For '3 Wyrd Things' I ask various creative people whose work I admire to tell us about three oddly, wonderfully, weirdly British things that have been an influence on them and their work - a book or author, a film or TV show and a song, album or musician.
Nicholas Royle is the author of four short story collections, most recently London Gothic (Confingo Publishing), and seven novels. He is series editor of Best British Short Stories. Reader in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, he also runs Nightjar Press, and is head judge of the Manchester Fiction Prize. His English translation of Vincent de Swarte’s 1998 novel Pharricide is published by Confingo and his latest book is his first non-fiction work, White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector (Salt).
As an 18-year-old music fan in 1981, I read at least one of the music papers every week, so it was probably in either Sounds or NME or, less likely, Melody Maker, or even possibly the Sale & Altrincham Messenger, that I saw a small ad for a home-recorded cassette release, Another Dream, by Tony Cottrell. I must have been quick off the mark ordering a copy, because my TDK D-C60 is numbered, in ballpoint, No. 005. Cottrell lived at an address in Woodhouse Lane, Sale, only a couple of miles from where I lived on Ellesmere Road in Altrincham, so I got on my bike.
All the music – six tracks on side A, seven on side B – was ‘written, arranged, performed and produced by Tony Cottrell’, it says on the inlay. ‘Recorded at home Feb–April 1981 on two stereo tape recorders. Engineered by Tony Cottrell. Cover by Tony Cottrell.’ He lists the instruments: ‘6 & 12 string electric guitars, 6 string acoustic guitar, bass guitars, organ, electric percussion, treated & untreated acoustic percussion, voice.’ There may be some voice in there somewhere, but it’s not singing, as such, and there are no lyrics, so I’ve used Another Dream – and the follow-up, Andmyrrh – hundred of times over the years to write to.
The cover suggests Tangerine Dream might have been an influence – Cottrell even used the distinctive typeface used on the cover of their 1974 album Phaedra – but there’s more of a beat, perhaps a motorik beat, on several tracks. I felt at the time that it was original music and I still feel that now. Yes, Tangerine Dream were referenced, and I imagine Cottrell was listening to a lot of Can and post-Can solo projects. I don’t know if his albums got any radio play and I’ve never come across anyone who has heard them, but there must be at least a hundred or so of us, since my copy of Andmyrrh is No. 103.
This second release was recorded between April and October in the same year; Cottrell was responsible for everything, again, save the cover, which is credited to Dawn Keig. I don’t know if Cottrell continued to record and release music – the internet doesn’t appear to know either – but those two cassettes are among my most treasured possessions and the mp3s that a friend made for me enjoy frequent-play status.
The following year, 1982, I went to London to become a student and discovered, among other things, Picador books, specifically, to begin with, Ice by Anna Kavan. It was the cover that attracted me. Not because it features a female nude, but because the female nude is by Paul Delvaux. I already had the painting, Chrysis, pinned on the wall of my room in my hall of residence, in the form of a poster, so when I saw it on the cover of a book, I knew this was one for me.
Ice (UK / US) was published in 1967, only a year before Kavan’s death at the age of 68. It’s her best-known novel and has appeared in numerous editions with introductions and forewords and afterwords by the likes of Brian Aldiss, Christopher Priest, Jonathan Lethem and Kate Zambreno. Picador also did an edition of her wonderfully strange dream-diary-cum-autobiography, Sleep Has His House (UK / US), with another Delvaux cover, but it’s her short fiction I find myself going back to again and again, such as the posthumous Julia and the Bazooka (1970) (UK / US), which collects gripping stories of isolation and unhappiness that are largely autobiographical, telling of the author’s poor relationship with her parents and husband and her ultimately lethal relationship with heroin, having flirted, along the way, with death by racing car – she had hung out with drivers, loving their way of life that was always only ever moments away from death.
UK / US.
Having missed Steve Oram’s Aaaaaaaah! when it was released in 2015, I came across the DVD in a charity shop four years later, my eye drawn by certain names among the cast: Julian Barratt, Noel Fielding, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Toyah Willcox. Within minutes of putting it on I was hooked. Characters look human but vocalise and to some extent behave like apes. Toyah Willcox is superb; so are both Julians. I found it by turns disgusting, funny, disturbing and, weirdly, sexy, or perhaps I should say weirdly sexy. If Curt McDowell’s 1975 US black horror erotic comedy Thundercrack! could be viewed as a provocation, Aaaaaaaah! might be considered as British cinema’s somewhat delayed response, forty years on.
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