Thursday, January 25, 2018

Style's Too Easy To Buy Nowadays And There's Interference With The Mail!

Mark E Smith, the irascible, eccentric and truly unique frontman of Manchester post-punk band The Fall, has died at the age of sixty. Which was one Hell of a surprise to this blogger since he assumed, as most fans of the man and his work probably did, that Mark would live forever. This despite the fact that he had struggled with alcoholism and periodic drug use throughout his adult life and had undergone treatment a number of times. Mark formed The Fall in 1976 in Prestwich with his friends Martin Bramah, Una Baines and Tony Friel and was the only constant member of the band throughout the following forty two years. He was known for his often tempestuous relationship with bandmates; there have been sixty six different members of The Fall over the years, with a third of them lasting less than a year. Smith was, he freely admitted, an autocrat as well as an auteur. 'It's a bit like a football team,' he once said of his management style. 'Every so often you have to get rid of the centre-forward. I've got this reputation as a sack master. I don't see what the problem is' Mark noted, with reference to innumerable line-up changes. 'If it's me and yer granny on bongos, it's still The Fall!'
He was a famously prolific musician and lyricist. Last year The Fall released their thirty second studio CD, New Facts Emerge and had been fitfully touring in recent months when Smith's failing health would allow. The band played London's One Hundred Club in July 2017, while Mark performed from a wheelchair at a show in Wakefield in October. His final performance - and last appearance in public - took place at The Queen Margaret Union in Glasgow in November. Another show was scheduled for The Fiddler's Club in Bristol later that month; Smith reportedly travelled to Bristol but was then too unwell to leave his hotel room. The other members of the group made a brief appearance on stage to explain his absence. News of Mark's death was reported on The Fall's Twitter page - yes, dear blog reader, this blogger too thinks that there is something deliciously incongruous about someone as defiantly old-school as Mark E Smith even having such a thing as a Twitter page - and on the website of the band's current record label, Cherry Red. In August, the band cancelled shows in New York and Louisville after Mark was hospitalised for 'issues relating to his throat, mouth and respiratory system.' At the time The Fall's manager, Pamela Vander, issued a statement saying: 'Unfortunately, it would be a gamble on his health to fly anywhere over the next couple of months.' It would have been The Fall's first US dates in more than a decade. In late December further American dates were cancelled, with Vander citing 'a full year of bad health' as the reason.
Mark Edward Smith was born into a working-class family in the Broughton district of Salford in 1957, as the oldest of four. The family moved to nearby Prestwich when he was six months old. In his autobiography, Mark claimed that Alfred Hook - the soldier who fought at the Battle of Rorke's Drift - was an ancestor of his father, leading to the Smith family being invited as guests of honour to the Whitefield showing of the film Zulu in which Hook was played by James Booth. Mark attended Stand Grammar School before leaving at sixteen. He subsequently took an evening class in A-level English Literature. His first job was as a packer in a meat factory, before he became a shipping clerk on the Salford Docks. The site is now the media complex from where 6Music's Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie broadcast their show. When Mark was interviewed in the studio ahead of the release of The Fall's Re-Mit in 2013, he told the broadcasters about his memories of the area. 'It was a lot of railway lines round here,' Smith reflected. 'I had to go bombing on a bike to Dock House if a ship came in from Nigeria or something!' He formed The Fall (named after the Albert Camus novel) as a teenager after attending the legendary Sex Pistols gig in Manchester. 'When I first saw The Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in '76, I thought, "my lot are not as bad as that,"' he wrote in his 2008 autobiography. 'We're better.' The Fall released their debut EP (Bingo-Master's Break-Out!) in early 1978 on the local Step Forward label.
Musically, Mark's influences varied from 1960s British power-pop groups such as The Move and The Kinks, American garage-rock artists like The Doors, The Seeds, The Velvet Underground, The Stooges and Captain Beefheart's Magic Band and the German art-rock pioneers Can. Normally very guarded and, indeed, often rather spiky, during interviews about music that he liked most of these influences were revealed in a fascinating piece about Mark's record collection with The Quietus's Andy Gill in 1990. (This beautifully strange eclecticism extended to a handful of Fall songs which displayed clear musical influences; see, for instance, the debt owed by 'Cab It Up!' to Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark's 'Enola Gay', 'Gut Of The Quantifier's similarity to Lipps Inc's 'Funky Town', 'A New Face In Hell's assimilation of the riff from The Hombres' 'Let It All Hang Out', 'C'n'C-S Mithering' sounding uncannily like America's 'A Horse With No Name' and, most infamously, 'Athlete Cured', an inscrutable homage to Spinal Tap's 'Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You'.)
The band built a steady cult following; Mark writing in his autobiography: 'You've got to accept that you're never going to be on Top Of The Pops every week if you're in The Fall. That's not what The Fall's about.' For anyone coming to The Fall fresh and with no preconceptions, they were always very much an acquired taste, which is why they never quite made it into the popular mainstream (although they got close a couple of times in the late 1980s and early 1990s). But, if you could grasp a fraction of what Smith was trying to articulate in his own unique way, there was a lot to admire, to be amused by and, sometimes, to be extremely annoyed by. Because, Mark was always very forthright in his opinions and a lot of them were extremely un-PC; he once wound up a leftie music journalist by claiming that he intended to vote Conservative at the next election since Labour's manifesto included a commitment to put up duty on a bottle of whisky! He could also be a right contrary sod. Whilst Grunaid bores like Stewart Lee (a long-time Fall fan) cry salt-tears about what a rilly great guy Mark was and what he brought to their own lives (which is, of course, entirely fair), a far more balanced view was provided by Pitchfork's Jes Skolnik: 'At his best, [Mark E Smith] was a sharp, witty lyricist and vocalist with unparalleled style, delivery and vision, to whom any number of post-punk and indie-rock bands owe an enormous debt. At his worst, he was a petty, controlling man with significant substance abuse issues that heightened his most malevolent tendencies and often manifested via verbal and physical violence towards those closest to him. Neither end of the spectrum of his character can be taken without the other.' In 1982, for example, Mark was vocally pro-the Falklands Conflict considering the Argentine junta as 'fascists'; his support of Margaret Thatcher's military intervention was virtually unique in the music community at a time when the next nearest thing to a pop-star saying the same thing was Phil Collins. Mark could - and did - say some really twatty things at times; on one infamous occasion when The Fall were playing a venue in Middlesbrough the band, who often didn't do anything as 'showbiz' as encores, finished their set and the club's DJ put on a copy of Soft Cell's 'Tainted Love' which was number one in the charts at the time. The Fall promptly retook the stage, Smith ranting: 'We told them we'd come back on if they took off the faggot music.' The Fall was temporarily reduced to a duo of Smith and Julia Nagle when a disastrous 1998 US tour ended in disarray with a violent onstage row in New York which resulted in Smith unplugging the amps and lashing out at the other members. This led to the departures of Steve Hanley (after an unbroken run of nineteen years in the band), Karl Burns and guitarist Tommy Crooks. The following day, Smith was arrested and charged with assaulting Nagle in their hotel and spent a night in the cells.
In a 2005 interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy for Channel Four News Smith also voiced some depressingly Morrisey-esque views on immigration. But for all that, he - as Radio Times noted - always gave fabulously good interview material. He was frequently hilarious; like the story - possibly apocryphal - about Mark's contract to appear on the BBC's Later ... With Jools Holland in 2005 including a specific clause stipulating that under no circumstances was Jools to play 'boogie-woogie piano anywhere near The Fall!' As Guru-Murthy said at the beginning of his piece, The Fall were 'the biggest band in the world never to make it big!' An apt summation, frankly. They were unlike any band before or since, which is interesting given that they, undeniably, were/are a huge influence on loads of very diverse acts - consider Pavement ('mere Fall copyists' according to Smith), Suede, Elastica, The Arctic Monkeys, Pixies, The Happy Mondays, Guided By Voices, Sonic Youth, Franz Ferdinand, Big Black, These New Puritans, LCD Soundsystem, The Long Blondes and The Meat Puppets among many others.
For what it's worth this blogger was a huge fan of The Fall - particular of their 1980s and early 1990s output and, intermittently thereafter. The Fall's long-term musicians, besides Smith, included drummers Paul Hanley and Karl Burns, guitarists Marc Riley (now a respected BBC broadcaster), Craig Scanlon and Smith's first wife Brix Smith Start and bassist Steve Hanley, whose melodic playing was widely credited with shaping much of the band's sound from the early-1980s to the mid-1990s. Simon Wolstencroft, who was the band's drummer for eleven years, told the BBC that Mark was 'a funny guy and very intelligent.' Riley was on-air on BBC 6Music when the news of Mark's death broke. The pair had a tumultuous relationship - as was the case with Smith and many of the musicians who passed through The Fall's ranks.
'Aged sixteen he really did teach me so much,' Riley told listeners. 'The Fall were my favourite band when I joined and they were still my favourite band when I got kicked out!' Smith said that he got rid of Riley because he didn't like the fact Riley was questioning The Fall's writing credits. Or, indeed, that he had been spotted 'dancing to Deep Purple' in a nightclub during an Australian tour in 1982. Smith allegedly told Riley: 'Get in the hotel and stay there till I tell you. You don't need to be dancing to 'Smoke on the Water'!' Riley was fired a few months later, reportedly on his wedding day. In response, Riley's subsequent band The Creepers wrote the song 'Jumper Clown', which directly referenced Riley's dismissal from The Fall and also satirised Mark's lack of dress sense.
Smith had a difficult and often reactionary personality and was defiantly Northern in outlook. Brix Smith said that Mark carried 'a chip on both shoulders. I remember him talking about "fucking Southern bastards" a lot and not wanting to come to London. He hated London intensely. He's quite contrarian as a person and as a writer, which is what gives him his edge.' According to biographer Simon Ford, Smith often treated musicians as would '[a] bad tempered despot.' He was highly charismatic and cultivated a wiry and misanthropic personality during interviews and live performances. As an interviewee, his dry and caustic wit was very quotable, especially when he was critiquing other contemporary bands and 'm usic personalities,' a favoured pastime. Asked during a mid-1980s interview with Smash Hits as to what policies he would adopt if he became Prime Minister, he said 'I'd halve the price of cigarettes, double the tax on health food, then I'd declare war on France.' Smith also expressed support for Brexit. Although a longstanding member of the Musicians Union, he criticised their political outlook, stating 'all they say is "Vote Corbyn."' 
