30 September 2023

The grisly end of Emperor Nikephoros

The only sphere in which Nikephoros had some success was his campaign against Bulgaria and its chief, Krum, invading the country on two occasions and both times emerging victorious, even sacking the capital, Pliska. His treatment of the defeated populace was brutal, however: he rounded up all the children of the conquered cities and beat them to death with millstones. The chronicles of later historians are not necessarily to be trusted, but there can be little doubt that Nikephoros was not magnanimous in victory.

After his defeat, Krum tried to make a peace treaty with Nikephoros, but the arrogant and victorious emperor refused to negotiate and pursued him into the mountains, where he intended to annihilate the Bulgars once and for all. This was a terrible mistake: the entire Byzantine army set up camp in an area that could not be easily defended, and the opportunistic Krum attacked the Byzantines as they slept. It was a massacre, and the Byzantine army was destroyed. Nikephoros was slain on the battlefield, the first emperor to die in battle for 400 years. In retaliation for Nikephoros's previous atrocities, Krum had the Byzantine emperor decapitated and his skull lined with silver, to be used as a goblet. For years to come, visiting Byzantine dignitaries were forced to drink from the skull of their former emperor.

- Entry for Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros I (r.802-811 AD), in Kevin Lygo, The Emperors of Byzantium, London, 2022, p.138.

28 September 2023

Leap like a salmon home from the sea

Thursday music corner: The now 80-year-old English singer and musician with the stage name of Tony Christie was born in Yorkshire in 1943 under the name Anthony Fitzgerald. He had five UK top 40 singles between 1970 and 1975, with the most successful being the 1971 single I Did What I Did For Maria. His second-highest chart placing was for the 1971 single (Is This The Way To) Amarillo, which became a UK chart-topping single when Christie re-released it in 2005 in collaboration with comedian Peter Kay. 

Christie's 2005 comeback was spurred in part by the success of his 1999 chart success singing lead vocals on a track for the Sheffield band The All Seeing I. The band had won plaudits for its zeitgeisty 1998 single Beat Goes On (a cover of a 1967 Sonny & Cher single), which hit number 11 in the UK pop charts and topped the UK dance charts. Their follow-up single was a collaboration with Pulp front-man Jarvis Cocker, who in turn invited Christie to provide lead vocals for the single Walk Like A Panther. The single reached number 10 in the UK pop charts and earned the band an appearance on Top of the Pops. The band's next single, the Philip Oakey collaboration 1st Man in Space, reached number 28 and was their last charting single.

Since 1999 Christie has released six studio albums plus a live album, Tony Christie at the V Festival - Live! (2005).

The All Seeing I featuring Tony Christie - Walk Like A Panther (1999)  

See also:
Music: Tony Christie - I Did What I Did For Maria (1971)
Music: All Seeing I - Beat Goes On (1998)
Music: Jarvis Cocker - Swanky Modes (2020) 

24 September 2023

Jarvis Cocker's definition of good pop

The UK Pop Charts used to be a crazy collision of rampant commerce & grass-roots democracy: people 'voted' by buying records & then watching their progress up the charts. It was a national pastime - I can even remember kids bringing radios to school so they could hear the midweek chart positions at break time. That's taking an interest. It was absolutely mainstream & commercial but also - crucially - anyone could take part. Strange things could happen.

I'm thinking of a song like 'O Superman' by Laurie Anderson which got to Number 2 in the UK Singles Chart in 1981. That record is basically someone talking through a vocoder whilst someone else repeats the word 'ah' for five minutes - if something that strange & radical could be a chart hit then surely pop was a positive influence: new & challenging ideas could enter mainstream culture if enough people decided to buy the records & put them there. Pop could expand (& blow) minds.

Whether a record was a hit or not was determined by the public. Labels could 'push' a single as hard as they liked but the final decision rested with the general population. Either you bought it or you didn't. That was the magic of pop: it couldn't be predicted. A hit had to have that mysterious 'something' that caught the popular imagination.

