Saturday, February 12, 2011

Nick and Nick

To the IABF once more for the latest in their literary event series. The subject this week was Nicholas Royle, together with Nicholas Royle. Royle mark 1 is an academic, the co-author of the very successful undergraduate text An Introduction to Literature Criticism and Theory, and the sole author of The Uncanny. He is also, and this was one of the main impulses for the event, the author of an intriguing new novel, Quilt. This new work gained laudatory reviews from some very important people, including Cixous and Kermode, so this is clearly a major work. T'other Royle is the Mancunian short story writer and novelist who also teaches Creative Writing at MMU. He is also the publisher of beautifully produced chapbooks from The Nightjar Press. I have admired his short stories in the past, and very much enjoyed his reading at an Edge Hill conference on the short story a few years ago. Our paths have crossed professionally too, when he was the external on a PhD viva. This Royle has developed a line in rather chilling, discomforting prose, with a dash of the surreal. Uncannily, the other Royle has similar tastes.
Obviously, the two Royles are frequently confused. What I didn't know until this event was that Nick Royle the academic had written about Nick Royle the novelist, and had delivered a conference paper about him. This was at a University of London conference, and the two of them had arranged to meet there, but in a kind of publicly theatrical way. Nick mark 1 delivered the paper, and then stepped down from the platform, shook hands with Nick mark 2, who stepped up to take questions on his own novel. An uneasy silence ensued...
Of course, the two Royles are inextricably entwined. Look on a book site and you'll see there's no discriminating between the two. The Manchester Nick mentioned that, at the Cheltenham Festival, he'd done a talk and then was invited to sign books, many of which were - well, you fill in the rest. The Sussex Royle has a short story in the other Royle's new anthology, and so the seeds for more confusion are being planted there too. To digress briefly, congratulations to Edge Hill student Claire Massey on being included in Nick's new Best of British collection, where she finds herself in the company of Hilary Mantel among others.
The IABF event was well-attended, and the format of alternating Royles reading from their work made for a lively opening half. They then had an informal chat, and took questions before signing their (own) books.  Despite the frequently rather dark materials of the respective writers' work, the evening was light-hearted and very enjoyable. As always at the IABF, a good few friends and acquaintances were present as well.
We came away with a copy of The Uncanny and The Matter of the Heart, which will be the first in what I expect will be a Nicholas Royle reading marathon, of both flavours.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Bedlam sans Merci

To the Dancehouse with Caroline for a celebratory gig with Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six.  The prolific Mr Barabbas has a new album out, but this gig was really a showcase for the band, and an opportunity to feature John Otway, self-styled "rock and roll's greatest failure", whose extraordinary career includes two hit singles and being voted seventh in a poll of Britain's best songwriters - just after some unknown called McCartney.
Much of the gig was organised via Facebook,  and this was a boon, because it meant that punters were able to avoid the stupid admin charges that the ticket-sellers add on. In fact, the whole thing was a great bargain. After paying via Paypal, an email from the band was exchanged at the box office for a ticket on the night, which also entitled you to a CD of the show, and a mention on the cover. Louis certainly isn't going to be a millionaire any time soon working this way, but he will have a loyal fanbase.
The venue was pretty full, and we arrived just in time for the opening, energetic song. If you haven't come across Louis Barabbas, imagine a louche, bowler-hatted figure, wild-eyed and bearded like the prophet, frantically strumming a guitar and singing like Tom Waits would if his voice was a bit more gravelly. The band is the usual rock line up - bass, drums, keyboards, lead guitar, rhythm guitar and, er, trombone, used to good effect in most of the songs. Louis shares lead vocals with Alison Cegielka, a sultry chanteuse with a clear, melodic voice. Her duets with Louis - and most of the songs are written to be sung as duets - work surprisingly well, her smoothness complementing the rasp of Louis. 
The songs are uniformly dark, dealing with a downbeat world of gloom and doom inhabited by eccentrics, inadequates and losers. If Weill and Brecht had written for rock band, it might have sounded like this. Not for nothing is the Barabbas label called Debt Records. One little line sums up the mood of the songs for me - a character says " I'm a man of my word, and the word is deceit."
The gig was divided into three, with LB performing a short opening set, and giving way to John Otway, on his own. 
I didn't know what to expect of him really, dimly remembering his 1977 hit "Really Free" which had a quirky charm. Otway, it turned out, is a natural showman, making much of his apparent amateurishness, and producing a nicely-judged stream of comic and self-deprecating patter. Genuinely funny and inventive, having fun with a theremin and with a bizarre double-necked guitar, which was used to do a cover of Sweet's Blockbuster. After a tune with the band, Otway left, and the final session was back to Louis and the Bedlam Six. They really raised the roof, and had everyone dancing is the aisles. It was an energising, entertaining night out. Can't wait for the CD!
Update: 'er indoors points out that LB has a blog here.