       First associated with the late 1970s punk movement, The Fall's music underwent numerous stylistic changes, often concurrently with changes in the group's line-up. Nonetheless, their music has generally been characterised by an abrasive, repetitive rockabilly-style guitar-driven sound, tense bass and drum rhythms - with occasional stumbles towards the borders of funk - all topped by Smith's opaque, cryptic stream-of-consciousness lyrics, described by Simon Reynolds as 'a kind of Northern English magic realism.' One that 'mixed industrial grime with the unearthly and uncanny, voiced through a unique, one-note delivery somewhere between amphetamine-spiked rant and alcohol-addled yarn.' Well-read and erudite in interviews, Smith cited authors like Colin Wilson, Arthur Machen, Wyndham Lewis, Thomas Hardy and Philip K Dick as influences, as well as Edgar Allan Poe, Raymond Chandler and HP Lovecraft, whose short story The Colour Out Of Space he read at Christmas 2007 for the BBC Collective website. Often veering close to the Nadsat slang spoken by Anthony Burgess's droogs in A Clockwork Orange - his song 'To NK Roachment: Yarbles' referenced the novel directly - Smith's idiolect was entirely his own. Mark's distinctive Mancunian drawl, which featured in his music, also took centre stage when he read out the football scores on the BBC in 2005, after one of his songs - 'Theme From Sparta FC' - was used to introduce them.
Whilst The Fall never achieved widespread success beyond a run of minor hit singles, they maintained a strong cult following. Although that, in itself, brought some problems. The band's hardcore fanbase included, it should be noted, more than a few elitist dickheads who seemed to object to the very idea that The Fall should ever attempt to widen their niche popularity and do anything as awful as actually sell a few records. As early as 1984, when they released the poppy, tuneful 'C.R.E.E.P' as a single, there were sneering letters in the NME accusing them of 'selling-out' something which was to occur again - with monotonous regularity - during the next few years whenever a Fall single made the lower reaches of the charts. Or, when they had a brief flirtation with dance music on 'Hit The North' (despite their already well-established Northern Soul-fan credentials). Or, when his wife Brix persuaded Mark to smarten himself up a bit for a photoshoot, when they made a video for more than ten pence or, in the case of the sublime 'Bill Is Dead', when Mark actually had a go at singing as opposed to shouting/ranting. Mark addressed these charges during a memorable appearance on The Tube during the This Nation's Saving Grace period, noting that the band's record sales had recently increased '... by about three thousand! When I was a teenager, I always thought accessibility was something to be spat upon anyway!' Smith did not responded well to requests to explain the meaning or sources behind his lyrics and especially avoided revealing their biographical content (if any). When asked by a journalist how much of himself could be found in his song's characters, he replied 'Dunno, you're the one sitting there in your round glasses and leather jacket. You tell me what you think its an extension of. For every bloke pulling a pint, there's about ten thousand journalists writing an article about it.'
He described his approach as wanting to combine 'primitive music with intelligent lyrics.' Thematically, his frequently densely-layered lyrics often centre around absurdist descriptions of urban grotesques, gloomy landscapes and 'crackpot history,' frequently infused with regional slang. A number of early songs concerned one of his assumed alter-egos - he had several - though, always from a third person point-of-view. Fragments of his lyrics often appeared handwritten on early Fall LP and single covers, along with collages that he had put together. In an interview with Sounds in 1983, Mark said that he liked artwork to reflect the record's content and that his graphic choices reflected his attitude to music. He mentioned how he was drawn to cheap and misspelled posters, amateur layouts of local papers and printed cash and carry signs with 'inverted commas where you don't need them!' His portraits of working-class Mancunian life and strong condemnations of both capitalism and social control (both consistent themes in The Fall's oeuvre) resisted cliché and polemic, being far more nuanced and complex than the standard rock lyric. There is, of course, an irony in that whilst Mark was, rightly, lauded as one of the most unique lyricists Britain has produced in decades, four of the band's biggest (minor) hits - 'There's A Ghost In My House', 'Victoria', 'Telephone Thing' and 'Jerusalem' - were all cover versions. The Fall were also long associated with the BBC disc jockey the late John Peel, who championed them from early in their career and often described them as his favourite band, famously once explaining, 'they are always different [and yet] they are always the same.' When Peelie died in 2004, Mark made a notorious gurning appearance on the BBC's Newsnight. 'Me and John had an agreement, we never were friends or anything like that,' Mark told the programme. 'This is what I admired about him, he was always objective.' When all the band's - twenty four - Peel Sessions were compiled and released as a CD box-set in 2004, they ran to over seven hours.
