Issue #28 May 2nd - 8th 2003

Sister Janice Comes Home
Okay, so it wasn't all that popular in intensive care, but they LOVED it on the psychiatric wards. God, they PAY some people to do this. Occupational THERAPY, they call it.
By Sister Janice Slejj

There are warmer days and the height of summer, with all the attendant lazy evenings in the garden, daytrips, holidays, festivals and fayres, isn't too difficult to anticipate now.
By Jo Harrington

Ballboy: A Game Of Two Halves
A sense of good humour pervades as a lone voice and guitar reverberates around the dark walls of the garage. At least one member of the audience finds it hard to believe that such clear voice can exist outside of their imagination.
By Rachel Queen

Calluna Vulgaris
You would make sure she didn't see you, winking at Niall as you crept up behind her and grabbed her around her waist, flinging her up in the air, her excitable shrill echoing through the drowsy amber sky.
By Paul Williamson

End Of A Legend - A Tribute to Nina Simone
I must attempt use the written word to pay tribute to something that was so much more than that. I must try and capture something flowing, undulating, ever-changing with only the net my words can assemble. I feel clumsy, insufficiently prepared, a little unworthy perhaps.
By Ian Anscombe


+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++



Sister Janice Comes Home

Sister Janice is the Friends Of The Heroes agony aunt. She used to be a nun, but after becoming involved in an accident at her convent involving a papal emissary; the mother superior; the convent dog and a bottle of 'citrus fresh' bleach, she decided it was time to find herself a new career.

These days she travels through the galaxies in a converted garden shed. Or she would, if it wasn't currently crash landed outside the drive-through window of a restaurant belonging to a well-known burger chain. Write to Sister Janice Slejj care of Friends of the Heroes. She will answer your problems and questions with the insight unique to a disco-loving alternative-gardening defrocked clergy member and cosmic adventurer...

Thrown out of a bloody hospital!

I told them they ought to be exhibiting Christian Mercy.. they didn't listen

I told them they ought to heed the parable of the Good Samarian... they laughed

I told them they ought to be careful, or I would get The Lord to smite them with an Holy Plague.

They told me they would call the police if I didn't leave.

Hello again my little voyagers of vivaciousness,

I have been away for some time. I have missed you.

It has been a mixed period, in the world of Retrospective Dance. At first I thought a broken leg might keep me from my Mission (saving the world, through the power of disco... for more details, or for a prospectus, consult here ) however, it seems the Lord has smiled upon my Glorious Crusade. I made many new friends in the Place Of Darkness in which I was forced to reside. I managed to show many Lost Souls the Way of the Lord Of Groove.

However, those bloody miserable bastards that run St. Mary's Hospital (I should have known they'd be difficult when I saw the name... far too nun-like. It reminded me of the Sisterhood Of Perpetual Dullness with whom I used to reside) seem determined to stand in the way of His Word, and my classes.

That hospital was a bloody boring place. You'd think they would be GLAD I was teaching their patients to Hustle. But no... that would be too much to ask... apparently, I was 'impeding the recuperation' of those around me. Okay, so it wasn't all that popular in intensive care, but they LOVED it on the psychiatric wards. God, they PAY some people to do this. Occupational THERAPY, they call it. Just because my therap-ees happen to be grateful enough to provide recompense in the form of whisky; small change and Isley Brothers records they said I was 'committing extortion, in a scurillous and reprehensible manner'.

Self-righteous bastards. It was like living with those horrible heffers in habbits all over again. I told them God smiled on those who helped others, and I sang The Lord Of The Dance as they wheeled me out of there. Or the bits I could remember. I never was all that fond of hymns.

And so, my friends of funkadelicia, back to The Shed. I find Roger from the burger bar has not only taken over my problem page (I'm sorry you had to witness that, my little droplets of divinity. I've seen better poetry in religious readings. God, I've seen better poetry written by NUNS..); that Roger from the burger bar has not only smoked most of my Alternative Garden (he says he did it to Deliver Me From Temptation. I told him he was a freeloading fucker, and that he'd better get watering what was left) but that Roger from the burger bar has also taken up permanent residence in MY Shed.

