to get there around seven, and work until around two in the afternoon … Maybe after dinner I'll read to [my husband, Paul du Feu] what I have written that day. He doesn't comment. I don't invite comments from anybody but my editor."

Angelou had married Du Feu (who had previously been married to Germaine Greer) in 1973. They lived in California until they divorced in 1981, when Angelou took up a position as Reynolds professor of American studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Angelou vigorously disassociated herself from Anglo-American feminism, which in her view lacked an appreciation of the need for love and humour. She was nevertheless an outspoken advocate of "womanism", a quality which she ascribed to black women, and included their strength, commitment, sexual fulfilment and understanding of their complete equality with men.

Angelou gained greater international prominence when she was invited to write and deliver a poem for Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration in Washington in January 1993. This poem, On the Pulse of Morning, celebrates the diversity of ethnic groups in the US, and calls on the nation to leave behind cynicism and look forward to a new pride in self and a new dawning, as captured in these lines:

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

From 1998, she became a member of the board of governors for the Maya Angelou Institute for the Improvement of Child and Family Education at Winston-Salem State University, North Carolina. Angelou campaigned for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic party presidential primaries, but supported Barack Obama after Clinton's campaign ended. Delighted when Obama was elected president, she declared: "We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism." In a 2012 interview she rebuked those who expressed disappointment with his performance as president, insisting that he had "done a remarkable job". Obama has also praised Angelou, awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 and quoting these lines she had written: "History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again."

A tall and imposing woman, often wearing African dress, with a deep and expressive voice, Angelou was a remarkable performer of her own works, and it was in performance that her poetry could be best appreciated. She won the Grammy award for best spoken word album on three occasions, the first being for her recording of On the Pulse of Morning.

Angelou published more than 10 volumes of poetry, composed songs for musicals and films and wrote or co-wrote the scripts for more than a dozen plays, films and television programmes. She was nominated for an Emmy for her appearance in the TV mini-series Roots (1977) and also had prominent roles in films such as Poetic Justice (1993), which starred Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur, and How to Make an American Quilt (1995), based on Whitney Otto's novel. A gourmet cook, she published recipe books and enjoyed entertaining in her large house in Winston-Salem.

She is survived by Guy.

• Maya Angelou (Marguerite Annie Johnson), writer, born 4 April 1928; died 28 May 2014

Maya Angelou in pictures: Maya Angelou - 1972
Maya Angelou: six key works
From memoirs to poems, here are some must-reads from the late American author and poet

Guardian staff
Wednesday 28 May 2014

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)
The first of her seven books of autobiography has been an inspirational bestseller. It covers the years from three to 16, beginning when her parents send her and her brother away to live with their grandparents. The young Maya endures racism, poverty and rape by her mother’s lover; after the rapist is killed, she becomes mute, but later discovers a love of books and her own voice through an inspirational mentor, and becomes the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco. The title comes from a line in African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem Sympathy - the bird’s song is a prayer for freedom.

And Still I Rise (1978)
“You may write me down in history/ With your bitter, twisted lies,/ You may trod me in the very dirt/ But still, like dust, I’ll rise…” This is Angelou’s iconic poem: a great shout of defiance that answers darkness with joy and despair with humour (“I laugh like I’ve got gold mines/ Diggin’ in my own backyard… I dance like I’ve got diamonds/ At the meeting of my thighs”). It’s both a public protest poem and an intimately personal statement, looking back to her ancestors’ struggle and confidently forward (“I am the dream and the hope of the slave… I rise/ I rise/ I rise”). Nelson Mandela recited it at his 1994 presidential inauguration.

Phenomenal Woman (1978)
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies./ I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size…” Ideals of beauty have only narrowed since Angelou wrote this jaunty celebration of female power which proclaims, loud and proud, that beauty is so much more than skin deep. “Men themselves have wondered/ What they see in me./ They try so much/ But they can't touch/ My inner mystery….” Like all Angelou’s poems, one to hear read aloud, or to chant at moments of uncertainty: “I'm a woman/ Phenomenally./ Phenomenal woman,/ That's me."

The Heart of a Woman (1981)
Angelou was a celebrated memoirist and poet by the time this fourth instalment of autobiography was published. It covers the years from 1957 and 1962, when Angelou was published for the first time. This was a key time for her: she became increasingly politically active, travelled the world, and met leading black figures such as James Baldwin and Malcolm X. Billie Holiday sings ‘Strange Fruit’ for her, and tells her, "You're going to be famous. But it won't be for singing.” The book also dwells on her relationship with her teenage son and the meaning and responsibility of motherhood.