The band's output produced eleven top forty LPs in Britain, including 1993's The Infotainment Scan, which reached number nine, their highest ever chart placing. The group released thirty two studio LPs - starting with 1979's Live At The Witch Trials and the same year's Dragnet - and many more singles, EPs, live recordings and compilations. At least a dozen of them - Grotesque (After The Gramme), Hex Enduction Hour, Perverted By Language, The Wonderful & Frightening World Of The Fall, the glorious This Nation's Saving Grace, Bend Sinister, their masterpiece The Frenz Experiment, I Am Kurious Oranj, Extricate, Code: Selfish, the compilations In: Palace Of Swords Reversed and Fifty Thousand Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong and the mini LP Slates - are among this blogger's favourite records.
And, as for the songs ... well, where does one start? No record collection in the world should be without (deep breath and in no particular order): 'Fantastic Life', 'Cruiser's Creek' ('what really went on there, we only have this except!'), 'Kicker Conspiracy' ('Under Marble-Millichip the FA broods/on how flair can be punished!'), 'Bremen Nacht', 'Spoiled Victorian Child', 'The Container Drivers' ('Communists are just part-time workers!'), 'A New Face In Hell', 'Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul', 'C.R.E.E.P', 'Hey! Luciani!', 'Athlete Cured', 'I Am Damo Suzuki', 'Pay Your Rates', 'The Man Whose Head Expanded' ('turn that bloody blimpy space invader off!'), 'Australians In Europe', 'City Hobgoblins', 'Lucifer Over Lancashire', 'Lay Of The Land', 'Eat Y'Self Fitter', 'A Lot Of Wind', 'Gut Of The Quantifier', 'Bombast' ('all those whose mind entitles themselves and whose main entitle is themselves/shall feel the wrath of my bombast'), 'How I Wrote "Elastic Man"', 'New Puritan', 'Leave The Capitol', 'Mere Pseud Mag Ed', 'Glam Racket', 'Hit The North', 'British People In Hot Weather', 'Mark'll Sink Us', 'I'm Into CB' ('my family's a weird lot/my stepsister's got a horrible growth!'), 'Just Step S'Ways', 'Who Makes The Nazis?', 'Rebellious Jukebox', 'Spector Versus Rector', 'Rowche Rumble', 'Totally Wired', 'Prole Art Threat', 'Hip Priest', 'Cab It Up!', 'The Classical', 'Marquis Cha-Cha', 'Living Too Late', 'Mister Pharmacist', 'Carry Bag Man', 'Bournemouth Runner', 'Oswald Defence Lawyer', 'Free Range', 'Putta Block', 'Paranoia Man In Cheap Shit Room', 'Bill Is Dead', 'Riddler!', 'Haf Found Bormann', 'Couldn't Get Ahead', 'New Big Prinz', 'Dead Beat Descendant', 'The War Against Intelligence', 'Why Are People Grudgeful?', 'Hey! Student!', 'Middle Class Revolt!', 'Oxymoron', 'Levitate', 'Fit & Working Again' ... And, literally, dozens more.
Mark also collaborated with artists including Gorillaz, Inspiral Carpets, Edwyn Collins, Coldcut and Elastica. His contribution to Inspiral Carpets' 1994 song 'I Want You' won top twenty recognition and resulted in Mark's first and only appearance on Top Of The Pops. He also joined the group Shuttleworth to record the 1998 World Cup song 'England's Heartbeat'. Alongside his work with The Fall, Mark released two spoken-word solo CD, The Post-Nearly Man (1998) and Pander! Panda! Panzer! (2002). Both feature readings of Fall lyrics, samples of Fall songs and contributions from other members of the group. In 1986, he wrote the stage play Hey! Luciani: The Life and Codex of John Paul I based around the short reign of Pope John Paul and described by its author as 'a cross between Shakeseare and The Prisoner' (the - superb - title song was subsequently released as a single by The Fall). Mark collaborated with Michael Clark's ballet company in the 1980s on several projects including an appearance on Whistle Test with Clark's group dancing to The Fall playing 'Lay Of The Land' and, later, the 1988 stage production (and Fall LP) I Am Kurious, Oranj. Celebrating the three hundredth anniversary of William and Mary's Glorious Revolution, the latter debuted in Amsterdam before transferring to Edinburgh and then London's West End. Mark was also a periodic guest contributor to publications including the NME. He appeared in an acting role in several television programmes and films. He made a cameo in the Michael Winterbottom film Twenty Four Hour Party People (2002), while his younger self was portrayed by Sam Riley in a scene that was deleted from the final cut of the film, but is featured on the DVD. Mark made an appearance in the BBC3 sitcom Ideal - a particular favourite of this blogger - in May 2007, playing a fabulously foul-mouthed, chain-smoking Jesus.
