Thursday, 20 December 2012

Danny Boyle's Jerusalem: The High Magic of the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony

Bruce Robinson's 1989 film How To Get A Head In Advertising ends with Richard E. Grant paraphrasing William Blake's Jerusalem: "I shall not cease 'til Jerusalem is builded here, on England's green and pleasant land."


This comes at the end of a monologue about the triumph of consumerism. Its inclusion makes more sense in the context of the original screenplay, which differs from the scene as filmed. In the screenplay, Grant also quotes the opening lines of that poem, "And did those feet in ancient time / Walk upon England's mountains green?" and denounces them as pure marketing. The idea that Jesus visited England is obviously bollocks, he points out, regardless of what myths they tell you around Glastonbury. Blake was using the old advertiser's trick of false suggestion in order to make his audience believe that England was more special than it really was.

I read that screenplay twenty years ago, but I remembered it whenever I heard Jerusalem. Bruce Robinson had made a strong point and he had skewered the poem for me. I wondered if the reason why those lines were cut was because they were too close to the bone - Jerusalem means a lot to many people, both politically on the left and the right, and exposing the poem as a manipulative sham seemed cruel.


Watching Danny Boyles 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, however, showed me the error in the screenplay's logic and allowed me to understand Blake's poem. To understand why, it is necessary to appreciate why Boyle's ceremony was such a success.

Those involved in creative work have two different approaches that they can take in order to make their audience feel emotion. The simplest and easiest way is to force that emotion on them. This is the approach used in advertising - pummel the audience with emotive music, doe-eyed kids and as much pathos as you can muster. Doing this treats the audience like Pavlov's dogs, and the advertiser knows exactly what bell to ring to bypass the audience's critical mind and force the required emotion on them. It's not just advertisers who use this approach, of course. Writers and directors can make a good living out of it, as Richard Curtis' accountant would be the first to tell you.

Advertisers create that forced emotion in order to link it to a product you would not otherwise buy. The hard cut between a shot of a smiling child and an image of a sugary drink creates a link in a parents mind between their love of their children and the product, and this increases how positively they feel about the sugary drink. Unfortunately, that link goes both ways. Parental love has become linked with some valueless crap, and the parent's personal emotional landscape has been ever so slightly diminished. The arts of advertising are a form of subtle psychic vampire, feeding on what you value most and, over time, leaving you emotionally poorer and unsatisfied. It is black magic. That is why Richard E. Grant's character was evil. This is also at the heart of Bill Hick's advice to those who work in advertising and marketing.



What then, is the other approach?

Instead of forcing an emotion on an audience, it is possible to create a mental environment where that emotion will spontaneously rise within them - when they do not expect it and are unable to say how or why the emotion occurred. This is the approach used by poets and artists, and it is the approach used by Danny Boyle and his team in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. Who, amongst those who watched it, could explain why they felt the way they did when the torch-petals were lit and rose to form the flaming cauldron, accompanied by the simplest of whistled music? There was no bombast or Eye of the Tiger-type fanfare to demand a reaction. Emotions that arise like this are far more powerful than those forced upon you, because they are genuine and they come with deep roots. They are your own emotions, not ones that have been given to you.



Make no mistake, working on this level is hard. It is with good reason why those who succeed in doing so attract the title of genius, while those who do not attract the title of hack.

None of the decisions made by Boyle to lead you to that moment were obvious - from the sheep and the fake rain clouds, to the recreation of the spoiling of the landscape, or the comedy of James Bond and the Queen's parachute jump. The arguments that followed the celebration of the NHS in one section showed how little people understood what Boyle was doing. The use of NHS nurses was just one element in a much deeper tapestry linking children's fiction, the Exorcist theme, nightmares, protection, care and the value of a national community. The Tory MP only saw the surface of what Boyle was doing, and wrongly considered it to be a standalone item that could have been discarded without affecting anything else. He did not understand that Boyle's work was creating links in his subconscious throughout, or that Boyle knew what he was doing.


Boyles' opening ceremony - and ceremony is absolutely the correct word for it - was deeply inspired by Blake's poem. It began with a single child singing Jerusalem, and it reenacted the spoiling of the Green and Pleasant Land with the arrival of the Dark Satanic Mills. The flags of the nations of the world were arranged on a recreation of Glastonbury Tor (a recreation topped with the World Tree rather than St. Michael's Tower) where "those feet" were alleged to have stood. All this, though, brings up the question of what 'building Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land' actually means? With all due respect to the citizens of the real city of Jerusalem, there is no desire to recreate that physical city over here.

