Hello Again!

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It’s been a little while – hope everyone’s been well. I hadn’t had much time or inclination for blogging, as I was dealing with insomnia and anxiety in October and November. I get spells on and off and they last for a couple of months at a time. Maybe sometime I’ll write a longer post on it, but for now, I’ll leave it at the fact that I feel better and I’ve been getting more sleep.

We’re now in Gregorian calendar year 2016 – 2015 whizzed by, eh? Sadly, most of the news seemed to be dominated by terrorism, xenophobia, killing and war. I’m hoping that underneath it all, evolution is happening on this boondocks planet. I always try to remain optimistic, but it’s really, really tough sometimes.

Anyway, before I get off on a massive rant about stupidity – I did have some good times in 2015. My holidays in Lyme Regis and Great Malvern were pretty good (though the cottage in Great Malvern left a lot to be desired). The weather in the first half of the summer was lovely – lots of sunshine and low humidity. I didn’t see that many films – in fact, I don’t think I saw any in the cinema. The newest “Mad Max” film looked pretty good and there were a few others, but largely I wasn’t impressed enough by Hollywood’s output. Not much change there, then. There’s a new “Star Wars” film out now. From what I can gather, the plot’s a retread of the original 1977 film, so I’m not too bothered to catch it in the cinema. Maybe I’ll rent the DVD when it’s available – I left my “Star Wars” nerd-dom behind a long while ago. I did watch “Slackers” on DVD, for the first time in years and I still enjoyed it. It’s dated a bit, but I’ll take the 90s hipsters over the ‘millennial’ version – perhaps I’m just getting old. “Toast Of London” and “Horrible Histories” (all five series) were also a mainstay in our house – we’ve had to stop watching both for a while, ‘cos we’d seen them so many times.

Sadly, I didn’t get to many concerts last year – my gig attendance has been pretty shocking. In my slight defense, there wasn’t much on in Oxford that I really had to see. I did see Gryphon at the Union Chapel in London in May, which was a treat and a great show. They’ve since been named as part of the line-up for the 2016 Cropredy Festival, so I may get to see them again – if we decide to go. I wanted to see Matt Berry & The Maypoles in December, but the closest they got was London and I didn’t have the cash. Hopefully, they’ll do an Oxford show sometime. Some ginkus gave their show a negative review, in The Guardian – apparently, they thought they’d be attending a musical comedy gig. Tsk tsk.

Pixie and I also saw the Patrick Marber adaptation of Ivan Turgenev‘s A Month In The Country, titled Three Days In The Country, at the National Theatre in September. The cast featured John Simm, Mark Gatiss and Amanda Drew. I enjoyed it and Mark Gatiss in particular was excellent – a great comic role for him. We lucked out and had a nice, sunny September day in London. There were loads of people out on the South Bank enjoying the weather and the coach ride back to Oxford was fairly relaxing.

There were a load of new albums I meant to buy, but didn’t get round to – here’s some of them:

Unknown Mortal OrchestraMulti-Love

Flying LotusYou’re Dead

Sunn-O))) & Scott WalkerSoused

Fuck Buttons –  Slow Focus (released in 2014)

EarthPrimitive And Deadly

Six Organs Of AdmittanceHexadic

Field MusicMusic For Drifters

The Chemical BrothersBorn In The Echoes

The OrbMoonbuilding 2703 A.D.

There were a load of reissues, too – the four Yes reissues with bonus tracks and surround-sound disc, the deluxe reissue of Jethro Tull‘s “Minstrel In The Gallery”, the deluxe Procol Harum reissues are just a few I’d like to add to the collection. I also bought quite a few LPs, but I won’t list them all here.

I don’t have too much planned for this year – but I may get the Kaleidophonic Stroboscope podcast up and running again, even if just to post the old shows in a new site. We’re having the house re-decorated and getting a new boiler, which is going to soak up most of the cash, so I’ll have to see what I’ve got time for. Stay tuned, kids – I’ll keep you in on the skinny.

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The Joys Of RipFork

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I bought the newest Tame Impala album, Currents, recently. I listened to it while filing other CDs and I thought it was pretty good. It’s different from the hazy psychedelia of the first two records, which I think is the point. Kevin Parker, from what I can gather, didn’t want to make another album in the same style, so he’s added synths and took, what seems to me, inspiration from 80s synth pop. So far, so good, right? Well, folks who don’t like the album keep pointing to a review over at Tiny Mix Tapes, by Will Niebergall. This review, to them, sums up what is ‘wrong’ with “Currents”.

