Saturday, April 02, 2016

David Keenan - England's Hidden Reverse

David Keenan - England’s Hidden Reverse
Strange Attractor Press

A long Bank Holiday weekend saw me finally to get to grips with the dead weight that is England’s Hidden Reverse. Having foolishly missed out on its first print in 2003 I was genuinely excited to be able to read Keenan’s words without recourse to auction sites and resale prices designed to make my eyes water and my bank account go into hiding. And by dead weight I mean the sheer size of the damned thing. I don’t know how big the original was but the reprint is a 400 page plus house brick made of paper, if you have weak wrists go and by the e-reader version. If such a thing exists.

So was the wait worth it? Yes and no. After spraining my wrists for a weekend I found my admiration for Steve Stapleton growing by the hour while my dislike for David Tibet even further compounded. Having Keenan drool all over David Tibet for 400 odd pages left me with the urge to play nothing but the Ramones for a week. I have problems with Tibet you see and the main problem is his voice. And his maudlin delivery and his whimsical songs and his fucking Noddy obsession. In fact I have a problem with ‘obsessing’ altogether in this book. Just about everybody in it is obsessing over something or other. Tibet especially who obsesses over Noddy, Shirley Collins, Austin Osman Spare, Crowley, Tiny Tim  and a never ending stream of Victorian Gothic horror writers. For instance; there’s the time Tibet, having been made aware of the obscure writer Count Stenbock, is told that Edwin Pouncey has an impossible to find copy of his best work, he immediately rings Pouncey and tells him to name his fee, which he does and which is ‘pretty huge’. When Tibet eventually gets hold of the book its a slim tome which ‘vibrates in his hand’. And on it goes. One obsession after another desiccated for all its worth before being passed up for the next obsession.

I have the same problem with Coil. Being synth knob twiddlers I should have been all over them but my ears have been ravaged by covers of Tainted Love and that was enough for me. I find their music tedious in the extreme, the result of too many drugs and visits to gay nightclubs that don’t open until five in the morning that play nothing but ear bleed techno which they then go in to the studio to replicate. Much to the disgust of Stephen Thrower who’s switched Wakefield for London just so that he can get better sex and be in a cool band. I know they have lots of other strings to their bow but its just never going to happen between me and Coil. Even if they covered the theme music for 70's BBC comedy 'Are You Being Served' in a slightly camp ambient ritualistic way would I ... hang on a minute.

The main reason I bought this book was to find out more about Steve Stapleton and William Bennett, who are perhaps, the only two sane people in it and the only two people whose music I still buy to this day. Tales of riotous early London Whitehouse gigs and disastrous Nurse With Wound European dates [where Stapleton tries cocaine for the first time and spends the entire set screaming on the floor] are well worth recounting. 

Its Stapleton’s partner Diana Rogerson who we should all be giving thanks to and is for me the unsung hero of the book. Sick of seeing him finish his job of work and head straight for the studio Rogerson gives him an ultimatum; London or the west coast of Ireland. If not for the will of a strong woman the story here might have ended earlier than expected. I then discovered that Stapleton composed Soliloquy for Lilith by using a chain of effects pedals that he played like a Theremin. I also learned that when Tibet stayed with Stapleton for a recording session he ended up in a B&B down the road due to an infestation on the farm, thus ruining Tibet’s already fragile artistic temperament. I also discovered that John Balance began life as plain old Geoff Burton. I love trivia such as this. I discovered lots of things including the fact that I don’t have nearly as many Nurse With Wound albums as I should have.

Having said all that the book is a bit of a plod. Chapters are bolted together interviews coupled to the chronological running of things with little in the way of solid critique and a lack of Keenan’s obvious enthusiasm for his subject. Maybe the answer to this lies in the fact that Keenan began writing this book in the late 90’s, going on for twenty years ago now when his pen wasn’t as sharp as it is now. The newly included preface ‘Crime Calls for Night’ [actually the name of a talk delivered by Keenan in response to Attractor Press republishing his book] is where Keenan is now and although it may not entirely suit the tastes of Mr. Hayler over at RFM it does at least show a genuine love for his subject and a bite that the original text lacks. My other main beef is the fact that Death in June, Douglas P and Tony Wakeford escape free in to the night without having to explain their dalliance with fascism with Tibet making but a passing mention of Douglas P’s ‘fascination with the Second World War’. And lets not leave here without mentioning Keenan’s intensely irritating habit of shortening Current 93 to ‘Current’ and in one instance simply ’93’.

Stapleton deserves his own book, one with critique running through it and lots of artwork, album sleeves etc.... something capable of capturing Stapleton’s sense of humour and the singular uniqueness of his music. A biography if you like.  A big heavy book even. I dare say he’s had plenty of offers but as far as I know this is as good as we’ve got and its going to have to do for now.

I haven’t actually finished this yet, I still have a few pages to go but with any luck I wont come across anymore pictures of a soppy eyed David Tibet. If I do I may have to fling the thing across the room. If my wrists are still capable that is.

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