It's hard to remember now, but before the London Olympics the expectations were that they would be a shambles. When Mitt Romney publicly wondered how well things would proceed during his visit to London, the negative reaction was caused by his undiplomatic rudeness, not by the sense that he was wrong. The build up to the Olympics, with the Visa-only booking, terrible mascots, McDonalds-only chips and the G4S security debacle did not look promising. The opening ceremony, it was thought, would be a pretentious embarrassment which would pale beside the vast fireworks-and-drumming display of state control seen at Beijing in 2008. It was imagined that it would be a empty, vapid spectacle much like, well, much like 2012 Olympics closing ceremony.

But after three hours of Boyle's magic, things were very different. It was not that a theatrical event had gone well. It was that the British were suddenly living in a different country. Our innate cynicism had been dispelled and we were now able to appreciate the sport on the level that the competitors' deserved. More than this, though, was the fact that we knew things had changed. The weeks that followed were a joy. Suddenly we had different values. We behaved differently to strangers. We celebrated the act of contribution. Perhaps in time we will forget how different we felt during those games, but I suspect that part of us will always remember, deep down.

Boyle and his team could have made a ceremony to please the rest of the world, but they opted to be true to the national character regardless of how baffling or eccentric it made us appear - or just what an effect it would have on those living in the UK. Boyle did not make us "proud to be British," as the political cliche goes, he did something far better. He made us grateful to be British. And he did this by evoking our higher values - acceptance, belonging, humour - and merging those ideas with the actual country itself (Oscar Pistorius' comment that "the world will now have to see disability through the eyes of the British" is perhaps the finest illustration of this). Ed Milliband's use of the political slogan 'One Nation' is a direct reaction to Boyle's work.

The 2012 Olympics opening ceremony was not as politically radical as the end of the Paralympics opening ceremony, or as blatantly pagan as the start of the Paralympics closing ceremony. It had bigger goals than that, because this bringing down and enacting of our higher values was what Blake was referring to when he spoke of 'building Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land'. That was not advertising, for nothing was being sold. Blake was asking us recognise how much better things could be, should we look through different eyes. And the fallacy of Richard E. Grant's character in How To Get Ahead In Advertising is that he does not know that this is possible. Few people did, of course, until Boyle showed us what 'building Jerusalem' actually meant.

It did not last, alas. You could argue that the spiritually empty closing ceremony acted like a banishing ritual, dispelling the changes Boyle had created. The terrible Damien Hirst Union Flag and the appearance of Churchill brought back the "proud to be British" bullshit, and the cognitive dissonance created by Jessie J singing "It's not about the money, money" as she was driven round in a gold Rolls Royce proved that any coherent meaning had left the stadium. The smiling stage-school faces contrasted strongly with the genuine humanity of Boyle's non-professional cast. Others have detailed the problems with this ceremony far better than I can, but suffice to say that Jerusalem was dispelled and business-as-usual returned. We were back to the Spice Girls.

But we know that it is possible now - and that is Danny Boyle's legacy, right there.

Unlike Richard E. Grant's character, we now know it is possible.



Sunday, 2 December 2012

The last days of Radio Eris

Radio Eris is still burbling away, but it will shut down for good at midnight on Friday.

If you're not familiar with Radio Eris, it's an algorithmically generated audio stream that takes a bank of samples and the text of KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money, and generates a mix of synthetic readings and cut-up soundscapes as it sees fit. It was built by the artist Shardcore, who talks about it here.

If you are familiar with Radio Eris, then you might like to see what it physically looks like.





As you can see, Radio Eris is running on a cronky old 2006 MacBook sitting on a windowsill in Shardcore's home. The stream, therefore, is entirely dependent on this laptop not being knocked to the ground by the cats that prowl around his house, and its continuing ability to broadcast is very much dependent on the whims of fate.

The existence of Radio Eris has been described as a "bloody clever" and the "best book promo in a long while" which demonstrates a "clear understanding of viral marketing and the target audience." This is all very nice but it is more truthfully the result of a purely reactive marketing non-strategy that consists of saying yes to most things, and very little else. Using this method, it is not necessary to go out and proactively pitch the book to all suitable magazines and blogs. Instead, you go to the pub and, when an artist asks if they can build an algorithmic radio stream based on the book, you respond "Sure," and the next thing you know thousands of people have heard of your book.

Followers of the Church of the Subgenius will recognise this approach as 'Slack,' and it is very effective.

There's been a lovely unpredictable air to the whole thing. People and blogs we thought would love it have paid it no mind, whereas others who we never dreamt would mention it have plugged it like crazy. Even the broadcast itself, which is entirely automated, has been constantly surprisingly. It has refused to pronounce the Discordian word 'catma', for example, and instead replaced it with a barely audible grunt as if to suggest that a catma was a fnord. What's that about? The damn thing acts like it's got a mind of its own.

I highly recommend that you explore the other work of Shardcore, for he has created many strange and memorable things. I personally enjoy the flashing eyes in this portrait of Aleister Crowley:



And enjoy the last few days of Radio Eris, for none of us can say exactly what they will bring.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Superman/Doctor Who/KLF Popstar Car - An Unseen Transvestite Pirate Nun Photograph

Here you go...





