Solid Space: Jon Anderson’s cosmic voyage

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Jon Anderson’s solo debut, Olias Of Sunhillow, is reissued this week in a double-disc set comprising a remastered CD plus an audio DVD. I’d been hoping for some time that this album might be given a proper reissue, it’s one I like a great deal but my old CD has never sounded as good as it ought to. The album may command cult status round here but you don’t see it mentioned anywhere outside Yes forums or partisan enclaves like the Prog Archives. This post may be taken as a small corrective to the neglect.

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Olias Of Sunhillow was released in 1976, and was the most unusual of all the solo albums recorded by the individual members of Yes in the mid-70s, being a spin-off from some of the group’s early albums, or at least their cover art. Roger Dean’s first cover work for the group was on Fragile in 1971, for which he painted a miniature world rather like one of MC Escher’s planetoids. This was Dean’s idea, the band had suggested a broken piece of porcelain as the cover image. The back cover of the album showed the same planet in a state of fragmentation with a fish-like spaceship floating above it (see below). Another drawing of the fish-ship was added to the front cover before the album’s release, and it’s this ship, and the narrative it suggests, that leads eventually to Anderson’s solo album. Two years after Fragile, the planetary disintegration had turned into an exodus on the group’s triple-live album, Yessongs, the back cover of which shows pieces of planet being towed through space by a similar fish-ship. The other panels of the cover depict the arrival of these fragments on a newer, larger world. Anderson’s album takes this sequence of events then filters them through Vera Stanley Alder’s mysticism to craft a musical odyssey which Discogs describes as:

…the story of an alien race and their journey to a new world due to catastrophe. Olias, the title character, is the chosen architect of the glider Moorglade, which will be used to fly his people to their new home. Ranyart is the navigator for the glider, and Qoquaq is the leader who unites the four tribes of Sunhillow to partake in the exodus.

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For many years in British music circles it would have been a grave error to even acknowledge this album’s existence, never mind admit to actually liking it. This was partly the old animus against progressive rock, an unexamined prejudice that lasted well into the 1990s, but Anderson’s album had so many strikes against it that it might have stood as the winner of a disapproval lottery for the more ideologically rigid writers and readers of the NME. It’s Jon Anderson (strike 1), the lead singer of progressive rock (2) group Yes (3), whose album is a science fiction (4)/ fantasy (5) concept (6), littered with Tolkien-like invented names and words (7), and with a multi-page sleeve embellished with detailed fantasy illustrations (8) by David Fairbrother-Roe. The design was art directed by Hipgnosis, who subsequently designed the next two Yes albums. Anderson originally wanted Roger Dean to create the packaging, which would have provided a further strike of disapproval against the album, but Dean’s career had gone into overdrive following the publication of Views so he either didn’t have the time or didn’t want to be involved. In Views Dean mentions “another project” based on the fish-ship’s journey which may be a reference to Anderson’s forthcoming album, the credits of which thank Dean for “planting the seed”.

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Roger Dean’s original artwork for Fragile (1971). Another fish-ship was added to the final cover art.

Continue reading “Solid Space: Jon Anderson’s cosmic voyage”

Weekend links 559

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Cover art by Toshiyuki Fukuda for the Japanese edition of the new novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.

• “The story here is how between 1978 and 1982, this impulse shed its novelty genesis and its spoils were divvied up between gay producers making high-energy soundtracks for carnal abandon, and quiet Hawkwind fans smoking spliffs in Midlands bedrooms.…this excellent compilation offers fresh understandings of a period in sonic history where the future was up for grabs.” Fergal Kinney reviews Do You Have the Force? Jon Savage’s Alternate History of Electronic Music, 1978–82.

DJ Food continues his history of mini CDs with Oranges And Lemons, the 1989 album by XTC which was released in the usual formats together with a limited edition of three small discs in a flip-top box. The cover art by Dave Dragon is a good example of the resurrected groovy look.

• “If Austin Osman Spare, William Burroughs, Mary Butts and Kathy Acker got together for a séance, the transcript could well look like this.”

• How Leonora Carrington used Tarot to reach self-enlightenment: Gabriel Weisz Carrington on his mother’s quest for mythic revelations.

• Mixes of the week: Sounds Unsaid at Dublab with Tarotplane, and To Die & Live In San Veneficio by SeraphicManta.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: 5strings presents…Solve et Coagula: An introduction to Israel Regardie.

• The Joy of Silhouettes: Vyki Hendy chooses favourite shadow-throwing cover designs.

