I’ve always loved aircraft and aviation. Last year I finished a music / poetry project I’d been working on for a while. I’ve only just got around to putting the finished EP on Bandcamp. You can listen to it right here:
The wait is over!
Those rockin’ cool cats have done it again! That funky groove sound is back with Croydon Tourist Office’s new offering, Take It Easy With Croydon Tourist Office! While other bands may rest on their laurels, Croydon Tourist Office have been hard at work for eight years putting together a collection of tunes which perfectly sums up the zeitgeist. Can there by any more perfect accompaniment to the world it is at the moment than these happening tracks?
These eclectic offerings may have a fairly fluffy initial outlook, but there’s menace lurking beneath the surface. By turns life affirming and post apocalyptic, those crazy groovers have been hard at work, like scientists, perfecting each sonic nuance, and by turns, probing the human condition.
It’s a huge honour for me to work with Croydon Tourist Office. As a non-musician, music is something that has a mystique and a magic to me, and to hear what my fellow band mates seemingly pull out of thin air seems somehow miraculous. The songs on this album date back to around 2012, though some were new compositions taking advantage of the lockdown situation, music and sound files emailed back and forth from one musician to another. The core of the group remains Bryce Dumont, John Samuel, Max Coulson and myself, but we have had an array of other talented people join us.
You can listen to the album and download it from our Bandcamp page here:
Ever since I was a kid when I lived near Heathrow Airport, aircraft and aviation were a big part of my life. I’d go with my Dad to Heathrow to watch the planes take off and land. Highlight of the day would always be Concorde.
This love has stayed with me and I have flown on so many aircraft over the years, and I even took flying lessons in a little Cessna around twenty years ago. Travelling around the UK as a performance poet has allowed me to fly with a number of different airlines and aircraft types.
Naturally, over the last few years there has been a certain guilt attached to flying and maybe it’s something I won’t be doing quite so much of from now on. The environment comes first.
But it doesn’t stop me from being in love with the beauty and mystique of aviation, particularly those pioneering years. My favourite book will always be Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Wind, Sand and Stars, which I encourage anyone to read.
So here below are seven pieces which I’m very proud of, written over a five year period. I hope you like them.
And if you like what I’m doing, feel free to pop something in my virtual tip jar!
And here’s a show I did reading the pieces and chatting about aviation:
Jazz rock band Shadow Factory have joined forces with performance poet Robert Garnham to create an unforgettable show which marries music to spoken word. Based on Robert’s Edinburgh show from 2018, In the Glare of the Neon Yak will be debuted at the Barrel House in Totnes on October 12th.
‘I first heard a jazz band in Totnes called Shadow Factory a couple of years ago’, Robert Garnham explains, ‘and I was immediately hooked by their style, their experimentation, their reinterpretation of classic songs and by their wonderful original material. They sound absolutely amazing and they are lovely people.
‘So I was completely blown away when they asked if their could write some original music for my show from last year, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, with a view to a live performance’.
The band has been rehearsing over the last couple of months and creating original music for the show, which they describe as ‘a fantastic journey of poetry and music with a kaleidoscope of colourful characters, reaching a magical destination’.
According to Robert Garnham, ‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak is a riproaring piece of spoken word storytelling set on a sleeper service in the middle of winter. A train full of circus performers are being stalked by a mysterious entity which seems to mean more than just its eerie manifestation. A portent, an omen, the Neon Yak symbolises dark times. Will our hero find love? Will Jacques, the tight rope walker, get back together again with his ex, the circus clown? Does the secret of the Neon Yak lie in the hands of a randy old lady? Has the buffet car run out of sausage rolls? Will Tony the Train Manager find where they’ve put Carriage F? Come along to the Barrel House and find out!’
Tickets are £6 and can be purchased at https://www.totnespulse.co.uk/product/in-the-glare-of-the-neon-yak/
Tickets can also be purchased on the night. Doors open 7pm.
You can find out more about Shadow Factory at http://www.shadowfactory.co.uk/
You can find out more about Robert Garnham at https://robertdgarnham.wordpress.com/
Sometimes you’re better off in bed
There’s a grape in your hand
You wish it was a cake
You think you’re sad
The nutrition guidelines and the calorie table
In a restaurant
When you’re on a diet
Call the police there might be a riot
To the shops
To get a Daim bar
When you’re on a diet.