A brief snatch of the 1981 Fall song 'Hip Priest' appeared in the movie The Silence Of The Lambs. Reportedly Mark was happy with the - large - royalties he received from this though he felt the subject matter of the film made it appear as if 'all Fall fans are serial killers!' On Vauxhall using his song 'Touch Sensitive' for a Corsa advert, he noted: 'I needed the money. We're not all Elton John!' In an interview with Robert Chalmers for the Independent in 2011, Smith was on especially cantankerous and borderline nasty form, listing 'soft lads who blab' amongst the - numerous - things he hated, along with Manchester United, red wine, Australia, Brighton, the New York Police Department and many, many more. He had a particularly strong dislike for the Match Of The Day pundits Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer, whom he described as 'looking like policemen. I bet they go shopping together'. Other dislikes include David Fincher's 1995 movie Se7en ('Serial killers were always a bore in my book'), Morrissey - often rumoured to be the 'scum-egg horrid trendy wretch' subject of 'C.R.E.E.P.' - and Kate Bush. Vehement on the latter subject, Smith asked the Manchester Evening News in 2014: 'Who decided it was time to start liking her again? I never even liked her the first time round. It's like all these radio DJs have been raiding their mam's and dad's record collections and decided that Kate Bush is suddenly cool again. I'm not havin' it!' Just, perhaps, be thankful that he never turned his hand to international diplomacy: 'Nuking Russia might not be a bad idea as far as the bleedin' world is concerned,' he noted in the same interview. 'They've plunged a lot of people into miserable lives. You've only got to be in East Germany to see it. It's a horrible way to live. It's like Doncaster!'
In January 2005, Mark was the subject of The Fall: The Wonderful & Frightening World Of Mark E Smith, a BBC4 documentary whilst the following August he received the Contribution to Music award at the Diesel-U-Music Awards. His witty and highly readable autobiography, Renegade: The Lives & Tales Of Mark E Smith, was published in 2008. In 1983, Smith married Fall member Brix Smith Start. They divorced in 1989. He subsequently married Saffron Prior, who ran The Fall's fan club. He married his third wife, Eleni Poulou - who was a member of The Fall between 2002 and 2016 - in 2001. His death was previously wrongly announced by the BBC in March last year, on his sixtieth birthday. In a subsequent interview with the Gruniad Morning Star, he noted: 'It was stopped in minutes by Fall fans. I was still ill around that time but was starting to feel better and somebody comes in and says, "by the way, you're dead!"'
     Mark E Smith's fantastic life is over, dear blog reader. A unique, occasionally cynical and furious, but often delightfully funny man, Mark will be hugely missed by his many fans. And if you want to read more about his extraordinary life, allow this blogger to recommend Fall biographer Dave Simpson's obituary in the Gruniad.
Ursula Le Guin who died this week was loved for her groundbreaking science fantasy novels which tackled questions of gender, race and the environment. She influenced generations of authors from Margaret Atwood to Neil Gaiman - and wrote about a boy wizard thirty years before JK Rowling did. In her writing and in her life, Ursula refused to blindly accept how the world is supposed to work; in that regard she and Mark E Smith - two very different people who were, almost certainly, unaware of each others existence - were very much alike. In life, if something was illogical or unjust, Ursula simply decided that things would be different. 'I am a man,' she said in a 2015 BBC Radio 4 documentary, somewhat surprisingly. 'When I was born, there were actually only men. People were men.'
Ursula, who was born in 1929, meant people who mattered were men and that women were as near as invisible. So she decided to bestow upon herself the power that was more often afforded to men. 'I am a man and I want you to believe and accept this as a fact, just as I did for many years,' she wrote. In that same documentary, Neil Gaiman summed her up by saying: 'She is willing to change the landscape of your head with her ideas and there's such power in that. It is that power of, things could be different.' In her writing, Le Guin created new worlds to show us how things could be different - from the glacial, genderless society in The Left Hand Of Darkness to the magical, racially diverse island setting of Earthsea (which she wrote about in five novels and numerous short stories). She was 'a fearless writer, a fearless woman, who really gives courage to writers and gives courage as you read her,' fellow author Una McCormack told the BBC on Wednesday after Le Guin's death at the age of eighty eight was announced.
Such worlds 'give her a space to explore ideas of what it means to be human, [with] different social arrangements,' McCormack said. 'She was a very political and socially savvy writer and these gave her imaginative spaces in which to explore different ways in which human beings can relate to each other.' Writing in the Gruniad, Margaret Atwood said: 'In all her work, Le Guin was always asking the same urgent question: "what sort of world do you want to live in?" Her own choice would have been gender equal, racially equal, economically fair and self-governing, but that was not on offer.' Author China Mieville, who interviewed Le Guin for Radio 4 for her eightieth birthday in 2009, said that he first read her Earthsea books when he was approaching his teenage years. 'They were and remain incredibly influential for generations,' he told BBC News. 'They were also some of the first books I remember returning to again and again. There was absolutely no sense of being spoken down to or some kind of special or slightly diluted literature for younger readers. These were written with a great tone of ethical seriousness and a very powerful, controlled, but moving prose, and a great humaneness which never veered into sentimentality. As you get older and return to those books and read some of her other books, I started to realise other things and started to sense this slow-burning fury at injustices and a very sharp and unremitting diagnosis of things in the social world, always allied to this humaneness.' A Wizard Of Earthsea, about a boy who went to a school for wizards, was the first in the series and was published in 1968. She wrote a further five Earthsea books, the last of which came out in 2001. The later books revisited and revised the setting, with Le Guin taking into account feedback from readers with 'a tremendous capacity for self-criticism,' Mieville said. 'I don't know a single other writer who's done anything comparable and I find it unendingly moving.'
