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August 2010

Some readers – well one actually and he’s not entirely sane – complain that they read the Oik in two days and then have to wait three months for another. The Oiklet is a freewheeling intermediate rag-bag – stuffed with all sorts of junk – letters, pictures, reviews, observations on the oik scene - to get Oik addicts through that blank period. It’s open to anyone who feels like contributing. It should appear monthly (I’ve jumped to August for No 1) and will continue to fill up (like a dustbin) until the next month starts. 


The Queneau Prize for a reverse story
Eddy's bookstall, Fat Slags and Moat
The John Caldas exhibition at the Philips Gallery
Tom Kilcourse rates Marie Feargrieve
Francis Combes Common Cause trans Alan Dent
Brett Wilson's Rant No 2

Alexis Lykiard on Oik 6 and prawns
More on Eddy's bookstall
Digital Publishing Outlets
In Search of Raouls
Ruminations on Readers
Save the Oik
Creative Writing - Scam or What?
Finds on Eddy's Stall #1
Jazz in Manchester
The Proms on TV
Pianists on TV
Bohn's Bookshop



Our prolific contributor Brett Wilson offers a £50 prize for the best reverse-action story submitted to the Oik (Think Martin Amis – Time’s Arrow). Brett’s fascination for quirky technical experiment is well-known to his long suffering friends although Oik readers are spared these by the editor who smothers most at birth. The editor isn’t entirely philistine in these matters and agrees that Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style is a great book. Perec’s  La Disparition (a novel without any “e”s) is verging on madness and Gilbert Adair’s English translation A Void is an out-and-out lunacy. But if that’s your passion give it a go. If there is a winner, judged by the editor, it will appear in Oik 7. Deadline Sept 20th. 

We attach Brett’s letter in which this idea is developed: 

Hi Ken

Marie has just pointed out that reverse chronology could also be a series of 'normal' scenes delivered in reverse order. I agree with that. Of course you realize that the competition is an idea to get those no good, lazy arse Oik good-for-nothing writers off there big fat lazy butts! :-) Another benefit is that it may stimulate some new writers to submit - new blood. 

On the subject of stimulation.... I had an idea that you also may like to consider. I mentioned on Sunday that I usually read TCO within two days of receiving it. That leaves 2 months and twenty eight days (sort of....) of waiting for the next one. Do you think it's possible that some interest may drop off during intervening period? In the 70s you would have no choice but to print more regularly, but fortunately technology could come to our aid. What about a new page on the OIK site devoted to a mini story, with perhaps a 500 word limit (?), which would be published weekly? You could also publish extracts and more unusual pieces here. Trail the following week's story.... This would bring admirers back to the site on a weekly basis, perhaps stimulate a new set of writers, who feel less intimidated by the shorter piece? 

Brett is a fount of ideas – a bleedin gusher no less – as hard to cap as that BP Macondo disaster. We understand his case is soon to be reviewed and hope he may soon be released back into the community. 


Eddy’s book stall on the corner of the High Street opposite the Arndale is well worth a visit. I’ve picked up many gems there. The stock turns over fast and is in no particular order. Eddy’s motto, written on a card over one of the tables, is SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND (In other words “Don’t ask me mate!”) Occasionally he has a clear-out and knocks some rejects down to £1. Last week I picked up William Trevor’s collection After Rain in hardback and discovered a great Library of America edition of Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky, Let it Come Down, and The Spider’s House. This series is a masterpiece of the publisher’s art – second only to Gallimard’s Pleiade series in France. I blagged this for £2 – they’re on Amazon for about £20 second hand.

But the great prize was The Viz Big Fat Slags Book of 1994. Surely the quintessence of female oikitude (see extract below). And then, staggering back down Market Street against the great Oik flood I see approaching a baseball capped specimen, probably about 18, sporting a tee shirt with the words “I’m doin YER mum”. How oikish. It rivals Samantha Stobbard’s cruel wind-up of the unfortunate Raoul. Moat rings her up to hear her raving about her new man. She says he’s so good she’s got him a nice treat by having “hair extensions down to my arse”. Poor Raoul! No wonder he went apeshit – and no wonder many oiks sympathised. If that other Samantha (Cameron) informed Dave she was having it off with Nick Clegg and then tormented him by saying she had hair extensions down to her arse he might have been more sympathetic.

I do wonder about Raoul though – is he really an oik? What oik has a name like that? Can he even spell it? And who’s he named after? I can only think of Raoul Dufy the great French painter. Has any reader a better guess? Cineastes will point to director Raoul Walsh – but nobody calls their kid after a director.  The Viz page (1994) is strangely prescient and one wonders if this is a common development in North East relationships or whether ratty Raoul read this in clink. On a more serious note – if you want an analysis of oik rage exemplified in the recent Derrick Bird incident click on http://www.pennilesspress.co.uk/annexe/one_day_in_whitehaven.htm  for Alan Dent’s  take on this. Alan Dent is the editor of our associated magazine The Penniless Press.


The Tib lane gallery has a distinguished history. When it was run by Geoffrey Green and later by his wife Jan greats like Keith Vaughan used to turn up and exhibit. Keith was a true Bohemian, but cultured and charming according to Jan. He invented a device which involved tying his arms and feet to the legs of an upturned table and passing an electrical current through his genitals.  

  Constantly I wonder how unique and extraordinary I am. Whether I alone have invented my little auto-erotic E.T. machine (an invention which might surely be put on the level of the discovery of anaesthetics) or whether such devices are all over the place. If they are, since their benefits to middle-aged masturbators are so superlatively effective and rewarding, it is surprising one has not heard about them. The nearest thing, in the market, of course, is the electrical vibrator, which bears no comparison. It is infinitely inferior.