On the Pulse of Morning (1993)
Angelou recited this poem for the first inauguration of President Clinton in 1993, making her only the second poet to read at a presidential inauguration (the first was Robert Frost). She was, she said, overwhelmed at Clinton’s request, but poured all her thoughts about America into a long poem whose themes and symbols chimed with Clinton’s address. She pictured the earth as “A Rock, A River, A Tree” crying out to humanity that “You, created only a little lower than/ The angels, have crouched too long in / The bruising darkness/ Have lain too long/ Facedown in ignorance…” It was a call for unity from a poet chosen “to bring people together”.

A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002)
The sixth in Angelou’s series of autobiographies covers the late 60s. Angelou moves back to the States after living in Ghana, and is caught up in public and personal sorrow following the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. The book seemed to complete the circle of Angelou’s autobiographical project, taking her up to the moment she sat down to begin the first volume, though she was later to write about her troubled relationship with her mother in Mom & Me & Mom, published last year. Angelou has said that in her books she follows the slave narrative tradition of "speaking in the first-person singular talking about the first-person plural, always saying 'I' meaning 'we'”. Throughout her literary life, she was speaking for millions.

Leslie Thomas RIP

Leslie Thomas obituary
Outgoing author best known for The Virgin Soldiers, a comic novel about national service

Dennis Barker
The Guardian
Wednesday 7 May 2014

Only a few good writers are also good talkers. The novelist and journalist Leslie Thomas, who has died aged 83, was one of them: he could extract on the printed page, on radio and television or in a face-to-face interview good-natured humour from almost anything that life threw at him – including his own bleak orphaned childhood in a Barnardo's home or his national service in Malaya at a time when terrorists attempted to murder as many British troops as possible.

It was his "peacetime" national service – whose humorous possibilities he saw ahead of anyone else – that gave him the idea and material for the novel that made his name and a fortune, The Virgin Soldiers, which was published in 1966 and filmed in 1969 with John Dexter directing. It showed a group of raw young conscripts desperate to get laid while all around them enemies lurked. Thomas had been in that position himself and the bar-girl character Juicy Lucy was based on a Malayan girl who had provided his sexual initiation. She also lost him his lance-corporal's stripe when she threw his trousers out of a window.

The timing of the release of the novel in the swinging 60s was perfect, and so was its attitude. It was bawdy, but drew vivid pictures of the bar girls relentlessly in pursuit of money and adept at changing names to whatever film star was popular that week; the conscripts wetting themselves in moments of crisis and discharging their guns in the wrong direction; the often rather limited NCOs doing their best with raw recruits. Its irreverence about military life exactly suited the needs of the era.

That Thomas was able to divine the funny side of almost any situation made for his survival personally and as a writer. His father was a "wandering Welsh sailor" whose home was in Newport, Gwent – a stoker in merchant ships who became domestically violent aftger getting drunk, which was often. When he was on the dole, his wife went with him to collect his money so that he could not spend it on drink before he reached home. When he once came home excessively drunk even by his standards, his wife threw a chamber pot at him. He didn't show himself again for two years: the pot was full.

During the war, Leslie would pray, "Make dad's ship sink." His father was subsequently killed when a torpedo hit his vessel; his mother took to her bed with cancer and died shortly afterwards. Leslie and his brothers were sent to various Barnardo's homes, at one of which the superintendent told the boys that their brains would be turned to milk because of all the filthy things they did at night. "He had some kindness, but it was well-buried," Thomas wrote later, when reporting it all with vivid and usually restrained humour.

To avoid getting beaten up by the bigger boys, Thomas invented stories – and did it so much better than anyone else that his services were constantly called upon. After a visit to Norwich he won a 2s 6d prize for his description of the city.

While at the Barnardo's in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, he went to Kingston Technical school, and after meeting the journalist and author Charles Mitchell was sent to take a course in journalism at South-West Essex Technical College, Walthamstow. He found a job with a newspaper group that owned the Wickford Times, in Essex, for which he started by folding newspapers, but soon progressed to reporting via a scoop that Princess Margaret was about to visit a Barnardo's home in the area. Though he diligently studied the work of Neville Cardus, the distinguished cricket writer and music critic of the then Manchester Guardian, he wanted to be called up.