Emily Mortimer on how Lolita escaped obscenity laws and cancel culture.

Freddie deBoer has moved his writing to Substack.

• New music: Wirkung by Arovane.

• Children Of The Sun (1969) by The Misunderstood | Children Of The Sun (1971) by Hawkwind | Children Of The Sun (2010) by The Time And Space Machine

The Stormbringer Sessions by James Cawthorn

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One of the books I was designing last year is published next month. The Stormbringer Sessons is a resurrection by John Davey of a sketchbook created by James Cawthorn in the mid-1980s for an Elric graphic novel that Cawthorn was commissioned to adapt and illustrate for Savoy Books. This is a limited edition that’s unlikely to be reprinted so anyone interested is advised to pre-order. (See below.)

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Slipcase decoration.

The original Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock isn’t a novel as such but a collection of the second series of linked novellas about Elric of Melniboné that Moorcock wrote for Science Fantasy from 1961 to 1964. Over the course of ten stories Moorcock introduced a character and a world that acted as a riposte to the Tolkienite school of heroic fantasy, where the divisions between Good and Evil are clear and fixed. Elric is like one of Sergio Leone’s characters: the difference between Clint Eastwood’s “Good” in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Lee Van Cleef’s “Bad” is merely a matter of degree; both men are killers chasing the same hoard of gold coins. (By coincidence, Leone was preparing to the upset the Western genre with A Fistful of Dollars just as Moorcock was finishing the first Elric stories.)

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James Cawthorn was one of Moorcock’s oldest friends, and a frequent collaborator. He not only illustrated the first Elric stories but also co-wrote the fourth one, Kings in Darkness. Despite having created many Elric illustrations Cawthorn always seemed to want to draw comics based on other characters, notably Moorcock’s Dorian Hawkmoon whose adventures have recently been reprinted in three volumes by Titan Books. The Stormbringer commission was a result of the late David Britton’s obsession with Elric in general and the Stormbringer book in particular. Stormbringer begins with Elric having retired from adventuring; his soul-stealing sword is locked away and he’s settled down to married life. The opening scenes parallel (and prefigure) many Hollywood plots: Elric’s wife is abducted for unknown reasons so Elric has to take up his sword and go after her. What follows is a pursuit into a world growing increasingly dark and chaotic, and with it the realisation that the events taking place are a part of a long-foretold apocalypse that will (and does) destroy that world. The progression from a regular sword & sorcery tale to doom-laden widescreen baroque, with a dragon army flying over a churning Boschian hellscape, is one of the enduring attractions of the book.

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Britton had first persuaded Cawthorn to adapt Stormbringer into comic form in 1976 but the work on that occasion was compromised by lack of time. The sketches in The Stormbringer Sessions are Cawthorn’s roughs which were drawn in preparation for the second attempt, with the entire story worked out in panel form over 250 pages, complete with dialogue and captions. Some of the opening pages are rough indeed, but the drawings for the apocalyptic finale, presented in many double-page spreads, are almost finished pieces. The sketches may lack the finesse of Cawthorn’s other comics work but the power of his drawing and his imagination shines through. Nobody seems to know why he abandoned this project despite having a publisher waiting for it, but he was also adapting the third Hawkmoon book at the time, and had already spent the past decade working on the Hawkmoon trilogy.

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My design for this one is fairly straightforward, mostly a matter of framing and typesetting the opening and closing pages, as well as creating graphics for the cover and the slipcase. As with the Elric-themed Hawkwind album, The Chronicle of the Black Sword, I opted for Celtic-style knotwork for the decoration. Elric’s world isn’t our world but knotwork designs are universal (maybe even multiversal) while being satisfyingly antique and abstract. The publication is a co-production between Jayde Design and Savoy Books, with the book being limited to 100 numbered hardbacks in a decorated slipcase. Each copy also contains a colour print of the cover painting. The book may be ordered here. More page samples follow.

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Continue reading “The Stormbringer Sessions by James Cawthorn”

Weekend links 540

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A century before William Burroughs: The Wild Boys of London (1866). No author credited.

• “Acid, nudity and sci-fi nightmares: why Hawkwind were the radicals of 1970s rock.” I like a headline guaranteed to upset old punks, even though many old punks had been Hawkwind fans. As noted last week, Joe Banks’ Hawkwind: Days of the Underground is now officially in print, hence this substantial Guardian feature in which the author reprises his core thesis. Mathew Lyons reviewed the book for The Quietus.