Okay, this picture might need a bit of explaining.

First of all, you may recognise the car:


As the car explains on its record sleeve, its name is Ford Timelord and it is the first car to have a number one record. This was in 1988, when the idea that an inanimate object could be a pop star was deeply controversial. Nowadays, of course, no-one would bat an eyelid.

Ford Timelord did not take to fame well. It started making bad decisions. It hung round with bad company.




Ford Timelord entered a self-destructive spiral that ended with a tragic final appearance at a stock car meeting.

But enough of the fall - what about the rise? How did this 1968 Ford Galaxy get from Detroit to Top of the Pops?



This is Christopher Reeve in the first Superman film. But look behind him - that's not the real Metropolis. No, that's a set in Pinewood Studios outside London. And those American cars had been shipped over from the US by Pinewood.

One of them was Ford Timelord.

Ford Timelord wasn't a cop car, then, though. It was all black - and it looked good. But the film industry is fickle and as soon as the car started getting on a bit, it was out. Pinewood sold it to my friend Flinton Chalk for a few hundred quid.

It was Flint who decided to turn it into an American police car. Here we see the car in mid-transformation. This is clearly in the mid 1980s, as we can date the photograph quite precisely by the jumpers on display.


Flint & Co proceeded to add the giant pirate flag and largely trash the car, pulling donuts in the fields around Godstone, Surrey. Frequently, they would do so dressed as nuns.

I quizzed Flint about this and he explains, "If you drive an American cop car around Surrey dressed as nuns, the police never stop you."

So that's his story, and he's sticking to it.

Flint later sold the car to Jimmy Cauty, Jimmy Cauty started making records with Bill Drummond, and the rest is history. You know it is history, because someone has made an action figure:


I think we can all agree, that's pretty fantastic. More details about it are online here, but what I particularly like is the way it comes complete with a tea-crate Dalek.

Steven Moffat boasted about a recent Doctor Who story that it would feature "every Dalek ever", yet that story failed to include the tea-crate Dalek. You can't believe a word that man says.

But enough of this blather, and let us remember Ford Timelord in its glory days:



As a footnote - anyone who wishes to hear how Operation Mindfuck, an attempt to undermine consensus reality by Californian Discordians in the 1970s, led to the profits from this single being squandered on an unfinished avant garde road movie staring the eighth Doctor Paul McGann should consult my new book, KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money - new book out now

In 1994 Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty took a million pounds to a deserted boathouse on the island of Jura, and burnt it. I wish they hadn't, to be honest, but there you go.

I read about it afterwards in an article in the Observer, which I immediately clipped and put in a drawer. I've still got it somewhere. I'd never clipped an article before, and have rarely done so since. The incident lodged in my craw and has refused to leave, especially after it became clear that neither Cauty not Drummond knew why they had done it. The more threads of the story I tugged at over the years, the odder the whole thing became.

The result of all this is that I have written this book, which is available on Kindle from November 23rd:


It is, needless to say, not a typical music biography. It's a story about The KLF, Robert Anton Wilson, Dada, Alan Moore, punk, Discordianism, Carl Jung, magic, Ken Campbell, rave, Situationism and the alchemical properties of Doctor Who. It's a story about all those strange ideas and influences that were swilling around in those days but which accounts of modern history are already leaving out.

It is totally unofficial. I had initially intended to approach Drummond and Cauty and seek approval but the whole point of the book was to capture the spirit of those times and, the deeper into that spirit I got, the more apparent it became that 'doing it properly' went against the grain. When you're echoing people who took huge samples of The Beatles and ABBA without permission and just stuck them out independently, asking nicely seems to miss the point.

There is also an automated algorithmically generated online radio stream called Radio Eris, built by Shardcore. which will broadcast for 14 days from November 23rd and then be switched off for good. Radio Eris will synthetically broadcast one chapter each day, at 3am, 9am, 3pm and 9pm GMT, with automatically-mixed audio in between.

The whole setup is completely devoid of human control and it should burble away into the void. Radio Eris is intended as a response to the burning of a million quid by Cauty and Drummond in 1994.


The book, meanwhile, is available in the UK at £4.54 and in the US at $7.00, or thereabouts. A paperback will follow next year.

Readers of The Brandy of the Damned will notice a lot of overlapping themes, for these two books were written at almost the same time, and readers of I Have America Surrounded will be able to see this as a sequel of sorts, due to the focus on Robert Anton Wilson and Discordianism.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Silence, Slenderman and Alan Moore's Ideaspace

Here's a spooky thing to think about this Hallowe'en.

This is The Silence. I'll assume you know about the Silence from watching Doctor Who.