(On a diet again
It’s such a shame.
You try real hard
But you weigh the same.
On a diet again
It’s a pain in the bum.
You put on two stone
If you eat a crumb.
Eat a crumb).
Too many mars bars
Wispas and whole nuts
Kit Kat’s on posters
Too many doughnuts
Shall I claim?
If you got to count calories
If so how often
Which do you choose
The diet or light option?
How much shall I eat?
(On a diet again
It’s such a drag.
The two stone you lost
Have all come back.
On a diet once more
You’re really glum.
You’d love a hot dog
But you eat a plumb.
Eat a plumb).
You weigh yourself
You’ve lost an eighth of a stone
Just you wait
Till I get this cake home
You’ve got no lettuce
You’ve got no dressing
Lost nothing today
It’s so depressing
For every meal time
Drinks and cocktails
From the drive through McDonald’s
To the weight watchers scales.
(On a diet again
It’s a dead end chore.
I have one portion
Then I have one more.
On a diet again
Let’s just give up
I won’t find happiness
In a slim fast cup.
I just give up.
I just give up.)
I’m writing this in a shelter on the platform at Whimple Station in Devon. It’s not raining. In fact, it’s a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon. I’m here because I’m waiting for the next train home, having spent the large part of the day working on my new one hour show with my director.
What’s that, I hear you ask? Director? Show? Indeed. The diagnosis is positive. Things are getting serious. I now have a show. It has tour dates. It has a poster for which I went on a photo shoot. It has a script and the script has a start, a middle and an end. Things are getting very real.
The show is called In the Glare of the Neon Yak. I wanted to have a title that would make it stand out from other shows. My last two were called Static and Juicy, but this time I didn’t want any frame of reference and thought that a title which wasn’t one word would be the ideal way to go. The title has had some very good feedback from some of the places where the show will be staged. It seems that fringes, festivals and theatres like quirky titles.
So this is all new for me, this professionalism. My last two shows were intended to showcase my poems but this is a more immersive beast, a performance from start to finish. And that’s what gives me the willies. Every single component of this show is brand new and untested, and I have no idea what the audience reaction will be. My director is very keen on maximising every opportunity for audiences to respond which should make that less scary. Unless the audiences don’t respond!
So here I am at Whimple, thinking, wow, from this tiny Devon village shall grow a piece that will take me right round the UK. My head is full of enthusiasm, but more than anything, the joy of knowing, for the first time in my performance career, that someone else other than me is raking what I do seriously. And that is an amazing feeling!
I can’t wait for people to see this thing.
I stated listening to music when I was about ten years old. I think it was about this time that my parents gave me a radio, and I was ten years old. Previous to this I’d had a small battery powered radio which I could only tune to Radio Four. Amusingly, I thought that the orchestras playing were always live, coming from a studio somewhere in London. My Uncle Charles had been a classical music buff and he would play us his favourite records whenever we visited him in London. The whole family would go out for a walk and he would put on his favourite record and play it to me and my mother while everyone else was out walking.
So, with the new radio I quickly got into pop music and within a year I’d built up a list of the sorts of bands and singers that I liked. Shakin Stevens, for example, Toyah, Madness. And then along came the Pet Shop Boys.
1. WEST END GIRLS (1985)
This was played on the radio a lot. And because I’d only just got in to music, and I was only eleven, it was kind of the base by which all other music would be measured. It always seemed timeless with the very pronounced English accent and the backing music which seemed functional rather than exuberant or showy. I went into school and told someone that I liked this song and they said that I was very trendy indeed for liking something so bang up to date.
2. LEFT TO MY OWN DEVICES (1988)
I got a Sony Walkman for Christmas in 1988. It was bright yellow and it had a radio attached, too. Amazingly, I’ve still got it and it still works. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard this song. I was sitting at the table in the dining room of our house listening to, I think for some reason, Andi Peters standing in for one of the regular DJs on Radio One, and he said, this is brand new from the Pet Shop Boys, and it’s a bit over the top. And wow, it completely blew me away, so much so that I would try and listen to the radio more just to hear it. It sounded as if the opera singer at the start was saying ‘Arse’, and they probably were, because it’s been removed from subsequent versions. And parts of the lyrics resonated with me: not wanting to drive a car or be interested in talking about cars, (like all of my school friends), being a lonely child who liked playing on his own, and of course the verse, ‘i was faced with a choice at a difficult age, would I write a book, or should I take to the stage’. So I became a performance poet and did both. And also, because of my uncle, I knew who Debussey was.
3. SO HARD (1990)
I also remember exactly where I was when I heard this. I was in my bedroom. The song sounded amazing and I decided to go to Woolworths the next day and buy the cassette single. Now at the time I’d just discovered formula one racing, and my favourite driver was Alessandro Nannini. I thought he was just about the best driver and that he would have a very long career. I rushed home from Woolworths with the cassette single and turned on Teletext to see the latest motor racing news, and the headline was that Nannini had been in a helicopter crash and was very badly injured. Listening to the song on my cassette player minutes later, the song seemed to be about Nannini and his injury rather than suspicion and the end of a relationship. It still reminds me of Nannini even now.
4. CAN YOU FORGIVE HER? (1993)
I went on holiday on my own. It was the first time I’d been away. I wanted to go somewhere and just write, so, living in Surrey, I caught the train to Looe in Cornwall, a place I felt I’d be able to disappear, and just write. It poured with rain. I brought my Walkman with me and bought the new Pet Shop Boys album, Very. I was worried that it would be downcast and moody like their previous one, the masterpiece Behaviour. I remember laying on my bed in the hotel room and listening to this, the first song, and being incredibly happy because it was poppy and upbeat. Even though it was raining, I was on my own, and I was in a strange place, I still felt happy because of this song.
5. BEFORE (1996)
I was disappointed in this song. It sounded like they’d phoned it in, deliberately made a song just to sound like them. I remember thinking the same about REM’s Imitation of Life. But the thing was, I was living in Surrey but I knew that I’d be moving to Devon within weeks. I was working in a small village shop at the time and it was very hot, and I’d cycle home and collapse on my bed, put on the radio and listen to the pop songs on Capital FM, and invariably this song would come on. And I’d say to myself, cmon lads, you can do better than this. Weeks later we moved to Devon. It felt like the start of a new life and a million miles from Surrey and London. I felt like a new person. The new Pets album Bilingual came out so I went to the supermarket and bought it. And this song was on it, and I’d completely forgotten that it existed even though it was the first single from the album, it just took me back to Surrey and the weird thought that it’s strange to move between the first single of an album and then the album itself. Life was moving, but the Pet Shop Boys were still there.
6. SOMEWHERE (1997)
By now I’d got a job in Devon. We had a radio at the shop in the stock room. This song came on and it completely blew me away, but at the same time I was sad that I should be listening to it for the first time at work rather than in the comfort of my room. And wow, it was completely over the top. They were out and proud and I was neither.
7. HOME AND DRY (2002)
I was on holiday again, alone again, this time in Italy. By now I had a portable Walkman cd player which ate up batteries like nobody’s business. The uncluttered music of this track and the simple lyrics about a life which I hoped one day to have too – waiting for a loved one to come home – seemed to speak about so much other than the domestic. Yet I always associate this song with being in Italy and being on my own. Except I wasn’t on my own, not really. I had the Pets.
8. THE LAST TO DIE (2013)
Ok, so by now I’m a spoken word artist and pretty much, as the song goes, the kind of man that I’d always meant to be. When the Electric album came out, I was completely crazy for it. All the songs were pumping and amazing and seemed the perfect accompaniment to my life and how hectic it had now become. I’d go through phases of loving and being obsessed with each song on the album, and the week that I was obsessed with this song was the week I was in London, doing open mics and exploring what the spoken word scene was like. I’d listened to this song about twenty times on one particular day, just before heading from the hotel to Bang Said the Gun. I got there and the atmosphere was amazing, and I entered the mini slam. However as the evening had worn on I’d felt ill and, not knowing it at the time, I had a virus which just sapped all my energy. I did the slam and then went immediately back to the hotel, trying to revive myself with this song. I then got a message to say that I’d won the slam but they couldn’t find me to tell me.
So they may not be the trendiest band in the world, and a work colleague may call them ‘those whining bastards’, but the whole ethos and spirit of the Pet Shop Boys has always helped me through life at strange moments, and I’m sure that there is more to come from them and, hopefully, from me.