  Journals 1939 – 1977  13 November 1974 

  But I digress. The gallery is now run by David Powell and is now the Philips Gallery website http://www.philipsartgallery.com/  David’s aim is to show unknown talent. The latest exhibition is of John Caldas: We attach David’s intro: 

John Alvaro Caldas was born in Rusholme, Manchester in 1934, He showed an early talent for painting and drawing but chose to become a dancer, moving to London in 1952, He taught Tango and Latin American dance and had a successful stage career in the West End, His great love, however, was jazz and John left the theatre to play the drums professionally in and around Manchester from the late fifties to the mid sixties before settling once more in London.

Self taught in everything he did, John became an accomplished artist through hard work and practice. Throughout the rest of his life, he produced a large body of paintings and drawings of a consistently high technical standard and of an extraordinary intensity. He was acutely aware of Ruskin's ideas on "forgetting the self" when making art and wrote of the pitfalls of style, self-consciousness and the temptation as an artist to be a "purveyor of meaning" which he knew would lead to failure

John's rather modest commercial success was due, in part, to the difficulty in finding a commercial gallery which viewed his work as more than just a commodity and his own refusal to become a "career" artist. Nevertheless, he received good reviews for his few solo exhibitions in London,*

There are countless artists deserving of greater recognition My own view is that John Caldas is more deserving than most and that his art is too good to be ignored. His work cannot be pigeonholed. One is occasionally reminded of Edvard Munch or Rainer Petting; perhaps Theodore Major, But it is never pastiche. It is unique.

David Powell

* "His Women in Library is the finest new painting I have seen in years and ought to be in the Tate", Philip Ward Green, Arts Review, 30th September 1983.


Check the website for gallery opening times – and remember it’s in Tib Lane – near the town hall off Cross Street - not Tib Street which is in the Northern Quarter 


Tom Kilcourse is an Oik contributor who sought asylum in the Seine Valley when he retired. His place is an earthly paradise made even better by being the only Brit household in the village. Tom writes in praise of Marie Feargrieve’s fine piece on North East moeurs (written pre-Moat). 

Dear Ken, 

I write to say how much I enjoyed 'Away the Lads' by Marie Feargrieve in Crazy Oik 6. She captured the characters and the social norms of the area very well. Many of the things she mentions are not unique to the Northeast, but common to working class culture everywhere. I would like to thank her for an excellent read, and would encourage her to write more. 

Thanks also to Rosemary Evans for mentioning Conway Twitty, for whose fan club I act as Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer and sole member. Until I saw Rosemary's reference to the great man I believed myself to be the only earthling ever to hear of him. Well done, lass. 


Tom Kilcourse


Alan Dent, esteemed editor of The Penniless Press, has just translated a modern French classic - Cause Commune by Francis Combes. We attach John Berger's intro:


Three things I want to say about this work, which Francis Combes began writing after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, and which he continued to work on until the year 2000. A decade's work.

1 - I've never seen another book like it. It's poetry, it's a thesis about history, it's a roll-call of revolutionary martyrs during two or three millennia, it includes many jokes, it's an intimate confession - not of an individual penitent, but of the wounded body of a set of political beliefs, it's a prayer book of hopes, and, finally, it's a chapbook, like those once sold by pedlars. Yet, despite its startling originality, Cause Commune is in no way eccentric or obscure. As soon as it's in your hands, you recognize it. It's a book that innumerable people have been waiting to read. It'll be passed, I think, from hand to hand.

2-I remember this book (because I read it a while ago, in French and, yes, the translations are excellent). I remember it and will remember it not only as a volume of 350 pages but also as a place. This is because it's an assembly point where men and women, who never physically met, nevertheless come together.

In Combes' poems the prophet Isaiah and Democritus belong to the same confraternity. Rosa Luxemburg becomes contiguous with the Irish martyr Bobby Sands. Picasso listens to the replies of Socrates. Lenin faces Marat. Pol Pot is judged by the same jury as Stalin. Combes talks to Bertolt Brecht. Babeuf is welcomed by the Spanish Republicans. It is also a confraternity of the anonymous, all of whom had their nicknames. The place is an assembly point but it's more than this. It's the place prisoners in their cells see when they shut their eyes, the imagined place which gives strength to women and men and kids when they decide, whatever the risk, to resist, the place that the condemned fix their eyes on, before being executed. It's a place that encourages great modesty, the place of hope glimpsed by all those who actively resist injustice. There are many doors to it. Francis Combes as poet had the key to one of them.

3 - the chapbook, the pages, the place have a distinct voice. A voice with many registers - sometimes didactic, sometimes sardonic, sometimes furious, sometimes tearful, sometimes wondrous. Yet whatever the register, the voice remains itself. A voice that has no luggage and is not in a hurry. Listening to it, you can't tell whether, outside, it's night or day. A voice that comes from nowhere in particular and, at the same time, is much travelled. An open voice - ready to listen, and to question. A voice that has no love for conclusions. The voice of endurance. An endurance which is not heavy and passive but supple and active - just as its words are active. Active concerning the unfinished past, the ever-present and the future which the present secretly contains, A voice which accompanies us in our endless struggle. As the first poem says:

'This is the history of a great dream which betrayed hope But the victory gained over this dream is a victory without hope. This is a history to read in the catacombs an ancient history which comes from places remoter than ourselves and which will go further.'