This is Slenderman. Slenderman (Or the Slender Man, if you prefer) is one of those internet memes you either know about or you don't. If you don't, an ideal place to start is this Darklore article by Cat Vincent, along with his follow-up article in the latest volume.



As you can probably guess by looking at the picture, when the Silence first appeared in Doctor Who, people who were familiar with Slenderman thought, 'Blimey, it's Slenderman!' The similarity is remarkable when you consider that, as well as his blank white face, height and his 'men in black' suit, Slenderman was sometimes said to have the ability to make people forget that they had ever seen him - the defining ability of the Silence.

As Cat Vincent's articles explain, Slenderman was an internet meme that rapidly went wild, spreading into videos, Alternative Reality Games, fiction, people's dreams and, if callers to radio shows were to be believed, into reality. This was the creepiest aspect of Slenderman; he was created in the imagination of many, but because he was imagined to be able to cross over into the real world then he was able to do so. He was believed to be a type of tulpa, a thought-form that takes on a more material form.


Those who have read my book The Brandy of the Damned may see a similarity with the character of Orlando Monk. But while Monk is a public domain Trickster/catalyst, Slenderman is a monster - and he is the monster of our age. Frankenstein was the dark shadow of the Age of Enlightenment and Dracula was the dark shadow of the Victorian repression, but Slenderman is the dark shadow of now. He is an emergent property of a distributed network. He's the nightmare of the current world.

Even for those who could never take the idea that he could develop a physical form seriously, he was still more than an idea. He was active. He displayed will.



In my probably-forthcoming book about The KLF, I talk about Doctor Who in the context of Alan Moore's concept of ideaspace (it's that sort of book, don't say I didn't warn you). If you are not familiar with ideaspace, it comes from Moore's interest in whether 'ideas' can be considered to exist in any meaningful sense. Moore takes the view that ideas do exist, and ideaspace is a model he created to understand how they work and how they behave. Ideaspace can be compared to Jung's 'Collective Unconscious', de Chardin's 'Noosphere', or Richard Dawkins' concept of 'memes'. Indeed, Dawkins' memes and Moore's ideaspace can be thought of as roughly the same subject described by two wildly different men with completely different beliefs who arrived in the same place from almost opposite starting positions.

Doctor Who, despite not having an individual creator, has become the most complex and extensive fiction of our time. The TV show is only a fraction of it. It is a never-ending story made up of thousands upon thousands of TV episodes, audio plays, books, comic strips, plays, games, fan-fiction and the like. It has evolved in a way that is exponentially different to any other British fiction from the mid-twentieth century. In ideaspace, then, Doctor Who would be a big deal. If ideaspace behaves like Moore suggests, and if you were to look for evidence that a fiction like Slenderman was behaving like a fiction that was somehow alive, then Doctor Who would be an obvious place to look. So the fact that the Silence popped up in Doctor Who suddenly becomes interesting.



Of course, the rational interpretation of the Slenderman/Silence similarities is that the Silence were inspired by (or, if you prefer, copied from) Slenderman. However, if the rules of Moore's ideaspace have any validity, there is no need for the creators of the Silence to have any conscious knowledge of Slenderman. What we have here, therefore, is a useful little real-world scenario that allows us to test whether Moore's ideaspace works as he suggests that it does.




I'm not, sadly, in a position to quiz Steven Moffat, the initial creator of the Silence, if he was consciously inspired by Slenderman. However I have been able to ask Jason Arnopp, who researched the subject in order to write the 'Designing the Silence' article in the Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2012. He confirmed that of all the people he spoke to involved in the creation of the Silence, no-one mentioned Slenderman.

According to Arnopp, there was reference in the original script to the face of the Silence being reminiscent of Edvard Munch's The Scream, and this was the starting point for prosthetics designer Neill Gorton's design of the monster's face. The script also referred to the Silence "looming" over The Doctor, so the designers made them tall. The black suit was not in the script, but an outfit was cheaper than a monster body so several outfits were suggested. The 'men in black' suit was chosen to fit with the 1960s American setting of their debut story.


The Silence, then, were not a conscious copy of Slenderman, but emerged in the space created by the creative efforts of a number of different minds. The most rational explanation for the remarkable similarity between the Silence and Slenderman is that it is all just a coincence.

A different explanation is that ideaspace does behave like Moore describes, and that the concept of Slenderman was able to press itself into the fiction of Doctor Who, without any of the creators of the Silence being aware that this was happening.

With this is mind, it is interesting to consider the long extended middle figure of the Silence. This was an innovation from designer Neill Gorton who told Arnopp that the intention behind it was to make the design more alien and creepy, and that extended finger was inspired by the extended middle finger of the Aye-Aye lemur. Gorton told Arnopp that he wasn't quite satisfied with this aspect of the design. "We just didn't get it quite bony enough," he said, "It worked fine in the show, but if we do them again I'll make those strange, long hands even scarier." One curious aspect of Slenderman shown in many illustrations is that his long arms stretch out and become tentacle-like. There was nothing in the script to suggest that long finger that Gorton added, yet he felt an urge to stretch it out, and somehow knew that he hadn't gone far enough and didn't get it quite right.





