If we ever meet, you might notice my hand slip down the back of my trousers to caress my buttocks. I also have a habit of going off at inappropriate tangents during conversation and am borderline obsessive about my chickens and their laying schedule, even though I haven’t eaten an egg for over ten years. Odd, you might think, but as far as eccentric behaviour goes all this is so mild as to barely register.
Eccentricity. We all know it when we see it. Chances are high some of you reading this are eccentric, and we British are quietly proud to lead the world in producing Grade-A loons.Yet there has been astonishingly little clinical research into the subject to date, probably because eccentrics tend to be cheerful souls who rarely seek treatment. Counterintuitively, for many assume that eccentricity is one short step from serious mental disorder, studies of eccentricity show that eccentrics suffer less from mental illnesses such as depression than the majority of the population.
In 1859, the anti-slavery campaigner, women’s rights advocate and Liberal MP John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty, “That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.” A man who hated any kind of tyranny, Mill particularly despised the sneering, curtain-twitching, self-elected arbiters of social conformity. For him, they were tyrants responsible for “enslaving the soul.” Instead, Mill saw eccentric behaviour – so long as it harmed no-one – as not only a matter of personal freedom, but a boon to society.
Sir Isaac Newton once stuck a large needle into his eye socket and twiddled it around, apparently for the sheer wanton hell of it, while Einstein always filled his pipe with tobacco from cigarette butts he found in the street. The naturalist Reverend William Buckland famously attempted to eat his way through the entire animal kingdom (he reported that moles and bluebottles taste vile, should you ever be tempted by a tasting menu). Realising that it was one of the few things he hadn’t eaten, the Rev is also said, on a whim, to have gobbled down the preserved heart of King Louis XIV.
Eccentrics are the people who see problems from new and unexpected angles; whose very oddity allows them to conjure innovative solutions. They are the visionaries who make giant imaginative leaps. It’s been suggested that, like the occasional mutations that drive evolution, eccentrics may provide the unusual, untried ideas that allow human societies to progress. Be proud of your eccentricity and always remember that while there will be those who disapprove, you don’t have a problem – they do. You are doing yourself, and the rest of us, a favour. The mockers have nothing to offer but a social straitjacket.
Simon Fisher Turner
Kevin Ayers ‘Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong’
‘Joy of a Toy is the debut solo album of Kevin Ayers, a founding member of Soft Machine. Its whimsical and unique vision is a clear indication of how Soft Machine might have progressed under Ayers’ tenure. After a Soft Machine tour of the USA with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Ayers had decided to retire from the music business. Hendrix however, presented Ayers with an acoustic Gibson J-200 guitar on the promise that he continue his songwriting. It was on Joy Of A Toy that Ayers developed his sonorous vocal delivery, an avant-garde song construction and an affection for bizarre instrumentation that would have a deep influence far into the 1970s and indeed the present day.’ — collaged
Dagmar Kraus ‘Bad Alchemy’
‘Slapp Happy is the most favorite band of mine. Finally, I start writing about them. I could not write about them until now because I was anxious if I can write well. (My love for them is so strong!) Slapp Happy is made of three persons. No one can substitute members. They are Dagmar Krause, Anthony Moore, and Peter Blegvad. Some of their songs remind me strongly of Kurt Weill. Particularly, “Some Question About Hats”, “A Worm Is at Work”, “Bad Alchemy”, “Apes in Capes” are very Weillian. Also, there is some influence of Carla Bley/Michael Mantler music. Very acrobatic, circus-like, Berlin Cabaret-like music with a taste of avant-garde jazz. Ahhh, it was more than 20 years ago. And I am still listening to them with the same excitement and astonishme
nt like the time when I first heard it.’ — Airstructures
Arthur Brown ‘Galactic Zoo’
