Caban: The Author on a recent trip back to another of his old stomping grounds.The Llanberis slate quarries.
Kill them all, the land will know its own…
Beziers 1209. This title is drawn from the alleged orders given by Arnaud Amaury, a Cistercian abbot and Pope Innocent’s legate, during the first military action of the Albigensian crusade against the heretic Cathari. When it became known that, in the throes of the bloody carnage, it was impossible to tell a Catholic from a Cathari, he ordered, ‘kill everyone, God will know his own’.
Liverpool 2019. My version of this infamous dictum comes from a recent visit to this northern port. Its raw, tribal energy has always instilled a vibrant feeling of ‘fuck off therapy’. Its healthy, socialist, militant fist is in your face demanding attention; loud, messy, with music at its core. It thrusts its weapon on the worldwide stage… I love you, yeah, yeah yeah, and a million such tunes with no sell by date. It is an expressive, inclusive city, and when I lived here for seven years it was probably the most active ‘social forensic’ of my life. Musing on Heinrich Harrer’s seven years in Tibet, I escaped via the Clywdian Hills of North Wales, not to escape war but to avoid the slings and arrows of a tight chapel attitude. I landed amongst parallel streets of red brick warehouses, vomit-slid and piss-stained, and the groaning of life forms intrigued. I adventured to a different, energetic drumbeat. Musicians and artists are bred here, flock here, find freedom and inspiration here, in a Liverpool reformed from three centuries of transatlantic human trafficking, redolent with humiliation, degradation and brutality. And the legacy of an oppressive regime is still manifest, as hardship, hunger and blankets greet those in the doorways of a shopping trip.
For a northern town built on commerce, trade and slavery, it has held its ‘family’, its pool of life sacrosanct and, sure enough, you will never walk alone here. The urban tribe is one animal, acting with one tongue, like the festival dragon whose long tail is held up by many; a red army, so to speak. All are artists. Enrollment is free for all.
When I lived and worked in a warehouse in the centre of the town, I wrote an article called Music of Decline. I refer to the studio warehouse as a precarious perch, a tree house, an observation post and a hunter’s hideout.
‘The communication is elemental, hyper, stricken with poverty. It’s hypnotic. They fight and grope together deep inside neon-lit, converted buildings. The bass sounds that escape to the outside are indeed a jungle beat. Wood street, Fleet Street, warehoused and heavy with light industry are transmuted from the Victorian Merchant era to the primaeval hunt – raw and hypnotic’. …and one for the crow
This vision was new to me, but I guess if you were on safari seeking out this ‘wilderness’, you would find it in every city in the world.
On the second floor, large doors opened out onto a fairly empty Concert Street and Fleet Street, still hanging in as a remnant of the merchant era and within sly-piss-distance from busy Bold Street shoppers. Opposite was a sweat-shop employing many girls on sewing machines and underneath me an upholstery business and a cabinet maker. Assorted businesses operated from Holmes Buildings: a web of practice rooms for budding musicians, cake makers and craft persons. I collected loose tea, spilt from the chests at the tea factory, opposite a convent up the road, where the homeless and drunk sank into the convent’s soup kitchen. No ships in sight. I dreamed as an artist should, furiously alert to the threads of humanity.
Frankie, the upholsterer was a broad, tough Scouse cookie. He had lost an eye in a fight and would be quite happy to summon his mates with metal plates in their heads to wipe out the growing number of ‘tossing arty wankers’ in the street, if he so wished. I liked him and his close, down to earth family ties. But he had his defensive, ‘manly’ moments in between cutting and sewing fabrics and stapling furnishings that others could relax in. He only hit me once and head-locked me another time over an argument about toilet roll…never again has toilet roll been an issue in my life. Pete, the cabinetmaker, had learned his craft during a harrowing ten years spent in jail in Johannesburg. He’d been caught smuggling diamonds across the border. When stressed about life’s grind, he would recall his black mates who had all died, beaten to death in the same jail, then just get on with it, rolling another number. Regardless of his ‘enforced’, nurtured feel for wood, his main concern was dealing hash. He wasn’t alone when 96 of his fellow supporters died in the Hillsborough stadium disaster. Lesley, a gentle soul, was a ceramicist working in the cellar, and when not totally bonged-out or playing the whistle, made slip cast Art Deco forgeries. The building was owned by a chap nicknamed Gollum, a dealer in antique furniture, bric-a-brac and household clearance or whatever. He was a small hunched man who walked with a slight limp, and always seemed to have a hand outstretched ready to take cash or cheques. He was known to deal in ‘dodgy’ items and large shipping containers arrived in the middle of the night to be loaded, destined to sail on the same old slavery route across to the Americas. So, as artist in residence, and the only person actually living in the street with the rats and pigeons, I was in good company with the gangsters of the inner city.
My warehouse was the last epicenter of ‘down to earth’ working practice before the town planning takeover of L1, advertised and marketed as the new creative quarter. These days you may not find much dereliction, nor much of its eager mate, the purple lilac Buddleja, programmed to seek a damp neglect, hanging from cracks, broken downspouts and rooftops. The street life had just started to ‘drip’ design and after seven years of dialogue with my own Dalai Lama, I was out of place – clean up, dress up or fuck off. My sketches writhed awkwardly and grotesquely around this style conscious ambience… this comedy, this tragedy, this subterfuge born from profit and fear?
‘…the energy is pure escapism.
There is no content apart from alcohol induced aggression and violence.
At 2am the happy funky clubbers are baring and gnashing their teeth on the threshold of a new era…’ and one for the crow
Creative quarter? My tree house was converted into a bar for that new era. This was 23 years ago and times have changed. Ryley was born in the warehouse and is 23. I have changed. The ‘one-eyed Frankies’ have had kids and operate businesses from more convenient premises out of town. The warehouse has had a new cool, consumer make-over; but if you read the red bricks, the slavery and slops remain. Concert Street has changed into an open-air arena of almost Shakespearean proportions. The concert too has changed and become more festival… the street concert booms the new tunes and refreshments to the new happy highway. Rejoice in the non-stop hedonism? I love you yeah yeah yeah – and I’m not the only one. Religion is still persecuting, killing and proselytising however. Wars, terrorism and pollution are always topics of main news. Pope Francis’s answer to the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest is to send in married priests. Derek Hatton, the Trotskyite Militant voice of the 80’s, back into politics, was then kicked out again after speaking his mind over Israel’s obvious and horrendous atrocities against the indigenous folk of Palestine. Freedom of speech, more than ever, hides behind the design label of a corporate voice. Greenpeace is still active but has been joined by a more timely and radical troupe, Extinction Rebellion. It is with thoughts and questions arising from my recent essay ‘What to do’, concerning a harmed planet and the violence of the day, that I visit the city. If there was ever a city that could push a few tangents and clues into your skull, headlock you with a few punchy jabs, the Pool of Life is it.
I walked almost blindfold into the ‘concert’ and faced the familiar red brick. Gone was the ventilation pipe that connected to the main sewer under the street, the one we plugged a toilet into. I knew that Waterstones the bookstore, had been converted into a bar. Fuckin buzzin. I knew that my old café, Trading Places had gone along with its random artworks on patched up walls. I remembered Isabelle’s home-baked banoffi pie and the morning toast and marmalade after slipping out of the studio, groggy and barefoot. Gone was the broken, mended and shabby humanity, making ends meet but talking poetry, gone the frayed misfits who ran it and the homeless, not out of place, who would chance a free coffee and a chat, for me significant and of world importance. It had a sense of place, on earth, above and beyond what it seemed to offer at face value. Yes, it had become another bar. Fuckin buzzin. The waste ground where I had my bonfires of street rubbish: two more bars. Fuckin buzzin. The car park had gone: high-rise above another bar. Fuckin buzzin. I had no sanctuaries left. Neither had the grey wagtail. Designer wagging tails were on the humans now and how they wag. How busy, how clean, how barren. I was brought to a full stop. Was this the headlock I sought?
In 1995 I wrote –
‘As I am writing this, looking down on a battle of streets from my studio, I am reminded of the pre-literate truth that finds its release in the ‘hunt’ every night. However, this pulsating of the Earth offers no succor to the unsuspecting ‘mummers’ on the stage down below who remain in blissful ignorance of the ancient sapience to which they perform…’ and one for the crow
All cultures need a release of treatment, a Mardi Gras, a festival, a piss up, a get together, a rubbing of flesh, a peace pipe for a pause and respite, an alternate headspace… the spectrum of humanity’s “rules of the game”. The validating codes of a ceremony are here usurped by hashtag trending. I wade through a collision, flicking through pages of a Marvel comic, trying to grasp the familiar, the eternal, to pick up a few gems and try and understand its place in the psyche and on the map. This was one animal in loud voice, seemingly on social media, finger-clicking for life’s affirmation on Tinder and Facebook, for likes, for retweets, for selfies, brainwashed by the buzzword topics of the day…Game of Thrones…Women’s football…Billy Eilish … migrants… shopping... Brexit… Boris Johnson… Trump. No doubt Extinction Rebellion made a brief appearance of ridicule on the menu of this month’s bar conversation, but this animal moved and shook to the offers on sale in the city’s retail shops. Designer carrier bags dazzled and flooded out from under seats like modern chains around the ankles. But this is Liverpool, so rest assured there is an indifferent street poet not far away, probably chained to a lamp post, intuitively rhyming that mankind is ‘fuckin’ mad.
‘the life and joy you so energetically seek does not exist, it is really a blissful promise of death’. and one for the crow
So, facing this ‘death’, this hidden creeping death, this death wanting more and more of whatever this death needs, I go for a quick cortado coffee behind ‘enemy-lines’ and make a shopping list of my immediate wants. My coffee suffices. But even my coffee, is not a coffee as such, it’s an experience of place, sounds, textures, observations, insights and stimuli for the imagination…like my old café of 23 years ago, of world importance and transcendence.
In numerology, the number 23 is significant, often called the angel 23, carrying messages of a divine nature for optimism about your place in the universe. I will keep that esoteric gem under my belt.
But for the present it is very difficult to be optimistic having waded through the Concert Street soap opera, where every street is like a kids’ theme park, choked with ‘happy’ folk buying stuff, pretending to be adults, herded and surveyed. It is heartbreakingly obvious that this way of being is not sustainable either for civilisation or the planet. When I see this total submission to the soul of Mammon, to consumer slavery, orchestrated in the most evil and concealed corporate manner, I see the end of the world. Part of me wishes to hasten it on its way, for surely the health of the planet will recognize its own….?
And then I see the Toyota Hilux pickup, manned by Extinction Rebellion activists. Civil disobedience has taken a new twist. They are collecting consumers from the streets, admitting them to consumer decompression units for therapy, education, deep-ecology and blue planet retrieval. A better dream than a Jihadi, a religious consumer, forcing his will, hell bent on eliminating that which is other… Beziers was not a happy ending.
The biggest problem facing humanity is how to replace this monster called belief.
John Redhead, Lous Manes, Coustouges, Catalunya Nord. July 2019