A 'something' that cut through all preconceptions about taste, cool, intelligence, class, race & touched some common human aspect of UK citizens in the latter half of the twentieth century. Dziga Vertov's dream of a self-generated proletarian art form made manifest. In the record department of Woolworths. Good pop.

- Jarvis Cocker, Good Pop Bad Pop, London, 2022, p.47-8.

21 September 2023

I'm not putting you on, this chick can dance real mean

Thursday music corner: 1950s and '60s soul singer Dee Clark was born Delecta Clark in Arkansas, in 1938. He made his first recording with the Hambone Kids in 1952, and embarked on a solo career in 1957. His main chart success came in a purple patch from 1958 to 1961, during which he scored eight US pop chart hits, culminating with his most successful single, Raindrops, in 1961. This was only kept from number one in the US pop charts by Gary US Bond's smash hit, Quarter To Three. (Raindrops also had considerable success overseas, particularly in New Zealand, where it topped the charts). After years of label-hopping and failing to chart, Clark had one final hit in 1975 when his disco single Ride A White Horse reached number 16 in the UK pop charts. Clark died of a heart attack in Georgia in 1990, aged 52.

With its playful flute accentuation, That's My Girl has endured as an upbeat, catchy slice of soul pop, fitting plenty of hooks into its 135-second runtime. Clark's version of Allen Toussaint's It's Raining, first recorded by Irma Thomas, was the B-side. Released in 1964, That's My Girl sadly failed to chart.

Dee Clark - That's My Girl (1964) 

See also:
Music: Dee Clark - Ride A White Horse (1975)
Music: Gary US Bonds - Quarter To Three (1964)
Music: Irma Thomas - It's Raining (1961)

20 September 2023

John Stuart Mill, New Zealand land speculator

John Stuart Mill's Involvement

The land where Pratt once squatted (and poor George Edwards met his death) has a curious additional history which I stumbled upon when researching the 1843 survey map of Riwaka. To my amazement 1 found the name of the famous English economist John Stuart Mill emblazoned across that particular large section labelled number 51. Clearly he was an absentee speculator who had no intention of ever settling in Riwaka. His substantial block of land simply lay idle, roads dug around it by resident landowners developing their own lots without any contribution from its owner. A demonstration, if one were needed, of just how bizarre the company scheme was.

Undeveloped it remained for well over a decade, until Mill finally had to face the consequences of gambling with land. When John Fowler (the father of Henry the seafarer) bought it in 1855, via Mills' attorney, Alfred Fell of Nelson, he paid 175 pounds for the 68 acres "being accommodation section No 51 bounded on the North, South and East by a Public Road and on the West by Sections Nos 50 and 56", with William Pratt witnessing John Fowler's signature. (These accommodation sections, nominally 50 acres, were generally increased in size in the wheeling and dealing when the company was winding up.) Attributing only its nominal 50 acre cost to it, 75 pounds, and compounding the interest on it, and a bit for expenses, it did not return J S Mill much more than 5% over the 14 years he held it. So much for the expected rewards of speculation!

And as an interpolation to the story, but pertinent at this point, the last of the 150 acre lots in Marlborough sold in the 1880s, and brought their owners only ten shillings per acre. This also serves as a reminder of the small pool of capitalist investors who ventured cash for the Nelson settlement. Bearing in mind that less than half of the scrip had sold, and some of that to holders of more than one allotment, the coincidence is not quite so remarkable. But it was remarkable to the author, to find these characters already in the story, connected in this way.

To complete the story, in 1857 John Fowler's son James opened the forerunner to the present Riwaka Hotel on the land. It was called The Travellers Rest, and his bush licence required him to offer two bedrooms and one sitting room, as well as operate a ferry boat over the Riwaka River.

Plan of Riwaka sections from Westrupp (2022)
with Mill's section 51 bottom right 

- Fred Westrupp, Blind Bay Hookers: The little ships of early Nelson, and colonial times, Nelson, 2022, p. 95-97.

See also:
History: The lifeblood of a young colony, 12 June 2009

16 September 2023