Monday, 21 September 2020

Dark Forces edited by Kirby McCauley at 40

On 18th September 1980, Macdonald Futura published Dark Forces as a hardback in the UK, a horror anthology that turned out to ground-breaking in a variety of ways, not least for helping open the door to the horror boom that followed in the decade.
Futura paperback, 1986 edition
cover scan of my copy
It all started when Kirby McCauley went to dinner with Anthony Cheetham, the publisher of Futura Publications Ltd in England.  He suggested McCauley, then an agent with an impressive stable of clients, edit “a anthology of new stories of horror and the supernatural” which he would publish.  McCauley writes in his introduction that Cheetham “liked my only other anthology of original stories, Frights, and seemed to feel I was the person to do a more ambitious similar volume for him”.  After some indecision as to whether he was the right man, he decided “to assemble [the] anthology with the same scope and dynamism of Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions, but in the supernatural horror field”.  Ellison’s groundbreaking 1967 anthology chose stories that were rooted in science fiction but willingly went off at tangents to “break new ground, say and do things in new and varied and daring ways”.  Cheetham immediately grasped the concept and agreed to publish the book.

McCauley “approached by letter or telephone near every writer living who had tried his or her hand at this type of story and whose writing” he liked.  He also “deliberately sought variety, stories ranging wide across the horizon of fantasy fiction” because, he felt, “nothing seems…more boring than an anhtology in one key, having similar backdrops or styles, or which are all variations on a narrow theme.”

From one of his more successful clients, Stephen King, he pursued The Mist, which would close the anthology and also took the “opportunity to meet Isaac Bashevis Singer”, the Polish-born Jewish writer who won the Nobel Prize in 1978.  A look at the table of contents shows a wide range of terrific writers, some just coming into their own at the time, some who wouldn’t have been considered horror but all of them producing fantastic work.

“I set out to offer as many of the subjects and moods and general directions the fantastic tale has tended traditionally to take as I could, but hopefully in imaginative, fresh ways.”

The table of contents:

Dennis Etchison - The Late Shift
Isaac Bashevis Singer - The Enemy
Edward Bryant - Dark Angel
Davis Grubb - The Crest Of Thirty-Six
Robert Aickman - Mark Ingestre: The Customer's Tale
Karl Edward Wagner - Where The Summer Ends
Joyce Carol Oates - The Bingo Master
T. E. D. Klein - Children of the Kingdom
Gene Wolfe - The Detective of Dreams
Theodore Sturgeon - Vengeance Is
Ramsey Campbell - The Brood
Clifford D. Simak - The Whistling Well
Russell Kirk - The Peculiar Demesne
Lisa Tuttle - Where the Stones Grow
Robert Bloch - The Night Before Christmas
Edward Gorey - The Stupid Joke
Ray Bradbury - A Touch of Petulance
Joe W. Haldeman - Lindsay and the Red City Blues
Charles L. Grant - A Garden of Blackred Roses
Manly Wade Wellman - Owls Hoot in the Daytime
Richard & Richard Christian Matheson - Where There's a Will
Gahan Wilson - The Trap
Stephen King - The Mist

1981 Bantam Books edition
Locus magazine called Dark Forces "the most important horror collection of the year" and I certainly wouldn’t disagree with that.  I didn’t find it until 1984 or so (thank you, thank you, thank you Kettering library) and thought it was astonishing, later picking up the paperback so I didn't have to keep taking it out of the library.  Already a fan of Stephen King, I instantly loved The Mist and there was so much here to enjoy it was a similar revelation for me as Danse Macabre had been, a new list of great writers to explore and enjoy.  It was the first time I’d read Dennis Etchison and his The Late Shift led me to his own collections, a writer I would come to admire and read ever after.

Kirby McCauley
As a young horror fan, discovering the genre in the early to mid-80s, you had to follow trails yourself and this quickly became a cornerstone for me (as was, later, Etchison’s Cutting Edge anthology).  It showed me that horror could be all manner of things, all manner of styles and that affected both my reading and writing habits.

* * *
Dark Forces won the World Fantasy Award for best Anthology/Collection in 1981 and Clive Barker, in Faces Of Fear, said that reading the “great variation of horror stories” in the collection encouraged him to start writing the short stories that would come to make up his Books Of Blood.

