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Down the pub with Dave

Travels with David Bowie...

This website lists all Bowie's early gigs. It's strangely fascinating if you're a rock 'n' roll geek. He certainly paid his dues - and played some places that are now well off the gig circuit.

I mean, the White Bear in Hounslow? That's all Sky Sports and lager louts these days. But Bowie played there several times - they were Arts Lab gigs, too, which presumably meant Dave and friends would be wafting about doing mime and what-not. In a pub. In Hounslow. How come he didn't get lynched?

The White Bear, Hounslow - Google Streetview pic. David Bowie wuz here. But not recently...

Lots of other evocative names on the list. Ah, the good old Hampstead Country Club, always a riot, that one. And the Fickle Pickle club in Southend. You're nobody until you've played the Fickle Pickle club. Keep going through the gig history, and you can see when his career really took off - it was incredibly quick when it happened. One minute he's playing the Three Tuns pub in Beckenham, next minute it's the Hollywood Palladium.

But I think my favourite gig is that classic performance in August 1958 - at Bromley Scouts annual camp. Starting as we mean to go on, eh, Dave?
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Green ink time

Here are the latest instalments of my campaign to put the world to rights, one why-oh-why letter at a time.

I wrote to Heritage Railway Magazine on the subject of access to steam depots (which is mostly forbidden...except at one). An arcane subject, you might think, but a matter of some import to those of us who like to get close to large, hot machines belching steam.

I ended up in the coveted (it is coveted, isn't it?) STAR LETTER spot. Those are my photos, too. Alas, I didn't win a crisp fiver. Still, good points well put by me there, I think you'll agree.

And...I also have a letter in the current ish of Rail Express magazine, in which I wax lyrical (well, I wax, anyway) on the subject of London connections to certain stations in the North-East.

At this rate I'll soon be able to publish a volume of my Collected Letters...
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We'll go no more a-roving. Or, perhaps, we will.

Motoring news....for the Rover owners among us (are there any Rover owners among us?)

This is a crazy idea, but it might just work.

Some of the 'soft roader' models in the Land Rover range don't really fit the brand image. The Freelander (which is essentially a normal estate car) and the two-wheel drive Evoque (in itself a fundamental dilution of the Land Rover identity) would arguably do better as Rovers.

Meanwhile, if you want a new Rover, you can get China. And they're not quite called Rovers.
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Philling station

One of my favourite authors is Phil Rickman.

I'm quite a fan of his hard-boiled, noir-ish, slightly-supernatural thrillers, mostly set in the Welsh border country. He does contemporary settings and characters very well, while also being very good at the edge-of-your seat stuff.

Apparently his Merrily Watkins stories are going to be on telly soon, which is a bit like one of your favourite obscure indie bands signing a major record deal. You're glad for the band, obviously...while at the same time being slightly miffed that they won't be your own supercool secret any more.

It seems he's written a new book set around Winchcombe, Gloucestershire - which I know well, what with it being just over the hill from where I grew up, not to mention being on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway (which I hope will get a mention in the book - I mean, Greet tunnel is supposed to be haunted, you know).

"St Peter’s at nearby Winchcombe has, on its walls and tower, probably a larger collection of grotesque demonic carved faces than any church in England. Some are said to be medieval caricatures of real people. What were they for?"

Frightening the children, I expect. But I bet Phil has another explanation...

The trouble is, Phil also says: "For some reason, I felt it needed to be told in the present tense."

Oh, balls. I can't stand books written in the present tense, as if a lengthy series of events all happens in one big unbelievable pile-up of nowness. It's become a trendy thing to go all present-tensey in recent years, but I can't be doing with it. I mean, did Captain W. E. Johns write his Biggles books in the present tense? No, he did not.

This may be the one Phil Rickman book I don't read, then. Unless someone has invented an app that can filter digital text and change all the tenses? It should be possible to do that, surely?
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Lunar module

A rock 'n' roll book review…

Who Killed Mister Moonlight? Bauhaus, Black Magick and Beneditction

By David J Haskins (you know, the specky bassist out of Bauhaus…)

The sub-title does not lie. This book is mostly about Bauhaus, from the band's tentative beginnings in seventies Northampton, through their spiky and incendiary 80s glory days, to their eventual triumphant return as world-touring elder statesmen of art-glam, post-punk rock.

Other Bauhaus-related bands are touched on - briefly. Love And Rockets (a band that existed for 14 years and made 7 albums) and David J's solo career (itself 10 albums long now) are referred to only glancingly. This is very much the Bauhaus story, recounted in David J's matter-of-fact - sometimes almost naif - writing style.