John Berger, Quincy, France

 The book is available from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/search/ref=sr_adv_b/?search-alias=stripbooks&unfiltered=1&__mk_en_GB=%C5M%C5Z%D5%D1&field-keywords=&field-author=combes&field-title=common+cause&field-isbn=&field-publisher=&node=&field-binding_browse-bin=&field-subject=&emi=&field-dateop=&field-datemod=&field-dateyear=&sort=relevancerank&Adv-Srch-Books-Submit.x=35&Adv-Srch-Books-Submit.y=5

or from the publisher Smokestack Books http://www.smokestack-books.co.uk/books/index.html

Apropos of John Berger whose credentials as a radical icon are beyond reproach I do sometimes wonder about his mystical art-speak pronouncements which, after all made him famous. I have recordings of his early art progs on the TV - that wild mane, that hypnotic stare, that stirring rhetoric which convinced you at the time that something important was being said - a true 60s guru. Browsing through Keith Vaughan's Journal (see above) I came across this remark:

24 November 1973

John Berger on the box. Having won the £5000 for G. Well - he's too smooth. Too much the professorial orator for me to believe in. Effective? yes. He knows how to hang on the ball. (The BBC interviewer was quite outsmarted.) Yet - he claimed to be after the truth (who doesn't) and not mind if the 'truth' is difficult to comprehend (Thomas Mann was also after the truth but strove to make his books witty and entertaining). I suspect that J.B. lacks a sense of humour. Takes himself too seriously. A pundit. He overbids his hand. Hang it all, Robert Browning, there can be but one Sordello.



Brett Wilson, energised by the new medium (the Oiklet) transmits the following today (July 21st)

If you think I'm going quietly then you have another thing coming because I wouldn't be the first to turn up wearin a bandana and a flak jacket would I, a shotgun in one hand and a machine pistol in the other, and I would be perfectly justified after thirty five years of servitude and no pension you tell me because Mr. Lucas mishandled the funds and the directors went on a spending spree, don't we know it, while the prawns on the shop floor had nothing better to do than turn out widgets all day, which feels like torture after you've been standing at one of those machines for eleven hours, the varicose veins creeping up your leg and arterial sclerosis advancing on your twilight years, but nobody cares do they if cannon fodder like me end up on the street after the wife tells me I've let her and the children down and what is more she doesn't love me and has been screwing a guy called Phil for the last ten years while I've been paying the mortgage and putting the kids through private school, so they can swan off to University where no doubt they will spend half their student loan on alcohol and hashish, just to put two fingers up to my face as if I was the single cause of all their unhappiness and don't give a shit about the starving in Africa, which I do by the way but why do they have to have so many children, and all the atrocities in the middle east, but if I did I doubt whether I would be working in a shit hole in Basingstoke until I'm fit to retire and enter some middle class hovel for the demented where my so called offspring will visit me annually and feed me slop while I piss my trousers and watch the nurse's indifference as they lift me like a sack of bones and pretend that maybe I used to be someone.

A fine enragement worthy of Moat. I don't recall receiving Rant No 1. Brett himself is the mildest of men but seems, occasionally, a volcano of resentment. Moast entertaining, if I might be permitted a weak pun. I particularly liked "prawns on the shop floor" - I doubt if Brett has actually ever been on one but the image of toiling crustaceans is surely worthy of Breton or Dali.


I thought I was being funny picking up on Brett's "prawns" but the great poet and novelist (also a film buff extraordinaire) Alexis Lykiard hails this image. Or are we into a Chinese boxed set of ironies here? Just who's taking the piss out of whom? Well - tant pis (no, that's not incontinent aunt Gertie in the old folks home). Alexis is also the translator of Lautréament - acclaimed as the best version in English. A work he has been updating following the recent Pleiade re-issue of this surrealist icon's complete works. AL is also a proof-reader of genius. "Buskin" is, of course, Ruskin (we have corrected this in the intro to Caldas above) although one might spiral off, à la Brett, to imagine Ruskin buskin with Pushkin (the octoroon poet from Moscow)

I am greatly enjoying the latest Oik, and think the Oiklet idea and additions so far great fun. Some comments on the latter: “prawns of the shop floor” excellent phrase, considering prawns are the maggots of the deep, feeding on the dead and clearing up all kinds of detritus, a worthy and thankless activity, only themselves to be bought and swallowed up in turn by our affluent society… Maggie reminds me also that in the recent satirical SF movie District 9, the aliens are referred to as prawns: some good perceptions there too on racism of all sorts. Don’t miss this excellent indie movie! Further thoughts in the art section: who’s Buskin?! And I do like the sound of Vaughan’s wankmachine,  Jarry via Heath Robinson? Fortean Times has been advertising in its curious back pages some recent techno gadget which will revolutionise orgasmic satisfaction, but haven't needed to resort to that yet… As to Raoul, I was shocked you didn’t at once think of the great R Coutard, famed Nouvelle Vague cinematographer, though he’s more of a household name than, e.g. Raoul Loveday (Aleister Crowley’s disciple who came to a mysterious end at the Abbey of Thelema). Finally, our late cat’s 2nd feline monickname was Raoul, after his inimitable half-howl when soliciting our attention re food: any activity such as opening a tin of tuna had to be done when he was out of the room, otherwise he would wail and howl and try leaping up to wherever he knew satisfaction lay in store: Raoul, down!