Kirby McCauley was born in Minnesota on 11th September 1941 and became a literary agent in the 1970s, representing the likes of Stephen King and George R. R. Martin.  Helping to found the World Fantasy Convention in 1975, he also helped create the World Fantasy Awards and edited “Night Chills” (1975), “Frights” (1976) and “Dark Forces” (1980).  He died on 30th August 2014, of renal failture associated with diabetes.  George R. R. Martin wrote a moving tribute on his livejournal.

Happy 40th, Dark Forces.

my copy of Dark Forces (McCauley's introduction)
Kirby McCauley information at Too Much Horror Fiction
Kirby McCauley obituary at Locus

Monday, 14 September 2020

Suicide Blonde, by INXS, at 30

Thirty years ago, on 15th September 1990, INXS released Suicide Blonde, their first single in over 18 months (following Mystify), from their forthcoming album X.
Suicide Blonde was written by Andrew Farriss & Michael Hutchence and released in September 1990 across the world.  The b side for the 7” was Everybody Wants U Tonight written by Jon Farriss.

The first of five singles from the album (followed by Disappear, released in December, By My Side in March 1991, Bitter Tears in July 1991 - to tie in with the Summer XS gig which I wrote about here -and The Stairs, only released in The Netherlands in November), it peaked at number 2 in the Australian charts, number 1 in Canada, New Zealand and the US, went Top 10 in The Netherlands and Ireland and peaked at number 11 in both the UK (where it spent 6 weeks on the charts) and Switzerland.  It was certified Gold in Australia (over 35k units) and the US (over 500k units).

Save you from your misery like rain across the land
Don't you see the colour of deception
Turning your world around again
You want to make her, suicide blonde

Love devastation, suicide blonde
The video reunited the band with Richard Lowenstein, who’d been responsible for the very successful (and, indeed, award-winning) videos from Kick and in the meantime had worked with U2 and Hutchence’s side project Max Q.

The song was written as the band reconvened after a year away.  By all accounts it was a fairly fractious time for a while, since all the members had pursued other projects and Michael Hutchence was enjoying a new level of international fame as he dated Kylie Minogue, then best known for her performance on Neighbours.  There are reports she gave him the inspiration for the title, as she was making The Delinquents (1989) while he and Andrew Farriss were writing - the role required Minogue to dye her hair platinum blonde.

A distinctive part of the record (single and album) was the mouth organ (or blues harp) - Farriss had been experimenting with the sound on his keyboard and suggested using it to the band.  In a 1990 interview with DeWitt Nelson he said, "when I met up with Michael we started putting some stuff on tape and demos and we thought hmmm, this is an interesting sound."  In the same interview, Hutchence said, "[Charlie Musselwhite] was actually playing around Australia... he's a real nice southern gentleman."  They arranged to meet when he played in Syndey and Musselwhite readily agreed to collaborate.  Rather than play on the live recording, he laid down some samples which Farriss built into the song (and played on the harmonica during the X tour) though he did play live on two album tracks, Who Pays The Price and On My Way.
X was released on 25th September 1990 and marked the third (and final) collaboration with producer Chris Thomas.  Recorded at Rhinoceros Studios in Sydney during 1990, with initial rehearsals starting in November 1989, it marked the end of a year-long sabbatical for the band following their huge Kick World Tour which ran through 1987 and 1988.  It reached number 1 in Australia, number 2 in the UK and New Zealand and went Top 10 in The Netherlands, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the US.  Saleswise, it was certified Platinum in eight countries (including the UK) and Gold in two.

The album yielded four videos, with Suicide Blonde being included on the 1990 VHS release INXS: Greatest Video Hits (1980-1990).  X, Bitter Tears and By My Side were all directed by Richard Lowenstein, while Claudia Castle directed Disappear.

One month after the release of X, INXS began preparations for their next world tour and I was lucky enough to get to their UK leg and see their Summer XS gig at Wembley (which I wrote about here).

