some things I have learned about writing


* write to feel alive

* write from love

* don’t write to be clever

* if you don’t love yourself then you won’t love your reader

* put your writing self in your reader’s shoes and it will be easier for your reader to put themselves in your writing

* know the difference between this and compromise

* put the story first

* leave enough space for it to have a breath of its own

* begin by asking what’s the best way to tell this story?

* writing is not a performance

* know the difference between re-writing and unravelling

* it’s not about punishment

* trust the story to tell itself

* abandoning a story is not the same as giving up

* even the blackest night contains traces of light

* be kind to yourself and be kindest to the parts of yourself you dislike the most

* if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it

* there is no arriving, only travelling

* writing reveals more than it “answers”

* at the edge of the wilderness is a good place to be

* you do not know all the things you have been saved from

* there will be a time when fear will no longer stop you running naked into the waves

* be patient

* be still

* be still more patient

october & november 2014

I feel I’ve come to Rebecca Solnit late in the game and can’t believe I haven’t discovered her sooner – she writes in such a beautiful sonorous and reflective way that her story-essays are like philosophical and spiritual meditations. This collection of reflections on how we give life meaning and what may or may not be important was inspired by the endless tales of Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights. Taking the process of story telling as her subject, Solnit begins with her own tales – of emotional abuse by her mother, abandon by a lover, surviving cancer while seeing others die and journeys to Iceland and the Grand Canyon – as the means to an end rather than an end in themselves. The stories she tells belong to a patchwork of fairy tales, archetypes and myth. These story-essays weave threads from Solnit’s personal experience into the stories of Frankenstein, the Marquis De Sade and the lives of the many people she meets on her travels. She doesn’t just document journeys to places but spiritual journeys, which for Solnit seems very much informed by an interest in Buddhism. So her stories are looking for redemption in the form of letting go. A beautiful thing and something that got me thinking about how we might tell stories about our own lives that stretch across experience, time and place to touch others. 


Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon is such an inspiration to me for how to be pure and I loved the nakedness of her paintings at Frieze Art Fair. They are deceptive in their simplicity. It’s hard to tell from these images but the black paint of her graffiti-poetry is sparkling with glitter.


It had never occurred to me read Julian Barnes until I was bought this book as a present. Although this is a novella, reading it was a great lesson in the art of writing short stories. Barnes has such a strong sensibility for the small things that tell us so much – this novella is really a series of fragments of a life composed from memory which jumps right into the currents of life-changing incidents and momentarily pauses their flow so that we can see with hindsight what at the time was impossible. Ultimately I found his point of view rather depressing – that our lives, in the end, add up to very little – but he communicates this with a deep compassion that I found moving.


I went to Paris in mid November for Paris Photo. It was crisp and cold and the anticipation of Christmas was very much in the air. I drank expensive espressos to keep warm and learnt not to ask for Americanos. Here are some of my favourite images.



Sonic, the retrospective of Hedi Slimane’s document of bands from LA and London 2007-2014 was showing in Paris while I was in town. Even though the images are in public circulation in the form of editorials, Saint Laurent campaigns and Slimane’s online diary and I’d seen almost all of them before, there was something powerful about seeing the physical art works. Slimane is very concerned with iconography and there was a real gravity and even nobility to these images of living legends and flaming guns, which I’m sure was completely intentional and which was not any less powerful for it. I wrote a paper on Slimane’s photography for a conference at the Glasgow School of Art earlier this year and it was great to finally get to see the images I’d spent so much time living with in all their minimalist, romantic and deeply stylised glory. I most enjoyed the two slide shows, one of London bands and the other of LA, playing concurrently in silence on facing walls in a side room that was empty apart from the two large black velvet cushions you could sit on to watch. As I sat on a cushion watching the faces of young boys and girls in bands and their elated fans fade in and out, I found myself feeling unexpectedly sad for how much has changed (already those times belong to a past that arguably –  because of the commodification of youth culture  – can never be returned to) and sad for how much I have changed too and how my own youth – all that unbridled hunger and energy and innocence – has been lost to another time, also. I love my life now and would never want to go through the wild turbulence of my twenties all over again but sitting in the dark on those cushions, I experienced a small moment of grieving.