For details of AL's Lautréamont and indeed all his other works visit http://www.alexislykiard.com/


Eddy Hopkinson, top Manc bookseller, has three passions – none of them is books. He likes fishing (but never eats what he catches), cheroots (specially imported from Germany) and wine. I know nothing about the first two but frequently engage him on the last. He has a discriminating but strangely narrow preference. He likes Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label Champagne and rarely drinks any wine other than Burgundy. Specifically the pinot noir made by Anne Gros or the other notable Vosne vigneron Mongeard Mugneret. These aren’t cheap. He detests Bordeaux and thinks it rough, harsh and tannic. So, after my coup in the Auchan supermarket in Dieppe where I collared 30 bottles of Cotes de Blaye (Chateau La Roseraie de Galtus 2008) for the price of 12 I thought I‘d try to wean him out of his expensive rut.


He has read only six novels in his life and is therefore like a eunuch in a harem. No danger of the stock being squirreled away for private use. He thought The Day of the Triffids was the best, and pronounced Of Mice and Men “disappointing”. When I handed him an early Julian Barnes he asked if it was the footballer. “No Eddy” I replied “That was the black Liverpool winger John Barnes – the bloke who visiting supporters used to throw bananas at. There is a Jonathan Barnes, Julian’s brother who is an Oxford don and authority on the Pre-Socratics”

 Eddy has an eye for lurid horror paperbacks and Beat lit – Kerouac, Burroughs, Bukowski etc. The stuff on the stall is amazingly varied. Among the dross this weekend lurked a paperback of the Gabler edition of Ulysses, Joachim Fest’s biog of Hitler in the original German, Jack Kerouac’s Selected Letters, The Complete Plays of Joe Orton and How to Become a Porn Director. Odd runs of magazines turn up – a 1948 batch of Comic Cuts – a thick wodge of The Writer from the same period and John O’London’s Weekly. They disappear just as quick.

A national treasure or wot?


Tom Kilcourse, ever alert to the changing scene concerning the publication of unknowns, has stumbled on another vehicle in this increasingly anarchic region

Hello Ken,
The publishing mafia is under threat from developments in printing, as you pointed out, but also from the growth of digital publishing. I was heartened by the news that Amazon now sell more e-books than conventional editions, that cheered me because, thanks to an ad I saw in LRB, I have discovered a new digital publisher. http://www.writersreadersdirect.com/home
I have placed some stuff with them, but they are looking for more. There are several categories they are interested in, including single short stories, and 'micro' collections of 5 short stories together. It struck me that some Oik contributors might be interested. Have a look.
All the best,

I'm a bit sceptical of Amazon's claims - they are, after all, trying to sell their atrocious Kindle. I think there probably is a fad right now among gadget freaks to stock up their new playthings with texts - texts they'll never read. I myself have a Sony Reader with over 450 vols on it - wrist-bending stuff like 20 novels by George Gissing, the complete à la recherche du temps perdu and the Goncourt Journal, Gibbon's Decline and Fall, many novels by Zola and Hardy. I'd never sit down and read this at home but I do take it on holiday (Ken! Surely a holiday is a chance to get away from all that shite?). The Reader relieves me of the chore of loading 450 books into my car boot. I think such Readers, invaluable if you're a book nut living in a broom cupboard in Camden, will settle down as a marginally useful ancillary product but will never replace the book. Of course Tom's discovery is flogging digital texts unavailable in any other format. You could read them on your computer or even print them out on paper. A great source for digital classic texts is at http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/ Well worth a look - all free too.


Searching for Raouls I come across Rauf (in this case Rauf Denktash the politico Turk). It struck me, recalling that Alexis Lykiard’s cat was called Raoul because of the noise it made that one might have also have a dog called Rauf for similar reasons. Imagine the two of them kicking off as you try and get into Beethoven’s Opus 131.

“Rauf!! Stop it this minute you noisy cur!”

Rauf: “Rauf! Rauf!!”

“And you Raoul! Stop that ridiculous caterwauling immediately!”

Raoul: “Raaaaooouuul! Raaaaoooouuul!!!”

Together: “Rauf!! Raaaooouul!! Rauf!! Raaaaaaoooouuuuul!”

"Christ! this doesn't happen in the Wigmore Hall!" 

On a more serious note we have tracked down the following Raouls:

Dufy – great French painter (1877 – 1953)
Wallenberger – Rescuer of Jews in Budapest during WWII
Housmann – Austrian artist (1886-1971)
Duke – Hunter Thompson’s fictional character from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Weil – Top banker at UBS
Bova – Italian film actor and hunk b.1971
Coutard – New wave French cinematographer b 1924
Vaneigem – Situationist French writer who wrote “Cry of the Invisible” among much else. He has also written: “There are more truths in twenty-four hours of a man's life than in all the philosophies.”
Walsh – Hollywood film director (1887-1980)
Glaber – Benedictine chronicler in Burgundy before 1000 AD
Servais – Animated film maker b 1928 Ostende
Pugno – 19C french pianist

But just who influenced Mrs Moat who famously declared her son “would be better off dead”? My money’s on Vaneigem.


Marie Feargrieve ponders a creative crux:

Whilst writing a piece of dialogue recently, between a husband and wife team, sort of salt of the earth characters, I began to wonder whether someone of my youngest child's age, which is twenty two, would actually understand what the conversation was about. It centred upon the time in the early sixties when a wholesale relocation programme began. Relocation of people that is, from the condemned streets of row upon row of terraced housing in the North West, to vast council housing estates of high rise flats, very often out in leafy Cheshire. The piece is in reality a humourous piece of writing but dealing with the grittier side of life. But if the younger generation didn't understand a lot of the social content then they wouldnt understand the humour either most likely. I suppose talk of the pigeon post, dumplings, outside nettys , whitewashing backyard walls and having troubles "down below", which peppers the dialogue, would sail over their heads. Anyways and any road up, it started to make me feel old writing this conversation between the two characters drawn straight from the Les Dawson school of humour. I must admit though the process had begun a little earlier, when my son had laughed loud and long when I said I could remember yoghurts hitting the shelves in the UK and salt and vinegar crisps making an appearance in addition to ready salted only. Oh  and I mustn't forget my daughter asking "Who is that"? when I spoke of Tommy Cooper recently. Yes indeed , a stage has been reached. I asked my parents the same question when they mentioned Sandy Powell and Flanagan and Allen! "Who?" So, I'm not happy with it at all. This  possibly explains why I'm finding it increasingly easy to get inside the head of irascible old farts, and as my son pointed out recently, "Be careful mum, I get to choose your care home"! 