During the last few years I have seen a number of music and spoken word acts, and combinations of the both. There’s something about the mix of styles which I rather enjoy. However, one group in particular seemed to touch on themes and ideas which I’ve always liked or had a fascination with: libraries, Doctor Who and the Pet Shop Boys.
I first saw Project Adorno when they came down to Torquay while I was hosting Poetry Island. It was an amazing and funny set of songs and witty banter which left my head filled with inspiration. Even my grumpy friend Mark, who did the door for me, bought their cd afterwards. Since then I have eagerly followed Project Adorno, stalking them via social media to see what they’re up to.
Project Adorno are Russell Thompson and Praveen Manghani.
Hello! What are you working on at the moment?
R: A musical appreciation of the screenwriter Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective, Pennies From Heaven, etc). It’ll be one continuous suite of songs, spoken word and ambient music, accompanied by Patrick Keiller-esque film. In fact, we’ll be doing for the Forest of Dean what Keiller did for London.
P: Yes, still very much a work in progress, though some nice bits emerging. It’ll either become an art-house Keiller-esque film or a quirky version of The Singing Detective complete with lip-synched songs…somewhere in-between I suspect. It has been nice to include visuals in some of our recent work. Just at the moment I’m very taken with the “information” films of Charles and Ray Eames…
– The last time we met you were working on a project about film maker Derek Jarman. How is that going, and why did you choose him?
R: Jarman would have hated the idea, but he does seem to have become a sort of countercultural national treasure. Even if you don’t admire every piece of work he produced, it’s still possible to think ‘thank God there was a Derek Jarman’. The arts are full of people who court controversy, but they seldom have the degree of integrity that he had, or the conviction of their own beliefs. Later, of course, that increasingly applied to his lifestyle as well as to his art. We took the show – Jarman in Pieces – to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014, since when we’ve been doing one-off performances of it at various LGBT arts festivals around the country. We’re really pleased with it: it took the multimedia side of our work to a new level, and established the format we’re now using for the Potter show. I tend to think of Jarman in Pieces as our Dark Side of the Moon. Which of course means that Potter will be Wish You Were Here. After that we’ll be on to the inflatable pigs.
P: I was originally fascinated by the whole Super 8 DIY film-making ethos of Derek Jarman. I particularly loved the grainy look and feel of super 8 film. That, and his diaries, and his paintings and his house and garden in Dungeness (an artwork in itself). That’s the thing about Jarman – he had so many strings to his bow. I was also inspired by his oddball, left-field creative spirit (which seemed slightly at odds with his well-to-do middle class background). In 2014 we were asked to curate a film night as part of a local arts festival – as it was also the twentieth anniversary of his death we chose Jarman’s “Last of England”. We performed a short multimedia piece to accompany it and decided to develop it into a full-blown Edinburgh show. It was only when we started working on the Jarman project that Russell and I realised we’d both independently admired him in our respective formative years.
– Project Adorno seem to be fascinated with libraries. That’s no bad thing. Personally I believe that the downfall of western society began with the introduction of self service machines in libraries. What is it about libraries that appeals so much?
R: You’d better ask Praveen about the machines – it’s all his fault, I’m afraid. But we do have a song about the perfection of the date-stamp. My local library still has one available so that people can stamp their own books if they want. We’re not very progressive in East Sheen. Praveen works in libraries, I just hang around in them. Is it ‘customer’ or ‘user’ these days? Personally, I’m obsessed with books (which a visit to my house would confirm) and with a sense of order (which a visit to my house would not). I’m the sort of person who likes compiling indexes in their spare time.
P: Ah the appeal of libraries…don’t get me started…a world of possibilities, escape and imagination. A place to ponder, pontificate….and just generally sit and think, or learn, or just be…reading and books are of course still mainstays…but it’s not just about the “borrowers” any more (another one for the “customer” vs “user” terminology debate). I’ll always prefer the date stamp to the self-service machines but we must move with the times – people now demand computers and wi-fi and coffee shops so we have to adapt if we want to stay relevant. Libraries are one of the few places where one can go unchallenged without requiring a reason to visit and as long as the library remains a place that’s free to enter and universally available for everyone that’s good enough for me. Plus they’re now very established at putting on arts events and literature festivals – a natural home for Project Adorno gigs!
