I must have been one of the last to catch up with the news of the death last month of “Woolly” Wolstenholme, one of the founders of prog rock group Barclay James Harvest. I almost skipped the Guardian’s obituary page on Friday. I’m glad I didn’t now. (Though the picture does the band no favours, making them look like a bunch of effetes. Still, it was the seventies, a lot of bands looked like that then.)
BJH were one of the main purveyors of the branch of prog rock that took the adjective “symphonic” and Wolstenholme was perhaps the main driver of these leanings towards classical music.
They were famous notorious for touring with a live orchestra – though they gave that up pretty quickly as being too expensive.
While not providing the bulk of the group’s songs – John Lees and Les Holroyd did that – Wolstenholme’s contributions lent the band a distinctive tone.
The fullest extent of Wolstenholme’s classical extensions to their work is probably the track Moonwater from the Baby James Harvest album.
A more typical flavour of his songwriting can be gleaned from listening to Beyond The Grave from the album Time Honoured Ghosts or Sea of Tranquility from Gone To Earth though Harbour from XII (of which this is a performance by successor band John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest) is more folkish. I have a sneaking regard for Ra from Octoberon but haven’t found a net-playable version.
XII was the last BJH album to which Woolly contributed. It featured the track below, which seems to be the favourite of those devotees who have posted on You Tube.
Barclay James Harvest: In Search Of England
Woolly’s death is even sadder in that as a sufferer from depression, he took his own life.
Stuart John “Woolly” Wolstenholme. 15/4/47-13/12/10. So it goes.
Kraken utilises Miéville’s common setting of London, albeit a strange London. This otherness beside the familiar is a strand in his work evident from King Rat and Un Lun Dun through to THE CITY AND YTIC EHT.
This one started out as if it may have been written with a film or TV adaptation in mind – one with a potentially light-hearted take – but soon veers off down strange Miévillean byways which may be unfilmable. For these are the end times and cultists worshipping all manner of weird gods abound.
It begins with a kind of locked room mystery as a giant squid, Architeuthis, has been stolen – formalin, tank and all – from its stance in the Darwin Centre, a natural history museum where Billy Harrow is a curator. He helped to prepare the squid for show and is thought to hold the knowledge that might allow all those interested in its recovery to find it. The police fundamentalist and cult squad, the FSRC, is called in to help investigate the disappearance which becomes more involved when Billy discovers a body pickled (in too small a jar) in the museumâs basement. And these are merely the first strangenesses to be encountered in this book. We also have the consciousness of a man embedded within a tattoo, a tattoo which moves and speaks. Then there is the double act of Goss and Subby – two shapeshifting baddies from out of time (they shift other people’s shapes) – and weird sects, cults and mancers of all sorts.
Never short of incident and brimming with plot the novel is probably a bit too convoluted, with too many characters for its own good, and its one-damn-strange-thing-after-another-ness can verge on overkill. But this is an unashamed fantasy, a form to which I am antipathetic when it is taken to extremes; and Miéville is not one for restraint.
While Kraken sometimes skirts along the edge of comedy it never fully embraces it. There are too many killings and acts of violence for comedy to sit comfortably. I might have liked the novel better if it had. Its main fault is that it never manages to settle on which sort of book it is meant to be, straddling various narrative stools such as police procedural, one man against the odds, woman in search of the truth about her vanished lover, etc.
Pedantic asides:- Miéville did make me think what the plural of quid pro quo might be. (To my British mind Miéville’s anglicised formulation “quids pro quo” would mean getting money for something rather than a mutual back-scratching.) Taking the phrase as meaning “this for that” then the English plural, for the phrase as a whole, would be quid pro quos. For the Latin plural you would have quae pro quibus (these for those.) There are two other semantic possibilities; quid pro quibus (this for those) and quae pro quo (these for that.) Miéville also seems to think that “law” and “lore” are homophones. Not where I come from they aren’t. And the establishment is a dry cleaner’s, not a dry cleaners.
I believe Miéville’s next is to be set in space. It’ll be interesting to see his take on that.
This ought really to have been one of the first of these posts but I didn’t get round to photographing the building till last Sunday. It belongs in Scotland’s Art Deco Heritage rather than merely Edinburgh’s because it is such a significant building (both architecturally and governmentally) housing as it does a fairly large proportion of the Scottish Civil Service.
Below is a view of the rear looking from North Bridge.
I took the photo from just beside the War Memorial which I featured yesterday. You can just see part of the roofs of Waverley railway station in the foreground. The tower at the top of the picture is actually on Calton Hill, the round structure to the left is in the cemetery adjacent to St Andrew’s House.
Here is the building in all its monolithic Stalinist glory.
The central frontage is a bit overbearing:-
Each of the pillars is surmounted by a statue:-
If you click on the above to enlarge it you can probably see the words carved into the stone just above the pillars. They depict six of the functions of the Scottish Office; architecture, statecraft, health, agriculture, fisheries, education.
The cliffhanger of President Bartletâs daughterâs kidnapping which ended series 4 is swiftly resolved (in a highly unlikely fashion it has to be said, though it did conform to the conventions of narrative.) Then itâs back to business as usual with more unveiling of the intricacies of the US political system.
In an episode called Shutdown failure to agree a budget âon the hillâ leads to governmental operations ceasing. (Why canât they just carry on using a repeat of last yearâs budget? Very odd.) There was a blatant filler episode called Access, a supposed fly-on-the-wall documentary about life in the West Wing under the Bartlet administration. We didnât need this: we are/were flies on the wall already.
Notable by her absence in this series was Joshâs girlfriend, she of the undiscernible dialogue (who had been working for the First Lady in series 4.) This unexplained disappearance was peculiar. She was only the most egregious example of one of the irritants with The West Wing; either the sound is appalling or the actors too often are mumbling.
We have another cliffhanger series ending â this time to do with events in Gaza and Donna Moss facing a life threatening operation.
Itâs still superior entertainment, though, and helps to pass the time on those nights when the fare on offer on British television is unappealing. (Which is to say, nearly every night.)
Five novels have made it this year (I’ve read one) and four short stories (ditto,) five non-fiction pieces and six art works.
I didn’t make the list with Osmotic Pressure (I doubt I was nominated by anyone) but
I’ll look forward to reading the shorts I’ve missed so far: I assume the BSFA will send them out in a booklet as in the past two years. They’ll all likely be available on the web soon I should think – if not already.