used to be with it but then they changed what it was. Now what I'm
with isn't it and what it is scares and confuses me."
Back Then, when Xero was blowing his saxophone for hundreds of people in Leeds City Centre intermittent drizzle every Saturday, Then was the Age of Thatcher, Reagan, the Evil Empire, the Berlin Wall, and Mutually Assured Destruction.
Now is the Age of Bush and Bliar and Osama and Saddam.
is the Age of Globalisation – a euphemism for the ever harder
sell of the G8’s Corporate Giants - you WILL buy our dumbed
down culture, our weapons and our genetically modified organisms, or
also the Age of Terror - apparently - as a Tool to keep us all Full of Fear
and in our places.
This is the end of the Age of Oil - We are
witnessing the last gasping emphysemic breaths of the fossil fuel
Age of the Greenhouse is upon us. The Sea is lapping at the end
of the Street. Maybe it's time to Head for the Hills?
Ronald Reagan has shuffled
off stage left, and Margaret Thatcher has already joined him in
her idyllic dementia. There she is, falling back into his arms just
like in the mocked-up poster for "Gone with the Wind"
which Rani sent me in the early Eighties. "She promised
to follow him to the end of the earth...He promised to organise
it !"... and the mushroom cloud.
The Berlin Wall - so prominent,
so seemingly permanent a symbol of the "divide and rule"
Evil Empire propaganda of the mid-nineteen eighties - is no more,
except as highly collectible slabs of concrete dotted all over the
world. The Cold War stand off of Mutually Assured Destruction ended
when Mikhail Gorbachev foresaw the imminent bankruptcy of his nation
- or the imminent destruction of the whole Earth - and chose to
blink first. The people of the Eastern Bloc soon chose to leave
the impoverished Soviet Socialist fold and head West towards long
dreamt of material riches.
Such changes could never
have been predicted at the height of the Nuclear Madness when Xero
was to be seen and heard busking in Dortmund Square on the Headrow
In December 1984, three
months before "Shove It!" was recorded, in the middle
of a Europe bristling with primed nuclear weaponry, I went with
my Hungarian friend Kovacs, Margit to see the movie Ghandi at the Uranus
Cinema in Budapest. I had heard of Citizen Diplomacy and thought
it sounded like a grand idea, so I embarked on my own personal
diplomatic mission behind the Iron Curtain. The bonus for me was
that Margit and her Kovacs family and her many friends were so welcoming and such
a joy to drink, eat, joke and philosophise with.
Towards the end of the
film Ghandi is sitting on a wall by the Indian Ocean chatting with Walker,
the American reporter. “One should feel another’s woes
as one’s own” he says, with Magyar subtitles. I looked around in the dark and
tried to truly understand the intense sadness etched into the faces
of people who were anything but free, and who could hardly dare
to dream of being so. The last time they had tried to stand up to
their oppressors, in 1956, they had been brutally crushed, like
so many insects. Their resistance had had to become infinitely more
subtle, saved for private moments among true friends.
But the people sat around me in the cinema may well have been given
some hope by the Mahatma's words at the very end of the movie. As
his ashes are being scattered on the River Ganges, his words ring
out, loud and clear: "Tyrants and murderers will always fall".
Words which echoed, I am sure, in many of our minds as we filed
silently out into the freezing December evening in downtown Pest, all of our breaths turning to identical clouds of vapour.
I remember stopping and contemplating the Orwellian “Freedom
Monument”, floodlit on Gellert Hill high above the city and
wondering how the situation could ever possibly change.
But change it did. I have returned once more since then, soon after
the fall of the Wall and on that occasion saw advertising already
beginning to spread like the most virulent virus alive. BMWs Mercs
and Volvos had replaced Ladas and Trabbies as status symbols. Satellite
dishes were sprouting on rooftops where Red Stars once perched, and
fast food chains were replicating like the most malignant of cancerous
growths. I saw people dressed in clothes with a snappier cut and
shops selling Western designer labels but I don’t recall seeing
over the rainbow
the dreams that you dare to dream
do come true.
I'll wish upon a star
wake up where the clouds are far
troubles melt like lemon drops
above the chimney tops
where you'll find me.
over the rainbow
fly over the rainbow.
then, oh why can't I?"
Over The Rainbow"
Music by Harold Arlen; Lyrics by E.Y.Harburg
here would be a curse. You can feel it coming though - the suburbs
are slowly but surely taking over the old potato farms, cow pastures
and banana plantations. Even the wetlands are being drained and
There are more timber
and mud-brick homes around here, but the brick veneereal plague
is still rampant. Around town you see more and more faces you don't
recognise as all of these people cotton on to the fact that they can have their cake and eat it. They are able to
live here in this rural idyll, far from the tall buildings and leaden
air of the big city and still make a decent living in this town
with no traffic lights.