I thought the line up of Le Guess Who? festival in Utrecht was really well curated. My personal highlights were Bo Ningen versus Savages – girls who look like boys and boys who look like girls… drummer against drummer, bass against bass, guitar against guitar and singer against singer…melting, splitting, dissolving… an atomic storm of pure noise – and Swans… the entire audience bodily swaying backwards and forwards in a primitive ritual of mass transcendence that left me coming away from it all feeling spiritually cleansed. It was also great to see Ice Age – a “hot mess” according to one of the girls I was with, which perfectly sums them up and also new Canadian band Ought whose charismatic singer is a cross between Jarvis Cocker and Mark E Smith with a sound that traverses Magazine, Talking Heads and The Fall. An inspiring weekend in fun company.


I love Angela Carter and am slowly working my way through her entire catalogue in no particular order. In The Infernal Desire Machines she takes the real life author of The Sandman, ETA Hoffman and transforms him into her own version of The Sandman’s protagonist-inventor. But instead of inventing a doll who appears like a woman, Carter’s Hoffman invents multiple realities that warp time and space created from the sexual energy of desire. It’s this philosophical questioning about the nature of reality and the power of the imagination that goes right to the heart of all Carter’s works. What she does best and what I love about her, is her ability to plunge the reader into a romantic, bloody, beautiful, carnivalesque world where anything is possible and nothing is as it first seems. In the Infernal Desire Machines, she creates penetrating images of cannibalistic acrobats and masochist centaurs that sink deep into the subconscious… so much so that I found myself having strange dreams whilst reading this book that could only be explained by the bizarre and wonderful imagery it planted in my head.


september 2014


I found reading Kristeva like trying to grasp a half-remembered dream. You sense the meaning is there buried in the depths of her densely written abstract thoughts but the effort to retrieve it is a struggle that only seems to offer a partial reward. I wonder if this is partly to do with the fact that so much is lost in translation. But also it seems to me that the very territory Kristeva is dealing with – the libidinal, the preconscious and the void that becomes before and after meaning – are by their very nature unreachable with language alone.  At one point she says this: “the imaginative capability of Western man… is a self-illusion, nothing but dreams and words, words, words…It affirms the almightiness of temporary subjectivity.” Beauty, she says is the artifice we create to fill the void of non-meaning. A self-proclaimed atheist, Kristeva’s meta-project seems to be re-describing the God-instinct in psychoanalytical terms. I am not an atheist but I empathise with Kristeva’s project of illuminating this particular darkness along with her belief in the counter-depressant rather than the anti-depressant as treatment and cure. She dives deep and the waters are murky but hidden treasure is sensed in brief moments of shining luminosity and Black Sun has given me a challenging framework to consider melancholy and loss. Oh, and thank you B for lending me this.


My favourite psychedelic rockers from Portland rolled into town at the beginning of the month. It was a packed Monday night down at The Trades and the following day my lovely former student Claudia did a shoot with the band up on the moors near where I live. Sadly I had to miss this because I was teaching but the images have come back and they look great.


I’ve been a fan of Nick Cave from first hearing The Bad Seeds on the local radio aged 16 so I couldn’t miss 20,000 Days, the hypereal documentary about the making of his last album. I loved the elipsis between man and mask, person and performer in this film and how it documented the creation of a myth without ever de-bunking it. I particularly enjoyed Cave’s encounter with the psychoanalyst Darian Leader, of whom I am also a great fan and who very generously contributed an essay to the book I’ve recently edited on the art of Gavin Turk. For a moment Cave’s carefully constructed veneer seemed to crack with a question about his father that cut through his glass. But even then it was never clear whether Cave’s reaction was genuine or simply more clever sorcery.


So many of my favourite texts and authors are here – Angela Carter, William Blake, Leonora Carrington, Sylvia Plath, Tove Jansson  – in these densely woven essays by Ali Smith on the concepts of form, edges & reflection. The faux innocent voice of the narrator who navigates their arguments as the character of the dead essayist’s lover grated, but I loved the curious and surprising connections in the essays themselves.


Such nostalgia for me in these early and previously unpublished images of Corinne Day of the nineties and free parties and the year Spritualized brought a full orchestra to Glastonbury (which I think was when I first met Corinne) and of being so wildly, incorruptibly hungry for experience. And such sadness, too, that this fierce independent spirit is no longer here.


Here is my beautiful friend Vinca from before I knew her. The essay in this book talks about how Corinne brought a radical naturalism to her work. And there is no doubt she lived and breathed the lifestyle she documented. But it’s interesting to hear Vinca describe how much of this apparent spontaneity was art directed and staged. In this light, all of the images in this book all are of Corinne. Her muses, like Vinca, are extensions of her psyche and actors in a film in which she was always the main character. She was such a powerful force and through her photography she not only documented a world but created one that was beautiful to her and that became beautiful to others too.

august 2014

I went to see 23 year old Cali fiddler Frank Fairfield play The Monarch in Berlin. So antediluvian and yet not, his analogue rebellion is the direct product of the digital revolution and it’s in this context that his lovingly crafted old time music makes sense. The next day a crew of us went from lunch with him. We were talking about dancing and he said this: “Sometimes you’ve just got to grab a woman and move her around.”


