Malcolm Bennett (1958—2015)

11037259_10155304221805537_6979467799283668912_nI was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the sudden and premature death of my friend the writer Malcolm Bennett. Normally I would be pleased to receive an email from Mally’s friend and manager Nigel Proktor. It might contain the offer of doing a London warm-up with Mally before he went off on tour, or—as I had been hoping—to take part in an event or two around publication of the promised new book, but not this time. Instead I shall be joining Mally’s family and his many friends at Honor Oak Crematorium in South London, to give him a send-off, and to celebrate his life and work.

Photo: Gaynor Perry

Photo: Gaynor Perry

Sadly it took the death in 2009 of journalist and poet Steven Wells (a.k.a. Swells or Seething Wells), another larger-than-life veteran of the 1980s spoken word scene, for me to meet Mally in the first place. I had just come off the stage at the Monarch in Camden, where I was reading at a memorial event for Swells when Mally came over and introduced himself. Dressed in full ‘man in black’ mode—with wide-brimmed gaucho hat and silver-topped cane—he cut quite a dash, but I knew exactly who he was.

+Book_Brute!_300dpi_CMYK2Bennett and Aidan Hughes’s Brute! had been a real gem in the 1980s. Whether in the style press or the Sphere paperback (the two incarnations that I knew of at the time) Brute! was immediately visually arresting. Aidan Hughes’s art work combined comic strip and expressionist illustration styles with film noir schlock and social realist triumphalism. Bennett’s prototypical flash fictions are written in a style (‘wood speak’) that combines tabloid hyperbole and pulp cliché to create precise and witty haiku—figuratively speaking—of violence and double-entendre.

+Job_Blitz_300dpi_RGBBrute! created a new kind of self-conscious pulp aesthetic that was as original as it was influential.

Looking back, Brute! was also clearly a harbinger of the 1990s “avant-pulp” scene, to use author Jeff Noon’s term (in turn enthusiastically adopted by Steven Wells), which manifested first in the early novels of Stewart Home and Victor Headley, and which also had roots, like Brute!, in the energy of live literature. It is a small point (literally), but the exclamation mark on the title of my debut novel Road Rage! from that period is directly traceable to Bennett’s “classified pulp nasties”—OFFICIAL!

Malcolm Bennett (R), Aidan Hughes (L) at the Brute! launch, Cafe Munchen 1987. Photo: Richard Watt.

Malcolm Bennett (R), Aidan Hughes (L) at the Brute! launch, Cafe Munchen 1987. Photo: Richard Watt.

Incidentally, I was never completely sure at the time whether it was Swells or Malcom Bennett who first used this parodic exclamation of verbal authoritativeness. I had come to associate ‘the O word’—OFFICIAL!—with Swells’s pronouncements, but looking back I think that it was only used by him in homage to Malcolm and to Brute!

When Steven Wells was planning his own Attack Books! project—a roster of new and strikingly designed avant-pulp novels published under his imprint in 1999—he would frequently cite Brute! and Bennett as formative influences. Bennett was in prison at this time, and Swells visited him, at least partly, as I understood it, to see if he would be interested in writing a novel for Attack. In those days when it was not yet forbidden to send books to prisoners in the UK, Swells had also taken it upon himself to supply Mally with reading-matter. I was really honoured when Mally told me at the Monarch that night that he had particularly loved the opening chapter of a novel of mine—a police satire entitled CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO—that Swells had given him in manuscript, pre-publication form.

Mally_flyerMally and I stayed in touch after our meeting at Swells’s memorial gig, and we quickly hatched plans to do some events together. First off was a London warm-up in Shoreditch’s tiny Three Blind Mice bar, before he went off to do a festival in Ireland. It was a great night; the best fun. Mally was reading from a new collection I,BRUTE! and he was on brilliant, deadpan form, hilarious and charismatic, and he had the audience eating out of his hand before, during and after the gig. What a charmer! THE END.