I would encourage Marie to persevere with as accurate a recreation of the 50s as possible and make no concessions to lazy, smart-arse kids. What do they know? Nowt! What have they got to learn, principally through reading? Everything! Where would we be if Proust had thought "Better not lay it on too thick about the Duc de Guermantes ball, some poor fuck in Salford a hundred years from now won't know what I'm on about" The possible lacunae in the young reader's head are hardly conceptual - we're not asking for an understanding of string theory - they're simple concrete physical details easily picked up by anyone with half a brain - it's what novel reading is about - getting into a strange psychology with its semantics and jargon. It's like saying you can't enjoy Joyce's Dubliners coz it happened a hundred years ago somewhere else - or the stories of Shalamov coz you've never been in Gulag.

Your son should be disinherited for such a cruel crack. Oh - and the words "leafy" and "Cheshire" should never appear together.


I learn with horror and astonishment that a real person, not too unlike the egregious Godfrey Wheelwright in my piece Goodbye to Denmark Road, is very upset and imagines himself libelled. Litigation is threatened and I lie awake at night wondering if there is also at the faculty of music a professor, like Klunkert, who resents being called Ben Britten's bum boy and whether there really were members of the audience like my Wonder Woman who tied string round her partner's todger to limit insertion and even a bespectacled well-dressed invert who asked for his seat to be labelled "music-mad bum fucker".

I state publicly, here and now, that no such persons ever existed. They were all fictions springing from my rather overheated imagination as I staggered out of those great concerts and into the pub. Also the group the Lindsays comprising Peter Cropper, Ronnie Birks, Robin Ireland and Bernard Gregor-Smith bear no relation whatsoever to any real persons of this name and any similarities are entirely coincidental.

I'm sure this disclaimer will get me off the hook - but just to be on the safe side may I suggest that every Oik reader writes out a cheque for say £10,000 as a contribution to our defence fund. No, don't send it now let's see how things pan out. I'm sure potential litigants will be deterred by this information - and the knowledge that I am, in turn, in contact with Carter-Ruck apropos of a counter suit.

As a tailpiece to this I attach below a note from a more sympathetic reader of this piece. It comes via Oik contributor and marketing director Bob Wild. The contribution was in fact a tenner which goes straight into our fighting fund


We draw Oik readers' attention to a selection of texts on this topic from the famous Paris Review Interview series - in this case Vols 2 & 4 - although more will be added when I come across them. The texts are in the Workshop section (where else?) - Creative Writing Texts


Gerhart Hauptmann (1862 - 1946) Nobel Prize 1912 appears on the stall in a fine edition of the Gesammelte Werke in 8 vols. (1921) Printed in that spiky Gothic script which even Krauts have trouble with. But nevertheless..an exotic. I alert Eddy to this prize but know no punter will appear to offer him even a fiver. I don't want it either - not reading German but speculate on the famous Kraut Mancs who might have snapped it up - Ludwig Wittgenstein (Palatine Road) and Elias Canetti (Burton Road). There were three sets of Complete Works in 6, 8 and 12 vols - the latter, presumably being the most comprehensive.

Eddy seemed much more excited by four bottles of old brandy he'd copped in a recent house clearance. The labels alone must have been worth £5. Eddy wanted £10 / bottle. "I don't drink that shite Eddy" I said. "Me neither" he replied. But I'll bet by next week all these items - Hauptmann and the brandy will be gone. God knows where.



It's 12 years since I last went to the Festival. How things have changed! The floor plan in 1998 consisted of a bunch of small venues dotted around the city. They were essentially nighttime/ nightclub establishments and as well as being hard to find (although rewarding when you located them) they were operating at the wrong end of the day. Bats at noon. Now the axis of Manchester Jazz is a line stretching from the Bridgewater Hall at one end to Saint Anne's Square at the other, with the a pavilion and facilities neatly bisecting that line at Albert Square. This services the hordes of inevitable jazz tourists, but also feeds the jazz aficionados and troglodytes who make the Denmark Road crowd look like the Amish. I've listened to smooth nighttime jazz, Flamenco Fusion, Eclectic Fusion and even a little Pop Funk.I won't be waiting 12 years until the next visit. 