I decided to go and read the review, to see what insights Will had about the record. Instead, he waffled on about how T.I. ‘are the rock equivalent of Instagram’. I didn’t get the analogy and I don’t have an Instagram account, so the stuff about the settings didn’t make any sense to me. I guess I’m not cool enough to know what Will is on about. On the same Google page as the review, there was a link to site where the Tiny Mix Tape review was itself being reviewed. I visited the site, called RipFork and found myself agreeing with the meta-review. There’s an archive section on the site, so I went back and started reading those posts, too.

The aim of the site is simple – taking the piss out of pompous reviewers on various sites, but mainly Pitchfork, which has gained a reputation for dense, academic reviews filled with jargon and asides completely un-related to the album being reviewed. David Cross, the comedian, posted a really funny Top Ten List of ‘albums to listen to while reading over-wrought Pitchfork reviews’. I’m not quite sure why Cross was invited to do so and even he expresses surprise at being asked to mock the ‘house style’ of Pitchfork.

Matt Wendus, who posts at RipFork, was an online music critic and before anyone accuses him of hyprocrisy, he gives a couple of his own past reviews the ‘rip’ treatment. There’s a list of five ‘writing disorders’ on the site and yes, I recognised some of them in my own writing. I don’t read reviews much anymore, as there’s so many sources of just hearing the tracks on an album before I buy it. Matt makes a good point of this, when pointing out bits of reviews that are confusing. Reviews need to be concise now, because the reviewer is competing with YouTube, with streaming services and download sites. Why read a review which appears to be more of a term paper or doctoral thesis, than someone describing the sounds of a record they listened to? Academic vocabulary and clunky phrasing can’t substitute for genuine love of listening and documenting what you actually heard. I’m not saying that everyone should suddenly start turning into Lester Bangs clones, but is having a bunch of Robert Christgau clones any better? Most of them don’t even have the wit of X-Gau, anyway.

I do occasionally read articles at UK-based site The Quietus and while there are informative ones, the reviews can be as tough of a read as Pitchfork. I suppose it’s a hang-over from the glory days of the NME in the 1980s and early 1990s, when the reviewers were eager to flaunt their knowledge (and degrees in literature and philosophy) by describing records as ‘cathedrals of sound’ and other indecipherable terms. RipFork has tackled a few Quietus reviews as well and I’ve had to agree with Matt’s opinions on them. Seriously, read this review and try and work out what the record actually sounds like, based on what is written in it. I couldn’t – I’ve got no clue what that person was on about.

Inevitably, some people will object to reviews of reviews and some comments on RipFork attest to that. As Matt says, though, he doesn’t have over 200,000 Twitter followers and a festival in his name. Like it or not, Pitchfork has influence and some of its reviews can hurt sales of albums. Sloppy writing and dense language shouldn’t be why an album fails – it should be all about the music. If a reviewer can’t communicate why he or she doesn’t like the music in a concise way, then I can’t see why they can’t be ‘ripped’ for it.

Two Summer Saturdays

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It’s been quite a nice summer here in this patch of the UK. June was lovely – sunny and warm and very little rain. I suppose that’s not good news for farmers, as their crops have been water-starved, but I enjoyed the weather immensely. I don’t know whether I’ve got a form of S.A.D., but I always feel better in sunshine.

The past two Saturdays have been quite nice as well and I spent both (mainly) outdoors for most of the day.

On the first of August, I went to the Oxford Record Fair – I hadn’t been in quite a while (maybe six years?). A co-worker mentioned that it was coming round and I thought it might be good to check it out again. I’ve been buying most of my music off of eBay, so it’s a treat to do a bit of crate-digging, particularly as all of the record shops in central Oxford have shut down, with the exception of the Truck shop on Cowley Road.

The Fair has moved to the St. Aldate’s Parish Centre building (it used to be held monthly at Oxford Town Hall) and it seems to be on every-other-month now. I managed to get out of bed at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, which seems an achievement – well, to me, anyway. It was about 9:30 a.m, when I found the Parish Centre and texted my co-worker to say I’d arrived. He said he’d probably be another hour. From the street I could see a few of the dealers’ tables, but as the official start time was 10, I waited outside. A car pulled up to the kerb and a bloke walked out to talk with the driver. I gathered, from the conversation, that the driver was one of the dealers who was a bit late. I asked him, after they’d finished talking, if it was O.K. to go in, even though it was early. He said it was fine, so I texted my friend, then headed inside.