All of which is suggests that ideaspace may behave like Moore describes, and that the concept of Slenderman had attempted to press itself into the fiction of Doctor Who, without any of the creators of the Silence being aware that this was happening, with a remarkable level of success.

Or in other words, it's evidence that the dark shadow of our age behaves as if it is more alive than a fiction should do. Especially when that fiction that is a monster.

So with that thought - happy Hallowe'en everyone!





Tuesday, 16 October 2012

KLF essay in Darklore Volume 7

Darklore volume 7 is now available, and it's a goody. It contains much that is exquisitely strange and disturbing from writers including Mike Jay, Robert Schoch, Mark Pesce, Blair Mackensie Blake, Cat Vincent and Greg Taylor. Full details can be found here.



This collection has something of a theme of the blurring boundaries between the real and the imagined, which if you've read The Brandy of the Damned you'll know is something of an interest of mine. My contribution is a 7000 word essay concerning the influence of Robert Anton Wilson on the British rave band The KLF, entitled From Operation Mindfuck to The White Room. It includes this freaky-as-all-hell illustration by Isoban.


The essay as adapted from a book I wrote earlier in the year called KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money. That book was intended as a response to the burning of a million quid on the isle of Jura by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty. It is a story about Discordianism, Dada, Situationists, Alan Moore, Ken Campbell, Robert Anton Wilson and the alchemical properties of Doctor Who.

Now I won't lie; it very quickly turned into a very strange book and it troubles me. The original plan was to put it out around now but at the moment I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with it. I'm toying with the idea of only printing five copies that you can't buy, but which you can borrow. In this network era when everything is available to anyone - or it's not available to anyone - that seems strangely appropriate for a book about The KLF.

I don't have to make a decision for a few weeks, however, when it returns from its final copy edit. On the one hand I want it out as a record of the influence Robert Anton Wilson had here in the UK, because I'm very fond of Robert Anton Wilson. On the other hand, I would do much better shelving it to concentrate on the new novel that will be finished by the end of the year, The First Church on the Moon, because that is turning into something truly peachy.

So, we'll see.

Whatever happens I'm not going to burn it, though. That would be crazy.

In completely unrelated news, I'm appearing at Waterstones' in Windsor on Thursday evening, alongside Niven Govinden, and more details can be found here.


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Brandy of the Damned update

The Brandy of the Damned is now available as a very handsome paperback. It is available from all good bookshops that are called Amazon.


It will set you back £8.99 but if you're a member of Goodreads, you may be able to snaffle a copy for free - there's a giveaway there that ends on Sept 10th.



Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Brandy of the Damned by J.M.R. Higgs

The Brandy of the Damned

by J.M.R. Higgs

Giveaway ends September 10, 2012.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
Reviewers are calling it "Wonderfully unhinged", "delightfully skewed", "increasingly mesmerising" and so forth. I particularly like this review from CJ Stone, where he, er, compares it to the Marquis De Sade. (If anyone wants a review copy, of course, just shout - there are paperbacks and ebooks available).

I'm also appearing at the Windsor Bookswap at Waterstones Windsor on October 18th - more about that in due course!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Albionist: Paradise Is Your Birthright

 The following is an essay I wrote a couple of years ago for an art exhibition entitled Albionist: Paradise Is Your Birthright, which attempted to look at modern Britain through the eyes of William Blake. For various reasons the exhibition never happened (not least of which being the death of one of its focal figure), although it will be recreated online this December. This essay will be published then as part of a free ebook, along with an article on William Blake by CJ Stone, a look at the Gog Magog hill figures as art by Flinton Chalk, and an alternative founding myth for these islands by Brian Barritt.

Following Danny Boyle's wonderful Olympic opening ceremony yesterday, however, it seems like a good time to stick this online. For any Brits who in no way consider themselves patriotic but were strangely affected by the ceremony, and for any non-Brits who have found themselves looking at Britain and thinking WTF?, this may be give a bit of perspective.






This is an exhibition of Albionist art. Albionism is the recognition of a spirit.
Don’t be too concerned by that. I know that ‘spirit’ is a loaded word these days. It’s used so casually and in so many different contexts that you can never be sure if it refers to something real. To be clear, when I say ‘spirit’ I am not talking about something real. It is nothing that you could measure or contain, nothing material, nothing that has mass or velocity. It is not available in a range of colours and you cannot have it gift-wrapped. It is something that simply doesn’t exist.
It behaves like it exists, of course. But that’s not the same as actually existing.
And you’ve been influenced by it, and you can recognise it. The people in your home and town, they know it too. People no longer living, and people not yet born, in generations moving away from where you are now in both directions, through hundreds of years, then thousands, all these people would recognise the exact same thing.
As I say, it behaves like it exists, and that’s enough.
Albionism is the recognition of a visionary spirit, a spirit that arises from these islands. It raises us up and, cleverly, it also prevents us from falling into the abyss of nationalism. This may seem contradictory, but it will make sense once you look at the aspects of this spirit.

These are the three aspects of Albionism: it is bawdy, anarchic and accepting.
We’ll look at each of those aspects in turn:


Albionism is a bawdy spirit.
Consider The Miller’s Tale from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This features a lusty clerk who, desiring to steal a kiss from a carpenter’s wife, is tricked into kissing an arse sticking out of a window. Anyone British who reads this story will recognise this style of humour. It runs through the Carry On films, post-war seaside postcards, Viz Comic, Hogarth and Little Britain. It is lusty, and base, and crude. It is immediately recognisable, the world over, as being very British.
More than 600 years have passed since Chaucer wrote that tale. Why has that sense of humour not been affected by the passing of those years? During that time cities replaced villages, industry replaced agriculture, population exploded, an Empire came and went and the rest of the world was encountered and absorbed. The daily life of the people of these islands was torn up and rewritten time and time again. How, then, is it that this sense of humour remained unscathed? How is it that completely different people living completely different lives produce and react to the same humour? Here we have a sense of humour that transcends centuries, and there is only one linking thread. That is the island it emerged from.
The story of the crucifixion had been around for nearly 2000 years before Eric Idle thought, “you know, it could do with a song. Something cheery, with whistling”. Always Look On The Bright Side of Life is loved throughout the world, but could it have been written anywhere else? Could it have been written by a Frenchmen, or an American, or a Brazilian? It is difficult to imagine a non-Brit writing that song, and if they had it seems likely that the result would have had a very different charm.
Note that these two examples emerge from a sacred narrative, from the act of pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket and the Crucifixion itself. Neither is an attempt to deny the spiritual. Instead, the sacred setting is used as a tool to increase the delight in mockery. It is like drawing a cock on the entrance to a temple, not because you deny the teachings of the temple, but because it’s the funniest possible place to draw a cock.
Bawdiness itself has a similar function.  It is a sexual humour, and its targets are the elements of our personalities that are most clearly revealed as absurd by our sex lives.  There is a very good reason why most cultures do not find comedy in sex, and that is because sex should not be funny. If you look at what comedy actually is, it is an awareness of ignorance.  Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp does not know that there is a banana skin on the pavement where he walks, but we do.  Ricky Gervais’ David Brent does not know that dancing in that way is not acceptable in a corporate environment, but we do. Likewise, the characters of bawdy humour, the hectoring fishwives, the terrified scrawny men and the lust-driven lechers, do not see themselves as we see them. The aim of sex is not to be aware of yourself, it is to stop existing. It is for two people to dissolve away and become no-one.
Which is, of course, what makes bawdy humour so inappropriate and hence so funny.
Likewise, spiritual enlightenment promises overwhelming understanding and omniscience. Albionism doesn’t deny that, but it knows that gaining omniscience makes comedy impossible because it removes the necessary ignorance. Luckily, though, we are not enlightened yet. We live in a realm of comedy and music.  We’ll be in eternity for long enough but for now at least, arses are funny.


 
Albionism is an anarchic spirit.
Anarchy is not chaos. Anarchy is an absence of leaders or authority. Anarchy can produce order, but to do so requires a practical mind. It is what works that matters, not what makes sense.
In their book Blighty Steve Lowe and Alan McArthur spent a year exploring the matter of Britain and came to understand how practicality defined the natural character far more than common sense. At the end of their journey they wished to perform an act to mark its end and, inspired by all the Druids they met along the way, knew that making something up was a reasonable solution when there is a lack of a genuine ritual. In this spirit they headed for the sea, with the aim of making a sacrifice to the waves by throwing in some food. But what food? A bitter argument built up between McArthur, who wished to throw a chicken into the sea, and Lowe, who felt that throwing a chicken into the sea was not the sort of thing he wished to put his name to. The pair became deeply entrenched in these positions and, as their argument became increasingly bitter, a successful outcome seemed unlikely.
Eventually they arrived at the coast and went to buy food from a local Spar. Here they found, shrink-wrapped and all but ignored in the corner of the fridge cabinet, half a roast chicken. This, clearly, was the answer. It was a compromise that made no sense whatsoever, but it was a compromise that they both could accept. Hence, their year long quest ended with the ritual throwing of half a chicken into the sea, and a profound point about the national character was demonstrated.
You can see this at work in much of the British state, a hodgepodge of arcane and unjustifiable institutions that have survived the centuries for no other reason than they (just about) sort of work. The monarchy is a prime example. The notion of a hereditary monarchy is not easy to defend, as much of the rest of the world would be quick to argue. Yet we keep ours for practical reasons, because the alternative is to have a politician as Head of State.
Politicians are largely unaware that they are nothing but middle management, doomed to be swept away by fate and great movements which they neither understand nor control. They believe that they have some form of ‘power’, some form of ‘authority’. This delusion of authority means that those who assume the symbolic role of Head of State infect the idea of their nation with their own dysfunctional ego. On a practical level, we keep the monarchy because we recognise that an idiotic system is better than a cancerous one.
The monarchy showed a deep understanding of the spirit of the nation when they cast off any pretence of power in favour of a purely symbolic existence. They are our pets, and we look after them. And yes, we probably do spend too much money on them, and they can misbehave and we were wrong not to get some of the spare ones neutered, but look at them! Look how funny they are, look at their little faces! You could argue that it is cruel, I suppose, keeping them caged up like that, unable to live a natural life. But they don’t seem to mind, do they? You don’t hear them complain. What we have here is a system that works (provided, of course, that they only people who take it seriously are the tourists).
Keeping the royal cage supported, however, does involve an elaborate system of private schools, private clubs, and the fostering of a pretence of elitism on many thousands of innocent victims. We need to be honest here; this is cruel. These people, who think themselves ‘the upper class’, could have lived and enjoyed genuine, valuable lives instead of the fake, delusional existences we condemn them too.
I don’t claim this system is perfect.
What has this got to do with anarchy? With anarchy, you have to work things out yourself. By denying authority in others you must become responsible for yourself. You have to find a way, and if the only way that works is idiotic it is still the only way that works. Nobody is responsible for you, because nobody has authority over you.
It is this aspect that in part explains the importance of comedy in Albionism. The British way of dealing with a problem, namely by taking the piss and waiting for it to go away, is remarkably effective. Consider the alternative, such as Richard Dawkins’ attempts to attack religion through logic and anger. Dawkins was angered, to take one example, by organised religion’s habit of indoctrinating children through education. As a result of his attacks, however, the monotheists dug in, came out fighting, and now there are many more religious schools operating or planned in this country than before. As a result, he has undone much of the good work achieved by the Monty Python team in The Life of Brian. The tactic of taking the piss and waiting for things to go away is preferred over logic and anger simply because it works better.
In both of these aspects we see a refusal to take seriously any claims by others to have authority over ourselves. This brings us to the third aspect of Albionism.



