A Curfew Tower journal: five days as Cushendall’s tower-dwelling artist-in-residence
Ten years after my stint as artist-in-residence in Cushendall, County Antrim – which involved hunkering down in Bill Drummond’s 200-year-old Curfew Tower – it’s finally time to publish the journal I kept over those five dreamlike days. Get ready for an overblown sense of adventure – I’d only hopped across the Irish Sea after all – and weapons-grade imposter syndrome by the bucketful.
Wait, hold on a sec…
I won’t detain you long, but before we begin with the journal, there are a few things you need to know.
First, you should know that the Curfew Tower is a 200-year old stone edifice in the small town of Cushendall in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It’s owned by Bill Drummond, who I usually describe as an ‘art/music provocateur’ (while knowing that this is almost certainly a description he would loathe), who invites artists of all kinds to stay there and produce work inspired by the experience.
These visits are usually arranged through arts organisations who are chosen by Bill to ‘curate’ a year of activities, and in 2012, those activities were curated by Static in Liverpool.
My friend Paul Sullivan is the founder of Static, and he asked me if I’d like to contribute to his Curfew Tower year by going to Cushendall for a few days and creating some work of my own. He added a further stipulation to the brief, specifying that the work should be an audio piece created on a four-track cassette deck – a Tascam Portastudio from the mid-1990s – which he would leave in the tower for the artists to use.
I’ve written plenty about this experience elsewhere on this website, chiefly in an article called The house of King Boy D. You can also find the audio artwork I created while I was staying at the tower, which wound up being called No idlers, no rioters.
The text that follows, however, is a little different. This is the journal I kept during my Curfew Tower trip – spontaneous, uncrafted, and not written with public consumption in mind. Naturally, there’s some overlap with the pieces I’ve written previously, but in this diarised version of events, the stuttering and uncertain nature of my creative process is more clearly revealed, and for some, it may be enjoyable to revel in my pathetic indecision.
Alternatively, you might like to discover what I found in Bill Drummond’s secret cupboard, or you could just make a list of all the foodstuffs I ate for my tea.
Also included here is a journal entry I wrote the following year when Paul and I, along with our families and a number of other Static artists, revisited the Curfew Tower and held a small festival in the tower’s garden.
This 2013 coda also features an awkward Bill Drummond-related high-five incident – a mildly excruciating counterbalance to my otherwise sick-making sense of wellbeing and bonhomie.
An all-day breakfast muffin and a medium cappuccino: Don’t You Want Me can be heard from behind counter: clatter of crockery, and the robotic call of departure announcements.
I have a short period to relax a little – I’m not boarding till 7.20am. I sped through bag drop having done online check-in, not that the queues were particularly big anyway: felt as though I was getting a very careful going over at security – maybe because I’m a male, alone.
Muffin very dry, with desiccated scrambled egg and a trace of ketchup like a thin smear of blood.
I got to the airport on the first 86A bus of the day – 5.47am from Benetton on Allerton Road. On time. Morning very pleasant – drifting clouds, blue sky beyond, the cigarette-thin chimneys of Runcorn/Ellesmere Port facing me across a wide river vista on my left. The tail fin of an EasyJet plane pokes into view.
So… what are my feelings about the next few days?
Excited, yep. Apprehensive, certainly, though with each stage of the journey that’s accomplished successfully, this feeling eases a little. For instance, the fact that I’ve reached the airport in good time, done security and had time for food and a coffee… well, this is all v. good.
I’m not too worried about the challenge of coming up with ideas for the stipulated art project – after all, I’m under that kind of creative pressure all the time at work, and this time I’ll have the considerable luxury of no childcare, no ferrying kids back and forth, not even any pressure to eat meals at particular times.
Work all night, sleep all day – I can if I want.
I’m a bit nervous about meeting the people of Cushendall – definitely! I’m not a natural people-meeter, and will have to force myself not to be a hermit. This might even be the biggest challenge I face.
We’ll see. I shall now savour the rest of my coffee before going to my gate when it’s called.
In the air
Somewhere over the Irish Sea
It’s about five or ten minutes since we took off, with me affecting the frequent-flyer disengagement of all those around me: men, middle-aged, on their own, flying for business or whatever reason. It’s so very different to a holiday flight: this is Monday morning to Belfast, workmanlike, kind of mundane… even though we are suspended in a blaze of sunlight above brilliant Italian-ice-cream clouds – as miraculous a position to be in as almost anything man has ever achieved.
We were delayed about 45 minutes due to our first officer having been transferred to a flight to Bodrum thanks to sickness. We then had to wait for an on-call replacement, called from home. The air crew stood around chatting about football while we waited, and there were no kids crying or families demanding fraught explanations. I read The Shining – an interesting choice for someone who’s about to be granted care of a lonely building for a week. Eventually our man appeared, not in starched and pressed official uniform like the flight crews you see carting their little bags out of hotels in Manchester each morning, but haystack-haired, a little grey in the face, wearing a grubby high-viz bib with ‘EasyJet’ on the back.
I’m sure he’s good at his job.
So, having nonchalantly continued reading through the explosive take-off moments, I couldn’t help but gaze out of the window on my immediate right as we flew up-river, perfectly positioned to gaze at Liverpool city centre down below. Alas, clouds suddenly obscured the view as we passed by the Pier Head, and we are now high above an endless snowscape of doughy water-fluff.
Just had to flip the table up as the landing announcements are in progress. Crazy how quick this flight is.
Soon be in Belfast… a resonant name if ever I heard one.
Belfast International Airport
I’m standing at a bus stop awaiting the 10.30am 109A service to Antrim. Am outside the Belfast International terminal building, which is comfortingly small, at least on the arrivals side – not unlike Liverpool.
There’s a white sky with hummocks of grey, but it’s dry.
A slightly flustered but pleasant lady on the tourist info desk scribbled my bus connections on a Post-It which is now in my pocket – priceless.
Have Facebooked and texted, but I’m trying to limit my checking of my phone as I’m wary of using up too much battery.
Will shortly be moving off into a landscape that has long lived in my imagination due to ‘The Troubles’ and related topics – vividly so around my late teens.
Adair Arms Hotel
I’m sipping rather curiously-scented coffee in the genteel tea room of a very pleasant-looking hotel in Ballymena – I think the milk may be on the turn. Or else it’s very weird coffee.
I had a great bus journey from Antrim to Ballymena in the company of a guy from Cushendall – he knew all about the Curfew Tower, and he even knows Zippy, who’s my Cushendall contact. We began chatting as we both attempted to get on the 218 bus at Antrim (v. grey bus station next to a building site) and discovered it was actually heading back to Belfast. The Ballymena bus that eventually arrived had a completely different number, even though the tourist info lady I spoke to had written 218 on my precious Post-It note.
Anyway, this guy was full of advice about pubs to go in, walks to do and info about himself. He’d just flown in from London, where he’d been seeing a girl he met on a stag do in Portugal. He was full of allusions to that weird feeling of meeting a holiday fling back on home turf – yeah, I knew what he meant. Funnily enough she’s Australian and is heading back there shortly, while he’s selling up and moving out there entirely coincidentally.
It was great though, as he guided me to this place for coffee and pointed me to a nearby bus stop to catch my next connection.
Ha! I can’t help feeling that these are the types of connections that help people travel across continents when they’re back-packing, and I’m pleased to finally have such an encounter of my own.
Apparently, the library in Cushendall is the place to go for web access, so I will be able to do my communicating – just not at the drop of a hat.
Now: a slick young duty manager-type chats easily with the waiting staff.
He: young male with stubble and neat spiky hair. Them: all middle-aged women, compact and bustling.
As he walked into the room, he called out, “Hi are yoy?” in true Northern Irish style.