The space was a bit smaller than the room at the Town Hall, but there were still about 12 dealers with tables set up. Loads of vinyl to be had – so I started with the tables closest to the door and had a look through the boxes. I found a few LPs that I thought I might buy, but I wanted to have a look at some of the other tables.

I made my way around the room and spotted some other goodies. One dealer had a nice first U.S. press of the “Zabriskie Point” sound-track, as well as a sealed copy of Bong‘s “Stoner Rock“. I was seriously tempted by those, but again, I was only on the third table or so and an hour had gone by. My co-worker showed up, but he was looking for his own finds, so we just said “Hello” in passing. A guy from Leeds was down and he had a table of soul, funk, reggae and dub. A lot of the sleeves were pretty beat-up, lots of ring-wear and sticker removal tears. He had some good stuff, though, with lots of U.S. pressings – I found a reissue of Cymande‘s first album, still-sealed. I remembered the song “Dove“, which The Amorphous Androgynous used on a few of their Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble radio mixes (which seem much better than the official releases, to me). I decided to buy that, along with a sealed reissue of The Rotary Connection‘s final album, first released in 1971, called “Hey Love” (credited to ‘The New Rotary Connection’). I also found a Lonnie Liston Smith LP called “Renaissance“, a U.S. press (on RCA), to boot. I’ve got Lonnie’s “Astral Traveling” on disc and I like his mix of spacey, psychedelic jazz and vibe-y funk, so I decided to take a punt on it. The sleeve’s got some wear, but the LP itself is in really good condition and it’s a promo copy.

I found a copy of The Rolling Stones‘ 1975 double-LP compilation, “Rolled Gold“, for £2 (with a really nice sleeve) – turns out the LPs are in pretty bad shape – lots of skips, particularly on the first record. Luckily, I found a minty set on eBay for cheap, so I’ll have to sacrifice the ones I bought with the sleeve, to the gods of recycling. One table had bootleg LPs of high-priced ones (The Velvet Underground & Nico mono, Floyd‘s mono pressing of “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn“, etc.) priced around £10 to £15, but the sleeves looked cheap – you could tell they were photo-copied scans of the actual sleeves, so I didn’t bite. I did buy a nice original copy of Be-Bop Deluxe‘s “Futurama” (on UK Harvest with the laminated sleeve) and Roxy Music‘s second LP, For Your Pleasure (with the laminated sleeve and the ‘pink rim’ Island Records label). My co-worker had to leave after a couple of hours, but I stuck around as another friend was due to show up. I had another go-round and bought the deluxe 2-CD release of Julian Cope‘s excellent 1991 album, “Peggy Suicide – it’s out-of-print now and I’ve seen copies on eBay for £20 to £25. I got it much cheaper, so that was a nice find! I also bought the first two Byrds albums, “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn Turn Turn” on CD (the Columbia reissues, with the bonus tracks). I’ve been meaning to get those for years and finally decided to pick them up.

My other co-workers turned up and after another pass around the tables, I spent the last of my cash on two Edgar Broughton Band singles, “Apache Drop Out” and their classic cover of The Fugs’ “Out Demons Out” – both in very good shape and with the Harvest sleeves. We then were going to go for a drink and food at The Kite pub (it was about 2 p.m.), but it turns out they don’t do lunch on Saturdays. We went to The One Restaurant (I had scrambled eggs with fried tomatoes and egg-fried rice) and then to G & D’s (on Little Clarendon Street) for some excellent ice cream. All told, a great day out – bought a nice stash of music and had a lovely lunch with pals.

The following week, Pixie and I headed into town for a bit of shopping and then to Wadham College to see the Oxford Shakespeare Company‘s production of Twelfth Night. We’ve been to see their shows for the past few years and it’s always been a groovy time. The college grounds make a splendid backdrop for the plays and sometimes the scenes are held in different parts of the grounds, so there’s movement around them.

This production had a sort-of rock/goth theme in the costumes and hair styles. The cast performed the tale of mistaken and hidden identities well – in fact, it was nearly as good as the National Theatre production I saw about five years ago, directed by Peter Hall (featuring his daughter, Rebecca – who, as ‘Viola’/’Cesario’, didn’t seem to really inhabit the role). Martin Csokas was also lacklustre as ‘Count Orsino’. Simon Callow did O.K. as ‘Sir Toby Belch’. The real stand-outs were Charles Edwards as ‘Sir Andrew Augecheek’, Simon Paisley-Day as ‘Malvolio’ and Amanda Drew as ‘Olivia’.