INXS: Story to Story: The Official Autobiography, by INXS & Anthony Bozza
Discogs release information
DeWitt Nelson interview (1990)
Official Charts (UK)

Monday, 7 September 2020

Nostalgic For My Childhood - Some More Comic & Magazine ads

For the third installment of this occasional feature (you can read entries from 2017 here and 2019 here), here's another selection of print ads for the toys, sweets, books and games of my youth.

As always, there's a certain amount of charm on display here - the ads are often hand-drawn and with muted hyperbole - as well as a lovely sense of wistful innocence, though that might just be the reminder of stamped, addressed envelopespostal orders and things costing pennies.

Here, then, are a few more ads of our childhood, I hope they spark some memories for you...

I remember these, though I seem to recall that it was difficult to make a proportionate face because everything quickly got out line (perhaps making it more fun).  And look at that competition - a movie projector and a full-length horror film (I wonder what it was?)
I remember the ad, I don't remember the sweets at all though
I was always a sucker for product that gave away stickers (this was clearly Golden Wonder jumping on the Star Wars bandwagon).  In a nice twist, ten years after this ad was first published, I was working for Golden Wonder...
My sister Tracy had the Corgi Juniors version but this, with it's detailed interior, is clearly the Superkings version.  And look at that ad, everything is by hand except the brand logo!
Sometime after this ad, I became a huge fan of Brian Bolland (look at that intricate artwork!) and Forbidden Planet quickly became a shop I was desperate to get to (though it would be the mid-80s before I actually got there).  To my delight, 34 years after this ad appeared, I was signing a book at the Shaftesbury Avenue shop - see my post here.
 I don't remember David Prowse's little blond mate at all.
That design of toy gun was very popular when I was a kid - you cracked the chamber like a normal revolver and inserted those ring caps that made a lot of noise, sparks and smoke.  Great stuff!
From Cheeky comic (which seemed to do a lot of half-page ads like this), the Whizz Kids books were great fun.  I had 'How To Be A Detective', my horse-mad sister had the 'Ponies & Riding' one.
Not a huge fan of the cheese spread but, hey, action transfers (which I wrote about here)!
Well, with the Hulk and Black Hole lollies (look at those terrific colour/flavour schemes!), Wall's were certainly trying, weren't they?
 Smurfing sports....
"Dad, if you need to get petrol, can we find..."
"Hold it, I know what you're going to say, there's a new Smurf out isn't there?"
I was perhaps a bit too old for the concept then but I used to daydream about winning a competition like this, wondering just how many goodies (be they Action Man, Star Wars or whatever else I liked at the time) I could load into a trolley in a hurry.  In fact, sometimes, I do still wonder the same thing (and my arms are a lot longer now, to reach further onto the shelves...)
 A chocolate bar, for 10p.  I'll just let that sink in...
I remember having one of these games (mine was a monkey, in a tree, chucking bananas) - we truly were living in extraordinary times in the early 80s!
Not the best Superman film but certainly the most fun.  I remember these cards because sometimes you'd accidentally brush the surface with your arm and have to start again...

If you're interested, more of my Nostalgic For My Childhood posts can be found here

Monday, 31 August 2020

The Tresham dovecote

This year, for our family holiday, we'd planned to go to Spain but the pandemic put paid to that so I spent my fortnight off work at home, doing plenty of writing and going out for walking expeditions with the family.
Dude and the dovecote
One day, I had to go to Corby Diagnostic for a blood-test and Dude came along to keep me company.  As payback for him, we went on a Pokemon hunt around the town and nearby Geddington and then, on the way home, he found a Pokemon gym in the middle of nowhere.  Careful navigation got us to the very small village of Newton and further investigation led us to the Newton Field Centre, set into a church quite - oddly enough - some way from the houses.  I suggested to Dude there might be a spooky reason for this and we riffed some ideas for horror stories before wandering up the public footpath.

