Don’t you hate it when you make plans and then end up not feeling well enough to see them through? Well, today I had a sesh with Tony in Sydney at midday and straight after had the ‘eye thing’ and went to bed and didn’t wake up till 4PM, the plan was to go straight out, didn’t happen. Sleeping off this affliction doesn’t really work, it just means you’re asleep when you feel like crap, nothing changes when you wake except that you can see. So I got up and attempted to rescue the day and with a hazy head and a dull headache, I sorted out the recycling at Dare’s house, checked on the space caterpillars and their progress with the nasturtiums and went across the road to the last day of the funfair. Not exactly the kind of place you want to be when you are carrying a dull headache, a parched dryness in the mouth and a sense of not really being connected to reality but still standing and realising it’s now or never because the fair will be packing up and leaving tomorrow. In the olden days I’d be down for a few days in awful pain but these days, it’s just uncomfortable and just uncomfortable enough to be annoying but not to stop me living.
So as I’m alive, I thought, let’s go and pretend to be 100% and into the funfair we went. Perhaps you can trick your body or your head into feeling better if you refuse to accept the incapacity, ignore the pain. I’m a sensitive soul, pain is bad, the dentist freaks me out, I don’t mind hard work pain or exercise pain but injury or sickness pain, that’s the worst. But I was dealing with it and the day was still young enough, the main problem was we’d forgotten to buy food in our busy lives so it was going to be expensive chips at the fair. But first, Olivia was desperate to go on one special ride, the swing ride! We’d bought tokens at the gate for £1 each and this ride took 3 tokens, if you don’t know what it is there’s a picture below. It’s a circle of seats that you sit in with a metal bar that stops you falling out. All the seats are florescent pinks and glitter purples and various garish colours attached by chains to a central spinning point and after sitting there waiting for more customers for a few minutes, suddenly the young uncommunicative lad in charge closed the entrance gate and we began to rise up into the air. That was ok because there was a lovely view of the sea and the surrounding countryside around the town, the sun was out, there was the beginning of a winter breeze but it was ok, late afternoon, nice light, blue sky with wispy clouds, but then we started to fly. Olivia said it would be just like flying and that was certainly true except with my heavy head and the spinning out around the central pole at some speed, I immediately started to feel a little dizzy. So I did that thing that they say pirouetting ballerinas do, they focus on one point ahead and for me, that was the silver-speckled glitter red seat in front of me. I tried to look out but the world was spinning by so fast and I soon had to close my eyes only occasionally opening one to a slight slit to check that we were still flying. I held Olivia’s hand and she was loving it. She was so grateful that I went up there with her, sharing the experience.
We came down and I was glad I hadn’t eaten the chips before the ride. At the food truck, I stupidly asked if they had anything vege, “chips” the young girl said. I guess it’s still last century in the fairgrounds. After the chips, we had a walk around and got talking to one of the lads who was running one of the rides. He was from Middlesborough, northeastern accent which I didn’t immediately pick up on for some reason, I could tell it was Northern but couldn’t place it exactly. I asked him about life as a travelling member of a funfair crew. He said he loved it, it was like a big family and another couple of lads were joking around with him. They seemed happy. He said that this was the only site available at the moment in Britain, everywhere else was closed, festivals cancelled and consequently, these bigger rides were brought down, usually the fair is smaller. But the weather’s been bad here in Cornwall and the crowds are way down, still, at least they were here.
We didn’t go on any of the other rides, the Ghost Train had strobes and I can’t do strobes especially feeling this way and then there’s the projectile vomit rides where they spin you round and round and they turn you upside down and catapult you backwards. I don’t know how people aren’t sick, there’s one called the Crazy Cage which is like a centrifugal force machine where you stick to the walls as they spin you around and then there’s the waltzers with a lad spinning you as you move around. It seems that so much of it is about spinning.
Then there’s the cacophony, every ride has a different soundtrack and as you walk around you can hear them all at the same time as each ride is in close proximity to another. It’s terrible, it’s like hell, I don’t know if it’s a musician thing but it could really drive you insane, I suppose the people that work there have grown used to it, they block it out like people who live next to railway lines or fire stations. I once went to a bird sanctuary in Queensland and there was one crazy bird with a piercing song that you could hear all the way back to the shop. I asked the guy how he dealt with it, “Badly at first but now I don’t hear it anymore”.
Olivia went mad and ate a load of sugary greasy donuts, and bought a bag of UFOs off one of the caterpillars. I took a load of photos trying to capture the mood of the place. I didn’t try my luck at winning a free panda or a husky or a hedgehog by firing pellets, chucking something at some silver cans or throwing darts, even though my Mum had a darts trophy on the dresser in our front room. The dead eyes of the horses on the carousel and the frozen fear on the faces of the other animals were as scary as I imagined. The paintings on the Thrill Seeker of a scantily clad Pamela Anderson and the monsters on the Ghost Train were glaring out as if the music was coming out of their gaping monster mouths and eyes. It seemed that everything was set up to scare you. One wonders about the thrill of fear in this context, how it stimulates people, like horror movies do, being frightened for pleasure. It’s certainly not my bag, when we left it was a relief.
