Friday, December 09, 2016


THE GENERALIST is pleased to present the latest crop of novels that I have digested in recent months. They all come recommended. The majority are second-hand books, found at random, enjoyable surprises - none more so than this great 1973 Quarto paperback edition of Jack Kerouac's first novel 'The Town And The City' with a great cover artwork by Ron Kirby.

As regular readers will know I am huge fan of The Beats in general and JK in particular but for some reason had never tackled this novel before, first published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in the US in 1950. Heavily influenced by the American writer Thomas Wolfe, Kerouac's debut novel is a sprawling 500pp family saga and is loosely based on his real life in two locations - Lowell, Massachusetts and New York, where the Beats first found each other. The majority of the book's characters are based on his family and friends.

A hugely ambitious book, he started it in 1945 and produced a 1,100 page manuscript by 1948 at the age of 26. Like his character Pete Martin, Kerouac joined the merchant marine and sailed to Greenland.
Official Navy mugshot of Kerouac
around the time of his 21st birthday.

The early chapters are idyllic and brought to life with tremendous skill. The blurb writer of this edition puts it well: 'The unique voice of Kerouac's panoramic consciousness reverberates through these pages, questioning, wondering and clarifying.' The happy family life in an iconic small town is torn apart by the World War and the old sureties are shredded, reflecting Kerouac's own pathway. It's an emotional journey and one that prefigures the string of Beat novels Kerouac is famous for. The novel concludes with his alter ego alone on a highway in a rainy night: ' He was on the road again, travelling the continent westward, going off to further and further years, alone by the waters of life, alone, looking towards the lights of the river's cape, towards tapers, burning warmly in the towns, looking down along the shore to remembrance of the dearness if his father and of all life.,'  Perfect.

Three great reads by writers new to me. Arturo Pérez-Reverte  was a war correspondent for 20 years before becoming a best-selling novelist. 'The Queen of the South' is a rattling yarn about the rise to power of Teresa Mendoza, who escapes the Mexican cartels to become a godmother of the drug trade in the Mediterranean. APR obviously loved hanging out with the helicopter pilots of the Customs and the book is made real by his assiduous journalistic skills.

'Shantaram' by Gregory David Roberts is a 1,000pp gripping saga based on the author's true-life adventures. In the 1980s, Roberts was a heroin addict who became an armed robber. He escaped from a high security Australian prison and found his way to Mumbai where he lived in the giant shanty towns featured in 'Slumdog Millionaire'. Here he established a free-health clinic and  became a street soldier for the mafia. He also got involved with Bollywood and fought with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. 

According to Wikipedia: 'In 1990, Roberts was captured in Frankfurt after being caught smuggling heroin into the country. He was extradited to Australia and served a further six years in prison, two of which were spent in solitary confinement. According to Roberts, he escaped prison again during that time, but relented and smuggled himself back into jail. His intention was to serve the rest of his sentence to give himself the chance to be reunited with his family. During his second stay in Australian prison, he began writing Shantaram. The manuscript was destroyed by prison wardens, twice, while Roberts was writing it.'

The book is a conflation of his real-life adventures and invented narratives. He's a wonderful and absorbing story-teller and this book is a great if you just want to shut off from the world for a week. 
I'm saving his equally large follow-up novel 'The Mountain Shadow' for just such an occasion.

Joseph Kanon's 'Istanbul Passage' is a masterclass spy novel set in the immediate postwar period of the late '40s, in a world of uncertainty and intrigue.Le Carré and a few others may have staked out a claim to this territory but Kanon can match their narrative skills, character building and intricate plotting. The story twists and turns as the book's main character American businessman Leon Bauer tries to keep his cool and hold on to his integrity whilst evading secret police and indulging in an illicit sexual affair. All of this plays out against a finely-realised backdrop of one the world's most enchanting cities. One can almost hear the chants of the muezzins and the waters of the Bosphorus lapping against yet another washed-up corpse.

Having been a William Gibson reader since the cyberspace days, having interviewed the man on several occasions, a new WG book is always worth investigating. Which is not to say they're always easy reading.                                                                                                                               'The Peripheral' I found strangely baffling on many levels but when I tried not to understand it all, I enjoyed the experience. The back blurb claims that the book is set in a pre-Apocalyptic America and a curiously empty Post-Apocalyptic London. There's a lot of levels, lots of newtech. A worthy addition to the Gibson oeuvre.
The author of a string of unusual novels, Michael Faber's imagination had not strayed into interstellar space before 'The Book of Strange New Things'. Peter, a kind of chaplain, is sent up to some far off space base owned by some corporation [like in 'Moon']. Pete's job is to liaise with the planet's indigenous inhabitants - Oasans - who love Jesus and live in a special settlement not too far from the base but far enough to require a long drive in some kind of shuttle. He is also trying to maintain a relationship with his girlfriend/wife who he will not see for many years. Things are not going well back on Earth. MF magic's up this whole deep-space world in 3-D.  Your imagination can fill in lots of the details. Haunting and other-worldly. I felt I was there.