I was going to boot him out when I noticed he'd also hoovered, washed up, and mended the hole in the roof. So I let him stay.

Here is this week's letter

'Dear Sister Janice

I feel gut-wrenchingly guilty because I have horribly abused the trust that was placed in me. Whilst guarding the abode of an Inspirational Mentor, Cosmic Adventurer and Retrospective Dance Specialist, I used the opportunity to usurp their burgeoning career as a problem-solving executive and to inflict my half-assed, mind-numblingly inane ramblings upon the general public.

I wish I knew what a Sensitive, Serious, Sagacious Poet must do in order to make recompense.


Roger of Cheshire

(The new name is good, isn't it? Very...evocative. Like The Earl of Rochester..or......


Other Famous Poets)

P.S. I'm only writing this because I'm hard up and you offered to pay me. Personally, I thought my problem page was a creation of incomparable beauty. Such are the sacrifices the Sensitive must make in order to swim our way across the Channels of Eternity. Remember you offered me an extra ten Pounds Sterling to say that you were my mentor.'

'Dear Roger,

Channels of Eternity? Get a bloody grip. And take some advice...ditch the Romantic shit. It isn't dignified, and it makes you look like a prick.

However, I believe that you simply need to speak to the person whose trust you have abused. Offer them an abject, grovelling apology, and reject any notion that they might pay you for doing so. They certainly sound like someone who is wise, kind, caring and cosmically aware. Perhaps if you encouraged others to sign up to one of the Enlightenment Through Retrospective Dance classes that this person might be running, you could fully assuage the justifiable guilt which would otherwise drag your soul into torment.

Also, if you could get, that is... them a couple of engine parts... purely on the assumption that they might have a garden shed with a broken engine that they wished to launch back into space... that might please them. It might please them immensely. If they were that sort of person.'

Until next week, my little rubber fans and funkateers, when I hope to be flying once again, remember that we are One Nation Under a Groove... and endeavour to Get Down Just For The Funk Of It.

You'll feel better for it.

And don't let anyone stop you dancing.


Sister Janice

(More By This Author)


+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++




Happy Beltane to all in the northern hemisphere! (Happy Samhain to those in the south)

Beltane (pronounced Bel - tin) is one of the four major pagan festivals, which are known as sabbats, and is often coupled with Samhain as the two most important sabbats of the year.

In Celtic terms, it falls at sunset on April 30th; for other pagans, it begins at sunrise on May 1st. For yet others, Beltane is May 5th, when the constellation of Taurus shows high in the sky. Perhaps the cunning plan is to start at sunset on April 30th and just party for the next couple of weeks.

It's a day for celebration - feasts, drunkenness, frivolity, a nice... er... cuddle with your partner - in honour of the Celtic sun god, Bel, and his consort the Maiden.

It was Christianized into May Day, which managed to remain a very Pagan festival! The Maypole was erected as a giant phallus in the centre of the village, as we are celebrating the emergence of the God into manhood and his coupling with the Goddess. This coupling will eventually lead to the birth of the Young God at Winter Solstice (don't bother counting, it's only seven months - he's a bit premature). Everywhere people pick posies of flowers or create garlands and wreaths; brightly coloured ribbons hang everywhere - they are celebrating the triumph of summer over winter.

Villages and towns elect their May Queen to symbolize the Maiden Goddess (and if you want to catch a glimpse of a truly Pagan ceremony, try nipping into a Catholic church at Beltane, it shocked me!), while the Green Man makes an appearance in a variety of guises to symbolize the God.

The festival marks the first day of summer and just about everyone should have noticed that the plants are growing, There are warmer days and the height of summer, with all the attendant lazy evenings in the garden, daytrips, holidays, festivals and fayres, isn't too difficult to anticipate now. Beltane therefore becomes a sabbat of pure hedonism. The hardships of winter have faded slightly in the memory now, while the easy times of summer are all to come. People feel happy to let their hair down, fill their glasses, eat in the sure knowledge that food won't be scarce, laugh, dance and play.