I not quite sure what happened, whether there was an irritant in the air, or something affected my eyes the night before – but suddenly my eyes became very watery and irritated. It progressed through most of the morning and by the time we were seated for the show, I could barely keep them open. We were sat near the front, as well and I was hoping I wouldn’t distract the actors with my squinty looks, as I was really struggling to watch. Luckily, by the third act, my right eye felt much better and I was able to at least keep that one open, while covering the left one some of the time. It probably looked quite silly, but as I had no eye-drops – it was the best I could manage.

As I mentioned, though, the cast were very good and I always enjoy the musical interludes – the O.S.C. actors also seem to be fairly accomplished musicians and singers. The performances were very good – the actor who played ‘Sir Toby’, played him as a sort of drunken Irish uncle, while the actor who played ‘Malvolio’ chose a very camp style (as opposed to Paisley-Day, who played it in a sinister, arch way). The entire cast sung and played the closing song, then they moved away from the ‘stage’ area and played some more, busking for charity. We stuck around for another song and then dropped by the chemist, so I could get drops for my eyes.

We had dinner at Zizzi’s in town and then boarded the bus for home. I was exhausted from two busy Satudays, but it’s nice to get out of the house once in a while.

R.I.P. Chris Squire (1948 – 2015)

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I was very sad to learn of the passing of Yes bassist, Chris Squire, who had been fighting leukemia. He was only 67 years old.

Squire was often called the ‘linchpin’ of the band and is the only band member to appear on every album that Yes released. He began his life in music much the same as a lot of British rockers – playing in R&B cover bands, with a few Beatles tunes thrown in for good measure. He joined The Syndicate, which shortened their name to The Syn and released two psychedelic 45s in 1967 called “Created By Clive” and “Flowerman” (which was backed with their hommage to the counter-culture event at Alexandria Palace in 1967, called “The 14 Hour Technicolour Dream“). The band split shortly after and Squire joined another psychedelic outfit, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, in 1968. He soon met Jon Anderson and the two decided to form a new group – which was called Yes, after a suggestion from original guitarist, Peter Banks.

Yes released their first LP in 1969 and showcased a longer-song format, with flourishes of classical music and jazz – what eventually became known as ‘progressive rock’. Squire’s bass-playing was unique in that he played it almost as a lead guitar, with fluid lines and hitting notes in the upper register of the instrument. After a second LP, “Time And A Word“, released in 1970 – Peter Banks was asked to leave, as the sessions for the second LP were frought with tension. Steve Howe, formerly of Tomorrow and Bodast, stepped in for the third album (and the one considered to be the first ‘classic’ Yes record), called “The Yes Album“. It was released in 1971 and placed the band at the forefront of prog rock groups. Jon Anderson managed to poach our Rick from The Strawbs (abandoning Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye) for the fourth Yes LP, “Fragile“, which made them one of the top bands in the UK and even got them attention in the U.S., due to the radio-friendly tune, “Roundabout“.

Close To The Edge“, considered to be the best Yes album in the band’s catalogue, was released in 1972. Original drummer Bill Bruford left during the tour for the album and was replaced by former drummer in John Lennon‘s backing band, Alan White. A live album of the tour was released, called “Yessongs” (along with a film of the same name, directed by Peter Neal, shot at a Yes show in London). Back in the studio, they started recording what they considered to be their magnum opus, “Tales From Topographic Oceans“, based on Shastric scriptures that Anderson and Howe were reading. The final album was a sprwaling two-record set and even longtime fans thought it was too self-indulgent. Rick left after the tour and was replaced by Patrick Moraz, for the follow-up, “Relayer“.

The band took a break in 1975 and a lot of the members released solo albums. Squire’s was “Fish Out Of Water“, referring to his nick-name and to his ‘solo’ piece on “Fragile”, “The Fish (schindleria praematurus)“. It sold well and is reckoned to be one of the better solo outings from members of the group. Yes reconvened in 1976 when Rick re-joined. “Going For The One” was released in 1977 and the band enjoyed a bit of a renaissance, even during the punk explosion. “Tormato” followed in 1978, but was not received as well and Anderson and Wakeman both left the band in 1979. A stop-gap live set, “Yesshows“, was released in late 1979. The band, with Squire, Howe and White soldiered on, adding Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn, from new-wavers The Buggles. They released one album together, “Drama“, before a disastrous tour in 1980. It looked like Yes, like many prog-rock bands of the 1970s, wouldn’t make it into the new decade.

