Looking up at the sky, the sun edging out from the shed roof

like coming back downstairs after a long sulk

I’ve reactivated my bio page, following a period of semi-anonymity here. At least, it started out as a bio, but then became a response to that story about Odin changing into an eagle and doing a poo. Link here, or above.

Looking up at the sky, the sun edging out from the shed roof

I’ve also resuscitated my Twitter account, but I fear already that this has been a terrible mistake. Standard process:

  • In the morning, read a charming article.
  • look up the author’s Twitter account.
  • wail at the author’s abominable political opinions.
  • aimlessly click links in endless quest for comfort.
  • repeat until evening.


2008 05 25 at St Paul'sHello friends. In the last ten years I’ve seen the streets of the places I know best, in London and Colchester, transformed by the unrelenting grip of power that has forced people to beg on these streets in previously unimaginable numbers. I’ve seen the consequences of state decisions that have pushed people I care about into Kafkaesque nightmares of sanctions, uncertainty, and precarious living. But in recent years I’ve also seen the strengthening of a force that offers realistic prospects to reverse this decline, and to take seriously the global environmental catastrophe (which we’ve all known about for decades). So I’ll be delighted to join you all on Thursday as we come together to transcend this sham of reality enforced by our favourite media outlets, and make a solemn pledge in support of a new possibility. And whatever happens on Friday morning, may our actions be guided by love and compassion.

Tenth Anniversary

Essex Myth

The Old and the New: Centre for Myth Studies tenth anniversary celebration. Friday 11 May 2018.2018 marks the tenth anniversary of the Centre for Myth Studies. On Friday 11 May, we shall celebrate the occasion with a day of talks, readings, and discussions which reflect the past and the future of the Centre.

All are warmly invited to attend “The Old and the New” at the University of Essex in Colchester. For full details about the programme and how to register for this free event, please see our event page.

Since 2008, the Centre has been devoted to exploring the significance of myth in ancient and modern times. Most of these activities are documented on this site (see links above for our books, conferences, seminars, and the weekly Myth Reading Group). It was founded by Leon Burnett in the department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, and now sits within the department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies, under the directorship of Roderick Main. This…

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Heavenly Discourses

heavenlydiscoursesIn September, I received this handsome book: Heavenly Discourses, edited by Nicholas Campion (Sophia Centre Press, 2016). It represents the proceedings of a conference at Bristol in 2011, subtitled ‘Myth, Astronomy and Culture’.

I have a chapter in the book: due to the vagaries of publishing delays, this most recent publication is my oldest published work. I was pleased to read it again: the ostensible subject is the signal fires in Aeschylus’s Oresteia, but really, it’s a nice meditation on the reflection of the stars in the imagery of earthly fires in some Greek texts.


Translating Myth

Cover of Translating Myth, edited by Ben Pestell, Pietra Palazzolo and Leon BurnettTranslating Myth, a book I edited alongside Pietra Palazzolo and Leon Burnett has recently been published by Routledge/Legenda, in Legenda’s Studies in Comparative Literature series.

It collects fourteen essays on different aspects of myth and translation, from literary translation of Blakean mythopoeia to the cultural translation of Oedipus in Cameroon.

I’m very pleased with the finished result: it’s a handsomely produced volume with carefully-reproduced illustrations, and, most importantly, some excellent critical readings.

As an academic book, it is, lamentably, prohibitively expensive (even with the 20% discount), but I can unreservedly recommend that you order it for your local academic or public library. An e-book is also available.

Some more information (blurb, table of contents) is on the Essex Centre for Myth Studies site, and ordering information, a preview, and so on, on Routledge’s site.

These comments from the introduction (by Pietra and me) on Giuseppe Sofo’s chapter on the further translations of Derek Walcott’s Odyssey are indicative of the tenor of the book:

The reader is led through this recent journey of Odysseus, from English to Italian and from the Caribbean Sea back to the Mediterranean. At the end of this stage of its travels, the myth has changed while retaining its essence. It has survived the transaction between oral and written forms, just as it remains identifiable through translation across languages and cultures. Thus the process we describe at the start of this introduction, which Odysseus himself implicitly identified when hearing the song of Demodocus, is shown throughout this volume to be infinitely varied, generating vital and ever-renewing debate.


Image: Three-dimensional visualization of sounds electronically recovered from ice-age rock unearthed in the River Lea by the London Archaeoacoustic Project in 1972.

This blog collects various notes on myth or on music, and occasionally on both or neither.