Off to the left was a dovecote, the source of the Pokemon gym and a building I didn't even realise was there.  Intrigued, we tramped across the field, found a very small door and - not quite knowing what to expect - went inside.  It was apparently built with space for 3,600 broods and it was a peculiar sensation, looking up and up and seeing all these holes around the wide open central space. 
"The dovecote was built c.1580 from roughly dressed course stone with very little mortar.  Its size is most unusual - fifty-three feet nine, by twenty-three feet seven, with the height to the eaves twenty feet and to the roof-ridge about thirty-five.  Now, more than four centuries later, it, the church and fishponds are all that remain of the Tresham family mansion, a place where it is said the Gunpowder Plot meetings were held."
information from the VADs J L Carr page

Dude through the small doorway
I'm lucky enough to live in an area rich in history - especially that of the Tresham family, who designed Rothwell's old Market Square building and the wonderful Triangular Lodge, as well as being prime conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot - and finding places like this really fires up the creative part of my brain.  This location will absolutely feature in my writing at some point, both the interior and the exterior and a friend pointed out there are footpaths that can get you from Kettering to the dovecote and back, so I'll be heading there again for more research and photographs.
Google maps screengrab shows the distance of the church from the houses and how big the Tresham estate must have been.
If you have a dovecote near you, I'd definitely go and check it out - who knows, it might inspire some stories for you too!

Monday, 24 August 2020

Will You (40 years on from "Breaking Glass")

Breaking Glass, written and directed by Brian Gibson, was released in the UK forty years ago this month.  A tense, gritty drama (Alison & I were lucky enough to catch a screening of it in 2018, with Hazel O'Connor in attendance for a Q&A and mini-concert), it's a fascinating snapshot of the music scene - and London - at the time and features a tremendous soundtrack including the stunning and beautiful Will You, by Hazel O’Connor.
Will You was written by Hazel O’Connor with the sax arrangement by Wesley Magoogan (he also played it).  Tony Visconti, whose wide and varied career started in 1969 and spanned a whole load of artists (including T. Rex and David Bowie), produced.  The song, released as a single in May 1981, was recorded at Good Earth Studios in London.

In late 1979, having signed to Albion Records for £1 (a bad move that would blight her later career, with Albion withholding the royalties from her songs), O’Connor was picked to appear in a new film called Breaking Glass, about a “struggling punk singer who makes it big and goes gaga.”  Impressed with her, the director Brian Gibson re-wrote the script to incorporate more of her life into the story and she supplied all the songs.  “I got the bulk of the songs written in a week or so,” she told The Guardian, “though Will You was already done.”  She’d written it, while upset, after “reading about a man who popped into a shop for a sarnie and was blown to pieces by an IRA bomb” in Barclay Square.  “When I met Tony, I sang it to him live over a cassette recording of me playing the piano – just like the scene in the film.”

I think it’s a wonderful song, a beautifully detailed love story aided immeasurably by a fantastic sax solo which effectively takes over the piece halfway through (apart from that throaty “aah” at the end).  Melancholic, bittersweet and marvellous, this is an excellent record that affects me every time I hear it.
Will You spent 10 weeks on the UK charts in 1981, peaking at number 8.

Breaking Glass, the soundtrack album, was released in September 1980 and spent 35 weeks on the charts, peaking at number 5.  It was certified Gold (over 100k in sales) by the BPI.

Hazel O'Connor won the Variety Club of Great Britain Award for 'Best Film Actor' for her performance as Kate and she was also nominated for the Best Film Music Bafta.  When she toured the UK to promote the soundtrack album, the support group she chose was the then unknown Duran Duran, who went on to enjoy a bit of success of their own.  O'Connor combined singing with more acting roles, on television and in the theatre, throughout the 80s and 90s and she continues to record and tour.

Wesley Magoogan continued to play, with O'Connor, the Beat and Joan Armatrading among others, until his fingers were badly injured in an accident with a circular saw.  Now retired from music, he looks after his son Lester.

Tony Visconti went on to work with a huge array of artists and still produces.

The Guardian: How We Made Breaking Glass
The Guardian (details about Wesley Magoogan)
Official Charts (UK): Will You
Official Charts (UK): Breaking Glass OST

Monday, 17 August 2020

More Starburst Memories

In 2018, to mark it's 40th anniversary, I blogged about Starburst magazine (you can read the post here) and included some cover scans.  This seemed to go down well, a pleasant nostalgic nudge to a great magazine from back in the day (and some of our formative years) and so, because I need little excuse for this kind of thing, here are a few more.
issue 3, April 1978

Mark Hamill enjoys a read of issue 22,
June 1980
Starburst magazine was created in 1977 by Dez Skinn, who published the first three issues himself.  When he was taken on as Editorial Director by Marvel UK in late 1978, they inherited Starburst and began to publish it from issue 4 onwards.  He edited the magazine until early 1980 (issue 19) when he left Marvel and Alan McKenzie, who already worked on the title, took over the reins.  Marvel sold the magazine in 1985 (issue 88) and Visual Imagination published it until 2009 when they went out of business (issue 365).  Starburst continued as an online zine and was revived in print in 2012 with issue 374 by Starburst Magazine Ltd, who still publish it today (making it “the world’s longest running magazine of Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy”).