In Berlin I was reading The Ravishing Of Lol Stein, an early novel by Marguerite Duras. A disturbing tale of voyeurism and perverse love told in clean, hard prose.


Seeing the Bowie retrospective in Berlin and then walking around the streets where he and Iggy hung out added another layer to the experience. Particularly loved his abstract expressionist paintings of Iggy in the Berlin snow.


Back in West Yorkshire and continuing the perverse love theme, I finished reading Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night. Such a devastating tale of one man driven to the edge by love gone bad and extreme wealth. A real lesson in the art of creating powerful characters and pacing their unravelling.


I know Richard Linklater isn’t the first director to film a coming of age story with the same actor over a number of years but I found myself becoming emotionally involved with the character of Mason and his indie-kid outsider angst. It is both the banality and also the familiarity of the small things that make growing up what it is and this is what worked for me in Linklater’s story telling.


I really loved Deborah Levy’s Booker-nominated novella Swimming Home so I was especially interested to read her response to George Orwell’s Why I Write. Her essays turn out to take the form of a memoir that weaves between her experiences of being a writer and mother and what she perceives as the latent sexism of certain social expectations , through her childhood growing up in apartheid South Africa, her teenage ambition to emulate the bohemian writers of the  Left Bank and losing then finding her way with the writing of Swimming Home. I think she is a great contemporary mind and these memoir-essays observe the depths of what it is to live and write through a deceptively simple surface. I had the pleasure of meeting her at Port Eliot festival down in Cornwall where she signed my copy of the book. The note she wrote refers to a quote by Virginia Woolf; “A female writer cannot afford to feel her life too clearly. If she does she will write in a rage when she should write calmly. She will write foolishly where she should write wisely.She will write of herself when she should write of her characters. She is at war with her lot.”


This month was the third time I’ve seen The Acid Mothers Temple. Veterans of transcendent psychedelic rock, what really struck me this time around was how, beneath the beard’s and long sage’s hair, child-like and playful they were.


It was amazing to hear Michael Chapman, who is into his seventies, play guitar which such physicality and power. His hymnal song Madrugada especially transported me to another place. I loved the stories he told, too, between songs… so many of them were homages and elegies to lost musicians and friends. I really got the impression he was living his life as fully as ever. A true inspiration.


These Are The Questions In The Dark – Massive Attack v Adam Curtis Versus Maxine Peake

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Massive Attack v Adam Curtis was a new commission as part of Manchester International Festival which took place in a disused postal train depot behind Piccadilly station. For those familiar with Adam Curtis, it was a condensed version of his “greatest hits” redux as seen in his seminal TV documentaries with a live soundtrack by Massive Attack. For those not, Curtis uses a punk cut-up technique to collage documentary footage of recent social, cultural and political history largely from the post war period to the nineties in order to construct visual pop essays that critique those in power and the instruments they use to exert and maintain it.

Usually emotive, often ironic, he evokes a sense of the sinister alternated with pathos by juxtaposing often disturbing images recording social turmoil and change with the innocent optimism of Phil Spector era pop. Curtis’ point is that we are no longer governed by people or movements guided by a belief in changing the world for the better; we are managed by algorithmic systems that tell us everything from what to buy to what to think – so Curtis warns. These management systems, he believes, exist at the expense of risk-taking, creativity and ultimately, human freedom and flourishing. We are becoming like the computers that dominate our lives, is his message. We are losing our humanity.

So to Mayfield depot where hundreds of people voluntarily held en masse were subjected to images projected from wall-size screens on every side as music blasted from speakers in a hypereal re-creation of the propaganda-driven media spectacles he sets out to critique. Curtis’ medium is not just the message but the message inside the message, a not-so-discreet subversion of the medium by an over-exaggerated, heightened version of it to provocative effect. While it was obvious that a lot of people had come to hear Massive Attack, in reality the show was all Curtis’ arch pop essay (though it is always delightful to hear the haunting voices of Liz Fraser and Horace Andy). Strong moments include the story of Pop artist Pauline Boty who died after she refused cancer treatment in order to save her unborn daughter, only for that same daughter to fall into deep disillusion with western culture and take her own life, interwoven with footage showing the arrest of Nicholae Ceausescu and his wife looking painfully banal.

