FAMOUS ARTHUR: Arthur C. Clarke, profiled by Paul Moody (Arthur, 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (Oct. 2002), with a full-page illustration by Geoff McFetridge. In the photo above, ACC holds his copy of Arthur No. 1, with that page showing.

FAMOUS ARTHUR: Arthur C. Clarke
Paul Moody enters the sci-fi court of King Arthur

Androgynous aliens searching the galaxy for the nine billion names of God; mysterious unmanned spaceships drifting Marie Celeste-like into the solar system; vast black monoliths discovered under the surface of the moon..it’s all in a day’s work for Arthur C. Clarke.

The author of more than seventy novels and the undisputed Godfather of science fiction, he’s also—to a generation brought up on his long-running UK TV series, The Mysterious World Of…—the monstrodomo of the unknown. Add the fact that’s he’s lived in self-imposed exile in Sri Lanka since 1956, became a guru to the entire US space program in the 1960s and has attracted visits from even the likes of ill-fated Rolling Stone Brian Jones in the search for answers to the reason why we’re here, and you’ve got a mystery wrapped in an enigma signed with a question mark. Religious cults have been born from less.

Yet meeting this good natured sci- fi Colonel Kurtz takes you into an even stranger world. Picture the scene as a Hollywood pitch: you’re standing in a quiet residential street in Cinnamon Gardens, the most exclusive district of Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka. Vast palm trees sway in the 90-degree heat haze. A cloud of bats flies overhead on its daily vigil toward the sunset. Suddenly a ten foot grille slides open and you’re walking into the private residence of one of the most reclusive figures on the planet.

Yet it’s all true. As you go up the stairs of his palatial headquarters you begin to realize you’ve entered a one-man orchestrated nerve-center. This is a far cry from the days when Clarke owned the first television set in Sri Lanka. Banks of computers drone harmoniously; fax machines buzz with communications from all corners of the globe (the telecommunications bills rarely drop below $1000 a month). Signed pictures of everyone from Neil Armstrong to Elizabeth Taylor to the Pope line the walls, amid vast blown-up NASA Moonscapes, whilst a vast floor to ceiling bookcase at one end of the room is filled entirely with hardback first editions of Clarke’s novels.

The overall effect is like entering the inner sanctum of a benign, hyper-active Bond villain. Prodigious isn’t the word for Clarke. He claims to have 102 projects on the go at any one time, and in this setting, aided by a host of assistants, it’s hard to disbelieve him. On top of all this, a wall-sized TV screen is beaming footage of Clarke appearing as a hologram at the Playboy Mansion last year. Standing on a dais addressing an invited crowd of NASA dignitaries, octogenarian swingers and luminescent blank-eyed Playboy bunnies, Clarke delivers a speech as a shimmering, golden, light projection. The effect is much like seeing Kirk and Spock mid-dematerialization on the USS Enterprise. Except Clarke really is going where no man has been before.

As you’d imagine, he’s pleased with it.

“You are watching history!” he booms by way of introduction, gesturing at the screen. Wheelchair bound due to the debilitating effects of post-polio syndrome, nonetheless he wheels himself forward at high speed wrapped in a batik sarong.

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GUERRILLA GIGGING: How the Libertines (and other bands) did it in London (Arthur, 2008)

Originally published in Arthur No. 28 (March 2008)


GUERRILLA WARFARE
Five years ago, London’s gig-goers experienced a cultural upheaval the effects of which are still being felt today. Paul Moody takes up the story.

It seems so long ago now. But just under five years ago, London’s nightlife found itself at the center of a seismic cultural explosion that still reverberates around the U.K indie-verse today. As with the psychedelic scene based around the UFO Club in Tottenham Court Road and the punk movement’s Soho HQs The Roxy and The Vortex, it involved a small group of movers’n’shakers taking control of the pop apparatus to create something new, exciting and—whisper it—revolutionary.

For a short while the fat cats of the British music business—a dismal alliance of promoters (tell me, have you ever seen a skinny one?), lazy managers and idea-free labels—were on the back foot, and oh, what pleasure it was to be alive to see it and be involved in it. In its place? A new form of night-time activity, where gigs could take place on a bus, a subway train or even, at one memorable soiree in Regents Park, up a tree, and the old ways—not least the capitalist chicanery of (yawn) advance credit card bookings—could go swing.

Ever since The Stone Roses had attempted to subvert the medium with their gig at Spike Island in 1990—deemed a failure by anyone who hadn’t actually been there—promoters in the U.K had ensured that any free expression amongst bands was brutally clamped down upon. At many venues—not least the once-prestigious The Rock Garden in Covent Garden—young bands were even forced to endure a “pay to play” policy which meant they had to cough up £50 before they could even get on a stage. Worse, it was an unspoken rule that if any band dared go beyond these preset boundaries, there would be hell to pay.

I’d had firsthand experience of it myself.

As a member of London art rock band Regular Fries, in the late ’90s, I’d found any means of creative expression conducted outside the studio frowned upon. Our determination to play gigs involving film projections, banks of TVs and an array of props brought despairing looks from our own management, so you can imagine what promoters made of it when we walked through the doors of venues clutching six-feet high “Fries” letters. The idea of playing gigs outside the established circuit—a well-trod path involving The Barfly, The Garage and The Astoria—was treated like heresy. Why couldn’t we just play by the rules like everyone else?

Promoters actively discouraged us from playing at venues no one else had with lame talk of “bad acoustics.” “Why do you think no one else plays there?” was an asinine excuse we’d regularly be subjected to.

This came to a head when, due to a fire, a headline gig at London University (ULU) was cancelled at the eleventh hour. Hastily, we printed up flyers to paste over the front of the building telling our fans to head to a nearby venue in Camden where another promoter—sensing a windfall—had hastily juggled his bill so we could play last.

Within minutes, our well-intentioned belief that “the show must go on” had all but turned into an international incident. The promoters at ULU threatened violence for advertising another chain of venues on their doorstep. Our own promoter blew a fuse at our temerity in organizing an alternative ourselves. And our manager even warned us darkly that if we played the gig, our agent would never book us a tour again. All because we wanted to play a gig at short notice.

It was in this climate that the concept of the “guerrilla gig”—which peaked in June 2004 with a “happening” at Buckingham Palace, headed by Pete Doherty—took root.

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