Starburst was perfect for me, not only keeping me well informed but also acting as an important stepping stone, bridging the gap from Look-In (which I wrote about here) to my later discoveries of Photoplay and Premiere (and then Empire and Total Film beyond those).  Even now, 40 years after the fact, the issues are as fresh and exciting as they were then with news sections, articles and book reviews, in-depth features and film reviews where the writers (John Brosnan and Tony Crawley among them) were absolutely not afraid of saying exactly what they thought.

Reading Starburst through the late 70s and early 80s made me feel as if I belonged to a group of like-minded folk, in the same way reading early Fangoria would do later in the 80s and to my mind, you can't ask for more than that.

issue 6, January 1979
issue 21, May 1980 - look at all those effects people being interviewed!
issue 26, October 1980 - no idea about "Thongar" and I don't remember this version of "Dr Strange" either.  I wonder what the author of the 'Comic Heroes On Screen' article would think about the cinematic landscape now?
issue 28, December 1980 - win a sweatshirt!  I like how they managed to squeeze "Dressed To Kill" in
issue 30, February 1981 - not a lot of items on this cover have remained vibrant over the years, have they?
issue 31, March 1981 - bit chummy with Chris Reeve here...
issue 35, July 1981 - yes!  Condorman!
issue 43, March 1982 - a terrific still from Star Wars, that doesn't appear at all in the finished film!
issue 42, April 1982 - Starburst, never afraid to be gory (this was a magazine you picked up in the newsagents, don't forget) or to wear its heart on its sleeve ("Ghost Story" is 'low on suspense'...)
issue 48, August 1982 - more gore!
issue 50, October 1982 - what a line-up!  Still not a fan of the new logo though...
issue 56, April 1983 - the obligatory Caroline Munro cover.  I met her once, you know...
issue 57, May 1983
issue 59, July 1983 - "Return Of The Jedi" on the cover, "Videodrome" (which I wrote about here) covered within, what more could you want?

scans from my collection except issue 3 from Dez Skinn and 63 (Internet

Dez Skinn on Starburst

Monday, 27 July 2020

Nostalgic For My Childhood - More Summer Specials

A couple of years ago, having had a conversation with Dude (where he expressed amusement over the things I had to contend with when I was his age - including, but not limited to, very few available video games, cameras you had to carry separately and phones that were wired to the wall), I blogged about one great thing I had that he didn’t - the Summer Special (you can find the blog post here).
As I explained then, children’s comics now aren’t a patch on what they were back in the 70s and 80s (and before that, even).  Modern titles, sealed in plastic bags and littered with free gifts, have very little in the way of comic strips or stories (in fact, most seem to consist of quizzes) but back in the day the likes of IPC and DC Thomson produced a raft of weeklies that catered for most tastes (published on newsprint with a splash of colour).

Those weeklies, in turn, gave us the Summer Special to look forward to.  A one-off edition of our favourite title, it was thicker and more colourful and the perfect reading accompaniment to a long car journey or a lazy afternoon in the back garden.

Comics historian Lew Stringer suggests (on his blog) that “today’s retailers dislike them because they occupy valuable shelf space for too many months” which didn’t bother newsagents in the 70s - Summer Specials were especially popular at seaside towns because they were pretty much guaranteed sellers, with a new batch of kids every week who’d need entertaining.

Here are a few more from my golden-era of reading them (the late 70s into the early 80s) - what were your favourites?
1978 - Starlord (which I wrote about here) barely lasted long enough to justify its Summer Special!
1979 - war comics were a big part of my childhood

Once again, thanks to Lew Stringer for the history (see also David Barnett’s excellent blog piece at The Guardian).