Music today reflects where we went today. Kevin Ayers‘ last album, The Unfairground, was released in 2007 and was his 15th album of which I have 14, plus collections. There’s one called Kevin Ayers’ Deià…Vu, only released in Spain, that I’ve never seen before. I saw a CD on eBay for 30 quid, yikes, too much but I guess it’s rare. The Unfairground was his first album in 15 years which was a big gap for someone who had been so prolific between the sixties and 1992. I think what happens is the music world moves on and leaves you behind, your audience gets older, isn’t as active as it was in terms of purchasing music and going to shows, and for some people, music madness is something they did when they were younger. Of course, some older artists are still treasured, Robert Wyatt for example who was in the original Soft Machine with Kevin Ayers. But then it’s about the perceived quality of the records, Wyatt seemed to have something about the future in him or more, something timeless, whereas Ayers sounded like a man who made more sense in the past. But it’s also true, his best records were made in the seventies. I think of records like this as reminders, something to make you remember him and his qualities, not that this is a bad record, it’s pleasant, has that special voice and his unique approach to songwriting, it can only be him. It’s like playful intellectual cocktail music where everybody is wearing dress suits and bow ties but they’re all tripping. If you’re a fan, especially a long-standing fan you’ll be glad to let him sing to you in any guise, in any era.
I’ve told this story before but I stood next to him once in the backstage toilets at the Shepherd’s Bush Theatre at a Go Betweens gig, had a nice long chat with him, mad, cool, eccentric, lovely man, he died in 2013 at the age of 68 and the world misses him. If you wonder about his effect on other musicians, go to the Wikipedia page and see who played on this record.
In 1975 Michael Moorcock, the science-fantasy writer, released an album under the name Michael Moorcock & The Deep Fix called The New Worlds Fair. It featured Moorcock, Steve Gilmore and Graham Charnock on guitars, vocals and lyrics, as well as members of Hawkwind, and Snowy White on guitar. I assume it’s supposed to be a dystopian future predating Banksy’s Dismaland Theme Park by three decades, except, well, this is just a record and Banksy actually did it. Still, here it is, it has a narrator in between songs, more spooky interjections. Sadly with Moorcock’s skills and his perfect band of musicians he fails to create any atmosphere at all. One of the most disappointing great ideas I’ve ever heard. The songs are average, the lyrics needed better music, more appropriate to the concept but I guess being a writer doesn’t make you a songwriter as being a guitarist, singer-songwriter doesn’t make you a writer! Haha.
In 1988 Scotland’s Fairground Attraction couldn’t do anything wrong. Their single Perfect was No. 1 in the UK, their album The First Of A Million Kisses No. 2, they won best album and best single at the Brit Awards and then the arguments started and they broke up. Classic R’n’R story, although they weren’t very R’n’R, they were more of a folky soft Pop group. The band was Eddi Reader on vocals, Mark E. Nevin on guitars and songwriting, Roy Dodds on drums and Simon Edwards on guitarrón which is a Mexican 6 string acoustic bass. Their second album Ay Fond Kiss was released by the label after Reader had left and was mostly B-sides and not really a follow up although the label didn’t tell anyone that as they saw a cash cow disappearing before their eyes. Mark E. Nevin co-wrote and played guitar on Kill Uncle by Morrissey and Eddi Reader has made a ton of solo albums.
Staying on Fairground Attraction simply because it’s topical and revealing about the corporate labels. In 1996 the loving label released a best-of CD, thinking how can we sell more records of this successful band when they’re not together anymore? I know, let’s put a CD together of all but three tracks from the original album, add some of those B-sides from the album that wasn’t an album and let’s call it The Very Best Of Fairground Attraction Featuring Eddi Reader. And while we’re at it let’s leave off the one song that Eddi Reader wrote (Whispers) from the first album whilst talking her up in the ‘positive’ sleeve notes that mention her solo career but dubiously suggest that Reader becoming pregnant made them ‘lose momentum’ and that’s why they split up. So keep it positive in those liner notes but put the demise of the band at the door of the pregnant woman. Hm, nice. By the way, let’s make sure that the CD cover art is the cheapest possible piece of cost-cutting we can think of. One positive thing that I didn’t know and connects the music today, remember I said that Kevin Ayers hadn’t made a record since 1992 before he made The Unfairground? Well, that album was called Still Life With Guitar and Mark E. Nevin played on 4 tracks and co-wrote one track, Something In Between – who knew?
Song Of The Daze
Kevin Ayers’ May I? with Mike Oldfield on bass and Lol Coxhill on soprano sax: