17/11/2014 0 Comments
We finally made it to The British Library to see Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination.
We spent almost four hours in there, and I felt like a kid in a sweet shop. Antique books! Illustrations! Handwritten manuscripts!
Having just taken delivery of my own Gothic novel, going to this exhibition took a whole new meaning for me and added a little frisson to the whole experience. All along, I thought "Me too! I am a writer! I have produced a Gothic novel!".
I have a very romantic idea of what a writer should be: not for me the creative writing courses, "how to pitch your book" workshops and dreams of writing a bestseller. I just want to create and tell stories (I leave the boring stuff to myself when I wear my publisher's hat.)
I've always thought of writing as an art, a craft, a passion, an urge, an instinct; the writer lets his or her imagination run wild, works on their manuscript like a painter works on his/her canvas, and the end result is a unique, individual, original creation.
I have studied literature for a very long time - I think I never stopped really - and almost became a literature academic; last Sunday, I was in my ideal environment surrounded by tales of dark and mysterious deeds populated by wondrous creatures. I carefully studied the handwritten manuscripts, all annotated, corrected... You could see the authors at work...
You don't get that with an e-book and computers...
The authors that I have been reading for several decades now and who have nourished my inspiration and shaped me were all there: Wilkie Collins, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Wilde, Allan Poe, Du Maurier... Even one of my favourite illustrators, Aubrey Beardsley! And of course artworks by William Blake and Henry Fuseli...
And I have a whole list of people to check out, especially Algernon Blackwood, whose focus was the powers that can be found in nature - which is something I am interested in exploring in my third novel, The Right Place.
I loved four parts of the exhibition: Gothic Beginnings, A Taste for Terror, Victorian Monstrosity and Decadence and Degeneration. The link with cinema is nicely done - although the scream of the Bride of Frankenstein in the extract shown on a loop gets on your nerves after about 10 minutes.
Then, as has happened in too many exhibitions I have been to, when you start getting into the modern era (especially as you go beyond the 60s), things started going wrong - but this is probably due to my personal taste. I don't like anything to do with zombies; The Alexander McQueen dress was uninteresting and really uninspired - I mean, WTF? He didn't invent Gothic fashion in 1996, you know. The lace was not even nice and crudely presented. What was it doing there?
And what about the creature from Wallace and Gromit? The hideous Chapman Brothers doodles? The copies of the Twilight series? What? And of course they had to crowbar in something "ethnic" (two books about Voodoo, without a lot of explanation, as if it had been a last minute decision/panic) and the word "feminism".
So, suddenly, Gothic lost its gloomy attractiveness and shadowy charm and became bland and uninteresting.
The last bit, supposedly about the Goth subculture, was a bit sad, to be perfectly honest. There was a small display cabinet with the usual suspects (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy and Alien Sex Fiend t-shirt) and a few pictures taken by photographer Martin Parr at last April's Whitby Goth weekend which only served to perpetuate the "look at the freaks" attitude of mainstream society. I really didn't think it celebrated the diversity of the people attending the festival as it claimed. It just pointed its finger at them. Just look at them...
There was nothing about the ramifications of the 80s goth movement (yes, it didn't stop in the 80s, it only evolved, shape-shifted and branched out, and gave birth to new genres) in music, art and literature NOW outside the mainstream, the crossovers and mergers that have taken place, the richness of the culture(s) that could possibly be associated with the "gothic" adjective - but are probably better off without that now (sadly often used negatively) tag.
Then it was off to the Prince Charles Cinema on Leicester Square for the screening of "Between Dog and Wolf: The New Model Army story" and a Q&A with the movie director Matt Reid, NMA's manager Jonathan Green (also producer of the movie) and frontman Justin Sullivan. The movie had premiered in October as part of the official selection of the Raindance Film Festival.
New Model Army could have made it big - and I mean really, really big - but the fact that they are still going strong after all those years, constantly playing around the globe to packed audiences shows that you can do things your own way and still win.
