Monday 31 October 2016

Happy Halloween from the Friday Night Boys!

Illustration by Berni Wrightson

Image result for ef benson
Ghost Stories by EF Benson review – gruesome tales from an Edwardian master
Horror stories by the author of Mapp and Lucia break the membrane between the waking and dreaming world

Nicholas Lezard
The Guardian
Tuesday 18 October 2016

The extraordinarily prolific EF Benson is chiefly remembered for his archly amusing Mapp and Lucia novels, but before them he turned his hand to horror stories, casting a chill upon the long Edwardian summer. I remember getting hold of a collection when I was about 13, luridly packaged under the title The Horror Horn; I was just old enough to snigger a little at the title (it refers actually to a Swiss mountain) and young enough to be disturbed by them.

Well, it turns out that I am still young enough to be disturbed by them. This collection, selected by that connoisseur of the eldritch, Mark Gatiss, contains enough nastiness to give you just the right kind of frisson for the time of year. Benson is often compared to his near-contemporary, MR James, who is considered the master of the genre. But HP Lovecraft spoke of the “singular power” of Benson’s stories, and called one of them, “The Face”, “lethally potent”. The evil things in Benson’s stories are more gruesome, and more palpable, than those in James – you can see the appeal for Lovecraft. James’s idea of the fear that walks in the night is something conjured up, sometimes almost literally, from the page: his terrors resemble byproducts of academic research. Benson’s monsters tend to be enormous slug-like creatures, grey and faintly luminous, acting as the terrible instruments of God’s wrath. As vehicles for giving readers the willies, they are most effective. When I reread “Caterpillars”, for the first time in four decades, I very quickly regretted that I had chosen to do so at night. Gatiss, in his introduction, says that it is “perhaps a ghost story like no other”, and he’s not wrong: it’s the kind of story that leaves one feeling almost unclean, checking clothes and body for vermin.

I wonder what it is that made the era so propitious for the production of this kind of story. (HG Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle were at it, too, among countless others.) One could propose a kind of morphic resonance, whereby Freud’s research into dreams a decade earlier had filtered through into an otherwise placid world; or you could suggest that it was the bad conscience of empire at work, undermining the pinnacles of its achievements as they were experienced at home: the church, the academy, the country house. James and Benson themselves remained, as they used to say coyly in the obituaries, unmarried, and maybe the sense of existing to some extent at a marginal level of society helped them conjure up tales of visitors from unseen worlds. I see Benson as trying to work something out from the unconscious: it’s not unusual for his stories to break the membrane between the waking and dreaming world, as in “Caterpillars”, or the recurring nightmare in “The Room in the Tower”.

But these tales wouldn’t survive if they hadn’t been constructed well, and one of the ways Benson achieves his effects is to tap into the natural world as deftly as he does the supernatural. The story “Spinach” is a comedy about spiritualism; and the power of “And No Bird Sings” resides in the way it undermines that happiness of summer. “It was one of those golden days which every now and again leak out of paradise and drip to earth,” he writes; all the more effectively to conjure up the monsters of hell.

• Ghost Stories is published by Vintage.

Andrew 'Jimmy' Gibbons, known to one and all as Jimmy Giblets, was, for many years, the toast of Victorian Newcastle.

Let's not forget this chilling local ghost story. I could have sworn I saw this man in town only a couple of weeks ago, although it may have been a trick of the light...

Sunday 30 October 2016

Susan Hill on the Ghost Story

What better way to celebrate the coming of Halloween than to blog a piece on ghost stories by one of Britain's finest writers...

Image result for susan hill
Susan Hill: Why we all need a fright on a winter’s night
From Dickens to Kipling, ghost stories are more than mere ‘entertainment’ – they fulfil a basic human need

Susan Hill
The Guardian
Thursday 20 October 2016

“Do you believe in ghosts?” they always ask me in interviews. I reply: “I keep an open mind.” The new physics allows for them; it is all to do with time. I don’t understand it, but quantum physicists are not gullible souls.