Jon Anderson started to work on some new demos in 1981 with Trevor Horn, original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye and eventually Chris Squire and a new guitarist, Trevor Rabin. They were brought in to help fill out the sound. The new project was to be called Cinema – but was changed to Yes, as it seemed a more sound commercial appeal. This version of the band released the “90125” (after the Atlantic Records catalogue number assigned to it) and had a few hit singles. They toured again, playing some of the ‘classic’ songs alongside the new ones. Another studio LP, “Big Generator“, was released in 1987. The band split once again. Anderson reunited with Steve Howe, Rick and Bill Bruford (who had left the 1980s King Crimson line-up after Robert Fripp split that band once again). Squire owned part of the rights to the “Yes” name, so the collaboration was called “Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe” and released one album in 1989. A year later, it was decided to record an album with both of the 1970s and 1980s line-ups. The result, “Union“, was a bit too much of a mish-mash and contained too many tracks. I did get to see them live in Hartford, Connecticut on that tour in 1991 and I enjoyed the show. I preferred the 70s tunes more, but the ‘in the round’ set-up of the show and the revolving stage were pretty cool, too.

Yes continued to release albums and tour up to now – with the line-ups ever-changing. Anderson finally left in the early 2000s, for what seems to be permanent. Squire was the one main-stay and now that he’s passed on, it seems to me that Yes has as well. They are going to tour with Billy Sherwood on bass duties – but to me, it’s just won’t be the same (it wasn’t the same without Anderson, either). Perhaps the remaining ‘classic’ 1970s line-up will re-form one last time and then call it a day. Rest in peace, Chris – thanks for all the music!

Gryphon – Union Chapel, London – 29th May, 2015

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Gryphon, the 1970s, medieval folk-prog band, announced earlier this year that there would be a short tour of the UK. I’m not sure what prompted the tour (they didn’t mention in the promotional blurbs about it being a 40th anniversary of the release of the excellent Raindance album), but maybe they felt it was time to fire up the crumhorns and malleted drums again. They did play a one-off reunion show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2009 – but I wasn’t fortunate to get tickets to that one. I was determined to see one of the 2015 gigs and ordered a set of two for the Union Chapel show in London.

I met up with another Gryphon fan (Pixie did say that she wasn’t really up for the trek to The Big Smoke) and his missus near Soho and we drank a couple of pints at a pub I hadn’t been to – then grabbed a quick tube journey to Islington. I was hungry, so my friend’s wife and I ordered some grub at a Weatherspoons joint, almost right across the road from Union Chapel. The show was meant to start promptly at eight p.m., so we rocked up just before then.

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No sooner had we chosen a pew (literally, it is a still-used place of worship and the seating is in the pews), then the boys filed out to the stage to generous applause. It’s quite a lovely venue – high ceilings and stained-glass windows give a ‘sacred’ air, but somehow, it’s oddly secular at the same time. The band were arranged in front of the massive pulpit, with Richard Harvey on the right side of the stage, sat at a keyboard and Brian Gulland and drummer Dave Oberle on the left. Sandwiched in between were guitarist Graeme Taylor and multi-instrumentalist Graham Preskett. Bassist Jonathan Davie was a bit to the back, behind Gulland.

They opened with an energetic “Renaissance Dance Medley“, which never appeared on an LP – but was played in a BBC session in 1974. They followed that with a nice version of “The Astrologer“, from the first Gryphon LP, released in 1973. Gulland and Oberle traded vocals, as the characters in the song, and the rest of the group backed them through the tricky melody. A lively “Kemp’s Jig” was next, also from the first album. In fact, as Harvey announced in-between tunes, most of the first set would be from the debut. After a really spooky rendition of “The Unquiet Grave” (the tone of the song heightened by the concert setting), Graeme Taylor performed a guitar solo in a ‘mock-classical fashion’, as he put it, called “Crossing The Stiles” (also, you guessed it, from the first album). “Juniper Suite” followed, with Gulland deftly moving from bass crumhorn to harmonium and back. The first set concluded with “Dubbel Dutch“, the lone choice from their second LP, “Midnight Mushrumps“, first released in 1974.