– One of your most famous songs is about Davros from Doctor Who. You’ve been working on a new version of this song. How is it different to the original?
R: A longer intro, just to ramp up the mounting excitement. Oh, and we’ve removed a slightly un-PC line. Apart from that, it’s fairly recognisable – still firmly entrenched in the Baker T era.
P: It’s actually become a bit more “prog-rock” to my ears – unintentionally so! Oh, and the opening verse is different to the original recorded version (something I’ve been meaning to fix for ages).
– Who are your influences?
R: Our influences are like a Venn diagram with a small intersection between the two circles. Most of my mine are things you may not guess from listening to us: ‘70s folk-rock, ‘80s anarcho-punk, and traditional folk – by which I mean hundred-year-old field recordings of shepherds singing songs about the Napoleonic Wars. My favourite comparison was when someone likened us to Radical Dance Faction, although I think that was just a kind way of saying I couldn’t sing. The intersection consists of The Wedding Present, Philip Jeays and Ian Dury, and we also share an unhealthy fixation with the doo-wop band Darts.
P: Originally for me it was all about Pet Shop Boys (I still marvel at the sleek simplicity of “West End Girls” and that supposed trick of a G chord with an E in the bass… or perhaps it was the other way round…) and early eighties electro-pop/disco in general. And of course Frankie Goes to Hollywood and in particular Trevor Horn. His production techniques and OTT arrangements and remixes just blew me away – I wanted to do things like that but was limited both by lack of musical ability and studio technology. An anologue Fostex 4 track tape recorder just didn’t quite compare to the (then) state-of-the-art Fairlight sequencer. After that I discovered indie and realised one could do quite a lot with just a few chords and some imaginative words. We’ve mutated into more of a song-based cabaret act over the years and in many ways I think the musical side of things has become more simplistic and DIY as we’ve progressed. The lyrical content, whilst always important, has become ever more so – influenced by Momus, Brel, Aznavour and Jake Thackray amongst others.
-I’ve read some Adorno. He’s incredibly dull and weighty. I tried to include him in my masters dissertation just so that it looked good in the bibliography. Why did you decide to reference him in the band’s name?
R: All I know is a useful four-word summary someone once gave me: miserable German, hated jazz. In other words, he despised popular culture. We like to see Project Adorno as a reconciliation beween high and low art. A modest little aim, there. We should also mention that there’s something called the Adorno Project, which monitors the migratory habits of birds. They’re not us. It’s crazy, though – they’re always getting invited to perform at cabarets in Brighton, we’re always getting invited to read our paper on the movements of the Manx shearwater.
P: It’s all my brother’s fault. He was doing a critical theory degree (or similar) and he came home one day spouting on about Adorno. We somewhat pretentiously concocted the name Project Adorno as it sounded good. Then my brother then decided to go to Germany and I was sort of left with the name, decided not to change it, and Russell came board. So we both inherited it really. I’ve mugged up a little on Adorno since then, but must agree, he’s not an easy read! As Russell says, he appeared to loathe popular culture, tho’ it would be fascinating to get his view on our work (especially as we’ve taken his name in vain). People have occasionally said of us “it’s very accessible on the face of it, but the lyrics deserve repeated listening as they often contain extra layers of meaning” (or something like that) – and that’s the best compliment I could hope for really.
-What are your creative processes? How do the songs come about?
R: Praveen is a one-man songwriting factory. I have a mental image of him gripped by bouts of creative frenzy, like Beethoven – unable to leave the room until he has given shape to his ideas. He seems to have written at least two new songs every time I see him. As for me, I either present pieces to him solely as lyrics – ‘See what you can do with that’ – or I’ll have an idea of a tune and attempt to sing it to him. Considering my inability to carry a melody, he always does a pretty good job at interpreting what’s in my head.
