SEVENTY years ago to the day, the tall, gangly figure of Eric Arthur Blair – retired colonial cop, one-time down-and-out, Paris plongeur, Spanish Civil War veteran and the author and journalist known as George Orwell – was loping around the gardens of the sanatorium in Kent where he was recovering from a near-fatal lung haemorrhage.
How do I know this? Well, the Orwell Trust, which administers the writer’s estate, had the clever idea of publishing Orwell’s diary for the period from August 1938 to October 1942 as a blog in real-time, seven decades after it was written.
Although Orwell wrote another much more overtly political diary (which starts going online next month) in this pre-war period, he’d been shot in the throat in Tarragona a year before and was probably not at his best, what with the lung problems and all. Most of the entries posted so far have found him musing on the weather, blackberries and killing snakes. But then, Orwell had a deep and abiding love of the English countryside – just read Coming Up For Air.
For an Orwell nerd like myself, it’s absolutely fascinating stuff and I look forward to reading more. But besides the spare, concise elegance of his writing, his astounding political and social insight and his willingness to get stuck in, to get involved rather than just talking about it, one of the things that I like most about Orwell is that he was a bit of a word-whore, endlessly rewriting and recycling his stuff for different audiences.
But when Eric wrote these diaries, he never intended that they be published. What would he think of the comments on the blog, I wonder.
If the past is another country, it’s one we visit more and more.
Laden down by an ever-expanding knapsack full of maps, phrase books, audio-guides and boutique hotel recommendations, eager to explore every single dusty nook and cranny, we also leave no stone unturned in our quest to get a real feel for the place, away from the tourist trail, off the beaten track. ‘Undiscovered’ territory.
Of course, there’s a lot of stuff about old records and times past on Expletive Undeleted. Is there any difference between what I’m doing and what some numpty punk traitor does on 100 Greatest Punk Rock Sell-Outs? It’s probably not for me to say, but I hope so.
The thing is, having just had the pleasure of seeing the recently reformed Butthole Surfers and the night before I go over to Bradford to see the recently reformed Flux of Pink Indians, I’m beginning to think I need to make more of an effort to write about some new music. It’s not like I don’t like any new stuff.
But then again, y’know, fuck it. All of this shit was important to me at the time, and whether through my own stupidity and/or desperation, or other people’s good luck and/or treachery, it’s something I lost along the way. If I can get it back again, I’m going to go for it. It’s all about me. No apologies. And no surrender.
I think my man JD Twitch comes at this kind of stuff from a slightly different angle. He’s much more of an evangelist about the music that he used to listen to when he was a kid, and the sets he and Jonny Wilkes play at their club Optimo seem to be as much about dusty old classics – often chopped up and re-edited to improve the flow – as they are new and pre-release tunes.
It’s not really about re-appropriation or rediscovery. This was their music – our music – in the first place. They’re just in a position where they can play it to other people now.
Twitch’s latest project finds him revisiting his punk past in the shape of Ten Inches of Fear. I’m immediately attracted by the use of the sadly-neglected ten-inch format – more sturdily substantial that a flimsy seven-inch, dinkier and cuter than yet another unwieldy 12, and romantically redolent of roots and culture reggae music – but it’s the content that’s really floating my boat.
Twitch has reworked four anarcho-punk classics for contemporary dancefloors, specifically Tube Disasters by Flux, Witch Hunt by the Mob, War by Zounds and the dub of Guilty by Honey Bane. I know. Potentially, at least, it’s a car-crash just waiting to happen. But this isn’t some cynical, heavy-handed cut-and-paste boom-tish job. And while I’ve only heard the Guilty dub so far, the good news is, it works.
The ten-inch comes with a free mix CD entitled Sixty Minutes Of Fear. The mix finds Twitch sequencing and splicing some long lost classics from the British and American Eighties punk underground.
A truly mouth-watering tracklist includes stuff by Big Black, the Ex, Flipper, Husker Du, Poison Girls, Black Flag, Swans and Crass. The angry intensity of Brother James by Sonic Youth and the Buttholes’ Mexican Caravan find a place alongside the urgent and spiky This Ain’t No Picnic by the Minutemen and the clanking funk of World Domination Enterprises’ Asbestos Lead Asbestos.
It’s out on RVNG in September. Can’t wait.
On-the-ball John Eden at Uncarved made this particular old man very happy earlier this week, when he announced the news that Babylon, the superlative British reggae movie, is finally coming out on DVD in the UK in October.
An authentic and, I think it’s fair to say, unique insight into soundsystem culture as well as a timely reminder of what a shit-hole Britain was in recession at the end of the Seventies, Babylon, remastered and with a whole host of extra features, is released by Icon Home Entertainment in October.
See also: Babylon Original Sountrack
Thanks to Twitch and Matt at RVNG, I now have the 10″ of Fear package in my hot, slightly sweaty hands. From the cloth bag it arrives in, to the fold-out poster and mix CD which accompany it (including the fabulous Sun City Girls take on CIA Man), this is a lovingly prepared release which left me grinning like an idiot all day long.
Twitch’s edits are just the shit. Tube Disaster has barely been touched, really, whereas War gets a pretty thorough re-working. I never really rated Honey Bane’s stuff at the time (more Doug’s thing) but Guilty sounds frighteningly contemporary, while Witch Hunt sounds like a droney West Country Can who’ve just discovered clicky, glitchy house music.
Utterly fantastic and most wholeheartedly recommended.