JB Priestley was fascinated by the subject of time and the way it might shift about. He wrote plays and fiction about it, but, so far as I know, he did not write a ghost story. I wish he had. The genre has attracted some fine writers but it is often dismissed as mere “entertainment”. Literary snobs might heed the American writer Tom Wolfe. He gives another definition: “Entertainment enables people to pass the time pleasantly, and any writing should first entertain. It’s a very recent thing that there is a premium put on making writing so difficult that only a charmed aristocracy is capable of understanding it.”

Dickens’s first readers were far from being “a charmed aristocracy”, yet he, one of the greatest of novelists, delighted in the ghost story and may claim to have written the most famous one. A Christmas Carol is magnificent literature, a serious moral tale – and a first-rate entertainment. It is spooky, moving and funny by turns, and the characters have entered worlds in which they are known and understood outside the context of the book.

The existence of ghosts might yet be proven by quantum physics, but in fiction they should not be rationalised or explained away by natural causes: that shadow moving across the window as a tree shifting in the breeze; the woman who saw the ghostly child as suffering from puerperal psychosis. Ghostly children are especially troubling, of course. The boy and girl in Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw are not ghosts, they are victims – but are Quint and Miss Jessel real, or ghostly figures of the children’s imagination? Rudyard Kipling’s story “They” is both disturbing and beautiful, with its ghost-children in a garden.

Literary scholars tell us that the ghost story originated with the gothic novel in the 18th century, or with Dickens in the 19th, but we forget how relatively small our fictional culture is. In countries such as Japan and India, tales of the supernatural have ancient origins. It is a near universal form of storytelling – indeed, I often think that cavemen must have told ghost stories to explain away shadows cast by the fire inside their caves. The play of my novel The Woman in Black has had an extraordinary welcome in countries where the genre is traditional – Mexico, Japan and India – but failed in what one might describe as “rational” countries; Germany has never understood it.

It is not entirely true that a ghost story must frighten if it is to succeed. AS Byatt’s “The July Ghost” is set in a London summer garden and is almost unbearably moving, but not in the least bit scary. However, with the darkness of winter comes the longing for a ghost story – to be read when alone or perhaps aloud to a small group – and, if it is to satisfy, that ghost story must frighten delightfully. It is a basic human need. Fear of the real and dangerous plays a part in every human life and if we can ever prepare for it, and learn how to overcome it, we must do so through stories.

Horror is ever popular too, and I am often accused of writing it. Not so. A ghost story may be horrifying, but the genres are different. A ghost story must contain a ghost; a horror story need not. Gothic is different again, and it has changed slightly since its (probable) origin in the 18th century, when it contained, almost perforce, an ivy-clad castle or monastic ruins. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is a wonderful and terrifying gothic/ghost story. The Turn of the Screw, perhaps the greatest ghost story ever written, is gothic – but so much more besides.

There is not much good literary criticism in the field. If you want the best background reading and careful analysis, read Night Visitors by the late Julia Briggs. (It’s out of print, which is a disgrace, and rather hard to obtain but try an inter-library loan.) Michael Cox’s introduction to The Oxford Book of Ghost Stories and his biographical study of MR James are both essential and enjoyable reading.

The ghost story has more often been short – it is hard to sustain beyond about 50,000 words without any slackening of tension – but recently, several writers have successfully written them at full length. Sarah Waters and Michelle Paver are especially good. If you prefer a short, sharp shock, then MR James is for you, as are LP Hartley, Edith Wharton, EF Benson and Elizabeth Bowen, whose The Demon Lover is one of the most chilling I know, and which improves with familiarity. E Nesbit, author of jolly good children’s books, including The Treasure Seekers, also wrote some short and deadly ghost stories.

Inevitably, in such a popular fictional form, there is an awful lot of rubbish, but the best rises to the surface, as with most things. If a story or a novel, let alone the complete works of a writer, have stood the test of time – say 100 years – and are still in print and being read, they are reliable providers of damn good narrative and ghosts that clutch at your heart.