Brett Wilson 


Mark Elder, looking more like a homeopathy professor with each passing year, conducts the Australian Youth Orchestra. I'm not expecting any bald heads tonight. On the menu are a musical fantasy by Brett Dean, a selection of Mahler's Wonderhorn songs and Shostakovich Symphony No. 10. I often classify Shostakovich as one of those artists whose intention is to subvert. In this respect he is like Charles Ives and Kurt Weil. You are hearing something familiar, but changed somehow, like looking in one of those trick mirrors at the fair. Shostakovich often produces bare string textures (a small number of notes spread over a large harmonic range) which I now think of as characteristically Russian, much more than say the music of 'the five'. The youngsters take this challenge in their stride. Talking of texture, it is still remarkable to hear how the early Mahler explores the various instrument combinations. There is a wonderful recording in the EMI Recordings of the Century collection featuring Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with the LSO. There is also an extended account of Mahler's response to the Wonderhorn text as a primal emotional source in Alan Carr's excellent biography "The Real Mahler".Brett Dean explores the sound potential of the orchestra even further, at one point having a trumpet player play inside a tuba bell. The difficulty for the modern composer is finding those new textures with which to please the ear. This can partly be achieved by supplementing with novel instruments, but the major compartments of the orchestra reached the peak of their evolution 150 years ago. One further recommendation is the Bernard Haitink box set of the Shosta symphonies with the Concertgebauw /LPO. I first acquired the symphony in 1980 along with 200 odd other classical albums, responding to a private advert in the local paper. In those days I had no transportation and walked to most places. I ended up trudging up Lancashire Hill in Stockport with two huge bags of disks. I was immediately apprehended by the local rozers who drew up in a panda car. The two bags stuffed with LPs looked highly suspicious to them. They took one look at the contents and were on their way with a screech of rubber. I learned something new that evening. A criminal wouldn't be seen dead with a classical album.... 

Brett Wilson


This wasn't my first LP but among those treasured and expensive discs I started to accumulate in my teens. It's all on CD now of course but I was reminded of its hyper-romantic effects when I came across Frederic Spotts' strange account of its last performance in Berlin in April 1945 (see below). So I dug it out of the attic and thought William Mann's sleeve note well worth recycling too.

There are many stories about Anton Bruckner's simplicity: how he wooed a cafe waitress, and tipped the conductor of one of his symphonies, and went to a performance of Wagner's Parsifal but did not look at the stage at all. The picture is built up of a 'pure fool' (like Parsifal), and it is true that to the end of his life Bruckner remained modest, unworldly by the world's standards, a rustic at heart. These characteristics are reflected at certain moments in his music, but it must be understood straight away that in the art of composing music he was no fool of any sort. Bruckner was an able professional musician, a virtuoso organist with an international reputation, and a master of musical theory so knowledgeable that when he presented himself for a degree the examiners declared that he should be examining them.

It was not until he was thirty-eight, with a good number of organ pieces and sacred choral works to his credit (starting with a Pange Lingua written at the age of eleven), that Bruckner branched into orchestral composition. He completed a symphony which he subsequently disowned as a student work, then in 1865 began what we call his First Symphony; during the next ten years he completed six symphonies and three large Masses for choir and orchestra. One of these sym­phonies (written between the first and second) he also disowned and called it 'No. 0', though it is an interesting piece and has had some performances in modern times. There was a pause between 1875 and 1879 when the Sixth Symphony was started; the reason was Bruckner's discourage­ment at the hostile reception given to the Third Symphony. By 1894 Bruckner had completed his Ninth Symphony as far as the third movement; he never achieved the finale. During these years he continued to write church music and other works, including a beautiful string quintet. But his reputation rests on these nine great symphonies. Bruckner came from a village near Linz in Upper Austria, where his father was the schoolmaster. He grew up amid majestic scenery and among simple peasant folk. He helped on farms, and played the fiddle at local jollifications. He assisted at Mass, and played the organ; he remained devoted to the Roman Catholic faith all his life, and particularly to the abbey of St. Florian where he went as a pupil after his father's death. All of this became part of himself, and to these diverse experiences he returned again and again in his symphonies: to the vastness of God's world, and the majesty of His being; to the solemnity and splendour of the Baroque churches and cathedrals where He is worshipped; to the mystery of life and death; and also the cheerful lilt of Austrian dancers, the sturdy vigour of village revels and the cheerful freshness of the pretty peasant girls to whom Bruckner lost his heart many a time (but alas for him, he never married). When Bruckner's friends asked, as they often did, for a verbal clue into his symphonies, he would tell them stories (in more than one sense); it is better to listen to music without understanding, than to understand and then not listen. In the case of the fourth symphony Bruckner expounded a whole farrago of tales about knights and their damsels, in the manner of Weber's Konzertstlick in F minor. He withdrew this explanation later, quite rightly, because it does not work; the music tells us otherwise. At the beginning of the first movement the string tremolos and the horn solo do evoke, quite incontrovertibly, a deep forest, thick with tall leafy trees of great age—but even here I may be categorizing too much, on the evidence of personal experience. It is also generally agreed that the scherzo is connected with hunting horns and a hunt in days of old; but we do not have to agree that the trio section is lunchtime music for the resting huntsmen, even if Bruckner said so—it is simply a rather tranquil Landler. The finale is about bigger and more majestic things than a forest, however imposing; and this holds true for much of the first movement (from which the finale material derives). I would not say that these movements are about concrete, identifiable phenomena, but that they convince one as being inspired by the environment in which Bruckner grew up.

By a quirk of history Bruckner has always been associated with Wagner (whom admittedly he revered;—the connection with Mahler is historically tenuous and musically irrelevant). The fourth symphony does not sound any more like Wagner, though, than like Schubert or Beethoven. Donald Tovey who, unfashionably for his day, loved Bruckner was correct in acknowledging, fairly tentatively, that Bruckner's symphonies 'always begin with Rheingold harmonic breadths and end with Gotterdammerung climaxes', but the debt at this stage in Bruckner's career goes not much deeper; Bruckner's symphonic forms derive from Schubert's Great C major Symphony and from parts of Beethoven, and then from an intelligent aware­ness of music in general from Palestrina onwards, and of Austrian country life at a fairly sophisticated, and imaginatively philosophical level. He speaks in a vocabulary more classical than romantic for his time (the fourth symphony was written in 1874, the year that Boris Godunov was produced, and the year before Carmen; Verdi was writing Otello, Wagner Parsifal), and in a dialectical style that is all his own. Country people are content to wait ten minutes between sentences, and Bruckner takes a deep breath before starting a new paragraph; if the thought-connection is not immediately clear, it soon will be.