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There was a 20-minute interval for people to head to the bar, or the toilets (or both). We got back to our pews in time for the second set to begin with “Midnight Mushrumps“, the entire 18-minute piece. It was so great hearing it live and almost note-perfect (actually, it may have been, as I’ve only listened to it a small number of times). Gulland again switched between crumhorn and bassoon and Harvey would swap his keyboard for a tin whistle. Spell-binding stuff! An ‘unreleased’ song followed. It’s called “Ashes“, written by Graeme Taylor during the “Raindance” sessions in 1975. Transatlantic Records decided it didn’t fit the album and it was cut from the LP. It was eventually released on the “Gryphon – The Collection II” CD. A nice wistful tune, Brian explained that Graeme wrote it on a nice spring day near to a river, where the recording studio was located it definitely has that vibe to it. It was then “Red Queen To Gryphon Three” time, which I was excited about, as it’s my fave Gryphon LP. First up was a really nice “Lament“, played beautifully, then a “muddle-y” (Harvey’s word) of “Red Queen…” themes. It was great seeing the interplay, particularly between Gulland and Harvey. I didn’t quite catch the title of the final tune in the set, I heard Harvey say something about “our roots” and thought he announced the tune as “Yulattis“, but it may have been “Estampie“, from the first album. No matter, ‘cos it was a great little jam.

The encore was an extended version of “Le Cabrioleur Et Dans Le Mouchoir“, from “Raindance” – it had a nice little rave-up at the coda, with Gulland firing out blasts from a trombone. The crowd (including myself) were on their feet for an ovation. So glad I was able to see them live! The fan I attended the concert with is an old friend of the group and he was able to get me into the after-party in the upstairs floor/bar of the chapel. I said “Hello” to Brian and Graeme and had brief chats with Dave Oberle and Jonathan Davie. Richard Harvey talked for a moment with the bloke I went to the show with, but I didn’t get to talk with him. We left quite late and the tubes had all finished by then, so I got a cab back to Victoria Station, and a coach back to Oxford. All in all, a brilliant show and night! Here’s to hoping they’ll do it again soon (with maybe an Oxford show thrown in).

Set-list:

First Set

Renaissance Dance Medley

The Astrologer

Kemp’s Jig

The Unquiet Grave

Crossing The Stiles (Greame Taylor solo)

Juniper Suite

Dubbel Dutch

Second Set

Midnight Mushrumps

Ashes

Lament

“Red Queen To Gryphon Three muddley”

“Eulatis” (Estampie?)

Encore

Le Cabriolet Et Dans Le Mouchoir

The Baysiders: Cults Within Cults

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A while ago, I was trying to explain the Bayside movement to a couple of friends. My mother was quite involved with the group for most of the 1980s and even in the first half of the 1990s. I think she still considers herself part of it, though she’s not actively involved to the extent she was.

For those not in the know, The ‘Baysiders’ came about in the late 1960s and early 1970s, based around the ‘visions’ of Veronica Leuken, a housewife based in Bayside, a neighbourhood of New York City. Leuken claimed to start having visions of Mary, Jesus’s mother, in 1968, just before the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. After that, the visions came thick and fast and soon, according to Leuken, she was speaking with Mary and a host of Catholic saints. They gave her messages about the state of the world and future predictions (none of which ever happened within the time predicted). She had her ‘ecstacies’ recorded on tape and transcribed, which were then distributed as flyers or newsletters by her rapidly growing group of followers.

The followers gathered at Leuken’s local parish in Bayside, until the crowds started to disturb the neighbourhood and were moved on by the local government. Eventually, they were granted a site which was part of the 1964 World’s Fair pavilion in Flushing Meadows. Leuken and her followers would gather for ‘Rosary Vigils’, in which they would say the rosary for the duration of the night, while Leuken would “channel” Mary or whichever saint chose to speak to the crowd.

That’s the basic gist of what they’re about. Ideologically, they were (and possibly still are) very conservative and were committed to oppose the ‘modern’ changes to the Catholic Church, specifically the Vatican II Council, held in 1962. According to Leuken, Mary and the others were very disappointed with the changes. In fact, if you read even a smattering of the ‘prophecies‘, Mary and the other celestial, omniscient beings sound a lot like garden-variety John Birch Society members. They’re obsessed with Communism, with ‘Satanic’ infiltration in the Church, the U.N., homosexuality, the wayward youth and the minutae of how to say the Mass (“No communion in the hand”, deacons can’t have priestly powers). It also seems that Mary & Co. aren’t that big on equal rights for women, or allowing women to wear trousers, in another ‘traditionalist’ bent. Add to all that a lot of apocalyptic warnings about comets and wars and natural disasters wiping out large swathes of the planet’s populations and you’re left scratching your head about Leuken’s “God” and his benevolence and loving nature. To me, ‘God’ sounds batshit crazy and conspiracy-theory prone: he warns about the Illuminati and the Freemasons, a conspiracy to replace the ‘Pope’ with an ‘anti-Pope’, about record companies being under control of Wicca (???!!) and a ‘one-world government’.