Posts from 2003 to 2010 are imported from assorted, now-defunct, personal websites and blogs. I set this up as a private collection around 2011, and decided to make it public in 2016. At the moment, most entries fall into three broad categories: (α) gruffly promoting music I made between 1996 and 2009; (β) reviewing my friends’ music; (γ) reviewing productions of Greek tragedies. The tone varies between these entries, but I imagine it will settle down in future. What they share is a concern with the ineffable or time-altering properties common to myth and music.

I aim to update this most Wednesdays, but the odd week or two might go by with nothing.

The Beale, live in 2007

The Beale – Live at Guided Missile Club, Buffalo Bar, 10 February 2007. Full set.


Beaut 34, The Stone, Seeds, Young Stuart, The Double Carpet, The Chinese Pilot, The Top Ten, Constantinople

This was uploaded, to my great delight, around the time of my birthday (a coincidence), by Paul of Guided Missile Records, the Guided Missile Club, The Beale, and latterly the TV-theme re-enactors Dream Themes. If you’re pressed for time, skip to The Double Carpet at 11’40”.

Myths in Crisis

Myths in Crisis coverI have a chapter in Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth, a new collection edited by José Manuel Losada and Antonella Lipscomb. Prof. Losada embodies the highly energetic centre of mythic activities in Madrid, which include a biennial conference, Amaltea, an open-access journal of myth criticism, and the ongoing work of Asteria: International Association of Myth Criticism. The book, Myths in Crisis, like the journal, conference, and websites, is trilingual – Spanish, French and English.

The book contains an impressive array of work on the presence of myth since 1900. As I understand the double crises of the title, the book addresses both the declining status of the mythical in contemporary life, and – where myth is found – its utilization as a colourful garnish, stripped of substance.

My chapter is called ‘Poetic Re-enchantment in an Age of Crisis: Mortal and Divine Worlds in the Poetry of Alice Oswald’, and looks in particular at Oswald’s collections Dart and Memorial. Oswald seems to me to be at the confluence of poetic concerns with classical mythology and with ecology, so she fits the theme perfectly. Some people I spoke to were put off by the ready populism of her verse, but I’m quite taken by the spare and lucid renderings of lines from Homer’s Iliad in Memorial. Compare these versions of the great, astral epic simile which concludes Iliad VIII.

ὡς δ᾽ ὅτ᾽ ἐν οὐρανῷ ἄστρα φαεινὴν ἀμφὶ σελήνην
φαίνετ᾽ ἀριπρεπέα, ὅτε τ᾽ ἔπλετο νήνεμος αἰθήρ:
ἔκ τ᾽ ἔφανεν πᾶσαι σκοπιαὶ καὶ πρώονες ἄκροι
καὶ νάπαι: οὐρανόθεν δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ὑπερράγη ἄσπετος αἰθήρ,
πάντα δὲ εἴδεται ἄστρα, γέγηθε δέ τε φρένα ποιμήν:
τόσσα μεσηγὺ νεῶν ἠδὲ Ξάνθοιο ῥοάων
Τρώων καιόντων πυρὰ φαίνετο Ἰλιόθι πρό.
χίλι᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐν πεδίῳ πυρὰ καίετο, πὰρ δὲ ἑκάστῳ
εἴατο πεντήκοντα σέλᾳ πυρὸς αἰθομένοιο.
ἵπποι δὲ κρῖ λευκὸν ἐρεπτόμενοι καὶ ὀλύρας
ἑσταότες παρ᾽ ὄχεσφιν ἐΰθρονον Ἠῶ μίμνον.

Chapman (viii. 486-497) translates: The Trojans sat,

And spent all night in open field. Fires round about them shinde.
As when about the silver Moone, when aire is free from winde
And stars shine cleare, to whose sweete beames high prospects and the brows
Of all steepe hils and pinnacles thrust up themselves for showes
And even lowly vallies joy to glitter in the their sight,
When the unmeasur’d firmament bursts to disclose her light
And all the signes in heaven are seene that glad the shepheard’s hart;
So many fires disclosde their beames, made by the Troyan part,
Before the face of Ilion and her bright turrets show’d.
Fiftie stout men, by whom their horse eate oates and hard white corne,
And all did wishfully expect the silver-throned morne.

Oswald (Memorial, 65):

Like little campfire stars lit round the moon
No wind at all
Under an upturned glass of air
Exact black rocks show clear
And the world simplifies into cliffs and clefts
On nights like this
Light is unspeakable it is breaking out of heaven
And every star openly admits to god
Making the shepherd glad.