Albionism is an accepting spirit.
Head out, away from noise and distraction and into the country. See the moors and downs, walk the coastal paths and the woodlands. There is a voice you will hear, when it is quiet enough. A gentle female voice which you will hear time and time again, when you are still.
I’m not making any distinction about “England”, “Scotland” or “Wales” here. These are arbitrary distinctions produced by quirks of history. Different corners of these islands have different personalities, sure, and perhaps this Albionist voice is clearer in some places than others. But you can hear that voice on every part of these islands for every part is wonderful, and enchanted.
Have you heard it?  It is perhaps louder in older places, where you are put in the context not of now but of always.
That voice says, “You are welcome.”
It tells you that you are in the right place. This is where you are supposed to be. You are welcome.
And that voice says the same to everyone, it always has and it always will. That voice was heard by the Celtic immigrants when they first arrived in these islands. It was heard by the Angles, the Jutes and the Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans. It was heard by the West Indians, the Indians and the Poles. And yes, not everyone listens and not everyone hears it. Some people shut themselves away in their suburban prisons and hide from it by immersing themselves in the Daily Mail and lashing out whenever they feel joy start to stir within them. But everyone has the potential to hear it, regardless of how tough their lives are or how deprived their backgrounds.
Not everyone understands it, or at least not at first. You can see it this in inner-city grime artists returning from the Glastonbury Festival, aware that something inside them has changed but not having the context to understand exactly what. Sometimes it will take a generation, sometimes even two. But it doesn’t matter how strong the original culture or family is, or how little an individual cares to listen. At some point they will hear, “You are welcome”, and they will feel a connection and they will feel at home. And at that point, they know they are British. The Albionist spirit always wins out.
When Nick Griffin, the leader of the quasi-fascist BNP, appeared on BBC’s Question Time programme he was asked about a series of BNP adverts which featured Winston Churchill. The question was whether these adverts misrepresent Churchill, a renowned fighter of fascists who would have been appalled to be used this way by such a party. But this was the wrong question. What they should have asked him is whether the word ‘British’ in ‘British National Party’ was in any way justifiable. For whatever you think of the British, there is no way, no conceivable way, that they would line up in jackboots and march behind Nick Griffin. There is no-one alive who could put their hand on their heart and swear that this is in any way possible – not even Nick Griffin. 
Loyalty to a leader is a temporary thing in these islands, granted for practical reasons when it is necessary. And it is necessary, sometimes, to get things done. National Health Services don’t build themselves, you know. In most circumstances, though, a leader’s self-proclaimed authority is a cause for ridicule. We can live with it because we know that by throwing shit and stones we can prevent ourselves from ever falling for it.
That voice, that understanding that we are welcome and accepted here, is all we need. It is enough to support us and give us confidence. Why would we need an authority over us when we have that? Why indeed would any individual, who hears the same voice, try to claim authority over others? The only answer is that they are deluded, and the only response is to take the piss.
It is a hang-up from World War II, but we are too harsh on the fascists. So they have an overwhelming need to hang out with men with a similar skin colour to themselves? Who are we to judge? Provided they harm none, we should accept them for what they are and respect this desire for the company of similarly-skinned others. Why should they not have special clubs where they can go? We fear their potential for violence, but left alone in their special clubs alongside men with skin just how they like it, would they be so angry? They will always be a small minority, it is true, and they will always be funny with their shiny boots and shiny heads. But surely they are as welcome here as everyone else?
Is this not the famous British sense of “fair play”? When no authority is taken seriously, there is no way to justify one individual getting special treatment over others. And so, we queue. We applaud Pakistan or Sri Lanka when they outclass us at cricket. We create organisations for the greater good, such as the NHS and the BBC, and we feel a deep sense of loss when the capitalists destroy such organisations, such as the Royal Mail or British Rail.
Look at the idealised British folk heroes: Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond or Doctor Who. These are all people who are heroes because of their bravery and exceptional skills, not because of any rank or status. They may mix with figures of authority, they may even work for them, but they never lose their anti-establishment grounding. More importantly, they are driven not by personal gain but by the desire to do the right thing, to promote the greater good. If you look at the narratives of other cultures, this is surprisingly rare. American folk heroes, for example, tend to be gangsters or cowboys, men whose focus is their own personal freedom and gain.
This sense of ‘fair play’ and the ‘greater good’ follows naturally from this welcome that requires no authority. 
There are those who have tried to deny that voice for their own gain. But no-one has succeeded in drowning it out yet. 
Chances are, it will always be there.



Albionism, then, is a bawdy, anarchic, accepting spirit. These aspects, in turn, make it an anti-establishment spirit. But is it also true to say that it is a visionary spirit?
Is it visionary in the sense of William Blake, seeing a tree filled with Angels in Peckham Rye?
Is it visionary in the sense of Francis Crick, suddenly understanding the double helix structure of DNA whilst under the influence of LSD?
Is it visionary in the sense of Doctor Dee, rushing from the counsel of the Virgin Queen to converse with spirits?
Is it visionary in the sense of Dickens, struggling against the injustice of Victorian capitalism yet still able to create something as beautiful as the Ghost of Christmas Present?
Albionism is not about looking up to these visionaries. They have no innate status over us, for all that we may enjoy marvelling at their genius. Albionism is not a request to respect them; it is an invitation to join them. We have no need of authorities to grant access to our Higher Selves, we just need to help each other up. It is no coincidence that this country, which gave the world everything from football to democracy, from the Beatles to the Industrial Revolution, from Shakespeare to Newton, never gave the world a religion (with the possible recent exception of earth spirit-based Wicca.)
Or to put it another way:  Look for the Albionist spirit.
Look for it in the green turf Mohican that a protester slapped on the head of a statue of Churchill.
Look for it in the cock of the Cerne Abbas Giant.
Look for it in the foam pie thrown at Rupert Murdoch in parliament.
Look for it in the catchphrase, “They don’t like it up ‘em!”
Look for it in our complete bafflement about the building of Silbury Hill.
Look for it in the Restoration of the Monarchy, after a decade of Cromwell.
Look for it in the Beatles making a TV film to be shown to the whole nation on Boxing Day 1967, and coming up with Magical Mystery Tour.
Look for it in safety pin through the Queen’s nose on Sex Pistols’ record sleeves. Look for it when Jeremy Paxman patronised Dizzee Rascal on Newsnight and Dizzee just sampled the whole thing and used it as part of his Glastonbury set.
Look for it in the Blitz spirit, and the insistence that Hitler only had one ball.
Look for it and you will find it everywhere. Look for it until you are saturated in it and until you can see it running through your history, culture and the ruts of your own brain like the words running through the length of a stick of Blackpool rock.
Look for it amongst the content of this exhibition.
And then remember, it doesn’t exist.
I was very clear about that at the start. This is not something that is objectively real.
Then look at it again, and ask yourself what it is that you are looking at.

Now you can answer that question for yourself:
Is Albionism a visionary spirit?