This is no longer a Backwater.
With the Information Age, you can as easily live here and work as
in some inner city rabbit hutch. Even when telecommuting isn’t
an option, many are choosing to trade economic wealth for health
and happiness. A strange demographic has resulted. This is Gumbayngirr Land but it's become populated by various waves of invaders. A lot of the
original European settlers' families who took their land are still around. And now these two groups have been joined
by a younger, more cosmopolitan mob - people who have arrived here
from all points of the compass, from all over the globe, drawn by
some common vision of Eden Revisited. They call this "the Rainbow
Region". But there is a sadness, a tangible grief permeating
When I first arrived in
town, I made the comment to my mate Bill that it was so green and
fertile around here, and that it felt reassuringly similar to parts
of the UK. Now Bill is a Deep Ecologist. My throwaway remark caused
him to bite my head off – and, looking back, quite rightly
so. He explained that before the arrival of the white settlers,
all of this land had been sub-tropical rainforest: the "Big
Scrub" - cared for diligently by the traditional owners and
home to mind bogglingly diverse flora and fauna. Bill is a man who
proudly wears a feral cat skin hat like Davey Crocket and, over
a few schooners down at The Federal, argues vociferously for the
eradication of the wild horses from the nearby National Park.
blue crane fishing in Cooloola’s twilight
Has fished there longer than our centuries
He is the certain heir of lake and evening,
And he will wear their colour till he dies.
I’m a stranger, come of a conquering people
I cannot share his calm, who watch this lake,
Being unloved by all my eyes delight in,
And made uneasy for an old murder’s sake.
dark-skinned people who once named Cooloola
Knew that no land is lost or won by wars,
For earth is spirit: the invaders’ feet will tangle
In nets there and his blood be thinned by fears.
at noon and ninety years of age,
My grandfather was beckoned by a ghost,
A black accoutred warrior armed for fighting
Who sank into bare plain, as now into time past
White shores of sand, plumed reed and paper bark
Clear heavenly levels frequented by crane and swan
I know that we are justified only by love,
But oppressed by arrogant guilt, have room for none.
walking on clean sand among the prints
Of bird and animal, I am challenged by a driftwood spear,
Thrust from the waters and, like my grandfather
Must quiet a heart accused by its own fear.”
by Judith Wright
Once a year, the annual
Global Carnival turns this little village into a rainbow coloured
tent city. This happens just as the warm spring air moistens and
as thunder begins to rumble around the valley in the late arvo.
It starts to feel like summer is already in the air. The night time
frogs and cicadas build to ever more deafening crescendos as a multicultural
tidal wave swamps the place. We settle in for a long Labour Day weekend
of all manner of Global music, dance, food and culture.
is the highlight of our year - A time to kick back, to wander
around the leafy Showground enjoying a smorgasbord of sensory delights, right here on our very doorstep.
West Papuan tribal performers,
Lantern parades, massive papier mache insects on stilts, wild high
wire and trapeze acts, Cuban dance bands, Jewish Klezmer groups,
Hungarian Gypsy dance troupes, a tent bazaar full of colourful clothing,
hand-made jewellery and other crafts, herbal highs and delicious
gourmet delights from all over the Planet.
In the afternoon sun,
the atmosphere is relaxed. The higher energy acts are on in the
evening. Now is a good time for “snacking” and wandering
around the marquees, sampling the musical deli on offer. You might
like to check out the tent of the Gyuto Monks from Tibet to see
where they are up to with the Sand Mandala that they've been making
all weekend. They're about two-thirds of the way to creating their
A bit of a buzz has built
up about some guy doing a one man show called "Knocking On
Kevin's Door" and crowds of eager people are making their way
to the Bazaar Stage to get a good seat. I arrive at the marquee
to join an audience that resembles a bunch of kids waiting for the
Christmas Panto to start. I am glad of a breather, soaking up the
atmosphere. My mind is wandering. I gaze into space and am aware
of an ocean of friendly faces. Rani is over there chatting with
friends, Ella and Will are off wandering around with their respective
teenage mates - occasionally gravitating towards their parents when
money, food and/or a hug are needed.
I realise that I have
tears rolling down my cheeks, tears that come from somewhere beyond
grief and joy. I am simultaneously feeling both intense happiness and intense sadness and, oh I don't know, it might be a guy thing from all of those childhood years of just being told to not be a cry-baby, to just "suck it up", but it
feels as if a tsunami might be about to be unleashed. Suddenly conscious of
the swelling numbers around me, I try to "suck it up" and surreptitiously wipe my eyes with
the sleeve of my shirt. The guy with the shaven head, black
T-shirt and black jeans setting up on stage looks somehow familiar.
A year after I emigrated
I got a letter from Xero. Every now and then I come across it and inevitably feel that same weird combo of immense Sadness at the loss of a friend and of unbridled Gladness - a thankfulness
for having had the pleasure of knowing him....of having been, like so many, inspired
etc etc etc etc
See....... A letter! Haven’t been able to write for a while
because the old problem came back. Had to have another operation,
this time in London. I’m now a reformed character, no meat,
fish, dairy produce, eggs, alcohol, smoking, keep fit, the whole
Talking of whom, they’re fit and we’ve just started
rehearsing again after a month’s lay-off.
Things sound nice in Australia, send us the money, we’d love
to visit.....it’s grey skies, nothing but grey skies here.
Sally is well and gets more beautiful by the hour. She’s become
vegan as well, and is responsible for saving my life (really - it
was as bad as that.) Paul and Celia are getting married on the 23rd
of May. We’re playing at it. We seem to have
started a fashion. It’ll be kids next. Hope all is well with
you and yours.
P.S. I’ve finally got a bass clarinet and it’s wonderful.”
I wish I could hear him play it, just once.
at the Global Carnival, waiting for Kevin, I am keenly feeling my mortality.
I have just, in the last few days, received my first MOT or Pink
Slip from the doctor following my own scare a year before. I am Roadworthy! Last year, before the Diagnosis, Rani had
been wondering for quite some time as to why I had been behaving so oddly, going
off the handle for the slightest of reasons. Feeling that my health
was falling apart at the seams, I finally got around to seeing our family doctor.
Within twenty-four hours I was lying back at the Radiologist's watching,
with rising dread, an ultra-sound of my scrotum. There was a round
object inside my testicle which definitely should not have been
there. I'd had a check up seven years before but at that time I was
assured that what I had was a benign cyst.
" What you need to keep an eye out for is a hard marble-like
lump inside your testicle" the radiologist had informed me
back then. And now here I was...with a hard marble-like lump deep
inside my testicle. It had been sore, and for weeks, months even,
I'd had this dragging sensation in my groin. But I'd put it down
to a football-related strain and had done what most men do - tried
to put it out of my mind.
Ultimately, as the discomfort
turned to an ache and then to an acute pain, there was no avoiding
this one. Within two hours I was sitting - with Rani beside me,
my own absolute Rock - hearing the doctor tell us that a CT scan
was necessary the next day, but that a prognosis of testicular cancer
was almost certain, and that the only way to deal with it was to
have a “radical orchiectomy”. I'd never heard of one
before, but I had a pretty good idea what one was.
A few weeks of hanging
around hospitals ensued, with the mainly elderly and worryingly
infirm. The radical orchiectomy went as planned - they only took
one of my testes, and they did it with such a tiny incision in my
abdomen that I was back at home within twenty four hours of the
op. The Doctors all advised me just how fortunate I was. After telling
me the Bad News, each and every one of them reassured me and passed
on the Good News - if I was to have cancer, this was definitely
the one to have. And if I was to have testicular cancer, this
was the least metastatic one to have. My Inner Homer was doing an
internal jig and going "WOO HOO!".
They reassured me that
testicular cancer is eminently treatable and that 95% of men survive.
Still, that does leave the 5% who don't - and while the odds were
encouraging, this was still straying much closer to Misadventure
than I ever normally did. My G.P., my Consultant Urologist,
my Oncologist and my Radiologist (and you know it's fairly
serious when you've got one of each of them) all advised me to go
to Sydney for a dose of preventive radiotherapy. They told me that
they knew from empirical data that my percentage chances of survival
were greatly increased if I did so as this particular type of tumour
was very responsive to such a blast.
At the Royal North Shore,
as my "initiation" I had a pinprick tattoo on my solar
plexus to show the radiologists where to aim each time. It reminded
me of the indelible lines, dots and crosses that Xero had marked
on his cranium for his doses of radio. As I was being tattooed,
I enjoyed a little chuckle when I recalled him sitting there shaking
his head to see if he could feel or hear the brain fluid that he
had been assured was sloshing around inside.
