Thursday, November 22, 2018

Walking in the swarm of stars

I've long been interested in dreams and visions of flight and space, something I experimented with a bit during the fantastic voyage of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts.

‘Nan Domi’, Mimerose P. Beaubrun’s deeply personal account of her ‘inititiate’s journey into Haitian Vodou’, is much concerned with  visions, dreams and the means  for moving between visible and invisible worlds. The title itself refers to what the author describes as ‘the  second level of attention... a state that permits one to see abstract things unknown until then. A lucid dream state’.

Her mentor teaches her that she has three bodies- the physical body (kadav ko) supplemented by a ‘double’, the nannan - ‘our mystery side... that is conscious of the two states- the state of being awake, and the dreaming state’ - which ‘in Nan Domi... is enveloped in light and becomes light-  the nannan-rev’. Her ‘Aunt’leads her on a visionary journey into space, ‘walking in the swarm of stars’.

Opening with the words ‘Ann ay monte Anwo. N apray palmannaze nan Lapousiye’ (‘Lets ascend towards ecstasy. We are going to walk in the Milky Way’), her singing and the sound of the tchatcha rattle help Mimerose to ‘drift into somnolence’and then become ‘conscious of walking in a place where everything was coloured mauve... At intervals, an abyss opened and then fell away. A prolonged movement like the swell of big waves broke into foam the colour of yellow saffron. The scenes before me came and went, fast and fascinating. I plunged into them as one plunges into the sea. The waves rocked me, and suddenly I saw myself as a baby. I watched my own birth’.

The author is lead singer and founding member of the Haitian band Boukman Eksperyan.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

'Sound of police truncheon against body': David Peace's miners strike soundscape

I've written here before about music and the 1984/85 miners strike, including putting together a mix which you can find on mixcloud. But the day to day soundscape of the strike, and particulalry its picket line battles, was less about the bands playing benefit gigs  than the sounds of crowds (including some songs and chants) and sounds of the police with their vehicles, horses and riot shields.

One of the things I like about 'GB84', David Peace's fictionalised ‘occult history’ of the strike, is his description of this. He writes of  'The noise of the battle... The shouts. The sirens' and of the 'Noise of it all. Boots and Stones. Flesh and bones... They beat them shields like they beat us... I heard them again - Them hooves, them boots'.

In his visceral, multi-sensory account the author invites the reader to recall or imagine the  'sound of body against Perspex shield', 'sound of rock hitting Perspex shield' and 'sound of police truncheon against body'.

These sounds are integral to the emotional landscape of the strike which Peace also conveys very well - anger, jubilation, pain, hope, powerlessness, despair, pride...

Peace himself grew up in Ossett in what was then the West Yorkshire coalfied, and as a 17 year old at the time of the strike played miners benefits gigs with his band.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Haircut Sir? - Flat Top Days in Brixton

I was sad to hear of the death of  barber Andy Haralambous (1/06/1944 - 09/10/2018). For ten years from the late 1980s, Andy cut my hair regularly at his barber's shop at the bottom of Tulse Hill, Haircut Sir? In fact he cut my hair very regularly, as it was short and in need of constant attention. Andy was famous for his flat top haircuts at a time when this was the coolest hair style in town.

I'd had my first a few years earlier at Cyril's in Canterbury, where I was a student. That first time, around my 20th birthday, I didn't even know what it was called, I had to point at some passing rockabilly rebel and say 'like that'!  Not long after I started going to regular Thursday night sessions put on by Whitstable rockabilly band The Keytones at The Tankertons Arms there (this would have been 1983/84). I gravitated towards punkier hair styles for a while, including a short lived mohican, but within a few years I felt the call of the full flat top again.

In the 1980s, the flat top and variations of it were not confined to 1950s revivalists. There was the whole psychobilly scene wtih gothish elements and various post-punk short back and side merchants from Kirk Brandon to Morrissey. There was a black hip hop version, and let's not forget Grace Jones. In the pre-rave warehouse party/rare groove scene, there were flat tops aplenty and it was the haircut du jour of young gay London (including many lesbians as well as gay men).

When I moved to Tulse Hill Estate in Brixton in early 1987, I needed to keep my flat top sharp to go with my black Levi 501s and DMs for nights out at The Fridge and elsewhere. Andy was the local barber. But he was well known beyond the local area for his flat top skills - I remember him being mentioned in either Time Out or The Face, or possibly both, as doing one of the best flat tops in London.  People came from far and wide. Like many London barbers, Andy was from Cyprus, like most barbers from wherever he enjoyed regaling his captive seated audience with his views on the state of the world!

Some Haircut Sir handiwork

collecting for striking P&O shipping workers in Brixton 1988 with Andy flat top

In the ecstasy fuelled 1990s long hair made a come back, but there was no going back for me. There might have been some colouring added at times, but it's short back and sides for life (well for as long as I have hair) even if I now have a not-so stark number 3 at the sides. I moved to New Cross in '96 and my regular trips to Andy's faded out. Nowadays I head to KRS Barber Station in Brockley where the clippers are wielded by barbers from the Turkish side of Cyprus. But Haircut Sir? is still going strong in SW2, where Andy passed on the business to his children.

So long Andy and thanks for the haircuts.

update: thanks to Andrew Brooks on Twitter for reminding me of Andy's standard introduction when somebody entered the shop - 'Cup of tea? Kettle’s there. Help yourself'. Of course if you did make one the etiquette was to offer one to Andy and anybody else queuing.

Andy in action (photo from Haircut Sir? facebook page)

London from punk to Blair EDITED BY JOE KERR & ANDREW GIBSON
Photographic Consultant Mike Seaborne

Update May 2024:

London: from Punk to Blair, edited by Andrew Gibson and Joe Kerr (2003) includes an overview of London hair styles which mentions Andy's:

 'Punk hairstyles continued to inspire looks throughout the next decade, providing the basis for the teased, dyed, androgynous black hair displayed in the Goth movement whose adherents haunted Camden Market and the infamous Batcave. By the late 1970s, the punk notion that a haircut could be a walking work of art on the streets of London was pushed even further by the New Romantic subculture, whose shock value rested on a deliberate confusion of gender seen in clubs such as Blitz and Taboo. Kevin Ryan of Antenna, Kensington Church Street, was responsible for some of the most exciting developments in male hairstyling of this period, and used extensions in his session work for singers such as Boy George. A whole host of retro references began to influence men's styles, such as the brushed flat top - Andy's Cut and Blow Dry of Tulse Hill was reputed to do the best flat top in London, followed closely by Atlas Associates of Fulham Road (Caroline Cox, White Hair Right Now: Styling the London Man)