THE GENERALIST loves American paperbacks and these two Cormac McCarthy novels are just about as good as it gets, design-wise. Eleven out of 10 for look and feel. Good readable type.
I began my journey into McCarthy's work via the three-volume Border trilogy 'All The Pretty Horses', 'The Crossing', 'Cities of the Plain' followed by 'No Country For Old Men' and 'The Road'. Now I'm working backwards.
This cover of 'Blood Meridian' carries the mother of all cover quotes. from one of my favourite writers Michael Herr [See PP]:
"A classic American novel of regeneration through violence. McCarthy can only be compared with our greatest writers, with Melville and Faulkner and this is his masterpiece."
What can I say: It's another of Cormac's long, long journeys by a dark nightmare crew riding across vast landscapes, each marked by bad encounters that generally involve  slaying everyone in sight. There's little but violence or horrifying fights for survival. It's riveting. I'm saving 'Suttree' for later.
I've written about the Nobel prize-winning author José Saramago before somewhere (see PP) You have to get used to him. For a start, there are no chapters or paragraphs, just one whole scroll of continuous text. In other words, you need a bookmark. Saramago has a strange, unique and somewhat dark imagination. 'Seeing' is, to my mind, very contemporary for the following reason. The plot is reasonably simple. In this imaginative real-life country, the population are allowed to vote on National Election Day. On this particular occasion, only a small handful of voters arrive to vote. An extension is announced. When they look at the final ballot papers, 70% of them are blank. The government calls for another election. The blank votes rise to 83%. The plot develops from there.

I have a particular love of certain kinds of mystery stories and 'The Prophecies', a novel by Chief Druid Philip Carr-Gomm hits middle stump. 

I like stories that begin with someone looking for inspiration who decides to go to Paris, browses the booksellers by the Seine and finds an unusual book by a woman who turns out to have been a clairvoyant and to have predicted many aspects of the Second World War. 

Not knowing whether she was still alive, C-G (for it is he) discovers that her home in Brittany is now a B&B, swiftly makes a booking, takes the train to Rennes, hires a car, finds the house and learns that he is to sleep in a room called the 'Chambre des Druides' The next day, he also discovers that this magnetic female spiritualist took a German lover during the war. She was also a friend of the Abbé Gillard who, also during the war, began building a church of the Holy Grail in the nearby village.

From these actual factual beginnings, C-G crafts a story that interweaves fact and fancy and which grabbed my imagination. I sat down and read it straight through in the course of a day. I loved the original b&w 1970s tv version of 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' which inspired 'The Da Vinci Code'. 'The Prophecies' has a similar presence,

Thursday, December 08, 2016


How many trees are there on Planet Earth?

A widely accepted previous estimate, based on analysis of satellite data, put the world's tree population at about 400 billion. 

The latest study by an international team of scientists, published in September 2016, makes that figure 3 trillion trees. This figure is more reliable because it combines satellite data with 'ground truth.'
The scientists first collected together existing ground tree-counting surveys for every continent except Antarctica, covering a total area of about 430,000 hectares. This enabled them to improve the tree-density estimates from satellite imagery of those same areas. It also allowed them to apply tree-density estimates to remote areas that have not been inventoried on the ground.

The study shows that the highest tree densities were found in the boreal forests of North America, Scandinavia and Russia. These are tightly packed with skinny conifers and hold roughly 750 billion trees, 24% of the global total. Tropical and subtropical forests, with the greatest area of forested land, are home to 1.3 trillion trees, or 43% of the total.

Humans have had an astonishing impact on the tree cover of the Earth. Researchers estimate that, since the onset of agriculture 12,000 years ago, we have reduced the number of trees worldwide by 46%.

Currently we are cutting down about 15 billion trees a year.

Source: 'Global count reaches 3 trillion trees'Rachel Ehrenberg [Nature/02 September 2015



In a more recent Nature story, they profile the work of Matthew Hansen described as one of 'the world's foremost forest sentries', spotting deforestation as it's happening.

 'In 2013, he and his colleagues used satellite data to produce the first global, high-resolution maps of where trees are growing and disappearing. Those images revealed some large-scale patterns for the first time, such as that Indonesia had nearly equalled Brazil as the country with the world's highest rate of tropical deforestation. Since then, his team has refined its methods and can now reveal the loss of trees within days.
'Just as important is what Hansen does with the underlying data. Unlike some scientists, he makes them freely available online, giving activists, companies and others the ability to monitor activities such as illegal logging and mining, which have destroyed millions of hectares of forest per year over the past few decades. The data have enabled non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and officials in Peru, Congo and other nations to see deforestation as it happens. And they let countries monitor each other's trees — potentially a crucial step in enforcing the international climate agreement signed in Paris last December.'

The Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) laboratory in the Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland is led by Drs. Matthew Hansen and Peter Potapov.

One of their current high-profile projects is a collaboration with the World Resources Institute, creating operational global data on forest extent and change, part of the Global Forest Watch initiative .


GEDI, a NASA Earth-observing system set to go on the International Space Station in 2018, will enable the government to understand the architecture of forests, as this 3-D rendering depicts. By fully analyzing the structure of forests, researchers will be able to more accurately measure the amount of carbon they store. Photo courtesy of NASA.
'In 2018, America's space agency, in collaboration with the University of Maryland, is going to send a laser into the galaxies to assess the world's trees. 
It won't be the first time NASA dabbles in lidar technology -- shooting lasers onto things and recording what comes back -- but it will be the first time the agency sends a laser specifically designed to measure the intricate structure of forests.
The goal of the mission, fittingly named GEDI, an acronym for Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation lidar, is to map forests trunk to canopy -- or, to put it another way, to measure the volume of the world's forests and visualize them in 3-D.
By combining data on how much carbon is stored in wood with GEDI measurements, researchers are hoping to compile a solid estimate of the carbon stored in forests for the first time.
"It will absolutely be a game changer," said Laura Duncanson, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center who works on the GEDI team. "Lidar is the only technology that can penetrate the forest floor and estimate carbon."
Globally, forests are estimated to suck up between 10 and 14 percent of current gross emissions. The activities of the land-use sector, which includes forests but also agriculture and land-use changes, account for about 24 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Many researchers who tally emissions have conceded that the world has little chance of keeping warming below the agreed 2-degree-Celsius threshold without the carbon sequestration of forests.
But not all forests are created equal in their carbon-storing abilities. Furthermore, as forest-rich nations consider how to meet their climate goals set forth at the Paris climate talks late last year, understanding where and how carbon is being stored in their trees will become increasingly important.
GEDI, many hope, will unlock the next frontier of forest and carbon mapping.'
Source: 'Seeing the trees in 3-D, a 'game changer' for forest policy' - Brittany Patterson, E&E News reporter/ ClimateWire: Tuesday, March 8, 2016.


The Global Forest Watch interface showing Amazonian forest losses in 2014
Source: 'Earth Engine Creates A Living Map of Forest Loss'

'Illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has spiked since 2015, bringing the rate to its highest level in 8 years. The finding has raised fears that the country could lose a decade’s worth of progress in forest protection. 
In an analysis of satellite data released on 29 November, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in São José dos Campos estimates that 7,989 square kilometres of land — nearly the size of Puerto Rico — was cleared between August 2015 and July 2016. The total was 29% above the previous year and 75% above the 2012 level, when deforestation hit a historic low of 4,571 square kilometres (see ‘Going up’).
Brazil basked in the international limelight for nearly a decade after deforestation began to drop in 2005, thanks in part to stronger government enforcement as well as high-profile commitments to halt deforestation by the beef and soya-bean industries. But the government’s success sparked a political backlash. The Brazilian Congress relaxed the country’s forest protections in 2012, and many Brazilian lawmakers are pushing to further relax environmental laws to promote development across the Amazon.'

Wednesday, December 07, 2016


If we are to properly protect the world ocean that makes up 71% of our planet, one of the most vital and important regions to conserve is the Coral Triangle.

 Also dubbed the "Amazon of the seas", it is now recognised to be the world's most biodiverse marine environment - a biological epicentre for the world ocean, producing larvae and species that migrate and restock other areas of the planet.

The Coral Triangle -  1.6% of the planet’s ocean - is a roughly triangular area of 5.7 million square kilometres (2,200,000 sq mi) of the tropical marine waters of  Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor).

In each eco-region of the Triangle, the waters contain at least 500 species of reef-building corals. The area as a whole contains 76% of all known coral species in the world and 100,000 kms of coral reefs - 29% of the world total..  

These provides a habitat for more than 3,000 species of coral reef fish, the highest diversity in the world

The waters are also home to the biggest fish in the world, the whale shark and the remarkable living fossil, the coelacanth.

The most important reproductive areas for yellowfin, skipjack and bigeye  tuna are in the Triangle

They also host six of the world’s seven marine turtle species.

In addition, the region also provides critical migration and feeding routes for whales and other cetaceans including the giant Blue Whale.
The Coral Triangle also has the greatest extent of mangrove forests in the world.


The Coral Triangle sits at a crossroads of rapidly expanding populations, economic growth and international trade. The biodiversity and natural productivity of the Coral Triangle are under threat from poor marine management (primarily from the coastal development, and overfishing and destructive fishing), lack of political will, poverty, a high market demand and local disregard for rare and threatened species, and climate change (warming, acidifying and rising seas).

An estimated 120 million people live within the Coral Triangle, of which approximately 2.25 million are fishers who depend on healthy seas to make a living. These threats are putting at risk livelihoods, economies and future market supplies for species such as tuna. 

According to the Coral Triangle Knowledge Network, about $3 billion in fisheries exports and another $3 billion in coastal tourism revenues are derived as annual foreign exchange income in the region.

The value of just a one-kilometre stretch of coral reef in the region can be as high as US$1.2 million, considering the goods and ecosystem services it provides.

Studies have highlighted the alarming decline and mass bleaching of coral cover in this region. Healthy reefs in the Triangle are estimated to be able to produce up to 40 metric tons of fish per year.

Worldwide coral reefs occupy less than one quarter of 1% of the marine environment and are home to more than 25% of all known marine fish species

Oceans provide around 50% of the oxygen we breathe, primarily through phytoplankton living in the water. Therefore life in our oceans is critical. Our very survival is dependent on the Coral Triangle’s survival.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Knockabout Comics logo
Another recent visitor to THE GENERALIST HQ was Tony Bennett, the head honcho behind Knockabout Comics, one of the very few British independent publishers and distributors of adult and underground comics.

We worked out the last time we probably saw each other was at the very first WOMAD festival at the Bath & West Showground near Shepton Mallet, Somerset in 1980. On the bill was Peter Gabriel, Don Cherry, The Beat, the Drummers of Burundi, Echo & The Bunnymen, Imrat Khan, Prince Nico Mbarga, Simple Minds, Suns of Arqa, The Chieftains and Ekome amongst others.
Robert Crumb speaks! See below
Awesome. Needless to say we had a lot to catch up on. 

First some history of Tony's pioneering role taken from a 2006 interview by Joe Gordon on the Forbidden Planet blog. Full text here

'Not only has Knockabout been instrumental in pioneering the market for challenging underground material it has also been at the forefront of legal battles over censorship; it is probably no exaggeration to say that the increased leeway enjoyed in the medium today is thanks in no small part to the cases Knockabout has fought out with The Man so we could have the right to decide what we wanted to read for ourselves. 

Tony: In the late 60s and early 70s I was working with a publisher and distributor called Unicorn Bookshop [run by Bill Butler]. Originally in Brighton, we moved to a farm in West Wales where we were growing our own food and had a printing press in the barn. Unicorn, as well as publishing books on self-sufficiency, cannabis and poetry was importing Underground comics from the USA. This really sparked my interest in comics, partly for the wide and weird content and partly because they were creator-owned. It even encouraged me and a friend to draw and print our own self-indulgent heavily derivative comic, Trip Strip, which we distributed at festivals. With the demise of Unicorn in 1975, due to bad debts I took over some of the distribution and started publishing the Gilbert Shelton's The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in 1975 [through his own company Hassle Free Press].

From the Generalist Archive: Front and back cover of the first Furry Freak comic published in UK by Knockabout; Knockabout Anthology No 10 with cover by Gilbert Shelton. Thirteen issues were published in the 1980s.

Read my interview with Gilbert Shelton for the NME published in October 1979

The company [which changed its name to Knockabout Comics in 1978/79] also became the UK publisher for Robert Crumb and original work by British comic artists Hunt Emerson and Bryan Talbot. It has also published many works by Alan Moore including 'In Hell' and, most recently, his new remarkable novel Jerusalem [see Generalist review]. See the Knockabout website for many more titles.

Copy of ZAP COMIX No 5 given to me
when I visited the Rip Off Press in San
Francisco in 1979

Tony arrived laden with some great recent Knockabout productions (see below) but he also lent me this fantastic book by Patrick Rosenkranz which documents the US Underground Comic Revolution through interviews with 50 of the leading comic artists of the period. Alongside Crumb and Shelton there is Dan O' Neill, S. Clay Wilson, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Bill Griffith, Robert Williams, Ron Cobb and many more.Published by Fantagraphics Books in 2002. Essential.


'Wierdo' was a magazine-sized comics anthology created by Robert Crumb in 1981, which ran for 28 issues until 1993. 

According to the preface by his wife Aline-Koninsky-Crumb. 'Wierdo' was inspired by 'Mad' and 'Humbug' and the Underground comic culture, which had boomed in the 70s. It came out around the same time as 'Raw', the 'high-brow' remarkable outsize graphic/comic journal led by 'Maus' creator Art Spiegelman [who I interviewed in London]. The Crumbs went for 'low-brow' and drew together a whole bunch of artists who worked on the edges of acceptability. 

R. Crumb himself edited the magazine for the first 3 1/2 years and gave it what Aline calls its 'wacky brand-X feel'. It was passed on to Peter Bagge who, she says, changed the mood to a more punk 'zine and many younger artists got their start in its pages. 

This substantial hardbound book brings together all the Crumb material from the magazine, which includes mad '50s style photonovel sexy girl adventures as well-as the conventional comics which Crumb is world-famous for, The last issue was produced in France where the family Crumb  (with daughter) emigrated to and are still domiciled.

