Last night I went to Rough Trade East for the launch of Caught By The River’s new collaboration with the original DIY record store, where their books and reading choices are available in-store.
I’ve known the latter for millions of light years thanks to our shared machinations in music and I got involved this year, hosting a panel at their stage at Port Eliot and contributing to their Music Reader. I admire their new nature-shaped venture, especially as we share a serious love and admiration for the works of Roger Deakin and Chris Yates.
I first read Chris Yates while I was at University in Manchester. My friend Alex (or Pez as he was mostly known) was from Leeds and loved fishing. He loved fishing so much that he would steal out to Alexanda Park in Moss Side for a spot of moonlight fishing. Anyone who knows Manchester will recognise how unusual this is. For those who don’t, replace the phrase ‘Alexandra Park’ with your local inner-city no-go zone that has a pond in it.
Pez loved Chris Yates and even though I knew eff all about fishing, I could see that this book was something special and I borrowed it off him. I haven’t read it since but I distinctly remember the enthusiasm rising off the pages: his clear and palpable love for the various lakes and fishing spots felt exactly like my enthusiasm for Chicago House records.
But back to Caught By The River. The cast (founders Jeff Barrett, Robin Turner, Andrew Walsh and angling writer John Andrews) sat on stools that looked like things an elephant might stand on at a gothic circus. They were self-deprecating (“really, this is the launch of a bookshelf”), funny and thought-provoking, especially when John Andrews read from their most recent book ‘On Nature’. He read letters from a gentleman by the name of Dexter Petley who talked about growing up in Kent and attending a Rural Secondary Modern, a school where history and biology were replaced by lessons in mixing compost and chitting tubers.
Then they called for Bill Drummond, lurking at the back in denim with a partially opened rucksack slung over one shoulder. He stood in front of the stage, read a paragraph or two, questioned someone about whether or not they were texting, and told us the updated version of the story. It was about damsons. We heard about his first taste of the fruit, in a restaurant, a moment which marked the beginnings of his first and only obsession with fruit. He told us what he found out about damsons: that they came from Damascus and had gradually inched their way across the globe. That they’d been cultivated in the Vale Of Aylesbury, used for hat dye in England, and exported to Germany to dye the uniforms of the Luftwaffe.
Then to the rucksack, from which he pulled out two of the huge scores he uses for performances of The 17. The instructions were simple: go to Damascus, find a damson tree, climb it, hum a tune and then plant a cutting from a tree in Aylesbury, and to repeat the process in Aylesbury. Then the Arab Spring happened and travel to Syria became difficult for different reasons. Through slightly circuitous means (a meeting with the lady who translated his 17 scores into Arabic and who’d managed to get out of Syria during the crackdown) he was given two Damascene damsons, which he put in his pocket, and then accidentally put into the wash. You didn’t find out if he dyed the whole load Luftwaffe blue, but he did produce a plant pot – and no sapling. I’d have brought along a dram of my great uncle Maurice’s damson vodka if I’d known.
Rough Trade was a cradle for punk back in the 1970s. It’s now one of the finest record shops in the world (and I say this as someone who still loves an old school Soho shop like Black Market or Sounds Of The Universe) that comprises cafe, meeting place, bookshop, poetry corner, performance space, and of course, place of musical discovery. Caught By The River made me think that Rough Trade’s already acting as the cradle of something else… we just don’t know what it is yet.
I’m hosting a celebration of fanzine culture from the ’70s onwards at the next Caught By The River event on Weds October 12th with Geoff Travis, Andy Childs, Bob Stanley and Andrew Weatherall.