It's all ok now and, if it isn't, then it's sure to be within the next few weeks - the reassurance gives us renewed vitality and a weight drops off our shoulders. In short, Beltane honours and celebrates Life.

Many couples choose Beltane to handfast for a year and a day, though folklore insists that May is a bad time to marry permanently. This might be because marriages now might be assumed to be a piece of Spring Fever or 'a good idea at the time', born of a night in the greenwood being thoroughly romanced, not the stuff of longevity; however, others have suggested that May is the month of the God and Goddess's handfasting and the Lady is a jealous Bride, not wanting to share the glory... I can't say I subscribe to that one myself, but there you go.

In Celtic lore, there are two occasions when the veil between worlds is wafer thin, one of which is Beltane (the other is Samhain). Through it come the fey, the denizens of the Otherworld or us on our way to parallel lands.

This is a time to be careful in stone circles, if you plan on staying put in this world. Many legends, from the Irish coming of the Tuatha de Danaan to the Queen of Faery's taking of Thomas the Rhymer, all took place at Beltane. Traditionally, rowan branches were placed on doorsteps and windowsills to protect the home against Otherworldly visitors, while food was left out for the fey to partake.

I wish you all a happy Beltane!


Jo Harrington


+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++



Ballboy: A Game Of Two Halves

Wembley Stadium, June 15th 2013, around 9.30 pm.*

Sunlight creeps through the partially opened roof of the multimillion pound stadium. Despite careful planning and years of building the stadium malfunctions on a regular basis due to a technical fault in the remote control for closing the roof. This had been rumoured to have been caused by a complex error in the programming of very high tech microchip which was not designed to withstand the climate changes brought about by global warming. Other, more sceptical people speculated that the remote simply got lost down the side of the settee on a regular basis.
A bored looking girl stands next to a short looking boy who is reeling off random facts about the world famous ballboy. Next to them stands a well dressed 17 year old

Highbury and Islington Tube station, 18th April 2003 around 7ish**

Two girls and a boy take shelter from the bright sunlight of the day within the darkest building that they can find. Luckily this happens to be The Garage which is the venue for the ballboy concert that they had previously decided to attend. A faint mumbling can be heard from the boy and one of the girls. Something about being “much too early as usual”. The other girl appears to be too excited to notice this. A big smile covers her face alternating with a slight nervous biting of her lower lip. It is not entirely apparent but adrenalin is pumping through her causing her stomach to lurch and her hands shake ever so slightly. The seeing of bands she loves always disturbs her slightly. Will the reality live up to the dream? Will she be able to listen to their music in the same way again?

Wembley Stadium, June 15th 2013, around 9.32 pm

The bored looking girl seems to have left the scene. Careful observation reveals that she has pushed her way to the far side of the stadium and is cowering and hoping not to be spotted by the short looking boy. She needn't worry however, as the short looking boy has turned his attentions to the well dressed 17 year old.
“I'm not sure how I'll survive a whole concert in this heat”
the well dressed 17 yea old nods. The short looking boy casually continues “not that it is as hot as the time I saw them play in 2010 in Barcelona in the middle of August mind you… that's a while ago now isn't? they hadn't even received their platinum disc”
“aye, it must have been a while since I've seen Mr McIntrye too. Almost 10 years I reckon…”

The Garage, Islington, 18th April 2003 around 10ish

Slumped at the side of the garage three people looked at their watches. They exchanged glances and fiddle with cameras. They drink drinks and visit the toilet. Eventually the girl can contain herself no more and herds her friends to a more prominent position where actually watching the band would be possible. They wait. She tries not to hop about anxiously. It did not always work.
The band appear on stage. They start to play “public park”. The girl watched all this. She heard everything. She immediately forgot everything. Her heart was beating fast and her only memory was:
“so this is ballboy? This is the band that played so regularly on my CD player?”