Do I frighten myself when writing a ghost story, is another question I’m often asked. No, because I am in control. But when reading one, especially in perfect circumstances, I am often scared, even when I know the story well. I never fail to be chilled by MR James’s masterpiece, “Casting the Runes”, or to feel uneasy as I get a few pages into Edith Wharton’s “Mr Jones”. Which, of course, is precisely what I want, sitting beside the fire in a room full of odd shadows cast by the lamp, on a cold winter’s night.

Susan Hill's latest collection of ghost stories, The Travelling Bag, is published by Profile at £9.99. You really ought to visit her website at

Here are fifteen favourite literary ghost stories (as usual, not in any particular order and limited to one per writer to avoid having more M R James) to keep you going between now and Christmas:

1.  The Signal-Man by Charles Dickens
2.  The Face by E F Benson
3.  A Warning to the Curious by M R James
4.  The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
5.  The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
6.  The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stephenson
7.  The Call by Robert Westall
8.  The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
9.  The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
10.  Beyond The Wall by Ambrose Pierce
11.  Green Tea by J Sheridan Le Fanu
12.  Hell House by Richard Matheson 
13.  The Shining by Stephen King
14.  Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe
15.  The Eyes by Edith Wharton

Friday 28 October 2016

Bobby Vee RIP

Bobby Vee, Pop Idol Known for ‘Take Good Care of My Baby,’ Dies at 73
He placed 38 singles in the Billboard Hot 100 from 1959 to 1970

Sam Roberts
The New York Times
24 October 2016

Bobby Vee, who became a teenage idol in the early 1960s with infectious hits like “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” died on Monday in Rogers, Minn. He was 73.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, his son Jeff Velline said.

Mr. Vee was one of a crop of dreamboat singers promoted by the music industry in the late 1950s and early ’60s, joining Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and others on the charts.

His career had a fairy-tale start. His show-business baptism came when he was 15 and filled in for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper after they died in a plane crash in 1959.

He went on to place 38 singles in the Billboard Hot 100 from 1959 to 1970, notably “Take Good Care of My Baby,” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, which reached No. 1 in 1961. He continued recording until 2014, when his last album, “The Adobe Sessions,” was released.

Among his other hits were “Run to Him,” “Come Back When You Grow Up,” “Rubber Ball and “Walkin’ With My Angel.”

Sweetly sincere, an accomplished guitarist and songwriter as well as a singer, Mr. Vee wangled his way into his older brother’s band as the lead vocalist because he was the only one who remembered the lyrics to their songs.

They had practiced together only a few weeks when they responded to a radio appeal and were recruited to substitute for Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson), whose death en route from Iowa to a concert in Moorhead, Minn., was immortalized in 1971 by Don McLean as “the day the music died” in his hit song “American Pie.”

On their way to perform at the National Guard Armory in Moorhead, the band members dropped by J.C. Penney to buy black peg pants, sleeveless sweaters and Angora ties. Mr. Vee also improvised when the M.C. asked his band’s name. Inspired by silhouettes cast on the stage by the spotlights, he pronounced them “the Shadows.”

“The fear didn’t hit me until the spotlight came on, and then I was just shattered by it,” he told The Associated Press in 1999. “I didn’t think that I’d be able to sing. If I opened my mouth, I wasn’t sure anything would come out.”

It did, but the band did not get paid and was left at the Armory as the surviving members of Holly’s Winter Dance Party Tour decamped for Sioux City.

Four months later, they scraped enough together for their first recording session, which included Mr. Vee’s first hit, “Suzie Baby.” That led to Hollywood, a contract with Liberty Records and a breakthrough song, “Devil or Angel.” It made the Top 10 in 1960, when Mr. Vee was just 17.

“During a period when flash-in-the-pan, one-hit-wonder teen idols often ruled the charts, Bobby Vee was a consistently reliable chart-topping singer,” Robert Reynolds wrote in his book “The Music of Bobby Vee,” published this year. “He was a talented musician who was as comfortable crooning a heart-wrenching ballad, or belting out a bass-driven rocker, as he was singing a light and breezy teen ditty.”

