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