Wembley Stadium, June 15th 2013, around 9.33 pm

The short looking boy is taken a back:
1)is it now cool to call band members “Mr so and so” rather than trying to appear familiar and casually slip their first name's into the conversation
2)how is it possible that the well dressed boy has seen the band so long ago...

The Garage, Islington, 18th April 2003 around 10.15ish

“you know that something's going to happen, you know that something's going to happen”

The audience have been well and truly sucked in.

“you know that something's going to happen”.

Some audience members dance around and around and around. Others remain routed to the spot as the drum beat crashes through their whole body and they sound of the keyboard rises leaving them dazed, euphoric and slightly light headed

“you know that something's going to happen soon”.

Wembley Stadium, June 15th 2013, around 9.34 pm

“what did he play then?”
“I can't remember him playing all that much, he told some good stories though..”

The Garage, Islington, 18th April 2003 around 10.20ish

Gordon McIntrye: “this is a very short song with a very long title- I lost you but I found country music”
Disembodied voice from the audience: “country music rocks!”
Gordon McIntyre:” surely rock music rocks, so country music must country?? I'm not going to try to go too far abbreviating this...”

The song begins mixing with the laughter. A sense of good humour pervades as a lone voice and guitar reverberates around the dark walls of the garage. At least one member of the audience finds it hard to believe that such clear voice can exist outside of their imagination.

Wembley Stadium, June 15th 2013, around 9.35 pm

As the sun starts to set on the partially opened roof of the multimillion pound stadium ballboy appear onstage. The conversation between the short looking boy and well dressed 17 year old is cut short much to both of their relief. As the gig begins with “I wonder if you are drunk enough to sleep with me tonight” the crowd start to jump and sing along. The well dressed 17 year old's mind is filled with memories of warm sandwiches and grazed knees, and long division and he finds it hard to equate his teacher with the person on the stage…he doesn't quite mange to do this.

The Garage, Islington, 18th April 2003 around 10.55ish

Ballboy leave the stage only to be ordered back on by a crowd demanding more. The girl who is no longer feeling anxious or nervous and very relieved that the band are playing “A day in space”. Her mind is filled with a images of a house in Dundee, of washing dishes, and the first time she had heard this song and she finds it hard to equate these people on stage with the band she first heard on a portable CD player… she doesn't quite manage to do this but she knows that it won't affect her enjoyment of the band in the future.

*parts of this story have not been entirely accurate due to the expense involved in time travel and the limited budget of the friends of the heroes.

**some pictures in this story were not taken at the gig which has been described but have kindly been donated by Andrew Arthur

Rachel Queen

(More By This Author)


+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++



Calluna Vulgaris

Derek sat on the pebblestone slope that separated the patch of rhodendrons from the plot of hardy perennials. He watched as the sweet briared rose tilted towards the setting sun. Rosa rubiginosa. Heather taught him that. She knew the latin derivative of everything in the garden. It was hers really. There's the welted thistle, Carduus crispus, drawing a jittery line around the edge of their empire. Her favourite, lily-of-the valley, the Convallaria majalis, a seduction of sorts, drawing you in, too weak to say 'no'.

Her garden.

You liked the summer best. You would often return home from punching holes in numbers or drilling holes in walls to find her setting the dinner table in the garden with the help of Niall, and you would make sure she didn't see you, winking at Niall as you crept up behind her and grabbed her around her waist, flinging her up in the air, her excitable shrill echoing through the drowsy amber sky, and Niall would be in fits of laughter screaming "put her down dad! put her down!" and, breathless, you would, a deep breath now, and an evening kiss, a collision, then one for Niall too, until he grew too old and adolescent to be kissed, but that would be a while yet.

"Dad! You coming in? They all want to know where you are."