Robert Thomas Velline was born on April 30, 1943, in Fargo, N.D. His father, Sidney Velline, was a chef who played fiddle and piano. His mother was the former Saima Tampinila.

Mr. Vee’s wife, the former Karen Bergan, died in 2015. In addition to his son Jeff, he is survived by two other sons, Robby and Tommy; a daughter, Jennifer Velline-Whittet; and five grandchildren. Mr. Vee and his three sons performed together in a band, the Vees.

“It was rural America,” Mr. Vee said of Fargo in the 1950s. “It certainly was not a place you would go to get into show business.”

Mr. Vee played saxophone in his high school band, but with savings from his newspaper route he bought a $30 Harmony guitar after his brother Bill taught him a few chords.

A few months after their Moorhead performance, the band recruited a fledgling pianist who went by the name Elston Gunn (sometimes spelled with three n’s). It was his first gig with a professional group that had actually released a record. While their collaboration was short-lived — cramped by a decrepit piano, he left to enroll at the University of Minnesota, moved to New York and changed his name (again; he had been born Robert Zimmerman) to Bob Dylan — it was transformative.

Mr. Vee abbreviated his surname at the suggestion of Mr. Dylan, who was taken by Mr. Vee’s graciousness and later described him as “the most beautiful person I’ve ever been on the stage with.”

“I’d always thought of him as a brother,” Mr. Dylan was quoted as saying. Mr. Vee’s voice, he said, was “as musical as a silver bell.”

Thursday 27 October 2016

Ian at the Rustfest at Saratoga Springs and a trip to San Francisco and the Toronado Bar...

A trip to San Francisco...
More graffiti in the toilets than the Free Trade has!
Better than the Bagel of the North or Toon Sarny?

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Jimmy Perry RIP

I would have Dad's Army in my top five of UK sitcoms, a gentle, Ealing-like show (but the Ealing of Titfield Thunderbolt and Tawny Pipit, rather than that of the The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob) blessed with a great cast. The recent film version could have the best script in the world, but it could never match the old series because those actors WERE the characters. He wrote the wrote the show with the late David Croft, with whom he also wrote the popular but now controversial It Ain't Half Hot Mum, set during the war in Indian and based around a concert party. The language would now be construed as homophobic and racist (which it undoubtedly was) and in the first series, there was a white actor in Indian make-up, but even as a kid, I always thought the whole point was to show the working class characters putting one over on the upper class; the Indians putting one over on the British; the gay character putting one over on the macho sergeant. They also wrote the rather less subtle Hi-De-Hi and Croft, of course, co-wrote 'Allo, 'Allo! and Are You Being Served (a show whose 'charms' generally pass me by) with the equally late Jeremy Lloyd.

Image result for jimmy perry
Jimmy Perry obituary
One of the greatest British TV comedy writers best known for Dad’s Army, Hi-de-Hi! and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum

Dennis Barker
Sunday 23 October 2016

With his co-writer David Croft, Jimmy Perry, who has died aged 93, created one of British television’s most memorable comedy series, Dad’s Army, with an audience of up to 18 million. But it had an uneasy start: in 1968, when Mary Whitehouse was campaigning to clean up TV, the BBC’s senior executives felt under pressure to avoid causing offence. Market research was called for: three 100-strong focus groups each spent a day watching the earliest episodes before they were transmitted and, according to the laconic Perry, 99% said they hated them.

The first woman who was asked her opinion said the show was rubbish and no one was interested in the Home Guard any more. Others felt that the material ridiculed the Home Guard’s behaviour at a time when Britain stood alone in its finest hour, and should certainly not be broadcast.

Fortunately the then head of BBC comedy, Michael Mills, decided to go ahead regardless – not with Perry’s title, The Fighting Tigers, but with his own, Dad’s Army. Perry was allowed to keep the song he had written for the series, Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler?, which won him an Ivor Novello award. The programme ran until 1977, and is still regularly repeated.