Two frames from 'I Remember The Sixties', sub-titled R. Crumb Looks Back!
Didn't the late great Australian art critic Robert Hughes put Crumb up there as a modern day Brueghel! His work is xtraordinary, often hard to take, remarkable for its visceral intensity, insanity and humour. If you watch the long documentary Crumb, you'll understand that he came from a strange household. The bits in the film that still make me gasp is watching Crumb draw in the street, sitting on a  bench with street life ebbing and flowing around him. Extraordinary facility. By the way, this stuff is for adults !!


Pinnochio and me go way back. Can't remember reading the original Carlo Collodi story as a kid but def saw the Disney movie and no doubt read simplified version of tale. But did read Collodi's full version to Number 2 son as I recall. It's quite a dark bedtime read. This edition is the only one to survive in my library and my favourite up to this point, illustrated as it is by pencil drawings and gorgeous full-colour full-page frames by the remarkable Greg Hildebrant. Can't remember where this edition came from. It's published by the Unicorn Publishing House in New Jersey in 1986.

Now confronted with a radical adult re-visioning of Pinnochio by Winshluss, a.k.a. Vincent Paronnand a French comic artist and filmmaker, published in France in 2008. It won the prize for best album at the 2009 Festival International de la Bande Dessinée at Angoulême the following year.

Paronnaud is best known for co-writing and co-directing with Marjane Satrapi the highly acclaimed animated film Persepolis (2007), for which they received numerous awards including the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. It was developed from Satrapi's graphic autobiography depicting her childhood up to her early adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution.

Pinnochio is a remarkable piece if work, a beautifully bound volume of 188 pages, printed on thick paper with ornate endpapers. In this version, P has become a little metal boy who appears to be indestructible, His full colour adventures through the book are interspersed with other parallel narratives including black and white  Adventures if Jiminy Cockroach, Other stories in a kind of brown charcoal effect are self-contained. Elements of Collodi's story are cleverly given new twists. There are some very unpleasant things here including a clown dictator to chill the blood but the artistry, ingenuity, unexpectedness and sheer beauty on display, the constant shifts in frames, strands and technique, make the journey a bare-knuckle ride and a visual feast.


This REMARKABLE book (just to make the point) takes us on a journey thought time and space from the very beginning of our universe to the birth of earth and the emergence of life and the human race. It's an extraordinary achievement.

Here is the book's creator Jens Harder explaining how he came to produce 'Alpha':

'The discussion of time has always been at the heart of things for me, this intangible construct of the fourth dimension, which can be approached more easily in comics than in a time-based medium. Though the presentation of more than 14 billion years in just 350 pages is something of a joke (at a rough estimate of 2,000 drawings, means on average just one image for every seven million years). 

'My own particular obsession being the great mystery of the origin of life which always seems like a "miracle" to us humans. Thus I ended up devoting a not insignificant part of the book trying to approach this through the drawings. 

'Meanwhile, running in parallel to the development of the book, I was following the development of our children from the first blurry ultrasound images until four and a half years later, where in five minutes they can turn our entire living room into a battlefield but also with great joy, produce their first drawings. 

'Above all it is always the realisation that, in "Alpha" of course, that nothing is finished, nothing perfected in this ever-changing story. It changes constantly, but since the beginning of my work in 2004, the state of knowledge has grown enormously throughout the world. Much has been confirmed, much however has also been abandoned - but which only in rare cases did I take into account. If there should one day appear an expanded edition of the first part of this trilogy I will add or modify dozens of pages. And who knows, maybe by then another comic book creator will have taken on "the longest story ever" adding their own interpretation - and I think it would all be worth it.' 

Friday, November 18, 2016


THE GENERALIST was happy to welcome to Lewes my comrade and globetrotting musicologist, journalist, composer Peter Culshaw on the night after the US election, It was necessary to drink, eat an Indian meal and drink some more. Over-nighting at the Beat Hotel, refreshed and invigorated, we laid plans for the uncertain future. More on Pete's achievements and latest links at end. Over recent time, Pete has made many trips to Kyiv in the Ukraine and has written several brilliant pieces, some of which have appeared in the UK. This recent piece, reprinted with his permission, was recently published in 'The Odessa Review'.

A profile of the an artist, director, promoter, set designer who is arguably the most interesting man now working in Ukrainian theater as he prepares for the premiere of his opera “Babylon,” which is set to open this August.

I have come across very few arts visionaries who seem to alter the energy of those around them, and who, even with their outlandish ideas, change reality by the force of their imagination. What is now real was once imagined, in the words of William Blake. Some people I would put in this precious category are Malcolm McLaren, Joseph Beuys and Fela Kuti. I would not hesitate for a second however to add to that list Ukraine’s Vlad Troitsky as an important cultural catalyst for all of world culture full stop.