Where are you? Sat in Heather's garden, growing old. Seventy now. The years were kind to you but Christ how you miss her, your Heather.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Nothing is supposed to be how it is. You remember the years just after the war, one night falling onto her parents bed, the vows so serious in intent even then, that if one went then the other would follow. "You'll never be alone again Heather" you said, lured by the promise, the deep pools of her dark eyes.

You'll never be alone again.

"Dad! Come on!"

"I'll be there in a minute son. Just give us a few seconds."

He was a good lad, Niall, and he's turned into a great man. He wasn't planned. He was three years too early, but it was then that you learnt that life doesn't follow logic, and you vowed never to take your work home with you. When she went you lent on each other but you feel he carried more of you on his shoulders, much more infact, and you know that, were it not for Niall, you would have ended it all within a minute of her- head in oven, gassed in the front seat, a leap off the multi-storey- to you, it wouldn't have mattered one iota how you went, it was the fact that you had to get there, to be with her, your Heather. Most of you had gone already, buried with her, all that was left was this physical entity that stayed in bed all day if it could, crawling into and out of half-dreams and reality, wishing to God they'd hurry up and take you to her. Because without her, what's the point?

"You ok dad?"

Niall helps you to your feet, you lean on him as he pulls you into the rabid mass of humanity, and, arms outstretched, you grit your teeth and smile into the night as the band strikes up 'happy birthday'.

Paul Williamson

(More By This Author)


+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++



End Of A Legend -
A Tribute to Nina Simone

How do I begin this?

I like to think I'm good with written words. You pull them together, adhere them with a modest amount of your soul, attempt to shape them into a form which holds both truth and beauty. If you're a success... if you really can do that, you can stand back, look at your creation, and be pretty pleased with yourself. A little smug perhaps.

Right now, the smugness deserts me. I must attempt use the written word to pay tribute to something that was so much more than that. I must try and capture something flowing, undulating, ever-changing with only the net my words can assemble. I feel clumsy, insufficiently prepared, a little unworthy perhaps

I will fail in this task. But I will try. An important event occurred last week. One that should be commemorated here.

I'm not talking about the uprisings in the deserts from which civilisation first sprung. I'm not talking about the germs that fly this way from Oriental shores. These are new stories. There are always legends being born. We watch them grow, develop in complexity. Perhaps we tell ourselves that they represent something eternal, tell us something about the nature of existence. Perhaps the possibilities make us shudder. Anything which does not contain such complexity does not deserve to be called a legend.

But we have plenty of time to share today's stories. For a moment, let's look back at the past, at the legend that ended last week.

Like most of my generation, the first exposure I had to Nina Simone was a deceptively smooth one. 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' slipped out from behind a television advert in the late 1980s, and into the collective consciousness.
It seemed to fit the mood of the 80s. It could have been written in that slick, glossy decade. You can almost hear the ice-cubes clinking, smell the cigar smoke, tut at the yuppies talking loudly and self-importantly at the table next-door.

A surprise, then, when I learned that was written 30 years earlier, for Nina's first album which came to be known as 'Little Girl Blue'.

Nina's voice, balanced somewhere between a fragile happiness and an aching sadness; the piano slinking its way through the opening bars, slipping into the body, dropping its notes through the listener; a melody that flows above and lifts the tune, echoing the happy sentiments Nina expresses, and another melody, shuffling below, expressing some deeper emotion - a longing to be fulfilled. Few artists can express conflicting emotions with such power. Baby may indeed just care for her... but when she sings 'I wonder what's wrong with Baby?'... you just know the happiness was fought for. The rainbow followed a thunderstorm.

That the song could sound so vital and fresh in that jaded decade is proof of its strength.
A great musical moment - the one she seems destined to be remembered for - but perhaps not the best introduction.