It's a story I have some sort of personal stake in, since I was a diehard Bauhaus fan in the 80s and went to every gig they played in London. Some of these are mentioned in the book, giving me a few 'I was there!' moments. The only gig I didn't go to was the Adelphi show, which I avoided because the thought of seeing Bauhaus in a seated venue just didn't work for me.

Believe me, the mosh at a Bauhaus gig was fierce. We were always rather glad when the band played 'Spy In The Cab', because that was a slowie and us moshpit fiends could have a rest. Sure enough, David J recounts how the Adelphi's seats were comprehensively trashed by marauding fans. I thought that might happen.

Later, I became a live music promoter in London myself - inspired, in a way, by a Daniel Ash solo gig I saw at the Underworld in 1993. Frankly, I thought I could do better (and I like to think I did). I even tried to book Daniel Ash, although it never worked out.

I also exchanged emails with David J himself at one point, when he was on the circuit as a DJ. That one never worked out, either. I'll tell you the story if you buy me a beer. I've kept David J's emails all these years on my old computer - I'm still enough of a fanboy not to delete them.

So, one way or another, me and Bauhaus, we go back. And it's about time the story of Bauhaus was told. The only other book on the band, Ian Shirley's Bauhaus And Beyond, is essentially an outsider's view, and frankly isn't very well written.

Not that David J's book is necessarily a great improvement in that department, as I hinted above. For a man who spent his youth reading Camus and Sartre, and who later got to hang out with William Burroughs, it must be said that as a literary lion David J makes a very good bass player. He walks us through the Bauhaus story with the careful precision of a man wearing sensible shoes.

At times the text has the feel of a school English essay: an extended take on 'What I did on my holidays'. Irritating spelling mistakes and typos crop up - 'starring' for 'staring', 'sporn' for 'spawn'. NYC rock 'n' roll poet Jim Carroll is mis-spelled as 'Carrol'. The lead singer of The Cramps turns up on page 305 as 'Lux Interia' - a particularly foolish mistake, since he makes another appearance, correctly spelled, earlier in the book.

But then, I suppose nobody is going to pick this book up expecting great literature. It's a rock 'n' roll autobiography. It gets that job done well enough, although without much in the way of flourishes and fireworks. Strange, in a way, given that Bauhaus were all about the flourishes and fireworks.

As the title also hints, this book is also extensively about magick. Somewhat surprisingly, David J appears to have spent much time dosing himself up with interesting drugs, and marching himself merrily (or sometimes not so merrily) through the doors of perception.

I say 'surprisingly', because David J - with his severe suit jackets, his respectable hairstyle, and his geeky demeanour - is hardly anyone's idea of a hippy tripper. And yet he seems to have been quite a fiend for the old hallucinogenics, and dramatic Crowley-esque excursions into The Arcane.

There's an episode at Alan Moore's Northampton home where the two of them get thoroughly charged and have an evening of full-on out-thereness (sigils, circles, mysterious forces bouncing all over the shop) that is almost comedic - all the more so because it's narrated in David J's dry, matter of fact writing style. The thought of this odd couple - the bearded, shamanistic Alan Moore, and the reserved, studious David J - getting it on like a Hammer Horror movie in a Northampton basement is downright surreal.

There's a lot of this stuff in the book. Too much, really, for anyone who would prefer David J to skip all the drugs and the weirdness and just get on with the story of the band, dammit. I'm reminded of Julian Cope's autobiography, Head On, in which Copey recalls - in extensive detail - every acid trip he's ever had, to the eventual boredom of the reader.

It might've seemed frightfully important at the time (and maybe still does, for the main protagonists), but reading about other people's out-of-body and/or out-of-head experiences isn't all that interesting - even if David J does claim that the Bauhaus reunion in the 90s was prompted by some magickal workings he'd done a few years previously. Magick takes a bit of time to work, apparently.

As with Julian Cope's book, I found myself skimming these episodes of druggy woo-woo, and fast-forwarding to the real story. Which has some surreal moments itself, it must be said, since for all their killer cohesion on stage, Bauhaus could be a spectacularly dysfunctional band behind the scenes. It never seems to have occurred to David J to work a bit of helpful magick for that.

It would be an over-simplification to say that the fault lines in Bauhaus basically ran between Peter Murphy and the others. Everybody, at one time or another, seems to have brought their share of conflicts and freak-outs to the table - with the possible exception of Kevin Haskins, who comes out of the story as The Sensible One.

But, as the years pass, Peter Murphy is portrayed as the loosest cannon, the most unstable element, the catalyst for the simmering tension that seems to have dogged Bauhaus for much of the band's on-off existence.

I dare say Peter Murphy himself would tell a different story. And maybe a bit of simmering tension isn't even a bad thing in a band, if you can harness it and make it work on stage (and Bauhaus certainly could).