‘Arthur Brown. How many of you just visualised him singing his hit song Fire on TV with his head on fire? And there is the blessing and curse that Arthur has had to carry the whole of his career – that song was so ubiquitous, and the visual image so striking, that it has become his very own Freebird or Stairway To Heaven, only magnified by a large factor owing to his continued lack of any real commercial success in the decades since. When the Crazy World collapsed in something of a heap in 1969, Arthur cast around for another line-up of suitable musicians, finally assembling the first line-up of Kingdom Come. The band secured a deal with Polydor Records on the strength of a jam recording which impressed the label, and the band were set to record the first Kingdom Come album. Having got the contract, Arthur then promptly replaced the entire band. All of them. Nevertheless, the new line-up which was recruited turned out to be more than up to the task, and recorded the fascinating album The Galactic Zoo Dossier, which was unleashed on an unsuspecting world in 1971. The unsuspecting world ignored it, which in truth is hardly a great surprise, but in fact the album is far from the ‘explosion in a psychiatric ward’ that some claim it to be.’ — Velvet Thunder
Vivian Stanshall ‘The Beasht Inside’
‘Vivian Stanshall was an English singer-songwriter, painter, musician, author, poet and wit, best known for his work with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, for his surreal exploration of the British upper classes in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, and for narrating Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Stanshall was often called a “great British eccentric”, but this was a label he hated: it suggested that he was putting on an act. Instead, as he himself always insisted, “…he was merely being himself.” However, it is not difficult to understand why he received the label. Neil Innes said of their first meeting: “He was quite plump in those days. He had on Billy Bunter check trousers, a Victorian frock coat, violet pince-nez glasses, and carried a euphonium. He also wore large pink rubber ears.”‘ — collaged
Roy Wood ‘Meet Me at the Jailhouse’
‘Roy Wood was particularly successful in the 1960s and 1970s as member and co-founder of the bands The Move, Electric Light Orchestra, and Wizzard. He was and remains keen on musical experimentation and was in this respect one of the most progressive musicians of his time, taking the ‘pop group’ into new areas. He was an early proponent of combining rock and roll and pop music with other styles, such as classical music, or the big band sound, and introduced classically-styled string and brass sections into the pop record. His 1973 album Boulders was an almost entirely solo effort, right down to the sleeve artwork, with Wood playing a wide variety of musical instruments.’ — collaged
Robert Wyatt ‘Muddy (c) Wich Leads to Muddy Mouth’
‘An enduring figure who came to prominence in the early days of the English art rock scene, Robert Wyatt has produced a significant body of work, both as the original drummer for art rockers Soft Machine and as a radical political singer/songwriter. Born in Bristol, England, Wyatt came to Soft Machine during the exciting, slightly post-psychedelic Canterbury Scene of the mid-’60s that produced bands like Gong and Pink Floyd. Soft Machine eschewed bloated theatrical excess, preferring a standard rock format that interpolated jazz riffing, extended soloing, and some forays into experimental noise.His solo career was built less around his abilities as a percussionist and more around his frail tenor voice, capable of breaking hearts with its falsetto range.’ — allmusic
John Cale ‘My Maria’
‘John Cale’s trilogy of albums of the mid-70s – Fear, Slow Dazzle, and Helen of Troy – were recorded with other Island artists including Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno of Roxy Music, and Chris Spedding, who featured in his live band. This era of Cale’s music is perhaps best represented by his somewhat disturbing cover of Elvis Presley’s iconic “Heartbreak Hotel”, and by his frothing performance on “Leaving It Up To You”, a savage indictment of the mass media first released on Helen of Troy, but quickly deleted from later editions of the record due perhaps to the song’s pointed Sharon Tate reference. Both “Leaving It Up To You” and “Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend” (from Fear) begin as relatively conventional songs that gradually grow more paranoid in tone before breaking down into what critic Dave Thompson calls “a morass of discordance and screaming”.’ — Wikipedia
Julian Cope ‘Strange House in the Snow’
‘Along with other contemporary Liverpudlian groups, The Teardrop Explodes played a role in returning psychedelic elements to mainstream British rock and pop, initially favouring a lightly psychedelic West Coast beat-group sound (sometimes described as “bubblegum trance”) and later exploring more experimental areas. In addition to their musical reputation, the band (and Cope in particular) had a reputation for eccentric pronouncements and behaviour, sometimes verging on the self-destructive. During the recording of their second album, the previously drug-free Cope was introduced to both cannabis and LSD. This would ensure that a band which had previously had a strong interest only in the stylings and theory of psychedelic rock soon began living the psychedelic lifestyle and perspective in earnest.’ — mmmm.eclipse.co.uk