Troitsky has been the director of Kyiv’s storied Gogolfest every year since its inception, showcasing hundreds of Ukrainian artists of all stripes. This year’s fest motto is “Don’t wait – do something”. He was also instrumental in turning the Arsenale in Kiev into the modern, dynamic art centre it is today.  He is always on the go, but believes that one of the secrets of happiness (“and I am a very happy man” he says)  is to live in the present rather than the past or future. He has kept off Facebook and limits the negative feelings he gets from overexposure to media, but knows exactly what is going on politically.

Troitsky holds a seductive and positive line on Ukraine’s cultural situation. For him, Western Europe is “tired and cynical”, a place where everyone feels things are always getting worse — but that is not so in Ukraine, where things are on the up. Russia is an authoritarian, backward looking place that wants to send women back to the kitchen — Ukraine is a dynamic cultural place that holds more possibilities than ever. It is, after all, the most fertile area of Europe, the place with the richest, darkest soil. A feminine country — with a strength that implies that there is  “a lot of shit”, corruption, war and all the rest, but “step by step”, it steadily improves. “It’s not so cool for a bureaucrat to be driving a flashy car that he has afforded through taking bribes now”, he asserts.

Troitsky isn’t a head-in-the-clouds sort of guy, but he does have a bracing grip on the big picture. His new opera “Babylon,” which will open this August, is his reaction to the rise of populist nativists embodied by Brexit, Trump and Le Pen. Countries and cultures don’t understand each other, and don’t want to anymore. It is typical for Troitsky to draw direct parallels between personal and state relationships. “The EU was a romantic idea,” he says “but like all romances there is the romantic phase and then…” relationship experts argue a power struggle phase and a “Dead Zone,” when you don’t know who is sitting opposite you at breakfast. Troitsky believes “Ukraine is at a romantic phase, which is why it is so powerful.”

His ideas would be interesting from a theoretical point of view, but what gives Troitsky his power is that he turns many of them into reality. Whoever it was that said magic is the correct combination of will power and imagination could have been thinking of Troitsky. There was a feeling that Ukraine needed more contemporary music — Troitsky essentially dreamed up and put together the wildly popular neo-folk Dakha Brakha (in a not dissimilar fashion to the way that McLaren put together the Sex Pistols). Since then, he  has been art director to Dakha Brakha and the all female “freak cabaret” group Dakh Daughters.

Full disclosure if it can be called that: the first UK gig of Dakha Brakha, ten years ago, actually took place in my front room in Hackney, East London. It was attended by ten people. Now the ladies play to adoring crowds of thousands at the WOMAD and Glastonbury Festival, playing original and soulful music that is rooted not only in Ukrainian, but also in global culture. Likewise for the Dakh Daughters, whose video of them playing at the Euromaidan is a great introduction to their work. Now they too are touring internationally to critical acclaim.

Troitsky mentions that when Dakh Daughters played the Vienna Festival recently, a feminist gave them two reactions – she got a wonderful sense of freedom from the band, but was suspicious of Troitsky as a sort of patriarch daddy figure. The band replied that if she got this sense of freedom – why try and impose her ideas of feminism on them?  It’s true that in this band there is a singer who is a married mother, and another who tells everyone she had an affair with an artist and his wife at the same time.  That is a sort of freedom, perhaps. Troitsky might also say that in Western Europe there is a feeling that the sexual electricity between men and women is not what it once was — a diminution of the life force. For him, the “intellectual, sexual” Dakh Daughters on stage are the greatest ambassadors of the new Ukraine. Certainly, the two bands have inspired plenty of other groups to form, and if a Ukrainian musical renaissance is no longer a ridiculous or wishful idea, he is as much responsible for it as anyone.

I first met Troitsky a decade ago, when he was about to bring a version of Macbeth to London’s Barbican Theatre.  I was immediately struck by that inimitable sense of a positive vision allied with a steely will power.  Soon I was staying at his place in Kyiv, and every morning, even if the river Dnieper was frozen over, he would go swimming. He talked of going to a shamanic retreat in Siberia where you would be buried in an ice hole for days.

In fact, Troitsky was born in Siberia, but has lived in Kyiv for the last 35 years. At the collapse of the Soviet Empire, Troitsky built up a business which included shops on the main Khreshchatyk boulevard in Kyiv. Being an avant-garde theatre enthusiast, he bought a building in downtown Kiev twenty years ago and called it the Dakh Centre of Contemporary Theatre Arts. He set up a school for modern theatre, enrolled himself in it and invited directors that he admired, such as Igor Lysov, to come and lecture. In some ways his work aims to revive the theater milieu of the Soviet times, when Eastern European directors such as Tadeusz Kantor and Jerzy Grotowski produced idiosyncratic, physical theater that was among the most innovative in the world.