Here other novels included Rocannon's World in 1966, Planet Of Exile, City Of Illusions, the award-winning The Left Hand Of Darkness and The Dispossessed, The Word For World Is Forest (1976 and another Hugo Award winner), Four Ways To Forgiveness, The Lathe Of Heaven, The Wind's Twelve Quarters, The Eye Of The Heron and Always Coming Home. Her influence on later writers is such that Mieville said she had changed the way he sees the world. 'It's a kind of writing that sits so close to you that it's like spectacles.' In person, interviewing her for the radio documentary, the author was 'a delight,' Mieville said. 'She absolutely would not hold back on her opinions when she didn't think things were right,' he added. 'She didn't suffer fools gladly, but that's not code for "She was difficult or unpleasant to be around." She was an absolute delight and whip smart and very funny.' Her stance towards 'fools' can be seen in her reply to a request for comment to promote an all-male SF anthology. She refused, signing off: 'Gentlemen, I just don't belong here.' She also didn't hold back when talking about a 2004 mini-series adaptation of Earthsea which, among other things, made most of the characters white. 'Right there, they betrayed something very deep in the book,' she said. 'It was a terrible movie. But I was kind of glad it was a terrible movie because it had so little to do with my book.' Le Guin was often dismissed as 'just' a science-fiction or fantasy writer, but admirers knew she was much more than that. Una McCormack said that her works should be considered 'world class literature. I think it's a real shame that she was never given the Nobel,' she said. 'Her reach, her skill, her style is that good.' Le Guin herself told The Paris Review: 'Where I can get prickly and combative is if I'm just called a sci-fi writer. I'm not. I'm a novelist and poet. Don't shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don't fit, because I'm all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions.' One of her fears, the author told Mieville on Radio 4, was that her work and legacy wouldn't last once she's gone. 'Why do all women writers get forgotten extremely quickly?' she asked. 'That's a real anxiety simply from watching what happens to women writers. They go much faster than men writers do.' But she succeeded in rising above all questions of gender and genre and ensured that the worlds she created will continue to be visited by readers, who may not see things quite the same way again when they come back down to Earth.
Hugh Masekela, who has died aged seventy eight, was one of the world's finest and most distinctive horn players, whose performing on trumpet and flugelhorn mixed jazz with South African styles and music from across the African continent and diaspora. Exiled from his country for thirty years, he was also a powerful singer and songwriter and an angry political voice, using his music and live performances to attack the Apartheid regime that had banished him from his homeland. Even when he had returned to the country of his birth under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, after having lived and worked in the US and in Botswana, Masekela continued to comment fearlessly on political events in South Africa and around the world, enjoying his status as an international celebrity, playing for presidents and royalty and concert audiences, and often collaborating with other musical greats. He was born in Kwa-Guqa township, Witbank, a coal mining settlement near Johannesburg. His father, Thomas, was a health inspector and sculptor and his mother, Pauline, was a social worker, officially classified as 'coloured' in Apartheid-era South Africa as she had a Scottish father. Hugh was one of four children in a politically conscious family; his younger sister, Barbara, would eventually become head of the African National Congress's department of arts and culture. The children were raised by their grandmother, Johanna and Hugh was always surrounded by music. At the age of four he was a pageboy at the wedding of his Aunt Lily and was fascinated by the celebrity wedding band, the Jazz Maniacs, and their trumpeter Drakes Mbau. Hugh was given his own instrument when he was fourteen. He was then a pupil at St Peter's, a remarkable secondary school for black children which became a centre for opponents of apartheid before being closed by the authorities. The staff included Oliver Tambo, later leader of the ANC and Trevor Huddleston, later an Archbishop and President of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement. The young Masekela was always in trouble. 'I was one of the worst delinquents,' he once said. 'Always fighting with the teachers or going into town stealing.' He was sent to see Huddleston because 'you'd be sent to him when everything else had failed.' Masekela had wanted a trumpet, he said, after seeing the 1950 film Young Man With A Horn and recalled that he told the priest: 'If I can get a trumpet I won't bother anyone one any more.' Huddleston managed to raise fifteen pounds ('a lot of money in those days') to buy the instrument, found a black Salvation Army trumpeter to teach Masekela and 'then he sat outside the school making hideous noises.'