Like Mozart more than Haydn he discusses numerous ideas in his movements (the scherzo apart); Beethoven does not, Schubert does, and in Bruckner no idea goes to waste—you simply have to absorb the musical argument at Bruckner's tempo. The argument, or rather the agenda, proceeds differently in each symphonic movement, and again you have to admit the structure on its own terms, without reference to the methods of Beethoven or Brahms or any other composer, because the topics discussed are unique to Bruckner. They are relevant now, after eighty-five years (Bruckner completed his final revisions in 1880), because they are eternal verities, and because their simplicity is neither superficial nor naif, but real and pure—and therefore not so simple as one may believe on first acquaintance.

Note © William Mann, 1965.   '    WILLIAM MANN 

As a consequence of Hitler's obstinacy, major orchestras and operas continued, as recordings demonstrate, to proffer outstanding performances right to the end. It was near the end that the Berlin Philharmonic was involved in what must rank as the most grotesque episode in musical history. There was apparently a general understanding that when the Philharmonic's programme included Bruckner's Fourth Symphony that would be a signal that the final days of the Third Reich had come. The concert of 13 April included the work. As everyone left the hall they encountered uniformed members of the Hitler Youth at the exits passing out free cyanide capsules. 

Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics – Frederic Spotts Hutchinson 2002 p87


A raddled old trout with a spiky blonde thatch rummages on Eddy’s everything a quid table, picks out a battered paperback, wags it under Eddy’s nose and shouts raucously for all the old bookworms and students to hear: “I’ve got ten bob and I want change!” Well I suppose her best days were pre-decimal. Eddy pauses, his hand in a bag of crisps, “homemade” from a stall just up the street, and politely declines this offer. It strikes me, though, as an excellent ploy – all dealers have such tropes – eg “What’s your best price on this?” “I’m sure it’s worth it but my budget…”etc. One should know about these things. The rest of Eddy’s stock is unpriced and cynics might suggest he’s pricing you. Later I proffer Sokal’s Beyond the Hoax in hardback, as new, and on Amazon for £17 and repeat the mantra hopefully – yis, I’m probably the same vintage as the raddled old trout and I doubt Eddy’s ever heard of Sokal. But now, instead of a polite refusal or even a preparatory engagement in a haggle Eddy pronounces me a cheeky fuck and evil rich git intent on ripping off honest but poor book dealers. Propitiously, post-tirade, he offers me a crisp. Why does the maker use diesel when veg oil is so much cheaper I want to ask? I return the Sokal to the shelf. The Hauptmann set is still in the bay alongside it but the Gesammelte Werke of that boring old Nazi aren’t even worth ten bob with change – not to me at any rate. Eddy produces his new card. Does he, mutatis mutandis, survey the fine libraries for sale by distressed widows of academics and say “I’ve got ten bob and I want change”?


Eddy was reluctant to say just where he got the new plaque - my guess is that he was the unfortunate recipient of JC Cregan's last lobotomy.


Today Murray Perahia plays Beethoven. No, not live. Was it recorded last week? No, er.... it was 1989. It has been rumoured that Paul Lewis has strained his back (the publicists would be happy for us to believe that Paul was attempting a particularly tricky arpeggio, but I wonder if it wasn't due to him trying to shift a few flagstones in the garden? The scenario goes something like this:

"I need to practice darling."

"Again? You haven't bought me flowers for weeks, and what about those flagstones you promised to move a month ago?"

Like lightning Paul figures that the florists will be shut, and hefting a couple of paving stones will be a doddle....).

The BBC must dig something out of the archives. We also get a Barenboim master class. This is more interesting. The master's utterances have a ring of profundity but I wonder whether he is really such a deep thinker? Am I falling for the delivery, the deep conviction? Wasn't it ever so? I enter the two cycles of complete Beethoven sonatas as evidence. I already know what he is telling me. He just makes me believe it totally.

Brett Wilson


Piano playing can do your back in. Brendel complained about this a lot. Years before his retirement he announced he could no longer attempt Beethoven’s Op 106 Hammerklavier sonata – generally considered a demanding peak. Most musicians are horribly contorted, according to the practitioners of the Alexander technique. Cellists turn into crabs and just cop the cheeks on Dizzie Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. Woodwind can give you a quite distorted embouchure (look it up) of benefit only in music and perhaps the sex trade. I reckon the only safe instrument is percussion – but then again they say Keith Moon was a nice quiet lad before he joined The Who.

Yep, these people are saints and I was struck, at the recent Halle concert in Manchester at how young and virile the actual performers were in comparison with the geriatric relics in the audience. Looking down from my side circle perch I saw a sea of grey. I guess if you divided the average age of the audience by the average age of the orchestra the factor would be greater than 3. What a strange set-up. Energetic youngsters pandering to the demands of tired gerontocracy. One recalls the account of an obscure tribe in some south east Asian jungle shithole where tradition dictates that teenage girls suck the cocks of their impotent elders. And no, before you ask Brett, I don’t know exactly where this tribe lives, what’s the nearest airport or whether Thompsons do a package.

That Halle concert at which Paul Lewis played Beethoven’s third piano concerto was repeated exactly the following night at the Proms in London. Paul, Mark Elder and the entire Halle orch must have squashed in a minibus – possibly two – and flogged down to the smoke. I watched it on TV and found the experience quite odd. In the immortal words of football commentator John Motson it was déjà vu all over again. Well almost. The live sound is of course stupendous compared to what comes out of one’s TV speakers but the visuals – well, stuck there in your seat you miss the swoops and close-ups of the great cameraman. Best of all one would be a swallow or an owl flitting about the hall. And if one crapped on a punter's head it wouldn't even be visible.

I have Murray Perahia’s version of Beethoven’s third with Haitink – and a very fine performance it is – possibly the best ever.

I too found Barenboim on Beethoven opaque. It could interest only a pianist and told us more about Barenboim than Beethoven. Yes he is a fine performer but these protean works (the sonatas) are surely infinitely variable and who’s to say DB has the best take on them? I recommend Richard Goode’s set. Incidentally if you want a free education on this topic visit the Gramophone website http://www.gramophone.net/ and search their archive. The reviews are well worth exploring. But to return to Barenboim on Beethoven I think the fascination here is a typically oik trope – we love to hear two gigantic talents discussing their passion even though we know fuck-all about what they’re talking about. An earlier example would be the great Bryan Magee on a sofa nattering to Freddie Ayer about Frege and Russell. Great stuff! But two old farts on a sofa? It shouldn’t be possible on prime time TV. Well it no longer is I’m afraid – and don’t think it’s going to turn up on iplayer either – but riveting nevertheless (available in a book of course – but who reads these days)


Manchester is now a literary desert as well as an architectural one (musically it’s OK). Rapacious commercial greed has resulted in a centre devoid of great buildings. What’s left is frock shops and Poundlands epitomised by the vacuous Arndale looking like what it is (in the great Bauhaus tradition of functionalism) – a gigantic toilet - thanks to the shit coloured glazed bricks chosen to resist the soot-filled rain. There used to be good second-hand book shops – Gibbs in Moseley street, that weird one in Police Street, McGills down near the Uni and a rather good one in Wythenshawe but they’ve all gone – killed off by high rates. Morton’s limps on in Didsbury but is now a shrivelled appendix to a boutique for the latest blockbusters. The Central Reference library was rather good but now that’s closed for four years (!) for refurbishment. You could be dead before it opens again. A pale simulacrum, a dossers’ paradise with many plush benches but few books, occupies an office block on the corner of Lloyd street and Deansgate. I’ll say more on this later.

So thank Christ for Liverpool! (Yis it hurts to say it – but credit where it’s due). The architecture in the centre is superb and only a few yards away from St George’s Hall, the best neo-classical building in the country, and the fine buildings on William Brown street among which is the best gallery in England outside the capital – The Walker - is Bohn’s Bookshop. If you came out of Lime street station and turned left Bohn’s used to be only a few yards away. Now it’s moved round the corner to London Road (turn right out of the station). The old joke was if the pavement was crowded you just had to shout “Stop thief!” and everyone would break into a run.


Bohn’s is strong on lit, history, philosophy and recorded music. In the front window is Heidegger’s Being and Time, Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, the best edition of the Complete Works of Aristotle edited by Jonathan Barnes (Julian’s brother), good editions of early Nietzsche and the Collected Works of Kurt Godel. Inside there’s more weird stuff - eg JP Stern’s book on Lichtenberg – only two left on Amazon for £30 a piece. Lichtenberg thought the fact that a cat’s eyes lined up with the holes in its fur was certain proof of the existence of God. (Yis – he was joking).

Bohn himself  – we’ll call him that since he’s been there for ages but may not be Bohn – is a spare, scraggy genius of about 50. (see pic below right) He’s usually rabbiting rapidly in scouse to an equally erudite punter on some arcane aspect of musicology. One old fart tried to interest him in his collection of 450 78s. Wagner seems to be a passion although when I was last there he tossed off the apercu that whereas Mozart’s complete works could be got on say 60 CDs the complete works of Handel would require 200 plus. Later when someone handed him a Lehar he exclaimed “Ah! Hitler’s favourite composer” And so it was, as I learned only last week from Frederic Spotts' book (see above on Bruckner). Adolf was a Wagner fan, everybody knows that, but who knows that after Stalingrad he played only Lehar? The Merry Widow was his constant consolation in those dark days – what a schmuck!


Bohn has many trays of CDs – sorted and stacked on tables on both floors (the new Bohn’s is a duplex unlike his old gaff). I declined to wade through them all but found a rarity – Shostakovich’s symphonies 1, 2 & 3. No 1 is often played and recorded but 2 and 3 are single movement propaganda squibs perhaps justly neglected. Another oddity was a pile of home made CDs and DVDs in those 100 disc tubs. Some pirate must have died. There could have been 2 or 3000, each titled in felt tip. Liverpool is a pirate home port. Digitalpromo at Aintree, http://www.digitalpromo.co.uk/ a somewhat unprepossessing unit on a dingy industrial estate sells everything the pirate could want – blank discs, burners, cases, printers. All legit of course. The cheeky sods even used to have a website logo incorporating a Jolly Roger. Can Bohn legally sell these things? I doubt if plod could be bothered to check, or hang about while he lectured them on the best Beethoven quartets – this is Liverpool after all.

Post Bohn stagger over to the Walker and see the next Oik’s cover in Room 2 of Medieval and Renaissance art – a quiet, rarely visited, backwater containing a few Veroneses, a Michelangelo drawing, a Bellini and the tapestry inter alia. For a bite head back to Hope street – The Side Door for haut cuisine or the Philharmonic pub for the most decorative toilets you’ve ever seen. Yis, Liverpool. Sometimes you get that feeling you get in France – this is how it used to be years ago, why did we let it disappear?