M1-26 Phantom Captain

M1-26 Breather

Collaborations. I was kind of hoping that lots of them might happen after the release of Miniatures as the participating artists discovered that they mutually admired each others’ work. Well, the only one I can be sure that really did happen was – The Penguin Cafe Orchestra with the Phantom Captain theatre group (how very PC!). It was in a record shop in Oxford Street – probably HMV (which 30 years on is the shooting location for hundreds of shockingly bad videos of pop stars doing promo gigs). Unfortunately I was not able to watch it but remember dropping by the soundcheck to wish them a good show. PCO leader Simon Jeffes adored the Phantom Captain track – or maybe it was just their initials? PCO plus PC? Anyway, I can see their quiet, classy British kind of anarchy working very well together.

Neil Hornick, the PC leader, is a committed, almost obsessive theatre-goer, actor, performance artist, archivist, literary consultant, and pacifist writer. Actually I was not sure exactly what he did, or does, but kind of felt good that he was doing something, and provided him with a very small soap box on which to do it. So small that he only had room to stand on one foot and would doubtless, like all the others, fall off within a minute or so. Anyway, more than anyone I knew, he, for sure, knew the pleasures of the Interval, an integral part of the theatre-goers’ life. That short moment in time when one is in a kind of limbo, much as on an international flight, suspended somewhere between the fantasy being enacted on stage and the grim reality of the world outside. And one is only granted just about the amount of time you need to: frantically make for the bar/along with the seething hordes/bleatingly attempt to order a restorer/and if successful/gulp it down in one/while snottily critiquing the first act/then immediately join the queue/at the loo/to avoid having to make an embarrassing exit/during Act 2/phew! We agreed that this sometimes hysterically enervating experience would form the basis of his Miniature and that it would be strategically placed, of course, at the end of side A of the LP.

Myself and the benign owner of Cherry Red Records, Iain McNay, regularly gathered at a local wine bar in Notting Hill during the long process of making Miniatures. Almost always, and with much relish, our conversation eventually focussed on a plan, or maybe just a dream, Iain had of creating a kind of alternative restaurant. In the restaurant (which I suggested be called The Red Pipe, from Cherry Red Records plus Pipe Records – the sublabel I had created in order to release Miniatures – oh, and the eatery must have a Magritte-ish pipe as a logo), strange goings on would happen to humorously shift people’s view of “reality.” Guest maitre d’s (such as John Cleese or Miniatures artist Ken Ellis) would cause chaos by cleverly messing with customers’ minds; velvet-lined niches in the wall would display, not art or precious objects, but rusting, fetid trash; and all the waiters and waitresses would be performance artists who would spontaneously burst into song or dance, but also add to the quiet mayhem and mindbending by repeatedly doing simple but possibly infuriating things such as placing your fork on the table with the tines pointing towards you. Sadly, although Iain, as always, followed through on his dream, and located a venue for this grand plan, the chef he had found (very talented – we insisted on the best gourmet organic food) suddenly gave up the idea and headed to an ashram in India. A suitable replacement could not be found and so the project floundered and sank without trace.

I mention all this because in this description of a 1978 film made about Phantom Captain is a work titled “Waiter Service” which shows affinities to the gentle havoc hinted at in the previous paragraph. The Phantoms would have been an ideal “act” to infiltrate into the Red Pipe as staff. They certainly looked the part, when they showed up at the Miniatures launch party and, for the first time, met Simon Jeffes (standing left) [click to enlarge]:

Golders Green, in North London, is renowned for a healthy proportion of Jewish folk, a famous crematorium where numerous celebrities were bid farewell, and the Hippodrome theatre, where in 1969 I played with my band Love Affair on a kids’ television show called Crackerjack, while genial co-host Whally Whyton dealt with his drearily repetitive TV role by sucking on a spliff in the wings. Neil Hornick and his wife lived – and still live in – an apartment close to the ‘Drome. I spent several entertaining evenings there with much good food and wine and talk, and somehow felt I was in some Eastern European city where the hospitality was of a warmer, more robust nature than one generally finds in England. Theatre folk sometimes give that impression – Neill certainly did – and jolly nice it was too. Neil’s partner in crime, a fellow captain if you like, had a very different, but equally endearing personality.

Joel Cutrara, a very American man, had a craggy gangsterish face plus a rich low narrator-ish voice that indicated he could do well in movies. A few years after Miniatures he did indeed get some plum, if small roles. Starting off as “Policeman #11” in “Ragtime” (1985, starring James Cagney) he continued with an insignificant part in “Insignificance,” Nicolas Roeg’s still astonishing film where a Marilyn Monroe lookalike explains the Theory of Relativity to an Einstein lookalike. Joel found himself playing the role of “bar drunk” with, sat on the next bar stool, none other than Tony Curtis, with whom he exchanged a few depressing words

I often wonder how it is to be in a movie for just a few seconds, next to some Hollywood legend. Rubbing shoulders briefly with greatness, then back to your sad little bedsit. Rather as if I went into a studio to add a single piano note to an epic by, say, The Who. Actually I almost did that – around the time of Tommy I went to The Who’s Ramport studio and was impressed by their massive Bösendorfer piano which had nine extra bass keys, painted black – I touched one. Ken Russell was in the studio and was equally impressed. (I am now even more impressed, because these days they make grand pianos that record).  I liked Joel and invited him to write and read a surreal Christmas monologue on my art-punk Christmas album, “Claws,” released the same year as Miniatures.

Latest sighting of the Captain is Neil’s participation (here seen opening the door) in Anna Chen’s steampunk extravaganza at the Greenwich National Maritime Museum in February 2012. I was chuffed to notice supremo rock journalist Charles Shaar Murray (who was often sighted at Mott gigs) riffing in the background. More info on Chen here – but be warned, the text is so dark, as is the background, that it cannot be read unless you highlight it. Sort of sums up the PC’s approach to revealing the quirkier underlying layers of the human condition…

Oh alright, here’s Neil and his steampunk monologue on a nice yellow background.

We are now half way through Miniatures 1. Time for a quick one….

Next up: gone reason

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