Their fans are fiercely faithful and some have been with them since the beginning - the band was formed in 1980. The core of those fans call themselves "The Family"; they belong to "a tribe".
I am not part of The Family; I actually had never heard of the band before I met my partner back in 2002. At the time, the band had slightly gone off his radar as he had got into some other bands and genres of alternative music - without of course forgetting them ever, because you just don't.
Then the music magazine I wrote for featured them and Joolz Denby (who creates all the band's visuals and is a novelist, poet, painter and illustrator and tattoo artist) and reignited my partner's interest. I fell in love with Joolz's work instantly.
We went to one of the band's Christmas shows at The London Astoria, and that's when it hit me. I loved the music - some of their songs are the most beautiful, powerful tracks ever created.
But what is even more important for me is Justin Sullivan's lyrics.
I am a writer and I am astounded by the power of his lyrics. I can say with certainty that he probably is one of the best writers this country has. If he ever writes a novel, it would be sublime. It's not just the poetry of the lines, you see, it's the wealth of emotions expressed; the way he uses words to paint the picture of an individual's state of mind in all its nuances, or the state of the nation. The political and the personal are closely linked. And all the songs tell a story; Mr Sullivan is a charismatic and gifted storyteller, and that's why he is such a compelling frontman with an energy which is ever so subtly different from that of other frontmen. And despite their international fan base, I am convinced that NMA couldn't have come from any other country than Britain (I grew up in another country and the documentary is a little (cultural) history lesson as well in a way!)
The documentary explores the genesis and the upheavals in the band's career, the humble beginnings and the big label signings (they later drop them), the line-up changes and the ups and downs of their career and put them into context - the band got their big break when Thatcher was in power and the miners' strike was in full swing.
The film is all at the same time uplifting, sad and tense, but always fascinating. Writers often work on their own; musicians' creative process often involves getting locked up in a room for hours with several other people trying to build something that will become a song and make it work - I personally find it difficult to understand how musicians work and create and it is really interesting to get a glimpse of recording sessions, backstage nerves, etc.
I love the way Justin talks about his fans, the way he sees them not as one big anonymous lump but as made up of unique individuals, and I also love his insight into why the band is so big in Germany and the German psyche (after I have said that they are a very British band! See, it's never simple and straightforward!)
And the bond between Justin and Joolz is otherwordly; a symbiotic relationship, a meeting of great minds. Simply wonderful.
The band had nothing to do with the movie and Justin Sullivan admitted to have had "his arm twisted" to attend the series of Q&A planned for the documentary. He is just like me: he doesn't want to look at the past, lives in the now and is only interested in the present and the future; therefore I understand why he looked uncomfortable. But he remained quite philosophical about the whole thing - as always.
I really would like to know what is going to happen to the film after the half dozen screenings planned around the country. It deserves to be seen by a wider audience, and would be very educational for would-be musicians. And of course, the soundtrack is brilliant!
New Model Army's latest album, Between Dog and Wolf, has been hailed as their best work for over twenty years (or as their best work ever by some) and is indeed a thrilling album, full of renewed energy.
This is a band that has to be seen live (their sold out gig at Chinnery's in Southend in August was one of the best I've attended!) - and they seem to be constantly on the road!
Their Christmas shows this year, called "Between Wine and Blood", will be very special indeed, and of course we will be at The Forum in London on December 12th!
One of the recurring "talking heads" in the movie is comedian Phill Jupitus, who lives in Leigh-on-Sea near us and is a "patron" of our local arts and music festival, Village Green, put on by arts organisation Metal (photographic evidence HERE).
So please, Mr Jupitus, get Metal to ask New Model Army to headline Village Green 2015!
Below is the trailer.
Below is an interview with NMA's manager and the director at the Raindance Film Festival.
Remaining screenings for the movie:
Tonight 17/11: Nottingham
November 18th - 6.30pm - Birmingham screening with Q&A.
November 19th - 8.30pm - Edinburgh Filmhouse screening with Q&A.
Christmas tour (Between Wine and Blood) dates HERE
I think therefore I write.
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