Scott Walker ‘Copenhagen’
‘In 1968 Scott Walker threw himself into intense study of contemporary and classical music, which included a sojourn in Quarr Abbey, a monastery on the Isle of Wight, to study Gregorian chant. His own songs gradually coursed into Lieder and classical musical modes. Scott Walker’s early solo career was successful in Britain; his first three albums, titled Scott, Scott 2 and Scott 3, all sold in large numbers, Scott 2 topping the British charts. There were also early indications that this concentrated attention was not conducive to Walker’s emotional well-being. He became reclusive and somewhat distanced from his audience. During this time, he combined his earlier teen appeal with a darker, more idiosyncratic approach that had been hinted at in songs previously.’ — collaged
Ivor Cutler ‘Go and Sit Upon the Grass’
‘He’s an amazing lothario and a true person-devourer.. He is easily bored. Boring Ivor Cutler is like placing your hand on a burning hotplate. It’s very painful. What’s more, he considers it criminal. The whole of Ivor Cutler’s life is like a children’s picnic. He has a fantastic selection of silly hats which he’ll answer the door in. Usually, if you visit, as he moves around, an odd chirruping sound will emerge from the creases in his clothing. He carries a small bird-sound device in his pocket. As it twitters, his face is always as straight as a ruler. Curiously enough, Ivor is reputedly one of Johnny Rotten’s heroes. That seems appropriate. He’s a perpetual rebel. In many ways he’s a man ahead of his time.’ — Nicola Barker
Syd Barrett ‘If It’s in You’
‘Besides being a pioneer in psychedelic rock with his expressive guitar playing and imaginative compositions, Barrett was also a pioneer in the space rock and psychedelic folk genres. He was active in music for only about seven years, recording four singles, the debut album (and contributed to the second one), plus several unreleased songs with Pink Floyd; and a single and two albums (plus a third one of unreleased tracks/alternate takes), as a solo musician, before going into self-imposed seclusion lasting more than thirty years. Most of the compositions on Barrett’s solo albums date from his most productive period of songwriting, late 1966 to mid-1967, and it is believed that he wrote few new songs after he left Pink Floyd.’ — collaged
Simon Fisher Turner ‘Love Around’
‘Simon Turner rose to fame as an offbeat teen star in Britain in the early 1970s. His work quickly turned experimental, ending his teen idol fame abruptly. He has since used several names as a recording artist, including Simon Fisher Turner, The King of Luxembourg, Deux Filles and Simon Turner. Simon Turner continues to record albums for Mute Records as Simon Fisher-Turner.If there’s a location for Fisher Turner’s work it might be somewhere near the zone defined by renowned trumpet player John Hassell as the Fourth World – a place where cultures and techniques mix without compromise. To include Fisher Turner, however, the borders would have to be open enough to accommodate The Aphex Twin, Terry Riley, Black Dog, John Lydon, Howie B, Harold Budd, Miles Davis, The Prodigy, Eno and a restless host of cor anglais wielders and teletext machine tapers.’ — collaged
Robyn Hitchcock ‘Leppo and the Jooves’
‘Formed in Cambridge, England in 1976 on the heels of the punk revolution, the Soft Boys eschewed the three-chord nihilism of punk and opted for a crude version of psychedelic/folk-rock that was well on its way out of fashion, but oddly, just on the cusp of a resurgence. Their LP Underwater Moonlight has become extremely influential in the guitar rock canon — the Replacements, R.E.M., and the L.A. Paisley Underground scene all claimed it as a prime influence. The album launched a thousand bands, but it turned out to be the Soft Boys’ swan song. Band member Robyn Hitchcock has had a prolific post-Soft Boys recording career, sticking to the unusual style he’s forged and finessed since 1976.’ — allmusic
Nick Lowe ‘Marie Provost’