Perry, an actor who had thought of the series when he was working for Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop company at the Theatre Royal, Statford East, London, also deftly accepted without resistance a piece of casting by Mills that transformed the approach to social class as shown in the relationship between Captain Mainwaring and Sergeant Wilson. Arthur Lowe had been cast as the officious bank manager who was commanding officer of the Home Guard platoon at Walmington-on-Sea.
Image result for jimmy perry
The original intention was that the sergeant under him would be a rough-hewn cloth-capped type. But Perry accepted the elegant John Le Mesurier as the sergeant. Perry remade him into a relaxed ex-public schoolboy and ex-army captain who always tries desperately to underplay his patrician background. The show ran to 80 episodes and a 1971 feature film, and was eventually recognised as the very essence of British humour, involving realistic sympathetic characters, and a gentle mocking of class consciousness and its instability in wartime conditions. A film version starring Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon and Toby Jones was released earlier this year. But Perry and Croft’s attempts at an American version failed.

Croft and Perry bounced ideas off one another and wrote together for a period of over 30 years. Along with Frank Muir and Denis Norden, Alan Simpson and Ray Galton, they were among the dominant writing teams of the period. They contrasted in both primary function and temperament, Croft tough in negotiation and Perry coiffured and urbane, rather in the style of Le Mesurier’s Sergeant Wilson. He guarded his privacy jealously and was rarely photographed.

He was born and brought up in Barnes, south-west London. His father was an antiques dealer with a shop in Kensington. His grandfather had been a butler in Belgrave Square, and some of his stories found their way into Perry and Croft’s last television series, You Rang, M’Lord? (1988-93).

As a child, he was told not to play with “common” boys. He went to Colet Court, the prep school for St Paul’s, where he saw that all races were welcome as long as they were rich. As the antiques business slumped with the approach of the second world war, his mother gave cookery lessons to aristocratic women left without servants. He became, as he put it, a closet socialist.
Image result for jimmy perry
The cinemas and theatres of nearby Hammersmith were his main solace as his schooldays became more difficult. Faced with a school report which said, “We fear for his future”, and asked by his father how he would get on in life without qualifications, he replied: “I don’t need any qualifications. I’m going to be a famous film star or a great comedian.” His father said, in tones more sad than hectoring, “You stupid boy” – the same phrase that Captain Mainwaring would use years later to the rookie Pike in Dad’s Army, played by Ian Lavender

Perry left school at 14 and was sent to Clark’s college to learn shorthand, typing and – a final irritant – book-keeping. He was then apprenticed to Waring & Gillow, purveyors of high-class furniture, but moved out of London with his family when his father took over the shop of his uncle in (safer) Watford after hostilities broke out.

It was in Watford that the 16-year-old Perry served in the Home Guard, thriving on its concerts if not its drill, appeared in monthly talent shows at the Gaumont theatre, and generally gained the experience that would one day enable him to write Dad’s Army. He saw himself as a version of the muddled and mother-dominated Private Pike.

After call-up, he served in the Royal Artillery, principally as a concert party manager, and was drafted to the far east, where his experiences came in useful for his later series It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (1974-81). Once demobbed, he went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art on a serviceman’s scholarship. To raise funds, he became a redcoat at Butlins holiday camps, which was to help him create another series, Hi-de-Hi! (1981-88).
Image result for jimmy perry
From Rada he went into repertory, his height and easy patrician looks then proved to be an asset, and for several years from the mid-1950s onwards ran the Palace theatre, Watford. He was having a rather lean time when Littlewood thought he might learn through the improvisation techniques she had perfected.

Perry, like many other actors, found Littlewood a bit of a puzzle and felt that his talents were being underused. He was on his way to Stratford East one day in the 60s when, after 17 busy but none too prosperous years as an actor, he conceived the idea for a television series which would include a plum part for himself: Walker, the fixer of the home guard platoon, who was a comic spiv and hustler. In the event, he never played Walker because the BBC pronounced that he could not be both writer and actor. Dad’s Army confirmed that Perry would become better known in the former role. He was appointed OBE in 1978.