Chapman’s Homer is unassailable, but where translators often euphemize the Greek aspetos as ‘unmeasured’, ‘endless’, or ‘boundless’, Oswald opts for the dictionary form, unmediated: ‘unspeakable’, ‘unutterable’ (the dictionary being the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon). The decision to forego poetic licence invigorates Homer’s language in English and conveys the terrible awe of the numinous.

Red Atlas: Everything is Permitted…

Red Atlas: Everything is Permitted — but you need a permit
11 track CDR LP, 41 minutes, 2012.

[Edit: 2015]

Red Atlas was the last group I played in. We had a fun (if pretty trad) sound going on: a nice combination of slack fuzz and country guitars, dog-race drums, and my architectural bass (not my word). But what really made it was John Higgins’s voice and words. He wrote literate and funny pieces which matched the music perfectly. I preserved my idea of our album on this CD. John supplied the title and some witty, self-aware sleevenotes.

The song embedded with this post is from a compilation made available on bandcamp.com later in 2012. Regarding this compilation, I should point out that I disagree violently with the choice of mixes, the sequencing of the songs, the sepia imagery, the album title, and the group biography. Considering this, it’s amazing that we didn’t split up as a result of an overblown argument about trivial musical differences.

Announcement – New CD by The Tenant

The Tenant: Sixty Miles Bad Faith
11 track CDR LP, 30 minutes, 2010.

60 miles a60 Miles Bad Faith reverse cover

1. The Bloch
2. The Genocist
3. Surfer’s Deception
4. Tape Machine Death pt 88
5. Your Foaming Curse
6. Bruges Cleft
7. Voice of the Wivenhoe Pylon
8. The Last Extra Mature Cheddar Before Christmas
9. By a Crow in Shacklewell
10. Song for Tarmac
11. Theme for The Tenant

Sleeve notes:

All songs written and recorded by The Tenant between July 1997 and February 2010, with these guests:—

S.J.B. composed and played rhythm guitar thirteen years ago on the basic track for ‘Surfer’s Deception’.
A.J.P. composed and played acoustic guitar on Christmas Day 2002 for ‘Song for Tarmac’.
Ismene Plankton is the voice of ‘Your Foaming Curse’.

All contributions released without permission.
‘Theme for The Tenant’ is an interpretation of Philippe Sarde’s score.

The songs:

The story of ‘The Bloch’ is a cautionary tale. It partially concerns the time capsule we buried at school after watching Blue Peter: our neatest handwriting, our most colourful drawings, and three years later they built an outhouse over the spot where we buried it. Twenty years on from that, what endures? Well we all worry about this, what could be more dull? A lucky escape for you then, when we missed each other by mere seconds on the corner of Gray’s Inn Road and Elm Street: I was going to tell you all about it.

‘The Genocist’s mangled title is not half as mangled as the animals that were harmed in the making of it. The audible tape wobble is their souls trying to get out. ‘Surfer’s Deception’ was written in 1997; the original words were exposed as the biggest lie of adolescence and had to be drowned. ‘Your Foaming Curse’ wrote itself: the synthesizer was left to make its own noise, this dictated the guitar part and allowed Ismene Plankton to breeze in and improvise a vocal. The failed 80s teen road movie of ‘Bruges Cleft’ is designed to immerse you completely in the snakebite of Camden via Bruges circa your teens. Part 88 of the ongoing ‘Tape Machine Death’ series, ‘Voice of the Wivenhoe Pylon’, and ‘The Last Extra Mature Cheddar Before Christmas’ are old found sounds representing early skirmishes in the war between Man and Machine. Who won? Why, you did, listener!

‘By a Crow in Shacklewell’ is the poignant story of 6 years’ tenancy near this small parish. An overdose of Alice’s medication results in a disturbing loss of scale and perspective: my most terrifying nightmare. An attempt to walk it off only summons disgruntled ghosts, crying incessantly about their lot. It’s a tired cliché that the principal advantage cassette recording has over digital is precisely its restriction: serendipitous decisions are forced by deteriorating tape and limited tracks. But at its worst, the ultimatums delivered by the cassette can induce crippling, decade-long indecision when so little is at stake. This song and ‘The Bloch’ are the thematic links to the album’s title.

‘Song for Tarmac’ straddles the Lea Valley like the pylons on the marshes.

‘Theme for The Tenant’ did some serious time on myspace back in 2006/7. Poor thing. It remains my favourite song by The Tenant. And doesn’t that party sound like a blast?

Where the first Tenant CD, Sick Cure for Bomber’s Scapegoat, was a political record disguised as low-fi arty narcissism, Sixty Miles Bad Faith is unapologetically introspective; indeed it is low-fi arty narcissism disguised as mid-fi arty narcissism.