‘Nick Lowe’s first and most influential album Jesus of Cool has a number of tracks attacking the commercialism and greed of the record industry and the shallow content of pop music: “Music for Money”, the fraternal twin songs “Shake and Pop” and “They Called It Rock”, and “Rollers Show”; the last being a parody of the teen audience of the Bay City Rollers. Although musically sophisticated in conventional genres, the album shares the energy, cynicism and rebelliousness of the contemporary New Wave movement. Lowe was concerned with bringing back the tradition of three-minute pop singles and hard-driving rock & roll, but he subverted his melodic songcraft with a nasty sense of humor. His records overflowed with hooks, bizarre jokes, and an infectious energy that found them a devoted cult audience and were often critically praised.’ — collaged
Neil Innes ‘Them’
‘Neil Innes is that rarity among musical comedians, a side-splitting satirist who can also write perfectly straightforward, catchy pop songs. He’s best known for his collaborative work with Monty Python, for playing in the legendary Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, for a series of unpredictable solo albums, and for writing the music for and performing in The Rutles. The Rutles songs so cleverly parodied the original source material that he was taken to court by the owners of The Beatles’ catalogue. Innes had to testify under oath that he had not listened to the songs at all while composing The Rutles songs, but had created them completely originally based on what he remembered various songs by The Beatles sounding like at different times. Ironically, Innes himself would go on to sue heavily Beatles-influenced band Oasis over their 1994 song “Whatever”, as it directly lifted parts of its melody from Innes’s 1973 song “How Sweet to Be an Idiot”.’ — collaged
Alex Harvey ‘Sgt. Fury’
‘Alex Harvey was a Scottish rock and roll recording artist. With his Sensational Alex Harvey Band, he built a strong reputation as a live performer during the 1970s glam rock era. The band was renowned for its eclecticism and energetic live performance, Harvey for his charismatic persona and daredevil stage antics. It was simplicity itself: theatre and music, performance and attitude. SAHB really put on a show, creating larger-than-life characters and 3-D images with a fake wall, a can of spraypaint, a lamp post and old mac Harvey bought for 50p in an Oxfam shop. The band split up in 1978, and Alex continued with a solo career, but was never able to recreate the success of SAHB.’ — collaged
Roger Chapman ‘Drowned in Wine’
‘Family’s sound was distinguished by several factors. The vocals of Roger Chapman, described as a “bleating vibrato” and an “electric goat”, are among the most unique and polarizing in rock history. John “Charlie” Whitney was an accomplished and innovative guitarist, and Family’s sing arrangements were often extraordinarily complex. The band’s sound has been variously described as progressive rock, psychedelic rock, acid rock, folk rock, jazz fusion. Family were particularly known for their live performances; one reviewer describing the band as “as one of the wildest, most innovative groups of the underground rock scene”, noting that they produced “some of the rawest, most intense performances on stage in rock history” and “that the Jimi Hendrix Experience were afraid to follow them at festivals”.’ — collaged
Billy Childish ‘Fun in the UK’
‘A cult figure in America, Europe and Japan, Billy Childish is by far the most prolific painter, poet, and song-writer of his generation. In a twenty year period he has published 30 collections of his poetry, recorded over 70 full-length independent LP’s and produced over 1000 paintings. Born in 1959 in Chatham, Kent. Billy Childish left Secondary education at 16 an undiagnosed dyslexic. Refused an interview at the local art school he entered the Naval Dockyard at Chatham as an apprentice stonemason. During the following six months (the artist’s only prolonged period of employment), he produced some six hundred drawings in ‘the tea huts of hell. On the basis of this work he was accepted into St Martin’s School of Art to study painting. However, his acceptance was short-lived and before completing the course he was expelled for his outspokenness and unorthodox working methods.’ — Hamper87
p.s. Hey. Today a non-commenting reader of this blog has kindly made this lovely post about 70s Brit rock oddballs for your delectation. It was a colorful time when rock was experiencing particularly fruitful growing pains, and here’s the proof. Please enjoy Tim Callum’s generous gift and spare a word or several for him in appreciation if you don’t mind. Thanks, and thanks a billion, Tim. ** Misanthrope, Sorry about the hella boring. Maybe it was better than frantic, but maybe not. Rock the busy. ** David Ehrenstein, Oh, I certainly think it has a future. There are exciting films being made all the time. The only problem is that it’s getting harder and harder to find out about them much less see them. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hm, I suspect you’d remember ‘Malgre …’ but find out. Wow, strange about the 49s buying Leeds. I’m absolutely no fan of American football, but I presume they do have the dough to buy you a top notch team? ** tomk, Hi! What is your time being swallowed by? Getting any writing in? I liked the Goldin doc. It gets a lot done/said in an economical time. What did you think? ** Steve Erickson, Yes, your yellowed skies are big international news. Lots of End of the World rhetoric. I think Grandrieux’s films’ poetics and singularity are pretty US unfriendly. Not to say he’s a household name here even. ** Cody Goodnight, Hi. I’m good. I wish I’d gotten a little more sleep last night, but hey. I agree that ‘Haute Tension’s’ ending is a real let down. If you want to see a Grandrieux where’s at his most ‘Extremity’, probably ‘Malgré la nuit’. It’s an imperfect film, but it has amazing things in it. Or maybe ‘Sombre’, which I think is ultimately a more consistently excellent film. I have an intrusive thoughts issue too, high five. Enjoy that potentially fun-centered day. Me, I’ll just editing the film, but that’s pretty fun. ** Mildred, Hi. Uh, my favorite of his is ‘Un Lac’. But ‘Sombre’, his first, is a good entrance point if you want to start earlier. I agree about the conscious/ unconscious balance. It’s tricky and exciting to get that right. The only happy accident I can remember at the moment is that one of our actors was really sick once day but had to work anyway because our schedule was so tight, and his sickness made him kind of listless and sad, which, now that we’re going through the footage, worked accidentally perfectly for his scene. Nice story about the drummer. Same with acting. There are scenes in our film where we thought an actor was pushing it too much or too little, but then on film it somehow is amazing. Best to you, M. ** Guy, Thanks! Quality-wise, you probably made the better choice on the poetry front with Pasolini. I hate thinking about money. I can’t think about money without worrying about it. Self-disclipine helps a lot, obviously. I’m weirdly disciplined. Sometimes I procrastinate too lengthily before bearing down on a project, but once I’m on the ‘job’, I get very locked in. Pardon me for my space out — I’m rushing to get to the editing room and a bit sleep deprived — but where is here again? I’m sure I’d love to go there. Editing is going to be consuming until the mid-to-late fall, so that’ll keep me stuck in place a bit. Have a swell day. ** Dee Kilroy, Hi, Dee! It’s great to meet you, and thanks so much for entering. Ha, I’m kind of happy you started with ‘TMS’ since that’s my favorite of my novels, but it is a strange entrance. I’m always kind of amazed that any of my books are in any library, in the US at least. Cool. Michael Nava, that’s pretty different, ha ha. And, wow, your dude is optimistic, or, dare I say, a little naive? But naïveté is lovely. I miss it. You can ask me a personal question if you want. As for the question you asked, I actually don’t know the story of Bluebeard’s wife off the top of my head, at least this morning. What’s her deal? Thanks, Dee. Hope to see you again. ** Jack, See if it’s appropriate and/or find out what you think. NYC does look quite astonishing in the news footage. Kind of a really ugly yellow color though. Thanks about the editing. We’re almost finished with an entire first rough cut. Pretty exciting. Clearer skies to you. ** jack_henry, Hi! I think there was a time when the mention of Abramović’s name would send me on a lengthy rant, but I guess I’m just bored with her now. I do like performance art a lot. Most of my performance faves are in the past because France doesn’t really have a performance art tradition/scene. Everything here is either dance or theater. Some of my long time faves are Dancenoise, Ishmael Houston-Jones (whom I’ve collaborated with), Jeff Weiss, Vito Acconci, Mike Kelley, … I could go on. Are you interested in performance? Is there much going on in Milwaukee on that front? Greetings from sunny Paris. ** Nick., Hi, Nick.. Rice noodles sound good, I’m going to eat some today by hook or crook. It is fun: the editing. Tough at times. Like there’s one scene late in the film that’s very important and we have not been able to make it work right in the editing yet. But generally it’s been kind of dreamy. Crazy and hot, what more could you possibly ask for, ha ha? Probably better that it’s your body that’s not over the boy than your mind, in my experience. The end of world, which I personally don’t think is quite here yet, needs a perfect rock star, and why not you for goodness sake! I slept shit last night, but there’s always later today. Take care. ** Okay. Tim Callum has a wonderful batch of people for you to dip into today. Be there/here. See you tomorrow.