Bear in mind that the Baysiders never separated themselves from Catholicism, prefering to protest from within. They would wear their blue berets to Mass and, instead of having the communion wafer handed to them, would kneel down in front of the priest and have the wafer placed on their tongues (as allegedly instructed by the ‘Virgin Mary’, via Leuken). They were also notable by their conservative dress, with ankle-length skirts and formal trousers (trousers only for the men, though – women were forbidden to wear trousers).

I don’t remember how my mother became part of this cult – I was still really young and in the haze of childhood. I didn’t really pay much attention to the ‘grown-ups’ and their doings. Suddenly, it seemed, she was spending time with a few Baysiders and adopting their views and mannerisms. She be-friended a strange old woman, who would bring over photo albums full of Polaroid photos with different coloured squiggles on them which contained ‘messages’, according to this woman. You see, they were taken at the World’s Fair site during these rosary vigils and ‘God’ had caused the shapes to appear on the film. It is interesting to note that Polaroid attorneys never really released a statement saying the photos were faked. The ‘zines printed by the group starting appearing in the house and my mother began to stock up on ‘holy water’ (water blessed by a priest).

My mother would tell my older sister and I (our other siblings were deemed too young, at that time, to understand) about prophecies like the “Plague Of Children” and “The Warning” and “The Chastisement”. It sounded scary as shit, but for some reason, it didn’t really bother me that much. My sister was really frightened and, it seems to me, carried around that fright for a long time. When I was 11, my mother asked if I wanted to go to a vigil. I agreed, mainly as an excuse to stay up late. We got on a coach in Hartford and on the two-hour trip to Flushing Meadows, I was sat with my mother and surrounded by Baysiders. At one point, someone shouted “Look at the sun! It’s spinning!”, everyone immediately looked over to the setting sun and agreed that it was indeed spinning. I didn’t see it spinning, but it did seem to change from a orange-ish to green colour for a few seconds. That may have been my eyesight, though. I didn’t count it as a ‘miracle’.

At the pavilion – there were hundreds of people setting up deck chairs and blankets and clutching rosary beads. There was a statue of the Virgin Mary at one end of the pavilion and that end was already crowded with believers. Then, they started saying the rosary…and saying the rosary…and saying the rosary. This went on until midnight or maybe 1 a.m. I can’t quite remember because I grew bored and fell asleep. It definitely wasn’t worth getting to stay up late for. I can’t remember if my mother had brought our Polaroid to take ‘miraculous photos’. I was woken by my mother and wearily got back on the coach to go home.

I think I may have gone one other time about a year later, but after that, I eschewed any involvement with the gatherings. I couldn’t see the point in saying prayers over and over and nothing seemed to happen. The problem was, I still couldn’t escape their influence on my mother. I went to a Catholic middle-school and in my sixth-grade year, my mother kept me out of sex education class (in a Catholic school!!!) – which was pretty humiliating at the time. She used to hector my sister and brother and I about listening to rock music (which she claimed was ‘the devil’s music’). She tried to keep me from hanging out with a friend who lived down the street because his family were a bit too secular and liberal for her liking (at least, that’s what I suspected back then).

Eventually, as I grew into my late teens, I was finally able to shuck off any trappings of Bayside. My mother continued to see her ‘Sider buddies and go to the vigils – but I stopped taking any of it seriously (not that I had taken it that seriously in the first place). While I still considered myself a Catholic, I was a liberal Catholic and getting moreso all the time. In my mid-twenties, I gave up on the Church altogether, having decided that I really didn’t believe in it’s teachings anymore. I chose agnosticism as my path and have strived to keep to it as much as possible – getting rid of any long-held dogma.

Leuken passed away in 1995, which led to a schism in the Bayside movement. Her husband continued the vigils, but ousted one of his wife’s assistants – who promptly formed a rival Baysider sect. Mr Leuken passed away in 2002 and another woman has stepped up to lead the ‘original’ group. The Catholic Church still denies any authenticity to the prophecies…and the beat goes on. The strangest thing about the Baysiders, it seems to me, is that they’re more conservative than the main religious organisation they branch off from. Unlike certain sects of Sufism, which branches from Islam and Zen, which parts ways some from Buddhism – the Baysiders seem to want to turn back the clock with Catholicism and return it to a perceived earlier, ‘better’ period. They’re sincere, but ultimately misguided, as the world is passing them by. I suspect they’re all up in arms about the recent gay marriage vote in Ireland and still predicting that ‘great comet of fire’ is just around the corner. But hey, at least they probably agree with the current ‘Pope’ regarding the matter.