And, I never mentioned the profusion of union flags and hand-of-Ulster banners that hang from lamp-posts as you enter each town. It seemed stark and intimidating when first spotted about five mins from the airport, but it’s already becoming part of the landscape.
Ballymena to Cushendall
I’m sitting two-thirds of the way back – the bus is busy but not full.
The bus stop was across the road from a neat, dark, church-like building surrounded by tall wire fencing, multiple video cameras, plus the gates and enclosures that I’m seeing all over. It was a dead giveaway that this was an important civic building – huge concrete planters lined the kerbside, too close together to be merely decorative. Gates were shut. A bloke in zipped-up anorak, shirt and tie manned the gates, opening and shutting each time a vehicle entered. As I waited, I saw cloaked barristers (or similar) come out and walk round the car park in earnest conversation. So clearly, Ballymena court.
Now driving through a rural farmland landscape, beautifully lush, with low hills on the horizon and everyone silent bar a woman at the back who must be on her phone.
Lots of good-sized, pristinely-kept houses with very precise, well-pointed corners, solid-looking roofs, big old gardens. Much grey pebble-dashing in the Scottish council-house style. Quite reminiscent of a Galloway landscape.
The bus pulls in at a junction and two nurses or similar (nylon outfits in navy blue with green medical trim) get out and proceed to walk up a country lane to… where?
According to a sign, we’re entering The Village of Cargan.
A cluster of slate-grey housing, estate style, with a village centre approaching.
I’m amazed really that I haven’t found time to write since I was on the Cushendall bus this afternoon. On the other hand, it’s been a bit of a head-fucking experience; really fabulous, but disorientating. It feels as though I haven’t done… anything… and yet I’ve actually got myself together, on my tod, in a completely new location; got food in, got beers in, had tea, had a walk… all kinds of things, but no work.
Well. What would you expect? Isn’t it right that I should just BE here for a while, and get used to it?
And yet… there are two four-track cassette recorders on the table in front of me that seem to be sneering a little, taunting me… as if I was going to just walk in and start recording stuff.
OK, so let’s consider the present moment.
I’m full of tomatoey, oniony, garlicky pasta, my first food since the breakfast bap at the airport this morning. Now I’ve got a cup of tea, and I’ve got I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue on the radio.
This main living room, which I think is the second storey (third floor if you count the ground-floor kitchen), is wonderfully cosy, with a decent-sized table draped in chequered cloth, basic shelves full of books, pamphlets, CDs, plus bits and pieces for the audio project. The notion of sitting in here until whatever time I wish scribbling away and watching episodes of Thriller on my laptop, or Mike Leigh plays (those are the DVDs I’ve brought with me), is fabulously seductive.
However, I do think I’ll have another walk this evening – probably head down to the beach and see what that’s like. The weather has been clear and actually reasonably warm all day, so it makes sense to take advantage just in case it pisses down the rest of the week.
So… how did I get here?
I’d asked the bus driver to give me a shout when we got to Cushendall centre, but it was pretty obvious as the Curfew Tower was right in front of us – I was actually the last person off. The bus dropped me right outside the ‘D. Kearney Flesher’ shop, which is an Irish name for a butcher’s. I walked in – beautifully presented shop full of delicious looking stuff – and said I was after a bloke called Zippy.
“A lot of people are after a bloke called Zippy,” said the guy chopping meat, and he called into the back. Out came Zippy, a tall skinny bloke, high cheek bones, slightly floppy hair – not what I was expecting really as I thought he’d be more of a crusty type. He immediately took me over the road, chatting all the way, and into a clothes shop where there was an elderly chap and his wife. This is where the key handover took place, as the old chap (I did ask him to repeat his name, but couldn’t really catch it) keeps the key. Then once we’d got our hands on it, we walked round the corner and into the tower itself.
You enter into the kitchen, which is green and brown, kind of scruffy but well-equipped and clean. Taped to the ceiling is an authentic-looking early 1980s screenprint advertising Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen. Facing you as you enter is a Bill Drummond-style ‘NOTICE’ explaining the Curfew Tower concept.
Up one flight – walking past The Dungeon, which I haven’t yet explored – there’s a rather basic (and gloomy, and chilly) bathroom. I think I’ll be in and out of there as quick as I can. Up again it immediately become MUCH cosier, with a door and glazed wall enclosing the lovely living room, as described earlier. There are views in every direction along the main streets of Cushendall – the tower really is at the very centre of things.
On the wall in front of me – a 1958 map of Africa, and stencilled on the wall, the worlds ‘THE EMPIRE IS REVOLTING’. And lower down, a white sticker with ‘WHAT’S THE TIME’ in red.
There are two more floors above this room, a bedroom on each. The one above is much the cosier of the two, and still feels warm and friendly thanks to its proximity to this room. The top one is less pleasant, though it’s hard to put my finger on why that is. It has a hefty metal ladder attached to a trap door in the ceiling, which apparently gives access to the roof. It doesn’t sound terrifically easy to get up on your own, but on the other hand… shouldn’t I give it a go?
OK, I think I’ll pop out in a min. It’s good to be here at this time of year as we’re at maximum hours of daylight.
Oh… in the lower bedroom is a high cupboard which appears to contain all kinds of stuff including a big batch of 7” vinyl. Paul tipped me off about it last week – he reckons it’s stuff that belongs to Bill Drummond which he appears to have forgotten about. Looks like there’s plenty to rifle through, though perhaps too much given the length of time I’m here. It already feels like a short period – four full days, rather than a week which is what it felt like before today.
Time to go out.
I’m sitting on a weathered wooden bench on a path overlooking Cushendall beach, and an intensely ‘mussely’ aroma fills the air. It’s still and calm – the sea is very flat, and yet still it bulges up against the shore with a whoosh and a slurp, a shuffle that proceeds down the beach as shore birds call. Occasionally people walk by – very occasionally – and nod a greeting.
The sky is a light grey with smears of cloud; the sea is the same, with just the merest darkening along the horizon to delineate where one ends/begins and the other one does the same.
Seriously, this smell is so strong – pleasant, evocative of all beaches everywhere (I say that, but on reflection it’s somewhat glib, as I don’t recall any Mediterranean beaches EVER carrying such an aroma), but on the cusp of being too pungent. It really does smell like the taste of mussels; I breathe in and I’m pulling that gritty jelly from the shell.
Behind me there’s a neat and tidy golf club; to my left a curve of grass-covered headland dotted with houses; to my right a low, manicured bay, but beyond that some seriously impressive cliff formations. Which reminds me, as we drove here we passed a great scooped-out valley – flat and wide at the bottom, and steep and vast to each side. I had it down as a glaciated valley, thinking of geography trips to Winnats Pass back in my schooldays, and the info board I’ve just passed confirmed it.
Many of the people walking by are clearly doing fitness walking, brisk and speedy; pairs of women or middle-aged couples, and in fact they’re almost coming thick and fast now. Think I’ll walk on in a min and see what else I come across.
A bunch of young lads in baseball caps with skinny dogs now passes in front of me along the beach, and they climb up onto the path – first people I’ve actually seen on the beach itself. And in that moment the odour changed; beach smells so often seem to merge and blend, changing from salty to seaweedy to sewagey in an instant. And now back again, like brine; tasty you’d imagine, but if you got a mouthful while swimming you could almost be sick.
I’m sitting at the living room table – the end of the table facing the book shelves; the Today programme is on the radio; there’s quite a lot of motor traffic beyond the window to my left. Got a cup of tea in a yellow spotted mug; just eaten a bowl of high-fibre muesli. Will probably have some toast shortly.