To return to my first night in Kyiv – we ended up at a fashionable restaurant which usually has a stylish, minimal décor. Except this time, the Dakh Centre for Contemporary Arts theater company covered the place with straw. There were live chickens everywhere, several actors were dressed as Ukrainian peasants, and a gang of musicians with drums and violins played in a music style that they described to me as “ethno-chaos”. Next, a dozen stunning girls arrived, dressed in bridal white. We went outside to an old amphitheater, where bonfires were lit and the brides began to rhythmically strike large sheets of metal with hammers. The movers and shakers of Kyiv’s fashion, media and business worlds were there in force and the event was judged to be a great success. The restaurant got lots of publicity and the theater company was paid enough to keep them going for a few more weeks. Which is not beside the point, as it survives by performing these kinds of stunts. There was the opening of a nightclub called Guerrilla, where the dress code was Soviet military chic (though the notion of Soviet chic has declined understandably in the last few years).

The company’s version of Macbeth loosely followed Shakespeare’s story, though with fairly little dialogue. Sometimes there were four witches and sometimes two — these were beautiful young sirens rather than old crones. Troitsky focused on the essential, archetypal elements of the play, and created a highly ritualistic piece using dance, masks and music to tell the story in an almost trance-like atmosphere. The mesmerizing music reflected his interest in the vocal traditional folk music of the Carpathian Mountains. It was also the first time that I heard the captivating music of Dakha Brakha. The play premièred in its original form a week before the Orange Revolution in November 2004, and the Macbeth tale of politics taken to extremes had obvious and striking contemporary resonance. Troitsky and his theater company were activists then, too, behind numerous “happenings.” One of these was the act of delivering thousands of old shoes to the Russian embassy and keeping up the morale of protesters by performing for them. There have been many other theater productions, such as a take on the Biblical story of Job, that emerged in the last year. Troitsky talks intensely of his belief in a theater of “intellectual clowning, mystery, ritual and neo – baroque aesthetics”, theater as a vehicle for spiritual self-realization.

His health has suffered in the last few years and he said he had been on a two week Ayurvedic retreat in Kerala India. But “fine words butter no parsnips”, and Troistky is a man of action and not merely of ideas, which is why he is to be treasured. In a TED talk he spoke of his belief that the old days of status and money politics were coming to an end. There would be a new politics of altruism where people got the most pleasure and status from giving things – attention, talent, money. All you would need to do is find people to accept your gifts.  Crazily optimistic — especially in the new old Ukraine – but if anyone is likely to bring such a vision down to earth, it could only be Troitsky.

This is the magazine's byline: Peter Culshaw is a composer and writer who has been everywhere and knows everyone. He once got very drunk with Fidel Castro. He is the author of ‘Clandestino: In Search of Manu Chao’.

The Generalist reviewed 'Clandestino' when it first came out.

Pete was one of the founding writers of and
does a regular radio show here: theartsdesk radio 

His  new music project is called The Temple Of Light:
Exclusive links: 
The Rose and Fire 
Himalaya Drone 


Some while back THE GENERALIST reviewed this book 'Psychedelic Suburbia' by Mary Finnigan. Following David B's death, the book became an Amazon best-seller.
See:  David Bowie and the Arts Lab Movement

The book was published by Peter Stansill through his independent company Jorvik Press which is based in Portland, Oregon.

Peter passed through London recently, we had a lengthy chat on the phone and he was good enough to send me two further titles.
'It's all about the story' is where Jorvik is coming from.

'If Jorvik Press had a motto, it would sound something like this. Our evolving mission is to publish books that tell a story about how people, places and times intersect. The result might be intriguing, evocative, heart-breaking, thrilling or, indeed, depressing. But it will always be mostly true.'

A life-long journalist and translator (he speaks at least five languages), Peter was one-time editor of the underground newspaper International Times [currently publishing on-line) and editor of the SF Bay Area underground paper Berkeley Barb.

Along with David Zane Mairowitz, he edited a landmark collection entitled 'BAMN: Outlaw Manifestos & Ephemera 1965-1970', first published by Penguin in 1971. BAMN stands for By Any Means Necessary. Jorvik will publishing a new edition in 2017.

Some thoughts on the two new titles.

'As Ever Was: Memoirs of a Beat Survivor' by Hammond Guthrie is a rattling good yarn and a valuable idiosyncratic memoir which conjures up lost worlds and gives you a flavour of what it was like to be there at that time.

Having survived military college, Hammond hung out in LA  and SF in the mid 60s - post-Beat, pre-hippy time. A budding painter and writer and professional drug taker, Hammond fitted well into the bohemian scene which he brings to life so well.

He and his wife decamped to London in the mid-60s, hanging out with the late and great John 'Hoppy' Hopkins and attending the UFO club and the London Arts Lab. Moving on to Amsterdam, they live on canal boats and hang out with the boho dope world. Hammond sells paintings to the Stedelijk.

The final lengthy chapters concern the couple's entanglement with a group of drug smugglers which leads them to living in Tangiers, trying to get the five American adventurers sprung from jail.

'The Cavern Club' by Debbie Greenberg is a great street-level history of one of the world's most famous small music venues.

