From Sexhow to Tattyknuckle
Shop Around Ö pt 28

Sitting out in the sunshine, listening to Diplo, and trying to catch up on my reading. A lovely way to spend a day. Still working my way through Greil Marcusí Like A Rolling Stone, but Iím about to give up. It started promisingly, but now it seems pointless. I couldnít care less about about 'Like A Rolling Stone' now. I wonder if Greil will ever listen to the song again? If he says, yes, he hears something different each time, then I think Iíll scream.

I found myself increasingly distracted by a book I picked up for 50p in a charity shop, which was Tony Dewickís Complete Atlas of Railway Station Names. Itís surely unintentionally the most amusing and engrossing book Iíve come across in a long time. It took an astonishing 30 years to put together, and you have to admire such dedication. It contains all stations ever in the UK and a bit more, whether extant, long since disappeared, never completed, or strangely private. The fun comes from some of the names. Childish I know, but wonderfully irresistible.

I mean, did you know Sexhow was next to Potto, though both are long gone. And in Ireland, Killywilly and Tattyknuckle are no more. As are Robin Hood and Fighting Cocks. Though Peter Panís Playground is probably still on the sea front at Brighton. I just kept sitting there sniggering. I suppose itís all a bit nonsensical in a strange Monty Python-esque way. The same charity shop oddly had a set of Monty Python scripts. These editions still turn up with alarming regularity in charity shops, rather like the Spike Milligan War memoirs and the Goodies Files. The odd thing these were childhood staples. As Jonathan Coe noted recently, there was not the opportunity to video your favourite show. So there were either bizarre novelisations, or the complete scripts, which many people memorised. I never could. I could recount all the words to Terry Jacksí 'Seasons In The Sun', but not Monty Python sketches.

And no, I didnít buy the Monty Python books. I did, however, buy a secondhand copy of Julian Maclaren-Rossí Collected Memoirs, which is wonderful. Patrick Hamilton seems back in vogue, which is great, and if you have been taken by Slaves of Solitude or Hangover Square, then Maclaren-Ross is a must. His of Love and Hunger is up there with the best of Graham Greene and David Goodis. The memoirs are as priceless, capturing the struggle to be a writer, and then life in the Soho and Fitzrovia of the Ď40s and Ď50s as a dandy raconteur and ďcharacterĒ. Some lovely stories of Dylan Thomas and Graham Greene, and the like. A touch of the jesse hectors there in a funny kind of way. Maclaren-Ross should have been one of the greats, but when he should have been heralded he was writing about sleeping on Euston station, which for this old codger has a bittersweet irony of sorts.

Interestingly, the big chain bookstores seem to be heavily promoting Dudley Moore and Peter Cook scripts. Elsewhere the HMV sale racks are chock-full of old British comedy DVDs. I did indulge in the Ripping Yarns collection, and have been having a whale of a time trundling my way through all the episodes. Ripping Yarns is the post-Python work of Michael Palin and Terry Jones, and is probably the best thing ever by that crowd. I genuinely believe that, like the Pop Group perhaps, the offshoots and splinter groups of the Monty Python team did its best work elsewhere. Fortunately most of it is more available than the works of Rip, Rig and Panic, Float Up CP, Maximum Joy, New Age Steppers, and even Mark Stewart.

Ripping Yarns was essentially a send-up of the British stiff-upper-lip boysí own social misfit-as-adventurer and enthusiast tradition. There were nine episodes in all, which I had long forgotten, but they are wonderful works of art. Itís funny. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Michael Palin in a work capacity a couple of years back, and he was really one of the nicest people you could ever meet. He was joking about his expeditions, and how wherever he goes someone just has to come up and start quoting a bit of Monty Python dialogue. I was sitting thinking, well I can never ever remember the famous sketches, and feeling quite inferior. I wish I had the chance then to say how wonderful the Ripping Yarns shows were, and his performances in particular. But perhaps itís just as well because I am really rubbish at telling people to their faces how great they are.

The other great post Python-moment is Eric Idle and the story of the Rutles, the prefab four. Again itís a work of art people used to quote and recount before it was widely available on a very cheap DVD as now. In particular credit should be given to Galaxie 500 for covering the lovely 'Cheese and Onion'. It has only just occurred to me that the great song bears a wonderful similarity to 'Dealer' by Chuck and Mary Perrin. Play them side by side, and you will see.

Rev-ola has incidentally just salvaged the Life Is A Stream set by the Perrins. It is a beautiful companion piece to the previous Perrins set issued by Rev-ola a while back, and is an absolute must for anyone with more than a passing interest in baroque folk/soft pop music. The real treat is Rev-ola providing us with almost a dozen bonus gems, which are also exquisitely beautiful and sometimes all the more so for being unadorned rough sketches.

And I guess there really can be very few better ways to spend the day than sitting out in the sun, listening to Chuck and Mary Perrin, and working your way through Julian Maclaren-Rossí memoirs. I have just come across a reference to Denton Welch, a writer I had totally forgotten about. Itís funny how things go in and out of vogue. There was a while when Welch really was the one to read, and fanzines like Crash Smash Crack Ring ran wonderful accounts of his life. Twenty years on Ömaybe his fey aestheticism is out of step with the times. In that case, letís go dig out his works!

© 2005 John Carney

 

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