Other pupils naturally wanted instruments as well and The Huddleston Jazz Band was born. They wore black trousers and grey silk shirts and played American rather than African music. Along with Masekela, the band featured the trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, who would also become a star. Huddleston continued to help Masekela even after the priest had left the school and South Africa. In 1956, when he was in the US publicising his book Naught For Your Comfort, he told Masekela's story to a journalist, who suggested that it might interest Louis Armstrong, the best known trumpeter of the day. Armstrong was fascinated and handed Huddleston one of his horns to give to Masekela. 'I sent it straight to South Africa and I have a wonderful picture of Hugh jumping for joy,' said Huddleston. Masekela's skills as a trumpeter increased and so did his fame. In the 1950s he played at fundraising events for the ANC in the years before it was official banned by the state, with the young Mandela among those who came to watch. Hugh explored South African styles and avidly followed developments in the American jazz scene as he developed his distinctive Afro-jazz sound. He joined Abdullah Ibrahim (then known as Dollar Brand) and Gwangwa in The Jazz Epistles, who in 1959 recorded the first LP by a South African jazz band, Jazz Epistle Verse One. In the same year he teamed up with Gwangwa and others in the band for the adventurous hit musical King Kong. Billed as an'“all-African jazz opera' its story of a boxer had an all-black cast and starred the country's finest female singer, Miriam Makeba. Such an extraordinary flowering of black culture could not last long in the Apartheid era. Makeba left the country and her citizenship was revoked because she had taken part in the anti-Apartheid film Come Back Africa. In 1960, the year of the Sharpeville massacre and the official banning of the ANC, Masekela also left his homeland. He was lucky to get out when he did, he reflected. His angry opposition to Apartheid had already come to the attention of the authorities. He travelled first to London, where he was disappointed by the local jazz scene and then to New York, where, like Makeba, he was helped by the musician and activist Harry Belafonte. Masekela enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music and immersed himself in the city's jazz scene, watching Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. He was advised by Dizzy Gillespie - with whom he began a long friendship - and Armstrong to develop his own, African style and, in 1963, released his debut LP Trumpet Africaine. In 1964 he married Makeba. Masekela's angry political stance was not altered by his move to the US. He claimed that the South Africans passed potentially inflammatory information about him to the Americans and that his phone was tapped by the CIA in New York. He began to identify with the Black Power movement and in 1966 played at The Watts Festival on the first anniversary of the riots in that black Los Angeles neighbourhood.
In 1967, now living in California and having divorced Makeba after only two years of marriage, he played at the Monterey Festival alongside Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Grateful Dead, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Who. As well as his own set, Hugh also performed with The Byrds (having recently played on their hit single 'So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star'). The following year he released the single 'Grazing In The Grass', an instrumental produced by his friend Stewart Levine that became a massive hit, topping the US charts for three weeks. Masekela was awarded a gold disc, an extraordinary achievement for an African artist. He became something of a celebrity with a house in Malibu and was befriended by movie stars including Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, but his record company found him increasingly hard to handle. The cover of his Emancipation Of Masekela LP (1966) showed him dressed like Abraham Lincoln and was boycotted by distributors in the American South. Later, he followed his easygoing hit single with a furious, experimental set that included songs about Viet'nam and the plight of migrant workers in South Africa. His house was raided by the police and he was put on probation, avoiding a prison sentence on drug charges only because they had no proper search warrant. Promoters cancelled his bookings, but he continued to record powerful LPs, collaborating with Gwangwa and another fine South African musician, Dudu Pukwana. After twelve years in exile he decided to go back to Africa to explore the music of countries he had never visited. He travelled across West Africa, from Guinea, where Makeba had moved with her new husband, Stokely Carmichael and then to Zaire. In 1973 he spent time in Kinshasa, meeting such musicians as the guitarist Franco and went on to Liberia, Ghana, and Nigeria, where he stayed for a month in Lagos with Fela Kuti. The rebellious Kuti introduced him to the Ghanaian band Hedzoleh Soundz, with whom Hugh recorded and later toured in the US.
He returned to Africa with Levine in 1974, when they put together the Zaire '74 concerts that preceded the Rumble In The Jungle boxing match in Kinshasa between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Angry disputes with the promoter, Don King, meant that the historic recordings of the African artists involved, including Franco and Makeba, were released only in 2017. Masekela kept travelling, but in 1980 he settled in Botswana, across the border from South Africa, where he lived for more than four years. A mobile studio was shipped to him from California and he recorded the LP Technobush, which included the bestselling 'Don't Go Lose It, Baby'. In 1986 he founded the Botswana International School of Music. By now he was rebuilding his following in the West, helped by growing interest in 'world music' and in African styles. In 1987 he and Makeba along with Ladysmith Black Mambazo joined Paul Simon on the world tour promoting Simon's massively successful LP Graceland, which had been partly recorded with black musicians in South Africa, despite a UN cultural boycott. Masekela said that he was backing Simon because Graceland was giving black South Africans global exposure. Others disagreed and when the Graceland tour reached London, protesters outside the Royal Albert Hall included Jerry Dammers and some other Social Workers Party tossers trying to persuade concert-goers that, to help end Apartheid they should boycott a gig featuring Hugh Masekela. Needless to say, most of the ticket-holders attending the gigs told the protesters to grow the fuck up. Inside, meanwhile, Masekela was performing his rousing anti-Apartheid anthem 'Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela)' and his song about migrant workers, 'Stimela'.
The following year he and Makeba again shared a stage in London - this time at the Nelson Mandela Seventieth Birthday Tribute concert at Wembley, an event which honoured the jailed South African leader and was broadcast to sixty seven countries. Masekela and Makeba performed 'Soweto Blues', which mourned the deaths of the many children killed by police during the 1976 uprising. Mandela was released in 1990 and with the subsequent end of Apartheid, Masekela was finally able to return to South Africa after an absence of thirty years. Rather than retire, he threw himself into a series of new recordings and projects and began to achieve the deserved status of an international celebrity. In 1996 he played for President Mandela and the Queen during Mandela's state visit to Britain. Mandela responded by dancing in the royal box. In 2010 Hugh was the opening performer in the globally transmitted concert that kicked off the World Cup finals in South Africa and in 2012 he was reunited with Paul Simon for a world tour celebrating the twenty fifth anniversary of the Graceland project. This time there were no protests. Later that year Hugh co-created the Songs Of Migration jazz musical, which explored the music of South Africa, Nigeria and the American South and was staged around the world. Having issued more than forty LPs across his career, his final one was No Borders, in 2016. Among his many awards was South Africa’s highest, the Order of Ikhamanga. Masekela's second marriage, to Chris Calloway, daughter of the jazz artist Cab Calloway, ended in divorce, as did his marriages to Jabu Mbatha and Elinam Cofie. He is survived by his son, Selema and daughter, Pula Twala, from other relationships, and by his sisters, Elaine and Barbara.