He asked to be in the Army News Service and, given the perverse logic of military officialdom, found himself in the Royal Army Pay Corps. He served from 1949 to 1951, watching men "become robots" and experiencing the doubts of many young soldiers at that time during their bayoneting practice on bags of sand: when it came to it, could he actually stick a bayonet into a human being?

In 1950 he went to Singapore for 18 months, hardly cheered by the stories circulating of jungle fighters playing with severed human heads. One conscript who sat in a pool all day in the hope that the chemicals in the water would damage his eyes enough to get him discharged was eventually discharged – for deafness. Thomas was able to recount a funny version of all this not only in The Virgin Soldiers but also in his 1984 autobiography, In My Wildest Dreams. It was when one conscript said wistfully that he hoped he would get a shag before he got a bullet that Thomas got the idea for The Virgin Soldiers, while he also sent articles to his old employers and other newspapers.

Demobbed, he got a job at the already faltering Exchange Telegraph news agency, while submitting short stories to the Evening News's World's Strangest Stories series and winning a £1,000 prize. Eventually he was taken on to the Evening News staff and, bored at the press bureau at Scotland Yard, he wrote his first novel, My Name is Mudd, a local reporter's rites of passage story that was not published.

He was a naturally opportunistic Fleet Street journalist, capitalising on everything including his own misfortunes. When a spy cut his wrists to avoid capture and was taken to a London hospital, Thomas was already there as a patient and was therefore the only journalist who could report on his condition. But his independent writing was proceeding apace. He was commissioned by the BBC to write A Piece of Ribbon, an army detective story set in Malaya. He did talks on Woman's Hour. His first published book, This Time Next Week (1964), about his life at Barnardo's, remained continuously in print long after some of his later novels had slipped out of sight.

When he was short of money, his agent, Desmond Elliott, suggested he "write that novel". It was The Virgin Soldiers and was to free him from Fleet Street and launch him as a bestselling author whose subsequent novels –including Onward Virgin Soldiers (1971), Stand Up Virgin Soldiers (1975) and The Magic Army (1981) – might not have had quite the impact of The Virgin Soldiers, but provided an entertaining view of British life in rapidly changing times. His final novel, Soldiers and Lovers (2007), was a love story set at the end of the second world war.

Thomas was especially proud of his non-fiction books on islands and other picturesque places, Some Lovely Islands (1968), A World of Islands (1983) and The Hidden Places of Britain (1981). He carried on with casual journalism, remained a familiar presence on radio and television, and in 2005 was appointed OBE. His final book, Almost Heaven (2010), was a set of stories relating to Salisbury Cathedral and people connected with it.

Thomas married his second wife, Diana Miles, in 1970. She survives him, as do their son, and the daughter and two sons from his first marriage, in 1956, to Maureen Crane, which ended in divorce.

• Leslie John Thomas, novelist and journalist, born 22 March 1931; died 6 May 2014

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Pat Ffrench at The Central Bar, Gateshead

THE 'Hereford Hurricane' - Patrick Ffrench - performed to a generally enthusiastic response at The Central Bar in Gateshead on Sunday.

He's been asked to return.

The open mic session is also an occasional haunt for Da - who did not attend.

The songs (all Ffrench originals) were:

Patent Love
Finding My Way Back Home
Another World Goes By
The River
The Start of Summer
Arcade Games and Growing Pains


Tuesday 27 May 2014

Going Native...

The Good, The Bad and the Awful...

Pablo Picasso

Buster Keaton

Robert F. Kennedy

Paul Newman

Bob Hope

Prince Charles

Eamon De Valera

Alexei Kosygin

Chevy Chase

Richard Shithouse

Tallulah Bankhead

John Buchan

Woody Allen

Gary Cooper

James Stewart

The Beach Boys

John F. Kennedy

Elvis Presley

Albert Einstein

Charlie Chaplin

Stevie Ray Vaughn

Edward VIII

Barbra Streisand

Russell Brand (the wucking fucking shame...)

Buster Keaton

Dean Martin

Taza, Son of Cochise... uh, Rock Hudson

Monday 26 May 2014

Q and A with Hugo Williams

Poet and journalist Hugo Williams
Poet and journalist Hugo Williams was born in 1942 and grew up in Sussex. He is author of more than a dozen poetry collections and was awarded the TS Eliot Prize for Billy’s Rain in 1999. Williams lives in London with his wife, Hermine Demoriane.