Debbie was in there as a young girl from 1960 onwards and saw The Beatles live many times. According to the club's resident DJ, Bob Wooler, the Beatles made 292 appearances at the club in 1961, 1962 and 1963. Amazing.

Debbie became  a Cavern Club regular and she gives us a real feel of the claustrophobic stuffiness of the original club which was damp, unsanitary and a fire hazard - but with a fantastic exciting atmosphere even though it had no alcoholic licence. Cilla Black ran the cloakroom.

When the owner went bankrupt and it looked as if the Cavern would be closed for ever, Debbie's dad stepped up to the plate and the two of them turned it around with the help of the original house team. Her dad, Alf Geoghegan was a butcher at the time with shops and an abattoir so Debbie had to take over the meat business by day and would run to the club at night, managing also to squeeze in some modelling. I had forgotten that the Cavern was re-opened by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

 Any band who was anything at that time made an appearance in the subterranean cellars of this great Beat Club and some of the all-nighter lineups are awesome. There were some 300 bands in Merseyside at that time.The book has a satisfying collection of photos and ephemera. This inside story is the real thing.

See Previous Post: Counter Culture &The British Beat Explosion. The latter is a history of Eel Pie Island.

Friday, November 11, 2016


First thought: Nice piece of Photoshop work. Wrong. 

This is the great man himself backstage at the New Leeds Arena on the 7th Sept 2013 with a wicked grin on his face, reading the LME. How cool is that! 

The photo was taken by Stephen Arch, longtime Lewes resident, who had been travelling the world with the Leonard Cohen road-show for four years as his lighting crew chief. 

We had literally bumped into each other by chance in the Lewes Arms when Steve was just grabbing some lunch before heading up North to rejoin the tour. 

I gave him some copies of the very first issue of the Lewes Musical Express, produced by myself and designer Raphael Whittle. [We published four issues of this paper and one issue of the Brighton Musical Times before retiring for a lie-down.]

Later that day, Steve bumped into our mutual friend the artist Pete Messer and it was his idea to photograph Leonard reading the paper. When Steve asked Leonard, who was coming off stage after a sound check, whether he would do him a favour and pose for this picture he said: “Yeah bro. Let’s do it”. How cool is that.

Tragically our friend Steve died, suddenly not long afterwards. Now, three years later, Leonard has gone, writing poems to the end.

You can read all five issues online here: www.lewesmusical 

Original caption:
We have Derek Haggar thank for these two great pictures of the legendary Ray Davies of The Kinks and Ian McCulloch of Echo & The Bunnymen. They are both reading the LME in sunny splendour in Spain. Ray was appearing at the Heineken Jazzaldia Festival on July 23rd and Derek was there as his guitar tech. The day they were leaving, Ian arrived for his gig on the 24th. Derek reliably reports that they both loved the paper. More musical legend readers to come in future issues.

Friday, November 04, 2016



'For Shirley Collins, a Folk Revival of Her Very Own' by Jim Farber [New York Times 7th Nov 2016]

The Quietus Podcast  by Luke Turner

After a day of gloomy weather and unsettling news on the radio, a day of grey cloud and damp rain, Lewes town is getting ready for Bonfire. As I write, bangs & explosions, nearby and faraway, punctuate the damp night air while I'm listening to Shirley Collins 'Lodestar' album in a state of wonder. Its been almost on rotate for the last two days.

Earlier this evening I briefly attended Shirley's in-store launch at Union Music, packed to the gills with advance record buyers. I already had mine.

The record was discreetly made in Shirley's front room in a house just up the street from me. Two days ago I was just walking past Shirley's house when she called out my name, came to her front door and gave me the record. I'm waiting for a call from the New York Times, she said.

Let's just lay down the law on this one. This a classic record that is also tremendously unexpected, daring, deep. 40 years after her last recording and 30 years after she stopped singing completely, Shirley confidently emerges with a set of recordings that have a special magic. Quite possibly amongst the most important folk records ever made.

Her collaborators are to be congratulated and thanked for providing immaculate settings for a suite of songs that will touch you on all kinds of strange levels. Reaching through time - will you let me live just a few years more - the lyric of 'Death and the Lady' comes into my consciousness.

The album is beautifully constructed and takes you on a trip: From old Sussex mirroring Shirley's roots in Hastings and her connection with friend and mentor Bob Copper, patriarch of the Copper Family.; to the southern states of the USA when as a 19-year old, she accompanied the musicologist Alan Lomax on a song-recording trip. Finally: 'Silver Swan': A gem.

This album has so much to give and will inspire others to stretch their imaginations. Is it too fanciful to think that these recordings will awaken something in our English and American hearts at a time when the Klingons seem to be making the big plays.

I googled 'lodestar' and Google offered this:
ˈa star that is used to guide the course of a ship, especially the pole star.
  1. "she dominated his existence as chief muse and intellectual lodestar"
    synonyms:guide, guiding star, guiding light, role modelmodelluminaryexemplar,idealinspiration