The morning seemed fairly sunny when I awoke – at least, that’s how I read the situation from the light seeping through the curtains, but as I look out now there are some creamy grey clouds beginning to dominate the view. It feels fairly warm though. Still, I sit in my striped hoody, as the atmosphere in the tower is such that I need to help myself feel cosy – physically and psychologically. It’s not that it’s not comfortable to be sitting here now, scribbling away; it’s that the floor below here, with the bathroom, is quite cold and unpleasant – it seems that it isn’t served by heating unless you activate the fan heater in there, which I imagine is only for if you’re having a bath or something.
The kitchen is fine, on the ground floor, but to reach it you have to pass along the ‘dungeon corridor’, with the dungeon itself and a lobby full of hardware gear. This is cold and spooky. So the cosy pockets of the tower are separated from each other by zones of unease and disquiet, which demand that I hurry through them. If I was of a superstitious bent, I would no doubt talk about the feelings of unsettled spirits and mystic chills generated by unseen forces, rather than quirks of the building’s design.
As I walked into the town from the beach last night, a car screeched to a halt beside me and my heart leapt into my mouth. But I looked up and there was Zippy, looning at the windshield like a vacant teen. He got out and we had a chinwag; I said I was going to try and get some scribbling done; he said he’d try and get me out to a hurling game sometime this week. That’s where he’d been – helping out with the “hurling minors”, which I assumed were juniors but are actually an under-18 team.
I got back to the tower and decided I’d better have a mess around with the Portastudios to see if I could get them working. So I followed the step-by-step in the manual and managed to record myself saying “Baa baa black sheep” simultaneously on four tracks, so at least I know the things work – machine, mic, etc. It’s a very good thing that I brought my own headphones though as I’m not entirely sure how I could have heard what I was doing otherwise.
With my mind settled on that score though, I really felt as though I had to get at least a bit of writing done. So while I don’t have a sense that I’ve ‘cracked’ anything yet, at least I’ve broken the seal as it were, and got a couple of hundred words down. I also had this notion that I wanted to sit up till all hours drinking Guiness and watching episodes of Thriller on my laptop, but it soon became unavoidably clear that I was knackered; hardly surprising as I was up at 4.50am yesterday morning.
I’ve just realised that I haven’t mentioned my trip out to buy food yesterday afternoon. I called in at the Mace store and bought a few essentials (I can also see a Spar if I look out of the other window), dumped it all in the kitchen, then went straight back out and visited ‘Wine Flair’, which is down a suburban street near the police station.
Ah – the police station. As they all are round here, it’s a mini-fortress with much high fencing, sealed gates, multiple video cameras. It’s in great nick though! In fact it’s really quite a prosperous-looking town.
Wine Flair turned out to be more of a general store at the front, then you walk through a barrier to reach the booze. I perused the selves – all kinds of wine, ciders of the Kopparberg variety, and a dispiriting stack of boring beer cans in the middle of the floor.
“Are these all the beers you’ve got?” I asked.
“No,” said a young woman, “they’re all in there. These are just the ones on offer.”
She was pointing into what I thought was a stockroom, so I walked in… and discovered that the entire room was a fridge! And it was lined floor to ceiling with beers.
Again, not the most thrilling selection, but I grabbed myself a six-pack of Guinness Extra Stout in bottles – thin and fizzy, like stout pop, but drinkable.
OK, I need another cuppa and some toast.
I’m listening to Eric’s – the Story of a Liverpool Club on iTunes. Including, naturally, Bill Drummond.
Just after half one this afternoon I heard a rapid-fire rat-tat-tat, and while I wasn’t certain what the noise was – because being on the central junction in the town there really are all kinds of sounds all day long – it did sound as if it was connected with the fabric of the building rather than being out in the street. So I guessed it was probably Zippy as he’d said he’d pop round at some point.
Of course, it was Zippy – in his butcher’s gear; he said he wanted to take me round a few of the sights as he’d got a couple of hours to kill (early closing I think). I’d just said I was on a bit of a roll with my creative stuff, which was an exaggeration as I hadn’t written much, but I did feel as though I’d found my way into this thing, and I did kind of want to continue. On the other hand, I’d also been procrastinating like mad, having found a bunch of old phone videos on the laptop – jerky footage of the kids in Scotland, or when they were little back at home. So as I hadn’t been fully hard at it, and as his invitation was exactly the kind of thing you’re duty-bound to accept when you’re here, I said I’d love to get out and about.
He nipped off to get changed and “get the smell of meat off me,” and I made a quick cheese buttie, then we got into his car just after 2.15pm and sped off into the rain.
He does drive like a bit of a loon, though I guess he knows these road like the back of his hand, and we seemed to be climbing up into increasingly dense clumps of low cloud. He’d urged me to bring my camera and kept saying, “There’s an amazing view from here on a sunny day” as we took these high mountain bends, and I kept saying I didn’t mind the lack of a view, as the drizzly rain and miniscule draw-distance made for a fabulous glowering atmosphere. I honestly don’t think he really got what I meant – “Are you sure you aren’t a vampire?” he asked.
We climbed up to an abandoned and derelict coastguard’s station at Torr Head, but rather than just standing on the cliff top and looking out at the sea – a view that would apparently reveal Scotland on a bright day, but which was just an atmospheric wall of white mist today – Zippy took us round the back of the building and started climbing up a rusty ladder with a wobbling, disengaged handrail, and emerged onto the roof. I took some pics, almost delighted that the fog was so dense, and Zippy revealed it was one of the places he used to come and drink and smoke in his younger years. In fact, as we travelled this afternoon, it transpired that there were many such places; he said it was because in a tiny place like Cushendall, everyone knows how old you are so there’s no way you can drink in local boozers.
We then called at Layd Church just above Cushendall, a ruined building with a graveyard (I caught sight of an inscription that I couldn’t help remarking on – a man cited as ‘The Wizard of Zigton’ or something like that; I may go back to check. Anway, Zippy said he’d never noticed it before).
Then we drove to Glenariff Forest, which was quite something, a fabulous wooded glen that seemed very well cared for, with a newish-looking wooden boardwalk that led up towards a spectacular double waterfall. In fact the boardwalk continued in tight, twisting fashion up a very steep ravine; I would love to have explored further, but was by now getting the measure of sight-seeing with Zippy. You screech up in his car, with him gesticulating and waving at people (and you never really know if he knows them or if he’s insulting their driving), then you get out and walk a hundred yards or so, stand at some point (cliff top, beach, edge of waterfall), look at the view for no more than a minute, then walk back to the car and va-va-voom off somewhere else.
He did admit that he gets bored easily, that he can’t sit still for more than 20 minutes without getting bored (though as far as I can see, 20 mins is a massive over-statement) and always has to be heading somewhere else to keep his mind occupied. He says he once went on holiday with his fiancée’s parents, and they “love to read books”; the notion of sitting and reading book after book for a week really seemed like a nightmare to him. So he would just head off on walks, no doubt at a hectic pace. I’m a fast walker but I was always one step or two behind him.
We chatted about all kinds of things, and he’s extremely easy to get on with. And you know, for all my natural reservation and introverted qualities, I think I’m actually easy to get on with in the company of someone like that; certainly, we have a few things in common (friendship with Paul, a knowledge of Bill Drummond) but not so much; yet being with him for a couple of hours was never a chore.
He’s way younger than me really – he’s 33 – but I suppose the fact that he’s over 30 and is getting married means he’s moved into the same general phase of life that I’m in; and we both have our musical passions; and really intriguingly, we have some knowledge of Liverpool. It turns out that his older brother used to run Pogue Mahone’s boozer on Seel Street in Liverpool, and Zippy had a six-month sabbatical from the family business about ten years ago when he just went and lived upstairs from the pub. His memories of this period are clearly golden, so the city evidently has a special place in his heart.
At one point this afternoon, he suddenly said, “Do you want a coffee?”, and assuming we were heading to a café I said, “Yeah, I’d love one.” At which point he swerved across to the other side of the road, pulled in, said, “This is one of our shops,” (and indeed, it was a Kearney general store) and unfastened his seat belt. I started to unbuckle mine too, but he said, “No, I’ll just be two minutes,” and disappeared into the shop. I guessed he just had a bit of business to sort out before we went to the café, but he came out a few moments later clutching two large paper cups with lids.
And you know, it was good stuff too.
Finally, we called at a beach that frills the edge of the glaciated valley I clocked yesterday, mostly to see a mannequin dressed as the Virgin Mary that some crazy dude has plonked in an alcove in the rock some distance away. Apparently he also recently made one dressed as a fisherman and cemented it to a rock by the sea, but it got washed away in some bad weather. And finally Zippy dropped me back in Cushendall. By now the rain had cleared, and I was feeling sticky in my zip-up Nike top and jacket, though the cloud was still masking the hill tops.
It was a cracking afternoon, and I’m so glad I went with him. Left to my own devices at these places I would have explored a bit more, and taken a more leisurely pace; but of course, left to my own devices I would never have actually got to these places as I don’t have a car. I can walk up to Layd Church but the other places all seemed too far.
I went to the Half Door chippy for my tea; was really impressed as the fish was mind-blowingly tasty and fresh. They also do pizzas, with ‘banana as a topping’ option. You can add it as a ‘choose your own’ selection, or it comes as part of the Maryland pizza, which is chicken, pineapple, banana and bacon.
While I was waiting, a very polite little girl came in, about nine or ten years old. She could barely see over the counter, so stood on tippy toes and said, “Can I have a chip please?” and the woman who was serving said, “A small chip?” at which the girl nodded. Of course, she got a portion of chips, plural, and extremely politely asked, “Could I have salt and vinegar on that please?”
Sat eating my fish and chips watching an awesome episode of Thriller called One Deadly Owner about a Rolls Royce that mysteriously reveals a murder. And I noticed that I’d got a strong phone signal all of a sudden, so tried to comment on Facebook and to my surprise, it actually worked. So I posted a photo of the tower with the comment, “Suddenly got a freak web connection on my phone so… LOOK AT MY FUCKING HOUSE!”
And finally, why is he called Zippy?
Because he never shuts up, and when he was about eight his dad’s mate said, “I wish we could fasten your mouth up like Zippy from Rainbow.”
Ha ha ha!
I’m having a moment.
I’ve got a live Surgeon mix booming in my headphones, and it’s so awesome I’m jiggling in my seat, and it might even lead me to drinking a third bottle of Guinness.
I’m writing too, in very short bursts. But so long as it gets me somewhere in the end, it matters not.
Surgeon though. I can picture him DJ-ing at Voodoo in Liverpool, 1997 vintage. I went alone ‘cos Biddy didn’t fancy it.
Alone, you see.
Now… Dave Clarke… live at Sonar 2007 mix. Absolutely fucking brilliant. It really DOES make me want to go out!
Arthur’s Tea and Coffee Warehouse
Jesus, it’s so sticky and humid out here this morning. I can’t really work out the heating back in the tower as there are two dials on every radiator, one labelled ‘BOOST’ and one labelled ‘INPUT’. You would imagine that even though this labelling is confusing, the general principle would be that low numbers are cool and high numbers are warm. However, even by winding down all the dials, it doesn’t necessarily seem to mean no heat; and in fact the radiators appear to have been on ever since I’ve been here.
I guess if they’re not on, the temperature soon drops (to around the level you get in the bathroom, which is noticeably cool) but even so, this morning the weather is fine and I’m sure at least one of the two could be turned off.
I got up pretty late really – about 9.45am, but as I didn’t go to bed until 2.30 this morning, I reckoned that was more or less fine. Had my cereal, then took the opportunity of a bright day to get in a bunch of photography – just walking round the tower capturing pretty much every square inch. I haven’t tackled the ‘Bill Drummond’ cupboard yet, but might have a look in there later on.
I’d also thought I might have a bath as I’m starting to feel a bit minging – I need a hair wash and a shave – but the morning is so lovely I thought I’d better get out and about. I’d spotted a place up the street called the Village Tea Room, so decided to go for morning coffee; however, when I got there it looked closed, as if it’s maybe only really used as a B&B breakfast room, or perhaps it’s only for afternoons. Anyway, I walked past it then realised I was just heading out of town, so instead I spotted the Cushendall Development Office across the road and as I’d seen a leaflet in the tower that said they offered web access, I went and had a look.
The door was unlocked, although the place had a ‘you’re not supposed to be here’ vibe even though it was evidently open. There was a reception window with no one around, so I hovered a moment to see if anyone would appear having heard the door, then I tentatively began creeping up the stairs. It was a functional, publicly-minded place, with a grey carpet and leaflet racks and posters all about the local area. At the top of the stairs was a corridor with a toilet, some closed doors and a room marked KITCHEN. I walked to the end expecting to find an office with someone typing away or something, but instead came to a fairly large room with stacks of plastic chairs and a screen and the atmosphere of dissipated lectures.
So I went back downstairs, hearing the door go as I reached the bottom. I assumed it was a member of staff but instead discovered the postman with a parcel.
“Is there usually someone on this desk?” I asked.
“Usually,” he said, before leaning over and leaving the parcel, then disappearing out of the door. I waited a few moments more, then headed back the way I’d come.
I had fancied sitting in a café but decided to head for the beach – however, as I crossed the junction, I spotted ‘Arthur’s Tea and Coffee Warehouse’, where I’m now sitting.
I’ve got a really lovely cup of coffee – very nice indeed – and I’m just thinking I might actually have lunch here too although I haven’t been up very long.
It’s a neat and tidy little place: black-and-white New York photos to my left, black-and-white photos of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn to my right, magnolia on most walls but a strange burst of red flowery wallpaper on one panel. It’s busy too; I’m on a table for four in the window – back to the window and facing the rest of the customers – but I’m thinking I might hop onto a table for two to my left to free up space as it approaches lunch time.
It’s undeniable though – I really do feel strangely exposed and ‘on display’ here. I somehow lack that ability to throw myself into conversation with strangers, though will happily chat away if anyone addresses me first. And I’m a man alone, scribbling away frantically in a notebook; and I can’t help thinking that people might feel as though they’re being ‘observed’, by an ‘outsider’, and thus resent my presence a little. Though God knows, they must surely be used to it with so many tower visitors coming and going and working on ‘projects’.
Finished my coffee. Now have to decide what to do next.
And suddenly, I feel the hot sun on my head; direct sun, shining through a break in the cloud. It’s muggy today – I feel sweaty and grimy – but it’s been white/grey cloud all day until now; I’m suddenly reminded that I’m here in mid-summer.
I’m sitting on a wall about three feet high in the church ruins; I was alone, but two ladies in pink and red polo shirts have appeared strolling down through the graveyard together; they read gravestones as they go. I’m facing a ruined tower; possibly, according to the info signs, once accommodation for a priest. We tower dwellers really must stick together.
Sounds: faint chirruping bird song; a white-water rush of a fast-flowing stream over the far wall of the church; the very faint muffling of the ladies’ conversation. Wow, I can actually now feel the tiniest tingle of moisture drops in the air; and there’s a splash on my page!
From sun, to rain.
I’m on a pink sandstone bench fitted with wooden batons; modern in style; angular; v. solid. Overlooking Cushendall beach, along which I have just walked. It’s a pebbly beach with a bunching of rotting seaweed towards this end – I think this is where the strong seasidey smell comes from.
So, having walked up the road to Layd Church and spent 20 minutes or so there, before the rain began falling (the merest of showers actually) I found a coastal path that hugged the cliff top, revealing some tremendous views across the sea and down to jagged outcrops of rock. It also gave me chance to get a feel for the views from the houses up this end of town – very prosperous-looking, large detached houses, all individual in style, clearly self-builds, with big steep gardens and unobstructed vistas across the bay.
I’m now just enjoying the breeze – it’s suddenly a little less muggy down here, and there’s the whoosh and the crunch of the tiny waves as they roll in across the stones.
It’s quite strange to wander like this with no aim in mind, no end in sight, no deadline imposed by routine (i.e. make kids’ tea, collect from school, and so on). No one with whom to share the decision as to where to go next; but it’s definitely better to be out here right now than sitting in the tower trying to force something creative to happen.
Behind Cushendall, there’s a huge Close Encounters-style mountain, a truncated Devil’s Tower. I forget its name but it makes a spectacular backdrop, like a massive wide-brimmed hat overlooking the town.
And still the sun keeps breaking through, and then the clouds pass over again.
(The middle-aged ladies in pink sports casual have just passed by me again; think I’ll see where they head as I’m not entirely certain where this path actually leads if I continue walking away to my right.)
It’s very quiet down here right now, with far fewer people walking by than appeared on Monday evening. But I’ve just had a little flurry of passers-by; the pink ladies, an older lady with pushchair and two tiny dogs, and a grey-haired bloke, maybe early fifties, smoking a fag and looking at the sea. They’ve all headed to my right, so there must be a way through. I can see the pink ladies now following the curve of the land, so that’s where I’m heading.
I’m in the kitchen eating beans on toast splashed with Tabasco and topped with grated cheddar, and a pack of Walkers pickled onion from Wine Flair.
There’s a play about the 1960s on Radio Four.
Gorgeous day outside.
After a cloudy start today, the weather turned positively balmy this afternoon, and as I walked the coastal path down towards the beach, I wondered if I should have thought to bring sun cream. It’s very humid and sticky though, and as I said before, I felt positively dirty. I felt like having a bath, but before I did so, I thought I’d better have a peek into the top cupboard in my bedroom and see what’s in there, because I knew that if there was anything worth photographing, I’d need the sunshine through the window in order to do it.
So I went up to the top bedroom and got a fairly sturdy stool, carried it back down and stood on it. I reached right to the back of the cupboard and grabbed an old poster tube; I pulled it out, and saw that fastened to it – though peeling off a bit – was an address label from Warner Bros in the States. And on that was a typed address: ‘Echo and the Bunnymen, c/o The Zoo, Chicago Buildings, Liverpool’, etc. Wow. I was excited. I tipped it up and what should fall out? Only a black-and-magenta screenprinted poster for the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK tour, with The Damned, Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers, and special guests The Clash, about A2 size. Fuck!
I Blu-Tacked it to the floor and photographed it. Then I reached back into the cupboard and found two stiff brown card envelopes, one labelled ‘1988 Who Killed the Jams’ and one that said ‘1987 The Jams Press’.
Inside were thick wodges of press cuttings from each of those years, far too much to photograph, but amazing to find. There were also a few bits of Jams artwork so I photographed those, then moved on to the records.
The LPs were less interesting to me (lots of Americana comps and stuff) although there were a few 12” singles intermingled, including a couple of KLF ones and a Krush House Arrest white label with Rob Gordon and Dave Taylor’s FON Records phone number scrawled on in biro.
There was a huge collection of 7” vinyl from the early 1960s into the late 1980s. Loads of Bunnymen and Teardrops of course, also the Swap Shop theme, Lulu, a really eclectic selection. There was a Washington go-go sleeve off from which all early-period Designers Republic was ripped (seriously, it’s an Age of Chance sleeve in everything but name, with even the same zebra stripe down the spine that tDR developed for FON. But this is dated 1985 and tDR didn’t begin until 1986!).
Anyway, I photographed all that, then had a bath, and as I was getting dry I noticed it was starting to rain. There was some great ambient rain noise on the kitchen skylight so I started fucking about with the Portastudio, but just as I was getting a nice long piece of spooky sound, Zippy appeared hopping past the kitchen window and rapping on the glass. It ruined my recording of course, but I ambled over to the door and let him in – he was going “No rush, no rush,” in sarcastic fashion. He was utterly drenched and said, “Is everything OK in here? No water coming in?”
I assumed he meant through the roof so I said I hadn’t actually looked, but he just walked round to the main door by the dungeon – a door which isn’t used – and poked around. Then he said, “You might want to look out of your window – the town’s flooded.” I was aghast; but as he disappeared back out into the street I ran upstairs and looked out of all the windows.
I could see brown water flowing down the street past the Spar, I could see a swooshing of surface water on a couple of other streets, but when I looked down just past Zippy’s butchers’, I saw women up to their knees and a stranded car! I couldn’t believe it, so took a couple of snaps then grabbed my jacket and joined the masses outside.
Zippy was marshalling traffic having unilaterally closed off the road, and water was gushing out of overflows and out of the drains in the road. A fire engine turned up and began pumping water from the dip in the road that was worst affected, and water was washing up against the chemist’s a couple of door down.
Fortunately, it looked as if they were getting the better of it as the rain began to slow down, so I went back inside… and here I am.
It really does look as though it’s calming down now, and Zippy just called in to say he’s going home, and to phone him if the weather kicks off again, “Even if it’s stupid o’clock.”
So that was today’s excitement. To be honest, I didn’t really need those rain recordings – it was just good practice to help me get the hang of using the Portastudio. I’m pleased with how easy it is to get the hang of, but I better get cracking with the real thing now!!
I’ve just drunk two cups of delicious coffee brewed in this weird plastic cafetiere. It’s double-walled and thick, but still, it seems strange pouring such hot water into a plastic pot.
I’ll keep this brief as I’m attempting to finish off my written piece. I’d made a poor start on Monday, trying to claw my way into the ‘ghost story’ idea I’d originally arrived with – a kind of spoof Ghost Watch scenario in which I would record the sound of unusual phenomena as they occurred.
On Tuesday night, while listening to the Surgeon mix, I ditched that idea and began again, writing some paragraphs around the idea of wanting to believe in ghosts but not having it within me to do so – and not being able to tap into psychogeographic ideas either as my knowledge and experience of the tower are too limited. I refined that a bit last night, reaching an actual finish, but I’m now just fleshing it out a bit, adding a passage about the flood as it’s too important not to mention it.
If I get this done by midday, I can get on with the recording. I aim to read it straight, but then to add atmospheres that gradually undermine my ‘no ghosts’ point of view, adding footsteps and strangeness and spooky ambience (to the best of my ability as there’s no way of escaping the sound of traffic here).
We’ll see how it goes anyway.
It looks damp and misty and grey outside, but there’s no rain.
A few of the shops were lined with sandbags last night – in fact I’ve just looked out, and they still are. I walked up to the Spar last night for some bacon, and the river – over which you pass via a bridge – looked swollen, and was flowing really fast.
The accumulation of rain in the dips in the road is one thing, causing the flash flooding, but I guess the possibility of the river bursting its banks is quite another thing.
If that happens, I think we all run up the hill behind the tower very fast.
An amazing day in many ways, this time not because I’ve been on a surprising trip out, but because I absolutely immersed myself in this project and I think I may be approaching completion.
I finished my writing about 12.30 this afternoon – just over 2,000 words about ghosts, memories and psychogeography. I’m certainly pleased with it on my own terms; it comes from within me, genuinely so, but at the same time does also seem engaged with the tower and my experience of being here.
Once I’d got that done, I immediately set about recording it, first by attempting to capture the main narrative in a cupboard in my bedroom – because I thought the ‘dead’ sound would be good – and then, when it turned out to be too cramped and difficult in such a tiny space, and it sounded bad anyway, I moved onto the landing outside the bathroom.
It was getting rather frustrating as I kept fucking up, but eventually I got it down satisfactorily – a few fluffs, but nothing major – and then began the true Joe Meek episode as I recorded radio static in the bathroom, extractor fans, footsteps and ambient noises… until I eventually decided I’d got four tracks as good as I could get them.
Now to mix down onto the laptop… but first, a pizza!
I can hardly believe it, but I’ve actually finished my recording – and by that, I mean the full mixdown onto my laptop. It only took one run-through to get it right, and while it isn’t broadcast quality by any means, it ain’t half bad considering the ramshackle recording conditions and the fact that I haven’t handled a Portastudio since 1987.
It’s just over 11 minutes long, and even features a few spot effects synced to the voice that work well. It’s in sections, the first two of which are voice, quiet radio static, and just ambient room nose. Originally, the ambient track included the sounds of ‘spirits’ running up and down stairs and stuff, but when I played it back, this just sounded a bit distracting and rubbish. However, when my voice begins talking about last night’s flood, these sounds suddenly sync up accidentally. So I’ve left that bit in, re-recorded the rest of it, and added a couple of extra effects that come as a real shock, and are actually a bit spooky. Then the whole thing finishes with a rush of static that suddenly cuts off, leaving silence.
No idea what Paul will think of it; haven’t got a clue how it will sit with the wider body of work created by the other artists; but it works for me, and amazingly, it means I can chill a bit tomorrow. I currently have a splitting headache, so I reckon it’s well deserved to be honest.
I had a veggie pizza with extra jalapenos from Half Door this evening, and now I’ve taken my headphones off, I can hear the youth of the Glens razzing round in their cars. That really is how young people entertain themselves round here.
While I ate my pizza I began watching an episode of Thriller, so I reckon I’ll crack a weak lager from the fridge (left here before I arrived) and finish watching that before bed.
I feel a great deal more relaxed than I did yesterday. I think the background anxiety about getting my work done had actually been accumulating over a couple of days, and yesterday was quite adrenaline-fuelled.
It was a really interesting day though, the like of which I haven’t experienced for many years. It was reminiscent of days at art college when I’d bring home equipment that I didn’t really know how to use properly, and make a stab at doing something interesting with it. It would always turn out to be really time consuming trying to sort out where to plug stuff in, untangling cables, just the hassle of attempting to do things in and around your everyday ‘stuff’, and it was kind of the same yesterday, with the difference that I’m actually pretty happy with the result, which I rarely was back in art school days.
It was crazily enjoyable though, just trying different things and letting the results help to formulate what the piece would become. If you think back to what I thought I was going to do before I came here, then it’s clear that my experience here combined with some realisations about the capabilities of the technology have really altered the way it finally turned out. And even once I’d got the essay written and the voice recorded, the ‘spirit sounds’ and ‘spot effects’ thing really surprised me – firstly because the spirt sounds weren’t working, then because for a couple of minutes they were exactly right, and then because I was able to alter, amend and add to the effects in a way that’s worked really well.
My ‘concept’, therefore, is that in spite of my statements to the contrary, maybe I have laid down some psychic energies, and maybe that’s what we’re hearing during that passage.
Today: I got up just before nine, had a bowl of cereal and a bacon buttie (mostly to use up some bacon I had left over) while listening to John Bishop on Desert Island Discs.
I seem to have missed all opportunities to use the internet in the library as it’s shut today, so as Zippy had mentioned I could use their computer to check email if I wanted to, I popped over to the butcher’s to see if it would be convenient. He wasn’t actually there as he was doing deliveries so I had a quick chat with the guy on the counter who said he’d send Zippy over once he returned, then I headed off on a little walk.
I began strolling down towards the beach, but it started raining just as I passed the little Presbyterian church down there, so I turned back into town. I realised I’d meant to buy some postcards so I popped into Celtic Crafts and bought four, all the same – a painting of a view from the steep road looking towards the tower. I walked up to the Spar – which has a little post office desk at the back near the butcher counter – to buy stamps, then returned to the tower for coffee.
Now: I’m sitting at the kitchen table, two cups of strong coffee inside me. I’ve written three cards – for granny, for mum and dad, and for Biddy and the boys. The other I will keep for myself, probably to tape into this journal.
I’m listening to tinny and distorted Funkadelic on the grease-covered boombox on top of the fridge, and I’m pondering on how I might be able to use it to dub a normal stereo cassette from my laptop recording so I could leave it here somewhere. The copy I send to Paul, I can do at home, but it would somehow seem in the spirit of the place to leave a version here too.
Still raining. Not flood rain, but steady nevertheless, and also quite sunny too. I could just put a waterproof on and go for a wander, but I’m also convinced there must be a way to make this cassette copy considering all the tape machines and leads we’ve got here.
As for tomorrow, it looks like I’ll have to spend more time travelling than I’d expected, as Zippy mentioned that something’s come up for him tomorrow – a long-winded story about his sister and Portrush or something – so he probably won’t be able to give me a lift to the airport. My flight isn’t until 6pm so I’ve got plenty of time; it just means I have to leave earlier than I would otherwise have done, and once again I’ll be lugging my very heavy bag behind me.
Right, I’m now going to go and fiddle with tape machines and leads.
I’m eating last night’s cold pizza with some beans left from, I think, Tuesday lunch. Also got a glass of orange juice – the last of the carton.
I’ve got Radio 4 on, but you can’t get FM here, so it’s R4 long wave, and thus has been handed over to cricket; I think it sounds like England v. Australia.
I totally failed to make a cassette copy to leave in the tower; all they need is to have a normal cassette deck here with proper line in inputs. They actually have two Portastudios – a decent one, and a cheaper budget one. However, I just don’t have the leads to copy from one to the other in the required fashion, or from laptop to Portastudio.
However, I do now have something I can leave behind, because Zippy called round and said I could use the butchers’ shop computer; I was only expecting to check emails and Facebook, but when Zippy led me through the back of the shop, past trays of chopped-up fresh meat, and up the stairs to a functional, slightly smeared office room, he indicated that the printer was turned on and I could use it if I wanted. So I legged it back to the tower for my USB stick, jammed it into the computer, and printed off a copy of my piece – which is now called No Idlers, No Rioters.
I’ve now tucked a copy into a presentation file (which I did actually bring for that purpose, just in case I found a printer!), stuck some badges and business cards in the back, and I shall stash it… somewhere.
I think I’ve also sort of agreed with Zippy to go out for a couple of pints this evening, which I must surely do before I leave. That will be much easier to achieve if he’s around too, so hopefully he’ll call for me!!
There’s a quick burst of sun beyond the living room window; no doubt any minute now it’ll be absolutely lashing down again. That’s how it’s been all day, and I got caught in an immense downpour about an hour ago, having walked up the hill behind the tower, took some snaps of approaching grey clouds, walked down through gorgeous Cottage Wood and then along to the beach. I got another couple of shots of dense black cloud over the Close Encounters mountain, then seconds later the rain tipped down.
Minutes later I was drenched, and having found a cut-through to the road where Wine Flair lies, I still had a fair old walk back to the tower. It’s fucked up my packing a bit as half my clothes are now sodden and hanging over the backs of chairs in here.
Another bit of departure related gloom for me: I just walked along to the bus stop to check times to Ballymena for tomorrow, and discovered that while there are loads of buses Monday to Friday, there are only three tomorrow… and only the first one will allow me to make the airport in time! And even that’s possibly a little uncertain, as I’ve no idea of connection times from Ballymena on towards the airport. So anyway, I have to catch the 9.56 from here to Ballymena in the morning, and according to the guy who I met on the bus journey here, you pretty much have to allow 15 minutes either way as the times are not especially reliable.
If Zippy was giving me a lift I’d be feeling pretty relaxed now; as it is, I’m now feeling a bit uptight.
Anyway, as for my print-out of my article, I initially thought I’d ‘hide’ it in a cupboard over the stairs for random discovery, but then decided it would be better taking its place among the Curfew Tower art collection down in the dungeon. So that’s where it is, to be looked at in the future by… who knows?
I’ve just scoffed a ‘small chip’ from the Half Door takeaway – third time I’ve been there. Tasty fucking stuff – I dribbled a load of balsamic on them as I had no malt vinegar.
I’ve been in Johnny Joe’s pub with Zippy – had three pints of Guinness. It’s an amazing pub, a series of tight little rooms – we were sitting in a room with a full fucking kitchen range in it. In another room as we were leaving there was a full load of musicians playing trad Irish music. Totally brilliant.
I had a huge long chat with Zippy – such an easy guy to get on with. No awkward silences at all. Really, a lot of fun. If you want a description, he looks like a thin Jah Wobble – same piercing eyes.
Anyway, I had such a nice evening, and because he has to get off to Waterfoot to lock up his family shop (where we got the nice coffee the other day) he had to ZIP off about half nine, so I get chance to watch a DVD.
So anyway, I shall now continue watching…
Cushendall to Ballymena
After scooting round the tower packing my stuff and having a quick chat with Zippy in the butchers’, I’m finally on the bus to Ballymena. It’s a big old bus actually, with comfy seats and a seat-belt in each position.
Behind me sits a little boy and his slightly older sister. They chat away in amazing sing-song Northern Irish accents, the boy seemingly amazed and astonished by everything he sees.
“I like this, this is so fun!”
There’s a narrow stone arch over the road as you leave Cushendall, and as we went under it he said, “I’m scared going through this tunnel, it creeps me out!”
It’s so not a tunnel.
I wish I could record him actually, everything he says is an excited, thrilled, life-loving gem.
“You have to be a teenager to walk back from Belfast. My daddy says you have to be 12. I’m going to do it when I’m 12.”
I got up about 7.20 this morning so I had plenty of time to get my gear ready and sort the tower out. Once again, my main bag is insanely heavy, and there literally isn’t any room for anything else. It’s quite possible that my headphones will get pulverised but I think it’s actually about time I got some new ones; the remote volume control has been very dicky for years so if they get mashed in my bag it doesn’t matter. They’ve served their purpose now.
There’s a bunch of sheep on the road in front so we’re crawling along.
“Do you think they’re going to Ballymena?” says the kids’ mum.
I’m waiting at stand number one for the bus to Antrim. Zippy was surprised to hear you couldn’t do Ballymena direct to the airport so I’d hope that maybe there would be a direct bus, but no.
There’s a guy with a belly and a droopy grey moustache sipping machine coffee to my right.
There’s also a Mediterranean couple now arrived sitting on my right – I think Spanish judging by their lisping accents. They joined the bus just after Cushendall, and had a conversation with the driver about getting to Belfast. They stick out like sore thumbs of course – tanned, well groomed, prosperous-looking.
Seriously, it doesn’t matter that I’m not flying till six tonight; I just want to be at that fucking airport now – then I can actually relax.
Chatting to Zippy in the boozer last night was an absolute pleasure. We initially sat in two easy chairs either side of a massive kitchen range, but after about ten minutes an old feller hobbled into the room and sat looking very awkward on a wooden chair.
“D’ye want to sit here?” said Zippy, referring to him by name, though I don’t recall it.
“No no no no no no…” muttered the man – wide pale face, thin grey hair, black suit – while his entire demeanour said, “Yes yes yes yes.”
This charade continued for a few moments longer before Zippy got up and sat next to me, and of course, the old bloke moved over to the easy chair, and sat watching us and listening to us as we rambled on. It really was as though he was our audience as there was no one else in the room.
Belfast International airport
They call it a lounge, but it’s actually a bunch of shops of course, and non-commercial seating is distinctly thin on the ground. I’m certain they keep the chairs in short supply – and make them distinctly uncomfortable too – so you’d rather go and sit in Starbucks.
I am still miles too early for my flight but that doesn’t matter to me, and because I’m flying alone, I don’t have to justify myself to anyone. Funnily enough, Zippy is of the same mind as me; he was saying he hates it when flying with his mates and they never want to get to the airport earlier than an hour before the flight. The thing is, had I hung around in Ballymena, or had a wander into central Belfast or something, I wouldn’t actually have enjoyed it at all. Whereas I’m now feeling proper irie due to being in the right place, in good time.
I booked an early evening flight on purpose in case I couldn’t get a lift and had to make the journey by bus – remember that when I booked, I actually had more or less no idea how long it would take or how frequently the buses ran. So decision vindicated I think; it’s up to me innit?
I did wonder though if I was maybe too early even to check in my bag, so I drifted with all my gear into the Caffe Ritazza and had a cheese, tomato and red onion bloomer, a maple and pecan lattice thing, and a medium cappuccino.
I sat for ages enjoying the sheer novelty of just being able to hop on and off Facebook and Twitter at will. In many ways, the prevailing image I’ll take away from this adventure is the wee spinning grey circle that accompanies the word ‘LOADING’ when you fire up the Facebook app on my phone. And it would mostly do that for minutes on end before finally giving up and displaying a graphic with the words ‘Connection Lost’. But I couldn’t resist continually trying, as I knew that occasionally I would catch onto the echo of a signal and would make contact. Even, a couple of times, enough to upload a photo.
I’m pleased though really that there was mostly no signal, as it removed the biggest distraction that was likely to keep me from my work. No telly either – again, a good thing. I guess the downside though is that when those moments come when you’ve really worked hard and deserve some proper veg-out relaxation, you still don’t have access to one of the nicest chill out activities – feet up, telly, nice beer.
After the boozer last night, when I was still enjoying the seriously rosy afterglow of having written 2,000 words and created an 11-minute sound piece in the space of three days, I would have seriously loved to have just watched some Friday night TV. In the event, it was nice to have my Thriller DVDs on the laptop even though the depth of relaxation wasn’t the same – and unfortunately, last night’s episode was pretty rubbish. I couldn’t even be arsed to watch it to the end.
I’m sitting on a cold, perforated metal seat facing ‘AELIA DUTY FREE’, and my Liverpool flight has just crept onto the destinations board. ‘Gate shown in 2 hours 36 mins’ it says, a long time in anybody’s money. I’m now thinking that I’ve probably waited a respectable amount of time since my last coffee and it might be almost time for another.
Belfast International airport
I’ve got another cappuccino, this time with an extra shot, and I’m starting to feel rather jittery. I might even end up as twitchy as Zippy.
Seriously, I dunno if I’ve ever met anyone with as much nervous energy as him. When I popped over to use the butchers’ computer yesterday, and he led me upstairs to the office, he yet again raced ahead, disappearing up a flight of stairs as I trailed behind. This over a distance of about three metres, if that. I passed comment on it and he said I’m not the first person to mention it, and that he actually finds it hurts to walk slowly.
The trip out on Tuesday demonstrated it perfectly, as it’s not just about his walking speed, it’s about his state of mind in general. I mean, we visited about five different locations, all with a drive in between each one, in no more than a couple of hours. We would literally arrive some place, walk up to the sight in question, stand there for about 20 seconds, then you could just tell he was itching to move on somewhere.
I really am coming to the end of this episode now. I’ve just been flicking through my photos… and already, a melancholic wave is washing over me. It’s something to do with having done it all on my own; the impossibility of really describing what it was like to anyone; the fact that what yesterday seemed so normal and everyday now seems so distant and unreal; the fact that I really never needed to look at a clock or obey the demands of time; the fact that I’m one of a handful of people who’ve had this experience; the fact that it was Northern Ireland, which comes with its own melancholic baggage quite unlike anywhere else in the UK; the fact that the town and those people are still up there, just getting on with things, in the shadow of Close Encounters mountain; the fact I did some work I’m pleased with, and could never have done had I not gone there – and I worked hard enough that I cracked it with a day to spare.
I may write more in this journal before I’m home, but really, my final comments are these.
The tower is the centre of Cushendall. The town would be so different without it. It features on their big mural (the tower, a hurling player, and that mountain), it’s a tourist attraction, it’s always there, completely unignorable. It’s as if I’ve been living in Big Ben or the Taj Mahal.
And really, if I had been, it would never have been as precious as my Cushendall heaven.
No idlers. No rioters. But it was all mine…
So… it turns out there is more to tell after all – more visits to the tower, more encounters with Bill, more walks along Cushendall beach.
Last year it seemed only theoretical that I might return to Cushendall and the Curfew Tower. I knew there was supposed to be an event at the tower each August, an exhibition of some kind, a vote for the best piece of art produced during the previous year, and I knew Paul had a vague plan for a performance in the tower’s garden, for a radio broadcast of all the tapes, for a limited run of vinyl with covers designed by the artists. But would these things ever come to pass?
I wasn’t exactly sceptical, but I certainly had my doubts.
The last two or three weeks though have seen 250 records being pressed from an audio collage mixed by Paul, Sam Wiehl and Ade and Hartley from Clinic. It’s seen all the tower veterans preparing artwork, and a couple of days’ sleeve production at Static, and an eBay auction of the first 30 records. It’s seen ponderings and speculation on what form the performance should take… and it’s seen our family and Paul’s lot leaving Liverpool on the overnight ferry to Belfast, having drinks and laughs in the bar followed by a few hours’ shallow sleep in our respective cabins, before driving for an hour and a bit up to the Antrim coast and Cushendall itself.
I’m casting my mind back a week now, but I can remember how relaxed I felt last Saturday morning without any of the stresses and hassles of air travel, how we just trooped up to the car and drove down from our space on the top deck and were immediately on our way, motoring through a gorgeous Belfast morning along quiet roads and an all but deserted M2 motorway. We were in Cushendall before we knew it, turning right at the Curfew Tower and pulling up outside the Mace store where Paul, Lucy and family were already sitting in their car scoffing croissants and drinking coffee.
Our intention had been to have brekky in Arthur’s café next door, but it didn’t open till nine, so we too went into the shop – it was only just turned 8am – and a lady made us coffee and asked if we were here for the open day at the lifeboat station. And having consumed our coffee and baked products we walked down to the beach, and the kids got giddy in the playground as we waited for the café to open.
And that was how it began, one of the best holidays we’ve ever had, a great family trip in good company, which also happened to have a sprinkling of magic at its heart…
By Wednesday (7 August) I was already growing used to seeing Bill Drummond around the village, along with his good friend the artist Tracey Moberly, his youngest son Flint, and Flint’s mate Oscar. We visited them at the tower on the day we arrived, and they came for a meal with us upstairs at Johnny Joe’s pub on Sunday night (an occasion which culminated in us all trooping out past Zippy and Bill, who high-fived each of the kids as they passed, and as I was at the end of the line I quite naturally high-fived Zippy before finding myself in the position of having to high-five Bill Drummond as well! I’m sure he felt as awkward about this interaction as I did, but there was no time to get out of it, no way of diverting myself from this bizarre skin-on-skin action).
On Tuesday, Bill even joined us for lunch in Arthur’s café, scoffing a lasagne next to me and happily chatting to me about self-publishing books, about collectability in art, about his kids’ careers…
But Wednesday, tower day, was something else. We all got down to the tower about midday – there was a crude stage that needed man-handling into place, and there were scouse musos wandering round – Ade and Hartley from Clinic, Ben and Patrick from Ex-Easter Island Head, and various friends of Bill’s.
I had a good chat with a guy called Johnny, from Glasgow, who also had self-publishing advice – he’s written Glaswegian dialect poems and even got Bill to write the foreword to his book. I also had a long chat with Hartley from Clinic, who seemed nervous about performing their piece as I think they thought it seemed a bit lacking in substance, and he suggested I could do my reading WHILE THEY PLAYED THEIR CURFEW TOWER TRACK!
By any definition, this was a live collaboration, a spoken-word-plus-improv music event – me on stage with Clinic! They seemed very happy at the prospect, as did I – suddenly I would no longer be a man alone on a stage trying to hold the attention of a wandering crowd. I would have musicians working with me, supporting me, giving my words an atmosphere they could never have had on their own.
As for the gig itself, it was just perfect.
When we arrived at the tower just before 6pm, the garden was bathed in sunshine and the sound check was in progress. I rather awkwardly did a bit of one-two-one-two, and the sound guy looked on in grumpy fashion, looking as if he wondered how the fuck he’d ended up in this garden of weirdness.
In the kitchen, Tracey stirred the curry, and Flint and Oscar manned the stall selling copies of the Curfew Tower LP (how awesome they looked, all lined up with their different covers), and Bill bustled around in baggy dark blue shirt, loose dark blue jeans and a pair of masculine sandals, and people were meeted and greeted – locals and scousers and artists and musicians – and it felt wonderful!
I was nervous of course, though probably looked more anxious than I really was, given that I was just going to be reading. First up were Ex-Easter Island Head who performed in golden sunshine, an amazing 18-minute piece dedicated to Bill Morrison, a Liverpool writer, and late father of Patrick from the group. It began with guitars beaten with soft hammers, and built into crushing waves of noise ejected from the guitars via twanged allen keys. I doubt Cushendall has ever heard anything like it.
Next were Easterjack – Dave Jackson and his mate Andy, who delivered a kind of raw power pop – guitar and vox with a bit of recorded rhythm. They were followed by Jinx Lennon, who was a revelation – mangled spoken word, deformed melodies and outright belly laughs plus the occasional gut-stab of pain. At heart it was Irish-accented ranted poetry, but with weird samples and digital utterances – just amazing.
Damon Fairclough, plus Clinic.
Ade and Hartley kicked things off with a hypnotic guitar/harmonica/bongos rumble, and after about a minute I ambled onto the stage, turned away from the 40-50-ish strong crowd, unzipped my top and turned back to reveal my Cushendall: rain fog tower shirt.
And I just breezed into my piece, mic in right hand, dropping sheets of A4 as I completed them. And as I wound towards the end… “…waiting for me, next time. I wish”… I could sense that the music also was running to its conclusion, and we stopped together, and then the applause broke through.
And Zippy bounded towards me (in dust mask, in imitation of Clinic, who were actually maskless for this occasion) and threw his arms round me (I had namechecked him rather a lot, it has to be said), and I quivered due to rushing adrenaline cocktailed with the evening chill.
At which point, I began drinking my cans of Guinness, and lapping up the atmosphere of the night.
As the dusk became darkness, it was Bill’s turn to do his Tenzing Scott Brown stuff, picking up Jinx’s guitar and playing True to the Trail with Johnny on bagpipes, building to a euphoric climax and an eruption of happiness from the crowd.
As no votes had been taken to decide the winner of the Curfew Tower award, there was a luck-of-the-draw moment, and though most would probably have chosen Jinx, Zippy pulled Ex-Easter Island Head from the box and everyone was happy with the result. Champagne was poured, backs were slapped, laughs were had, and the evening settled into a gentle fug of good feeling around a bonfire.
Around 2 o’clock, we said our farewells (especially to Cushendall’s local old stoner, a bloke called Paddy, with his crumpled face and boots that were smouldering by the fire) and returned to Glenaan Cottage.
Everyone went to bed.
Except me, who couldn’t resist pressing my phone to the window to catch a signal, and Facebooking and Tweeting into the night.
I went to bed at 3am, a very happy man.
That was meant to be the end, but I’ve just remembered…
After my set, I emerged from the kitchen and bumped into Bill Drummond, who beamed at me, shook my hand, and said, “That was fantastic.”
And that, my friends, is good enough for me.
Text and images © Damon Fairclough 2012-2023
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