Who is your perfect reader?

Ian Hamilton, [the late] editor of The New Review.

Which books are on your bedside table?

The New Oxford Book of Sixteenth-Century Verse and The Faber Book of Love Poems edited by James Fenton.

Which book changed your life?

Life Studies by Robert Lowell.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

No such knowledge ever occurred to me.

Where do you write best?

At my desk looking out at my back garden in London, listening to the birds.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

Travelled round the world in 18 months, without flying.

What music helps you write?

Loud pop music such as Chuck Berry or Dr Feelgood.

Which literary character most resembles you?


Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

Brigitte Bardot.

Who would you choose to play you in a film about your life?

Alain Delon or David Bowie.

What are you scared of?

Illnesses of all kinds.

What keeps you awake at night?

A rumpled lower sheet.

When were you happiest?

Marriage day, October 1965.

When do you feel most free?

On a motorbike driving to Portugal.

How do you relax?

Making scrapbooks.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

Go on, ask her to dance.

When did you last cry?


What would you change about yourself?

My lack of stamina.

What book do you wish you’d written?

Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?


Where is your favourite place in the world?

Raleigh Street, Islington.

Who are your literary influences?

Ian Hamilton, Neil Rennie, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop.

What was the first novel you read?

Oliver Twist.

What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?


What does it mean to be a writer?

To be lost in a world of danger and fear.

Hugo William’s latest poetry collection ‘I Knew the Bride’ is published by Faber

Sunday 25 May 2014

Storyboard Sequence for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds

Storyboarding terror: Hitchcock’s The Birds turns 50
It’s 51 years since Hitchcock’s The Birds first flew into the world and revolutionised on-screen horror. These storyboards reveal the intricate planning for the classic schoolhouse attack sequence.

Samuel Wigley
5 February 2014

Fifty one years ago, birds were still those benign winged creatures you might happily have left nuts out for in the garden or tossed breadcrumbs to in the park. But on 28 March 1963, all that changed forever. Fresh from making the domestic safety of the shower a thing of abject terror in his 1960 chiller Psycho, the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock turned his attention to nature and the skies, imagining what would happen if our feathered friends flocked against us.

Adapting Daphne du Maurier’s short story ‘The Birds’, Hitchcock moved the action from windswept Cornwall to the distinctly Cornwall-like coast of northern California. The setting for Hitchcock’s avian apocalypse is the quiet little town of Bodega Bay, where San Francisco socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) has followed Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), flirtatiously gifting him with a pair of lovebirds. Then, on leaving town, she is attacked by a seagull, the first of a series of escalating strikes from the air, as a one-sided war begins between man and bird.

By this point as well-known as a consummate showman as a master filmmaker, Hitchcock was coming off an extraordinary run of films which few have equalled for their originality and influence. Though many of these would take years before finding full appreciation, Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960) by now need little introduction as some of cinema’s richest pleasures.

The Birds was a conscious attempt by Hitchcock to one-up the sensational shocks of Psycho. With its soundtrack of eerie electronic bird noises (by composer Bernard Herrmann) and its chillingly effective special effects, it was at once avant garde and remorselessly inclusive in its appeal to our collective nightmares.

Opening on that early spring night at RKO Palace in New York, Hitchcock’s latest masterpiece shared the muted, even negative, critical reception that had greeted Vertigo and Psycho, with Newsweek, Time and The New Yorker all quick to write the film off as a potboiler. Given the film’s largish budget, it was not even deemed much of a commercial success – especially in comparison to the box office bonanza of the micro-budgeted Psycho.

But just as Psycho bequeathed us the modern slasher film, The Birds was an undoubted milestone in the cinema of apocalypse, its legacy clear in vast strains of horror and science fiction cinema since, from Night of the Living Dead (1968) to Jaws (1975) and beyond.

To celebrate this very special anniversary, we present these storyboards (courtesy of the artist, Harold Michelson, and Universal) for the classic sequence in which Melanie Daniels sits outside the Bodega Bay schoolhouse, pensively smoking a cigarette but oblivious to the crows which slowly amass on a climbing frame behind her.

The sequence is Hitchcock at his best, as each cut back to the climbing frame reveals ever more winged threats perching on its metal bars. A terrifying onslaught – timed for the schoolchildren leaving the school in their unsuspecting droves – is just moments away.