BennettI have another reason to be grateful to Mally, because in the run up to that gig he asked if I would include a reading from CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO in my set. I demurred. Here was a novel that had originally been written to satirise the institutionally racist convulsions of an alienated, pre-Macpherson Report Metropolitan Police force, but I hadn’t read from CHARLIEUNCLE… live since it had gone out of print when publisher Codex had closed down nearly a decade before. But Mally wasn’t taking no for an answer. At a subsequent gig we did at the Gladstone in Borough he warmly and candidly introduced CHARLIEUNCLE… as something that had meant a great deal to him when he was locked up. It was the best, most heart-felt intro I have ever had. What higher praise could there be?

After that, whenever Mally came to one of my book launches or readings, he’d always say, more or less, Yeah yeah, love it, Tone, but it’s not CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO! When are you gonna do CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLK-fucking-TANGO again?

Photo: Gaynor Perry

Photo: Gaynor Perry

I emailed Mally just a month or two ago to see if we could line up anything for this year, and to let him know that I’d be reading from CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO again at the October Gallery, for the events programme that was running alongside their then William S. Burroughs exhibition.

“I’ll be there, Tone,” he replied. “Can’t wait!” Then, recalling a notorious incident at the One World International Poetry Festival in Amsterdam in the early 1980s, he asked,

How come I never do this stuff? Y’know, I BLEW Burroughs off the stage at One World. So much so that he tried to stop the after show party because everyone was ignoring him to talk to me. And then Gregory Corso [said] I’d ‘upset’ Bill by being ‘better’ than him and therefore had no respect. But am I invited to be a part of a Burroughs thing? NO!

The story is typical Malcolm Bennett, a reminder both of his swagger and his vulnerability.

My thoughts and sympathies at this sad time are with Mally’s family, and his nearest and dearest. For myself, I will miss Mally’s vivid presence and his occasional rants, bumping into him on Borough High Street, his friendship and support.

I am gutted that we cannot perform together again. Life certainly is a BRUTE, and that’s OFFICIAL! (And with Steven Wells and Malcolm Bennett both gone, who, now, is left to say that?)

Photo: Gaynor Perry

Photo: Gaynor Perry

Panel Beating #7 — The Cenotaph Project and the public sphere, in Belfast

Stuart Brisley, The Cenotaph Project, 1987-91, Installation (with Maya Balcioglu). Image: Maya Balcioglu.

Stuart Brisley, The Cenotaph Project, 1987-91, Installation (with Maya Balcioglu). Image: Maya Balcioglu.

On 26 March I will be in Belfast to take part in a panel discussion revisiting Stuart Brisley and Maya Balcioglu’s Cenotaph Project (1987-91). I will be speaking and reading alongside Brisley and Balcioglu, Dr Sanja Perovic of King’s College London, and Dr Colin Darke. A previous event on this theme was held at King’s in London as part of their Arts & Humanities Festival 2014. This time we are speaking at The MAC Live in Belfast, where Stuart Brisley is currently exhibiting. Here is the blurb for the MAC event:

The British painter, sculptor and performance artist Stuart Brisley is widely regarded as a key figure in British art. Along with his frequent collaborator, Maya Balcioglu, he has unflinchingly probed the political, cultural and social mores of his time in a career now spanning six decades.

The word ‘cenotaph’ literally means an ‘empty tomb’ (from the Greek ‘kenos’, empty and ‘taphos’, tomb). It both conceals remains that are lost or buried elsewhere and serves as a powerful signifier of military and state power. It thus raises questions about the relation between what is ‘above ground’, state-sanctioned, revealed and what remains underground, buried and concealed.

For this project the artists exhibited models of the Whitehall Cenotaph, scaled down to match the typical height of a council flat ceiling, in six locations across the UK. From a mute signifier of ‘official history’ the various, smaller cenotaphs opened a space for a critique of history and the possibility of change.

-1This event will include presentations from the artists Stuart Brisley and Maya Balcioglu, writer and academic Dr Sanja Perovic, and Belfast-based artist and writer Dr Colin Darke, followed by an open discussion amongst the speakers and audience.