But there are several moments where Pete - not to put too fine a point on it - seems to go a bit mad.

In the 90s, before the band's reformation, he sends David J a fax - quoted in all its bonkers, obsessive, stream-of-conciousness glory - in which he makes a garbled case for himself as the band's principal mover 'n' shaker. Later, he returns to this obsession, insisting that he is the 'main man' of Bauhaus in a series of backstage arguments David J transcribes apparently verbatim.

The infamous gig in Utrecht, where Murphy more or less sat out the performance in a strop, is recounted in gory detail. I recall a rather baffled review of that gig, clearly written by someone who had never seen Bauhaus before and thought this was a regular show. That reviewer didn't know it, but what they saw that night was a band falling apart.

In the end, the book and Bauhaus themselves finish messily, inconclusively, at a rainy festival in Portugal - and that's that, apart from several pages of notes, giving extra details about matters touched on in the main text. Frankly, the notes could have been incorporated into the main text by a writer a little more skilled in keeping the flow going. But if you've got this far you'll have reconciled yourself to David J's English essay writing style.

Who Killed Mister Moonlight is full of fascinating backstage detail, large dollops of context, a stellar supporting cast: John Peel, Ian Curtis, George Melly, Rene Halkett, Genesis P-Orridge - even Amanda Palmer, who Dave doesn't quite get to shag.

The book successfully fleshes out the bones of the Bauhaus story, but it's not exactly freewheeling, knockabout stuff. In fact, it's amazing how dryly pedantic David J can be, even when recounting the craziest episodes of his life, and the most dramatic moments of Bauhaus in their pomp.

Perhaps, in the end, you just had to be there. I'm glad I was.
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Light engineering (Roadside workshop part 90404)

A while back, I fitted a new set of headlights to my 1967 Land Rover.

Land Rovers produced before mine have very simple front-fitting headlights - the standard 7" Lucas 'bowl' type which can be swapped in ten mins just by undoing a few screws.

Land Rovers produced after mine (up to and including current Defender models) also have this same easy-peasy fitting.

But for a few years in the mid-60s Land Rover went over to a different headlight fitting in which the lights are screwed directly to the front panel. This made things much easier on the production line, and saved money, too - because there were fewer parts. However, it means the poor old mid-60s Land Rover owner can only change the headlights by taking the entire front of the vehicle off.

And here's how I did it….

Tools out, bonnet stay disconnected (so the bonnet can go right back against the windscreen), grille off.

Now drain the cooling system, take off all the hoses, and take the radiator out. Yes, really. Look, I never said this was going to be easy!

While the radiator is out, you might as well give it a flush.

Disconnect all wires to all the front lights. We're only changing the headlights, but the wires to the sidelights/indicators run through the front panel, so they've all got to be disconnected. Oh, and the horn, too. Mark the wires clearly (Clearly!) so you know how to connect them up again.

Undo what seem like millions of mud-encrusted nuts inside the wheel arches. Front panel will suddenly come loose and go crashing to the ground. Be ready to catch it - put your foot in the way, or something.

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Send money now

I know it sometimes seems as if half the stuff on the web is appeals for cash from assorted kickstarters, good causes or people who've hit a bump in the road of life. But if you have any spare change to fling in the direction of one of London's best venues for weird art (and Mexican wrestling, which is something of a weird art in itself) the Resistance Gallery could use a few quid right now to rebuild itself after some pesky kids tried to set the place on fire.

Their Indiegogo fundraiser didn't meet its goal (although it raised a useful sum), so I assume there will be more cash-raising efforts in the future. Meanwhile, the Indiegogo page pretty much sums things up…

It's a slightly ironic situation, because when Psydoll played there a while back, the PA burst into flames. It made for pretty good pyrotechnics - but it wasn't intentional. No damage done on that occasion (except to the PA), but the God of Hellfire was not to be put off, obviously…

Here's my on-the-spot report:

And my on-the-spot pix: (No actual flames visible, but a few good ART shots, I like to think...)

Psydoll are planning another London gig in the near-ish future, but it looks like it'll have to be at another venue. Promoters welcome to get in touch...
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Nemesis To Go issue 14/15 is up

Rock 'n' roll news: The new issue of my webzine is up now and ready to eat.

Get it here:

It's a bumper double issue bargain bucket, covering my rock 'n' roll life from last year to last week. My hard drive died a horrible ghastly death a few months back (due to too much dust, apparently) and as a result I couldn't get an issue up earlier this year. So I've just shovelled all the content into this issue…which means the live review stack is about five miles long. Hours of fun!

Please click the link above, or the traditional giant graphic thing below, and slurp it up....