Monday, March 16, 2009

Alan Moore on record

Alan Moore's connections with music and the music industry date back to the mid-1970s, before his first illustrations and comic strips began appearing in fanzines and small press magazines. His connections with the national music press began in 1979 with his first professional commissions from Sounds magazine (illustrations of Elvis Costello and Malcolm McLaren) which led to the appearance of the "Roscoe Moscow" comic strip in 1979-80.

Moore, however, had already begun writing lyrics by the age of 17: music became part of his poetry readings at the local Arts Lab: "There are a lot of musicians in the Arts Lab, so I'd sit down and work out what music would go best behind a certain poem and sometimes we'd do it the other way round—they'd have the music and I'd work out words to put in front of it." (The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore, p.41)

An early collaborator, Alex Green, recalls:
I first met Alan in '76 when Stanton Walgrave were invited to do the music for the play 'Another Suburban Romance'. This great surrealist drama, a cross between Beckett and Peyton Place, had been written by Alan and Jamie Delano and was then in rehearsal. Glyn Bush and Pickle wrote an incredibly complex score which was exhaustingly perfected and mostly recorded only for the project to founder when a couple of actors dropped out. After this I kept in close touch with Alan—amongst other things we worked on the material that would subsequently become the set for the Emperors of Ice Cream, when we had a dozen songs ready I placed an advert in the [Northampton] Chronicle & Echo seeking fellow conspirators—this would have been October or November 1978. Dave [J.] was one of the respondants—we met in the Angel Hotel. Although he was really into the idea of the Emperors he couldn't stop talking about this other band, Bauhaus 1919. Subsequently he did not have any spare time for several years and so had no involvement with the Emperors—and did not in fact, meet Alan until years later.
The original Emperors of Ice Cream was formed in 1978 and split a year later. Alex Green calls them "The dream band that never got beyond rehearsals. All music and lyrics by myself and Alan Moore."

A second incarnation of the Emperors of Ice Cream was formed in 1992 featuring Moore, Tim Perkins, Chris Barber, Curtis E. Johnson and Pete Brownjohn and, although the band remained active until 1994, they released on one song, which appeared on the cassette-fanzine, Frank.

"A few years ago, I was in a local rock band called The Emperors of Ice Cream, and one of our numbers that always went down very well live, was a thing called, "Mr. A", says Moore. "The beat and the tune of it were completely stolen from "Sister Ray" by the Velvet Underground, but the lyrics were all about Steve Ditko ... One of the verses was, "He takes a card and shades one-half of it in dark, so he can demonstrate to you just what he means/He says, 'There's wrong and there's right, there's black and there's white, and there is nothing, nothing in-between.' That's what Mr. A says." [laughter] And then we'd go into the chorus. Yeah, it was a Velvet Underground thrash, but with lyrics about Steve Ditko."

The Alan Moore Songbook from Calibur was a collection of lyrics written for The Emperors of Ice Cream and various other bands.

"Yeah, well, most of those songs actually emerged from when I was with a band, about six or seven years ago, eight years ago, called the Emperors of Ice Cream," says Moore. "[That's when] I'd written most of those songs, then a couple of them I'd written back when I was seventeen. The band was good, we had some good fun, we did some good songs but it probably would have just been just a pop band at the end of it and there's plenty of good pop bands. But the band all broke up, with the usual "musical differences", i.e. we couldn't stand each other."

Moore also penned lyrics for various other artists: "Wurlitzer Junction"/"The Merry Shark You Are" (Boy's Own Label BO1) was a 1980 single by The Mystery Guests, with both songs written by Moore (who interviewed the band for Sounds in 1981); having met David J. in around 1978, Moore wrote a poem that appeared on the inner sleeve of Bauhaus's 1981 LP Mask and did a spoken introduction to side 1 of their Satori in Paris EP (1982).

In 1983, Moore, in the guise of Translucia Baboon, teamed up with David J. (Captain Jose Da Silva) and Alex Green (Max Akropolis) to form The Sinister Ducks and released the single "March of the Sinister Ducks"/"Old Gangsters Never Die" (Situation Two SIT25) in a sleeve designed by Kevin O'Neill which folded out to reveal an 8-page comic strip drawn by Lloyd Thatcher. "March of the Sinister Ducks" was also given away as a flexidisc with Critters #23 (1988).

The single was recorded at Beck Studios in Northampton. According to Green "'March Of The Sinister Ducks' was built up in layers on top of a basic structure of Dave's guitar and piano. The cabaret saxophones on the choruses were augmented with kazoos played by Alan and myself. Vocals and duck effect came later. 'Old Gangsters Never Die' was recorded live with us all together in the same room, I seem to recall that the version released was the third take." 'Old Gangsters Never Die' was originally a soliloquy in Moore's play Another Suburban Romance.

The song has been widely available on the web for some years, including a few animated versions on YouTube.

The band performed only two times, although Moore's collaborations with David J. continued: in 1984, J. released V For Vendetta (Glass Records 12032, distributed by Beggars Banquet), an EP which contained four tracks inspired by the comic. The A side, "This Vicious Cabaret", was a song that had appeared in issue 12 as part of the strip when it ran in Warrior (Aug 1983). The B side consisted of three tracks: "V's Theme (Intro)", "Incidental" and "V's Theme (Outro)". The EP was released on CD in 1998 by Cleopatra Records, as was a compilation of David J. material, On Glass, which included "This Vicious Cabaret", "Incidental" and "V's Theme (Outro)".