Its a remarkable piece of music, taken in isolation, but that was the problem. It was so perfect for the period, that it almost came to represent something it was never really part of - Nina seemed to slip easily into slickness, affluence, white, coffee-table culture.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I'll spare you the biography. That isn't what this article is for. There are plenty of those. She even wrote her own, entitled 'I put a spell on you' (If you ever get hold of a copy, tell me where you bought it, because I'd like one too). That said, you need to know a few things about her to understand her fully:

Nina had been raised in a poor family, but always had lofty ambitions. She had decided she would be a classical pianist. She gave her first performance in 1943 in the library at her home town of Tryon, North Carolina, where her parents were removed from the front row, to make way for some white people. In 1950, at the age of 17, she auditioned for and was rejected by the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, probably because of her skin colour. Later in this decade, with a hit record already to her credit, she was forced to work as a maid for a white family, due to the Bethlehem record label's lack of interest in promoting her career. As soon as she left that label, and before she could even issue a record on her new one, Bethlehem issued her previous recordings in which they had shown such disinterest. Nina made no money from these.

This sort of treatment shaped the direction her musical career would take. It also clearly had some effect on her personality. In her later years, Nina was not a woman to be messed with. Commenting on an infamous incident, in which she decided to obtain some money she felt was owed to her by a record company executive, she said:

'I got a gun ... and I followed him to a restaurant and I tried to kill him. I missed him and I went back to America'

No veneer. No messing around. Nina became known for coming directly to the point. If a certain brusqueness was more than a little evident so was a deep sincerity - it was this sincerity that made her music so immediate, so potent. Reviewing Nina's career in Salon Magazine, Jennifer Gilmore said:

'When Simone sings the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," its dreadful sadness and enormous ecstasy make it seem like it could never have been anyone else's song.'

One can only agree. And the same goes for so many of her other performances. Nina seemed capable of taking any song and recording the 'definitive' version. There aren't many artists who can eclipse the singing of Leonard Cohen ('Suzanne') or Janis Joplin ('Little Girl Blue') but this was one such artist.

Joplin took Cole Porter's 'Little Girl Blue' and worked her fractured power on it. The result is a searing, blistering performance. There is no doubt that Janis has lived every moment of this song. Vicariously, the audience lives the sordid story too. But it isn't her song. Put next to Nina's version, Janis need hardly have bothered turning up to the studio. Joplin's rending vocals seem overwrought, almost hammy in comparison to Simone. In a far from obvious move, Nina combined Cole Porter's original tune with the refrain from 'Good King Wenceslas', accompanying her own vocal performance on the piano. Her voice is measured - no soaring vocals, no histrionics, and yet carried in its inflection is a sadness that is deeply, profoundly moving. With Janis, the audience is presented with the story of Little Girl Blue. With Nina, the audience is presented with the Little Girl herself... a mental fragility combined with an underlying strength - a strength she's needed over the years, just to get this far.

Other, more obvious, comparisons were made to Billie Holiday, particularly since Nina's first record - 'I Loves You Porgy' - was a standard also performed by Billie. It was a comparison Nina Simone resented: "she was a drug addict......I'm more of a diva, like Maria Callas."

It is clear that Nina had no interest in being a tragic heroine, in an early death. She may have indulged heavily in alcohol, but her intention was always to survive. Another of her song choices - 'Ain't Got No… I Got Life...' Nina, always eclectic, chose to cover a song from the musical 'Hair' - demonstrates this perfectly.

I got my arms, I got my hands
I got my fingers, Got my legs
I got my feet, I got my toes
I got my liver, Got my blood

Got life , I got my life

Of course, given the source, it will come as no surprise to learn that the song isn't entirely such an upbeat experience. Nina ruminates on having nothing, owning nothing, loving no-one, and then decides that being alive is experience enough. 'I've got life' she sings 'And I'm going to use it'.

It was the love of life, combined with a knowledge of the sadness it can bring, that was evident in all her performances. But there was more to Nina than just the performer. She wrote her own material, ruminating on music ('I Sing Just To Know That I'm Alive'); love ('I want a little sugar in my bowl') and life in general. She also turned her muse to politics. In response to the murders of civil rights workers in Mississippi and schoolchildren in Alabama, she penned 'Mississippi Goddam', her first protest song.