• “Roy Ayers and Fela Kuti each explored Pan-Africanism and diasporic solidarity their own way before their meeting in 1979.” John Morrison on the Roy Ayers and Fela Kuti collaboration, Music Of Many Colours.

• “In 1938, Joan Harrison read a galley of Daphne Du Maurier’s masterpiece. She wouldn’t rest until she had the rights to adapt it.” Christina Lane on Rebecca at 80, and the women behind the Hitchcock classic.

Each page features a distinct moment, seen from one perspective on the front, and from a diametrically opposed angle on the back, occasionally pivoting, for instance, between interior and exterior spaces. This organizing principle is complicated by the fact that a given image might be a depiction of the physical environment surrounding the camera or, at other times, a photograph of a photograph. Midway through, the scene is inverted such that the volume must be turned upside-down to be looked at right-side up. The result is an elegant, disorienting study in simultaneity that allows the viewer to enter the work from either end.

Cover to Cover (1975), a book by Michael Snow, has been republished by Light Industry and Primary Information

• At Public Domain Review: The Uncertain Heavens—Christiaan Huygens’ Ideas of Extraterrestrial Life by Hugh Aldersey-Williams.

• Penny Dreadfuls and Murder Broadsides: John Boardley explores the early days of pulp fiction and what he calls “murder fonts”.

• The lesbian partnership that changed literature: Emma Garman on Jane Heap, Margaret C. Anderson and The Little Review.

The 10th Tom of Finland Emerging Artist Competition is now open to entries. (Titter ye not.)

• Death Barge Life: Colin Fleming on Gericault’s grim masterpiece, The Raft of the Medusa.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…The Grand Grimoire: The Red Dragon (1702).

Music To Be Murdered By (1958) Jeff Alexander With Alfred Hitchcock | Murder Boy (1991) by Rain Parade | Murder In The Red Barn (1992) by Tom Waits

Weekend links 539

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Fire, Red and Gold (1990) by Eyvind Earle.

Roger Penrose won a Nobel Prize recently for his work in physics. I read one of his books a few years ago, and was intimidated by the “simple” equations, but I always like to hear his ideas. This 2017 article by Philip Ball is an illuminating overview of Penrose’s life and work.

• At Dangerous Minds: Joe Banks on the incidents that led to Lemmy’s dismissal from Hawkwind in 1975, an extract from Hawkwind: Days of the Underground. The book is available from Strange Attractor in Europe and via MIT Press in the USA.

• “Not married but willing to be!”: men in love (with each other) from the 1850s on. It’s always advisable to take photos like these with a pinch of salt but several of the examples are unavoidably what they appear to be.

Most of all, this resolutely collaborative production stood against the vanity and careerism of individual authorship; Breton called it the first attempt to “adapt a moral attitude, and the only one possible, to a writing process.” The text itself is peppered with readymade phrases, advertising slogans, twisted proverbs, and pastiches of such admired predecessors as Rimbaud, Apollinaire, and Lautréamont, whose pluralistic credo, “Poetry must be made by all. Not by one,” anticipates the sampling aesthetic by a century. But the intensity was draining, and as the book moves toward its final pages and the writing becomes increasingly frenetic, you can almost feel the burnout taking hold. After eight days, fearing for his and Soupault’s sanity, Breton terminated the experiment.

Mark Polizzotti reviews a new translation by Charlotte Mandell of The Magnetic Fields by André Breton and Philippe Soupault

• The hide that binds: Mike Jay reviews Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin by Megan Rosenbloom.

• “A photographer ventures deeper into Chernobyl than any before him.” Pictures from Chernobyl: A Stalker’s Guide by Darmon Richter.

John Van Stan’s reading of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley uses my illustrations (with my permission) for each of its chapters.

Susan Jamison, one of the artists in The Art of the Occult by S. Elizabeth, talks to the latter about her work.

William Hope Hodgson: The Secret Index. A collection of Hodgson-related posts at Greydogtales.

Gee Vaucher talks to Savage Pencil about her cover art for anarchist punk band, Crass.

Weird, wacky and utterly wonderful: the world’s greatest unsung museums.

Tom Cardamone chooses the best books about Oscar Wilde.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jean-Pierre Melville Day.

You by The Bug ft. Dis Fig.

Magnetic Dwarf Reptile (1978) by Chrome | Magnetic Fields, Part 1 (1981) by Jean-Michel Jarre | Magnetic North (1998) by Skyray