Musically, nothing else was heard from Moore for some time, although he was famously referenced in the Pop Will Eat Itself song "Can U Dig It" ("Alan Moore knows the score"). Moore wrote "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (Cold Spring Records, 1990) for The Satanic Nurses, but the song was never released commercially. The song was later illustrated by Neil Gaiman as one of Moore's 'Songbook' songs in Negative Burn #13 (Jul 1994). The Nurses included guitarist Curtis E. Johnson who was shortly to join the Emperors of Ice Cream.

Moore subsequently recorded "Madame October" with folk musician Tom Hall for the album Watering the Spirits (Sure Head Music, 1994; also available on the compilation Rocking for Rumania, Builth Balkan Crew, 2005) and wrote "Me and Dorothy Parker" for The Flash Girls' Maurice and I (Fabulous Records fcd 001, 1995).

On 16 July 1994, Moore and other performed at the Bridewell Theatre in London, Moore's spoken words backed by music from Tim Perkins and David J. Moore recalls:
Me and Tim Perkins, who was also in the Emperors, we stuck together and just after that I got into magic. The first thing that we did was this big performance in '94 at Bride Lane, off Fleet Street, Subversion in the Streets of Shame. It was Paul Smith from Blast First records had got Iain Sinclair to put together a three day event of, I suppose, subterraneans, really. I was reading; there was Stewart Home; Robin Cook [aka] the crime writer Derek Raymond, that was his last reading before he died, he came and did a reading about death, very ill ... and then Kathy Acker turned up unexpectedly halfway through the performance and did the best reading I'd ever seen her do. Dear, sweet, lovely Kathy Acker. She'd got kind of Mary-Jane shoes on. And socks. I don't know whether it was some kind of paedo-thing that she was going through but she looked kind of— I mean, like, you know, she was in her fifties, nearly fifty but she look so sweet and cool and cute and she did this brilliant reading. So we finished off the Saturday night with this hour-long magical extravaganza. That came out, it was Cleopatra records, in the States, they brought out the CD that's just called The Moon and Serpent—Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels.
A track from this performance, "Hair of the Snake That Bit Me", appeared on the Hexentexts: A Creation Books Sampler CD (Codex Records CODE1, 1995) whilst the full performance was released by Cleopatra Records (Cleo 96882) in 1996.

A second performance, on Moore's 42nd birthday (18 November 1995) at a Victorian magistrate's court in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was released as The Birth Caul: A Shamantism of Childhood (Charm/Locus CHARRMMCD22) with music by David J. and Tim Perkins.
The next thing we did was The Birth Caul and then we did a thing at Highbury [London], which is the one that's just coming out in a couple of week's time. Steve Severin from [Siouxsie and] the Banshees, he's got his own record label now, Re: records and The Highbury Working is going to be coming out and we're very proud of that.

It's still spoken word, with music, but with The Highbury Working we did something really different. Say, with The Birth Caul, the words and the music are still integrated, obviously there's bits where I'm saying something, then something happens in the music and their obviously connected, which is not bad when you consider that The Birth Caul is actually a live recording and that I was reading to prearranged tapes, so I had to kind of time every word that I said for that hour. You see, with The Birth Caul, the music and the words are integrated but the music still tends mainly towards the ambient. It's more like kind of patterns of sound or fields of sound or drones or whatever, whereas with The Highbury Working, as opposed to The Birth Caul, what we're doing is more like dance music—one track on it is very much like drum 'n' bass—and the integration between the words and the music is a lot cleverer. It's a lot more dancey. It's probably the most accessible piece we've done. Like I've said, there's always been a dance element in my mysticism. Yeah, so, you know, I'm looking forward to this and John's done a really great cover and a really great package for the CD. It's a little Sergeant Pepper, that we've got here.
The Highbury Working was released by Re: (RE:PCDN03) in 2000 and was followed by two other Moore performances, Angel Passage (ASIN B000068PYJ, 2000) and Snakes & Ladders (RE:PCD05, 2003), with Tim Perkins, the latter recorded at Conway Hall, near Red Lion Square, for the Oxford and London Golden Dawn Society.

In between, Moore had produced a spoken-word adaptation of Brought to Light (Codex Records CODE5, 1998), with music arranged by Gary Lloyd, based on his half of the Brought to Light book drawn by Bill Sienkewicz.

To date, these have been the last of Moore's spoken-word releases, although a new 45rpm vinyl single, which included Moore singing "Immortal Love", was intended to be released with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume Black Dossier. The single was cancelled from the hardcover edition of the book that appeared in 2007 and was announced for the Absolute Edition that was to appear in 2008. It was subsequently dropped, meaning that the $100 AE had almost no additional features (beyond its larger size, slipcase and new endpapers drawn by Kevin O'Neill) that had not appeared in the original release.

A note by Adi Tantimedh on The V forum noted:
The reason the record isn't included in the Absolute edition is that DC's lawyers were played the songs and were worried that they sounded too similar to old British Sixties pop and TV shows, including the Thunderbirds theme. Fearing charges of plagiarism—as opposed to pastiche or homage—they refused to press the songs for the book. Moore was only told this much, much later, and is pissed off, because, you know, if Oasis can do Beatles riffs without getting sued, why can't a song that pastiches Sixties pop?

So the songs are still owned and controlled by Moore and his co-composer to do as they please, as long as DC has nothing to do with it. Moore is supposed to still control the masters and copies have not been circulated so far.

Moore, it seems, was only told at the last minute that the record would not appear. However, Pádraig Ó Méalóid has reported that Moore has said that the single will see the light of day at some stage.

Lots of details of the various strips that appeared in Negative Burn, most of which were subsequently collected in Alan Moore's Songbook, can be found here.

The interview with Alex Green (Apollox, 1995) can be found online here.



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