Bunch Of Fives – Guy Mankowski | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Everyone loves an outsider, a rebel whose lack of conformity and unwavering integrity pushes society forward and inspires those around them. 

A new book from author Guy Mankowski acknowledges the rebels of English pop culture in his new book Albion’s Secret History (out 26th March – order yours here) by compiling snapshots from the lesser known figures who shaped the UK’s scenes, including the likes of Evelyn Waugh, PJ Harvey, James Acaster, The Long Blondes and The Libertines.

Alongside the music, Mankowski draws from art, film, architecture and politics, showing the moments at which artists like Tricky and Goldfrapp ‘altered our sense of a sometimes green but sometimes unpleasant land’.

Here, Guy picks five tracks which helped inspire his book…

In ‘Albion’s Secret History’ I rip off the way Greil Marcus linked Situationism to punk to offer ‘snapshots of England’s pop rebels and outsiders’- figures across art, music, comedy and film who I think gave us insights into this mercurial thing that is the English identity. The book is hugely inspired by music so I thought I’d choose five tracks that reflect that.

1. Tubeway Army- ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric? 
To publicise this book I’m doing a series of interviews on English artists who I think influenced our sense of English identity (watch here) and I was hugely honoured that Gary Numan is going to discuss the book with me in this podcast series. It was the image on the front cover on his debut album ‘Replicas’ which led to my first published story. An eerily pale man under a naked lightbulb wearing a black shirt and tie, static and uncanny. I talk in the book about how such figures evoke a sense of what Freud called the ‘unheimlich’- the homely and yet strangely familiar. Unlike Ziggy Stardust, who looked like a glam rock alien, Gary Numan looked like an office worker who’d become an alien amongst us through urban isolation. It was an image that really struck with me and I think this track (which people don’t really seem to realise is about sex robots- the ‘friend’ being an electric doll) turns this subversive subject matter about the uncanny into a bona fide pop hit.  

2. Tricky- ‘Overcome’ 
 Tricky reminds me a lot of when I was working in a brain injury hospital in London, working long hours and often under quite a bit of stress. I think his subterranean growl, where these harsh insights about himself and the world around him are half spoken half sung, was ground breaking. He marries the exotic with the mundane.  

3. The Long Blondes- ‘Giddy Stratospheres’ 
As part of the podcast series I’m excited to also interview Dorian and Kate of The Long Blondes. I really think The Long Blondes are criminally underrated. In Albion’s Secret History I write about them in a chapter called ‘Pencil Skirts and Motorway Modernism’ which Kate later told me would be the title for their Best Of (I think great bands- like The Smiths- have Best Ofs and never Greatest Hits, which is too close to making you Greatest Tits). The way they combined cross gender glamorous with Pulp like domestic vignettes about personal crises and escape was brilliant. Kate summed it up best when she said ‘we always saw ourselves as being part of a line of English eccentrics that began with Bowie’ and that’s how I see them too.  

4. Gazelle Twin- ‘The Belly Of The Beast’ 
 The last in the interview series will be with Gazelle Twin, who I think combines Max Ernst, JG Ballard and draws from the likes of Numan to create apocalyptic visions of Brexit Britain that are also exorcisms of private pain. Like so many of the artists mentioned in the book, Gazelle Twin is deserving of even more attention. 

5. Syd Barret- ‘Wined and Dined’ 
One of the things I was very attentive of in the collection is the recluses and outsiders that I think shaped English culture. With his magical lyrics about mice called Gerald, river banks, terrapins and later the way England’s deserted piers and wastelands haunted his work I think Syd Barrett is hugely overlooked. Not least for the way he shaped psychedelia through early Pink Floyd. This one is a gorgeous paean to Summer balls and parties on the Cambridge river bank, with the sort of out-of-timeness that to me really defined psychedelia.  

‘Albion’s Secret History: Snapshots of England’s Pop Rebels and Outsiders’. Published by Zer0 Books 26/03/21 and available here.

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