The event will conclude with a reading by London-based author Tony White, of a satirical short story entitled The Holborn Cenotaph, written in response to Brisley and Balcioglu’s project, in the tradition of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal.

Additionally, I hear from the MAC that a new bookwork, Stuart Brisley – Performing the Political Body and Eating Shit, commissioned by the MAC on the occasion of the exhibition Stuart Brisley: Headwinds will also be launched during this evening. The author of this comprehensive text on Brisley’s performance practice, Michael Newman, will be in attendance.

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The Cenotaph Project and the public sphere — Stuart Brisley, Maya Balcioglu, Dr Sanja Perovic, Dr Colin Darke and Tony White

19.30, Thursday 26 March 2015, The MAC Live, Belfast

Free but booking essential

 

Panel Beating #6 — Free Word presents Weather Stations: Climate Change – The Stories We Tell

I am looking forward to taking part in a panel discussion about climate change and literature with Mirko Bonné and Chris Rapley. The event is on 17 March at the Goethe-Institut, London and is organised by the Free Word Centre and the Goethe-Institut. Here is the blurb:

Assessing the current political temperature and social climate, Weather Stations is an international project that places literature and storytelling at the heart of conversations about climate change. As the debate around communicating the issue of climate science rages, and the imperative of alerting the world to the impact of our changing climate becomes even more urgent, Chris Rapley, Professor of Climate Science at UCL, reminds us, ‘The whole point about climate change is that it is not really about the science. It is about the sort of world we want to live in and what kind of future we want to create.’

Shackleton’s Man Goes South, cover jpegHear Weather Stations Writer-in-Residence Mirko Bonné in discussion with Tony White, author and former writer-in-residence at the Science Museum, and Chris Rapley, Professor of Climate Science at University College London, previously Director of the Science Museum. The evening will be chaired by Jay Griffiths, the author of A Love Letter from a Stray Moon, and takes place at the Goethe-Institut.

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Tuesday, 17 March 2015, 6.30pm doors open, 7pm Event starts
Goethe-Institut London
Admission free, booking essential
Registration: +44 20 75964000

info@london.goethe.org

Cover Gallery #2

This is a PDF of the cover layout that went to print for my 2013 Science Museum novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South. (The various ‘paste-up’ marks visible here don’t show in the finished print.) The front cover components had been discussed at length and comprise: the background colour gradient, Jake Tilson’s ‘melting’ Shackleton’s Man Goes South logotype, the Science Museum logo, my name, a clear message that this is a novel (an unusual proposition for a book published by the Science Museum), and Marina Warner’s advance quote. 12264 shakleton book aw new-1

The Museum designed this as a ‘cover kit’ rather than a single, fixed-format image. The idea was that these components could be adapted to different online situations, being easily reconfigured to generate cover images that would be compatible with letterbox, square and other default profile pic and thumbnail formats. The colour gradations, of course, suggest warming.

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Download a free copy of Shackleton’s Man Goes South in formats compatible with all ebook readers

Press about Shackleton’s Man Goes South

An exhibition accompanying the Science Museum’s publication of Shackleton’s Man Goes South is on show in the Museum’s Atmosphere Gallery until at least 24 April 2015. Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2DD. Nearest tube: South Kensington. Open seven days a week, 10.00-18.00. Entry to the Museum is free.

Read about publication of Shackleton’s Man Goes South on Publishing Perspectives

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Cover Gallery #1

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The cover of Low Life Books’ paperback of Road Rage! featured Dave McCairley’s photograph of a fire artist. The picture had been taken in 1996, during a demonstration outside Hackney Town Hall against evictions from ‘The Spikey Thing With Curves’, which was the name of a large squat in a former Salvation Army building and Methodist Hall opposite the Hackney Empire on Mare Street.

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Find out more about Road Rage!

Buy a rare, mint condition copy of Road Rage! from my shop