P: That’s a nice description from my esteemed colleague. Actually I still have a whole folder full of Russell’s poetry that I’d like to commit to music one day! What I like about Russell’s lyrics is that he often uses words that I either don’t understand or that have never before been used in the medium of popular song – usually both (Coalhole Cover Lover and Zubenelgenubi are just two such examples). He’s certainly broadened my vocabulary! I think we’ve both got a passion for the geekier side of popular culture which helps as reference points. We often each go away and write things on a particular theme (eg as in recent Potter and Jarman projects) and then choose the best of these. Tho’ some of my favourite pieces have emerged more organically with Russell reading a lyric and me just playing a basic guitar rhythm underneath (When London Shone and Famous Diplodocus are two that come to mind).
– What is the future for Project Adorno?
R: Gosh, there’s a question. As I say, the new multimedia, semi-ambient approach has great possibilities. I’m interested in places, so a show based on some sort of travelogue would be interesting. I’d like to do a show about the A1. That would at least ensure we were listed first in the Fringe brochure, if nothing else.
P: I’m quite liking the idea of writing some sort of play (It’s all Potter’s fault) – it will have to have songs or music in it of course, so I guess, if it happens, it will end up becoming a musical. Seriously though we’ve often talked about doing a Project Adorno book – a sort of creative “history of” as opposed to a biography. Still, I think we should strive to at least getting a mention on Wikipedia before that happens! If nothing else we are determined to record and release a new CD this year – there are loads of songs which need committing “to tape”. (Tho’ I guess in truth it’s all downloads these days). Anyway, that is a must. Beyond this I’ve often harboured the ambition of performing Project Adorno songs with a live orchestra at somewhere like the Royal Festival Hall…one can dream.
The Maori log drummers kept me awake last night. I mean, they might not have been Maori log drummers, but that’s what they sounded like. Womad does strange things to you. Yesterday, as I was walking through the campsite, I thought I heard a new Tibetan wind instrument made from yak’s horns and twigs belting out some kind of rhythmic shamanic hymn to life itself. Only it turned out to be some bloke pumping up his inflatable bed.
I think I’ve gone native. This morning, I almost went to tai chi. Instead I went to a tea shack. The pelting rain hammered on the canvas roof. I was surrounded by tea lights, lanterns, rugs, shabby chic tables and chairs. The radio was playing Leonard Cohen. I pondered on what a death trap the place might be if the tea lights got too close to the Mongolian fabrics draped in each corner.
I knew nothing of Womad before I came, except they it sounded like Gonad. And how incredibly grateful I was to be asked. For the last three days I’ve spent time with some of the finest performance poets in the country. Vanessa Kisuule, Matt Harvey, Scott Tyrrell, Chris Redmond, Jonny Fluffypunk. I arrived with Lucy Lepchani and we immediately ran into difficulty trying to erect her tent. Mr Fluffypunk came over, took one look, hammered a few tent pegs, and the whole thing looked much better. That’s the spirit of camaraderie in the poetry camp.
The poetry tent is listed last in some of the Womad promotional material. And my name is listed last in the poetry tent promotional material. Every morning, when it walk into the main arena area of the festival and see the massive stages and the tents and the flags and the stalls I think to myself, ‘I am the lowest ranking performer here. And it feels great!’ There’s probably far less pressure than being the headliner.
Yesterday’s poetry headliner was MC Dizraeli. He’s someone I wanted to see for a long time since listening to him on a cd about ten years ago. And the highlight of my festival so far has to be that he performed his hour long set in front of a crowd of about three hundred people while sitting on MY camping chair. In fact, as I type this, I’m sitting in it right now. It’s a story to tell my grandchildren. If I hadn’t brought the camping chair with me, then MC Dizraeli would have had to stand.
I’ve spent every day so far in the poetry tent, watching the performers. My own sets have been well acclaimed, and I’ve been stopped by several people who have seen me perform and liked it. That’s what makes a difference to a performer, the knowledge that someone has been touched, no matter how briefly. It was sunny yesterday and we performed outside in the ‘arboretum’. They laughed in all the right places and I felt that I could have taken on the world!
It’s raining again today. I’m not going to be wearing a jacket and tie, like the last couple of days. I shouldn’t have worn cream colored trousers, that mud is just not going to come out. The Wellington boots are just about the best thing ive bought in ages. I was watching Bellowhead the other day, they were performing on the main stage, but all I could think was, ‘I’m so glad I bought these Wellington boots’. When I get back to the real world later on, I probably won’t wear them until the next festival. But right now they are everything. Mainly because my sneakers are buggered after all that rain the day before yesterday.