To the converted, there is little new in what Curtis was saying (although to be fair, he has been saying what he says for over a decade now). What is radical and exciting is that he is communicating complex, uncomfortable ideas to a mass audience in an accessible language – the one that increasingly we speak more than any other – the language of images. Critical theorist Slavoj Zizek can write as many books and appear on as many panels as he wants on the subject of how we are slaves to consumer capitalism but in terms of communicating big, urgent ideas to the social media generation, Curtis’ pop essays seem to have so much more potency.

Yet still. It seems to be a potency that only goes so far. While Curtis critiques those in power for turning their backs on world problems, his own solution – now find your own way home – is over simplistic and vague compared to the complexity of the problems he presents. It’s the same problem that Occupy faced. It seems we are living in times dominated by protest but lacking in answers. Of course we still have hope. And Curtis’ argument is at his strongest when he shows the human capacity for heroism – as he did with footage of brave Chernobyl locals risking – and losing – their lives to save victims of the town’s nuclear disaster as the government silently looked on. But what action can be taken once the rioting is over and the protests have died down? What opposition can arise in the “one party democracy” of capitalism that somehow we are all complicit in? What is the alternative? How does it work? Not just at the flashpoint of revolution but in life as it daily unfolds? These are the questions I think about most when it goes dark and everything seems to close in.

The following night I went to see Maxine Peake, who is really an artist as much as she is an actress and clearly someone with vision and integrity and a very particular Northern female identity that manifests itself as an endearing tough softness. She was reading from Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy – the poem he wrote in the aftermath of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre when tens of thousands of Mancunians gathered to protest against poverty and political disenfranchisement were stormed by the cavalry. The reading took place just across the road from the site where 17 died and hundreds were injured in a candle lit Albert Hall.

In many ways the themes of oppression and control addressed in Shelley’s revolutionary poem echoed those of the previous night. Although Shelley was describing a riot in early Victorian Manchester, his poem could have been about Egypt or Turkey or Syria. It could have been about the trampling upon the vulnerable and the poor by the callous government of this country.

In her reading of it, Maxine Peake was tender and righteous, angry and appealing. Part fighter, part saint, she brought this heart-breaking thread between present and past alive with a healing balm in one hand and a drawn sword in the other.

It was moving, too, to hear my favourite lines from the history of political poetry read out loud amidst a hundred flickering candles in the shadows of the Albert Hall; “ Rise like lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number/Shake your chains on earth like dew/Which in sleep had fallen on you/Ye are many, they are few.”

Inscribed in those words is Shelley’s dream of the enduring spirit of man and womankind and its ability to survive even when tested to its far limits. They seem so much surer and certain than anything Adam Curtis offered – an indictment of our times, rather than of Curtis personally. But then Shelley was a hopeless romantic. Of course eventually the working class did get the franchise, so his hope was justified. But look around and the gap between the rich and poor is shockingly Victorian. And this is just one of the things that Curtis is talking about. Yet after all the questions have been asked, Maxine Peake’s reading was a reminder that in the dark, we can still dream.


And They All Lived Happily Ever After – Spring Breakers


Harmony Korine was always going to attract controversy by making Spring Break the subject of a new film featuring dewy eyed Disney Girls on the cusp of womanhood – and his wife Rachel to add extra grit – running amok on the beaches of Florida in a neon blaze of pink hair, blue skies and tiny triangle patches of micro-bikinis.

From Irvine Welsh to Nan Goldin, artists who document the hedonistic and transgressive are inevitably accused of glamorising abject behaviour. It is an unavoidable double bind and a tenebrous fine line.

So serious film critics accused Korine of sexualising young girls and described the film as “a deliberately ugly picture”. Regarding this as a selling point, hoards of lads accordingly queued up to buy tickets. Those friends of mine who had seen it, meanwhile, had less hysterically said it simply wasn’t very good, pointing out inexplicable gaps in plot, terrible, dialogue and the clichéd characterisation of James Franco as a white rapper with gold teeth and corn rows.

And it’s true: the girls are permanently in bikinis, the dialogue is awful and Franco’s Alien character is hilariously two dimensional. But what both these criticisms miss is that Spring Breakers isn’t supposed to be real. If Korine really wanted to paint a deliberately ugly picture, he could have featured over-doses, gang rape scenes and dark, abusive sex. The disappointment from the lads in the row behind me was palpable.