Stewart Lee – “A Room With A Stew” – Oxford Playhouse – March 31st, 2015

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Stewart Lee appeared in Oxford again, with his new “work-in-progress” shows, titled (by the awesome Alan Moore, apparently) “A Room With A Stew“. The last time I saw him was at the New Theatre on the “Carpet Remnant World” tour, a few years ago. I wish I could remember a lot of it, but all I can recall are the YouTube comments bit, the budget Scooby-Doo episode (after the Tories ransacked the show’s budget) and his reference to Dr Strangely Strange‘s “Heavy Petting” LP. I do recall enjoying the gig a lot and was excited when the missus found out he was going to be at The Playhouse.

The missus had to pass on the show, due to a really bad chest cough, so I went with her brother, his wife and an old work-mate. We had decent seats, in the stalls, about seven rows from the stage. John Coltrane‘s version of “My Favorite Things” was piped through the in-house speakers as the crowd settled into its seats. Eventually, the lights dimmed a bit, a stage announcement was made and the man walked out to applause.

He explained that the two sets of the show would be broken into segments, as he was working on material for the newest series of his Comedy Vehicle programme, which was picked up for more episodes. The first bit consisted of Lee poking fun at the right-wing media pundits, who ask why no left-wing comedians ridicule ‘the Muslims’. He dove-tailed that with a shot at popular comics who use tired “observational comedy” (he did a funny bit where he pretended to run around the stage – in a Lee Mack or Michael McIntyre way) as the main part of their humour. In the end, Lee just said “How ’bout those Muslims you see these days?” There was a (possibly fictional – sometimes you can’t tell with Stew) story about a Muslim woman, who sat on a copy of the Jehovah’s Witness magazine, “The Watchtower”, on a bus. He diverted into other topics during the telling of the story, like Twitter-spying and Nigel Fart-age, before finishing the entire bit with a really funny and lengthy punchline (which I can’t recall completely at the moment).

The ‘second half’ of the first set started with a story about himself being urinated on by a group of bullies at his school. This led him, he suggested (in a Freudian way), to want to entertain people. He reasoned that on some level, as the bullies were laughing at him, he was ‘entertaining’ them. More off-shoots of the central premise followed, including a urine-based aphorism that his family used and a story about his grandfather, a World War II veteran, attempting to wee on flies in a Maltese gents room – pretending they were German aircraft. He said, with a lot of gravitas, “For some of those guys, the war never ended”. When the crowd failed to laugh at that line – Lee went into a (jokey) tirade about how comedians are under-appreciated and shouting “it’s crowds like you that tied the noose around Robin Williams‘s neck!” The hilarious faux-crowd-berating continued for another few minutes and then Lee bounded off-stage for the intermission.

The second half of the show involved surplus England flags, various bodily fluids and hanging England flags outside his home to dry and the impression it made on his neighbours. I won’t spell it out graphically – but I think you can piece the bit together from that. The funniest bits were him calling his cat “Paul Nuttall From UKIP” and referring to lustful feelings as “Nigel Farage is on the campaign trail”. There was also a part where he told how one of his friends looked very “Venezualan” (earlier in the show, he asked for a name of a country that would seem benign to the crowd) – a funny riff on how xenophobes view ‘foreigners’. He described how his friend would wear strange clothes (he came up with some fantastical outfits), listen to weird Venezualan music on Radio Three (he launched into an improvised record-scratching, high-pitched vocal and animal noise sound for about 5 minutes) and how, in the end, everyone but Lee’s friend knew he was ‘Venezualan’.

Lee finished with a short section that he referred to as an ‘encore’, but he did say at the beginning of the show that he wouldn’t leave the stage and walk back on. It was a short fragment of a bit about clients of sex workers leaving used condoms around the street and sometimes in Lee’s garden. I can’t recall the final punch-line, but it had to do with Lee’s wife and feminism, but in a praising way, not an obnoxious one.

I found the second half wasn’t quite as tight as the first – but to be fair, even these later shows on the tour are still opportunities for Lee to hone the material. In any case, I had a great time and it’s always good to see Stew – even when he’s mock-berating me for showing up to watch him.