Of Watling Street and Communicating with Places — It’s Time To Take The Road Less Travelled… Even If It’s the Street Where You Already Live

 

People already communicate with places. The slow pace we take around cemeteries says something about our relationship with the space… We are responding to gravestones and other contextual markers, and they change our behaviour.

 

By Adrian Reynolds

I’d been hearing stories about Lenny Darnell and his Amazon adventures for a while, always at second hand. It wasn’t until I met the American a few years ago at an event in Edinburgh that I got to hear directly about just what he was doing and discovering. And it’s only now that I’m able to put Darnell’s experiences in the context of the new book by John Higgs. Watling Street explores Britain, and Britishness, taking in mythology, folk history, and personal journeys — a long way from the jungles of South America, but touched by its own quiet magic and feel for the authentic as surely as Lenny’s escapade.

Some of you won’t believe what follows, and that’s fine. I’m just here to relate what the affable Mr Darnell described in a straightforward style one Scottish Saturday afternoon. In the course of his adventures, celebrated pianist Lenny came to be a business consultant who as well as being active in his local community became a member of an Amazon tribe. He lived with them not as an anthropologist, but as one of the group, and part of his interest was in how that tribe got its knowledge of the rainforest they lived in.

It was an answer that perplexed Lenny. Asking the forest? What does that even mean? Do those words even describe a recognizable behaviour?

Lenny spoke to a tribal shaman, and asked how he knew what plants would be of benefit to a person with a particular sickness. He was asking in part to discover if that knowledge was handed down, since that would suggest over several generations that information would dwindle because of the human tendency to forget. Instead the shaman told Lenny — as if it was the most straightforward thing in the world — that when he wanted that kind of knowledge he would ask the forest. It was an answer that perplexed Lenny. Asking the forest? What does that even mean? Do those words even describe a recognizable behaviour?

In chapter 5 of Watling Street, John Higgs relates that London poet and playwright called John Constable was faced with something similarly perplexing –— he’d taken a long walk around roads he didn’t know in the area of an ancient burial site known as Cross Bones. Next morning, he awoke to find he’d written a long rhyming poem from the viewpoint of a medieval prostitute. Where had the words come from, in a form he’d not written before?

The easy thing to do when you mention Amazon shamen and London poets in contexts like this is to suggest that weird substances may have shaped their perceptions. One of the things Darnell discovered was that regardless of the use of psychedelics such as ayahuasca, everyday consciousness as experienced in the tribe was different from what he knew as an American citizen. And the poet John Constable admitted LSD use. Which is handy for anyone looking to dismiss the experiences of either.

Only… Read more “Of Watling Street and Communicating with Places — It’s Time To Take The Road Less Travelled… Even If It’s the Street Where You Already Live”

KLF at the Brit Awards Show 1992 — Machine gunning the audience (and a Dead Sheep)

negotiations had broken down following their plans to fill a stage with angels and Zulus and arrive on the back of elephants.

An Excerpt from KLF: CHAOS MAGIC MUSIC MONEY by John Higgs

 

 

With hindsight, it was Jonathan King that killed the KLF. His fatal blow was an innocent-sounding comment. His words may not have split the group immediately, because Cauty and Drummond had too much momentum to stop straight away. But it was only a matter of time, as the implications of what he had said could not be ignored for long. The KLF staggered on for another three months, too stunned to realize that they were already dead.

It was February 1992 and the KLF had just won the ‘Best Band’ award at the Brit Awards. Jonathan King was the producer of the awards show, and he had been asked what he thought of the KLF’s live performance at the show. “I enjoyed it”, he said.

He enjoyed it. There was nothing else for it. It had to end.

King is a music producer, TV presenter and a recording artist who has sold over 40 million records under various pseudonyms, most of them novelty singles. As he busied himself backstage at the Hammersmith Odeon organizing the 1992 Brits Awards, he was forty eight years old and dressed in a garish shell suit and a baseball cap with ‘KING’ stamped in metal across the front. In the coming decade he was named ‘Man of the Year’ by the BPI, praised by Tony Blair and convicted of multiple sexual offences on underage boys, so in many ways Jonathan King could be said to personify the music industry. King’s acceptance had, on a symbolic level, signified the music industry claiming Drummond and Cauty for itself.

Drummond and Cauty’s problem with the music industry wasn’t the usual adolescent anti-authoritarian posturing that is so common among musicians. It was the result of bitter experience. By that point Cauty and Drummond had twenty-five years’ experience in the industry between them, from running record labels to producing, working in A&R, being in unsuccessful bands and being pop stars. They knew what the music industry did to people, and they also knew what it had done to them. But by then they also knew how much they had been formed by it. It had shaped their lives and left them feeling corrupted, but it was also an integral part of who they were.

It’s still surprising that they were asked to provide the opening performance for that year’s Brit Awards show. They had been asked to appear the previous year, but negotiations had broken down following their plans to fill a stage with angels and Zulus and arrive on the back of elephants. The deal breaker, with hindsight, was probably their plan to chain-saw the legs off one of the elephants. The elephant, they said, represented the music industry. The organizers understandably walked away at this point, but they should have realized then that they were not dealing with stable individuals. Read more “KLF at the Brit Awards Show 1992 — Machine gunning the audience (and a Dead Sheep)”