However, it was a song of pride rather than protest which was to become arguably her most famous composition. While Dylan and Baez were agonising over the reluctance of their compatriots to accept racial equality, Simone threw out a challenge to the white autocracy of America:

Young, gifted and black
How I long to know the truth
There are times when I look back
And I am haunted by my youth

Oh but my joy of today
Is that we can all be proud to say
To be young, gifted and black
Is where it's at

'Young, Gifted And Black' was later a hit for Aretha Franklin in 1972 - one of the rare occasions when another artist made one of Nina's songs their own.

Nina used her music to raise consciousness of racial issues -

"As a political weapon it has helped me for 30 years defend the rights of American blacks and third world people all over the world, to defend them with protest songs. To move the audience to make them conscious of what has been done to my people around the world,"

However, she was also loved by a white audience. Her music had an appeal that spread across racial barriers, despite her frequent controversial pronouncements on the subject. She railed at the prospect of being called a jazz musician: "Jazz is a white term to define black people. My music is black classical music."

Nina's appreciation of her own worth is evident in such declarations. Never one to under-estimate her own talent, she commented shortly after the death of Frank Sinatra that there had been only four musical geniuses left in the world... Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan and herself... now, the world was left with three.

Debatable as that statement is, it is hard to argue with her self-assessment.

In reality, we didn't lose Nina Simone last week. She left America many years ago, in response to the entrenched racism she encountered there. She spent her later years in the South of France (although she professed a dislike of the French), giving occasional performances and interviews, terrifying those journalists she took a dislike to. In her later years, she behaved increasingly erratically. An interview with the Big Issue in the late 1990s quoted a stream of misanthropic, unfocussed and occasionally homophobic invective that appalled many of her liberal (white) fans. Around this time, she also got in trouble for shooting at the child of her neighbours who, apparently, was making too much noise and interrupting her piano practice. The inconsistency spilled over into her performances. A friend saw her perform at Ronnie Scott's some years ago. She came onto the stage utterly inebriated. She then fell off the stage and, lying on the floor, continued to sing. Despite this, apparently it was a good concert.

However, when her performances went right, they were said to be incomparable. Nina knew this:

"when you've caught it, when you've got the audience hooked, you always know because it's like electricity hanging in the air."

If anyone in the audience spoke during a performance, she would stop playing. Sometimes she would leave the stage altogether. Sometimes she would make an audience wait for hours before she deigned to perform:

'You do not touch that piano until you are ready and until they are ready to listen to you.
"You just make them wait."

And, if her mind became more bitter, it seems her music retained the purity, the sincerity, the spark of the Divine that had always marked her out as a true original. And, as the number of Simone's chosen musical geniuses drops to two, there's a sense of something final, something that left long ago but now, is gone for ever. Nina has gone, but she put a spell on us, and the after effects of the magic still linger. To quote Jennifer Gilmore once again:

'Plain and simple, those who listen to Nina Simone can't live without her music. She brings us both into and out of ourselves as we experience the best and worst of our lives at the exact same moment.'

You can guarantee there will be a retrospective coming out. People have always made money out of Nina. Eventually, she made rather a lot of money herself. It was no more than she deserved. Buy the retrospective, and don't just play the (inevitable) 'My Baby Just Cares For Me'. To be truly appreciated, it must be viewed in the context she produced it, as part of the rich and fantastic legacy she has left us.

I'll end as I began. Next to such a talent I feel clumsy, and unworthy.

But an important event occurred. A legend has ended, with a death, in the way all legends must. New stories start. People rise in the deserts, people sneeze a plague around the world. This story is over. Yet it will be re-told, and re-told. As long as people have ears, as long as there are people that value sincerity in music, as long as we retain our capacity to be moved by a melody, her spell will lose none of its potency.

A one-off. An original. Truly, a legend.

Ian Anscombe

(More By This Author)


+++Back to top+++ Back to current issue+++