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Boxing clever

Black Box Recorder are welcomed into the ring by Neil Davenport

'We did not intend it', says John Moore, 'but some people have picked up on us as the antidote to New Labour. It was never conscious, but we did start our first album on the day Britain was rebranded'. Moore (ex-Jesus and Mary Chain), Luke Haines (singer with The Auteurs) and Sarah Nixey (china doll vocals) are Black Box Recorder, a sharp trio who draw blood from the sensitive skin of New Britain.

Their debut, England Made Me, is 37 minutes of stripped-down guitar pop: sparse but glowing with tenderness and biting wit; totally out of kilter with the excessive emotionalism displayed elsewhere. 'Maybe it's because we are older', says Moore. 'But we got that out of our system a long time ago. You are supposed to make a deep, dark record about your tortured soul. The problem with bands like Radiohead and The Verve is that they are supposed to be saying a lot, but they have very little to say.'

With its title taken from a Graham Greene novel, the Black Box Recorder album is intended as 'a detached look at the good and bad things which have shaped us'. That includes an examination of self-pity, which Luke Haines sees as a 'pathetic' English disease: 'What do we have now? Self-pitying footballers and self-pitying football fans. It's getting worse.' Haines is unimpressed by Blur's Damon Albarn and his pronouncements in favour of Britain's post-Diana emotionalism. 'He always gets it wrong, doesn't he? Lovely lad, I'm sure.'

Moore and Haines may not see their work as a premeditated response to New Labour's instinct for interfering; and England Made Me is autobiographical rather than polemical. But one track, 'Ideal home', captures the tension between family life and officially sponsored suspicion. 'It is also about how frail English life has become', says Moore, 'overshadowed by the fear that we are living on the brink of disaster. I'm not saying child abuse should not be addressed, but there is too much welfare intrusion. It has created a whole new layer of mistrust between people'.

As a sometime importer of the illicit drink absinthe, it is not surprising that Moore champions individual freedom. 'It is up to the individual to decide what's not good for them. If absinthe was legalised people might not like it. But at least they should have the chance to try it.'

Black Box Recorder, not to be confused with Black Box; but definitely right on time.

Neil Davenport is a Manchester-based music journalist

Signs of the times

'I could have paid off my debts a lot quicker, but I only did the things I actually believed in myself, like Cranberry Juice Lite'
The Duchess of York on not selling out

'I made a decision: national service or not, I'm stopping this. I saw what lunacy it was and apologised to the frogs'
Sir Paul McCartney, of 'Frog chorus' fame, recalls how he killed frogs in
preparation for doing his national service. ('If I couldn't kill a frog, how was I going to bayonet a man?')

'This is not a plant'
TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh, upon picking up a bra hurled at him by a female fan during a book reading

'There's no fucker here big enough to give me a red card!'
Robert Davy, after being warned that he would be carded for his sexist remarks during a TV show about women footballers

'If people see my book and I sober one person up, I've won'
Tony Adams. (But Tony, your face has been doing that for years)

'This is a sleepy spot and is on the pilgrim trail in west Wales. It's not the sort of place where you would expect to find orgies'
Resident of Nevern, commenting on the Garden of Eden naturist club run by retired major Roger Brett. An advertisement advised female clients: 'Ladies should not wear knickers unless they are prepared to leave them in the trophy room on departure'


Will they let me put 'cunt' on the cover?

The success of people like Irvine Welsh has changed the publishing industry. He has made a certain kind of content acceptable which was not acceptable before. We can all thank him for that. But tied in with it there is an increasing conservatism within the publishing industry.

What might be described as sex and violence is now widespread in books, not just art books; but there is a much greater resistance to fiction that is not linear, that wants to experiment with form. In this respect publishing is far more conservative now than it was 30 years ago. It does not seem to know where it is going, except towards narrowing its range.