The family of the late Teletubbies actor Simon Shelton have remembered the 'beloved' performer as a man who 'lived an amazing life and achieved so much. The love we have for him will live on,' said Lydia and Henry Barnes, his two eldest children. Shelton, who was also known as Simon Barnes, played purple, handbag-carrying Teletubby Tinky Winky in the original BBC children's series. His body was found on 17 January in the area around Mann Island in Liverpool. Merseyside Police said that there were 'no suspicious circumstances' relating to the death, which some reports attributed to hypothermia. 'It is with great sadness to say we lost our beloved dad last week,' said Lydia and Henry Barnes, offering thanks to 'everyone for their kind messages of support. We now ask that we are left to grieve in private with our family,' their statement continued. His niece, the actress Emily Atack, remembered him on Instagram as 'the kindest and most talented man you could ever wish to meet.' Shelton took over the role and costume of Tinky Winky after original actor, Dave Thompson, was sacked in 1997. His co-star John Simmit, who played Dipsy, said he was 'remembering the many good times.' The actor was also remembered by Ragdoll Productions, the makers of Teletubbies, as 'such a joy to work with.' In a statement on Twitter, the production company recalled 'the fun and energy that came through the screen in all of his performances as Tinky Winky.' The original series was watched by approximately one billion children in more than one hundred and twenty countries in forty five languages.
Andy Rourke, the former bassist with The Smiths, has denied involvement in a partial reunion of the band which had been planned for June, leading to a cancellation of the entire project. It was announced on 22 January that Rourke, along with Smiths drummer Mike Joyce and Craig Gannon -who briefly replaced Rourke on bass in 1986, before playing rhythm guitar with the band for a few months - would perform 'classical' versions of Smiths songs with The Manchester Camerata Orchestra. Joyce said that he was 'massively excited to be playing with Andy and Craig again,' and Rourke added he was 'thrilled and excited to be involved in Classically Smiths.' But, Rourke called the announcement 'false statements,' adding: 'At no time did I give my consent for anyone in connection with this Classically Smiths project to act on my behalf or my name and nothing was ever confirmed, approved or contracted by me or my team.' His representative called the quotes 'one hundred per cent fabricated and without approval.' Singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr - the two men who, you know, wrote all of the songs that The Smiths released - were not due to appear at the concerts and have, significantly, not released their own statements about them. Joyce then announced that he was no longer involved in the project either. 'I entered into agreement in good faith to perform these shows with Andy Rourke and Craig Gannon,' he said in a statement. 'Unfortunately, it became apparent very late that Andy would not be taking part. After much deliberation and soul searching I have decided that without Andy, an integral part of why I agreed to take part in the first place, I have come to this difficult decision. I still believe the shows and concept to be a fantastic idea and wish them all the success they deserve.' Gannon finally posted a statement that confirmed the concerts were cancelled, just a day after they were first announced. 'It is with regret that the Classically Smiths shows will no longer be going ahead,' he wrote. 'Five months ago myself, Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke all agreed to be a part of this project. Unfortunately, Andy pulled out at the very last minute. The last thing we wanted was to mislead anyone. This is disappointing as we were all really excited about putting on these shows.' Rourke and Joyce have a chequered history with The Smiths since the band broke up in 1987. Each played on some of Morrissey's solo singles - as, briefly, did Gannon - but the pair later sued Morrissey and Marr over Smiths royalty payments, arguing there had been an agreement to share profits equally four ways; Rourke settled out of court for eighty three grand, but Joyce continued to pursue the case. He eventually won an estimated one million knicker payment, after it was judged that Morrissey had been 'devious, truculent and unreliable' in how he had kept information about profit sharing from the pair. To say that Morrissey was a bit pissed off with Joyce as a consequence would be putting it mildly. Have a read of his autobiography on the subject, dear blog reader. It's hilarious. Since his time in the band, Rourke has played with fellow Mancunian musicians Badly Drawn Boy and Ian Brown and in bassist supergroup, Freebass with ex-Stone Roses member Mani and former-New Order member Peter Hook. He later formed the group D.A.R.K, featuring vocals by the late Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries. He has paid tribute to her 'breathtaking and unique talent,' this week adding: 'I will miss her terribly.' Joyce meanwhile now works as a DJ and broadcaster, while Gannon composes music for TV and film.
So, after such unremittingly bad news, dear blog reader, how's about we finish off with a picture of Tom Baker and some kittens, eh? That should lighten the mood.