Perry could send himself up as well as others. His autobiography was to be called A Boy’s Own Story, but it came out in 2002 under the title A Stupid Boy.

With Croft, he was in 2003 presented with a British Comedy Award for lifetime achievement. Croft died in 2011, aged 89.

In 1953, Perry married the actor Gilda Neeltje. He is survived by his partner, the costume designer Mary Husband.

• Jimmy Perry, writer and actor, born 20 September 1923; died 23 October 2016

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Loudon Wainwright III at The Sage, Gateshead, October 2016 - review

Image result for loudon wainwright 2016

Loudon Wainwright III at The Sage Gateshead

24 October 2016

Maybe those whining about Bob Dylan’s recent Nobel Prize for Literature should have attended one of Loudon Wainwright’s recent shows in which he mixes music (and words) with dramatic recitation of some of his father’s writing from Life magazine to get an understanding of how the selection and use of words have the power to involve, move and challenge people. In over 25 years of watching Wainwright live, this was undoubtedly the best show I’ve seen. There wasn’t the youthful tendency to cram in as many songs as possible, nor was he hampered by the demands of an audience who had come along purely in search of ribaldry – though there was some of that too! Last night’s crowd was simply enthralled by a man at the top of his game who had found a new way to present several of his songs.

He was relaxed and witty, looked better – more robust even - than I’ve seen him for a while and his voice was superb throughout. He treated us to old songs (School Days), obscure ones (I Don’t Care), covers (the late Michael Marra’s Hermless, here retitled Homeless), poignancy (The Picture) and the odd acerbically witty number (Double Lifetime).

The highlights, though, featured the use of the spoken (or rather, written, for all you Nobel dissenters) word mixed with music, a format taken from the recent Surviving Twin tour, a kind of posthumous collaboration between Loudon III and Loudon II, but featuring Loudon I and any number of family members and their dog. And in the intimate setting of Hall Two, it worked a treat, moving the audience with tales of childbirth, dying dogs and inter-generational resentments, mixed with some heavy ego and self-deprecation and then following up with an apt song, in one case, an outstanding Half Fist, a meditation on the way physical and emotional traits can be carried down the generations, that was so much more powerful than the album version that it warrants releasing a live recording of these shows.

No Loudon show is ever all serious and he had the audience laughing with a new song, Meet the Wainwrights, written to accompany a mini tour of Alaska where he was joined by his son Rufus, his sister Sloane, ex-partner Suzzy Roche and daughter Lucy Wainwright-Roche and where they seem to have taken the audience (or a goodly portion of it) with them to various venues. There was a little dig at Rufus, “more famous and much richer than the rest of us,” but essentially he was leading us to the killer line that if it hadn’t been for him, “none of you folks would be here.” Martha couldn’t make it but he was at pains to point out that she “and the bloody motherfucking asshole stay in touch,” which is good to know.

The great Chaim Tannenbaum opened for Loudon, who referred to him as the ‘absent-minded professor,’ when he couldn’t find the door to exit the stage – and he did, indeed, look like a professor and, of course, that’s what he was, studying mathematical logic and teaching philosophy while singing and playing folk music for over 50 years, often collaborating with Loudon, the McGarrigles or members of their extended family. With his first album only just released, he proved more than able support and joined his friend on stage for a few numbers, including a version of The Doctor that had to be updated because of Loudon’s age (an unbelievable 70 last month) and an almost nostalgic, affectionate take on Tom Lehrer’s The Old Dope Peddler.

Looking forward to the live version, Loudon. Just sayin’.


Monday 24 October 2016

Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit Concert - Saturday 22 October 2016

Neil and Nils Lofgren - Believe

Willie Nelson reducing or special correspondent to tears with a Scoundrels' 'cover' - Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground

Neil and Norah Jones - Don't Be Denied

Neil and Roger Waters - Forever Young

Neil and Willie - Are There Any More Real Cowboys

The Rusties at the healing pole - not a euphemism, I'm told.

Ian On the Road with the Rustie Caravan