There is an assumption that readers are basically stupid. There are still gatekeepers out there: lazy editors, intellectually, who assume that if they cannot deal with something, nobody else can. My next novel, to be published by Do Not Press in the spring, is called Cunt because it is narrated by a cunt in search of a cunt. But the word 'cunt' is very problematic for a lot of publishers and it was difficult for me to find one who would take it, although none of them would say it was because of the title. It remains to be seen whether I get it on the cover. There is no point pretending that you have absolute autonomy, because if you never encounter resistance from the industry all you can be doing is replicating whatever already exists.

I have had editors remove derogatory references made by one of my fictional characters about a Robert McCrum novel, because they assumed that my book and their other books would not get reviewed in the Observer. One publisher insisted that I could not have a character carrying a landmine in a Tesco's carrier bag, because they would be sued by Tesco's.

The destiny of the counterculture is to become over-the-counterculture, and the attempt to create some aura of authenticity around it is completely tedious because anybody who is desperate for authenticity is clearly lacking in it. To have a mainstream you need a margin and to have a margin you need a mainstream, and neither of these applies in the publishing world today.

Three-quarters of the anthology which I recently edited is fast-paced satire; then there is some more experimental work, and John Barker's piece is the slow number in the set. It is a highly distinctive anthology because it is not afraid of being intelligent, unlike most of the publishing industry today.

Stewart Home, novelist and skinhead Hegelian, is the editor of Suspect Device: hard-edged fiction (Serpent's Tail, £9.99)

Stewart Home


Digital dreams come true

'Technology is normally spoken of in the future tense, but all our exhibits are very real, even the ones at the prototype stage. The future is now.' Gary Stewart is the curator of High Definition, the shop window for British digital design which travels to Korea and Brazil in 1999 after its initial showing in Hong Kong. Stewart does not look like a techno-geek. Born in Birmingham of Jamaican parentage, he worked in the Munich recording studio used by Giorgio Moroder, before moving on to ARTEC (the Arts Technology Centre in Islington) and inIVA (the International Institute for Visual Arts) where he is currently head of multimedia projects.

He may not look like one, but Stewart is so enthusiastic about his innovatory exhibits that he can begin to sound a little techie:

'There are 82 elements, that's hardware and software, broken down into four areas: living, leisure, learning and creativity. Among these I do have favourites. I like the µ-FI because it's beginning to cause panic in the music industry. It's a small personal music system which stores music from the internet or CD on to a tiny card, hardly thicker than a credit card. You surf the net, find a piece of music and download it on to your µ-FI and you get perfect hi-fi quality . In the past when people have spoken about breaking the stranglehold of the mega-music corporations, it has usually meant downloading some dodgy, screechy-sounding internet music. But because of the special compression involved the quality is not compromised in any way. It could mean a radical shift in the personal consumption of music, since it will allow independent record labels to bypass large music companies.

'Of the ones with the six or seven-figure budgets, the Orange videophone is like a fat wallet which opens up in the palm of your hand. If you are using it and there is a call waiting, a little icon flashes in the corner of the LCD screen. You drag down the icon and it covers up the person you are speaking to reveal the image of waiting caller. There is the facility for Yellow Pages-type enquiries where you will get tiny movie clips. It is due for release in about 18 months' time.

'The Visual Control System by Ferranti has grown out of fighter-pilot technology, and it is initially being developed for advertising research. You wear a tiny headband from which tiny LED sensors are directed towards your eyes. These track eye movement and instantaneously move the cursor on a computer screen precisely to the point you are looking at. It will be used to gauge people's reactions as they go down an aisle at the supermarket or to billboard ads on the street. In the long term there are possibilities of it being adapted for computer games, medical teaching and research as well as sports training.'

Will we get extra loyalty points for wearing one of these round Tesco's? Is this where cyber-utopia flips over into a dystopia of super-surveillance? Who knows? But at least the development of digital technologies extends the range of possibilities. And in these days of technophobia it is refreshing to hear from somebody like Gary Stewart who wants the future to be here now.


Pervaiz Khan

Reproduced from LM issue 116, December 1998/January 1999



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