Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Art

Moniker Art Fair, Village Underground, EC2A 3PQ, 11-14 October

Now in its third year, Moniker Art Fair has become a highlight of London's autumnal art week. This year, it has attracted some of the contemporary scene’s most accomplished and renowned artists, including legendary Pop Surrealist Luke Chueh, fresh works from Pam Glew, and the work of Surrealist up-and-comer Nancy Fout

Music

Ether Festival: John Cale. Royal Festival Hall, Sat October 13

A founding member of one of the most defining bands of a generation, the Velvet Underground, John Cale’s return to the Royal Festival Hall coincides with the release of his cryptically titled Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, which is out this week.  His experimentalist verve and willingness to explore new artistic frontiers ensures that he remains an unstoppable force on the contemporary scene.

Literature

Durham Book Festival, 13-30 October

Durham Book Festival returns for another edition this month. It is jointly produced by New Writing North with Durham Country Council and Durham University. From prose to poetry, the festival programme includes events spanning a wide spectrum of topics at various locations in County Durham and at iconic venues in the city itself. The festival boasts a host of newly commissioned work from the likes of Michael Smith and Carol Ann Duffy.

Festival

Inside Out Festival, London (various venues), 22-28 October

In association with The Times Higher Education and the New Statesman, the Culture Capital Exchange delivers the third instalment of the Inside Out Festival. The programme includes 50 eclectic events taking place across the capital over the course of the week, ranging from talks, panel debates, performances and exhibitions. The festival offers the chance to experience in person some of the city’s most celebrated thinkers, including Will Self, Michael Morpurgo and Bidisha. Most events free, but require booking.

Theatre

All That Fall, Jermyn Street Theatre, until 3 November

Originally commissioned by the BBC as a radio play in 1957, Samuel Beckett’s All that Falls charts the journey of Maddy Rooney, a 70-something unwieldy woman as she trudges across country back roads to meet her blind husband. All that Falls is a bawdy comedy with a life affirming charm, full of superb one-liners, even if they are somewhat spiked by intimations of mortality. Although not originally conceived for stage, All that Falls offers a rare opportunity to experience a superlative cast – including Michael Gambon and the excellent Eileen Atkins – in an intimate, 70-seater setting. 

Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins in Samuel Beckett's All That Fall. Photo: Alastair Muir
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If tattoos could talk: Glen Campbell's life in music

The late singer made a trade of music, and made it look easy.

There was a rudimentary tattoo on his left upper arm, which he’d given himself at the age of nine: a small cartoon dagger, scratched with a needle and filled with ink, 72 years ago, in the yard of the house he shared with 11 brothers and sisters in Bills­town, Arkansas. In his last years, doing interviews about Alzheimer’s in his final home of Nashville, he’d wear T-shirts and you could just make out the tip of the dagger emerging from his sleeve. But for decades you wouldn’t have seen it, beneath flower-power shirts on his late-1960s TV show, or the fitted tuxedos of the 1970s, as he played the “William Tell Overture” on his guitar with the philharmonics of the world.

His accent came and went, too, as he adapted his vowels and crossed his Ts for the sophisticated compositions of his regular musical partner Jimmy Webb, another southerner making his way in LA. Campbell was the son of a sharecropper but he didn’t like getting his hands dirty. When he left home at 14 to become a musician, it was a practical move for the family – the money was good, and without him there was more room in the house.

As the first-call guitarist in the elite LA session group the Wrecking Crew, he played on 500 tracks in one year. Carole Kaye, who later delivered the bass line on his most famous song, “Wichita Lineman”, told me they all went out to buy big diamond signet rings with their wages one day. Glen peered into his: “Hey, look, I can see Russia,” he said.

Dirt poor, down-home, authentic – he may have been those things, but it was not his business to claim to be. He wasn’t a songwriter; he was an interpreter of other people’s material – a concept almost alien in a modern musical climate that expects songs to be a reflection of an artist’s inner life. He would take the most urbane track and throw it back at his audience with an incandescent ordinariness. “It is like a bird flying, it’s like somebody breathing, it is easy for him,” his musical director TJ Kuenster said.

Exactly how he achieved it was more mysterious. He had a habit of speeding things up, injecting light and energy into songs and turning them into something kinetic and fresh. His vocal entries often lagged a fraction of a second behind the beat, making each one sound like a spontaneous thought.

On his prime-time TV show, with his hair sprayed into a high wave, he’d awkwardly navigate the light comedy of the day: the Smothers Brothers riding hippos through the studio, or the skits with Sonny and Cher. His talking voice was chirpy; then he’d sit down to play Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and it was as if a switch had been flicked. His face fell into a state of instant clarity, intense but faraway, with sometimes a hint of pain – though you knew the pain wasn’t his.

He never sang about himself, which made the private self a separate entity. There was the lost Glen of the late 1970s, blank of eye and huge of beard, free­basing cocaine in a Vegas hotel room, having fisticuffs with his girlfriend. There was the middle-aged golf-playing Republican, baptised in a freezing creek under the watch of his younger wife; then tanned and born again, happily doing his Donald Duck impressions on stage. There was the lapsed Glen who hit the whiskey again as a pensioner, drove drunk, attempted to knee a policeman in the genitals, ran down a freeway, got snapped for a famously bad mugshot and spent ten days in prison, where he still managed to perform an impromptu set on a couple of hay bales.

But at any point in the 55-year ride, amid the personal dramas and lapses of musical taste, he’d open his mouth and what came out was deeply serious. You couldn’t imagine him writing a shopping list but he had an ear for poetry – teeing up particular lines in Webb’s songs for his audience, asking how someone so young could write “Asleep on the Wind”, an impressionistic portrait of a legendary bird that spends its whole life in the air. He’d take Webb’s tracks away and arrange them for his guitar, playing them back at their composer in his trance-like state. When the song was over, he’d snap out of it and laugh. “Those chords! If I start thinkin’ about them I miss ’em! I love it! Write me another one like that!”

When I noticed the tattoo sticking out of his T-shirt, faded like a biro scrawl, it struck me as strange that the same piece of skin had passed through so much of 20th-century music, with its changing notions of what it means to be “authentic”. The arm had travelled from sacred harp singing in Steinbeck’s south to Bob Wills’s hayseed country shows in the golden age of 1950s TV; from Vietnam protest songs to the stifling world of residencies in Las Vegas – and finally to the life of a “country legend”, via the theatres of Missouri and the golf courses of Arizona. In middle age, he recorded religious albums that sounded as pure as “Wichita Lineman”. Once again, he was acting as a funnel, for a different kind of light.

He was the real deal not because he turned his personal experience into a marketable commodity but because he made a trade of music, and made it look easy. He followed the gold rush, sold himself, got himself back just in time – yet in his playing, and the very touch of his tongue on his teeth, he was astonishingly truthful. It was the ultimate life in music, and in that sense, too, he is a piece of time lost. 

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear