Monday, 14 October 2013

Will the Real Algy & Artie Please Stand Up?

When that nice young Hirshberg fellow and I created a pair of 1930s radio hosts for KRDR: Welcome to the Ether, the 2008 edition of The Rolling Darkness Revue, we thought it would be a cute little in-joke for our fellow horror geeks students of supernatural literature if we named said radio hosts after two towering icons of the classic period of fantastic fiction. Hence were born Algy Black and Artie Mack, and we sincerely hope that Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen have not been revolving in their graves in protest ever since. We figured that that year's show, like those of all previous years, would be a one-off and that the boys -- along with their annoying phone-in listener Howie Love and their pet parrot Monty -- would be heard from no more.

But Algy and Artie would not go gentle into that good night, and have shown up pretty regularly ever since. In 2010's Curtain Call, they were actors. In 2012's The Raven of October, they were detectives. And in this year's The Impostor's Monocle, they are hack writers for a fiction factory. Regardless of profession, they're always the same characters; spoiled, stupid, and selfish. Which makes them fine comic buffoons, but makes them very very far from the great men whose names we (lovingly) pilfered.

So consider this a Public Service Announcement. This is Arthur Machen:

Visionary. Mystic. Master of English prose. Immortal author of The Great God Pan, The Hill of Dreams, Holy Terrors, etc etc. In no way to be confused with Artie Mack:

Solipsistic narcissist. Barking mad and practically feral.

And consider Algernon Blackwood:

Adventurer. Explorer. Student of esoteric philosophy. Venerated author of The Willows, The Wendigo, The Wings of Horus, etc etc.

And who gets to 'borrow' his great name?

This fat fucking idiot, that's who:

Tomorrow (or sometime soon), by way of meagre apology and pathetic reparation, I'll post another of the But Enough About Me installments, featuring a couple of pieces I've done in the past about Machen.

In the meantime, if you wish to make your displeasure at our irreverence known in public, get thee to Friday or Saturday's performance of The Impostor's Monocle at The Missing Piece Theatre in Burbank (scroll down a couple of posts for full details).

Thursday, 10 October 2013

But Enough About Me #6

Actually, despite being the sixth installment of this ongoing series of non-fiction reprints, this one is a bit of an anomaly in that it is sort of about me. It's a little slice of memory first committed to paper at the request of the great and good Mr. Peter Crowther of PS Publishing, who commissioned it as a guest editorial for the 16th issue of PostScripts, a special Halloween issue. Given that we're currently in gear-up mode for this Halloween's Rolling Darkness Revue (see previous post for details), it seemed the appropriate time to give it another airing...


Thank You, Mrs. Phillips

Halloween is when we're allowed to dream in public.

Sure, there are other outlets -- bragging to your mates about shit you'll never do, painting your face to feel like you're actually part of the winning team instead of just another idiot in the stands, pressing three red buttons on a plastic guitar and thinking that makes you Jimi fucking Hendrix -- but Halloween is the one that gives special leeway to our wilder imaginings. Not 'what if I could play the riff from Voodoo Chile?' Not 'what if I could bend it like Beckham?' But the deeper darker dreams: What if death is not the end? What if this isn't all there is? What if the world is infinitely stranger and richer than it appears to be on the morning commute or another evening down the pub?

Halloween is when we talk to the dead. We don't really believe that anymore, of course. Not literally. We don't lay out food on ritual tables for the returning dead the way the Celts did at Summer's End (or Samhain), and if we did we'd be more than a little surprised if they showed up and ate it. But every year on that single special night we open the door to them still -- the door of imagination at least -- and the ghosts walk with us, not as haunting revenants, not as unwelcome midnight visitors, but as invited and honoured guests.

When I was a kid in the 1960s, Britain didn't celebrate Halloween as openly and fulsomely as did the United States. Costuming and trick-or-treating were known to me only via American movies or books. I gather (I've been an exile for nearly twenty years now) that that's changed over the last decade or so and that these days the darkening hours of any October 31st find the streets of Liverpool and London just as full of midget demons and miniature Draculas as those of New York or Los Angeles. But that just wasn't the way it was when I was growing up. Best I could hope for was a quick game of duck-apple and a bullshit session on a home-made Ouija board.

And then came Peter Phillips' Halloween party.

Creepy little bastard that I was, I was already deeply in love with horror by the time I was eight or nine. The thanks for that go to the usual suspects when it comes to my generation; Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, the Pan Book of Horror, Mars Attacks bubble-gum cards, and Castle Films' 8mm movie-digests (Oh, much-loved 50ft. extract of Son of Kong, where are you now?). But in 1964 I was still two years away from my first reading of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, so the thanks for Halloween -- at least as the special and spectacular holiday that it could be for my particular kind of misfit -- go to Peter Phillips' mum.

Thing was, I didn't even know Peter that well. We were in the same class at Heygreen Road County Primary and were friendly without being close friends -- didn't hang out, never been to each other's houses, you know what I mean -- so it was a surprise when he invited me to his party. I like to think, in retrospect, that his mum had told him only to invite people who were likely to appreciate it, but I've really no idea. Pretty small group, though; the only invitees were me, Lynne Robinson, and Barry Armour (Yeah. Armour. I know I make shit up for a living, but that was really his name. Honest).

The Phillips family lived in a flat above a glazier's shop on a corner of Picton Road. To this day, I haven't a clue what the flat looked like in real life, because it certainly couldn't have looked like it did that night.

I'd pressed the bell on the door on the side street quite some time before it was finally opened. It wasn't Peter. It was a woman dressed completely in black.

"Welcome," she said, not smiling. "There are no lights."

Which, I suppose, explained why she was holding in her hand the kind of flaming torch I'd only previously seen in stills from Ghost of Frankenstein in the pages of Famous Monsters.

Yeah, alright, it was a black rubber Woolworth's flashlight with crumpled orange tissue paper wrapped around the bulb housing but, trust me, it was fully and magically convincing to my eight year old eyes.

The street door gave directly on to a narrow staircase which led up to the door of the flat itself. "Upstairs," said Mrs. Phillips -- at least, I think it was Mrs. Phillips; she never broke character all night, God bless her -- and turned to lead the way.

Oh. Little aside to those of us past puberty. I'd love to tell you that this was like following Morticia Addams upstairs but the truth is -- with all love and respect to Mrs. Phillips -- she was actually more Margaret Rutherford than Carolyn Jones. Sorry to rain on that particular parade. But anyway.

The staircase was steep, narrow and dark and the light emanating from the flat doorway was yellow and dim and, as I made my way toward it, I was deliciously, fabulously, terrified.

The flat was a cave. A black cave. Mrs. Phillips must have bought up every sheet of black craft paper in Merseyside and taped them to the walls and ceilings. There were broomsticks, too, and witches' hats. And pumpkins and candles and pictures of black cats.

Sure, there was also a table arrayed with sandwiches and sausage rolls and bottles of pop. And Mr. Phillips was sitting in the corner watching the evening news on a depressingly normal telly. But none of that mattered. This was a Halloween House and I'd never seen anything so wonderful in all my life.

Peter was there, and Barry and Lynne, and I'm sure we played games, ate like pigs, and did whatever else eight year olds do at parties. I can't remember the details. All I remember is that, whatever we did, we did it in the shadowed confines of a witch's cave, overseen by the lady in black and her flaming torch.

Storytellers come in all sorts of guises. Mrs. Phillips, to the best of my knowledge, never wrote a word in her life but she belongs spiritually, I think, to the same tribe as writers do. Not just because she obviously loved Halloween -- and her son -- but because she creatively embraced the idea of Halloween and, in effect, made a narrative out of it, a narrative through which we lucky children on that long ago night could move, imagine, dream.

I'm forty-four years late. But thank you, Mrs. Phillips. Thank you very much.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Darkness on the Edge of Burbank

Oh alright, not so much the edge of Burbank as smack in the middle, but gimme a break; I'm running out of cutesy post titles that riff on 'dark' or 'darkness' and at least this one has the benefit of (approximate) geographical accuracy.

Yes, kids, it's that time of year again. The time when you delete all those foolishly optimistic 'record series' settings on your DVR (because, once more, every new pilot has sucked) and decide you need to get out more and enjoy some live, or at least undead, entertainment.

And, boy howdy, are you in luck. Algy Black and Artie Mack, the Laurel & Hardy of horror, are once again treading the boards for the Halloween season and presenting their patented and unlikely cocktail of lowbrow humor and sophisticated stories of the supernatural.

It's The Rolling Darkness Revue 2013: The Impostor's Monocle and it's strutting its stuff at

The Missing Piece Theatre
2811 W. Magnolia Blvd
Burbank, CA 91505

Friday October 18th and Saturday October 19th. 8 p.m. 

This year, Alge'n'Art are hack writers in a 1930s fiction factory who are surprised by the delivery of what appears to be the manuscript of the book they've just begun to write. The hacks are played by Atkins and Hirshberg of course and I won't even bother making a type-casting joke because I'm sure the one you've just come up with is much much funnier.

Kevin Gregg will, as usual, be raising the average of the quality of acting and Jonas Yip will, as usual, be enriching the atmosphere with his ambient soundscapes. (Rex Flowers, our fifth regular RDRer, will not be able to join us this year due to having too positive a sperm count, but we send him our love anyway)

Equally part of the RDR family, though much too smart to join us in the live show, are Paul Miller and Deena Warner who've once again done us proud with this year's chapbook:

Sometime soon, Paul will be selling signed chapbooks (but only 75 of them, so act fast) over at , but those of you who choose to fork over your twelve bucks to see the show will all be going home with a copy buckshee, gratis, and for nowt. Never say you're not loved.

And how do you go about forking over said twelve bucks? One of two ways, my little cabbage:

1) Old-School.  Cash. At the door. On the night.

2) Space-Age.  PayPal 'em right now, here:

The stories published in the chapbook (and, for those of you who really haven't been paying attention, read aloud at the show) are Glen's "Pride", my "Postcards from Abroad" (both brand new) and, for the first time in over a century, "Cranley Gardens, SW7" from our posthumous partner, Thomas St. John Bartlett.

Speaking of stories, particularly those which originate at RDR, I've been remiss in not keeping the Atkins completists (all four of 'em) up to date. My "Frumpy Little Beat Girl", which first appeared in the 2010 RDR chapbook Curtain Call, has since earlier this year been keeping company with some most illustrious fellow contributors in our beloved editrix Paula Guran's Mammoth Book of Angels & Demons. Published by Constable & Robinson and available wherever books are sold. Including no doubt, in this instance, Heaven and Hell.