I remembered him telling
me that he found it somewhat disconcerting when all of the nurses
and technicians scurried out of the room and hid behind thick lead
doors as he was about to be zapped. I suddenly felt that self-same
unease. In the early Eighties, we had marched in London with a million
other peaceniks to demonstrate against things Nuclear and here I
now was - relying on the stuff to save my life - or at least to
provide me with “belt and braces” as our family doctor
KNOW MORE ABOUT CANCER?
PAY LESS TAX AND CONTRIBUTE SOME MUCH NEEDED CASH?
There is an underground
aquifer beneath me right now, a Great Artesian Basin of Relief at having a Life back again (for however long
it might be - none of us can know). It is finding its way through
subterranean cracks and fissures and is causing copious tears to flow
as I sit at the Global Carnival. I am eagerly soaking up the atmosphere
and waiting for "Kevin" to get started. The crowd is by
now quite large and expectant. A raucous mob of Black Cockatoos
is wheeling around over the showground, cawing maniacally and primevally.
Some fiddle-dee-dee Celtic melodies drift on the breeze from a far marquee.
Extremely enticing food
smells waft across from the Bazaar, but before I can even think
about scurrying over there for a bite to eat I realise
that something is happening on the stage. A roadie, the guy with
the black jeans and T-shirt and shaven head is wandering around
the set, testing mikes with the perennial
"one-two testing two-one-two".
He has a solid chin and
is wearing shades. As he tinkers with the instruments on the stage,
he occasionally laughs to himself and when he laughs he has a way
of baring his teeth that is so incredibly reminiscent of Xero.
He plays a succession
of percussion instruments left lying around and with each one he
uses digital delays to create repeating patterns. The rhythms he
thus creates build, layer upon layer, until they sound like a Balinese
Gamelan orchestra. He then picks up a mike stand and proceeds to
blow down it. Everyone within earshot is gob-smacked when the sound
it creates is that of the most hauntingly beautiful clarinet.
Subsequent tunes have
him playing a variety of wind instruments over his own textured
rhythms: drink bottles, jawharp, ocarina and perspex clarinet. These
are without doubt the most sublime sounds to have graced the showgrounds
in the five years of Global Carnivals thus far - at times jarring,
at times wistful music that echoes around the valley. The sun is
now disappearing, the eye of the day blinking shut. A palette of
pinks and purples, peaches and oranges stretches across a very big
sky. The flying foxes are performing their staggered take-offs and
the fullest of full moons is beginning to rise from the Pacific
We are almost at the end
of the set, and I am feeling as confused as can be. The
games he plays, the music he makes could so easily be Xero. The
way he laughs to himself, the sly grins, the mischief. If this man
is not Xero Slingsby, then he is his long lost twin brother, separated
at birth. Or - a multitude of totally insane possibilities race
through my mind - did Xero not die after all? Did he in fact
get well and emigrate to Australia under an assumed identity, ending
up in Kin Kin - which, according to the programme notes, is where
this particular performer hales from? Then I remember the imagination
enhancing cookie I ate with my coffee a while back, and come to
I remember hearing tell of a benefit gig for Xero at The Astoria
in Leeds. I was told that it was attended by hundreds of friends
and admirers, everyone immensely saddened by the sight of Xero in
a wheel chair. He was by then living in a hospice and in a bad way,
by all accounts. The night at The Astoria sounds to have been very
special, the sadness transformed into an unforgettable celebration
of his life. Being part of that was an experience that deeply touched
those who were there. I guess that if I had been
there myself and seen Xero in his final days then I would not have
dreamt up such patently ridiculous flights of fantasy.
Still, Kevin's resemblance
to Xero is quite uncanny. Another of his tunes involves the use
of gaffer tape and digital wizardry to create a bass line, an extraordinary
feat which I could easily imagine Xero performing. It is as if Xero, if not physically present, is at least there in the ether. Kevin holds the black tape taut
between his teeth and his thumb and plucks it to create a woody
double bass. With some added percussion he creates his own rhythm
section. For his final number he once again picks up his clarinet,
and using the loops, he creates more interwoven, silken sounds.
This very bassy clarinet echoes around the valley, summoning up ancient
spirits, reverberating deep into the black volcanic soil and wafting
away, along with the fruit bats, into the cyan sky.
The audience, at first
awe struck, takes a second to respond before erupting into wild
applause and much screaming for more. The figure centre stage sticks
one piece of black tape to either side of his bald head, looking
for all the world like a play on Xero's twin scars. He grins that grin, humbly
thanks everyone, and disappears - to the accompaniment of digitally
repeating fart noises. The pressing festival schedule precludes
any encores, but he is on in the festival cafe tomorrow night, and
I will make sure I am there nice and early. I've got a funny feeling
that someone else will be there too....unseen.