Likewise, if Korine wanted it to mirror reality, he wouldn’t have used wild-tracking to deliberately de-synch characters’ dialogue from their lip movements or film party scenes with seven cameras simultaneously to create the dis-associative fluidity of a dream.

In fact Spring Break itself hardly figures at all. In the film going to Spring Break is like following the Yellow Brick Road. The very idea of this utopic place where a young girl can lose her inhibitions, discover her inner balls and find freedom is a dream. It is a catalyst and a trigger for the girls to enact a metaphorical fantasy of empowerment and escape.

The whole film operates on the level of a modern visual fairy tale in which both dialogue and realism are beside the point. Girls in bikinis wearing Hello Kitty socks and waving machetes might be a male sexual fantasy. But it’s one that revolves around girls being on top. Throughout the film, the girls are bathed in an invisible golden light, evoked through the beauty of the highly saturated colours in Korine’s cinematography. For all they find themselves in potentially dangerous situations, including spending a night in a cell for suspected possession, the worse thing to happen is when Rachel Korine is shot in the arm. If anything it is the relentless dub step drilling of the Skrillex sound track that hints at any violent subtext rather than what actually happens in the plot.

Like all the best fairy tales, there are goodies and baddies and hurdles the girls must overcome in order to prove their metal. Alien is part fairy godmother, part Puck, introducing them to a world where the girls’ dreams of escaping the mundaneness of their life back home might come true. The repeated refrain of his whisper “spring break, spring break” is like an old lady in the forest offering innocent children red apples.

All of which, of course, is meant to be funny. But Spring Breakers is a fun film that captures both the innocence and knowingness of young girls’ dreams. At the finale we see the protagonists in mono-kinis with tiger faces, DTF (Down To Fuck) emblazoned in silver block letters on their rears and bright pink ski-masks appliqued with unicorn heads riding on a speed boat, machetes at the ready, on the verge of a killing spree. Wish fulfilment for a hundred thousand girls who have been wounded in some way, Korine creates a powerful and provocative image that playfully sublimates violence into a metaphor for freedom that is hilarious and beautiful and serious all at once.

Such a thing as society – Tom Wood


Tom Wood photographs show the men and women of Liverpool on buses; they show the men and women of Liverpool waiting for buses and they show the men and women of Liverpool, simply waiting…. for a friend, for a kiss, for something to turn up.  Nicknamed by locals “photieman”, Wood photographs men and women in nightclubs; in pubs; out on the town and has been doing so since the 1970’s. Little is seen of people at work…. Perhaps because one of the stories his photographs tell is the story of a city long fallen from the grace of its prosperous ship-building past; a city where there is no or little work, except possibly in the rag and bone trade. In the artworks of Tom Wood, there are plenty of photographs of people sifting through rubbish or selling it, as if rubbish were all that was left.

In this way, Wood’s subjects are the numbers, the crowds, the masses of the formerly-known-as working classes, now labelled as chavs and scroungers. And so the irony is not lost of a teenage mother in plastic white sandals and mini skirt, baby tucked beneath her sweatshirt, wild ginger hair blowing in the wind as she tramps across a waste ground littered with odd shoes and boots, behind her a bottom of indiscriminate sex roundly presenting itself to the camera as its owner bends to sift through, well,  more rubbish.

Waste among waste in the eyes of some, a waste of a life in the eyes of others, the fierce capacity of the human spirit to thrive in a wasteland, perhaps in the eyes of Tom Wood. If Tom Wood’s photographs do one thing, they give this overlooked, marginalised “human waste”, faces and the anonymous masses, stories. His subjects are not statistics but real “men and women” (the title of his exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery) with their own feelings, lives and dramas.

Dolled up to the nines, the plump red head grinds her behind at the disco, a broad smile on her face, as if she knows exactly the thoughts going through the heads of her male onlookers, leering from the side lines, bottles of “Boddies” in hands. Equally dressed up in a smart plaid shirt, with blow-dried hair and kitten heels, the female proprietor of a rag and bone business, pertly sits in her cart, her empire of cast offs towering behind her. An old man in a smart navy overcoat and camel scarf resignedly sits on a bench in front of a wall of graffitied tiles, staring out at the camera with watery blue eyes that seem to tell a thousand tales, none of them particularly happy.

These photographs show the two halves of working class culture. They document both the listlessness and lack of ambition among those ground down by lack of opportunity . But they also reveal men and women with a fierce sense of pride and identity, who belong to a community, a city, a place, characterised by a shared sense of humour, alongside the shared fate of living in an industrial city in a post-industrial age. So Wood shows the parts but also the sum. All in their way, evidence of the society that Thatcher famously said there was “no such thing as”, a mantra all the more resonant in a country living under a present-day Tory coalition.

But Wood’s photographs are more than social documentary. When we step back to examine ourselves – especially when we step back to examine ourselves through the lens of a camera; especially the lens of a photographer as gently astute as Tom Wood – what we all too often see is that there’s n’owt as queer as folk. With a keen eye not only for narrative, but both the bathos and profundity to be found in people getting on with the business of living – of making the most, of shit happening, of carrying on – this is the photography of soap opera; of “him on the bus”, “kids these days” and “her next door”. Of pensioners, arms folded, caught in a mindless grimace, of  chubby children mooning distractedly out of bus windows and of young girls checking their lippy in the mirror as the wind whips their hair on the ferry.

Tom Wood’s men and women do not always look their best. But nor do they always look their worst. They are simply getting on with the business of inhabiting their own skins. It is the comedy of the human species and the way that it behaves when it thinks no one is looking. A form of comedy that asks us not so much to laugh at the lives of others, as much as it invites us to laugh at ourselves.

While if much of Wood’s photography is of the candid kind, in his more formal portraits, his subjects almost seem to talk back; gestures, poses, facial expressions and eyes, are all given a voice through Wood’s photography, which he describes as a “receiver of intangible sensations”.

Apart from the odd teenage girl self-consciously draped in a fur coat, no one ever really smiles and no one really poses in these photographs. Pre-dating social media and reality TV, this is a document of a generation who has not yet learnt to adopt and adapt multiple personae for constant public show. Instead, Wood’s subjects look past or through the camera, while we in turn have the privilege of looking not so much at faces, as souls. So these photographs shows a disappearing world before facebook where the visual anthologisation of everyday life was only for eccentric photiemen like Wood.


Michael Clark New Work


There was a blue stage; a void. Then there was the voice of Green unfurling like smoke over the bare embers of a beat. And then there were the dancers of the Michael Clark Company, strict and beautiful androgynes in tunics of slate grey. Not running or jumping or diving or swooning but stepping. As if across a glacier or a rope in the air. Cells into crystals, they formed into pairs. Atoms splitting, the pairs broke apart. Moving at the speed of time slowing to stand still, the dancers seemed not to be dancing at all. Or if they were dancing, it was a dance made up not of movement of the body but of some other rhythm acting upon it.

“The boom boom bap, the tappy tap tap, that’s the beat of my life,” sang Green to the tappy tap of their feet.

The music stopped and there was silence. Silence, except for the sound of friction produced from the pressure of the dancers’ feet against the stage – moisture on rubber – so that it seemed as if the sound of friction was the music and the flex of bare feet, the dance. All of life stripped to a single, shared pulse.

All disappeared into darkness and silence. The darkness was broken by a thin thread of  light projected onto the back of the stage as the silence was broken by the the electronic jungle rock doo wop boogaloo of Relaxed Muscle – the prodigal child of Jarvis Cocker and producer Jason Buckle – breaking into the widening light.

Dancers in skin tight flame suits shot across the stage, electrical messages sent from a giant brain. Imagination sparking. Urges releasing. The white strip began to form into letters and the letters into a broken pattern of words, in sync with the beat but not any kind of linear order until at last they spelt out:

“I’m thinking about forming a zoo.”

Words made real, out of the shadows at the back of the stage, Relaxed Muscle appeared, drums, guitar and all, thinly disguised in wigs, face paint and shades – living embodiments of their self-styled “Muscle Music”. The flame-dancers melted away. In their place appeared half-human, half-animal creatures in op-art zebra suits, products from a spell conjured from the strange sorcery of music and words. Wild abstractions of the imagination made visible. Beasts of the mind’s zoo, or perhaps of the psyche, run away to the circus, they prowled across the stage in comic jags, thrusts and jumps.

Luminous in neon orange face paint and stalking the stage in red winkle pinkers, a paisley silk scarf trailing from his waist to the floor, Jarvis presided over this wild performance, a psychotic presiding over the unravelling of his own lunacy.

It is said that in the kingdom of animals, it is a dog eat dog world. And so when Michael Clark himself appeared brandishing two mirrored stools like a double shield, it was he who became the ring master, and Jarvis the beast,  rushing madly at his reflection as Clark goaded him on until the music died and the dancers fled and all that could be heard was a high-pitched yelp through the dark.


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